Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year everyone!  I'm not sure if these old bones will stay awake until midnight.  The kids sure are giving it their best shot.

May you all have a truly blessed 2011!

Monday, December 27, 2010

Happy Birthday Joseph!

We're still knee deep in Christmas cleanup around here.  New toys and clothes are either on the floor or still in the bags & boxes we used to bring them home from the Grandma's and Grandpa's houses.  I need to find homes for everything.   (And, we may clear out a few old things to make the space.  Shhhh.  Don't tell the boys.)

The house is a wreck.  And, I wish I could be OK with that and just relax and enjoy my boys while they are on their school vacation.  But, I'm freaking out a little because I need to get the house ready for another celebration tonight.

Today is Joseph's first birthday!  We're keeping the celebration small.  It's not going to be like the shindig we threw for our first son's first birthday.  And, part of me feels guilty about that.  And, part of me knows that Joseph won't know the difference.

We'll have Grandmas and Grandpas and aunts and uncles.  And, he'll be thrilled that he gets to eat cake!

Was it really just one year ago that we celebrated the birth of our (almost Christmas) baby?

Look how he's grown!

Happy First Birthday Joseph!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Winning Truffles!

This year for the extended family Christmas event on my husband's side, one his aunt's threw down the gauntlet.  Each year all the cousins (and there are a lot of them!) are the ones who bring the desserts.  She challenged us this year to bring the most attractive, delicious desserts we could think of.  There was to be a contest!

Just to give you an idea of how many people come to this Christmas meal, John's dad was one of 14 brothers and sisters.  That's a lot of aunts and uncles.  And, as I said, a ton of cousins!  And, a lot of the cousins have families of their own, so that means many, many second cousins running around.  Lots of hungry people.

I chose a recipe that Kerri at The Pleasures of My Life posted last week for Oreo Truffles.  Take my word for it.  They are really decadent, really yummy, and best of all...super easy to make!  
image found here
And, they won 3rd place at our Christmas Dessert challenge.  Thanks Kerri!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

It's The Thought That Counts, Right?

Each year at Christmas I like to make gift baskets with some homemade goodies for friends & family.  I go to the Dollar Tree & pick out a basket or container of some sort ($1 each!) and then I fill them with cookies, chocolate dipped pretzels, hand-made soaps, etc.

This year I got the idea to include something different.  I found a recipe for home-made syrup via someone's blog earlier this year (and I can't remember whose it was).  It is buttery & yummy!
Home-made Pancake Syrup
1 cube butter (about 2 Tb)
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 cup white sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. baking soda

Bring butter, sugar, baking soda, and buttermilk to a boil for 1 minute.  Turn off heat and stir in vanilla.  (Note:  I have found it easier to wait to add the baking soda until the first 3 ingredients have already come to a boil.  The baking soda interacts with the acidity in the buttermilk and creates foaming.  Then I continue the boil for 1 minute.  You will want to use a large saucepan because it increases greatly in volume after adding the baking soda.)

Why not make and can a big batch & include these in the baskets?

I even got my friend Jamie in on the action.  It was gonna be great.  We were going to whip up a big batch, can it, and decorate the jars.

Easy peasy.   

Except that I didn't stop to check if canning was even possible until AFTER I had made the batch & had everything in jars.

Then I did some online research and found that canning items with dairy products is NOT recommended.  I was reading that it can actually be very dangerous for people to try this at home and that there have been deaths because of improperly canned products.

Well OK then.

We still ran them all through a cycle in the canner.  We figured if the jars sealed....great that might help the syrup last a little longer.  But, after it all cooled down we put them all in the refrigerator...and we had to hand them out to our friends and family immediately instead of waiting for Christmas.

 My friend Jamie

 Look at all those jars!

 These would have looked so cute in gift baskets.

 I used some tags from my scrapbooking stuff (which rarely get used) to label.

Also, here's another idea I wanted to share earlier this month but I'm just now getting around to it.   A mentor mom shared this idea at our MOPS group.  It's just Hershey kisses wrapped in a long strip of plastic wrap with tied between each piece.

The idea is to include enough candies in the strip for the # of days left until Christmas.  We started with 20.  I made 3 for each boy who is old enough to eat Hershey kisses.  Each day the children give a kiss or hug to get a 'kiss'.  We've also made it so that the children tell me one thing that they know about Christmas or about God before they give their kiss/hug.

At my son's suggestion I took this same idea to create an orange garland.  I had purchased a bag of tangerines that ended up being really sour & noone was eating them.  I hated to let them go completely to waste, so I sliced them, laid them on a cookie sheet, and let them dry on top of one of our radiators.

