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On this New Years Eve, I thought I would round up all my DIY crafts! Since I have only been blogging since the middle of Oct, I don’t have too many. Next year I know I will have more and will need to whittle it down! 

For starters, I made these uber cute baby birds.


Next up, a lumbar pillow for my sewing table.

I followed that up with these super cute easy baby gifts! (BTW – I gave these to the intended on Christmas Day and they were a hit!)
 


And finished the year out with some jewelry!

It really is fun to look back on everything and I am glad I have my blog to archive it all!

What were your favorite DIY projects of 2009? Link em up in the comments! 

BTW - I am linking this up with Melissa @ The Inspired Room's Best of 2009 - Head over and check out everyone's favorites for the year!


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So Jen over at Beauty and Bedlam first made me aware of this idea! The original post is actually from Crystal at Money Saving Mom. The concept? It is easy to get into the idea that you HAVE to go to the grocery store every week. However, most of us have lots of pantry and freezer food that we could use instead.

How much money would this save you? For our little household, I typically spend around $100 a week on groceries. However, over the last couple of weeks I haven’t been to the grocery store at all. Part of this is due to our crazy holiday travel schedule, and the other part is that I have been creating meals to eat based on my stash of freezer meals and pantry stuff.

So the question is, once we are back in town and back to our regular routine can I still do this? Now I am not going to skip the basics like milk, but I think I can make it through! The best part is that you can make up your own individual goals for your family.

Here are my goals.

1.) Do one normal sized trip when we first get back from vacay in January since I have depleted some of my stash.
2.) Only shop at the store another two times in January and those 2 times will just be to by milk, eggs, cheese, deli and salad stuff. My limit on those two trips will be $30 per trip. (Though I am going to see if I can do it all with just a $20 in my purse!)
3.) Take the savings of $240 and put it into savings (to help write the check that is going to sell our home!)

Are you with me? How much money do you think this could save you? For more inspiration check out the full party link up here!


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My regular readers may have seen him around, Movie Guy. He is frequently seen in my comments, making fun of my posts or pointing out my grammatical errors. Well this particular blogger is actually my lil bro. He has his own little blog “The Life and Times of a Midwestern Movie Addict” and he reviews different movies as he watches them. (And being that he has no cable he watches one every night.)

He has been reviewing 25 days of Christmas movies, but has now moved into New Years Favorites. His choice for today was When Harry Met Sally, which is my all time favorite movie! I enjoyed reading his post so much that I decided I had to pull out the movie and watch it this evening. It is the perfect mix of real love and hopeful magic! So nothing productive is happening at my house or on my blog today!

I would like to invite you all to stop by my lil bro’s place and show him some love! He has no idea I am doing this so it would probably make his day!

Meanwhile, I am getting back to When Harry Met Sally! I LOVE this movie!!

What about you?  What is your ALL time favorite movie? 

Quote of the Day - “Everybody thinks they have good taste and a sense of humor but they couldn't possibly all have good taste.”


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Did you have a good holiday? I hope so. Ours was great! It was wonderful to get to see our friends and family. We still technically have one more “Christmas” with family but that will be more of a vacation. (Umm yes, I should have been thinking about the fact that I am supposed to be in a swimsuit this weekend when I ate everything that I ate this past week!) So, now I have a house full of boxes, gifts, and leftover Christmas wrappings and trimmings and less than 4 days before we take off globe trotting again. And I can feel it… that insane nagging voice in the back of my head that is starting to get louder … pointing out the mess and the clutter and the overall disarray of my home. (Strangely, this voice sounds exactly like my mother … shudder!)

Next to the stress of preparing for the actual holiday, the stress of getting everything put back in place is the third highest for me. (Dealing with the family ranks second in case you were wondering.) I think part of the reason is that you do get that day of release where you are confident in your achievements and then the haze of accomplishment and holiday cheer wears off to reveal what you are left with – more stuff to find a place for! I also think that the impending New Year makes us all feel like we need to get our collective houses in order.

