Sunday, November 29, 2009

DIY Advent Wreath

Putting together a new Advent wreath has been at the top of my holiday to-do list since last Christmas. Seeing as though today is the first Sunday of Advent, I figured it was the perfect time to actually get off my fanny and get started on the project.
We've had an Advent wreath for years, but sadly, the only way I can seem to remember to light it every night is if it's sitting right in front of me at the kitchen table. Our old wreath was just a tad too big for the center of the table and Hubby and I would always have to engage in a bit of a nudging match all through Advent. I'd nudge the wreath his way just a tad to make more room for my plate and he'd nudge back to make room for his. after day.
I saw a wreath in a catalog last year that I really liked and filed the idea away in the far recesses of my mind until I could get around to making a new one. I use the term wreath loosely, because there isn't a traditional evergreen wreath base involved.

Here's the finished product (and yes, there is a 4th candle hidden on the other side):


I picked up four dark purplish candles at Hobby Lobby a few weeks ago because I'm so good at planning ahead. I know one should be pink, but there were no decent looking pink ones available. My original plan was to tie a pink ribbon around one of the candles, but I forgot about that somewhere along the way. In the meantime, I saw fall colored candles wrapped with a Thanksgiving theme and decided to go with that for this project. I printed the words Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love in brown ink on cardstock as a reminder of what the four Sundays of Advent represent. I used the Porcelain font downloaded from ScrapVillage and added a fancy dingbat at the beginning and end of each word for a sophisticated look.
Aside from candles, a traditional Advent wreath uses a circle with no beginning or end to symbolize the eternity of God and evergreens to represent continuous life. Although I did not use a traditional wreath, I wanted to keep a circular base. I used a decorative bowl we received many years ago as a wedding present and if you line the candles up just so, they are a perfect fit. My original plan was to use a silver charger I picked up at Dollar Tree last year, but I liked the looks of this better. To fill out the wreath, I added a few clippings of an evergreen bush from our yard. We like to keep a white candle in the center of our wreath to light on Christmas Day, but the bowl wasn't big enough and if I used a bigger dish well...we'd be right back to nudging. I'll figure something out when the time comes. I've got a whole 26 days to think about it!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

About the Music

I know what you're thinking..."It's not even Thanksgiving and she's got Christmas music playing!" I looovvve Christmas music. Sometimes I think I could listen to it year round. I've been known to sneak a Christmas CD or two into my car in June for a little mid-year dose of the most wonderful time for the year. I had an epiphany about Christmas music a few years ago though. It can do a lot to set the tone for your holidays. If you want to reduce some of the stress that rears it's ugly head this time of year, take a look (or a listen?) to the music you've got playing.

One of the Atlanta radio stations starts playing Christmas music a few days before Thanksgiving. I've always been thrilled by this, although I try to hold off until after Thanksgiving. A couple of years ago while sitting in traffic (and believe me, Atlanta has a lot of it) I realized if I had to listen to Mariah Carey screeching out "All I want for Christmas is you ooh ooh baaaby.." one more time I was going to flip my lid! And as much as I like Paul McCartney, I can only listen to "Simply Having A Wonderful Christmas Time" so many times a day. I flipped through my radio stations and was pleased to discover The Fish also plays Christmas music 24/7. The only difference is their selection is much more relaxing and therefore less stress inducing. Being a religious station, they also play songs that actually acknowledge the true reason for the season. I had begun to notice that the other station rarely, if ever, played any remotely religious Christmas songs and this bothered me. The Fish plays mostly religious tunes like Silent Night and The Little Drummer Boy (the Jars of Clay version is one of my favorites) but they also throw a few traditional songs, like Here Comes Santa Claus and the kids' favorite I Want A Hippopotamus For Christmas, into the mix from time to time.

I enjoy having Christmas music playing in the background while I work on projects, decorate the house, or cook dinner. The Charlie Brown Christmas music you've been listening to is among my favorite. This year, I'm also lovin' Pandora Radio, an online radio station that creates personalized stations. You put in titles of songs you like or an artist's name and Pandora goes to work. Pandora also has preset stations you can listen by choosing a genre, like hip hop, alternative, oldies, or Latin. I have been enjoying the Peaceful Holidays selections for the past few weeks.
If you're feeling the stress already, put on some peaceful holiday music to calm your nerves and remind you of the true meaning of Christmas. I promise it will make all the difference!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Acorn Cookies

Here's a super easy and tasty way to keep the kiddies busy on Thanksgiving Day while the rest of the feast is still cooking.

