Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Magical Christmas

This year, we decided to do something a little different for Christmas. Back in late summer, a friend of ours suggested that we join their family in renting cabins by a lake about 40 minutes drive from here, at one of the state parks, for Christmas weekend. It sounded like fun, so in early October, we made our reservation, and before we knew it, Christmas was here, and we were discovering our weekend getaway...


The cabin sleeps 8 and there are 6 of us, so it was plenty spacious, and our friends even brought us a live tree they cut down on their property, that went all the way to the rafters! Christmas Eve, the two families settled in and we made ornaments for our trees, and enjoyed a great feast of Wham! (vegetarian "ham"; not that 80's band!), sweet potatoes with apples, and tons of other delicious goodies!

Christmas morning, after the boys woke the whole cabin several times clambering downstairs to look for their stockings (Santa hid theirs under my bed; imagine that), we finally got up with the sun and started our day. We read the Christmas story from Luke and Matthew, then opened our presents to each other. Then we had a breakfast of leftovers and opened our presents from grandma and grandpa. Here, the kids peer into the grandma and grandpa box...


We enjoyed playing with our stuff all day, then in the evening, the families got back together after dinner for hot cocoa around the campfire. My 8 year old read us a children's storybook of Christ's birth. What an awesome way to spend Christmas!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Christmas is almost here!

Seems like the last few weeks have been rush, rush, rush! Thankfully, we've had nice weather to make it easier on us, but the kids keep wanting snow. We might get a white Christmas eve; we shall see! Two Sundays ago, the kids had their church Christmas play, and they were sure tickled with that. My oldest is now officially a "big kid" so she got to watch (and man a second camera) with me. The play was simple this year. One group of children took turns reading the story of the nativity from Matthew, and the other children joined the stage as the players in His birth. Then they had the audience join them in singing Christmas songs. Simple, but beautiful.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Cookie Trays, Stockings, and Scarves!

Been busily at work, getting things ready for Christmas! I took a picture of our cookie trays (from the recipes I posted last weekend) before we started taking them to their new homes. We had 12 families to deliver to, and got some humongously wonderful smiles in return! Here is how the cookies looked:

The next project I worked on was a set of 8 Christmas stockings; 5 for my kids and 3 for another family we'll be sharing part of Christmas with. I made 3 green, 3 red, and 2 white stars on white. They turned out super cute, and they'll be so fun to fill with goodies!
My next project, which I finished today, was scarves. I was given a wonderful scarf last year and have absolutely loved it. So, I used it as inspiration for the ones I'm giving as gifts this year. To make two scarves, I started by getting 1/2 yard each of dark pink, light pink, and black fleece (on sale at Hancock Fabrics for $3.99 per yard, usually $8.99- I love a good deal!). I cut each half yard in half lengthwise and stacked them, then sewed a zigzag stitch down the middle to hold it together. Like this:
Next, I cut fringe on both sides of the zigzag stitch, leaving about 1/2" of uncut fabric on each side. Then, I shook them out so they'd be all fringey, and voila, now they are nice, warm fluffy scarves- like this:

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Snickerdoodles

The kids loved that this recipe bears the same name as a favorite 3rd grade teacher... LOL. It makes great snickerdoodles! Click here for the original recipe.


Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup shortening
  • 1 1/2 cups white sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons cream of tartar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons white sugar
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C).
  2. Cream together butter, shortening, 1 1/2 cups sugar, the eggs and the vanilla. Blend in the flour, cream of tartar, soda and salt. Shape dough by rounded spoonfuls into balls.
  3. Mix the 2 tablespoons sugar and the cinnamon. Roll balls of dough in mixture. Place 2 inches apart on ungreased baking sheets.
  4. Bake 8 to 10 minutes, or until set but not too hard. Remove immediately from baking sheets.

OMG They're So GOOOOD Cheesecake Cookies

Yup. Hard to resist eating all the batter before it even gets in the oven, and the cookies are to die for! If you like cream cheese, you gotta make these! I imagine the pecans could be left out and still turn out ok.

Ingredients

  • 2 8 oz pkg cream cheese, softened
  • 2 cups softened butter
  • 4 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 cups chopped pecans
  • 4 cups sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla
Directions
  1. Cream butter, cream cheese, vanilla, and sugar. Beat until light and fluffy. Add flour, and once it's mixed in, stir in the chopped pecans.
  2. Form dough into 1 inch balls, place 2 inches apart on cookie sheet, then dip the bottom of a glass in water and gently press each cookie until it's about 2 inches in diameter.
  3. Bake at 375 for 12 to 13 minutes. Cool 2 to 3 minutes on cookie sheets before removing to cooling rack.

They look nothing like the pics on the original recipe page I used (click here to see), but who cares- they're awesome!

