Sunday, December 28, 2008

Sunset Christmas Night

The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Psalm 19:1 (ESV)

Thursday, December 18, 2008

New Traditions

View of Candles and a Christmas Tree Through a Window
Candles and a Christmas Tree Through a Window

We have some Christmas traditions that don't change from year to year, but we also like to try out new traditions too. This year we've added a couple that I think we will keep.

We keep all the Christmas cards we receive in a decorative basket in the entryway. This year we are bringing the basket to the table at supper and one of the kids picks a card out of the basket, When we pray before we eat, we pray for the family who sent us the card. It's a nice way to remember to pray for our friends and family.

The second tradition that we are trying out is "secret pals". I thought it would be fun if we put all of our names in a hat and each draw a name. We are going to try to do nice things for our secret pal (preferably free things) and then we'll all reveal our pals on Christmas morning. It's fun to watch the kids try to think up what to do that won't get them "caught". They are enjoying the "sneakiness factor" of the whole thing. I'm hoping that this will promote a little sibling love and togetherness.

If you have any great free secret pal ideas I would love to hear them. So far they have done things like make beds for secret pals, leave pieces of candy on pillows and write notes in handwriting that's supposed to look like someone else's.

What are your favorite traditions? Do any of them change from year to year?

Monday, December 15, 2008

Gingerbread Houses

Instead of making "real" gingerbread houses, the girls and I made gingerbread house cookies yesterday. We used the Betty Crocker gingerbread cookie mix (super good sale plus coupon made it a great deal) and this idea was on the back of the mix.

We cut out 8 squares and 8 triangles (for the roof) to make the cookies, and I made this icing (except I halved it). If I had planned this ahead of time it would have been fun to have some little candies or more colors of food coloring to decorate the cookies, but the girls had a great time with what I had on hand.

These cookies were so easy to make, required no special equipment or even cookie cutters and tasted good too. I think we'll definitely put these in the "make again next year" file. :)

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Old Fashioned Christmas

Victorian Home Scene
Victorian Home Scene

Mike and Bobby are off pheasant hunting with friends this weekend, so I planned something fun for Greg, the girls and I last night. We have a local museum that puts on a "vintage Christmas" every year. Museum volunteers dress up in Pioneer and Victorian style clothing and do traditional Christmas activities by lantern and candle light. The public can wander through the displays and buy hot apple cider and hot cocoa. Much of it is outside and unheated so the hot drinks are perfect. There were couples dancing to fiddle music, ladies knitting and singing Christmas carols, children helping "grandma" to bake cookies at the wood stove and even cowboys with their chuck wagon and campfire. Not a TV or computer in sight. Although it was sort of strange when we caught a glimpse of one of the "off duty" volunteers talking on her cell phone while dressed in a pioneer dress and apron. :)

Every year I want to turn around and leave when we pull up and the parking lot is full to overflowing, but I'm so glad we always stay. We have a good time and it puts us in the mood for some simple Christmas fun. Last night we had some nice talks about how hard it would have been to live back then without central heating and running water, but how families were so close and relied on one another. My girls have decided that we should make some pioneer style dresses, but I'm not sure my sewing skills are up to that. Are there such things as "super easy" patterns for those sorts of dresses?

What about you? Does your town have any special Christmas traditions?

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Candy Cane Cookies and Christmas Garland

This afternoon the girls and I made candy cane cookies. I found the recipe at The Homespun Heart. They are really good and it was fun rolling the dough and forming it into the candy cane shapes.

Candy Cane Cookies
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup shortening
1 cup powdered sugar
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla extract
3/4 tsp. peppermint extract
2 1/2 cup flour
1/2 tsp. red food coloring

Cream together butter, shortening, sugar and egg until light and fluffy. Add extracts. Gradually stir in flour. Divide dough in half. Add food coloring to one half and mix well. Wrap each half in waxed paper or plastic wrap and refrigerate at least one hour (or you can freeze the dough at this point). Preheat oven to 375. Roll cookies to long ropes twisting together one of each color to form the candy cane shape. Bake 9 to 10 minutes. If desired, brush with egg white and sprinkle with crushed candy cane.