Mini Nilla Wafers
Hershey's Kisses unwrapped
peanut butter

Put a dab of peanut butter on the flat side of the Nilla Wafer and stick to the flat side of the Hershey's Kiss. Your done!

If allergies are a concern, chocolate frosting can be used in place of the peanut butter. Fill a dish with these little cuties for a festive look on your Thanksgiving table. We plan to use some of the fall-themed Hershey's Kiss flavors for a little variety this year.

Outdoor Lights Redo

Here's a look at a quick weekend project I did last week. I've been itching to take this on since I first saw the idea at Balancing Beauty and Bedlam, but it turned cooler than expected here sooner than expected so I thought I'd missed out on the opportunity until spring. Last weekend was gorgeous though so I too the opportunity to give our outdoor lights a much needed redo.

Here's the before picture:

I used Rustoleum's Hammered Black paint for a quick coverup. I love Rustoleum's hammered finish paints. I used the Hammered Aluminum to revamp the vanity lights in both of the bathrooms in our old house (think 1970's fake brass finish with huge globe light covers). It made for an amazing transformation once I put new globes on. Everyone thought I had actually replaced the light fixtures. Anyhoo, here's an in progress picture. Stacking the Roman Gladiator helmets, I mean uh...light fixture tops on cans from the garage made them much easier to paint.

I'm not as brave as Jen from Balancing Beauty and Bedlam. She free-handed her fixtures. I taped mine all up and used a cheap foam brush.

Here's the finished product. Looks a hundred times better in my opinion and the transformation was under $10 for three lights!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Deals and Steals

Over the past week I got to take part in two of my favorite events. Another swap meet organized by my homeschool group and the semi-annual Boy Scout yard sale. This was the second swap our group has held. Our first was just a few months ago and all who participated were itching to do it again. Hubby was out of town so I had to bring Sport and Spice with me. It turned out to be a good thing. Sport honed in on a Lego Technic set before it even made it out the box and Spice fed her shoe fetish trying on every.single.pair. of shoes up for grabs before finally settling on a pair of cowgirl boots. I was very happy with the box of items I came home with and even happier that I got rid of a large Christmas tree and two other boxes of goodies. It seems most of us always have the same go home with less than we came with. I don't think anyone left disappointed, there's already whisperings of making this a quarterly event, and there was plenty of merchandise left to be handed over to charity at the end of the night.

Still flying high from my swap finds, I woke up early Saturday to be among the first on the scene for the scout's sale. It really doesn't matter when you arrive though. They haul out new merchandise all day long. I am convinced by the time they finally get all of the donations unloaded and out for display it's time to start packing up and calling it a day. It is a shining example of American consumerism and while on one hand it makes me sick to think of all the waste, the bargain hunter in me is thrilled! I spent almost two hours at the sale and made three different trips to the checkout table (don't tell Hubby) and still did not see it all. I try not to spend too much time thinking about what I might have missed. Instead, let's focus on the good stuff - the loot I brought home! I spent about 20 bucks and came home with all kinds of goodies. Here's a sampling of the merchandise:

This sale has become one of my favorite spots for picking up cheap homeschool supplies. Every time I go I walk away with a ton of goodies - books, games, fraction tiles, wrap-ups, name it, I've found it. This time around I hit the jackpot when I came across a couple boxes of books that obviously came from a teacher. I found just about every book in Scholastic's If You Lived...series. We have been using these daily in our history studies this year. My kids love them. A few weeks ago I forked over $15 for a set of 5 from e-bay and was pleased at the deal. At the sale I paid 50 cents each. There were some duplicates and I plan on putting them on e-bay to recoup some of my "high dollar" investment.

I also scored several titles from the Childhood of Famous Americans series. We were introduced to these this year by a friend and Sport just devours them. I have to hide them to keep him from reading them all in one day.

I picked up 5 brand new red mini bread pans that still had the tags on them. I will use them for handing out baked goods at Christmas. I spied a green set just like it, but it just didn't have the same pizazz.

I love the detailing on this bill organizer. It looks like a nice wood in the picture, but it's actually plastic. I will probably paint it once I figure out where and how to use it.

I couldn't pass up this bucket of 27 ceramic eggs in muted shades of green, blue, beige, and cream. I'll use them in my new apothecary jars come spring.

