Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Wicked Simple Christmas Decorations

It turns out that I have a very Crafty Sister-in-Law! Magdalena is Crafty in different ways than I am: she can sew for one; I can't even sew a button on straight! I KNEW she would love scrapbooking, and I showed her how to scrapbook. Her scrapbooks are great, too!

Magdalena decorated her home for Christmas in some very Crafty and inexpensive ways. I know it's after Christmas now, but you could also use these ideas for winter decorating as well.


My sister-in-law and her family have a Christmas tree and a Nativity set up for Christmas, but I loved the other simple decorations she made. She used some pine branches, a ribbon, a votive and some pine cones from our yard to make an arrangement on the dresser in their entryway:

More pine branches in a simple vase she already had, in the guest bathroom:
A simple votive holder, inside a little glass dish with little red decorative stones from a discount store:
Cute, huh? I have pine trees all around our house, yet I never thought to use them this way. 

Have you made any home made decorations using nature?

Monday, December 28, 2009

One Year Ago This Week...The Kitchen

Ok, so I'm kind of embarrassed to show these "before" pictures, but here goes. Please remember that we started this the DAY after Christmas last year. There are Christmas decorations half up and half down, and Handy Man had started to bring tools out...dirty dishes were laying around and I said:

"WAIT! I have to take a BEFORE picture!" :-D




Now, I know what some of you might be thinking: "The before isn't THAT bad!" However, this is a case where from "afar", nothing looked too bad...but up close? *shudder* The ivory colored sink was scratched up and dinged beyond belief. The cabinets, while sturdy, were grimy with cooking spills that I could not get clean for the life of me. The counter top was stained, and the caulking between the backsplash and the counter was coming out

The stainless steel appliances were brand new ones that we bought when we moved in. I don't even want to tell you how disgusting the insides of the original stove and refrigerator were! The vinyl floor was once white, but it was so scuffed up and dirty and impossible to clean...some of the seams in the vinyl floor were starting to separate...

The layout was okay but not great for us. Look at the second photo, above, again. See that section of counter top, with the microwave on it? That was actually an island, and when we moved in, that whole island was sitting smack dab in the MIDDLE of the kitchen floor. I hated that island. I know people love islands, and it seems like any kitchen that isn't tiny has one nowadays. But I hated it. Rob also hated it; the way we cooked and moved around in the kitchen, it just didn't work for us. It always seemed to be in the way.


So one day, Handy Man just moved it...I didn't want to move it until we were ready to renovate the kitchen. I was convinced that it would be screwed down to the floor and that there would be all kinds of holes underneath it in the (already ugly) floor that would look horrible if we moved it. However, Rob just got TIRED of it one day, and he moved it. He shoved it against that far wall...turns out the island wasn't even screwed or nailed to the floor at all! 

That definitely freed up a lot of space in our kitchen; it seemed HUGE in there after moving the island aside. (I wish I could find some photos of the island in the middle of the kitchen, but I can't right now. If I do find some, I'll post them.) There were a few small holes in the floor where the island must have originally been screwed down...however, the floor was so ugly anyway, what were a few more holes, right?

I know this is kind of a cliff-hanger...but you'll have to come back in a few days to see more!! "During" and "after" photos to come! Stay tuned...

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Merry Day After Christmas

Or, Merry "Christmas Hangover" Day, as I like to call it. After all of the prep work, the shopping, wrapping, baking, the present opening, etc...it feels like I have a Holiday Hangover today, and I don't even drink alcohol!

Toys are everywhere...wrapping paper is everywhere...I just cleaned some things up today, since I couldn't stand it anymore! But, there's more...oh well, it will still be there tomorrow, right?

One year ago today, we started a BIG renovation project: our kitchen! Yes, Handy Man took some days off between Christmas and New Year's Day, and we GUTTED the kitchen. We spent over a week ripping out the old cabinets, putting them into new places, putting in new wood floors, installing a new sink and new counter tops. WHEW!