Edison was the one who thought it would be cool to wrap them in plastic wrap the same way we did the candies and tie ribbon in between.  The result was this garland...
The picture doesn't really do it justice...and I have since draped it somewhere else, but it really turned out pretty cute.

Have a great day!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Best Sandtart Recipe Ever!

I have a weakness for rich, decadent desserts.  I have never understood magazines that featured 'Recipe Makeovers' where they take something completely amazing & try to put a healthy spin on it.  

Sometimes you just gotta make it like it was meant to be...and then hopefully exercise some degree of self-control and moderation in eating.

This is a Christmas cookie recipe that will challenge you in the area of self control.  It is probably one of my all-time favorite cookie recipes.  I got it from a lady I used to work with years ago.  The employees would make a batch of their favorite cookies to share with their coworkers & we compiled the recipes for those cookies into a booklet.

Here is the recipe for (The Best Ever) Drop Sandtarts...

1 cup butter (no substitutes)
1 cup margarine (I have a thing about margarine, so I just go ahead & substitute real butter)
2 cups sugar
3 cups flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 egg
1/2 tsp vanilla

Mix well.  Chill dough.  Roll into small balls and flatten with a juice glass.  Oil bottomof glass and dip in cinnamon-sugar mixture or use a cookie schoop and flatten a little with your fingers.  Decorate with nuts or your choice of sprinkles.  Bake at 350 degrees for about 8-10 minutes.  Cool slightly before removing from cookie sheet.  Keep dough well chilled or it will stick to your hands when forming balls.  Covered dough can be refrigerated for a few days.


Linking up to cookie exchange at Finding Joy...
finding joy | Christmas Cookie Recipe Swap

Monday, December 13, 2010

Setting Goals

It's that time of year again when I'm thinking about what goals I'd like to set for the next year.  

There's a distinction for me between setting goals and 'New Year Resolutions'.

Resolutions tend to be very general.

Some I've made in the past include...

  • Be more patient
  • Be more organized
  • Lose weight
By the second week of January I'm usually completely frustrated with myself for being unable  to live up to my resolutions.

Goals are more specific.

So, last year I decided to set a specific goal for myself.  I decided that 2010 would be the year that I started a blog.  In part, I wanted to have something that I did apart from my roles as mother and wife...something that tapped into my interests.  And, I love to write.  You can read a little more about why I started a blog in my very first post.

Now I'm thinking about what goal I want to set for myself in 2011.  I'm not sure I've narrowed it down just yet.  But I'm curious.  What goals do you have?  I'd love to glean some ideas from you!

By the way, I came across this little gem & as far as resolutions go, I think it's pretty awesome...
image found here

Friday, December 10, 2010

A Christmas Challenge

A friend of mine shared this on Facebook.  It's a Matthew West song/ video based on the true story of a little boy who was diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia at 13 months and how his family & neighbors pulled together to give him one last Christmas.  

I have to admit, videos like this are hard for me to watch.  A lot of times I pass right by posts like this without watching.  But, something (Someone?) told me to watch this.  I bawled.

I cannot fathom the pain these parents experienced.  I don't want to fathom it.  It's too much to bear.

But, something beautiful happens as you watch this video.  Something called Hope.

After I watched this.  I was challenged.

Over the Christmas season it seems that every store I go into is asking me at the checkout if I want to donate $1 toward this charity or that.  Sometimes I do.  But, other times (I'll admit it) I'm annoyed & I say "Not this time".

After watching this video I asked myself, 

Why not this time?

Why not every time?


It's not much.  And, if everyone gave just $1 each time we were shopping for stuff, stuff that will lay forgotten in a few more weeks most likely, then maybe something really huge can happen.

Something called Hope.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Dirty Jobs

So Karen, what did you do today?  Today is one of those days that if I told you what I did you might look at me as if I'm slightly crazy.  But, guess what?  I'm going to tell you anyway.

Let me preface this by saying I come from an area that values frugality and is the opposite of our 'disposable' society.  Part of this comes from the fact that our area is known for it's large Amish & conservative/Old Order Mennonite communities.  If there was ever a group of people who embrace this idea of using what is available, and getting the most use possible from something before throwing it away, it's them.

Another aspect is the influence of a generation that remembers all too clearly the hardships of the Great Depression.  My grandmother was a child but remembers how much they struggled.  

So, I've grown up seeing my grandmother collect & wash the 'disposable' cups, dishes, or silverware at a picnic.  If an appliance is broken we are more likely to fix it than to replace it.  Clothing was mended & patched.  Gardens were planted.  And, food was never to be wasted.

