Monday, December 31, 2007

Christmas Re-Cap

Happy New Year! I'm excited to get back to posting and get caught up with everyone! I trust you all had a wonderful Christmas celebration and wanted to share a few highlights of our week together!

First of all, I just had to show you how the little ladies looked in their new Christmas jammies!
Our Advent Walk went great and here is our group (minus a couple of people) caroling:

We all exclaimed over how happy it seemed to make people when we rang their doorbell and started singing! It was so neat how much joy it brought to them!

When we returned home, we had a hot chocolate bar and lots of Christmas cookies. Unfortunately, it wasn't cold enough for anyone to want hot chocolate - but Emily was a willing recipient!

My parents were with us for Christmas, which was a special treat and we enjoyed our visit with them so much!

Freezer Ideas?

Knowing that the next month or two are going to be busy with a new baby in the house or me being on bed rest - I've been trying to think of meals I can make ahead and put in the freezer.

I've already made Broccoli Chicken Lasagna and two Chicken Pot Pies. So, I'm wondering what tried and true recipes you've put in the freezer that I might consider trying as well. I don't care for tomatoes, so that limits lots of options ~ with that in mind - what do you make ahead and put in your freezer? Thanks for any ideas!

Friday, December 21, 2007

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas!

I hope you all have a wonderful time celebrating Jesus' birth with those near to you!

I will be taking next week off from posting - but look forward to catching up when I return!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Mitford Moment: Advent Walk

You've probably noticed several references to this event in other posts, so here are all the details!

I've noticed in a couple of Mitford books that she mentions an annual event called the Advent Walk.

"If he remembered right, this afternoon was the annual Advent Walk. A horde of locals would start out at the Episcopalians, then march around to the Presbyterians and Methodists, enjoying a brief service at each stop and singing hymns and carols along the way. The whole caboodle would end up at First Baptist, with all the hot cider, cookies, and whatnot a man could hold."
~ pg. 102-103: Shepherd's Abiding by Jan Karon
I've always thought this sounded like a fun idea - though in most of our towns and cities where things are not within walking distance, not very practical for hosting. My idea will be adapted, but still carry the same thought and certainly to the same purpose of preparing for the coming of Christ at Christmas!

The word Advent means "a coming" and implies preparing ourselves for the coming of Christ!

I love how this book describes Advent:
"With December comes the weeks of Advent. Yet, the month of December and the season of Advent are not synonymous; they are, in fact, radically different. December brings all the outward preparations, all that we have to do to prepare for Christmas. Advent is an invitation to an inward preparation, calling us to listen, to attend to the preparation of the heart. Advent calls us to stop - however briefly - all of the frenetic doing and invites us to come into an experience of the holy." ~ page 5 & 6: Christ, the Light of the World by Thomas Kinkade
And, so - my idea was born. Here is the invitation I sent (I used paper which had lots of names for God listed on it, it proved to be a bit hard to read - but I was going for something that fit the theme):

The invitation includes the following description:

"We will begin with a soup dinner together and then go on a short candlelit walk to carol at four neighbor homes. We will theme the songs we choose at each home to reflect the themes of the weeks of Advent and prepare our hearts for the coming of Christ at Christmas! When we return home, we'll enjoy hot cocoa and cookies!"

My inspiration for the songs used at each home and the themes that inspired them comes from a great flyer produced by The Navigators excerpted from "Christ in Christmas" Advent Devotionals. Each week includes a theme, songs that go with it, meditation questions and a Scripture reading for each day that week.

House 1: A Child Will Be Born To Us ~ Away In A Manger
House 2: The Birth of Christ ~ O Little Town of Bethlehem; O Come, O Come, Emmanuel
House 3: The Shepherds & Angels ~ Silent Night, Holy Night; O Come, All Ye Faithful
House 4: The Visit of the Magi ~ We Three Kings; The First Noel

Later at home: Celebrating the Visit of Christ (Christmas Eve) ~ Joy to the World; Hark! The Herald Angels Sing

For the menu, I'll be making this soup and this bread and my friend, Melissa will bringing another soup and corn bread muffins!

Of course, real candles or lanterns seems the most charming and old-fashioned! But, for practical and safety purposes - here is what I came up with:

The candles came from the wedding section of Hobby Lobby for $2/2 pack and I used two 40% off coupons (in two transactions) and the batteries were free at CVS last week! I wrapped a piece of homespun fabric around the base and tied a small bow to make them cuter!

