Friday, December 31, 2010

Blogging Plans For 2011

I've been making some plans for the new year and one of the areas I've been looking at is blogging.

I really enjoy blogging and see it in part as a journal of our life journey as I record the small things that take place in our home and in my mind. And in doing so, my hope is that my humble writings are an encouragement to my readers to embrace where they're at right now and make the best of it!

A few changes I plan to implement here in the next few months and in 2011:

  • Moving posts from The Gingham Cottage blog and an old cooking blog to this one. I'm beginning to realize that I'm more of a "one blog" girl, so you will be seeing some of those posts here soon.
  • Setting up a Facebook fan page for readers who would like to follow my blog in this way. My husband has been encouraging me to do this for a while and I've resisted for various reasons. This will be rolling out within the next couple of weeks. How many of you are interested in this?
  • Since I want to promote my Etsy shop more this year and grow my little business, I'll be sharing shop news and updates every week or two for those who are interested.
  • I also have a few series in mind as well as some ongoing projects that I'll be blogging about through the year.
Thank you for choosing to visit and read here daily.  I appreciate it more than you know! And thank you to those who faithfully comment here. Your interaction makes blogging so much more fun!

Now I'd like to hear from you! As I make changes to my blog, what are some new features you might like to see? What are some topics you'd like more details on? What is it that you most like to read about here? Are there any improvements that I could make? What is that one burning question that you've been wanting to ask me? :-)

Your feedback will help me to make this blog better in 2011!

Christmas 2011: Christmas Card List

You might as well know that I am very bad with sending Christmas cards.

I send cards most years but I don't usually have a complete list and I'm always scrambling everywhere looking for addresses. And I forget half of the folks who faithfully send us cards.

This year, I had my husband print up a nice list of names and addresses for me. Of course, I didn't remember everyone. So as we received cards from those whose names weren't on this year's list, I went ahead and wrote the new names and addresses on my list for next year.

I'm looking forward to having my Christmas card list ready to go for 2011!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Now's The Time To Collect Your 2011 Calendars!

This time of year is when companies start handing out calendars in time for the New Year. I like this because it means that I likely won't need to purchase new calendars.

I've already collected several 2011 calendars and will probably get a couple more before it's all said and done. We only use 3 or 4 in our home so I'm pretty well set on the calendar front. :-)

Last year I signed up for a couple of free calendars that were posted as freebies on Money Saving Mom. If you aren't receiving any from local businesses, you may want to keep an eye out for some free ones that will be mailed to you.

Another way to get calendars inexpensively is to wait to purchase them until after January 1st. Most stores mark them down anywhere from 50-75% off. Calendar pictures make inexpensive wall art and are wonderful for making homemade cards and envelopes.

This is just a small way of saving money and using what I've been given!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Christmas Favorites

We just returned home yesterday from a wonderful Christmas visit with my husband's sister and her family in Lexington, Kentucky. We had planned to travel home on Sunday but because of winter weather, we postponed our drive home until Tuesday when the temperatures were just a bit higher. It turned out to be a wise decision as the majority of our drive was through the mountains and by yesterday, all but one stretch in Western North Carolina, was completely clear.

We all enjoyed the extra time spent together.  Kentucky, of course, had a white Christmas which is not unusual for them. Playing in the snow was fun and so was thrift shopping with my SIL as well as going out to eat at Culver's on Christmas Eve. Their children are so much fun and it was especially fun to witness their excitement on Christmas morning!

They were awake by 5:30 am and therefore, so were the rest of us! Our 7 year old nephew crept down the stairs with the flashlight at 6am telling us that it was time to get up! Then as he went back up he whispered apologetically, "I'm so sorry to disturb your sleeping!" So funny!

We were quite blessed with gifts this year and at the risk of appearing materialistic, I thought I'd share a few of my favorites! You'll probably notice right away that I love practical gifts!

Three boxes of canning jars from my husband's parents. This may be a not-so-subtle hint for future gifts for them. :-)

A cookbook from my parents. The recipes look wonderful!

A beautiful 'M' necklace from my husband.

A photo calendar of my nieces and nephews. They have given everyone in the family one of these since the kids were babies and we look forward to this gift every year!

A new game from my SIL. It is so much fun!

A much needed  kitchen rug from my husband.

A fancy-schmancy digital kitchen timer from my husband. Again, much needed as the one I was using was quite temperamental and would quit working on a whim. Not good when baking!

