Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas!!

I hope you found joy in the journey getting to this point.  Shake off all of the stress and worry...whatever it will be it is right now.  Take a deep breath and made it!

Merry Christmas from our home to yours!  May laughter ring throughout your home and may love fill your hearts...

For Superman...

Monday, December 20, 2010


Christmas break begins this week.  I don't know about other homeschoolers, but I always find our lives go a little easier if we take Christmas Break (and Spring Break) with our public school brethren.  To start the festivities, I took a break from my kitchen duties and headed into town to spend some fun time with my kids.  Charming had the day off, too,  and even our neighbors (including the dad!) made the trek and joined us at the local AMC theater to see Tron Legacy, Disney's remake of the 80s movie!

Yes, we're geeks!  We've been so excited about Tron and matinee prices sweetened the deal.  (You know that all movies before noon are $5 at the AMC theaters, right?  $5!)

I just have to say that despite the being raked over the coals by the oh-so-prestigious reviewers, Tron was a super fun movie to take your kids to.   Special effects combined with some 80s nostalgia made for a fun transition from the original Tron to this Tron.  Add in a PG rating (no kissing, no questionable language, exciting motorcycle races!) and it is a parent's dream.   (In an effort to demonstrate full transparency, I will say there were a few minutes toward the end where it bogged down a bit, but other than that, it moved right along.)  To put it quite simply:  Boys liked it and girls liked it.  Grown-ups liked it and kids liked it. 

No, it won't solve the ills of the world, but for a couple of hours, you can go have a good time with your kids.  I just don't think you can ask for more! 

(Now, I must head back to my kitchen...gingerbread men await my attention!)

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Food for Thought

"You must take personal responsibility.
You cannot change the circumstances,
the seasons, or the wind, but
you can change yourself"
- Jim Rohn

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Deck the Halls...

We have a tradition in our house of decorating the Christmas tree on Superman's birthday.  With Superman not here this year, we had to be a bit more creative, but we still made it work. 

I got the kids up Wednesday morning to decorate the tree with Superman on his Wednesday night...we were all celebrating his birthday together.  (Charming spoke with Superman the night before - the morning of Superman's birthday, but had to work on Wednesday.)

An hour and a half later, we had yet another gorgeous Christmas tree and another year of memories made.  It is all good.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Chocolate-Covered "Sandwich" Cookies

Here is another quick and easy semi-homemade Christmas treat for you...I made these after the kids did the Nutter  Butter Santa cookies.  From start to finish, these take less than one half-hour to do an entire package of cookies.  Definitely something you can add to your last minute list of things to do.

Chocolate-Covered Sandwich Cookies

You will need:

A package of sandwich cookies, such as Oreos or Newman's O's*
1 bag of Dark Chocolate Candy Melts by Wilton's (I got mine at JoAnn's for $2.39/bag).
1 microwave safe bowl (glass).
1 slotted spoon.
More of the Vanilla Bark or White Chocolate left over from this morning's Nutter Butter Santas.
1 Squeeze Bottle


Lay out parchment paper or a silpat.

Open your package of cookies.  If necessary, sample a cookie straight from the bag.  (My kids say this is necessary...I'm not so sure!)

In your glass measuring cup or bowl, microwave one package of dark chocolate candy melts for 1 minute on high.  Stir.  Melt in 15 second increments until the chocolate is smooth and creamy.

Place a cookie in the melted chocolate and coat.

Using a slotted spoon, drain excess chocolate and set coated cookie on parchment paper/silpat to cool and harden.  (I am NOT a photographer, but this should give you the idea of how I let each cookie drain.) Repeat for all of the cookies.

Once the cookies have cooled and hardened, melt white chocolate/vanilla bark and transfer to the squeeze bottle.  Decorate the chocolate covered cookies and let cool and harden.

Ta Da!  You're done.  Not bad for some festive holiday goodness, wouldn't you say?  (You could always add food coloring to the vanilla bark/white chocolate, but I think they're pretty enough just the way they are, so I don't add that step.)

* I use the plain wrap brand from Walgreen's.  $2 a bag and no HFCS. 

It is NOT too late to come up with something cute and semi-homemade for a Christmas treat!

 As you can imagine, my week was thrown completely out of rhythm by my need for emergency oral surgery.  Baking that I'd hoped to have done by today hasn't even begun.  Christmas, however, doesn't really come with a fluid time Saturday, we're done!   What does that mean for me (and you)?  We've got very little time left to make the magic happen, but make it happen, we will!

So, today, right now...I have a few quick, easy, and semi-homemade ideas for you to try.  Let me know what you think...I'll be sitting in my kitchen making these today, too.

