Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Holiday greeting cards = next years' ornaments

I LOVE getting Holiday cards. Period. I like it that I'm on someone's "list" to get a card during the BUSY holiday season. I hang them up across this wall in my kitchen so I can always glance at my growing line of cards as I walk by.

You can imagine I have the hardest time tossing them when the holiday season is all said and done.
So, I turn them into ornaments. I'm sure there are WAY fancier ways to do this but I chose to do it very basic so the boys could help me.

The first way is just cutting the picture from the card with those scallop scissors, hole punching it and threading ribbon through it. Mason is actually glued to those scallop scissors so he was very excited about this project.

The second way is for when you have a card that has multiple pictures on it. The pictures are already squared off so its easy for the boys to cut out. We lined them up to look like a tree and glued toothpicks on the back to hold everything in place. Then we hole-punched it and threaded ribbon through it. It's driving me nuts that I forgot the "tree trunk" but you get the idea.

The third way is to just take advantage of the after Christmas sales and buy those festive, tiny picture frame ornaments for next to nothing. The pictures on holiday cards are the perfect size for those things!! This actually makes a cute gift for someone if you have some of your own cards left over (or if you have a baby annoucement you don't want to toss - see pic below).

I have always wanted to make a wreath and hot glue those tiny picture frames to it. For example, if I used the pictures in the second image, put them all in tiny frames, glued it to a small wreath and gave it to the family I recieved the card from, that would be a personal yet cost effective gift. Or hang all of the photo ornaments on a mini Christmas tree (saw a bunch at Joanne's). It would make a great centerpiece for your family or for a friend.

I thought I had bought a little wreath today at Joanne's BUT when I got home realized it was like 25 feet of pine rope. Oh well. It was $2 - I'll find something to do with it!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

UPDATE on book of good-doings as gift

Today I sent the kids off to their pre-k holiday party and in a gift bag enclosed the homemade book for the teachers.
I fell asleep, which I cannot believe, so my husband picked up the boys. I got a call from the owner of the pre-k program and she could barely talk through her tears. I was very emotional today after visiting the Sojourner Truth House so of course I was immediately crying with her.

She said in all her 47 years of teaching she has never gotten such a beautiful gift. She was trying to read the letter to her staff (on the first page) and couldn't get through it. So they passed the book around. They all wanted to take the book home to share it with their families.

I'm so glad they were touched. I was putting it together this morning and was having doubts about it. There was really nothing fancy about it - just blank paper with a short paragraph about the project and a few pictures. I was thinking it looked thrown together.

Its a good thing Adam picked up the boys because if I would have seen Mrs. Apato cry I would have cried. And I'm one of those really ugly criers - where tears pour from my eyes, not well up and trickle down my cheek - I mean GUSH out. My nose starts to drip - then everything gets red and puffy (my eyes, nose and lips). If I try to talk I sound like Daryl Hannah in the movie Splash when she tries to tell Tom Hanks her name in her "language." Then if I have to blow my nose it sounds like a foghorn. Which would have totally scared the kids..maybe even the parents.

Monday, December 12, 2011

My favorite Christmas Cookie

Spritz are my favorite cookies to make for the holiday.
Some recipes call for almond extract but I just use vanilla extract. So much to do with them and they taste so good!
Here is what we did this year with these cookies so far:

White chocolate iced sprinkled with candy cane and holly berry sprinkles:

We dyed the dough green and this is what Brant made all on his own. I LOVE it!!
I use the Pampered Chef biscuit cutters to make these size cookies. You can also stack the smallest circle and the next size up (which is what I have pictured). Frost them in pastel and it looks like a hat. A nice spring cookie.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Homemade spa kit as gift

My sister and I thought it would be cute if you gave someone what appeared to be some kind of food basket and it was actually an organic spa kit.

Here is a small gift or stocking stuffer.
This is a tin I bought at Target for a buck, I added two teabags, a recipe card for the homemade facial and some oats.
I was trying to think of reasonably priced ingredients such as tea or oatmeal. Joy found these recipes using these ingredients from this site but there are tons of easy recipes online.