I plan to give each family (only a very few since I'm trying to keep it low key this year) represented a jar of Christmas Smell and an Advent card mentioned earlier.

The hot chocolate bar will include whipped cream, peppermint sticks, marshmallows in star and snowflake shapes, sprinkles, extracts and cinnamon. Any other goodies I should include?

I will make sure to take pictures and share them next week!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007


I have had a recipe torn out of a past Martha Stewart magazine for years on making homemade marshmallows. When, I saw Wendi's post on making them - I was re-inspired to give it a try!

Top all of this inspiration, with a Christmas box that soon arrived from my sister including one of her tasty looking S'mores kits - and I was done for.

I planned to make the marshmallows for our Advent Walk coming to serve with hot chocolate. So, Friday evening when we had plans to eat out for dinner and I didn't need to cook - I used the time saved to make marshmallows! It was easier than I had thought it might be and here is how everything turned out.

First of all, this made a LOT of marshmallows - so the next morning, I am looking at all the marshmallows and thinking, "What am I going to do with all these marshmallows?" Well, being inspired by Carrie's idea - and knowing I still needed to come up with a gift for our neighbors for Christmas, I decided to copy her idea.

I made the graham cracker recipe (with modifications) from this book and packed everything up. I think they turned out so cute!

Here are my marshmallows, chocolate chips and grahams packaged for giving:

Some of my marshmallows are red and white swirled as that was how the recipe was written. But, the food coloring did not swirl below the very top. If I made these again, I would skip the food coloring.
I also made skewers for the marshmallows to be toasted on ~ a wooden skewer with a star taped on bearing Christmas words was just the ticket!

I made little instruction tags on the computer and layered them with cute scrapbook paper. Then, I "laminated" them with photo laminating pouches that my Mom gave me!

I packaged the goodies in a brown paper lunch sack, punched holes in the top and tied a piece of homespun fabric through. Then before tying the bow, I added some fresh evergreen clippings and then the bow.

Of course, I had to sample one before I shared the recipe with all of you!!! :) Yummy! I warmed the marshmallows over a candle and eventually in the microwave, sprinkled with chocolate chips and layered a second cookie on!

Peppermint Marshmallows (from Martha Stewart Living Magazine)

2 c. sugar
1 T. light corn syrup
4 packages (1/4 oz. each) unflavored gelatin
3/4 tsp. peppermint extract (I left this out as not everyone likes peppermint - though I do!)
2 large egg whites
2 tsp. red food coloring

Prepare an 8x8 baking pan by spraying with cooking spray; line bottom of pan with parchment paper and then spray the paper. Set pan aside.

Put sugar, corn syrup and 3/4 c. water in a small saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring, until sugar is dissolved. Stop stirring; let mixture come to a boil. Raise heat to medium-high; cook until mixture registers 260 on a candy thermometer. (My thermometer is broken, so I had to guess at this, but it worked out well.)

While that is cooking, sprinkle gelatin over 3/4 c. water in a heatproof bowl; let stand 5 minutes to soften. Set the bowl over a pan of simmering water; whisking constantly until gelatin is dissolved. Remove from heat, and stir in extract; set aside.

Beat egg whites in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment until stiff (but not dry) peaks form. Whisk gelatin mixture into sugar mixture; with mixer running, gradually add to egg whites. Mix on high speed until very thick - about 12-15 minutes.

Pour mixture into lined pan. Working quickly, drop dots of red food coloring across surface of marshmallow. Using a toothpick, swirl food coloring into marshmallow to create a marbleized effect. Let marshmallow stand, uncovered, at room temperature until firm, at least 3 hours or overnight. Cut into squares.

I also cut some of mine with star and snowflake cookie cutters to be used in hot chocolate!

Honey Graham Crackers (From Mary Jane's Farm book)

1 1/4 c. all-purpose flour
1 1/4 c. whole wheat flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/3 c. brown sugar
1/2 c. salted butter
2 T. honey
2 T. molasses
1/3 c. coconut milk
1/2 tsp. coconut extract

Preheat oven to 350. Combine the dry ingredients in a large bowl and set aside. In a medium pan, warm the butter, honey, molasses, and coconut milk just enough to combine. Add the coconut extract.

Pour the milk mixture into flour mixture and mix (I used my Kitchen Aid) until the mixture is gathered together in a ball.

Turn the dough onto a floured surface and knead gently. Divide dough into smaller pieces and roll each piece between two pieces of parchment paper to 1/8 inch thickness.