First things first: 

Nutter Butter Santa Claus cookies.

You'll need:
1 package of Nutter Butter Cookies
1 package of a) vanilla bark, b) white chocolate chips, or c) white chocolate buttons (they sell those at Michael's and JoAnn's and, maybe, Walmart)
1 package of mini white chocolate chips or a little squeeze bottle (I use the squeeze bottle)
1 package of mini chocolate chips
1 package of red-colored sugar
1 package of red hots candies
Oh, and a silpat or parchment paper or something to let the cookies rest on that won't stick

Okay, now I know this sounds like a lot, but these go lickety-split.

First, open the cookies and have them easily accessible.  (Taste one, just to be sure they're good.)

Lay out your parchment paper or silpat.

Pour your red sugar in a small cup (think kids' sippy cup) or on a flat plate.

Put your mini chocolate chips in a bowl so you can grab them individually.  Same with your red hots and white chocolate chips*.

Now, melt your white chocolate in the microwave.  If you're using white chocolate buttons, put about 1 1/2 cups of buttons in your microwaveable measuring cup and microwave for 1 minute, then stir.  Then continue in 15 second bursts until you have a nice, smooth, creamy white chocolate.  (Pour some into the tiny squeeze bottle if you have it and set aside, otherwise, leave it all in this measuring cup.)


Take 1 Nutter Butter and dip it into the melted white chocolate about 1/3 of the way and pull straight back out.  Shake off any excess.

Now take the same Nutter Butter and dip it into the red sugar (you're making Santa's hat) and lay it flat onto your parchment paper.  Use your squeeze bottle of white chocolate and make three dots for his face (two for the eyes, which will be your mini chocolate chips, and one for the nose, which is your red hot) and then one on the edge of the hat (for his tassle).  If you have mini white chocolate chips, make a small tassle dot, otherwise, make your tassle by making a bigger dot and skip the white chocolate chips!  Press the two mini chocolate chips into the white chocolate for eyes and the one red hot for the nose and you're done!

Now lay this Santa aside and start with the next Santa.  Before you know it, you'll have an entire batch of Santa's ready to add to your Christmas fun. 

Oh, and did I mention this is a great one to just hand off to the kids?  They love it and their Santa's are always just perfect!

(Don't worry if you have extra white chocolate/vanilla bark...I'll have more for you to do with it later today!)

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Always Expect the Unexpected...including blessings in unexpected places.

As you might be aware, there is a big deal holiday coming up in a few weeks.  I've been really keeping to my to-do list in an effort to get it all done and feel like I'm still having fun.  Truly...I've been keeping the joy in this season.   In the past two weeks, I've been so organized.  I managed to get Superman's presents out on time (and he got them yesterday!!).  I got all of us to the dentist for our check-ups (and there were no cavities).   After two more consultation appointments, I finally found an orthodontist for Valiant that I feel completely confident about (not an easy thing when you've only lived in a region for five years!)...we even got the study models done this past Monday, so he'll be ready to get started after the holidays.   Valiant also made the switch from contacts to glasses and loves them!  Squeezed in a dermatologist appointment, too.  In between all of this, we've had Game Night, put the Christmas tree up (we'll decorate tomorrow, Superman's birthday, as is our tradition), started our Christmas baking, and kept up with our school work.  Heck, I'm even caught up on blog reading!

Seems as if I've managed to keep things in control right?  Um, not so fast.

During  Game Night on Saturday night, my upper right wisdom tooth broke!  Broke!  Yes, at 47 years old, I had all my wisdom teeth until Saturday night.  First the broken piece was just hanging in there, but by Sunday morning, it came loose.  Since I already had a dentist appointment scheduled for Monday afternoon (to pick up my mouth guard), I figured I'd just hang on until the scheduled appointment and deal with it then.  36 hours should be doable right?   May I say?  It just wasn't an easy thing to do...knowing you have this broken tooth in your mouth and waiting for the other shoe to drop is crazy-making!  Still, we did just fine and I was still fine on Monday when it was time to cross items off our list.

So, we headed out at 9:15 Monday morning.  Valiant got his study models, I made my dermatologist appointment and hit the lab for a vial of blood to be taken.  Then I took the kids to lunch.  Finally, it was time for yours truly to have her dentist appointment.  We arrived an hour early because I had no idea what would be involved in dealing with my broken tooth and it was good thing we did.  It turns out the tooth was abscessed--abscessed!  (I got to the dentist every six months without fail!  How could I have an abscess?)    He wanted to know how much pain I was in.  Um, none.  No pain at all.  Not even a little bit.  He was stunned.  I should have been in pain...serious pain...and I was in none.