How was your Christmas? What were some of your favorite moments or gifts?

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Latest On My Mom

Since my last update, Mom has made a lot of improvements!

Her walking is going very well and she's able to walk with a walker and some with a cane. She's been able to take a few  small steps by herself already, too! They've also started her walking on stairs.

She still is not able to swallow so still has a feeding tube. They took out the nasal tube and replaced it with a stomach tube which she likes so much better and doesn't cause so much sore throat and sinus trouble for her.

Mom is scheduled to go home tomorrow! She was originally scheduled to be released Friday but it was moved up since she is doing so well. She will still have regular appointments for continued therapy to help with mobility as well as swallowing.

She's been in good spirits all through this with a determination to get better and has been willing to do whatever the doctors and therapists have told her to do.

We are grateful for the continued improvements and for the wonderful care she has received. She's mentioned several times what an excellent team of medical professionals she has had and how good they've been to her.

My mom's family is having their Christmas gathering on New Year's Day and she plans to attend. She volunteered to bring the ham the day before she had the stroke and is planning to carry out her commitment, although my grandmother (her mom) offered to cook the ham my dad purchased. My grandma is 89 and went through surgery for colon cancer this past summer. I tell you, I come from a line of strong and determined women!

Thank you for your continued prayers. They mean so much!

Monday, December 27, 2010

JOY Swap Continued!

Remember all the fun things Katie sent to me for the JOY swap

Well, if that wasn't already more than enough, I got a little package in the mail yesterday that contained this little book and a sweet thank you card. She'd ordered the book to include in my box but it didn't get to her in time. Wasn't that sweet of her to send it later!

The title of the book is Joy- A Godly Woman's Adornment by Lydia Brownback and looks like a wonderful read. I can't wait to sit down with it!

Thanks, Katie!

Friday, December 24, 2010

O Holy Night

O Holy Night

O Holy Night! The stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of the dear Saviour's birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining.
Till He appeared and the Spirit felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
Fall on your knees! Oh, hear the angel voices!
O night divine, the night when Christ was born;
O night, O Holy Night , O night divine!
O night, O Holy Night , O night divine!

Led by the light of faith serenely beaming,
With glowing hearts by His cradle we stand.
O'er the world a star is sweetly gleaming,
Now come the wisemen from out of the Orient land.
The King of kings lay thus lowly manger;
In all our trials born to be our friends.
He knows our need, our weakness is no stranger,
Behold your King! Before him lowly bend!
Behold your King! Before him lowly bend!

Truly He taught us to love one another,
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains he shall break, for the slave is our brother.
And in his name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
With all our hearts we praise His holy name.
Christ is the Lord! Then ever, ever praise we,
His power and glory ever more proclaim!
His power and glory ever more proclaim!

 Words written by Placide Cappeau
de Roquemaure in 1847

Our family wishes you a very merry Christmas celebrating and worshiping the One who came so that we could live an abundant life!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Make Fun Gift Containers From The Recycling Bin!

One thing I really enjoy is making gift containers out of recycled items! I thought I'd show you a  few that I've done for Christmas this year. They are nothing fancy but it might spark some ideas if you're looking for some last minute wrapping ideas!

I've decorated all of these with scrapbook paper, wrapping paper and old Christmas cards.

Naturally, I don't save every box or container that comes into my house. That would be way too much! But I do keep a few choice items that I know I'll be able to use.

A round box that once held Brie.

A bucket that once held coconut oil. 

An oatmeal container. 
Dinner rolls packaged in a plastic salad box.

I found some links with other packaging ideas that I thought were fun!

I love these fun pop top gift cans

Creative gift card packaging. HT to Money Saving Mom.

What kind of recycled gift containers do you make? 

Christmas Is Coming: Simple Handmade Kid's Gift

I needed a simple gift that the baby girl I care for could help make for her Mommy and Daddy for Christmas.

She's 7 months old so my options were a bit limited, especially since I wanted something that was distinctly from her and not just a cute craft that I made. I couldn't exactly ask her to draw a picture for her Mom, you know.

Hand prints are a hit with every parent so we did a simple hand print using red paint. It took a few tries and thankfully, I'd removed her lovely white outfit before we started because paint was everywhere. Something tells me this little lady is going to love art projects in the not-so-distant future!

I used the front of a recycled photo frame card as the frame. We receive several of these every year and I always knew I'd be able to use them for something! I punched two holes in the top of the card and tied a little ribbon for hanging.

