Friday, December 24, 2010

Letting Go and Enjoying

Day 24

Not every holiday will turn out picture perfect, perhaps not any. And that's okay. That's what memories are made of.

the kids had a lot of fun playing with the paper houses and adding their
own touches.
next time I'll think we'll save the horizontal stripes for the kids

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Looking Ahead- Christmas Closing Ceremonies

Day 23
Two years ago we started an end of Christmas tradition- Christmas Closing Ceremonies. It's like the olympic closing ceremonies, only it's for putting the Christmas stuff away. We have hot cocoa, we let the kids help us take the Christmas stuff down (and play with it a bit). We pack it all up and put it in the attic. It's become an exciting and fun thing because we hyped it up to the kids and had fun working together.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Carpeted Mess to Clean Trimmed-out Ledge

Day 22

This is one project I was really excited about. There is a ledge on the wall of our stairway to the upstairs. It was carpeted in the same carpet as the rest of the floor and the steps. That carpet got very dusty and dirty and there is no good way to clean it. It just looked ugly. Inspired by the Thrifty Decor Chick's stair remodel, I decided to take the carpet off and see what I could do. Under the carpet was a big mess, but I knew that from taking a peek underneath before I ripped it all up. I decided to build a ledge on top of what was there. I used a piece of primed mdf baseboard turned upside down for the bottom trim piece. I attached it with liquid nails and some real ones as well. A four by one inch long piece of mdf went on top, then on top of that, I used a nicer piece of 6" wide pine. I used a handsaw to cut the pieces to size and angle (in the corner the ceiling is at an angle). I used our sander to round off the edges of the top piece (the edges that would be sticking out anyway) and the part where I cut. I primed the top. Eventually I will also screw the whole thing in place and paint it all out. But the holidays came along, and I had other things to do. Since we don't have a mantle, this new ledge became a fun little spot to decorate for Christmas.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Spicy Almonds Recipe

Day 21
I was looking for a non-sweet treat to make to send to my Grandma this year. I found this spicy almond recipe online at by googling spicy almond recipe. The recipe calls for cayenne pepper, which I thought might make it a bit too spicy for Grandma, so I substituted chili powder. These were so yummy I think I'm going to make some more today.

  1. 1Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. 2Melt the butter in a medium-size saucepan.
  3. 3Add worcestershire sauce, cumin, sugar, garlic powder and chili powder.
  4. 4Cook over low heat for 2 - 3 minutes.
  5. 5Add the nuts and stir to coat evenly with seasonings.
  6. 6Spread the nuts on an ungreased baking sheet and toast for 15 minutes, turning occasionally.
  7. 7Remove from the oven and toss with salt.
  8. 8Cool.

  9. I could have even used more nuts than it called for since there was extra topping even after mixing really well.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Wrapping paper for the rest of the year.

Day 20

Today I paid a visit to Michael's and checked out the Christmas stuff already on clearance. I looked through the wrapping paper, which was 60% off and found some rolls that were solid colored or otherwise non Christmas looking. We've had a plethora of Christmas wrapping paper around here (which I've been happily using up this year) but basically none for birthdays or other occasions. Now we have some! It doesn't look like Christmas paper, but it's got holly on the label so it's gotta go. I bet it will probably get even cheaper as we get closer to Christmas. Maybe even cheaper the day after. But you can't wait too long, they're pretty serious about moving stuff out at the craft stores. The plain paper might go quicker as well. However, if you just need to stock up on Christmas paper, there will be lots of it at lots of places, discounted now as well as after Christmas.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Share the Love

Day 19
There are so many ways to help out at this time of year. Drop some change in a Salvation Army kettle. Buy some toys for tots or adopt an angel. Food drives abound. Cake wrecks is doing a charity a day for the second year in a row. There are many ways to help even with very small amounts.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Don't Forget Exercise