The girls also made this Names of Jesus garland along the lines of one we saw at The Homespun Heart. She has a tutorial if you want to know how to make one.

The girls love to be crafty and this was a fun and easy project for them. I didn't laminate it so it may only last through the season, but that's OK. We can make another one next year. :)

Have you done anything Christmassy this week?

Monday, December 8, 2008

Russian Tea Cakes

These are the cookies from yesterday's pictures. I made them Saturday and they are already all gone! They were SO good! They just melt in your mouth.

I found the recipe at

1 cup butter softened (I used real butter)
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 1/4 cups flour
3/4 cup finely chopped nuts (I used pecans)
1/4 teaspoon salt
Powdered sugar

1. Heat oven to 400 degrees.
2. Mix butter, 1/2 cup powdered sugar and the vanilla in a large bowl. Stir in flour, nuts and salt until dough holds together.
3. Shape dough into 1 inch balls. Place about 1 inch apart on ungreased cookie sheet.
4. Bake 10 to 12 minutes or until set but not brown. Remove from cookie sheet. Cool slightly on wire rack.
5. Roll warm cookies in powdered sugar; cool on a wire rack. Roll in powdered sugar again.

The recipe says it makes 4 dozen cookies, but I made mine a little big so it made about 3 dozen.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Christmas Decorations

We've had so much fun decorating our house for Christmas this week. I thought I would share a couple of pictures with you. I love it when the house looks so festive and smells like Christmas cookies and cinnamon potpourri.

Last night we finally had everything finished and spent a quiet evening by the fire in our snuggly PJs watching TV and enjoying the pretty lights on the tree. It was warm and cozy and such a treat. I can't think of anything I would rather be doing on a Thursday evening.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Getting Ready for Christmas

A Close View of a Decorated Christmas Tree
Decorated Christmas Tree

Mike is home today (he had to work Friday) so we are getting all the Christmas decorations down from the attic. He has the ladder out and we'll be on the roof shortly...well, he'll be on the roof and I'll be standing on the ground fretting and praying. :) I don't do heights and it scares me as much to have him on the roof as it does to be up there myself.

The kids will be so excited when they get home!

I'll be scarce around here today because I also have some cleaning and laundry to catch up on. Hope you are all having a wonderful Monday!

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Black Friday Adventures

Christmas is NOT about the latest toys or getting a good bargain. My children won't be getting all the latest gadgets and we don't spend a lot of money. They always have a nice, but not "over the top" Christmas. They know that Christmas is about celebrating the birth of Christ, spending time together, and sharing with others (trying to keep the TV off as much as possible helps with this).

Surprisingly though, my mom and I have a tradition of shopping on Black Friday. Not so much because we're super eager shoppers trying to get bargains, but because it's so much fun to spend that time together. Usually by lunch time we are giggling together like a couple of school girls.

This year we met at Target a little after 6:00am (no 3:00am shopping for us). We got right in, but the store was PACKED! It was shoulder to shoulder, especially in the electronics section. We decided that nothing was worth that, so we looked around at the other areas of the store. Mom needed a few things for her dogs, so she picked those up and we headed to check out. The check out line snaked all along one whole side of the store! She decided she didn't need those things after all and we left Target (after going around the back of the store to try and get around the people waiting to check out).

We were so worn out after Target that we decided we needed Starbucks. :) I rarely go there (I can't justify spending that kind of money for coffee very often) so it was a special treat and I enjoyed every last drop of my skinny vanilla latte.

We then headed to Wal-Mart. By this time it was around 7:30 so I guess we missed all the crowd. We saw lots of smiling faces and didn't have any trouble finding what we wanted (I wasn't buying a TV or video game system so maybe that's why). Every check out lane was open and we were out of there in record time. I take back all those mean things I've said about shopping at Wal-Mart. :) Unfortunately I can't tell you about the good deals I got there because my kids might read it, but let's just say I'm almost done shopping for them.