A simple, inexpensive and sweet little gift from a sweet little girl!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Christmas Is Coming: DIY Craft Kit

Our 9 year old niece loves arts and crafts. Ever since she was very young, she's loved making things.

The girl can go through craft supplies! One Christmas she received a couple of bottles of glue from one family member and a big pack of paper from another. She was thrilled!

Two years ago, we gave her a little craft box that I filled with a bunch of supplies including some fun patterned felt and her own bottle of tacky glue, among other things which I can't remember  right now. The cardboard box I used was one that had a little handle on the side and I stamped fun words and shapes on the sides and top. This was a big hit!

She's starting to do some simple hand sewing on some of the crafts that I've seen her working on so I thought I'd make her a craft kit this year that included a simple sewing project.

I immediately thought of these fun flower pins and barrettes and knew she could probably do these either by herself or with her mom or me. So I set out to make a little kit with all of the supplies ready for her to use.

To make this craft kit, I printed off instructions, pre-cut fabric circles from scraps of fabric and gathered all the supplies for each one which I assembled in individual sandwich bags. I then put everything together in a gallon-size bag. There are enough supplies to make 4 flower barrettes.

I didn't include a needle and thread or glue to attach the barrettes since I know her mom will have those items handy. 

My hope is that this will be a fun project for her to create and then share a couple of the finished products with her little sister or friends.

Cost for this project: $0 as I had everything on hand.
Time involved: about 20 minutes.

Christmas Is Coming: Homemade Bread

Sometimes I think too hard when trying to come up with ideas for Christmas gifts when something simple that I make all the time may be the perfect gift for the recipient.

This came to mind last week when I suddenly realized that a few family members would really love a loaf or two of my fresh homemade bread that they can eat right away or freeze and enjoy later.

My brother-in-law , the other one who does not like caramel corn, loves my wheat rolls. I made a batch of them for him this year and he seemed very happy with it. I packaged the rolls in  a recycled salad container.

A few other folks will be receiving fresh loaves of whole wheat bread along with jars of homemade peach jam and apple butter.

 I'll be baking the bread as close to the time of giving as possible so it is still very fresh and yummy! These types of gifts are inexpensive to make and use ingredients I already have on hand!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010


As part of their Twelve Days Of Christmas giveaways, Earth Fare offered 2 free pomegranates with any $5 purchase one day last week. 

Even though we didn't know how to cut and eat a pomegranate, we thought it would be fun to try anyways!  As soon as we got home, we googled "How to eat a pomegranate" and found this video.

All you do is cut off the stem on top and then score the sides in quarters and pull the sections apart. To eat, just pick out the red seeds and eat!  The juice does stain so be careful!

I cut the first one for lunch today and we barely got through one section each! These were big pomegranates and there is a lot of fruit in each one.

So yummy!

Did you know? 
Pomegranates are a wonderful source of  fiber and high in vitamin C and potassium. High in antioxidants, they are helpful in prevention of cancer and heart disease.

Christmas Is Coming: Homemade Watercolors and Story CDs

Homemade watercolor paints are a quick and inexpensive gift for a young child.  I packaged these in recycled baby food jars with black spray-painted lids. Another reason to keep black spray paint around!

The story CD that we gave to my nephew for his birthday this year was such a  big hit with he and his little sister that we made each of them another CD for Christmas this year.

They were thrilled with new CD's and their parents are probably happy with something new to listen to! 

We tried something new to these and added soft music in the background. And I must say, my voice is rather soothing. :-)

While making a CD does take a little time, the costs are very minimal since we already have blank CD's on hand and I read stories either from my stash or from the public library. 

This gift is especially nice if the children you are giving them to do not live close by!

In my experience, small children are the easiest group to make gifts for! What are your homemade or consumable gift ideas for the young ones in your life?

Monday, December 20, 2010

Another Mom Update!

I appreciate all of you leaving such sweet comments letting me know that you're praying for my mom! I don't have a lot of news since my last update except that they did move her to the rehab facility on Friday where she'll be for a week or two getting the therapy she needs.

She has been able to walk short distances with the use of a walker. She still has a feeding tube since she still is only able to eat a little without choking.

She had some tests this morning but I won't know the outcome until we talk to a family member sometime tonight.

Overall, it seems that she is making small and steady improvements towards recovery.