Day 18
My goal for this month is to not gain any weight. I'll get back to trying to lose weight in January. I'm trying to be realistic here. In order to not gain weight despite all the yummy treats, I'm trying to get a workout in five days a week, every week. Exercise isn't just for weight loss or maintenance though. It can help you reduce your stress and lift your mood. Who couldn't use some of that at this time of year? Try to squeeze in some exercise, it's good for you!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Oreo Truffles

Day 17
I first saw this recipe in Better Homes and Gardens magazine last year. I made some last year along with some other stuff for goodies to give away. This year I decided to specialize and just make these. It was easier, and I think people like these better than blah cookies, or caramel corn that got soft because it was wrapped up with baked goods.
I lost the recipe I'd cut out of the magazine, but I found another version online. This is the recipe I used slightly altered from the version I saw online.

1 bag of regular oreos
1 8oz brick of cream cheese, softened
1 12 oz bag of semi sweet chocolate chips
Crush oreos as finely as possible in a large ziploc bag. Pour most of the oreo crumbs into a mixing bowl. Keep about 1/2 to 3/4 cup in the bag (it depends on how much you want to sprinkle on the top at the end). Mix softened cream cheese into oreo crumbs until a doughlike substance forms. Roll the dough into about 48 one inch sized balls and place on wax paper or a cookie sheet. Melt the chocolate chips using your favorite method. Roll each ball in the chocolate with a spoon until coated. Scoop up and let excess chocolate drip off. Place on wax paper or cookie sheet and sprinkle with remaining oreo crumbs.

My three year old helped me quite a bit with this recipe. She helped me crush the cookies, roll out the balls, and she sprinkled them with the crumbs as I put the freshly coated ones down.

I put some in these two little ceramic Christmas tree dishes I bought on clearance at Michael's, wrapped them in plastic wrap, and stuck bows on top. My oldest gave these to her teacher and bus driver.
The rest got sent to my family and eaten by us.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Initial Ornaments or Stocking Tags

Day 16

A couple years ago I bought some stockings that are all pretty much the same (some red, some green). There used to be an eve
n number, but the year someone got sick Christmas morning meant losing the balance.
I haven't put people's names on them. Last year I made little paper tags for them but I don't know what happened to those. I decided to make something a little more permanent this year.
This was a fun project for the whole family to participate in. I got a package of red Crayola Modeling Clay. This is the clay that air dries. We rolled out the clay and using our alphabet cookie cutters, we each cut out our first initial. Then we used some plastic gem stickers I got from Oriental Trading Company for some other reason to add a little bling. The sticky of the sticker combined with pressing them into the clay has held them in tight. I used a toothpick to make a hole to tie them up with. We let them dry over night and then I turned them over and let them dry a bit more. When dry, they're kind of soft like foam. I thought it would be a good material for stocking tags since they would be within kid reach and handled quite a bit on Christmas.
I got the clay at Michaels with a coupon of course! They even had multipacks with different colors there. I bet you could make a lot of cute Christmas ornaments with the modeling clay.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Gift Idea- Family Photo Calendars

Day 15
For the past couple of years, I've made photo calendars for the members of our extended family. The first year, I had empty calendars from Stampin' Up. I had to stamp in all the dates, months, birthdays, and holidays. It took a while, but I started in May. I also had to glue in paper and pictures on the blank pages.
The past couple of years, I've used make your own calendars from Michaels. All I had to do with these ones is add pictures and birthdays.
I've considered using online sites like vista print or snapfish to make calendars but haven't yet. The upside to using an online calendar maker would be less pictures to get printed out, less adhesive to buy, and less time putting pictures in. The downside is less variety (if you give duplicate ones instead of making unique ones). I'd have to pay shipping, but I could ship it directly to the recipient.
As far as what kind of photos to use- I've always gone with pictures of the kids and cousins. A family reunion could be a great place to take calendar photos of everyone. Use people's photos on the month of their birthday. You could also ask members of your family to send you digital copies of photos they've taken. I've also included funny quotes from the kids and I've also had them draw pictures in them as well.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Paper Advent Village

Day 14
Last year I made a paper house advent. I made a little paper house for each day of December before Christmas and put one up each day. I used Christmas colored cardstock and some bits of matching stickers (to make doors, windows, little trees). I even made a little church. The kids helped me decorate the roofs with "snow" (salt). You can see my little display with white Christmas lights. (I forgot about that part until I found the picture for this post!)