Cut with a 2 1/2 inch round cookie cutter (I used a Christmas tree). Bake on ungreased cookie sheets for 10 minutes, or until crackers are slightly crisp.

Yield: 20 crackers

Now for the changes I made: I tripled the recipe and did not have any molasses, so used corn syrup in place of that. I would have preferred to use honey - but after three batches did not have enough! I also subbed whole milk for the coconut milk and omitted the coconut extract. I intended to put vanilla extract in, but forgot - I think that would have made them more flavorful! I also left the salt out.

I hope my neighbors will enjoy this little treat they can create together!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Doorstop Take Two

I interrupt all the Christmas posting for a practical household project!

Our bedroom door closes if you merely breathe on it, it seems. I've been wanting to make a doorstop for it - but just hadn't settled on what I wanted to do. I wanted something different than this for this time around.

As it happens, when you cannot sleep at 5am and get up to peruse crafty blogs - you will likely come up with a few projects you want to work on! I hadn't let myself browse this site lately because I knew I did not need any more projects right now. But, at 5am - the rest is history.

Here is the lovely tutorial (courtesy of this blog) I came upon for a very cute doorstop and I decided this was the one to make for our door!

And, this is how my doorstop turned out:

I had never machine quilted anything before - so was very pleased that I actually did it and it looks nice! I mixed up the pattern a little bit and did solid on the back and patterns on the front. This enabled me to buy less fabric and the entire project was probably just a little over $3.00 - $2.50 of which was for the four pounds of dried beans!

Initially, I wasn't sure about the handle - but it has come in handy already as David's closet is right behind this door that goes to our room, so it needs to be moved fairly often. Also, the girls think it is a purse and have had tons of fun playing with it in the 24 hours it has been in place. Rachel lugs it behind her (it has 4 lbs of dry beans in it!) and says, "Bye!"

Another thing I did differently, was I did not put a zipper in the bottom of the door stop - I just hand stitched it up and when it needs cleaning, I can use a lint roller and damp rag.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Christmas Fun: Week Two

Here is the update on the fun Christmas things we did last week!

Friday Night: David's work hosted a Christmas Party that he and I went to and the girls had a babysitter and enjoyed watching The Snowman (thank you, Rebecca) and eating Christmas tree cakes!

Saturday: We drove to a Festival of Lights ~ the wait was much longer than we had anticipated, but Emily's enjoyment made up for it once we got in! And, no, we did not stage Emily's photo - this is how excited she was to see more lights!

Sunday: Continued by lighting the second Advent candle

Monday: Marshmallow Snowman

Tuesday: Watched Charlie Brown Christmas and ate ice cream with Christmas sprinkles (it has been warm enough here almost to turn the air conditioner on, so ice cream was more than appropriate!)

Wednesday: We were all so tired this evening that we just played and read by the Christmas tree. We didn't have an activity - but just enjoyed being together.

Thursday: Orange Snowman

Friday: Started the day out with a yummy breakfast and then shared it with others! Ended the day with another Christmas Party, this time including the little ladies!

Saturday: We had a family night planned - but things changed and we were just glad to be home and be together. Emily wasn't feeling good and we were all exhausted!

Sunday: Christmas Musical at church - oh, I enjoyed this so much! The choir and orchestra did a great job and it was very well done! Due to two tired parents and two energetic little girls - we forgot to do our Advent candle, so there is always tonight at dinner - right?!

Winter Spice Scones

I found this recipe in my most recent issue of Southern Lady and knew I wanted to try it!

Winter Spice Scones
Makes: 8 servings

2 c. all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. ginger (I used pumpkin pie spice instead)
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
6 Tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 c. Pumpkin Spice or Gingerbread Flavor Coffeemate Creamer (I used Pumpkin Spice)
3/4 T. grated orange peel or 1/2 tsp. orange extract (I did not use this)

Place all dry ingredients into food processor and mix. Add butter and process until mixture looks like fine crumbs. Add creamer and process just until moist. Place dough on a floured surface and shape into a circle cutting into eight wedges (I did cookie cutter shapes instead). Place scones on a parchment lined baking sheet and bake at 425 for about 15 minutes.

Spiced Icing:
2 c. powdered sugar
2 T. creamer (I used 4 T. as it was too thick)
1 tsp. grated orange peel or 1/4 tsp. orange extract (I did not use this)

Mix until smooth and spread over warm scones.

