Sunday, December 30, 2012

Catching Up With All of You!

Hello dear friends!  I took a few days off to truly enjoy R&R and time celebrating Christmas with my family but I have missed connecting with all of you and I have so much to share with you!  I don't have all my pictures cleaned up yet but there is much more to come - I promise!  I found this little serving tray and I think it sums up my feelings about the holidays this year quite well.  We were blessed with a white Christmas just in the nick of time here in Michigan and everyone was so excited to see the snow arrive.  We are snowmobilers in this family and are excited to hit the trails in the upcoming weeks - you'll hear and see much more on that very soon.

The kids were really into the magic of Christmas this year.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas!

The excitement is certainly building around here! Today is the first of our Christmas parties and we'll get to see Santa this evening. The kids have been really good about staying out of the presents and they'll finally get to open some today at my in-law's. When we come home they will open a new set of PJs to snuggle in by the fireplace tonight while we read Christmas stories, including the story of Jesus' birth.treats & chocolate milk for Santa and carrots or apple slices for the reindeer. The critters in the barn will be snuggled in with a little extra feed and a few treats of their own. Then the hubby and I will snuggle up with mugs of hot toddy by the light of the fireplace and Christmas tree before bed. Merry Christmas and many blessings to you all!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Make Your Own AG Doll Purse/Tote

My great-grandma was a sewing queen.  Having lived through the Depression, she could make fabric scraps into the most fabulous and unique doll clothes.  We never felt like we had less because we couldn't afford the "real" doll clothes from the store, we thought we were cool because we had things that no one else could even get.  She didn't leave the boys out either - she made my brother a boy doll and made baseball hats and accessories like a little faux leather jacket and silver glove like Michael Jackson.  This little purse/tote was inspired by her.

Friday, December 21, 2012

The Christmas Tree

The Christmas Tree has long been a very important part of Christmas for me.  I remember going at a young age to scout just the perfect tree.  
My parents didn't always have much money for such frivolities and so a few years they made arrangements with friends who had property with some pines old Christmas tree farms that were long overgrown to go find a "wild" tree that we could trim down to size.  

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Make Your Own AG Doll Sleeping Bag

Least you think I have not been very busy, I'll let you in on some Christmas presents I have been working on for my daughter.  At 9, she is in the full swing American Girl doll obsession.  It isn't often that I splurge on such extravagant purchases for my children as a real American Girl doll but when she was 7 it was an unexpected good year and Santa took matters into his own hands and brought the doll of her dreams that looked just like her, including glasses.  This was important because she had gotten glasses and really was beginning to enter that phase of self-consciousness and insecurity that she had never had before.  The doll has provided her with an image of her own beauty and she loves all the hours fussing over the doll and taking her places.  While she understands we can't really afford the things in the catalog to go with her doll, we have been very successful in finding things to go with the 18" doll that she loves including handmade outfits and accessories.  So this year as she is between that little girl and tween stage, I decided some fun new things for the American Girl doll were in order.  I started with this easy sleeping bag that she can use for the doll's bed or when we travel with her.  
This piece of felt is 24" wide and 20" long.  I folded it in half so it is 20"x12" and pinned the bottom and side seam together.  
Then I sewed it with my machine on a zigzag stitch leaving a 6" opening on the long side.  

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Christmas Mug Swap & Candied Nuts

Want to see what I got?  Check out this adorable Santa mug!  Robyn over at Robyn's View sent me this jolly old elf as part of the Christmas Mug Swap hosted by Heather at Heatherly Loves and he couldn't be more perfect.  In fact, I had to sneak him off to work with me the very next day so my daughter didn't try to lay claim.  :)
 This view makes me smile and chuckle every time.
 Be sure to check out both blogs as these ladies are very sweet and talented!  Robyn has awesome recipes like this Crockpot French Dip sandwich - yum!  And Heather has everything from crafts, recipes and tips on how to hem your jeans to tasty treats for your favorite pooch!
Here's a crunchy sweet little snack to go with that mug full of coffee.  Just melt a stick of butter in a skillet, add about 2 cups of almonds and 2 cups of pecans (walnuts are also very tasty!).  Add a few dashes each of cinnamon and nutmeg.  Then add about 1/2 cup of brown sugar.  Continue to saute until the sugar/butter mixture is bubbly and caramelized.  Spread on a foil lined baking sheet and cool.  This works great packaged in the snack-size zip baggies for holiday goody bags and treats for the mailman, teachers and co-workers!