Seriously, who DOES something like that right after Christmas? Apparently, we do. Right now, I am getting ready to scrapbook and Handy Man is reading. We are enjoying doing NOTHING this weekend, ahhhh!


Soon I will put up our before and after kitchen photos for you to check out. We have lots of small and medium-sized projects planned for 2010, so don't worry, there will be more Handy Man projects to show you!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Chocolate Peanut Butter Balls


Chocolate Peanut Butter Balls  
1 18 ounce jar creamy peanut butter
1 stick + 2 tablespoons margarine, melted
1 pound package confectioners sugar
3 cups Rice Krispies cereal
1 12 ounce package semi-sweet chocolate chips (other kinds of chocolate don't work as well for this, semi-sweet is best.)
2 tablespoons shortening, optional

Mix peanut butter, margarine and sugar until well blended. Add Rice Krispies last. Roll mixture into 1" balls. Put balls into fridge for a few hours so they become firm. We use a double boiler to melt the chocolate.

You can add 2 tablespoons of shortening to the melted chocolate for shine. You can use a cake tester, or toothpicks to dip the balls into the chocolate. Transfer to a plate or baking sheet covered in wax paper. There will be spots where the toothpicks are showing; but after the chocolate firms up a bit, you can dip a spoon into the chocolate to touch up those spots and make them look all purty.

Store these in the fridge or in a cool place. Use a plastic bag over your hand to avoid getting fingerprints all over the chocolate when putting them into containers. They look especially cute in those mini-cupcake paper cups.

Linking to: Funky Junk Interiors

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Best Christmas Cookie EVAH

These are the best Christmas cookies EVAH! I make about a billion-and-one of these at Christmas time, because everyone gobbles them down.

WARNING, PLEASE READ THIS: These cookies are pretty high-maintenance; the dough is heavy to mix, it needs to be refrigerated for several hours before baking; and these cookies are best eaten the day they are made, or the day after; so plan ahead!


Chocolate Crinkle Cookies
2 cups sugar
3/4 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup Hershey's cocoa (make sure your cocoa is as FRESH as possible!)
4 eggs (yes, 4, and make sure they are as FRESH as possible)
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 1/3 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
powdered sugar

In a large bowl, stir together granulated sugar and oil, add cocoa, blending well. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Your dough will look very dark and wet, like this:
 

Stir together flour, baking powder and salt; add to cocoa mixture, blending well. Cover, refrigerate until dough is firm, usually at least 6 hours. Once all the wet and dry ingredients are mixed together, it will be VERY heavy and dense, like this:
 
Its best to use a big Kitchen Aid mixer if you have one; your arms will thank you for it; this dough is hard to mix!

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease cookie sheet. (I use a Silpat silicone baking sheet.) Roll dough into 1" balls, roll in powdered sugar to coat. Place balls 2" apart on sheet, and bake 12 to 14 minutes or until tops are crackled.

Note: When you take these out of the oven, the chocolate parts of the cookie may look slightly wet; DO NOT PUT THEM BACK IN THE OVEN THINKING THEY AREN'T DONE, or you will OVERBAKE THEM!!Let them cool, and watch everyone devour them. Storage note: when cool, put into an air-tight container, as these cookies will go STALE very quickly. Do NOT leave them in the open air; they are best eaten within a day or two of baking. Using FRESH cocoa and the FRESHEST eggs possible will help a bit, but they get stale and tasteless rather quickly; so be sure to devour ASAP.

This is usually not a problem, as these cookies are WICKED good! You can also make the dough ahead of time, and keep it in a bowl, covered, in the fridge, for several days. Just take out some dough to roll and bake them a little at a time if you don't have the time to bake them all at once; or if they won't be eaten very quickly.
Chocolate Crinkle Cookies
2 cups sugar
3/4 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup Hershey's cocoa (make sure your cocoa is as FRESH as possible!)
4 eggs (yes, 4, and make sure they are as FRESH as possible)
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 1/3 cups flour

2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
powdered sugar

In a large bowl, stir together granulated sugar and oil, add cocoa, blending well. Beat in eggs and vanilla.