Thank you for your continued prayers. In addition to praying for her health and recovery, please pray for us as we make the decision as to whether or not and when I should fly to Oregon to visit and help with her. My mother-in-law wisely suggested that if I do go, it would be better to wait until she comes home so as to be of more practical help. The road from South Carolina to Oregon is a long one and it is hard to be so far away. I've struggled a little with "daughter guilt" especially when I heard that she would not be able to be home for Christmas.

Through the miracles of modern technology, we have been able to visit via Skype and while I am not there, it's been comforting to be able to see her face and note that other than what has been affected by the stroke, she is doing quite well and looks pretty good, too.

Preparing For Winter: Elderberry Syrup

One part of preparing for winter is getting ready for the inevitable flu and cold season!

I started making my own elderberry syrup last winter  and it is so nice to have on hand and use especially during the holidays when we aren't eating as healthfully and we're traveling all over the place and coming in contact with sickness.

We take a spoonful of elderberry syrup every day to help prevent and relieve sickness. When sick, I'll use  a spoonful every couple of hours. This can also be used as pancake syrup or to sweeten and flavor yogurt. The honey makes it very yummy!

I purchased a one pound bag of dried elderberries from Mountain Rose Herbs last year. One pound goes a long way! It's so quick and easy to make and way cheaper than purchasing elderberry syrup from the health food store. A similar product is Berry Well from Beeyoutiful which I love and have had very good success with.

Elderberries help to boost the immune system, among other things, which we can all use this time of year!

Friday, December 17, 2010

JOY Swap

Recently, I was able to participate in another of Monica and Carrie's Sister Shoebox swaps. The theme for this swap was JOY and my swap partner was Katie!

Katie was such a fun swap partner. We've been blogging buddies for a while now and she is a sweet and enthusiastic sister in Christ!

Here's what I sent to Katie:

  • JOY To The World garland.
  • Christmas CD with some of our favorite Christmas tunes to fill her home with sounds of JOY!
  • Gift bags to bring JOY to others.
  • Handmade JOY Christmas cards to tell others about the real reason for the season.
  • Fun gingerbread cupcake liners and decorations and a big container of sprinkles for JOY in making memories with her 3 children!
  • Bag of hot cocoa mix  and candy canes because it's a JOY  for her to make a special treat for her family.
  • Cupcake print matching aprons for Katie and her 4 year old daughter because it's a JOY to work together!
What Katie sent to me: 

Wow! I was blown away with everything that Katie sent in my box. Everything was beautifully packaged and each item had a tag with a Scripture verse that included the word JOY with personal notes on the back of each one. It was so much fun to read and look at everything!

  • A cookie mix and sprinkles.
  • Candy cane cookie cutter.
  • A bag of treats for the Cherished Dog.
  • A clip board for post-it notes made from a coaster. So cute!
  • Giradelli peppermint bark candy. One of my favorites!
  • A sign that reads "The Joy Of Family."
  • The Joy of Cooking cookbook.
  • Recipe cards.
  • Jingle bell wreath ornament.
  • 2011 purse-size calendar/planner which she decorated with a music note and a verse.
  • Decorated clip board with a snowflake background and a hymn sheet for Whiter Than Snow. I love this!
Katie was so creative with everything she sent and obviously  put a lot of effort into my box. I loved it and about couldn't stop looking at everything!

Thanks, Katie!

Thanks to Monica and Carrie for hosting the swap. Go to Carrie's blog to see other JOY swap participants!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Update On My Mom

Some improvements today:

She was able to have an MRI this morning because she is now able to lie flat. The MRI was able to locate the source of the stroke which is at the brain stem. This is why her balance was affected and she hasn't been able to walk.

She was able to eat a little today without choking which is a very good thing. Yesterday she could not swallow. 

She will be moved soon to a rehab facility where she'll be receiving therapy for a week or two. 

Grateful for a few answers and improvements tonight! Thanks for your prayers; please continue to pray for her healing.

Christmas Is Coming: Peach Jam

Another one of my homemade gifts for Christmas this year is jars of peach jam. They'll make a nice gift along with jars of my homemade apple butter.

When canning and freezing peaches this summer, I followed my mom's advice and went ahead and froze two quart of pureed peaches to make 2 batches of peach jam later.

 Later came this week when I finally got around to making the jam! As far as I can tell, it turned out great. It sure tastes yummy! Even though the pictures show the jam as a darker color, in reality it is a beautiful peach color. So pretty!

I followed the instructions from the Ball Blue Book Of Preserving. Two batches made 12 half-pint and 3 pint jars of jam-enough to share at Christmas with plenty for us to eat through the winter.