Here's What You Need:
* One teabag of caffinated black or orange pekoe tea
* Your favorite cold cream or ceam cleanser

Simply mix the two in your hands and apply liberally to the face. Don't be shy - you want to use as much of the tea in the bag as you can. After you gently massage as much of the mixture as you can onto the skin, let it sit for 3-5 minutes (remove if you feel it begin to tingle). Rinse with warm water and pat dry - that's it!
Be sure to apply a light moisturize

Honey and Oat Mask
  • 1/3c regular or quick cook oatmeal
  • 1/4 cup of honey
  • 1/2 cup of water
  • 1 teabag of Black or Orange Pekoe tea
Put the teabag into a microwave safe cup with water and microwave for 2 minutes and 30 seconds. Steep the tea for at least 30 seconds. This tea should be hot enough to cook the oatmeal - pour the tea slowly into a bowl containing the oatmeal. Stir until the mixture thickens to a mucky texture. Add the honey and blend by stirring thoroughly. Let the mixture stand until cool.
Apply the mask and allow it to dry. Rinse with warm water, and you're done! This mask exfoliates and removes excess oil from the skin, as you know. However, this version of the mask also infuses caffeine into your skin as it works, giving a boost of vibrance as it removes oil and impurities.

tea cup christmas card

I saw this as a get well card on (the craft/card is called spot of tea). But I think it would make a cute Christmas card or ornament.

Snowman Candle Holder

We can't find Mason's blankie and he is very sad. It has to be in the house but I haven't been able to find it. Painting is the best way to get his mind off of it. So we made some snowmen this morning.

Here is how they turned out.
We used masking tape, white paint, orange paint, a ribbon and a sock for the hat. I want to keep the hat on the jar so we are using the battery operated votive candles.

Mason painted his snowman blue - turned out cute!

Friday, December 9, 2011


Tonight was fun.
I'm blessed with amazing neighbors. One of them has a little girl and she came over to bake and do some crafts with the boys and I.
She brought her pink apron over - it was so cute. I can't wait to do this kind of stuff with Isla when she is older. It's strange that I have to wait 4-5 years for that!! LOL

Anyway, here is what we did.
I saw this ornament on Pinterest and I loved it. I was very surprised at how excited the boys were to stuff feathers into this plastic ornament. They were both very focused - totally thought Norah would have chosen that project but my boys couldn't wait.

 Norah made this for her parents which I find both sweet and creative.

Everyone painted an ornament too. I bought 4 wooden ornaments for a buck or less, the bag of feathers were $1.50, the plastic ornaments were $0.75/ea, the bag of foam beads in Norah's ornament were a and kept everyone happy for 2 hours!!

We also baked cookies. I can never get frosting SUPER red so I bought some at Micheals. It saved me frustration. I melted those Wilton white chocolate discs and made hearts and snowflakes on wax paper. We stuck them in the freezer until it was go-time.
Below you can see where we used the white chocolate heart.
I actually prefer to use the melted discs instead of frosting because of they way it hardens on the cookie - it doesn't smear as badly. I like how thin you can spread it over a cookie, which is great for layering. It also makes a great "glue."

Thursday, December 8, 2011

A Christmas Story Display

Today we went to the Indiana Welcome Center in Hammond to check out the "A Christmas Story" Exhibit.
The six animatronic window displays are from Macy's Department Store in New York but "come home" for the holidays. Brant seemed very confused about the flagpole scene. The favorite scene among the boys was the toy story window. Jaxon LOVED the train!

You can vote for your favorite Chrsitmas tree too! I of course voted for Village Kids - #17!

Admission is free and the exhibit runs through Jan 8!

Book of good-doings as teacher gift

My friend Kara was telling us that her daughters' school sent home a note asking to donate to charity instead of buying a gift for the teacher. The letter included a list of items that would be helpful to shelters, etc.
So my first thought was to give a card and then inside say, $10 was donated on your behalf, blah, blah." I have been to baby showers, weddings, etc. where the family did that instead of a favor. But then I thought about putting this book together. It's not finished yet but in case some of you want to use the idea I thought I would blog about it.