Stir together flour, baking powder and salt; add to cocoa mixture, blending well. Cover, refrigerate until dough is firm, usually at least 6 hours

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease cookie sheet. (I use a Silpat silicone baking sheet.) Roll dough into 1" balls, roll in powdered sugar to coat. Place balls 2" apart on sheet, and bake 12 to 14 minutes or until tops are crackled.


Note: When you take these out of the oven, the chocolate parts of the cookie may look slightly wet; DO NOT PUT THEM BACK IN THE OVEN THINKING THEY AREN'T DONE, or you will OVERBAKE THEM!!

Storage note: when cool, put into an air-tight container, as these cookies will go STALE very quickly. Do NOT leave them in the open air; they are best eaten within a day or two of baking.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Letter From Handy Boy

At school, Handy Boy has to write letters to us to practice writing and spelling. I thought this one was wicked funny, so I'm posting it here. Remember, he's 8. I'm typing it like he spells it, although his spelling was very good in this one:

Dear Mom and Dad,
 

When I got my report card on last Monday I got lots of A's and B's. My parents were proud of me and I was also proud of myself. A's and B's are good and I like those letters. This is also the first time where I can get A's, B's, C's, D's and F's. F is the worst grade you could ever get! If I ever get an F on my report card..........I WOULD BE GROUNDED FOR LIFE!!! so that's why I try to work hard.

Coming soon: Recipe for the BEST Christmas cookies evah!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Wicked Good American Chop Suey

I don't know why this recipe is called "American Chop Suey", I always thought that was a weird name for it, but anyway...! This is one of those things that there are probably a million recipes for, but this is how Handy Man made it recently:

- 1 pound ground beef
- 1 green pepper
- 1 medium-sized onion
- 1 tomato
- salt & pepper
- red sauce of your choice (homemade or from a jar)
- elbow macaroni

Chop green pepper, onion and tomato into large chunks. Brown ground beef in a skillet, add salt and pepper to taste. Drain beef, add to crock pot. Add the pepper, green onion and tomato. Stir everything up to combine it. Cover it all up with sauce like this:

Cook on high for 2-3 hours...or you can cook it on low if you want to leave the house for a longer period of time while while it cooks. This smells wicked good while its cooking in the crock pot!

When you are about ready to eat, boil up some elbow macaroni, drain it, then serve all of the sauce-y goodness over the pasta like this:

Then get irritated with Handy Boy, who will gag and sputter in disgust at the onion and green pepper, pick them out, and eat the rest... **SIGH**

Wicked Good American Chop Suey, Handy Man Style

- 1 pound ground beef
- 1 green pepper
- 1 medium-sized onion

- 1 tomato
- salt & pepper
- red sauce of your choice (homemade or from a jar)
- elbow macaroni


Chop green pepper, onion and tomato into large chunks. Brown ground beef in a skillet, add salt and pepper to taste. Drain beef, add to crock pot. Add the pepper, green onion and tomato. Stir everything up to combine it. Cover it all up with sauce.

Cook on high for 2-3 hours...or you can cook it on low if you want to leave the house for a longer period of time while it cooks.


When you are about ready to eat, boil up some elbow macaroni, drain it, then serve all of the sauce-y goodness over the pasta. (I don't give exact amounts for the sauce or the macaroni, as your mileage may vary.)

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Wicked Easy Christmas Ornaments

Today's post is from my first Guest Blogger, Danielle! Danielle is a "Wicked" Crafty Girl, she is way more crafty than I am. Her scrapbook pages are incredible; and she also makes crafty, home made decorations.