This year I've been a little lazy. I decide to do a 12 days of Christmas village instead.
I got this led paper tree light decoration at Ikea. I thought it would make a good backdrop. Last year I used house patterns from This year, I just googled paper house patterns and found one that had a little brick pattern, doors, and windows included on it. For the snow this year I used salt and some white glitter mixed together. Last year my secret to making lots quickly was using tape to keep them together instead of glue (you have to hold glued pieces together until nearly dry I've found). I also made a row of townhouses near the end! I modified one of the house patterns for that.

These would also make good ornaments and you could potentially make a garland out of them.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Recycled Crayons- Gift Idea

Day 13
I initially got this idea from a book of preschool arts and crafts ideas and I've seen it on a few blogs lately as well. Every blog post I've seen has started out with brand new crayons though! Brand new crayons! Don't you people have used crayons?! Seriously?!
This is how we made recycled star crayons.
First, the girls and I went through our big old container of crayons of every sort, taking all the broken ones out to use. Then we sorted them by color, testing the wrapperless ones on a sheet of scratch paper (to figure out the color if it wasn't obvious), and removing the wrappings from the others. I made a ziploc bag for each color and wrote the color on the outside. There were variations of each color and some crayons could have gone in more than one bag, so just use your best judgement. I liked them all to have a bit of variation.

I used a silicone cupcake pan I got at Michael's (with a 50% off coupon!) to make the new crayons. I've also made circles in a regular muffin tin before too. The kids helped me break up the bigger pieces and put them in the pan. I made each well a different color. You could also use multiple colors in each well to make rainbow crayons.
I preheated the oven to 350 and put the silicone pan on a cookie sheet (per the instructions it came with). I baked the crayons until they were mostly liquid, but with some crayon shapes left in the middle.
You could totally liquify them and mix them for a consistent color, but I like the variation. If you bake them too long, the wax kind of separates and they end up kind of two-toned.
Let the crayons cool completely and then pop them out and put them in a cute little package.
Along with the crayons, I'm giving some coloring pages made from pictures we took. You can also find lots of free coloring pages online.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Make a gmail recipe database

Day 12
I have to give credit to my husband for this one. For a long time, I've wanted to convert all my recipe books, binders, clippings, and so forth into a nice and tidy electronic database. My husband is a computer guy, so I've asked him a few times how I could go about such a thing. I wanted to be able to search by ingredients, or type of recipe, or the name. He told me a couple of times that I could just use gmail. Eventually, I finally believed him when he explained to me how it could do everything I wanted it to do.
Now I've only just started this project, but here's what I've done so far. I set up a gmail account just for recipes. I typed up a recipe using it's title as the email subject along with a few descriptions of it (holiday, dessert, pie for example). Sometimes you don't even need the descriptions if it's included in the recipe title, ingredients list, or instructions. Next I sent the email to that account. Now when there are lots of recipes in there, I will be able to just use the search function to find what I'm looking for and eventually I'll be able to get rid of the hard copies. Obviously, this will only work if you have computer access near to where you cook, but that's not a problem around here!
I'm looking forward very much to when my oldest daughter learns how to type so that I can hire her to work on the massive data entry project! One thing I have done to avoid some typing was to find the recipes that I got off the internet originally online again and then just copy and paste. Another option could be to scan recipes to include as attachments and then just include more description words in the email.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Ship it!