This has stuck with me.  In some ways it's good.  I would consider myself to be rather frugal and I don't feel like I have to have the newest and best of everything.  The downside is I've had a hard time letting go of things.  Clutter is my worst enemy & seems to always be nipping at my heels.

I've come a long way in finding a balance.....I think.

Last night my friend asked if I'd help her empty out a under-the-steps closet space that she has in her kitchen.  She lives in an older home that had been her parent's.  She bought the house from her mother about 7 years ago.  When she bought it, this space was filled with old canning jars (with food still in them) that were probably ancient and outdated at that time.

She just never could tackle clearing out this space on her own.  She needed help.  So help I did.  As I was pulling out old jars of cherries, applesauce, green beans, and tomato sauce it was clear that these had been put up at least 10-20 years earlier.  They were dust covered.   Some were leaking.  Some were moldy.  They were just gross.

There had to have been at least 100+ jars that we pulled out.  Once they were out we had to decide what to do with them next.  I told my friend I'd take them home, empty them, & see if any of the jars were salvagable.  If so, I could use them.  If not, I'd have my husband take the rest to the dumpster at work.

So what did I do today????

Have you ever seen the show 'Dirty Jobs'?  I could have been on that show today.

My husband had carried all the boxes of the jars to the basement.  I set up a little workspace with a 5 gallon bucket for dumping.   A trash can for lids, rings, and unusable jars.  And I went to it.

When I started dumping the contents I almost gave up immediately.  In many of the jars the smell was most reminiscent of vomit.  Seriously.  Add to that the sloshing, plopping sounds it made as I dumped jar after jar of old food into the bucket.

I would make runs out to the field behind our house as the buckets got full to dump the contents & then come back & dump some more.

Next I took the jars upstairs & rinsed them all thoroughly under hot running water while scrubbing the rims of the jars (where the food was most sticky).  Then, I ran them through the dishwasher on the heaviest cycle with the hottest water.

I did batch after batch like this.

The end result?  Even after washing them I realized some jars wouldn't be usable.  I checked for chips, rusting where the rings had been left on the jars, & interiors that just couldn't be cleaned well enough.  Oh, and my hands & my house smell like the contents of those old jars.

But, I did end up with quite a collection of clean, shiny, almost as good as new canning jars.

Was it worth it?  

In retrospect I'm not so sure.  But I needed more canning jars & now I have them.  And, I did my own little part in recycling.

I'm just glad I'm done.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

A Little Something to Put You In the Christmas Spirit

I grew up in a Brethren in Christ church. Over the Christmas season our choir used to perform the entirity of Handel's Messiah. My favorite part was always the Hallelujah chorus. It gives me goosebumps every time I hear it.

We go to a much less traditional church now. Instead of a choir we have a worship band. Instead of the classics & hymns we sing 'contemporary' worship music. But, sometimes I miss the traditional music. There's no denying it's absolutely inspired by God's Spirit.

I hope you enjoy this little surprise performance of the Hallelujah Chorus that apparently took place in the food court of a mall.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Lurk No More

Apparently there is a term for those who read other blogs but haven't ever left a comment or followed the blog.  They are called 'lurkers'.  It sounds dark and sinister doesn't it?  But, truth be told, I would be a lurker too.  There are definitely blogs I enjoy reading on a regular basis but I haven't made my presence known by leaving any comments.

So it makes me curious.  Are there those of you out there reading this...even if it's just occassionally...who I haven't met yet?  If there are, I would love to meet you now!

If you have a second, go ahead and leave a comment introducing yourself.  I'd love to hear a little about you, how you found my blog, and if you have a blog please leave the web address.  I'd really like to stop by and visit you sometime.

And, to those of you who aren't 'lurkers'...those I've already 'met', I'd still love to hear how you originally found my blog.

Looking forward to making some new blog friends today!  Have an awesome Friday.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

A Bit of This and That

I have a really bad habit of accumulating pictures on the memory stick in my camera.  Then I never download them or get them printed in a timely manner.  Today I went through all the pics on my camera and decided to delete the bad pics.

Imagine my surprise when I realized I had over 1600 pictures on my memory stick.  It was pretty much all the pics from this entire year!  I deleted close to 500 pictures.  But, there were still too many pictures for me to download onto my computer all at once.  It got stuck at around 700.

Moral of the story?  I need to get these pics saved on a flashdrive (which is better than saving them on the computer hard drive anyway) and then I need to get them printed.  And, in the future I must be better about dealing with my pictures straightaway (New Year's resolutions anyone?).

