Sunday, December 8, 2013

An Easy, Homemade Christmas Gift

I'm excited about this post. This has been they year of Pinterest crafts for me. Not only have I amassed an amazing collection of boards and pins, but I'm proud to say, I've actually tried a LOT of them!

This pin is one of my most recent craft attempts and since I deemed the final result nice enough to give as gifts, I thought I would share it here. The original post can be found here. I quadrupled the recipe so we would have lots of gifts. It's a good thing I did this because we had a lot of errors in our trials, but there were still plenty of successful ornaments. I say "we" because the boys helped me with this one.

Bird Seed Ornaments

Mix  1/2 cup flour, 1/2 cups water and 3 Tablespoons of corn syrup in a large bowl

Mix in 4 cups of bird seed and stir everything together.
From here, lay a piece of wax paper over a cookie sheet and spread the bird seed mixture evenly over the wax paper. It's best to let it sit at this point for about an hour to harden a little bit before you start cutting into it. I forgot to take pictures of this step, but you can see in the next picture how it looked on the cookie sheet. The mixture is very gooey at the beginning, but becomes brittle as it dries. You have to handle it with care throughout the process.
I saw some recipes for this that said to put the cookie cutters into the mixture and then leave them there until it has completely dried. If I do this again, I will probably do that because even after an hour, the mixture wants to fall apart. I left the cookie cutters on while I lifted from the pan to the counter to finish drying. Then I removed the cookie cutter.


Here are the final products as they were left to dry for several more hours.

Throughout the drying stage, I tried several different methods of stringing the ornaments so we could hang them up. When the mixture was still gooey, I tried putting a straw through it to make a hole, but the whole ornament fell apart when I did that. After it was pretty set and dried, I also dried putting a hole in it, but then it was too brittle and the whole thing just cracked.

Here was my ultimate solution that worked like a charm. I strung some string through a large needed and then threaded it right through the ornament. I had to be careful to not get it to close to the edge or it all fell apart. I did this after they had dried for about 5-6 hours.

Ta da! I think it turned out really nicely. I wish I had thought to take a picture of them hanging outside on the tree.

Here were all the scraps from my trials and errors. I will just pour them into our bird feeder.

All packaged up and ready to gift!

Happy crafting!

Monday, November 25, 2013

Christmas before Thanksgiving

So here it is, the weekend before Thanksgiving. My house is ready for the Grandparents' arrival, and the shopping is done for our Thanksgiving feast. We've enjoyed our fall crafts, made hot cider, and finished off all of our Halloween candy. In the spirit of the holidays, I decided (with the help of Lex) to go ahead and put up our Christmas tree.

Now hear  me out before you exclaim, "But Thanksgiving comes first" or "It's too early" or anything else. I've heard it all and used to even agree with it. But here's the fact of the matter: I love Christmas.

I always have. I love the smells, the tastes, the traditions. But most of all, I love the emphasis on family, togetherness, and the spirit of giving to others. Who cares if I want to stretch out "the feeling" of Christmas for a few extra weeks? WHO CARES? I love it when I start to see the trees up in the stores. I don't automatically think about how commercialism has ruined this holiday. When I see the
trees and when I hear the music, that's when I see my boys get excited. It's when I think about how I can bless others this season. It's when I think about how to make every moment special from now until the tree comes down.

And as for the argument about "Thanksgiving comes first," I love that holiday too and don't think for a moment that I pass over Thanksgiving. Think about it. The two holidays hold many of the same traditions. I love taking a day to be thankful.  It's another day that symbolizes family and tradition. I am not any less grateful just because I'm eating turkey with my Christmas tree in the next room.

So even though I'm the only one on the block with my tree up, and all I've heard from anyone (it seems) is how it's "too early," I am enjoying my tree next to my husband and boys, planning the homemade gifts we still need to prepare and I have a heart full of the Christmas spirit AND Thanksgiving.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

How Does Your Garden Grow?

From a very young age, I remember working beside my mom and grandma in the garden. I remember planting seeds, weeding, harvesting, and canning. I developed an appreciation for food that can be grown in your own back yard.

Fast forward 20+ years when I finally had a house with a yard. The first house we rented in the woods had great sunshine, but lots of bugs. The few times we planted a little vegetable garden, it fell victim to disease, or bugs, or rabbits. That, however, didn't stop me from getting excited around January each year in anticipation of a spring vegetable garden.

We moved into town almost 2 years ago and were blessed with a large, fenced, back yard. We are grateful for the many, mature trees that provide shade, even though they do leave us with just a small spot for the vegetable garden. This year, I was determined to grow some vegetables.