Lemonade/Passionfruit Punch Cookies

This is a new recipe we tried this year. I decided that if lemonade is good, other things might be, too. So we made one batch with lemonade and one batch with a frozen passionfruit punch. Both turned out excellent! I followed the original recipe, except I didn't save the extra to brush on top and it was just fine. Made a very soft, cake-like cookie.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup butter
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 cups sifted all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 (6 ounce) can frozen lemonade concentrate, thawed
  • 2 tablespoons white sugar

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C). Lightly grease a cookie sheet.
  2. In a large bowl, cream together butter and 1 cup sugar. Blend in eggs. In a medium bowl, sift together flour and baking soda; gradually beat into butter mixture, alternating with 1/2 cup lemonade concentrate. Drop mixture by rounded teaspoons onto the prepared cookie sheet.
  3. Bake 8 to 10 minutes in the preheated oven, until lightly brown. 


Click here for the original recipe.

Eggless Pumpkin Cookies

These are soooo good! They are always a hit when I bake them for church- it about makes my head spin to see how fast they disappear! The original recipe (click here) calls for chocolate chips, but they are equally good with raisins instead of the chocolate chips.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups white sugar
  • 1 cup shortening
  • 1 (15 ounce) can pumpkin puree
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 to 2 c. of raisins

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C).
  2. Cream the sugar, shortening, pumpkin and vanilla together. Mix until light and well combined.
  3. Mix the flour, baking soda and ground cinnamon. Stir the flour mixture into the creamed mixture. Mix until combined. Stir in the chocolate chips.
  4. Drop by teaspoons onto an ungreased baking sheet. Bake at 375 degrees F (190 degrees C) for 12 to 15 minutes or until set. Let cookies cool on a rack.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Apple Raisin Cookies

I made these last year and they turned out delicious, so I made them again this year! :)

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup shortening
  • 1 1/3 cups packed brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 cup raisins
  • 1 cup chopped apples

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C). Grease cookie sheets.
  2. Cream shortening, sugar and egg. Add half of the dry ingredients.
  3. Blend in milk and remaining dry ingredients.
  4. Add nuts, raisins, apples and mix.
  5. Drop on greased cookie sheet. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes.

The original recipe (click here) called for walnuts and a vanilla glaze, but I found they were fine without that.

Gingerless Snaps

Got our second type of Christmas cookies done... yum! I didn't have any ginger and didn't feel like braving the crowds at the store, so I made my gingersnaps gingerless. And they turned out just as yum! Here's the recipe I used:
Ingredients

  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup molasses
  • 1 egg
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1-1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/3 cup white sugar for decoration

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C).
  2. In a large bowl, mix together the brown sugar, oil, molasses, and egg. Combine the flour, baking soda, salt, cloves, cinnamon, and ginger; stir into the molasses mixture. Roll dough into 1 1/4 inch balls. Roll each ball in white sugar before placing 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheets.
  3. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes in preheated oven, or until center is firm. Cool on wire racks.

You can compare to the original recipe by clicking here!

Black Pepper Cookies

Our Christmas cookie baking is officially underway! The kids bet me that black pepper cookies would be horrible. I bet they would be good. So we made them! I made some modifications on the original recipe we used (click here for the original), as the texture was not working. This is the recipe as we made it:


BLACK PEPPER COOKIES 
4 c. flour
1 c. sugar
1/2 c. margarine at room temperature
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
8 oz. milk
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. vanilla
2 Tbsp. black pepper

Cream margarine, then add all other ingredients. Mix thoroughly and roll into small balls. Place on cookie sheet (they can be fairly close together as they stay in balls) and bake at 350 degrees for 12 minutes. Yield about 60 cookies.

Making Dollies & Popovers

I like to give home made presents when I can, and wanted something special for my friend's two daughters. I decided to make them each a snuggly folk-art sort of dolly. I added dresses made from the cherry material I'd used recently for my oldest daughter's skirt/corselet and also made each one a simple nightie so the girls can change their clothes. My oldest daughter liked them so much, she helped to braid their hair! Here's a picture of how they turned out:


The next thing we did today was make yummy popovers for lunch! My mom used to make them when I was little and I loved them, but I don't think I have ever made them myself. I don't have popover tins, but I decided to try using muffin tins. I'm pleased to say that it worked! And, the kids at them all, which is the Locust Seal of Approval. Here's the recipe we used (makes 6... I tripled this to feed us all):
Ingredients

  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Directions

  1. Lightly grease a popover pan and refrigerate. Beat together eggs and milk. Mix in flour and salt and stir until moistened. Ignore any lumps in the batter. Pour batter into chilled pan.
  2. Place pan into cold oven. Heat oven to 450 degrees F (230 degrees C) and bake for 30 minutes, or until popovers have set.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Grandma Superhero Therapy?!