Peach or Pear Jam

Yield: about 8 half-pints.

1 quart finely chopped, pitted/cored, peeled peaches or pears- I poured the peaches in the blender and mostly pureed them with just a few small chunks of fruit still in it.
7 1/2 cups of sugar
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 pouch liquid pectin

Combine fruit, sugar and lemon juice in a large saucepot. Bring slowly to a boil, stirring until sugar dissolves. Stir in liquid pectin. Return to a rolling boil. Boil hard 1 minute, stirring constantly.

Remove from heat. Skim foam if necessary. ladle hot jam into hot jars, leaving 1/4-inch headspace. Adjust two-piece caps. Process 10 minutes in a boiling-water canner.

Recipe variation: Add 1 teaspoon whole cloves, 1/2 teaspoon whole allspice and 1 cinnamon stick tied in a spice bag to jam during cooking. remove spice bag before filling jars.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Please Pray For My Mom

My mom ended up in the E.R. yesterday with signs of possibly having had a stroke. The CT scans came back clear but they kept her in the hospital overnight because she was not able to walk.

Today, they ran more tests. Still no sign of anything. But now she's having trouble swallowing so they're feeding her through I.V. Because of this, she'll be spending another night there.

Please join us in prayer for her healing and also that the doctors will be able to figure out what is going on. Overall, she's feeling fine,  her mind is clear, speech is good. Other than high blood pressure(which may have been triggered by having to go to the E.R.), her ailments are that she cannot swallow and her left leg isn't functioning.

While I know that I wouldn't be able to do anything to make the situation better, it is difficult to be clear across the country from her when something like this is going on. 

Thank you for your prayers!

Edited To Add: The doctors have concluded that she did indeed have a stroke. Not a severe one, though.  They are waiting for the swelling in her throat to go down so an MRI can be done. She will be in the hospital at least another day, if not longer. 

Right after I posted this, my brother texted us and said that the physical therapist was able to help her take a short walk down the hall with her using a walker. She is doing some better tonight than she was this morning. Praise the Lord!

Pillow Pet

He's on a pillow.
He's our pet.
He's a Pillow Pet!

Cut-Out Sugar Cookies

 Cut-out sugar cookies have always been my absolute favorite Christmas cookie. The rolling and decorating make them a bit more time-consuming but they are worth it! 

The biggest problem I have with these is that I cannot. stop. eating. them.  The sooner the box of cookies is far away in the freezer, the better!

This is the recipe my mom always made. I'm pretty sure it's from an old Betty Crocker cookbook.

Cut-Out Sugar Cookies

Mix thoroughly:
3/4 cup shortening or butter
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla or lemon flavoring

Sift together and stir in:
2 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt

Chill at least 1 hour. Roll out fairly thin on a well-floured surface with a well-floured rolling pin. Place on ungreased cookie sheet and bake at 400 degrees for 6-8 minutes. Cool before decorating.

Frost with your favorite icing or mix powdered sugar and hot water together until a nice spreading consistency like I do. Add coloring as desired. Sprinkle generously with sprinkles and colored sugar!

** The cookies pictured was a double batch and made approximately 100 small-ish cookies.


What is your favorite Christmas cookie?

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Christmas Is Coming: Caramel Corn

My one brother-in-law really likes caramel corn. One Christmas, his wife suggested that I just make him a big bag of it for a gift every year since he loved it when I brought it to family gatherings.

I was very happy for the gift suggestion and since it's inexpensive and easy to make, I have been more than happy to give him a bag or container of caramel corn every year since!

Caramel Corn

8-9 quart popcorn- For me, this is 4 air poppers full.*
2 cups brown sugar
1 cup butter or margarine
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup light Karo syrup**
1 teaspoon vanilla

Combine sugar, butter, salt, Karo syrup and vanilla in saucepan. Bring to boil, stirring frequently and let boil for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and add 1/2 teaspoon baking soda. Pour mixture over popped popcorn, stirring to coat.

Pour popcorn into a big baking pan and bake at 250 degrees  for one hour stirring every 15-20 minutes.

* I always sort through the popcorn before adding the syrup, discarding any unpopped kernels or the partially popped kernels that my popper is notorious for. I don't like the idea of anyone, myself included, breaking a tooth on a very hard piece!