Monday, December 17, 2012

How They Will be Greeted in Heaven

Today again, I had long planned a light-hearted post about the Christmas mug swap, but all I can think about is those families in Connecticut who are suffering the loss of their loved ones.  

A friend recently read this poem at her mother's funeral and it is something that I try to remember as those innocent little ones, and those brave women who did their best to protect them, make their journey to be held in the arms of the Lord.

I am standing by the seashore.
A ship at my side spreads her white sails to the morning breeze
and starts for the blue ocean.
She is an object of beauty and strength,
and I stand and watch
until at last she hangs like a peck of white cloud
just where the sun and sky come down to mingle with each other.

Then someone at my side says, 'There she goes!'
Gone where?  Gone from my sight - that is all.

She is just as large in mast and hull and spar
as she was when she left my side
and just as able to bear her load of living freight
to the places of destination.
Her diminished size is in me, not in her.

And just at the moment when someone at my side says,
'There she goes!',
there are other eyes watching her coming,
and other voices ready to take up the glad shout:
'Here she comes!"

I can picture them crossing into Heaven together holding hands and looking about in wonder.  And I can see the crowd of angels there to greet them.  I can see my great-grandma there with a platter of bright green finger jello and my great-grandpa saying "Now there's my friends!" and encouraging them all to join a game of wiffle ball or croquet.  I see my Grandpa D showing them all a sweet little chickadee eating calmly out of the palm of his hand.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Life is Hard

I had a different kind of post planned today.  
A fluffy one about Christmas 
and baking 
and all that is light 
and cheery about this time of year...  
And then that other side of life hit today 
and just kept coming...

My thoughts and prayers are with the families in Connecticut.
I simply can't imagine.  
My heart breaks for those whose children were taken.  
I am eager to hug and hold my babies 
and perhaps not so eager to find out if my 9-year-old has already heard.  
No doubt we will all sleep together tonight.  
Since our house was broken into over a year ago, 
our talks about personal safety and what to do in various crisis scenarios 
has increased by a lot and the questions she asks have grown more serious.  

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Christmas Projects Sneak Peek...

Hope you are all having a joyous time with your holiday preparations!  Here's a sneak peek at one of the many projects I've been working on.  This cute little football shirt is for my little football fan since he will only wear sports shirts right now and I made a couple for the cousins as well.  I saw this idea on Pinterest and it was originally posted by Shirley at The Ribbon Retreat - I did make a couple tweaks.  

Also underway in the sewing area, American Girl doll accessories for my daughter including a sleeping bag, a felt quilt and a skirt.  

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Recipe Roundup - Easy Christmas

I don't know about all of you, but by Christmas Day I am frazzled.  I've already been to several gatherings full of rich food, I've been baking and crafting and wrapping and shopping...  We have the big gathering with my husband's family on Christmas Eve so the kids are tired and grumpy not long after the 6 a.m. (or earlier!) gift unwrapping.  And all we really want to do is hang around in our sweats and jammies and play with our new goodies and snack.  It doesn't always work out that way, but when we are able, we get a fire going in the fireplace, turn on the parades and football and old Christmas movies, and play and nap and its wonderful.
The first year, we felt guilty saying no to all the other offers.  The next year, my parents and youngest brother joined us in sweats and bedhead hair and all and we had a blast.  This year will be busier because my brother will be home visiting from out of state so we will be having a big gathering at my mom's - well worth it to have him home.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Cran-Apple-Orange Relish

This bright little dish is from our Thanksgiving table but would make a great carry-over to Christmas as well. It gives a wonderful aroma as it simmers and has that little acidic punch to break up the richness of all the other dishes.  It also freezes or cans well so it would be great for a food gift as well.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Godiva Spirits Party

Do you host a cookie swap or holiday open house and want to add a fun little twist?  Or are you looking for a great mid-winter party to help break up the monotony of the long cold months? This Godiva Spirits party could be just the thing!  It would also be a lot of fun as a Valentine's party or unique retirement or anniversary party.

I hosted this party as a date-night party for my friends last winter.  I had a couple of pregnant friends and those who gave up liquor for lent so I adjusted a couple of the recipes to non-alcoholic versions and you'll find both below.  The non-alcoholic are also kid-safe recipes but make sure you either personally serve everyone or have them all well-labeled so there are no mix-ups.  

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Christmas Lights!

The exuberant shouts of "Christmas Lights!" fill my truck these days morning and night since it is dark commuting both ways.  
It was a favorite part of the year for me as a child.  My parents were great at coming up with free entertainment for us as kids and one of those traditions was to take a drive to look for Christmas lights.  