Yep. It's real. And awesomely amazing. A friend of mine shared this blog post with me and it made me smile (yes, it's kid safe, work safe, all that stuff), so click here to see what makes me smile! I sure hope I am like that when I am 91 years old- she sounds like one amazing woman!!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Bah Humbug?

Today I was waiting in line at the store and I overheard a man talking to a woman. The man said, "I hate this &*#$&^#*&@^& holiday. Like you're only supposed to be nice one #$*@#(* day of the year? What happened to the other 364?"

I felt sad for him. I wondered what would go on in someone's life that they wouldn't notice the good things that happen on the other 364? I firmly believe that what you get in life is what you are looking for. If you look for the bad things, life looks bad. If you look for the good things, life looks good. Not that everything will ever be all bad or all good, but ultimately, we have that choice to realize that even if the glass is half empty, it's still going to help slake our thirst. Even on a bad day, there's little things to smile about if we're open to finding them.

I wanted to tell the man at the store one of my favorite stories. But, I didn't think he would understand or appreciate it much. So I'll tell you because maybe you will (and maybe you've heard it before, but I still love it).

One year, there was a little girl and all she wanted for Christmas was a pony. She talked about ponies every day, she visited every Santa she could find to ask for a pony, she did all her chores just perfectly right to convince her parents that she could take care of a pony, she collected pony toys, wore her hair in a pony tail... and she begged and she begged and she begged... "Mommy... daddy... all I want for Christmas is a pony!" Finally, Christmas morning came and she jumped out of bed and ran downstairs to see her new pony... and discovered the family's living room was piled high to the top in manure!!! Her parents came down behind her and stood in shock at the disaster before them. But, the little girl knew just what to do. She ran to the garage, grabbed a sturdy shovel, and with excitement flashing in her eyes, she threw open the window and began shoveling the pile out the window. Her dad, in shock and horror, shouted, "Honey, WHAT are you doing?!" She stopped for a moment and with wide little girl eyes exclaimed, "Well, daddy... with all this manure, I figure there's got to be a pony in here somewhere!"

Yep, I want to be like that little girl, not the man in the line. I'm a people, and whether other people do or not, I still try to exercise my ability to spread kindness and caring 365 days a year. I hope you do, too.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Mom's Best Waffles

Someone else's mom made these first, and I found the recipe on allrecipes.com, but my kids definitely agree that this recipe makes the best waffles, ever! We usually triple the recipe to have enough to feed us all, then freeze the leftovers as they heat nicely in the toaster, for a quickie breakfast during the week. Click here for a link to the original recipe; it has a gadget that does the calculating for you if you want to adjust the recipe to more or less servings.

Mom's best waffles:
Ingredients
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 tablespoons white sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil

Directions

  1. In a large bowl, stir together flour, baking powder, sugar and salt. Add milk, eggs and oil; mix well.
  2. Spray preheated waffle iron with non-stick cooking spray. Pour mix onto hot waffle iron. Cook until golden brown.

Life is a, um, dress of cherries!

My oldest daughter loves clothes inspired by Japanese lolita fashion, so when I saw this delightful black fabric with cherries on it at a quilt shop, I thought it would make a delightful panel skirt (click here for a tutorial on how to make your own)! She loved it so much, she requested that I make a corset top to go with it. I've had the pattern (Simplicity 2355) for a while, and thought what the heck... back to the quilt shop for another yard of fabric and a boatload of boning. The corset was actually much easier to make than I had anticipated, which made me happy! She paired her skirt and corset with a black shirt we'd gotten off the rack at wally world for $3 last year (she has the same one in black, green, and red), a pair of black shoes, and a parasol she purchased at an anime convention. The result... one HUGE smile!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

People Are So Nice

Maybe it's just because Thanksgiving was this week, maybe it's just been a good day- but I've been having a lot of feelings of gratitude today, about all the super nice things people do. I figured I ought to write it down because some days I have the opposite feeling and I need reminded that yes, there are lots of good people out there, doing good things, and that my belief in the power of random acts of kindness is not unfounded.

One nice person who is always tops on my list is our neighbor. My neighbor's wife was born in their house- she moved away, lived other places, and about five years ago (I've lived in my house for 8), they moved back. They are the best neighbors anyone could ever ask for. After I was divorced in 2006, I noticed every time I thought my lawn looked shaggy and I ought to mow it, it was mowed before I'd get home. Finally, I caught the neighbor doing it. I told him he didn't have to do that. He smiled from ear to ear and said, "I know. I WANT to do that." He is 76 years old, and he still always beats me to the lawn. He and his wife are super kind to my children. In the summer, they'll sit on the porch with them for hours and listen to their stories, answer their questions, and tell them lots of amazing things about their lives. They are always kind, always patient, and people I feel so very fortunate to know.

