Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Other December Activities

Making marshmallow snowmen.

Decorating sugar cookies at the Ward Christmas Party

Seeing Santa!

Sibling gift: potato stamped sleep shirt.
Easy, quick, & age-appropriate.

Class party - making graham cracker gingerbread houses.

Decorating cookies for Santa on Christmas Eve.
We haven't done this before, but it was a nice way to keep them busy 
before heading up to an EARLY bedtime.  

Hope your Christmas was Merry & Bright!

Monday, December 26, 2011

DIY Photo Canvas

I found this idea on Pinterest (where on earth did we get our ideas before Pinterest?), and decided it would be the perfect Christmas gift: DIY Photo Canvas.

Supplies Needed:
(I think everything on this list can be found at Walmart)
  • Scrapbooking paper
  • Photos to mount
  • Artist canvas in the size to match the photos
  • Mod Podge in Matte finish
  • Brush or foam applicator
  • Ink pad & sponge
  • Clear Acrylic Sealer (spray)

I had my black and white photos printed at mPix. 
I then trimmed them down by about 1/4" on each side to fit my 8"x10" canvas.  

Strips of scrapbooking paper, cut to fit the edges of the canvas, leaving about 1/4" gap all around.

Brush the Mod Podge over the entire canvas & let it dry for the full 20 minutes. 
Tip: I started with a foam applicator, but switched to a 1" brush & got MUCH smoother results.

Assembly line.
I laid everything on wax paper so they didn't stick.

Apply another coat of Mod Podge to the edges, then adhere the scrapbooking strips on all 4 sides. 
You'll see a little of the white canvas underneath, but that's OK. 

Coat the top of the canvas once more, then apply the photos.  Although I've seen tutorials that suggest you use a brayer to get out any air bubbles, I found that if I just smoothed it with my hand, then weighted them down, there were no bubbles. 
I turned them face down on the wax paper, put a few books (actually my Everyday Living magazines) in the middle, then weighted them down with larger books. 

Once dry, turn them face up again and coat all visible surfaces with Mod Podge.  Work quickly, and try to keep a smooth, even coating. The brush works much better than the foam applicator for this step.  Let this dry completely. If you'd like, you can do a second full coating, but it's not necessary. 

Once dried, take your ink pad & "distress" the edges by tamping a sponge onto the ink. Lightly apply it the edges and corners, and if you like, blur it onto the edges of the photo itself. 

Last step: When everything is totally dry, spray them with a light coating of acrylic sealant.  Do this outside, as it will stink up the garage when you're trying to get your project done in 40 degree weather. 

Hang & enjoy!  

Thursday, December 22, 2011


We don't have a lot of Christmas traditions.  Sure, there are a few: Going to see Santa, enchiladas on Christmas eve, Pajamas all day on Christmas.  But there are no do-or-dies.  We don't see The Nutcracker every year.  We don't go ice skating.  We don't drive to see Christmas lights & then feast on hot chocolate.  We don't wrap our gifts on Christmas eve.  We don't wear ugly Christmas sweaters.

This didn't really bother me until I read this post about buying a special ornament every year. As this combines shopping and nostalgia, I thought "Great Idea"!

You see, most of our tree ornaments are lovely.  They are wool felt, handmade, and sprinkled with sequins, sparkly beads, and glittering trim.  They are in the shape of Santa and angels and wise men.  I also have stockings, snowmen, and characters from The Wizard of Oz. Don't forget The Nutcracker, Little Red Riding Hood, and Raggedy Ann & Andy. But they are not "ours".  These are from my childhood and evoke memories for ME, but not for us.  Yes, there are a few of "ours". There is the raven bought in Alaska, the ball from our first family trip to Disneyland, the beaded candy cane from Big Sis' kindergarten class.  And we have a handful of gorgeous glass ornaments that nest at the top of our tree.  They are precious and delicate, and look magical under the soft glow of twinkling lights.  I love these.


(just a few of the lovelies)

In recognition of "us" as a family, I pledge to buy a new ornament to represent the year.  And I will do this every year going forward.  It can be big or little, glass or plastic, fragile or unbreakable.  For 2011, I chose:

For obvious reasons, right? 
You smart little owl, you've got nothin' on our new Doctor.

Do you have must-do traditions at Christmas?  Or collect special ornaments?

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Why Stores Should Come With a Disclaimer + A Lesson in Humility

We are broke around these parts.  Real, real broke.  I've sliced and diced that budget to the point where every penny is accounted for, and the only wiggle room we have is in food.  I don't know about you, but food is not some place I like to skimp, so the wiggle room is in fact more of a tremor than an actual booty shake.