Title: From Our Hearts To Yours
Inside page: I have this quote (which unfortunately I have no clue who the author is): "Christmas gift ideas: To your enemy, forgiveness. To an opponent, tolerance. To a friend, your heart. To a customer, service. To all, charity. To every child, a good example. To yourself, respect."
First Page: Dear TLC Staff,
Every day you give to my kids. So we decided to pay it forward and give to other children. We hoped to touch their lives as you have touched ours. The last month before break, Nov 13-Dec 15, we particpated in four charitible projects - all in your name! Here is our journey.

Then each page briefly outlines each project. I need to print the pictures out but it will have candid pictures of the boys and I completing each project.

My husband isn't crazy about the idea but if someone did charitble acts in my name, I would be touched. I'll let you kow how it goes over!!!

Monday, December 5, 2011

snowman project

Mason LOVES to glue and cut things so we made this snowman picture for Great Grandma.

We used googly eyes, old buttons, construction paper and ribbon. Mason had a lot of fun making it but more importantly it will make Great Grandma feel loved that during the hustle and bustle of this holiday season we stopped and took a moment to make her a picture.

Holiday crafts: napkin rings

Mason and I did some holiday crafts over the weekend.
We started with homemade napkin rings. This would be a cool thing to bring a host or to put on your own table if you are doing the hosting this season.

  • Construction paper
  • scissors
  • glue or stapler
Santa Belt:
Cut red construction paper 2" x 7". Seal ends with glue or a stapler. Cut a black strip of construction paper 1" x 7". Wrap around red ring and seal ends with glue or stapler. Cut out a 1" x 1" square out of yellow construction paper. Fold in half to cut the middle out. Glue to front of napkin ring.

For the berry one we just cut green construction paper same size: 2"x 7". I bought a bag of foam berries at the dollar store and glued them to the ring.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Chocolate Gooey butter cookies

To thank my neighbor, I made these cookies for her. I can make them quickly and they are sure to please. I usually add white chocolate chips or Reese Pieces (I added Reese pieces to this batch). I do not dust them with powdered sugar either - just because I don't want the added mess and step.

Paula Deen's recipe for Chocolate Gooey Butter Chocolate cookies:


  • 1 (8-ounce) brick cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1 stick butter, at room temperature
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 (18-ounce) box moist chocolate cake mix
  • Confectioners' sugar, for dusting


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

In a large bowl with an electric mixer, cream the cream cheese and butter until smooth. Beat in the egg. Then beat in the vanilla extract. Beat in the cake mix. Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours to firm up so that you can roll the batter into balls. Roll the chilled batter into tablespoon sized balls and then roll them in confectioner's sugar. Place on an ungreased cookie sheet, 2 inches apart. Bake 12 minutes. The cookies will remain soft and "gooey." Cool completely and sprinkle with more confectioners' sugar, if desired.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Paper ornament in honor of my dad

Today is 9 years that my dad passed away from cancer.
He played the accordian and the blues harp. I have some of his accordian music and decided to make an ornament out of it (paper ornaments out of Family Fun).

It's my kind of craft - paper, scissors and staples (some ribbon to hang the ornament).

  • Cut two 12-inch strips, two 10-inch strips, and one 8 3/4-inch strip.
  • Line them up in this order: 12, 10, 8 3/4, 10, 12, with one set of ends even.
  • Staple this end.
  • Line up the other ends evenly (bending the outer strips as needed) and staple.
  • Use the completed shapes to dress up a window or spin in midair from a light fixture or a ribbon.
  • To hang each, knot the end of the gold cord and place it between the loose strips of paper at the top. Staple it all together.

I think this would be a cool thing to do with a picture your child colored or drew. It would be a nice gift for neighbors or grandparents. I was also thinking if this was done on a smaller scale you could glue it to cardstock and make a 3D holiday card.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Bass Pro Shop Holiday Festivities

My Friend and I took our boys (we had 5 boys ages 5 and under - good times) to Bass Pro Shop to check out the holiday festivities they were hosting.