Of course, I couldn't shop on Black Friday without hitting CVS. I got Aussie shampoo and conditioner, 2 bottles of Gatorade, Garnier Nutritioniste facial cleansing wipes, Colgate Total toothpaste, Maybelline Mineral Power foundation, Cover Girl powder, Sally Hansen nail polish, Loreal lip gloss, and a Hershey's chocolate bar all for about $9 and I earned over $28 in ECBs for next time.

Did you venture out for Black Friday?
You can find other Black Friday posts at Money Saving Mom.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Southern Pecan Pie

1 cup sugar
3 eggs
1/2 cup white corn syrup
1/2 cup evaporated milk
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 1/4 cup pecan halves or pieces

Ina bowl, slightly beat eggs and sugar, corn syrup, evaporated milk and vanilla. Blend well. Add pecans. (I usually save about half the pecans to arrange on top.)

Pour into unbaked 9" pie shell (You can find my pie crust recipe here). Bake in 400 degree oven for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake for an additional 30 to 40 minutes or until filling is puffed in center and is well browned. Let pie cook before cutting. I probably could have let mine brown another 5 minutes or so, but it tasted just fine. :)

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Baking Pies

Pecan Pie
Pecan Pie

We're having our Thanksgiving dinner at my mom's tomorrow and I'm taking my "famous" pecan pie. It's so good! I'll also be making broccoli and rice and cheese grits.

Are you hosting Thanksgiving this year? What are your favorite Thanksgiving foods? I have to admit that I look forward to pecan pie all year. :)

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Laundry System

Laundry on a Clothesline by Steve Raymer
Laundry on a Clothesline

When my children were very young, I didn't really have any sort of a system for laundry. I just did loads when we ran out of clean clothes to wear. :) We were constantly searching through the laundry basket to find some item of clothing. I don't know that I saw the bottom of that basket for years. This, of course, resulted in lots of tension around the house when Peter needed a baseball uniform for the game in half an hour and it was crumpled up on the laundry room floor, or Mike needed his blue dress shirt to wear to work and it was wet and sour because I left it in the washer all night.

I was finally forced to change my ways when we put our first little house on the market. Cindy was a tiny baby and all seven of us were crammed into three bedrooms and 1300 square feet. I cleaned and de-cluttered like a madwoman for a week before the "for sale" sign went up (with lots of help from retrohousewife).

I soon came to realize that often realtors would only give 15 minutes notice (if that) before bringing clients by to see the house. I HAD to stay on top of things. The large laundry room was a great feature of the house and I wanted to show it off. That couldn't happen if they had to climb over a mountain of dirty clothes to even get in the door. :)

That was when I decided to get a system in place to make sure that my laundry stayed done. My goal was to keep the laundry done often enough that there was never a huge pile or laundry forgotten in the washer or dryer.

The first thing I did was to buy a larger laundry basket. Seven people make a lot of laundry and even if I did laundry every day, one of those tiny round baskets wasn't going to work. Next I had a talk with the kids. Everyone but Cindy was big enough to put their laundry in the basket every morning (even two year old Marcia). If their laundry was found anywhere but the basket...early bedtime.

I decided that with the size of our family, I needed to do laundry EVERY day to stay on top of it. I got into a routine of starting a load first thing in the morning (I still do this) and I also realized that I had to fold and put away the clean laundry immediately. No more piling load ofter load on the couch or my bed to fold "later". I had the kids help me listen for the buzz of the dryer and remind me to get the clothes out.

Once I got into the habit of doing laundry every day it was such a relief! It was amazing how it lessened the stress level in our house. No more frantic searching for matching socks, no more clean clothes left to wrinkle. I finally mastered the laundry and it was no longer mastering me!

Each aspect of housekeeping has to be planned and thought about. I guess my plan was hoping that if I ignored Mt. Washmore long enough it would go away. :) If you are in a laundry nightmare, I want to encourage you to learn from my mistakes. Sit down and work out your own laundry system. If you have lots of small children at home, as I did then, your system will of course be different than an empty nest couple or a couple with teenage children.