Here are some cute, easy Christmas ornaments that she recently made. When I saw them, I told her that I had to show these on my blog. You can make these with children, as long as they are old enough to be careful with the glass.
Supplies:
- 1 clear glass ornament
- paper strips (I make them about 1 in x 6 in)
- ribbon to match
Start by rolling each paper strip into as tight of a ball you can. (I pull the strip as I'm rolling it to keep it really tight). Drop each piece into the glass ornament and continue to roll each piece until they reach the top, leaving a bit of room to get the top of the ornament back in.

Add a ribbon to the top so you can hang it on the tree, and add whatever "bling" you may want to use. I kept this one simple because I am going to personalize it for a family member with a white pen. Simple, but different and elegant. You can also add self-adhesive jewels to the outside of the glass, or glitter on the inside for a little pizazz!

Thanks, Danielle!

Friday, December 11, 2009

It's Frikkin' Freezing in Here...

Thankfully, its not really freezing inside our house...but its freezing OUTside in New England today (and yesterday!) Brrrrr....Its been around 20 degrees, but the windchill makes it feel like its around 12ish...! Our pellet stove has been humming like crazy, and thankfully it can keep up with the cold temperatures.
There are few extra things you can do to help stay warm in your home, that don't cost a lot of extra money. Here are some things we have done:

- This may sound obvious, but make sure all your windows and doors are closed and locked tightly. If you haven't used a window or door in a while, you may have forgotten to close it tightly.


- If you have any windows that are especially leaky or even broken, cover them with plastic window film. We have a small window that just suddenly broke at 3 am (!!!) for some inexplicable reason. Handy Man was going to replace the whole thing, since it is part of a large picture window. However, we kind of ran out of money, and it suddenly turned VERY cold, and we didn't feel like having a huge hole in the wall. 


You can get the plastic film at a hardware store, and it only takes a few minutes to put on. Aim some warm air from a hair dryer onto the plastic, and it will shrink tightly against the window. I never thought these worked all that well, but it seems to work well enough, I can hardly feel any cold through the plastic.

- Ceiling fans can help push warm air around; they can push warm air down from a high ceiling, or push warm air away from a heat source and into the rest of the house. We have a ceiling fan on in the room where our pellet stove is, to help push the warm air into other areas.

- We have new(ish), high-quality windows, but long, lined drapes can also help keep drafts from coming in.

- Depending on how your house is laid out, you may even be able to close off a unused room. We have a family room that would be nice to use, but we don't want to pay to heat it at the moment. The room has two openings to the rest of the house: a small window through to the kitchen, and a door to the kitchen. 

Handy Man made a window to put in the window opening, and put in a door with weather stripping around it to keep the drafts out. (I will make a post about how he did this another time.)

- Speaking of weather stripping, do you have good weather stripping around your exterior doors? It doesn't cost that much, and can make a HUGE difference in drafts coming in around your doors. Weather stripping can shrink and warp over time after putting up with extreme temperature differences; you may need to take some existing stripping down and put up new stripping.


- Draft blockers put at the bottom of your door can help with cold air coming in also, and aren't too expensive. My brother and sister-in-law have one like this for their exterior door for their house, and it works great! You can still open and close the door easily with it in place.

What sort of things do you do to stay warm, if you live in a cold climate?

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Are YOU prepared for an emergency?


We are getting a snowstorm here in New England today. Handy Boy has no school; and Handy Man is working from home on his computer.

It was almost one year ago that we had a HUGE ice storm here in New England and upstate New York. It started on December 11th, and ended pretty quickly,
but the damage was devastating. Over 400,000 people were without power just in New Hampshire alone. 


Our power went out at about midnight on Thursday, and finally came back Sunday night around 8:30 pm. That was just under 72 hours with no electricity. I can't remember ever losing electricity for that long before! Here is a web page that shows some photos of the devastation caused by the storm.

We were pretty well prepared for an emergency, but there were things we could have done better. A few years ago, Handy Man insisted on buying a generator, even though it was WICKED expensive. (For those who are unfamiliar, "Wicked" is a New England term that usually means "very". Hey, don't laugh; I've used it in some circles and people - from outside New England - had NO idea what I was talking about!) Anyway, my parents came over, and my brother, sister-in-law and niece came over and camped out at our house, since we had HEAT and some electricity.