Blessing Number One--no pain where apparently there should have been plenty.

Anyway, it turns out that the crack that eventually turned into a break must have been there awhile.  The dentist took one look at my x-ray and strongly encouraged me to head over to the oral surgeon to make an appointment to have the tooth pulled.  (Fine with me, it is a wisdom tooth...who needs wisdom teeth?)    So, I headed down the street and thought I'd be making an appointment to have a consultation to make an appointment to get the tooth pulled.  Nope.  They saw me right then (the referral came in while I was driving).  I still didn't get pain, so I'm fine, right?  Wrong.  A quick panoramic x-ray, followed immediately by an exam by the oral surgeon and the next thing I'm being told is that they'll be opening the office early (at 7:15 a.m.) the following day (which was Tuesday, today) to get the tooth out.  Oh, and the bottom wisdom tooth has to come out, too, because without the top one there to hold it in place, the bottom tooth with super-erupt and cause me problems in the near future.  Yes, people, apparently the x-rays were so troubling that the entire oral surgery office was willing to come in before the SUN COMES OUT to get those teeth out of my mouth.   (Have I mentioned that the people here are so nice?)

Blessing Number Two--an amazing bunch of "mouth doctors" and their people.

Uh-oh.  7:15 a.m.?  And I live 40 minutes (at best) from the oral surgeon?  And I can't drive myself and my driver has to stay at the office to be ready to take me home when the surgery is done?  Um, okay, then.  Let's see:  Charming had the day off and would have done all the driving, but then he'd have to miss appointments that he'd scheduled (remember, he doesn't live here).  Miss Sue would do it, I'm sure, but I couldn't get a hold of her.  Called Mr. R and said, "please, oh, please...what are you doing at 6:30 a.m. tomorrow?  Oh, and if you can drive me there, would you mind just hanging out for two hours at the oral surgeon's office and then bring me back home?"  Fortunately for me, Mr. R said sure and Mr. R and Mrs. R were able to ask a yet another neighbor to watch their imp for the 45 minutes between the time Mrs. R leaves for work and the time the imp leaves for school.  (Yes, we have a pretty cool neighborhood!)

So, Blessing Number Three--amazing neighbors.

So, this morning comes and the rain is pouring down.  Hail, thunder and lightning, and flood warnings.  Didn't get much sleep.  I confess that I was nervous...I've never, ever had anything like this happen to me and I don't know what to expect.  (Bribed Mr. R with a Starbuck's card and paid for his drive-through was the least I could do for a fellow night owl who was up at dark-o'clock when he absolutely didn't have to be!)  The surgery went well (I don't remember anything between laying in the dental chair and waking up in the recovery chair).  So far, I don't have any real pain (either I'm immune (not!) or they do a great job of pain management).  Finally, with Superman's new medical/dental insurance, this entire debacle cost us a very manageable $250.

Blessings Number Four and Five ---no unexpected complications with the surgery and no adverse reactions to the IV sedation and awesome dental insurance.

So, there you have many blessings out of such an unexpected source.

Look around, I'll bet you kind find some blessings of your own.

As for me?  I'm going to has been a long few days.

(Darcy Lee, I spoke to Superman and he said everything arrived in good condition, so I'll be posting tomorrow how I packed all of his baked/candy goodies...I was holding off to find out if they actually arrived in reasonably good condition!)

Traditional Gingerbread Cookies

In 2006, I picked up one of those little seasonal cookbooks they have at the checkout counter of grocery stories...this particular cookbook was by Taste of Home and entitled "Christmas Cookies & Candies" and piqued my interest because it had a "photo of every recipe!" and "75 full-color recipe cards".  I must confess, the recipes I've tried from this little cookbook have not disappointed. 

The recipe I'm sharing with you today is from this book and quickly became a family favorite and is definitely good enough to be added to Gingerbread Snowflakes' International Winter Holiday Cookie Swap.  (Did you see the Pizelles a blogger posted?  I love Pizelles!)

Traditional Gingerbread Cookies
(From Taste of Home Christmas Cookies & Candies)
Makes roughly 5 dozen cookies (depending upon size of cookie cutters)

3/4 cup of butter, softened
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1 egg
3/4 cup molasses
4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons ginger
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoons ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon salt
Vanilla frosting/icing of your choice
Red and Green paste food coloring

Preheat oven to 350.

Combine flour, ginger, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves, and salt.  Set aside.
In large mixing bowl, cream butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy.  Add egg and molasses and mix.