I spotted this little cabinet right off the bat and couldn't make up my mind about it. When it was still there two hours later, I figured it was waiting for me to take it home. I hope to update it somehow and use it on one of our mantles. Not exactly sure what to do with it yet, but my mantle will be in holiday mode for awhile so I've got some time to figure it out.

Aren't these the cutest flannel sheets? I picked up 2 brand new matching sets for the kids and a red flannel set (also brand new) for Hubby and I. The red doesn't match anything, but I thought it would be a nice cozy touch for Christmas.

And finally...this funky mirror was a mere $3! I am going to paint it and hang it in Spice's room as soon as I figure out a color. I would love to do it in a vintage pink, but her room is already pink so I'll have to come up with something else. It's a dingy rosy pink shade right now so it needs a little updating.

Thanks for hanging in there with me. I know this post is kind of long, but nothing fires me up like a good bargain, except maybe an LSU game!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A Green Christmas

Bing Crosby dreams of a white Christmas, retailers hope for a black Friday before Christmas, but I'm working toward a green Christmas.

For the past few years I've been trying to come up with ways to make our holiday celebrations a little more Earth friendly. Last year I ditched most of the traditional wrapping paper in lieu of plain white paper (like the rolls you buy in the kid's art section). I decorated some of the paper with a Christmas stamp and red paint, but most of the gifts were decked out in plain white with a big red ribbon tied around them. It made for a nice and simple display under the tree. Wrapping tons of gifts in any kind of paper may not be the most Earth friendly way to go, but at least the white paper could be tossed in the recycle bin at the end of the day. Many recycling facilities will not accept regular wrapping paper or tissue paper. Speaking of tissue paper, I've been cutting back on it too. Is it really necessary?

I also like to give themed gift baskets. I used to fill the bottoms of the baskets with the pretty shredded paper that comes in all sorts of colors. A couple of years ago I came up with what I thought was a brilliant idea...using real peanuts or wrapped peppermints in place of the usual filler. It makes for a fun and unique presentation. These ideas also work great for mailing gifts. Do away with the annoying foam peanuts that everyone loathes and replace them with the real deal. Which would you rather find in your packages?

If I'm giving a food related gift, like homemade bread, I like to wrap it up in a Christmasy kitchen towel that can be used over and over again. And forget about buying more gift tags. Cut up the Christmas cards you received last year and use them to label your presents. I like to use a Christmas themed cookie cutter to make tags in festive shapes.

This year, I plan to do away with the traditional gift bags and replace them with reusable shopping bags. Publix for one has a wide selection of holiday themed shopping bags and I've always loved the red and white reusable bag Target sells year round. I think it's perfect for under the tree. I also plan to reduce the amount of gift wrapping I do. Each year I fill ginormous stockings for my nieces. They hold a lot of loot and every year I wrap each gift, no matter how tiny. This year I think I will leave most of them unwrapped. They're already hidden in the stocking right?

Here's one more tip. You know those boxes you go out and buy every year with pictures of snowmen, Santa, or Christmas ornaments all over them? Well here's a novel idea...don't wrap them! I mean what's the point of picking out the cutest boxes you can find only to hide them under wrapping paper? Tape up the sides, tie some pretty ribbon around them, and stick those babies under the tree. At least for the first use there is absolutely no reason to wrap them. Now, if you choose to recycle them next year - and I hope you do - go ahead and wrap them up.

Did you know Americans generate an extra 5 million tons of trash each year between Thanksgiving and New Year's? I hope you put at least one of these ideas into practice this year, and if you have any other suggestions for making the holidays a little greener, I'd love to hear them!

This post is linked to We Are That Family's Works For Me Wednesday.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Cranberries and Crust

My mom made this for us last Christmas and I've been thinking about making it since then. Well there's no time like the present. This is the perfect dish to add to your Thanksgiving feast.

1 bag of fresh cranberries (or 2 cups)
1/2 cup sugar + 2/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup chopped pecans
2 eggs
1 cup flour
1 stick of butter, melted
3 Tbsp. milk

Preheat oven to 325. Grease a 10-inch pie plate and spread cranberries over the bottom. Sprinkle with 1/2 cup of sugar and the pecans. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs and add 2/3 cup sugar. Beat until mixed well. Add flour, butter, and milk. Beat well then pour over cranberries. Bake 45-55 minutes.

Makes a good dessert or breakfast!