My main goal over the next 4 days is to get my house semi-put-together and get packed up one last time. Normally, I don’t take the tree down until New Years Day, but given that we will be traveling that day, I think I am going to go ahead and take it down now. I am going to do some light cleaning and organizing, but save the “heavy” clearing out until after we get back.

In tune with the straightening-up-of-it-all, over the next month I will share my favorite tips for making dead space work, clearing out, cleaning out and all other organizing fabulousness that I can find! (Is it freakish that I am excited about this? I think it is… oh well, that is what having my mom’s voice in your head will do to you!)

Do you normally get into a cleaning and organization mojo during this time of the year?


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I promise this is my last holiday baking post. But it is not Christmas for me without this on Christmas morning (whatever day of the year that may be for us)!   My mom makes this every year – except for two years when I have hosted our Christmas, then I had to make it.  It isn’t Christmas without it and this is the recipe she sent me in an email three years ago when I first made it myself. It isn’t easy. But it is delicious! (My comments on her recipe are in italics).



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Almond Swirl Ring
You will need a large bowl, a towel, a large cookie sheet, a clean sharp pair of scissors. Be sure to read through recipe before you begin. (I need to note she means a dish towel here not a bath towel – I know you were wondering what all you were going to have to do to make this recipe!)

1 c milk
6 tbsp butter or margerine
1/3 c sugar
1/2 tsp salt
3-4 c all-purpose flour, divided
1 pk dry yeast
1 egg, beaten
1/3 c sugar
2 tbsp butter or margerine, softened
1/2 ground almonds (food processor works)
1/4 tsp almond extract
1 c powdered sugar
2-3 tbsp milk
Candied cherry halves
Whole blanched almonds, toasted*

Combine first 4 ingredients in a small sauce pan (or in microwave); heat until just warm (about 115). Combine 2 c flour with yeast. Add warm milk mixture and beaten egg. Beat well. Stir in enough remaining flour to make a soft dough. DO NOT try to use any shortcuts to rising on yeast package. (It is my momma’s rules – NO shortcuts!)

Turn dough out on a floured surface and knead 3-5 minutes, working in additional four (up to 4 c.); shape into a ball. Place in a greased bowl, turning to grease top. Use your favorite cooking spray. Cover; let rise in a warm place, free from drafts, until doubled in bulk about 1 hour. Usually top of refrigerator works well; or on top shelf of off oven with pan of hot water beneath. Punch down dough and let rest 10 minutes - Do NOT skip this step. (Again – my momma is a rules girl - you know the emphasis here is all hers. She was an Elementary School Principal and you don’t want to mess with her!)

Place dough on floured surface and roll into 18- x 12-inch rectangle. Combine 1/3 c sugar, 2 tbsp soft butter, ground almonds, and almond extract; blend well and spread over dough. Starting at long edge, roll up jelly roll fashion. Pinch edges together to seal. A bit of water on the fingers will help to seal dough.

Place roll on greased cookie sheet. Use your favorite cooking spray. (Jeez woman – what is it with you and favorite cooking sprays? She must have foreseen a world where I was a blogger and needed to ensure that there were no FTC rules broken about professing ones true love to PAM.  Note to the FTC - I only use Store Brand Sprays and was not paid or endorsed by PAM to say that.)

Shape into ring, and pinch edges together to seal. Using kitchen shears or a sharp knife (shears work better), make a cut every inch around the ring. Cut should go 2/3 way through ring. Gently pull slices out and twist, overlapping slices slightly. If cuts will not twist, cut just a bit deeper. (This is the hard part – try not to start saying dirty words. If you don’t you are a better person than I was the first time I made this.)

Cover with towel (ah-ha see now we need the towel!), let rise in warm place free from draft until doubled in bulk (see above) about 45 minutes.

Bake at 375 20-25 minutes. Combine powdered sugar, sift first for smoothest results, and 2-3 tbsp milk to make glaze. Use less milk than you think you will need. Drizzle over hot ring. Garnish with Cherries and Toasted Almonds*. Yield 16-20 servings.