Gradually add flour mixture to creamed mixture and mix well.

Cover and refrigerate for four hours or overnight or until easy to handle.

On lightly floured surface, roll dough to 1/8 inch thickness.  Cut with 2 1/2 inch cookie cutters dipped in flour.

Place 1 inch apart on ungreased baking sheets.  Baking at 350 for 8-10 minutes or until edges are firm.

Remove to wire racks to cool.

Tint some of the frosting red and some of it green.  Decorate as you like.  (We suggest silly faces and lots of personality, but hey, that is just the way we do it!)

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Food For Thought

"He, who every morning plans the
transactions of the day, and follows that
plan carries a thread that will guide him
through a labyrinth of the most busy life"
- Victor Hugo

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Snowmen Butter Cookies

My friend Pam at Gingerbread Snowmen is hosting a St. Nicholas Eve Cookie Recipe Swap and asked me if I had any recipes to contribute and I immediately thought of this one. Not only are the cookies adorable, the kids love making them as much as people love eating them. Quick, easy and adorable...these are a wonderful addition to any Christmas Cookie Platter.

Snowmen Butter Cookies
Makes - 12

1 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon water

Red and green liquid or paste food coloring
Black/brown jimmies and red hot candies (cinnamon candies) (eyes and noses)


In a large mixing bowl, cream butter, sugar and vanilla extra together.

Gradually beat in flour and water.

Place 1/2 cup of dough in each of two bowls, reserving balance in separate bowl. Add red food coloring to one bowl and mix thoroughly. Add green food coloring to one bowl and mix thoroughly. Shape the uncolored dough into twelve 1-inch balls and twelve 1 1/2-inch balls.

Place one smaller ball above one larger ball to form the snowman body and head. For each snowman, then form the hat and the scarf. For hat, roll 1-inch ball and a flat disk for brim. Place on head. For scarf, shape 1/4 teaspoon of each color of dough into a 3 inch rope and twist together. Place scarf around snowman's neck. Insert jimmies for eyes and press the red hot in for the nose.

Bake at 350 F for 15-18 minutes until set. Cool on baking sheet.

Come on! You have to admit that these are super cute!

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Horror!

Last year, my sister made these little snow people for me.  I love them!  I was so happy to bring them out with my Christmas decorations...they're so cheerful and they sit beautifully on a silver pedestal with a silver "tree". 

Aren't they cute?  She felted them pattern...just her imagination.  Did I mention she's super creative?  Look at that little bird the snow person is holding. 

Imagine my horror when I stumbled upon this scene a few evenings ago:

Oh, poor little snow person!  I am so sorry I didn't take better care of you.  I had no idea that my oldest cat would be the one to fall prey to your cuteness.  Oh, Sam I Am, put down the snow person!  Stop, stop!

Please forgive me.

I'm so NOT that woman...

If you are the kind of woman who makes beautiful hand-made Christmas cards, I am so in awe of you.  Seriously.  I am not you.  Not even close.  I admire you tremendously.  I used to have grand plans for somehow being organized and inspired enough to make beautiful Christmas cards for all of the people on my Christmas card mailing list.  This summer I finally let go of those visions of myself...I shipped all of my scrapbook paper to my sister...and let go of the pressure.

None of this means, however, that I don't want to send out pretty Christmas cards, even if they're store bought cards.  Every year, at the After Christmas sales, I buy my Christmas cards for the next year.  I've learned to put them in with the pre-tree household decorations, so that I have them when I'll actually need them.  (Oh, and if you're wondering if I've ever lost Christmas cards by doing it this way, the answer is YES.  Putting them with my "pre-tree" decorations means they come out when the initial Christmas decorations come out and they're ready for me to use at the beginning of December.)

Last week, I pulled out the Christmas cards I bought after Christmas last year and thought they were, well, plain.  Boring.  Ho-Hum.  Then it occurred to me that I could be like that woman who has that cooking show that is about half home-made (or something like that--I haven't actually seen it).  I could have store-bought cards with a little bit of home-made sparkle.

One dollar and half an hour later (a half hour during which I watched/listened to the Sing-Off with my kids), I'd embellished my Christmas cards.  Glitter was successfully added to Santa's hat, sleeves, and coat.  I love the way they turned out (even though the pictures are terrible!).

So, I'm not that woman, the woman I secretly long to be, but I am the woman who took the time to add a little oomph to my family's Christmas cards.  As compromises go, this one definitely works for me.

Cut yourself some slack and "cut corners"...semi-home-made is good enough...really!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Christmas Crafts

The Friday following Thanksgiving, a friend of ours hosted a craft afternoon.  (Far more fun than fighting crowds on Black Friday!)