All this to say, I have a few pictures I wanted to share with you today...

Do you remember this?  It's one of the new bookshelves I bought a few weeks back from Craigslist.

Well, I had books from an upstairs (small) bookshelf and the books from our corner cupboard (shown here) that I wanted to consolidate into one place...

As I was going through books it started to get a little overwhelming.  I actually ended up donating several bags of books to the library.

I still left a row of books on the bottom of the corner cupboard.  I didn't want to make my bookshelves overly full.  I still need to organize this cupboard.

Here is the finished product (more or less).  I've reconfigured it a bit since I took this picture.  But, you get the idea.

Here's another look.  That fourth shelf down has my photo scrapbooks and other photo albums.  This whole post is reminding me that I really need to do Joseph's baby scrapbook.  

Our (lived-in) living room.  It really is that small.  And, we do not have a family room.

This next picture is a classic example of me amusing myself at the expense of my children.  Joseph was eating breakfast and had this cheerio plastered to his forehead.  For some reason I thought it was completely hilarious and had to get the camera.

And now, for some Thanksgiving pictures.  We were at John's parents house.  They live 2 houses down from us.  John's brother, Jay David and his girlfriend Stacie were in town.  They live in Minnesota ( I think?).  So, it was good to see them.

Mia, the dog, was also visiting from Minnesota.  Isn't she just the cutest?

My husband took on the turkey carving.

Edison wanted the drumstick.

A couple days after Thanksgiving my boys asked if we could make Gingerbread men.  We read the story The Gingerbread Man and there was a recipe on the back of the book.  Also, I saw a tip in Family Fun magazine where they said you can make 'paint' for gingerbread cookies, sandtarts, etc.  by using an egg yolk and a few drops of food dye.  

I had never tried this before, but it turned out really well.  You simply paint it on the dough and then bake as usual.  Here's my gingerbread guy.

My boys were a little more creative...

We had egg paint leftover and I hated to waste it.  So, I put it in egg carton sections and then stuck the whole thing in the freezer.  Later this week I pulled it out to see if it was still usable to paint on some sandtarts.  After thawing it out, it no longer had a paint consistency; it was more of a gel.  But, the boys still had fun 'painting' with it.

Finally, look what my father-in-law brought us.  Jersey milk is so rich and creamy.  And, this was raw milk...completely unprocessed.  So, so good.  Oh, and that's from Pa as in grandPA.

Have an awesome day!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Moving Out of Limbo Land

I feel like I've been in limbo lately.  In my last post I told you how we had to evacuate our house because our carbon monoxide detector was going off...and my husband was away.

We spent 2 nights away from home just to be safe.  The first night we spent with my in-law's and the second night we spent at my parent's house.  

I tried to grab the stuff I thought I would need for myself and 4 boys, and I inevitably forgot some stuff.  But we made do.  

I am so thankful to be back in my house!  My husband came home yesterday (with a deer too!) and we think we've determined that the detector went off for some various reasons...
 - Some home carbon monoxide detectors are hypersensitive and will detect trace amounts of the gas even if it hasn't reached dangerous levels.
 - The coal we were burning while he was gone is a carbon based fuel and emits more carbon monoxide than wood.
 - The chimney and pipe got a good cleaning from my husband ( he did clean it earlier this year too) and that seemed to help
 - We discovered that if we leave certain vents open on the furnace it seems to help keep gases and smoke from backing up and out of the furnace.

We were probably never really in danger.  But it's so much better to be safe.

A couple thoughts from these past few days...

1.  As crazy as my tiny fixer upper house makes me sometimes, it is still home.  And, there is nothing quite like being home.

2.  We are so fortunate that we have family close by and that we have family that doesn't hesitate to lend us a hand.  Even though my husband, my older 2 boys, and I slept here last night, my mom offered to keep the younger 2 overnight again.  And, she'll be bringing them home later today.  She wanted to give me a chance to catch up on some laundry and household stuff.  What a blessing!

3.  Although I sometimes lament that we never call in a professional for anything, it really is such a relief that my husband can handle almost any job that comes up.  He is a very talented man and I'm always amazed at what he is able to do.  He fixes our vehicles, does all our remodeling work, fixes any system in the house that needs attention - electrical, plumbing, heating, etc.  

4.  My boys take the cue from me.  Were we going to treat this whole situation as an adventure or as a hindrance to our life?  I probably didn't set the tone as well as I would have liked.  But, it gave me food for thought.

Now, I really do have other stuff I've been planning on sharing...with pictures!  If I can just get them all downloaded....

Have a great day!

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