Day 11
From the Postal Service, deadlines for shipping stuff to get there by Christmas
Domestic Mail
Domestic Mail Class/ProductCut Off Date
First Class Mail Dec 20
Priority MailDec 21
Express Mail*Dec 22
Parcel PostDec 15

The sooner you get it done, the better though!
Save yourself some time (and some sanity) and print your priority mail postage online at and leave the package out for the carrier (it's cheaper if you print it online than if you pay at the post office too!)
Be sure to check out ups as well if you're sending a big or heavy package. It might be cheaper.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Christmas Unplugged

Day 10
This year we bought some solar powered LED lights to put up outside. We don't have outlets on the front of our house, so in the past we've had to run cords inside through a gap in the doorway or the window (neither one a great option, and with a new door, the gap is gone now).
Besides not having to run cords inside some crazy way, we are cutting down on how much energy we're using to light up outside.
The LED lights aren't as bright as incandescents. The white ones actually look a bit more blue than white, but they still look pretty in the dark. They have built in sensors that turn the lights on when it gets dark enough so we don't have to worry about setting up timers (or figuring out why timers aren't working right either). We even got a snowflake light that changes color to use as the star above our outdoor nativity set.
I've read that in some places, utility companies have incentives for switching to led Christmas lights. Ours doesn't, but it's worth checking out if you decide to go that route. LEDs, especially the solar powered ones, cost a bit more than incandescents (which are way cheap these days, remember when they weren't?) but we were able to buy all of ours on sale after Thanksgiving.

Another cool thing I found lately was a set of battery powered pillar candles. These ones have a built in timer. You can set them to be on for 4 or 8 hours from when you turn them off. They'll automatically shut off after that time and then turn themselves on again the next day at the same time you originally turned them on. Real candles look better of course, but these aren't going to start a fire or burn your kids! The battery powered tea lights I bought a few years ago have to be turned on and off, but perhaps I will find some programmable ones sometime for a reasonable price.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Start A Family Gift Exchange

Day 9
It's a little late for this year, but now is a good time to talk with your family or extended family about starting a gift exchange for next year. Last year, we started a gift exchange with my husband's family. With seven kids and spouses and children, it was getting a bit crazy. With everyone's input, we were able to make up a schedule for the next several years. Each sibling has one sibling to buy for and one sibling gets them something.
My family is a bit smaller, so we haven't done this yet. But my sister and I have talked about doing something a little different for next year. She and I are going to each buy something for ourself to be a present from the other. Then on Christmas we'll call each other up to find out what we got for each other.
Other ideas I have heard include setting price limits, doing all homemade, doing a yankee swap, doing a white elephant exchange, or even giving things during the year and none at Christmas to focus more on the Savior at Christmas.
Doing a gift exchange or deciding to limit presents to kids or whatever can help with saving money (less to buy, less spent on shipping) and it can also help make things less hectic at this busy time that is supposed to be special.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Free Unique Holiday Picture Backdrop

Day 8
When my husband was a missionary, he and his companion took this picture to send home to their families for Christmas. I believe they took it at a Walmart.

Two years ago we took that same idea and took a picture at a Target. We probably should have picked an aisle that was less bare though!

If you need to take a family picture earlier than most stores have Christmas stuff (though seriously, that's getting to be less and less of a problem- Christmas stuff goes up with Halloween stuff now) hit the craft store. Some craft stores have Christmas stuff year round.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Holiday Notes to Self

Day 7
You think you're going to remember what you did this Christmas by next Christmas? Probably not. It's a good idea to write down reminders to yourself of what you put where, what worked and what didn't and so forth.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Gift Thrift

Day 6
The thrift store is a great place to get rid of things you don't need anymore and it's also a great place to find great deals on things you do need. At one of our local thrift stores, you can always find multiple shelves of glass items for super cheap. Candle holders, vases, wine glasses, bowls, etc. are plentiful. There are also many, many baskets and other items that could be freshened up with a quick spray painting and look like a million bucks. Take for example an ugly picture in a nice looking but tacky colored frame. Spray paint and something new inside can transform it.
At our local store there are also loads of books. Children's books were 3 for $1. I bought a large stack of books, some in brand new condition just the other day. One was a big hardcover Disney Peter Pan book, still just 33 cents!
For more info and tips about thrifting check out

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Deck the Halls and Donate the Rest