* These were delicious! If I made them again, I would half the icing recipe as it made way too much. I would also make the icing thinner and just drizzle it over the tops instead of frosting them because they were too sweet for me with the frosting.

The girls and I enjoyed them for breakfast (Emily and Rachel loved the ones with sprinkles!) and then we surprised Daddy with a visit at work and shared the rest there!


Friday, December 14, 2007

Making Your Home A Haven Challenge

Here is the report on our fourth day participating in the challenge! Personally, I have found this extremely beneficial. It has refreshed my perspective about my home and how I care for it and plan my day. I thought I was organized - but, now I'm seeing there is room for improvement. Also, my focus has been more geared toward what I gleaned from my quiet time and I've noticed I've thought of it more during the day than usual.

Anyway, thanks for all of the positive feedback - this has been a great exercise for us around here and I hope I will carry on the habits I've started forming this week.

1. Refresh your spirit.

Here is the verse from my quiet time:

Acts 17:27-28, "To seek God, and, it might be, to touch and find him; though indeed he is not far from each one of us, for in him we live and move, in him we exist."
2. Do your morning routine.

We completed our normal morning tasks a little before 9 so we could get started on our day.

3. Take time to plan.

Thursday's usual chores are:
* Clean entry way window.
* Clean second bathroom.
* Dust.

I nearly always give the girls a bath on the morning that I plan to clean the bathroom. They are happy and occupied and I'm right there with them, but also cleaning! Works great!

I had dusted thoroughly last week - so skipped that for today since it didn't really need it.

4. What's on the menu for dinner?

David had to work again and we had lots of leftovers - so we just pulled out all of this and fixed our plates. Worked out great!

5. Project of the day.

The project Crystal listed was the bedrooms. However, I revised this and made my project to clean out the refrigerator and both freezers. I also wanted to do some baking and cooking. Here are the pix - you all seem to be enjoying my before and afters - boy is it humbling!

Emily helped me clean out the refrigerator and freezers:

Refrigerator Before:
Refrigerator After:

My little helper:
Freezer Before:
Freezer After:
Big Freezer Before:
Big Freezer After:
I wanted to cook one of these pumpkins (the one I had inside was too soft and I had to throw it out a couple of weeks ago) that my Mom grew in her garden, here is the beautiful puree. Note: I was pleasantly surprised at how easy this was to do! I cut the pumpkin in half and removed the seeds. Then, I placed it cut side down on a baking sheet and put in the oven at 350 for an hour. I scooped out the soft flesh and put in the food processor for just a few minutes.
I made white icing for our evening craft and snack - see below for details:
Our dog was out of dog biscuits - so I got those restocked:
Winter Spice Scones made and put in the refrigerator for our breakfast this morning. I'll post the recipe and a photo after they have been baked and tasted!
I had also wanted to make roll/cinnamon roll dough and try my hand at making marshmallows. But, these things simply did not get done. I'll add them to my list for today!

After dinner, we pulled out the supplies to make these cute snowmen
(idea from a past Real Simple):

Emily giggled and had fun making this - unfortunately, I would not suggest trying it unless you know a secret I don't! When you pierce the orange to put the arms and nose in, the juice runs out and dilutes the icing so it doesn't harden. Therefore the cutie falls over. I put a wooden skewer through the whole thing, but it kept tipping over. Alas, we probably won't do this again.

Then, we had a little snack that I loved from childhood ~ leftover icing from our above project and graham cracker sandwiches! Yummy!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Making Your Home A Haven Challenge

There was no challenge posted yesterday at Crystal's blog due to some technical difficulties she is having. So, I decided to make up my own.

I already had a dentist appointment and plans for my friend Melissa to come over and spend the day with us. So, today my home became a haven for friendship!

1. Refresh your spirit.

The verse from my quiet time this morning was:

II Corinthians 2:15, "For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing."
Oh, how I want to be a sweet aroma to those who are around me.

2. Do your morning routine.

I was a little more rushed in the morning, since I had an early dentist appointment - but was able to complete my morning routine before I left.

3. Take time to plan.

My chore for Wednesday is to sweep and mop the dining room and kitchen floors. Today, I swept - but did not mop the floors due to time.

4. What's on the menu for dinner?

Brisket, baked beans and oven fries - a favorite meal of David's! He's had to work lots of evenings lately, so since he was home, I wanted it to be a special and enjoyable meal for him.

This is easy to prepare since the brisket cooks on a low temp for a few hours.