Simple Woman's Daybook

FOR TODAY... Moday, November 16, 2009

Outside my window... a beautiful fall day.

I am thinking... of all the things I should be doing.

I am thankful for... friends who fill our days.

I am wearing... jeans, pink Coca-Cola long-sleeved tee, blue fleece jacket, blue socks.

I am going... to relax tonight since the kids have their homeschool enrichment classes tomorrow. I don't have to get any lessons ready!

I am reading...e-mail and the stack of Scholastic book order forms out for this month.

I am hoping... to finish at least one of the projects I started working on this past week.

On my mind...dinner plans for the rest of the week. Hubby was out of town all of last week and working late the week before so I haven't cooked a real meal in weeks. Time to get back in the groove.

From the learning rooms... trying to take it a little easy this week while at the same time finish up our Native American and Thanksgiving studies before taking next week off.

Noticing that...I am probably less prepared for Christmas than I think I am.

I am hearing...a faucet dripping in the kitchen and nice, peaceful Christmas music from Pandora Radio.

From the kitchen... still have to figure that out...

I am creating...a new family rules canvas, Christmas lists, grocery list...

Around the house...books and other treasures from our latest homeschool group swap and the Boy Scout garage sale waiting to find a new home.

One of my favorite things...silence after a hectic day.

A few plans for the rest of the week...classes and Lego Club tomorrow, book club Wednesday, Little Flowers Thursday, and Grammy and PaPa's arrival on Saturday!

Visit Peggy's blog to read more Simple Woman's Daybook entries.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

From the Mouth of Spice...

"Is it almost lunchtime? I'm almost eating my hair."

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Stop Night Time Coughing

If you're like me you've probably received an e-mail with this info on more than one occasion and, if you're like me, you probably wrote it off as the typical junk that makes its way around the web. I never paid attention to this until several of my friends started prefacing the e-mail with, "I tried this and it really works!" So, I thought this would be a good tip to share this time of year when everyone seems to have a nagging cough. If you already know this, forgive me.

I absolutely loathe cough medicine! I will do almost anything to avoid it since just the thought of it makes me gag. (Honestly, I'm gagging right now as I type this...) Anyway, my cough medicine woes are now over. When I have a cough that just won't quit, I rub my feet down with a good coating of Vick's Vapor Rub, slip on a pair of socks, and sleep like a baby until morning. I know what you're thinking..."Yeah right. Like that's gonna work." Well, trust me, in most cases it does.
Sport, Spice, and I have all used this treatment many times over the past year or two and I can't say it's ever failed us. I did have a friend who tried it say it didn't work for her family so maybe it only works on certain types of coughs...I don't know. All I do know is it's always worked for us. I've been using this treatment with Spice for the past few nights and it has once again worked like a charm. I like the fact that I don't have to pump everyone up with that disgusting cough medicine and as an added bonus it works all. night. long. I put Vick's on the cougher's feet at bedtime and don't have to worry about getting up again in the middle of the night for another dose like I used to have to do with cough medicine.
I hope this tip works for you as well as it works for me. Check out We Are That Family's Works For Me Wednesday for more great ideas.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Cajun Oven-Fried Chicken

Chicken parts and pieces are on sale super cheap this week at Kroger ($.99/lb for Tyson or $1.99/lb for store brand organic chicken) so I thought I'd share this recipe. Sport loves this like there's no tomorrow. Makes him wish chickens had 8 legs. I picked up an extra pack of drumsticks just for him today with this recipe in mind.

3/4 cup buttermilk (I use regular milk and stir in a tablespoon of vinegar.)
1 cup breadcrumbs (Original recipe calls for plain. I usually use seasoned.)
1 Tbsp. Tony Chachere's Creole Seasoning (No kitchen should be without this. If I ever go on Survivor, Tony's will be my luxury item. It makes anything edible.)
2 tsp. minced dried onion
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
3 lbs chicken pieces with skin removed

Preheat oven to 400. Line a pan with foil and coat with cooking spray. Pour milk into a bowl. Combine all seasonings in a large zip-loc bag. Dip chicken in milk then place in bag. Shake to coat. Place on pan and coat chicken with cooking spray. Bake for 30-35 minutes. Enjoy!