We started with a small plot that had a significant amount of sunlight. We bought some fencing from Lowes, rented a tiller (after little success with our own little tiller), and spent a morning at a local nursery picking out our plants. Here  is what the initial product looked like.
I was (and still am) so proud of that little garden. On the left is a row of tomato plants. The middle 2 rows are a variety of green peppers, chili peppers, and Anaheim peppers. The row on the right is zucchini. There's also some mint and dill on the front side. It didn't look like much to begin with, but I went out to look at it every single day. Unfortunately, we were hit by some heavy rain and flooding early this summer, and my simple, little garden took a hit. I thought we would lose all the zucchini and peppers, and the tomatoes seemed to be stunted. I considered pulling out the plants that seemed just a little too yellow to yield any produce, but we stuck with it and let  nature do her thing.
By July, our garden made a comeback, and it appeared that the only loss wee suffered were 2 pepper plants. Every thing else came back. We figured out that we weren't watering it enough and set up our sprinkler so it would be an easy daily task during the heat of the summer. Here is how our garden progressed.
When we started seeing vegetables, we were even more motivated to tend to our garden. We couldn't wait to eat some home grown veggies.
And finally, the vegetables came, and then kept coming, and coming, and coming.

Now, it mid September, our plants are heavy with mature vegetables ready to be picked. The picture above shows just one day's worth of vegetables (and we purposefully left some tomatoes on the vine, because we were worried that we couldn't eat them all). We were able to give some away and still had plenty to enjoy ourselves. We can't wait until next year, when we plan to expand our garden and hopefully double the number of plants. Our small little garden this year produced enough to keep us eating fresh veggies throughout the summer. My goal next year is to can some of those vegetables so we have them through the fall! 
While we're on the topic of things that grow, I thought this would be a good post to share some pictures of our flower garden as well.

I love the colors of summer and the feeling of my fingers in the dirt. Gardening has the ability to stimulate all of our sense which makes it such a fulfilling hobby. I'm sad to have to move my garden indoors when cooler weather hits. Unfortunately, I am really bad with indoor plants. I guess I'll just have to start planning for next year! 

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Jalapeno Popper Dip

Football season has arrived. There's something about the first games of the season that makes me want to scour cookbooks for crockpot recipes, slow simmering soups, and yummy appetizers to munch on all Saturday and Sunday during the games.

This dip is inspired by a recipe I found on Pinterest, here.  For our family, who is trying to be gluten and dairy free most of the time, this recipe breaks all the rules.

Here goes...

Jalapeno Popper Dip

As all good dips start, dice and cook a 1 pound package of bacon until crisp. Remove from skillet and drain.

For the dip base, combine 2 packages of cream cheese with 1 cup of mayo.

Dice and seed 6 jalapeno peppers. When I make this again, I will leave in more seeds for some heat. If you take out all the seeds, there's no heat at all in this dip.

To the base, add the diced jalapenos, bacon, 1/4 cup diced green onions, 1 cup of shredded cheddar, and 1/2 cup of shredded mozzarella. Mix well and transfer to a baking dish. I used a 9 X 9 square dish.

If you want a cold dip, you can stop right here. It tasted like a regular cheeseball with a little kick. It would taste great as a dip with nothing else.

If you want a hot dip, you can bake it at this point, or add a topping of one cup crushed Ritz crackers and 1/2 cup melted butter. I did it with the topping, but think it would be just as good without it.

Finally, bake at 350 degrees F for 20-25 minutes. Eat with crackers. It makes plenty so it would be perfect for a tailgate or football party. Enjoy!!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

List of Lists

I am a listmaker. I have been for as long as I can remember. Even when everything else seems really crazy and hectic, I feel somehow centered by making a list. I have been inspired by a couple of other blogs to create a list of lists. A go-to menu of lists, if you will. The items on my list of lists are a combination of brain exercises (how many presidents can you list?), soul seeking reflections, and lists just for fun. You can complete them in any particular order, and there are just enough to complete one each week for a year if you want. Are there any other list makers out there?

My List of Lists:

1.) Things that make you calm
2.) Your favorite childhood books
3.) Things to do in your backyard (activities - not chores)
4.) Household projects you want to complete
5.) New restaurants you want to try
6.) Date ideas
7.) Free family outing ideas
8.) Things that feel like fall
9.) Christmas traditions
10.) Movies you want to see
11.) A history of your favorite t.v. shows
12.) Things that remind you of your family
13.) Ways you can save money and/or reduce your carbon footprint
14.) Summer bucket list
15.) Your guilty pleasures
16.) Places in the U.S. you'd like to visit
17.) Free parks and events in your area
18.) The top 10 things you would do at the zoo
19.) Items in your house that bring you  joy
20.) Your favorite blogs
21.) What you are thankful for
22.) Your favorite childhood toys
23.) Things to do on a campout
24.) Fears you have overcome or want to overcome
25.) All the presidents you can think of
26.) All the countries in Africa you can think of
27.) Ways to pass time in the car
28.) All of the NFL (NBA, MLB, NHL) teams you can think of
29.) The things you never want to try (bungee jumping, anyone?)
30.) All the places you have lived (or pets you have owned)
31.) The countries you would like to visit
32.) Your favorite quotes/verses
33.) How you stay healthy
34.) Go-to recipes/meals
35.) Dreams for the future
36.) Your favorite things to do on the first chilly night of the season
37.) Ways you (and your children) can make guests feel welcome
38.) Simple gifts/acts that can cheer up those around you
39.) Causes you believe in
40.) How you spend the day of the season's first snowfall
41.) Your husband's (or partner or kids) favorite things
42.) Things you are really good at
43.) Organization tips you use in your home and life
44.) Your favorite summertime things
45.) Things you learned from your parents
46.) Projects or crafts you want to create
47.) Things you would pack in a carry-on an overseas trip
48.) Values you want to instill in your children (or want to see instilledin our nation's children)
49.) Foods/drinks that warm you when it's cold outside
50.) Your favorite signs of spring
51.) Things you admire about your grandparents (or other extended family)
52.) Things that energize you