What??? 16 to 20 servings? We (me, the lil bro, and my momma) eat this thing in two breakfasts?!?! Whatever – I am going to call this 8-10 servings. It is too good to just eat one piece.

*Toasted Almonds: Place almonds in single layer on cookie sheet. Place under broiler or in toaster oven. WATCH constantly. Remove when just beginning to brown. This can be done in advance. Be sure to store in a cool dry place.

BON APPETIT! (She thinks she is so Julia! I love her!)

(mmmmm.... so yummy!)

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So, as you can see – it is not easy, but it is Christmas for me. What is Christmas for you?


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Did you just have someone pop up on your gift list? Get invited to a Holiday Party and need a hostess gift? Forget one of the many people who help make your life easier? Or did you just get behind? Either way you need a gift and you need it fast. Here are some quick and easy ideas to get you started.

Homemade Goodies
If you have already been baking these season this is super simple. All you need is some cute containers from either a dollar store or craft store and you have a gift. No containers? Plastic wrap and a ribbon works great too.

If you want to make something super simple and easy try these sweet, sugary nuts from Better Homes and Gardens – it is in their big red and white cookbook too. My mom and I made these this weekend and they are super easy and highly addictive.

Easy Wine Gifts
Sure, it is easy to just bring a bottle of wine, but that is so vanilla. Spice it up a little by pairing a bottle of wine with …
  • Salty savory yummies - Cheese and crackers, cheese straws, nuts, and snack mix are a few great options.
  • Chocolate – Grab a box of some of the yummy pre-packaged chocolates that are out in stores everywhere right now (truffles, cordials, or other such goodness)
  • Some stemless wine glasses and a corkscrew
  • A chick flick and the promise of spending some time with a gal pal to share the bottle
Coffee or Cocoa Winners
Do you have someone who can’t get enough of their caffeine fix? If they don’t like coffee most of these ideas will work with Cocoa too. You can actually make your own “cocoa” mix simply by duplicating the dry ingredients on the side of the can either in mass or individual cup quantities. Again – it is easy to just pick up some ground coffee but what is more fun is to pair it with …
  • Chocolate covered pretzels or graham crackers (again – easy to make yourself - or the Keebler Chocolate Graham Crackers wrap up real nice too!)
  • Travel Mug – I love these eco friendly ones!
  • A set of mugs and a calendar with dates penciled in for the two of you to share a cup
The Gift of Time!
Some times this is the most valuable gift of all. Some ideas for you include:
  • A bath set and the offer to take a mom’s kids for the day so she can have a spa day
  • Same idea different twist – offer to babysit for your favorite couple (bonus points - agree to take the kids for the whole night so they can have a date night complete with breakfast the next morning before they have to pick up the kids)
  • Offer up your skills to help with yard work or a house project – sometimes others may not have the know how or the tools to be able to do the things you can
  • Cook up a batch of freezer meals for a new momma and deliver them wrapped in foil and a bow
  • Volunteer to be a pet sitter or pet walker for your traveler on the go or busy workaholic
  • Are you a scrapbook junkie - create a “fill in the blanks” scrapbook for your favorite bride to be, new mom, or proud grandma
Have some others?? Share em in the comments below! 

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These are so addictive and delicious! My momma and I made these this past weekend. Not only were they super easy – but they were one of the first things that disappeared from our holiday buffet!  This is basically the same recipe that BHG has in their big red book if you have one of those laying around too!

Whatcha need

Butter or nonstick cooking spray
3 cups nuts (cashews, roasted peanuts, whole almonds, or pecan halves – we used pecans)
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Whatcha do

Line a baking sheet with foil. Butter the foil or lightly coat with nonstick cooking spray (probably should have gone with the cooking spray but we used butter!) and set baking sheet aside.

In a small heavy skillet, combine nuts, sugar, vanilla and butter. Cook over medium-high heat, shaking the skillet occasionally until sugar begins to melt. BHG very clearly specifies that you do not stir the mixture. (I did run a spatula around the edges to get any loose sugar mixed in.) Once sugar is melted (i.e. you see no grains), reduce heat to low and continue cooking until sugar is golden brown. You may now stir the mixture occasionally.