This recipe is linked to Balancing Beauty and Bedlam's Tasty Tuesday. Check it out for more great recipes.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Favorite Cleaning Products

The holidays are quickly approaching and We Are That Family is hosting a special holiday themed Works For Me Wednesday. The first thing I think of when company is coming is getting the house in order and face it, we all have plenty of things we would rather be doing or even need to be doing this time of year. I decided several years ago if I found a cleaning product that really worked or made my life easier, I would buy it. Even if it meant forking over a few extra dollars. So without further adieu, here are a few of my favorite (cleaning) things...

I have tried every bathtub cleaning product out there, including homemade and green cleaners, and nobody gets the job done like these little guys. I remember being so disappointed as a kid when my mom burst my bubble by telling me the little hard working bubbles with brushes for feet in the commercials were not real. Real bubbles or not, this stuff gets the job done!

Glass wipes make cleaning mirrors and shining faucets a cinch. Stick with the name brands though. I've found the cheaper ones don't work as well.

I love my Mr. Clean Magic Erasers. They're great for cleaning counter tops and scuff marks off the walls. Also works great on all those huge plastic kiddie toys.

Krud Kutter is a miracle cleaner! I used it to wipe down the laminate bathroom floor in our previous home and was shocked to find it was a light shade of tan, not the lovely brown and gold we'd been staring at for years. Krud Kutter cleans anything including laundry stains.

I have Clorox/Lysol cleaning wipes stashed in every bathroom in the house and the kitchen. It doesn't take long to wipe down the counters, cabinets, toilets...with these babies on hand.

The newest member of my cleaning arsenal is a mini microfiber dusting wand similar to these that I picked up at Dollar Tree recently. It actual makes dusting pretty fun...just ask Sport and Spice! Best of all, it's machine washable so I'm not constantly having to buy refills.

Check out this week's WFMW for more tips for a sress-free holiday.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Easy Green Beans

This is the only way I cook green beans. Very tasty!

1 pound fresh green beans
2 Tbsp butter
1/2 pack Italian dressing mix

Melt butter in a pan. Add beans and seasoning mix and saute until tender, about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. For best taste, allow dressing mix to caramelize on beans.

I've also used Ranch dressing mix and the results are just as yummy.

This post is linked to Tasty Tuesday. Visit Balancing Beauty and Bedlam for more recipes.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Simple Woman's Daybook

FOR TODAY November 3, 2009...
Outside my window...a nice crisp fall day. Can't wait to get the kids outside.
I am thinking...about what to do for dinner. Hubby may or may not be home and Lord knows I don't want to strain myself if he's not going to be here.
I am thankful for...a great weekend full of trick-or-treating fun and an All Saints Day party yesterday. The kids had a blast!
From the learning rooms... Practicing cursive handwriting at the moment. We will be studying Native Americans for the next few weeks and continue our space unit in science. We also started reading Three Cups of Tea - the junior edition -- today for book club. I loved the adult version and am looking forward to looking more in-depth at Pakistan and Afghanistan.
I am find some good ideas for homemade Christmas gifts soon.
I am hearing...Spice practicing counting by twos.
I am wearing...jeans, a brown cable sweater I snagged at our recent swap and love, and comfy brown shoes.
I am reading...19 Minutes by Jodi Picoult. Not my usual fare so while it's a good read, I'm moving along very slowly.
Around the house...Ghosts, goblins, and Jack-O-Lanterns wait to be put back into hiding til next year.
From the kitchen... no real plans this week since Hubby is iffy for most of the week. We'll just wing it.
One of my favorite things...a relaxed day where we don't have to go anywhere.
A few plans for the rest of the week: Co-op classes tomorrow, a field trip to a western museum Wednesday, tennis for Sport tomorrow and Spice Friday, and a haircut for me Saturday. Yay!

To read more daybook thoughts head over to Peggy's blog.

Muffin Tin Monday

We dine from muffin tins just about every Monday, but I don't usually participate in the themes posted by Her Cup Overfloweth. That would require planning ahead, so we just eat whatever's on hand. I knew we would have to participate this week though when I saw that the theme was Outer Space. We are studying the solar system at the moment and, besides that, it's one of Sport's favorite topics. Here's what I came up with at the last minute this morning.

Mini bagel for the rings of Saturn (Sport preferred to think of it as a black hole though.)
Cheese stars
Planetary pepperoni
Yogurt squeezer for astronaut food
Milky Way candy bar from the Halloween bucket for the galaxy
Crescent moon apple slices

Head over to Her Cup Overfloweth to see what other mom's did.