I realize that its difficult to afford a generator, but there are things you can do to be ready for events like this:


Let there be light: You can use candles for light, but be careful and be sure you have enough matches around to light them. We used a few candles, and also had oil lamps for light. Oil lamps are pretty inexpensive; Handy Man bought two lights and some lamp oil at Walmart. We were glad to have these, as they let off much more light than a candle.

Let there be batteries, as well: Handy Man (and Handy Boy) have flashlights. Handy Man's flashlight is a large, heavy-duty one that took D batteries. We noticed that we didn't have any EXTRA D batteries, in case those ran out. OOPS!! We were fine, since we used the oil lamps a lot, but after the storm, we made sure to get some extra D batteries. We had extra batteries in all sizes except D!


Let there be warmth: Some people had other means of heat, such as fireplaces...if you have a fireplace, make sure its in good working order, and that you have some dry WOOD to burn!! Some people had to scavenge for wood because they hadn't used their fireplaces in a while, which was difficult when most of the branches outside were covered in ice! If you have NO other means of heat, do you have things like extra blankets or sleeping bags? 


If it gets too cold, you may have find a friend who has a generator, or find a shelter that has heat. People from warmer parts of the country may not realize what a problem a lack of heat can be; its very serious up here. One of the nights during the ice storm, it was only in the 20's. Homes can get cold FAST at that temperature.

Let there be FOOD and water: I always make sure that we have extra food in the pantry, and before the storm I went and did some food shopping.  We have a well, and the generator worked the well pump so we could GET water up and into the faucets...but if you don't have a generator, can you get water? Be sure to have several jugs of water around.


Let there be medicine: Don't let medicines or First Aid items run low, especially with an impending storm. Do you have enough pills to last if you can't get to a pharmacy for a few days? Do you have enough formula and diapers for the baby, food and medicine for pets, etc?

Let there be gasoline, also: I had just filled up my car with gas right before the storm, so I had plenty. Running the generator uses up gas, and while Handy man had a full container, he could have siphoned some from our cars' gas tanks if need be. Once the roads clear up, if you need to go out, you'll be able to get around if gas stations happen to be shut down for a while. I know, that's a scary thing to think about, but don't let the gas in your car(s) run too low if a storm is coming!


Depending on where you live, your "disasters" may be different: hurricanes, floods, forest fires, etc. Think about what extra things you could stock up on. Getting everything you need all at once could be expensive; but the next time you go shopping, add a few extra things in your cart. You'll be glad that you did!

Monday, December 7, 2009

O Christmas Tree

Here's a photo of our Christmas tree. Handy Man took it with a tripod; its hard to get a good photo of a tree with lights on it! This was the best one; although I think we'll try again another time. 

We bought some of those new LED lights for the tree; they are very bright, use a lot less electricity and don't go out easily like the "old" lights do. (You know, when one goes out they ALL go out?)

The tree is a real tree from a local tree farm. Do you have your Christmas tree up yet? If not, when will you put it up?

Friday, December 4, 2009

Some Christmas Decor

Here are our cute (old) ceramic Christmas trees, and some other decor on top of the TV cabinet:
 
...and an old Santa light-up decoration from my mother's childhood:
The Santa and Mrs. Claus dolls on the book case belonged to my grandmother. They aren't old or anything, they are just cute and I like them.
Tree photos coming soon...!

Linking to:  Funky Junk Interiors

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Christmas Baskets

We started to put up our Christmas decorations over Thanksgiving weekend. I'll be showing more photos of our decorations soon, but here are some of my favorite decorations, my Christmas Longaberger baskets.

These baskets were bought in the 1990s, so they probably don't even sell these anymore! I usually put small candy treats in the sleigh basket, which Handy Boy loves.
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