Let's conquer Mt. Washmore! :)

P.S. We sold the house in only four weeks and got our asking price.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Buttermilk Bread

If you've been reading here for long, you know that I love to make bread! There is just something so satisfying about it. The smell of fresh bread makes the whole atmosphere in my house cozy and welcoming. Mike even commented the other day that he lives in a bakery! :)

This bread is one of my favorites. The wheat germ gives it extra nutrition and the honey makes it a beautiful color.

2 Tablespoons dry yeast
3/4 cup warm water (110 to 115 degrees)
3 cups warm 1% buttermilk (it will look curdled when it's warm)
3/4 cup butter or stick margarine, melted and cooled
1/4 cup honey
3 teaspoons salt
1/2teaspoon baking soda
3/4 cup toasted wheat germ
9 to 10 cups all purpose flour

In a large mixing bowl (I use my Kitchen Aid), dissolve yeast in warm water. Add buttermilk, butter, honey, salt, baking soda, wheat germ and 4 cups flour; mix well. Gradually stir in enough remaining flour to make a soft dough. Turn onto a heavily floured surface; knead until smooth and elastic, about 6 to 8 minutes. Place in a greased bowl, turning once to grease top. Cover and let rise in a warm place until double, about 1 hour.

Punch dough down. turn onto a floured surface; divide into thirds. Divide each portion into thirds; shape each into a 12 inch rope. Braid three ropes; pinch ends to seal and tuck under. Place in a greased 9 x 5 x 3 inch loaf pan. Repeat with remaining dough.

Cover and let rise until doubled, about 45 minutes. Bake at 350 degrees for 40 to 45 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from pan onto wire racks. Makes 3 loaves.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Hostess Gift Idea

We have hosted Disciple Now weekends in our home several times over the years. The last group we hosted was college age young men. They were so sweet and polite.

They left us with such a sweet gift. They bought one of those Christian spiral flip calendars and each of them picked a day (maybe their birthdays?) and wrote a little thank you note. Now as we go through the year and I turn the pages on the calendar I come across notes that they wrote. It brings a smile to my face over and over and it's something that I will use year round.

This would be a fantastic hostess gift or Christmas gift. You could have your kids write little notes to Grandma for her to find throughout the year. She'll love it and it's inexpensive too! :)

Friday, November 7, 2008

Baking Tip

I made banana bread yesterday and my recipe calls for Crisco. I hate cleaning up a greasy measuring cup so I found a different way to measure it. I line the measuring cup with plastic wrap before I fill it with Crisco. Then all I have to do is pull out the plastic wrap, dump the contents in the mixing bowl and voila...a clean measuring cup! :)

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Crock Pot Lasagna

Tonight's supper was lasagna that I made in the slow cooker. It was the first time for me to make this particular recipe. It was really easy and tasted good. I have to admit it's not quite as good as The Pioneer Woman's best lasagna ever, but much easier because it can simmer all day while you're busy. :)

This recipe came from one of my favorite cookbooks from Gooseberry Patch, Harvest Kitchen.

1 lb. ground beef, browned and drained
1 t. Italian seasoning
8 lasagna noodles, uncooked and broken into thirds
28 oz. jar spaghetti sauce
1/3 c. water
Optional: 4 oz. can sliced mushrooms, drained
15 oz. container ricotta cheese
8 oz. pkg. shredded mozzarella cheese

Combine ground beef and Italian seasoning. Arrange half the lasagna noodles in a greased slow cooker. Spread half the ground beef mixture over noodles. top with half each of remaining ingredients. Repeat layering process. Cover and cook for 5 hours on low setting. Serves 10 (well, in my house it serves 6).

Notice the handle (or lack thereof) on the lid of my crock pot. It's been that way for years, but since the crock pot works just fine I limp along without a handle.

Make an easy meal by adding some garlic bread and a salad.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Baked Potatoes

I love my slow cooker and today I am making baked potatoes in it. In the morning, just wash your potatoes, pierce them with a fork, wrap in foil and place in your slow cooker. Cook on low for 8 to 10 hours. It's so convenient to make them this way, plus I don't have to heat up the kitchen on an Indian summer day like today.