There was a craft table (M-F between 5 and 7pm) where you could make ornaments and take them home for free. This week is the "Winter Animal" ornament. Next week is the "snowman ornament" I think...

Then the kids get to see Santa and get their picture taken for free ALL WEEK and I think until Dec 24!! The free photo size is 4x6. The last image is a snap shot of the actual picture the boys took with Santa. I think its so cute how 1. Brant totally knows what's up 2. Mason is scared to death 3. Jaxon is only standing there so he can focus on devouring his candy cane. It could have been a great white shark standing behind him, he would never had known.

Healthy Holiday Celebrations in the city

Here are some events in the city that are health related - feel free to share other events in the comments!

Ferry Acupuncture
What: Holiday party
Location: 1630 W. Division
Date: Dec 4
Time: 11am-2pm
Details: Door prizes, mimosa brunch, discounted gift certificates, free mini treatments, gift bags

Therapeutic Massage
Chicago Institute of Natural Health
November 14 - December 31
8 S. Michigan Ave., Ste. 1420
Take a break from the holiday hustle and bustle and treat yourself to a relaxing and physically rejuvenating experience. Mention "Winter WonderLoop" and receive 30% off or bring a friend and you both get 40% off! You will also receive a complimentary nutritional consult to start off the New Year as a happier, healthier you!

Chicago Institute of Natural Health
November 14 - December 31
8 S. Michigan Ave., Ste. 1420
Explore the amazing benefits of a 5000 year-old Chinese technique to help melt the stress away and balance your energy. Mention "Winter WonderLoop" and receive 30% off or bring a friend and you both get 40% off! You will also receive a complimentary nutritional consult to start off the New Year as a happier, healthier you!

Nutritional Consultation
Chicago Institute of Natural Health
November 14 - December 31
8 S. Michigan Ave., Ste. 1420
Start the New Year off right with a nutritional consultation. A nutritionist will analyze your diet to make sure you're getting appropriate amounts of protein, carbs, fats, vitamins and minerals so you don't look like a you just came out of a drive-thru window. Mention "Winter WonderLoop" and receive 30% off or bring a friend and you both get 40% off!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Remembering my daddy-o

The boys and I decorated the house for Christmas over the weekend. As I was handing them ornaments to hang on the tree I realized almost every one had a sweet story behind it or represented a stage in someone's life: my parents before they were divorced, when my great grandpa was alive, when my mom was a Brownie troop leader, etc.
Some ornaments were from my husband's family, others were from old friends. A few I remember excitedly hanging when I was little - like the Sesame Street charactors.

This year I hung up a Purdue University ornament I had given my dad a few years before he died. I found it still in the box when my sister and I were cleaning out his house after his death. This year will be nine years since my dad died of cancer; he was 48. My dad passed on December 1 and I can remember that Christmas being so awful. My sister and I were drowning in sadness and grief. No gift, no holiday song, or perfectly lit tree could put a true smile on my face that Christmas season.

It wasn't that my dad and I had this awesome, healthy relationship and some holiday tradition we shared wasn't the same without him. To be 25 years old and watch cancer take your dad's life - it was an intense life lesson that I had yet to digest. After he died I felt like I was standing on one leg. To say I was "wobbly" for quite some time is an understatement.

I kept a lot of my dad's things - the Purdue ornament, his harmonica, his watch, etc. My favorite is a book of matches from the bar his parents owned off of Halsted called Jack's Tiny Tap.

I always say I'm going to put these things into shadow boxes or whatever but there is something comforting about picking up these items - feeling them, smelling them, remembering how they felt in my hands as a child. I had the same warm feeling when we were decorating the tree. There is something about me picking up the same ornaments I had hung when I was Brant's age and handing them to my boys just as my mom did with me; it's soothing to the soul.