Happy, creative writing to you!

Feel free to share your lists or list ideas!

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Wrapping Up Summer

Oh my simple little blog, I had such high hopes for you back in July when I had outlined a different post for each week. Well... summer happened and here I am with a summary of what we've been up to for the past couple of months.

We had a couple of birthdays around here.

In July, Eli turned the big 02!

Eli's current favorite word is otay (okay) and his favorite thing to do is push his dump truck around the back yard. His favorite food is meat (Yes, I know that's a food group and not a food, but it really is his favorite).

Lex also had a birthday and celebrated the big 04. This is seriously a conversation that I had with Lex recently:

Lex: I need to play on the ipad when we get home.
Mommy: First you need to do your chores. Then you can plan on the ipad.
Lex: First chores, then play on the ipad?!?! That’s impossible! I need to talk to daddy.
Are you kidding me? His debate skills have become so refined that I often need to remind myself that I'm talking to a 4 year old. 
Here's a pic of his special day.

In mid July, we took Lex on his first camping trip with some friends. One night was the just right amount of time for his first trip. Here he is hiking with his friend on the trail behind our campsite.

We took a trip this summer to Ohio to visit family and enjoy some  much needed R&R. Here is my absolutely favorite picture from the trip. Cousins in a row. Can you guess which one is NOT a happy camper?  Since I traveled by myself with the boys on this trip, I became eternally grateful for 2 boys that are happy car riders. The secret was rest stops with play grounds to wear them out along the way.

We had some firsts and new things this summer as well:

A new tire swing in the backyard.

Our first successful little garden that gave us yellow squash, zuchinni, tomatoes, and several varieties of peppers. We are still enoying a regular harvest of tomatoes and already look forward to a larger garden next year.
Our first family outing to a nearby lake to check out the playground, camping amenities, and the views (for the record, we didn't camp - we just looked at the campground).
Our first trip to Missouri State Fair, where the boys enjoyed looking at the petting zoo and......
 Lex rode his first roller coaster like a champ!
To end the summer, the boys began a new daycare center, and Lex started preschool.
It has been a great, fulfilling summer, even if I didn't get all the blog posts that I wanted to. I will try to do more frequent posts as we settle into a new school routine. With fall approaching, I'm eager to share my favorite recipes and some footbally party ideas. Go Colts! I hope everyone feels refreshed and revived from the summer months!

Sunday, July 7, 2013

4th of July

I just love holidays -any holiday. Holidays make me remember my childhood and all the memories that we created on those special days. Since my boys are still little, I've learned that it's the little things that make the holidays special right now. It's the time we spend together doing crafts, fixing food, or going on short outings, always making sure we're home in time for naps to keep everyone happy. As they get older, they'll grow into new traditions, but for now, I'll savor these little things that make our holidays so special.

Here's how we spent our 4th of July holiday.

Our Annual 4th of July Parade. Our town is little but the parade is really nice. We don't have to compete for space on the sidewalk. Everyone gets a front row seat and everyone gets tons of candy. Here are the boys and Jeremy waiting for it to begin. As you can see, Lex is studying his bag to see how much candy he can fit.

Let the parade begin! Here come the fire trucks.

Hello Mr. Fireman. Thank you for your service.

Let the candy collecting begin. Tootsie Rolls and suckers seemed to be popular with our little guys.

Here's proof that I was there too.

On our walk home, we stopped by  a new little flee market in our town. Here is what we found. A meat slicer in great shape, a navy blue casserole dish, a nice strainer that stretches across the kitchen sink, and a handheld cheese grater....All for about $20!! Whoo hoo!

Back at home, with the kids down for a nap, Jeremy started smoking our pork butt for pulled pork sandwiches.

Later, the boys came out to play. Here's Eli learning how to go head first down the slide.

And here's our feast. On the menu: Pulled pork sandwiches, cowboy beans, grilled corn on the cob (seasoned with olive oil, sea salt, cracked pepper, and parsley), and watermelon. Later we had strawberry shortcake with homemade whipped cream (more on that later).

We did not go out for fireworks this year due to the fact that Jeremy had to be to work at 4:30 the next morning, and our boys get cranky after 9:00. Maybe next year. We got some fun little fireworks that the boys could do in the driveway.

Hope you had a great holiday!