Day 5
Preparing to move in the next year has made this a bit easier for me, but lately we've been happy to get rid of excess stuff. Getting out the Christmas decorations and putting them up has been a time to evaluate what stuff really ought to go. Stuff that hasn't gone up in the past couple of years, things that I just don't like that much anymore, and stuff that I don't know what to do with are all going to be going to charity. Stuff that was broken (along with excess boxes and packaging) went in the trash (or recycling). I get calls from a few different organizations that pick up donations and I try to always say yes to a pick up. It's a good motivator to declutter. My excess Christmas decor is going to one of these charities next week. Now is a good time to donate, so someone else can enjoy it this Christmas season.
Another great thing to donate right now is gently used toys, books, and well really anything that might make a great present for someone else. Do it now, help someone else out, clear some space before the influx of Christmas gifts, and get some last minute charitable contributioning for those 2010 taxes.*
*yeah, I'm no expert, you'll have to check with someone who really knows about taxes to see what sorts of things you can deduct and all the details of that.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Makin' a List

Day 4
One thing that has helped us the past couple of years is making a list of what we'd like to do during the Christmas season at the beginning of December or earlier. We ask the kids, we make suggestions, and we write it down. Next we grab the calendar and plan out when we can do those things. If you wait until the middle of December, it might just be too late.
This is also a good idea if there are certain Christmas movies that you want to watch on TV. This is becoming less of an issue though with the internet, cable, and netflix.

Friday, December 3, 2010

My Christmas Lights Secret

Day 3

I've been putting up Christmas lights since I was a kid. Taping Christmas lights up into a cold window is a huge pain in the butt. For so long I wished there was a simpler way. One year I found some sticky clips at Walmart. They were only so so at staying up and then they stuck out so far, that I had to take them all down to be able to open and close the windows. Finally, 3M made command light clips. They are awesome. Just follow the directions (that is important if you want it to work right). Wipe the surface you're attaching them to with rubbing alcohol. Let it dry and then press the thing on for as long as it says to (like 30 sec I think). Then just leave it for the amount of time it says (I think it's min 2hrs) before using them. I put these guys up in the windows two years ago and just left them. They're clear, so they're not very noticeable and they're small enough that I can still open and close the windows without any problems. This is now the third season I'm using them. It's made putting up the lights in the windows super fast. Only one or two of them have come down (in two years!) and had to be replaced. I don't know that they're meant to stay up so long, but the ones that came down didn't have any problem. We have vinyl windows as well, so I don't know how well it does on wood or metal.
The other thing that helps is having a pattern to follow. For my windows one set of 100 does the trick. I start in the bottom right corner, go straight up to the top, across the top, down half way, back to the right across the top of the sash, back to the left along the bottom of the sash, down the bottom half of the left side, and then back across the bottom to where I started.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Kid Safe Ornament Hangers

Day 2

I came up with this idea a couple of years ago when the kiddos were smaller. Instead of dangerous metal ornament hangers, use twist ties instead. I don't know that's is necessarily safer if a kid was to ingest one per se, but it's a lot harder to get an ornament off when you twist tie it onto the Christmas tree. At first I used whatever random twist ties we had around the kitchen junk drawer. Then I realized that the plethora of clear plastic covered twist ties that take forever to remove from your kids toys could be used instead (they're a bit nicer looking than the ones that come in boxes of trash bags or on bread). They're usually quite large too so you could cut them (all you need is a regular pair of scissors) and get a few from one twist tie.
Another option would be to use some pretty, thin ribbon
(you could get all fancy with coordinating colors or something). But that costs far more than free stuff you were probably going to throw out anyway.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Cheap Christmas Tree + Garland = Lovely

Day 1
We got a Christmas tree free after rebate a couple of years ago. It was a decent height and prelit with white lights. But it was a bit sparse. I bought some garland at Michael's that is similar looking to the tree branches and added it to the gap areas. Someone asked me once if it was a real tree.

Count Down to Christmas Posts

Now through Christmas, I plan to do a post a day on ideas related to Christmas.