Christmas 2002 is a sad memory but not neccesarily something I want to push into a dusty, dark corner. It makes me appreciate the joy I have in my heart today. It reminds me how important it is to let people in your life know how much you love them. It helps me remember how strong I can be. These days you would not know I ever felt "wobbly" on my one leg. Or how often I fell over - many times not wanting to get back up. Nowdays, I can do cartwheels. And you know who is cheering the loudest about that? My dad.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Holiday Garland/Decor Tips

My sister and her husband's place was decorated beautifully for Thanksgiving dinner - felt like I was walking into a magazine! She keeps it simple yet elegant.

Here are her tips for doing the same in your home:
  • Your centerpiece can be beautiful and subtle at the same time. Don't mix too many colors.
  • Keep it simple and cost effective by using green things like moss, grass, ivy, evergreen, etc.
  • Keep it fresh by using real fruit, vegetables and/or flowers
  • Keep trying. You may have to play around a bit to get the look you want.
  • You want your centerpiece to stand out but not steal the show. It should look effortless not laborious.

See below details about the center piece: Basic clear candle holder you can customize to any occasion. Around the white candle pillar she has moss topped with fresh Asters. Joy framed the center piece base with fresh gourdes, faux fall leaves from the Dollar Store, faux acorns and fresh cranberries. 

Joy says, "Not everyone can eat later in the day. You want your garland to look stunning in natural daylight and/or candlelight."

Good point! I never thought of that.

What you Need:
  • Fresh Boxwood or Evergreen
  • 1 Bag of Cranberries
  • Faux Acorns or Chestnuts
  • 1 Fresh Bouquet of Asters
  • Faux Fall Leaves
  • Candles
  • Crab Apples
For christmas, Joy is going to keep the garland but make the following changes:
  • Swap the fall leaves for snowflakes
  • Swap the acorns/chestnuts for pinecones
  • Swap the Aster for a winter flower like Poinsetta, Amaryllis or Jasmine

Entertaining Tips Part 2

My sister, Joy, did such an amazing job for Thanksgiving dinner I had to take pics and share.
Here are my favorite parts of what we ate.

We save time by buying a container of pre-washed organic mixed greens and add cherry tomatoes (halved), red onion (diced) and cucumber (peeled, seeded and chopped). I made creamy garlic dressing from scratch (my family requests me to make this dressing quite a bit). It is so easy. We pre-dress the salad (no complaints so far about that). It's the kind of dressing that makes your mouth water when you think about it.
  • 1/2c mayo
  • 1/2c sour cream
  • 1/4 teasp dry mustard
  • 1/4 teasp dried basil
  • 1 clove (or two if its small) of minced garlic
  • 2 teasp white vinegar
Mix well and serve.

Presenting the main dishes:
My sister served turkey and beef tenderloin. I loved how she garnished the platters. The turkey was sliced and then surrounded by fresh rosemary and black grapes. The beef was sliced and framed with curly parsley and grapes. I get herbs from a produce store and they are cheap - I pay a buck for a decent size bag. Stuff the herbs in the turkey cavity and use what's left over as garnish. The grapes were a big hit with the kiddos so thumbs up for Auntie Joy.

Dessert Table:
My mom made a mascarpone pumpkin pie. It was awesome. Joy wanted guests to just be able to fill up their dessert plate. Once chilled, we popped it out of the pan and cut up the pumpkin pie into squares - topped it with freshly made whipping cream. Great make-ahead dish!

Ode to Spain:
Digestives are huge in Europe and are awesome after a big meal but not everyone enjoys them. Joy put a sweet twist on a digestive by making Brandy Alexanders (brandy is considered a digestive). She served them in her husband's grandmother's wine glasses, which made it special and elegant.
  • 1 1/2 oz brandy
  • 1 oz dark creme de cacao
  • 1 oz half-and-half
  • 1/4 tsp grated nutmeg
  • 1 scoop of ice cream

 In a blender, with ice cubes, combine the brandy, creme de cacao, ice cream and half-and-half. Blend well. Garnish with the nutmeg (fresh is preferred).