Another person who never ceases to amaze me with her kindness is my middle daughter's Big Brothers/Big Sisters big. She will often take both of my younger daughters, as her daughters are in the age range and they all play well together. My daughters have been with them for over 2 years and they have definitely become family. They go to church with them (7th Day Adventist) and my daughters have gained a second church family as a result. Her husband is an excellent role model of how a man should treat his wife and children with respect. The Big is a person who always makes sure people are taken care of; if someone's house burns down, she makes sure to help find them clothes and furnishings. If someone is sick, she sees them, brings them what they need, and makes sure others connect and help, too. She makes everyone feel like they are the most important person in the world, and I am so glad my daughters have her for a role model. Recently, she took in some rescue dogs that included a pregnant mama dog, and she knew that the breed mix was heavily skewed toward ones that I am very fond of (Jack Russel/Rat terrier), so she offered us a puppy when they were born. We get to see the puppy every week and now that it's big enough, it visits me and the big kids on Saturdays while she has the littles at church. We named him Dove; he's a precious little white fatty thing. Hopefully he'll get along well with our little min pin (Turtle) so our elderly boxer can have some peace! I'll attach a picture so you can see the darling little Dove! Our family and the Big's family have two cabins at a state park reserved for Christmas, and will be spending the holidays as a family combined celebration. We are really looking forward to it! A lot of people pretend to be nice, but this family is just really, truly, and always nice!


Another nice person I think about is my oldest daughter's friend's mom. My daughter has known her daughter since kindergarten, and they've been in dance classes together all that time. She helped me out one year with taking one of my kids to dance when it was at an early hour, before I got off work, and now, she takes them all. She doesn't have to, she just likes to, and it gives me time to get the other kids taken care of and dinners made and so on. I appreciate her soooo much! She has a teen son that my boys like to play video games with (we have nothing but game boys at our house) so they love it on dance days when they get to hang out, and he treats them like they're his own little brothers.

Speaking of dance, my children's dance teacher is another person I am very grateful for. The lessons she teaches my kids go way beyond dance. She has taught them about following through, about doing something because you love it, about hanging in there when things are hard, about accepting differences, and about how to be part of a team. She always has a minute to chat, whether at the studio or bumping into one another at walmart. My kids know she cares and her dance studio is a place they feel loved.

In addition to the people by whose kindness I am humbled on a regular basis, I had an amazing thing today that made me feel like the recipient of a random act of kindness. My kids and I love to do costumes and cosplay, and I have fair sewing/design skills, but that's it. It takes me a long, long, long time to do a pattern if I have to start from scratch, and there was a costume my oldest daughter and I really want to do. So I had been putting off getting started. Well, I happened to see an ad for someone who was a design student that lost their portfolio when her computer was stolen, that she would do 10 costumes for only the cost of the materials, and will work on a budget. I wrote her and told her about me and my daughter, and that we would LOVE to have her do those two costumes for us. She accepted our commission and we got our measurements for her and talked on the phone today and she was sooo nice! And so we get our awesome costumes, done better and faster than I am capable, and for only what it would have cost me to buy the materials anyway. Wow, that is SO nice!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Mmmm NomNom Noodles

My kids say they know better than to ask me what's for dinner because I always say, "Identifood." For the uninitiated, that means, you'll figure it out when you see it. Maybe. The good news is... they pretty much always love it, and they've been after me to write down how I make stuff, so that someday they can make identifood just like mom. So, for my kids and for you, here's one I made up that I decided to call "Mmmm NomNom Noodles" because that's what the kids said when they ate them :)

Mmmm NomNom Noodles

4 small to medium russet potatoes, peeled and cubed
2 small to medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
1- 12 oz. pkg spinach fettuccine noodles (I used Amish Naturals Garlic & Parsley Fettuccine here)
1/2 of a 1 lb bag of frozen mixed veggies (you know, the ones with peas, carrots, corn, etc...)
6 Tbsp butter or margarine
1 to 2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. garlic powder
a few shakes of black pepper
8 oz shredded sharp cheddar

Preheat oven to 375
Boil potatoes and sweet potatoes in salted water in a large pot for 10 minutes, then add the noodles and cook for another 10. Add the frozen veggies, let sit for a minute or two to warm, then drain and let stand while going on to the next step.
Melt butter in the pot and add salt, pepper, and garlic. Stir until melted and the seasonings are all mixed in, then mix in the noodle/potato/veg mixture until well coated. Pour into a 9 x 13 casserole dish, top with shredded cheese, and bake for about 12 minutes, or until cheese is nicely melted.
Enjoy! Mmmm NomNom! :)