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

#GivingTuesday - Another Man's Treasure

World Homeless Day

There are opportunities for giving right there in front of you.  You don't have to spend a penny either.  

You may think you have nothing extra to give this time of year.  But what about that clutter you've been wanting to clear?  What about the clothes it seems the kids are outgrowing every day?  What about those extra old pots and pans you stashed in the back of the cabinet after your latest upgrade?

Every few months I find its time to wade through another stash of clutter - toys, papers, crafting supplies, clothes, kids artwork, etc.  This is a great time of year to do it - I find things that were never used and craft projects that were never finished that I can easily turn into gifts (beats any sale!).  The kids find toys and books and movies that they stopped playing with long ago.  I find clothes they (or I) have outgrown or just plain refuse to wear.  That saying about "one man's junk is another man's treasure" - its really true!

So who is looking for what?

Monday, December 3, 2012

Homemade Banana Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

This dense, moist cake is an awesome treat for dessert or breakfast with your coffee.  The cream cheese frosting hits just the right spot - serve slightly warmed if you can.  This recipe will make more frosting than you need for one sheet cake but you can refrigerate (up to 2 weeks) or freeze it and it would be great on cinnamon rolls.

Cake Mix:
3 medium overripe bananas
1/2 cup shortening
1/4 cup chunky applesauce (see my recipe here)
3/4 cup buttermilk or sour milk (1 tablespoon lemon juice then add enough milk to get to 3/4 cup and let sit 5 minutes before using)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 1/4 cups flour

Beat the bananas until smooth.  Add the shortening and applesauce and beat until mixed well.  Slowly add the buttermilk, beating as you add it.  Add the remaining ingredients and beat until smooth.  Pour into a greased 13x9x2 or a 1-inch deep cookie sheet.  This recipe will not rise much so you can fill your pan fairly full without worries of it running over the edge.  Bake at 350 degrees for about 25 minutes until it is golden and the edges have pulled away from the pan.
1 block cream cheese, softened
1 stick butter, softened
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 tablespoons milk
1 large bag powdered sugar

Whip together cream cheese and butter until fluffy.  Add vanilla and milk and blend until smooth.  Gradually, add powdered sugar and beat until smooth.

If serving right away, frost individual servings and let the rest of the cake cool completely before frosting.  Store in the refrigerator.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Baked Brie

This blog is a roller coaster sometimes, isn't it?  Well, such is the story of my life, haha!  While I want to delve into the deeper topics when the opportunity arises, I realize many of you come for other reasons like projects and party ideas and stories about our country life and the kids.  And a whole lot of you come here for tasty recipes!  So to reward your patience with my preaching from the soapbox, here is a tasty appetizer that will serve you well for any crowd and impress without a lot of money or effort.

My mom originated baked brie in our family.  Let's just say that her side of the family tends not to be very adventurous when it comes to food.  While my grandmother always cooked and canned, there is a standard menu that is not very often deviated from and odd cheeses like brie are not on it.  My mom, however, always likes to try new things and I remember being a little girl and my mom's group of lady friends from church and work and school all getting together for the most fabulous brunches in the dining room or on the front porch if the weather was nice.  
The great part about hosting a brunch like this is that it can be done on a very small budget and still be impressive to your guests.  For much of my childhood, my mom worked two jobs while my dad was starting his own business so money was tight and small pleasures were hard earned.  This brie recipe is one of the little splurges she would make to elevate the menu to impressive status.  She would surround it with fresh fruit and crackers for serving on all the good china and then provide an egg/bread brunch casserole, some sort of potato hash, orange juice with a splash of lemon-lime soda pop for a kid-safe mimosa, and her homemade cinnamon rolls.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Thank You!

I just want to say a sincere thank you for each of you who has stopped by to take a peek, lingered to check out the variety of topics covered here, tried one of my recipes, left me a comment, emailed me with feedback/tips/compliments, invited me to your blog or link party, come back day after day to see what's new.  Thank you to those of you who I have met through the other various platforms I link this blog up to - Google+, Twitter, Pinterest, TumblrBlogFrog, etc.  In all, there are nearly 500 of you who are "regulars" and that truly humbles me.  Thank you to those who have featured my posts on your blogs - I am in awe of you and so honored that you found my post or blog worthy a feature!

I soooo look forward to each interaction and you have all been so welcoming and friendly.  I started this journey to share pieces of me that I feel compelled to write about and to find others who enjoy the same things I do and feel as I do about this adventure of life.  I am so glad that you have found me and I have found you - there are days we all feel like no one understands no matter how wonderful the people in our daily lives are and those days are often the days when you have reached out and let me know that there are others who have been there too.  