5. Project of the day.

My goals for today included getting out and running some errands with the girls and Melissa. We each had a couple of places we wanted to go and it was so much easier not to have to get the girls out of the car at each place if one of us just needed to run in for a second. David and I have agreed lately that I need to limit getting out with the girls based on my history of pre-term labor and trying to avoid bed rest! Things I accomplished were:

* Fill car up with gas.
* Donate a couple of boxes of items to the thrift store ~ also helps in cleaning out my closet!
* Complete a return at a store that was on our way to another stop.

Then, we came home and prepared lunch. We had a lovely salad and this yummy broccoli dip with french bread!

We exchanged Christmas gifts after the ladies were down for their naps and I just have to share what she gave me because I LOVED her thoughtful and sweet gifts. She definitely has a gift of knowing what others will enjoy and blessing them through the gift of her generous spirit.

A cute apple-shaped cutting board:

Look at these great keys! I loved the story too - she said that the lady in the shop told her that she had the keys that belonged to her grandparents and their cabins and that they had replicas made and sold them in their shop. I had fun dreaming about how charming it would be to come home and put a key like this in the lock!

Some always-useful notecards! And, a special set that says, "I'm Thankful For..." ~ love that!

Look at this FABULOUS jar! I simply love it! She filled it with things that she knew I would love like M&M's, a neat ornament and fun Kleenex!

After she left, I made a mug of hot cocoa and sat down to watch this and read...

... this which just came in the mail.

My sister had just posted a recipe for hot chocolate and I was so excited! I've tried lots of hot chocolate recipes to find one that I liked enough to make it regularly at home and never have quite found just *the* right one. Until now! I embellished the recipe a little and this is so delicious - I will share exactly what I did:

1/3 c. powdered milk
1 1/2 T. cocoa
3 T. sugar
1/8 tsp. peppermint extract
2 T. milk
1 c. hot water
handful marshmallows

Mix together powdered milk, cocoa, sugar and extract. Heat water in microwave and pour into mug. Stir well. Add milk and marshmallows. Yummy!

Today, I did accomplish a few things I needed to - but also enjoyed my home for the haven it is and those who shared it with me today!

Answers, Answers, Answers!

Thanks for your patience in getting to this! There were lots of great questions in a post earlier this week from the Making Your Home a Haven Challenge. Here are all the answers:

* What spices do you simmer on the stove? See complete answer here.

* Where did you get the little aprons?
Both of these were given to us - I have used the white one as a pattern to make another one. And, here is a link to an adorable retro apron pattern for kids. Or, here is a link to a tutorial making an apron out of a dishtowel!

* How do you clean your disposal?
Each week when I clean my kitchen, I also clean the disposal. I do this by boiling one kettle full of water on the stove. When it is ready, I put about 1/3 c. baking soda in the drain and pour the boiling water in the disposal with the disposal running. If I have some orange or lemon that needs to be used up - I keep this in the freezer and run this through instead of the baking soda/boiling water method. Either way works great for me.

* Where did you get the tea set shown in the tea party picture?
This set of four plates and tea pot were a wedding gift. The bottom of the plates says, "Gates Ware by Laurie Gates" I found a link to Laurie Gates, and though I did not find a link to these exact dishes - there are lots of patterns out there on ebay, Amazon and even MSN shopping. Hope that helps!

Did I forget anything?

Simmering Spices

Several of you asked about the spices I mentioned simmering on the stove. I pursued this idea after reading about it in the Mitford books and seeing a recipe in the Mitford Cookbook for "Christmas Smell."

I'm planning to host an Advent Walk right before Christmas (I'll be sharing more about this) and plan to give one jar of this "Christmas Smell" to each family who comes. So, this was my trial jar to make sure it worked.

In a pint sized canning jar place the following spices:
1 T. whole cloves
1 T. whole allspice
1 T. ginger
2 T. cinnamon sticks (I used 1 inch size)

Place two orange slices in jar and fill with apple juice. Store jar in refrigerator until you are ready to use the spices.

Include a tag with the following info:

Empty contents of jar into a small saucepan. Bring to a light simmer and then turn to Low temperature for about 30 minutes. Repeat as desired to keep smell going. You can continue to use the spices for a couple of days or until all liquid evaporates.

I think you could keep adding liquid - but eventually, the spices will simply need to be tossed. Use your own discretion.

I ordered these spices online because I did not know of a local source to get bulk spices and buying them at the grocery store was cost prohibitive.