Enter Aldi.

Despite our pea-sized town, we have an Aldi.  I had never shopped there until a few months ago.  I knew it was a grocery store, but after an ill-fated exploratory trip 2 years ago in Michigan, I was not interested. This occurred shortly after I got laid off, and my head was spinning with notions of bankruptcy and homelessness.  I knew Aldi was a grocery discounter, but didn't understand the premise.  When I walked through the doors, I didn't get why I had to pay a quarter for a cart.  I didn't recognize the brands, and I didn't see anything familiar about the names.  The prices were low, but I didn't believe there could be decent quality for such low dollars.   Then. Then!  Some creepy guy kept following me around the store, standing too close and making my very uncomfortable. I bought nothing, and fled as quickly as I could.

Because I love my dollars and cents, I decided to give Aldi another try. I did a little online research and discovered that Aldi is owned by the same German company that owns Trader Joe's.  I also started watching the promo flyers that came in the mail.  The prices were good.  Really, really good.  My first trip was brief - as it should be for a store that is about 1/8 the size of a normal grocery.  I shopped, I cooked, I sampled.  And it is good.  Not perfect, but now that I am averaging a 20% savings, I am all on board with Aldi. I think this about sums it up: Aldi is the German Ikea of Food.

And as a favor to the Germans, here is a suggested disclaimer:

Aldi - we sell food, and a few other random things.  You're not going to recognize the brand names on 90% of what we carry, but it won't really matter because our prices are so low.  And yeah, our stuff is pretty tasty, too. So what if we don't carry 45 different kinds of soup?  We DO carry the 4 flavors you buy every time you shop. You're still going to have to go somewhere else if you want a random item like buttermilk or cilantro.  But you'll do it with a smile because you just saved another $25 this week. PS: our Candy Cane Chocolate Sandwich Cremes taste just like the ones at Trader Joe's and our Belgian Truffles are amazing.  Your waistline won't thank us, but your wallet will.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

What I Did This Morning

I have to craft when the impulse strikes me, or I'd never get anything made. 

It's not usually at night, after the kids have gone to bed.

Or during naptime, which wouldn't be helpful anyway, as he has decided to cut naps down to a scant 45 minutes a day - without prior approval, I might add. This really puts a crimp in my sitting around, eating truffles, watching Tori and Dean time.  
PS, have you tried the Choceur truffles from Aldi?  They are AMAHZING. 

Instead, as soon as Sis gets on the bus, we huddle up together with Kick Buttowski in the background and do a little cutting and gluing. 

Today, I made these: 

I never knew felt flowers were so easy to make!  
I think it took me longer to whip together the backing than to make all the flowers & leaves for each one.  The pictures don't even do these justice; they are much cuter in person. 

Teacher gifts: COVERED. 

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

White Chicken Chili

I try to be open minded.  Really, I do.  But something in me always balked at the idea of white chicken chili.  I was suspicious of the base (What makes it white?  It can't be good). Many recipes include corn, and you know I can't stand corn IN my food.  And those white beans?  Just......ICK.

Once again, I was wrong, wrong, wrong.

I don't know why, but when I saw the delicious looking picture in my Slow Cooker Revolution cookbook, I HAD to try their White Chicken Chili.  And as with most of their recipes, this one did not disappoint.

White Chicken Chili
From: Slow Cooker Revolution

3 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 (15 oz.) can white or yellow hominy, rinsed & drained
2 Tbs. vegetable oil
2 onions, minced
4 jalapeno chiles, stemmed, seeded, minced (**I used 2, because: KIDS)
6 garlic cloves, minced
4 tsp. ground cumin
2 tsp. ground coriander
3 (15 oz.) cans cannellini beans, drained & rinsed
3 pounds bone-in chicken thighs, skin removed, trimmed
Salt & pepper
2 Tbs. minced jarred pickled jalapeno chiles
1/4 cup minced fresh cilantro