Please continue with the comments and feedback as you have helped me to grow.  If you have tried one of my recipes, please come back and share how it turned out and what tweaks you made - so many of my recipes are meant to be easy to put your own personal touch on and twist to the taste buds of your family.  If you want to hear more about something, please ask away.  I am curious to know what types of post you all like the most.

Again, thank you so much for sharing your time with me!

Childhood Scars

Almost every kid has a collection of scars from their childhood.  What kind of scars will your children have?

I have a little round scar on my knee where I fell riding my bike in the driveway when I was about 7 years old.  I'm sure my brother and I were building ramps or jumping potholes - rarely were we just sedately cruising around...  
I have scars on my wrist and little stitch scars near my elbow from the time I crashed through the glass door at my grandparents' house.  I don't remember how old I was at the time (I think about 9) but certainly old enough to have known better.  My aunt and I were running through the house and she had become tired of my pestering and threatened to hit me with the phone book.  I ran toward the door to go out and when the heel of my hand hit the latch it slid off through the glass and my momentum carried me in a spectacular movie-worthy leap through flying glass shards onto the porch.  (Its a good story to scare the kids when they start tearing around too much in the house...)
I have a scar on my chin from when I was 17 and literally got kicked in the face by my joke...  We had been hauling our horses out west for a couple of days and when we got to our campsite in North Dakota when let them out in a paddock to play.  They were still playing when I went in the pen to lounge my old boy and he tossed up his heels in play right about the same time I took a step forward.  I thought for a minute my nose was broke.  I had a three-inch hole all the way through the skin between my lower lip and chin and my jaw was compressed (couple of teeth chipped too).  Some stitches and a few more adventures but in the end all was good.  I had my senior pictures three weeks later when I got home - thankfully they air brushed the scar out but my mom has the proofs that show the scar.  Another good story for scaring the kids into listening and being careful around the critters.
Then there are the internal scars.  Those are the ones that are the hardest to explain.  And the hardest to forget.  They are buried in there with the good memories and the values and other things we learn as kids.  They rear their ugly forms at the most stressful moments.  Sometimes they can be held back and other times they cause me to react in ways that only make sense if you know my history.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Floral Arrangement

My mom and my great-grandparents always made arranging flowers look easy.  A handmade arrangement can be so special and meaningful to the receiver.  And it allows you to add a person touch for special occasions.  My sister-in-law lost her second grandma in the past year this week.  For the first funeral, I made this heart-shaped rose arrangement.  I had asked about her favorite color before I made it.  
But I wanted to do something for this grandma that I had spent much more time with that reflected what I knew of her.  Her grandma was such a sweet lady.  She was petite and delicate and warm.  She had suffered a stroke before I met her that had left her with partial facial paralysis and made her speech difficult to understand.  That would have been difficult for many people to deal with in social settings but she was strong and was always there for all the important things in her kids and grandkids and great-grandkids lives.  She always came in with a smile and a hug and looked each person directly in the eyes when she talked to you.  She was always well put together as she had been a salon owner for many years.  She loved to wear sweaters with delicate trails of flowers on them and a beautiful piece of jewelry.  With that in mind, I thought of the beautiful, dainty spray roses that are always available at our local farm market.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Humbly Featured Today! And Some Pics

New House
I honored to have my Eggnog Cheesecake recipe featured today by Heather at New House, New Home, New Life!  If you are in to old home renovations (and I know many of you are!) check out the beautiful transformation in progress on Heather's kitchen and eating area.  Plus lots of great holiday ideas for gifts, food and decorating.  The block party always has lots of fun things!

We had a lot of fun over the Thanksgiving long weekend - its not often I get 4 days off work in a row to spend around home and I feel like I took full advantage.  While the turkey was roasting and the Mr. was watching football, I took a little stroll around the yard and did some tidying while the animals basked in the sun.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Bacon Herb Stuffed Turkey

Thanksgiving Day this year was one of those rare but special holidays that we actually got to spend at home just enjoying each other.  In celebration of the big day, I decided to do things up big and make a full meal all from scratch.  My husband went hunting first thing in the morning as he usually does on Thanksgiving Day.  This actually is nice because the kids and I tend to get extra snuggles and a little extra snoozing those mornings - somehow we are just busier when daddy is home.  Plus he generally stays out until 10:30 a.m. or later so the kids and I grab a light and easy breakfast and then I make some hearty snacks and nibbles to hold us until the main meal.
Preparation actually started with the turkey the night before.  I removed the neck, giblets, heart, liver and gravy packet from the inside and thoroughly rinsed the whole bird.  I placed it breast side up in a 13x9x2 glass baking dish and tucked the wing tips under the fat flap.  I seasoned well with a combination of cumin, paprika, garlic salt, pepper, and oregano.  (I like to do this by sight and sprinkling on what looks good rather than measuring into a bowl and mixing ahead.)  I also took a few sprigs each from my frozen herb collection and finely chopped them and added them to the top of the bird.  Then I covered the whole thing tightly with foil and refrigerated it overnight.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Thanksgiving Casserole