**I choose to avoid high fructose corn syrup in our diet whenever possible, however I don't usually make this more often than once a year so it's the one recipe that I will use corn syrup for. A good substitute for Karo syrup is a mixture of white sugar and water ( do a Google search for recipes) as well as honey. I don't know that I've tried the homemade Karo syrup in this recipe. If using honey, watch the baking very carefully as it will scorch very easily.

For gift giving, package caramel corn in a plastic bag, recycled container or Christmas tin. This year I used an empty coconut oil bucket and covered the label with a recycled Christmas card.

Caramel corn-- A tasty gift that's sure to please and doesn't cost very much to make!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Coconut Snow Ball

A few years ago for Christmas, one of my husband's coworkers gave him this cute snowman cheese ball plate because she knew I would love it!

How wonderful is that!?! 

I do like the plate with its adorable  mitten and boot spreaders. It's a Hallmark plate and with it came this recipe for a Coconut Snowball.

This is fun to make and serve even if you don't own a cute plate that's begging to have a big cheese ball belly! 

Obviously, this is a sweet cheese ball and is good served with graham crackers, cookies and fresh fruit. Running out of dipping options the other night, I served it with unfrosted sugar cookies which worked really well!

Coconut Snowball

8 ounces softened cream cheese
4-5 cups powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup flaked coconut plus enough for coating the ball.

Beat sugar and cream cheese together in a bowl. Add vanilla and coconut. Cover mixture and chill until firm to make it easier to handle.

Shape into a large ball or 2 medium sized balls and roll in coconut. Chill.

Serve with fresh fruit, cookies or graham crackers. 

When I made this to serve to guests the other night, I thought it would be fun to make a pile of little snowballs instead of big ones. So fun!

**This recipe makes a LOT! I usually make 2 medium-large size cheese balls. It freezes well and also makes a yummy gift!


Saturday, December 11, 2010

Blog Housekeeping

Because of the amount of spam comments I've received here recently, I've decided to enable comment moderation at least for the time being.

Personally, I dislike comment moderation because I prefer to see my comment right away, but I do see the benefit of it for many bloggers and this will allow me to see comments before they're posted instead of having to delete them later.

Thanks to those who regularly leave non-spam comments here. I heart comments! Thank you!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Pineapple Cheese Ball

A coworker brought a cheese ball similar to this one into work one Christmas and it was so good! Later on, I found this recipe in some junk mail I received from Southern Living. The pineapple, green peppers, onions and pecans all blend together into a very pleasing slightly sweet flavor.

This recipe makes either one large cheese ball or two smaller ones.  It is so good and very easy to make! It always gets eaten right up whenever I take it somewhere!

Pineapple Cheese Ball

2 (8oz.) packages cream cheese, softened
1 (8 oz.) can crushed pineapple, drained
1/4 cup chopped green pepper
2 T. finely chopped onions
2 t. seasoning salt
2 cups chopped pecans, divided

I like to use my food processor to mix this up!

Combine first 5 ingredients; stir in 1 cup pecans. Cover and chill until firm.  Shape mixture into a ball; roll in remaining 1 cup pecans.

Place cheese ball on a serving platter; serve with crackers and strips of green and red bell peppers. 


Inexpensive Gifts You Can Buy

I've been talking a lot about homemade gifts recently. I love to make things for people, for Christmas and otherwise. It's just part of who I am.

But I don't make all of the gifts we give. Some years I buy more than I make, other years it's the other way around.

I thought I'd compile a short list of some rather inexpensive gifts that you can purchase this holiday season. Some are meaningful. Others are just plain fun! These are all gifts that we like to give and would appreciate receiving as well.

So if you don't like to make gifts or simply don't have the time, then perhaps you'll be able to use this list for a few ideas!

1. Samaritan's Purse. 
Instead of just making a donation, Samaritan's Purse has a gift catalog where you can pick a specific cause to donate to in a friend or family member's honor. In turn, they send a beautiful card to the person you specified telling them of the gift and what cause it will be going towards. We've done this for several years and our family has loved it! This is especially good for those who really don't need anything and are trying to declutter. For example, a gift of $7 will feed a hungry child for a week! Suggested donations start at around $5, so there's something here for any budget.

2. Refuge For Women.
Refuge for Women is a ministry that offers new beginnings to women in the adult entertainment industry. I first heard about this ministry from my sister-in-law whose church is involved with Refuge for Women. She gave me one of their bracelets for Christmas last year and I love it!  The custom bracelets start at just $10 and each purchase helps to provide a woman with the opportunity to leave the adult entertainment industry. Not only would this make a beautiful gift, but it will also make an eternal impact on a woman's life.