  1. Puree 2 cups broth and hominy in blender until smooth, about 1 minute.  Transfer to slow cooker.
  2. Heat oil in 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add onion, jalapeno, garlic, cumin, and coriander, and cook until vegetables are softened and lightly browned, 8-10 minutes. Stir in remaining 1 cup broth, scraping up any browned bits; transfer to slow cooker.  
  3. Stir beans into slow cooker.  Season chicken with salt & pepper and nestle into slow cooker.  Cover and cook until chicken is tender, 4-6 hours on low.  
  4. Transfer chicken to cutting board, let cool slightly, then shred into bite-sized pieces, discarding bones.  Let chili settle for 5 minutes, then remove fat from surface using large spoon. 
  5. Stir in shredded chicken and pickled jalapenos and let sit until heated through, about 5 minutes.  Stir in cilantro, season with salt & pepper to taste, and serve with avocado.  
What I love about this recipe: 
  • I found everything at my local Walmart, so I didn't have to go to 4 different stores looking for the ingredients (a near-miracle in our tiny town).  Also, nothing was outrageously expensive.  
  • The prep was fast, and most of the work was done by the slow cooker.  
  • The avocado makes this recipe.  
  • It cooks up a TON - a full 8 servings, so there was lots to freeze. 
  • It's pretty healthy.  I don't have a nutritional breakdown, but other than the thighs being dark meat, everything else is very good for you.   
  • That it makes me eat something called HOMINY.  I'm sorry, are we living in the 1820's?  What the who is hominy?

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Hometown Holiday

One of the fun things about small town living is all the small town celebrating that goes on.  Our city likes to kick off the Holiday Celebrations with a Thanksgiving weekend parade, complete with the high school marching band, a herd of firetrucks, lots of candy being thrown, homemade floats, and did I mention the candy?

Big Sis got to participate with her dance team, and loved being the center of attention.  We loved the fact that we found a great parking spot & got to enjoy the 60 degree sunshine!

Grandparents, ENJOY!

Product Review: mpix.com

I love my camera.  I don't understand it very well, but I am trying.  She's a very understanding device so we get along just fine.  Believe me, she does most of the work in this relationship, and the least I can do is support her by showcasing her fine efforts in print.  Folks that is a long winded way to say that she snaps it and I print it. I used to think all printers were alike.  Costco? Fine.  Walmart? If I have to.  Shutterfly?   Okey-dokey.



If you really want to showcase your efforts, go where the pros go: mpix.

I had never heard of them until several professional photographers recommended them on Facebook.  I know - even typing that sentence feels a little cheesy - but these are people who I respect and whose work I appreciate.  If they like mpix enough to use them for their professional snaps, who am I to argue?

After getting AWFUL prints from Shutterfly a few weeks ago, I decided I had nothing to lose by giving mpix a shot.  And for the crucial Christmas picture gifts, no less.  

Creating an account was easy, uploading was a cinch, and ordering took no time at all. Cost was reasonable ($1.99 for a color 8 x 10?  Yes, please!), delivery was speedy, and the results were impressive.  Unfortunately, I don't have a way to scan in the photos from Shutterfly and compare them to mpix.  I will tell you that I had them print several 8x10 color digital images, and several 8x10 black and white digital images.  They are beautiful!  The colors in my color print are exact, and the black and whites are crisp and deep.  You'll have to believe me when I say there is no question who I will be using in the future!  If you have photos to print or digital images that you want hard copies of, try mpix.  I hope you'll be as satisfied as I am!

PS - Now that I know how much more satisfying - and budget friendly- taking family pictures can be, I don't think I'll ever go back to one of those walk-in photo studios again.  

Note: mpix has no idea who I am.  I have not been compensated in any way for this review, and all opinions presented here are wholly my own. 

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Sock Bun Curls

Pinterest has expanded my world in 100 different ways.  While it's fun, and addictive, I have found it is most fulfilling when I actually DO/ BUY/ TRY the things I see on there.  I've made several craft projects, purchased a few etsy items, and actually cooked up a couple of new recipes.  Some of my Pinterest adventures have been a success, some need tweaking, and a precious few have been spot on.

I'm still not sure which category the sock bun curls fall into, but long-haired ladies, I am here to tell you that THIS WORKS.

image from Polyvore

I was skeptical about how well this would turn out, but I figured that if I was going to continue to not be able to schedule a haircut (one of the little known hazards of moving to a small town & having a husband with an ever-changing schedule) I had nothing to lose.  I used this tutorial from A Spotted Pony, and lo and behold, I had curls!  I've done this a few times, and I will tell you that I am impressed.

  The first day, my curls were little more kinky than I would like.  But I think this is mostly due to too much gel/styling creme mix.  I also did it with very damp hair (barely out of the shower).  It did relax after an hour or so, but still..... Too much. Day 2 was AWESOME.  I like that this doesn't use heat, it is super comfy to sleep in, and you don't have to subject your family to the sight of yourself in curlers (not my best look).  The curls even sailed into Day 3 looking fine. I used an old cotton-y dress sock from the husband's top drawer (don't worry hon, it was an only). I don't know if different types of socks would yield different results, but I'm willing to test out a few to refine the process. 

Have you tried anything you've pinned on Pinterest?