Still have a few leftovers hanging around from Thanksgiving and wondering what to do with them?  Today is about the last day to use most of them so why not throw them together in this tasty casserole for dinner.  Start with your mashed potatoes on the bottom, then top with a thick layer of chopped or shredded turkey.  Dress it with a heavy dose of gravy (this will soak into your turkey & revive the juices).  Then top with leftover cooked veggies and leftover stuffing.  Bake at 350 for about 20 minutes until hot and bubbly.  The stuffing will crisp as this bakes so even those who don't like a soggy stuffing will be happy.  My kids wolfed this down even though they wouldn't touch the stuffing separately.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Model Train Fun

I forgot to share with you the other fun little thing we did last weekend when we stopped at the cider mill.  Only a couple times a year, the mill opens their model train set for public viewing.  
This train started out as a hobby for the mill owners years ago in the loft of their main building.  I have been visiting since I was a small child and its a great tradition for us to go see.  

Thursday, November 22, 2012

#GivingTuesday - Supporting Food Banks

World Homeless Day
Today is Thanksgiving and many of us will be joined with family around a table piled high with food - gluttonous amounts of food.  What if you didn't have the means to put that food on the table?  What if it was a choice between feeding your children or keeping the heat going to keep them from freezing?  For a growing number of families right here, its a huge problem.  
How many frustrated moms and dads have told their picky eaters that there are starving children in Africa who would love to have that broccoli for dinner?  

Have you ever told them there are children at their school, in their class, who go home every night and count the hours until they get the school-provided breakfast and lunch because it is all they get to eat for the day?  

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

No-Bake Eggnog Cheesecake

Looking for a last-minute easy dessert recipe to impress your guests?  This no-bake eggnog cheesecake is what we'll be digging into tomorrow.  I whipped this up last night and barely got the beaters out of the bowl before the kids were all over them so now its in hiding in the back of the fridge.
For your crust, melt 2 tablespoons of butter in the microwave.  Put 1/4 cup of walnuts and 1 package of cinnamon sugar graham cracker sheets in your food processor and blend until it is fine crumbs.  Add to the melted butter and stir until well combined.  Press into the bottom of an ungreased pie pan and refrigerate while you make the filling.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Weekend Wrap-Up & Kids Cook!

What a busy weekend!  So we started with Friday night and a phone call as I was leaving work that a routine out-patient surgery for my uncle had wound up with major complications after his lung collapsed!  By the time I got the call he was stabilized and in ICU and they were not allowing visitors so we all gathered at my brother's hockey game instead.  Thankfully, my uncle is now back home and feeling much better.  Now we await test results to find out the why.  And my brother's team won in overtime.
On Saturday, the kids and I covered a lot of ground.  They had their hockey lesson in the morning (the Princess has officially switched from learning basic skating to deciding she likes hockey too).  Then we headed to town for groceries and a load of pumpkins from the cider mill.  At the end of the season, the mill has started selling leftover pumpkins as livestock feed for $10 for one of those giant shipping crates full.  I had decided to try these as a cheap feed addition for the horses and goat after doing a little research and testing their interest with the few uncarved pumpkins we had left from Halloween that were still good.  Topper doesn't seem to know what to do with them but the goat and pony seem to like them well enough.  So the kids helped me unload the trailer full of pumpkins - hauling the rotted ones to the pasture and stacking the good ones in the barn.
They decided pumpkin chuckin' was pretty fun even though we don't have one of these launchers like the cider mill does.  
My husband came home just in time for everyone to snuggle in for the night.  He was successful in his hunting trip and we pulled out the first log of venison sausage of the season in time to take it to his parents' house for Thanksgiving.  We get most of our deer processed by Specialized Deer Processing in Dewitt.  They make the best Pepper Jack cheese venison sausage ever.  Paired with Michigan's own Williams Pinconning cheese out of Linwood, Michigan, and some tasty crackers - this platter disappeared fast.
And one last thing to share, those of you on Twitter may have seen my tweet about the kids cooking dinner one night last week.  Well, how does that gooey pizza pocket look for a great dinner!?