Tonight I'll make up some taco meat and we'll have that along with shredded cheese and salsa on our baked potatoes.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Cleaning Ceiling Fans

Living Area with Ceiling Fan
Living Area with Ceiling Fan

Here in Texas it is WAY too hot in the summertime not to have ceiling fans in every room. I know the designers on Trading Spaces don't like them, but I'm not planning on doing without. :)

Now that the ceiling fans are finally still, I can't believe how dirty they are! It's really odd how dirty they can get while moving so fast. I spent a good part of the day today standing on chairs and cleaning them.

I like to vacuum the edges of the blades where the most dust accumulates with the brush tool on my vacuum cleaner first. This helps keep it from landing in the carpet or on the furniture. Then I spray cleaner on one blade at a time and wipe down with a soft cloth. It's also a good idea to wash the globes on the light fixture part too while you're at it.

I know I should be cleaning light fixtures and fans way more often than I do, but at least I'm getting to them finally. :)

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Planting Pansies

Pansy by Tony Ruta

The girls and I planted pansies yesterday. Pansies usually do very well in the winter here and we often plant them in the fall so we can enjoy them until it gets too hot in the summer. They are winter hardy in zones 4 through 8 (we are in zone 7).

The girls aren't too fond of weeding and some other types of yard work, but they LOVE planting flowers and seeds. They are more willing to weed the flower beds if they planted the flowers. It's also a nice way for us to spend time together. We can enjoy being outside and being quiet if we want, or talking if we want.

Some of the neighbor children stopped by to see what we were doing and it turned into sort of an impromptu gardening lesson. They wanted to know why we were planting flowers in the fall, so I told them about pansies and how they can survive a freeze and even snow. We also turned up a few grubs while we were digging (ewww!) so we had a little talk about that too as I threw the grubs onto the sidewalk and encouraged the kids to stomp on them. I know, gross, but I would rather have them squished on the sidewalk where I can wash them off than eating my flower roots. :)

Thursday, October 16, 2008

A Sure Sign of Fall

It must be Fall because I've taken up knitting again. It's just too hot in the summer, but I love to knit when the weather gets cool. Isn't that the prettiest brown wool yarn?

I've decided that I'm a "process knitter". It's all about the process rather than the outcome for me. Knitting is soothing and enjoyable and hey, whadaya know? You get something useful out of it in the end! :) Maybe that's why I've never really had the desire to knit anything complicated with lots of counting. I felt sort of bad about that for a while, but I've decided that's OK to enjoy something without ever really mastering it.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Breakfast for Supper

We had breakfast for supper tonight. It's fun to switch things around every now and then, plus breakfast foods are often cheaper than an ordinary supper. Breakfast casseroles are usually easily refrigerated until ready to bake, so I put this one together this afternoon and it was so easy to just pop in the oven after I picked up Bobby from football practice. Then all I had to do was open a can of fruit and make some toast to go with it.

This is the recipe I used (except I doubled it which means I had to cook it longer and I toasted the bread first). You can find lots more breakfast casserole recipes here.

Friday, October 3, 2008

House Hunting

Daylilies by Dan Campanelli

The ranch has gotten to be more than my parents want to tackle, so in about a month they are going to be moving closer to town. They still want to have a couple of acres for the horses, but no more "middle of nowhere, dirt road" living.

I went house hunting with Mom yesterday and we had such a good time! I would love to tag along with a realtor for a couple of days just so I could see all the houses. One in particular that we looked at yesterday I just fell in love with. Her style reminded me of Ruthann's. She wasn't there of course when we looked at the house, but I wanted to ask the realtor to give her my phone number and see if she would be my friend. :) Her house was just so warm and cute that she must be the same. I want to know the names of all her paint colors and where she bought everything and did she put up the bead board in the bathroom herself, and...

I'm inspired to take a fresh look at my house and see what I can do on my (extremely) limited budget.