3. Gift cards. 
Some people don't like receiving gift cards. They say they are impersonal and useless. I am not one of those people. I heart gift cards. I enjoy having the opportunity to pick out something fun for myself with a gift card that's been given to me! And gift cards don't have to be high dollar to be a nice gift. A gift card for a lunch out, a Starbucks coffee, an ice cream treat or a movie ticket can easily be accomplished for $5 or $10. My husband put a $10 Panera card in my stocking one year. This was before we had wireless internet at our house so I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to get out of the house and blog using their free wireless service while enjoying a sandwich or little treat.

The key with giving gift cards is making sure the gift card suits the recipient. For instance, I'd love a gift card to Mary Jo's, Hobby Lobby or even Goodwill.  Bass Pro Shops, not so much! And if you give a $5 gift card, be sure that the business featured actually offers a number of services for that price or less. If everything is higher priced than the gift card, it could be a frustrating experience for the recipient!

4. Chick-fil-A Calendars.
2011 Chick-fil-A calendars can be purchased for $6 each either in store or online. This may not sound like much of a gift until you realize how many coupons are included! Most months feature a coupon for a free item! This is a fun gift to receive and the value of the coupons included far exceed the $6 price tag.

5. Food.
I'm a big fan of food gifts. Everyone eats! A favorite food can be a nice gift for the person who has everything. My dad loves nuts so he gets at least one can every year from someone in the family. Fruit is nice, especially something seasonal like clementines or a fresh pineapple bought at a good price. Summer sausage or beef stick is another nice gift as would be a block of a good cheese. Arrange food items in a basket or tie with a big bow. Andy's grandmother shares the many years that she gave him a can of black olives when she had trouble coming up with a gift for him. A box or basket of favorite foods is also a useful and welcome gift to a loved one on a  fixed income.

This isn't meant to be an exhaustive list. Feel free to add your own inexpensive and meaningful gift ideas in the comments!

**This post is part of Life As Mom's Frugal Friday carnival!

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Smoky Cheese Ball

 I love all kinds of savory appetizers during the holiday season and this smoky cheese ball is one of my favorites!

I really really like cheese balls and they can be such a nice change of pace from the usual dips.

Smoky Cheese Ball
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.

**Stay tuned... I have two more cheese ball recipes to share in the next week or so!

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Christmas Is Coming: Homemade Mixes

I often give my own homemade mixes as Christmas presents. They are always well-received. Everyone has to eat and food gifts don't usually stick around long enough to collect dust or become clutter.

One mix that I've given in previous years that the recipients loved was Baked Oatmeal. This is easy to layer into a jar or mix in a bag. Others that I've given as gifts are mixes for Sweet Corn Muffins and Orange Ginger Scones. Bean soups, pancake mix or your favorite homemade spice blend also work very well! Be sure and include the recipe so that they can make it again later!

There are so many options for homemade mixes! A quick Google search for homemade mixes or gifts in a jar will give you hundreds of ideas. I learned the hard way to always try out a recipe before giving it as a gift so now I go through our own favorite recipes and pick ones that would work well as mixes.

To create your own mixes, simply mix dry ingredients together and then add a label or tag with instructions on how to prepare the recipe. 

I like to choose recipes that don't require a ton of add-ins and will not be too expensive or difficult to prepare. Also, think about whether the recipient would actually want to cook or if they would prefer an already prepared food item instead.
These can be given by themselves or grouped together in a  basket to create a larger gift.  A jar of homemade jam or apple butter would be a nice addition to a bread mix. Or create a "Breakfast Basket" with a pancake mix, some kind of syrup or topping(whether homemade or not), a couple of cute mugs and a drink mix such as hot chocolate, tea or spiced cider.

Because these kind of gifts are made from items I already have in my kitchen, they are very inexpensive and easy on the Christmas budget, yet always appreciated!

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Freezer Cooking Day: Christmas Goodies!

For this week, I decided to use my scheduled freezer cooking time to make some holiday goodies!

Here's what I made today:

 Caramel Corn

Sugar Cookies (to be frosted later).

Recipes for the caramel corn and sugar cookies to come later!

What To Do With Big Bags Of Frozen Veggies

Costco offers four and five pound bags of frozen organic veggies at terrific prices. Since my idea of a side dish is quite often a dish of cooked veggies, I stock up on these when I  shop there.