She had gathered some little ceramic ornaments and some unpainted trinket boxes for everyone to paint.  We contributed our stash of paints and some serious enthusiasm. 

I think we did pretty well, don't you?

Buttercup painted the box with the engraving...didn't she make it beautiful?

Valiant took the time to paint brass "corners" on his box and they look so good.  He also had a mixed result experiment with crackle medium.

After everything dried for a week, I wrote the kids' names on their ornaments and their trinket boxes and sprayed everything with some clear lacquer.

 I love to see how each of them approaches their creative endeavors from completely different perspectives...I can hardly wait to see what they'll come up with.

It really doesn't take much to have a fun afternoon with some successful brave!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Early Deadline and Homemade Candy

According to my post office, today is the last day for me to ship packages guaranteed to get to Superman for Christmas.  Are you usually ready for Christmas on the 6th of December?  Yeah, me neither!!

Add in that Superman is on a cot in a 25-man tent with no personal storage and you can guess what trouble I had coming up with suitable Christmas gifts.  I finally decided it all had to be consumable and that he'd love to have stuff to share.  I decided homemade candy would be perfect.

So, on Saturday I made candies, a lot of candies.  (This is the only time of year I can send chocolates and I know Superman misses them dearly.)

I made Peppermint Bark.

I made chocolate clusters with pretzel bits and marshmallows.

I made pretzel sticks dipped in chocolate and rolled in toffee bits.

I made pretzel sticks dipped in white chocolate and striped with dark chocolate.

I didn't stop there.  On Sunday, I made a batch of chocolate-covered oreo-type cookies.

Then, I fashioned my own almond-roca type candies.

Last night, I got it all packed, sealed, and labeled.  I've even filled out the customs form already.

Today, I will deliver it all to the United States Postal Service.  I did my part and now I expect them to do theirs and get Superman his goodies in time for Christmas.

Keep your fingers crossed.

Making all this stuff was super easy.  If you're at all interested, I'll share all the ingredients and instructions...just let me know.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Food for Thought

 (The view off our deck - 11/27/2010)

"I long to accomplish a great and noble task, but it is my chief duty to accomplish small tasks as if they were great and noble."

- Helen Keller

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Look What We Saw Today!


 After weeks of snowy (read: cloudy) days, Mr. Sun came out today.  It felt glorious and looked beautiful reflecting off the icy snow.

The cat was happy.

The kids were happy.  Even with all the melt off we've had the past few days, the kids have plenty of snow for sledding fun.

A bonus?  The snow plows finally reached our more four-wheel-drive to get to the main road!  Woot!  The sun melted the last of the snow-turned-to-ice off the driveway, too.

The plows follow our lead and dump all the extra snow in the middle of the cul de sac, making an awesome hill for the kids.  Pretty cool, isn't it?

Oh, I love the sunshine, don't you?

Super Easy Boot Liners

A few months ago, I saw these super cute fleece boot liners at Target.  I do have "lovely" black rubber boots and I was sure that fleece liners would be just the ticket.  At $9.99 plus tax a pair, however, I was disinclined to buy them.  I knew I could make some for far less.  I bought some adorable fleece on sale for roughly $5/yard.  Then life interfered and my adorable fleece got put on a shelf.

Fast forward to tonight.  The house is relatively clean, dinner dishes were non-existent because we went to a church Christmas dinner, and the kids and I are tucked cozily into our home for the evening.   Half an hour later and I have a pair of fleece boot liners.

They were so easy, I decided I felt competent to tell you how to make some, too.

1) Measure the distance from your big toe to your calf at the point your boots end...then end three inches to that number.  My number was 25 inches.  Cut four pieces that look like this:

2)  Take two of those pieces and cut notches where your foot ends and you curve up your leg.  (The point of my notches was at 10 1/2 inches - allowing for a roomy toe.)  Sew the notches together to form the heel of your liners.

3) Sew one flat piece to one heeled piece.  Repeat.

4)  Trim the top of each liner to make front and back the same length.

5)  Fold over to create a cuff.  (Since I was using fleece, I didn't hem my liners.)

 6) Oh, and don't forget that you want to put them on "inside out" so that the seams are against the inside of the boot.

There you have it...two fleece boot liners in half an hour.  (After I worked out the bugs, I made another set for Buttercup in about 10 minutes.  They're that easy.)

(Oh, and if you're extra lucky, you'll have some feline help to keep you motivated.  Ninja is oh-so-encouraging, don't you think?)