Sometimes, these bags are already divided into 4 or 5 smaller bags and all I have to do is pull a bag out when we want veggies. But on this trip, I got two 5 pound bags that weren't divided up. And I wanted the ease and convenience of the smaller bags, especially since my freezer isn't in the house!

It only took a few minutes and I had those two big bags divided into smaller quart-size freezer bags.

Looks like we'll be eating these veggies for a while!

Monday, December 06, 2010

Pumpkin Spice Oatmeal

A chilly morning called for a hot bowl of oatmeal. I noticed the bowl of freshly cooked pumpkin puree in the fridge. Spices and brown sugar added to this yummy breakfast!

Pumpkin Spice Oatmeal

Oatmeal - I use old-fashioned oats.
Pumpkin puree- fresh or canned
Chopped nuts, optional
Sweetener- brown sugar, maple syrup, honey

Cook oatmeal according to directions. While cooking, add pumpkin and spices and stir well. I used a little more than  1/4 cup pumpkin for 2 servings and just sprinkled spices until it looked right. Continue to stir until finished cooking so it doesn't stick to the bottom of the pan and burn.

Scoop into bowls and sprinkle with chopped pecans, if desired. Serve with your choice of sweetener for a hearty and nourishing breakfast!

I think this would be so good with a splash of cream or coconut milk on top!


Did you know? 
Pumpkin is rich in disease-fighting nutrients such as alpha-carotene and beta-carotene and is high in vitamins C and E!

Friday, December 03, 2010

Happy First Weekend Of December!

**I had a post about an inexpensive Christmas gift idea almost ready to put up but just haven't had time to complete it today. So instead, I'll have it ready for next week.

**My husband was up sick for most of the night last night. We're not quite sure if it is food poisoning (we opened a jar of pickles last night for dinner which tasted odd to us) or the stomach bug that is apparently in town right now. The brother of the little girl that I care for has been throwing up this afternoon so it may actually be a virus of some sort. Whatever it is, I don't like it and hope it moves along quickly!

**This is the first weekend in at least 6 weeks that we haven't had shows scheduled or been out of town so we're looking forward to a  relaxing couple of days. Our town's Christmas festival is this weekend and we would like to attend if we are feeling ok. The light parade is tonight and we've decided not to go.

**I'm also finishing up my swap box for the JOY swap hosted by Monica and Carrie. This has been so much fun!

** We started a bit of decorating a few days ago. Once we're finished, I'll post pictures. We keep Christmas decorations and the Christmas season in general pretty low-key and we're ok with that. It's fun and a bit of a challenge to find places for the decorations in our new house.

**Did you do any shopping on Black Friday?  We don't usually. But mid-morning, I saw on facebook that one of our friends had purchased poinsettias at Lowe's for 98 cents a piece. Oh the power of social media! I immediately decided that I wanted needed some poinsettias for the bay window.  My husband was just getting ready to go get something for me from a friend who coincidentally lives right down the road from Lowe's, so he popped in and brought me four for just over $4! They do look so pretty. Now if I can keep them alive until Christmas...

**We've never hung outdoor Christmas lights so far. Neither one of us is steady on a ladder and while it's pretty to look at, it seems like a lot of work for us. My mom always had the little welcome lights in the windows which I think look so cozy and inviting! We got a few sets of those to put in the front windows this year. Love them!

**I'd love to start making a few Christmas goodies this weekend if I get time. We'll only be making  a few things again this year. But we like so many things! It's hard to choose just a few. 

**What are you up to this weekend? I pray that it will be a wonderful time spent with your family and friends, getting this Christmas season started off right!

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Christmas At The Library

We were able to attend the Christmas celebration at the Billy Graham Library tonight. Starting December 1st and running through December 23rd, this event features carolers, carriage rides, a live nativity and lots of beautiful Christmas decorations and lights!

We've been to the library a couple of times before and each time, I am so amazed by the peace and presence of God that surrounds this place. This visit was no exception!

Billy Graham's Childhood Home

Love all the lights in the windows!

Carriage Rides


The Live Nativity complete with camel!

I was quite impressed with the camel!

More animals- a sheep and the back of a calf here. They also had a llama and a small donkey but those pictures didn't turn out well.

Christmas tree inside.

Loved the cozy decorations, including this lantern!

Our visit ended with a sweet treat at the Dairy Bar.

A yummy gingerbread cookie for each of us!

Festive centerpieces.

All the trees in and around the parking lot are decorated with lights.