Remove skillet from the heat and pour nut mixture onto the foil-lined and greased baking sheet. Let it cool completely. Break the nut mixture into small chunks if it sticks together. Serve and enjoy!

Lemme know if you try it or if you have done something similar!  


Linking this up with


and of course Kimba at DIY Day!


DIY Day @ ASPTL

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So, if you are one of my regular readers you may have read my detailed description of my crazy Christmas schedule. Well, I have an update …

Yes, we did get to my momma’s. Then the snowstorm came and dumped 2 feet of white fluffy stuff, which got us stuck there another day. See pic below of our cars on Saturday morning.


And the same storm knocked out power at the hubby’s momma’s house (it still hasn’t been restored) so we were only able to see her for a couple of hours at his aunt’s house. We did get to see his sisters and spent the night last night there. To top it all off, I am now all sniffly-snuffly with some sort of head cold.

So forgive me for not posting anything informative or Christmasy, as I simply want to go to bed. Tomorrow, I will get you guys some last minute gift ideas together!


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Making cookies is one of my favorite parts of the holiday season.

Unfortunately, like many of my favorite things of the holiday season, my hand mixer and stand mixer are both still in VA. So while I haven’t gotten to make all my favorite cookies, that has not kept me from eating a significant portion of cookies that others have made. (Not helping my cause to look swimsuit ready by the first of the year!)

One cookie that I love that no one knows about is Santa’s Whiskers. This is a cookie my mom started making years ago when she found it in Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook. It is still included in their classic Red and White cookbook but I have never met another soul outside my family that makes them. It is a fabulous cookie. If you like pecans and coconut, this is THE cookie for you. If you don’t, then your crazy that is your loss.

Normally I make cookies every year and give the majority of them away to co-workers. This cookie is the one that makes everyone stop and go “What is this?” This alien cookie with bits of red candied cherry’s, nuts, and crunchy coconut. Everyone is wary when they first pick it up – it is sniffed cautiously. (It smells divine!)   A hesitant bite is taken, which is followed by a brightening of the eyes and a small, “Oh!”

I have to keep copies of the recipe below on my person so after they eat the cookie and rush over to see if there are any more, I can give them the means to make them at home. I highly encourage you to try these out this year! As a bonus, I have added my own personal notes since I have been making these for about ten years.  It should help you through any sticky situation!

Santa’s Whiskers
1 cup butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1-cup red candied cherries (if you can get red and green it is more festive)
1/2 cup pecans
1 cup flaked coconut

Chop up the candied cherries and pecans. (Tip: When chopping up the cherries put a little flour on your knife once it gets sticky) The original recipe calls for them to be chopped finely. I like a little chunkier cookie so I normally make mine a little bit bigger.

In a large mixer bowl beat butter until softened. Add sugar and beat until fluffy. Add the milk and vanilla and beat for another 30 sec. Next, add flour gradually and beat until well mixed. Once you have all the flour beat in, add the cherries and pecans and stir gently to mix. Divide the roll into three sections and shape into about a 7" roll. Lay out three sheets of saran wrap. Place a log on the wrap and roll in coconut to coat. (Note: This will result in not all of the coconut sticking to the cookie. Press in as much as you can with the saran wrap and we will resolve later.) Wrap up log and chill for several hours (at least three).

Preheat oven to 375F. Now you have a decision to make. Do you want crunchy cookies or chewy cookies? If you want them a little crunchy, slice them into about 1/4" thick slices. If you want them chewy, slice them about 1/2” thick. If this is your first time making them, do it up half-and-half and see which you prefer. Remember all that excess coconut that wouldn’t stick? As you place each cookie on ungreased cookie sheet, press a little coconut into the top of the cookie. (Brilliant? Yes, I know). Bake about 12 minutes or until coconut is slightly browned. Remove and cool. Eat with a nice glass of milk or a cup of cocoa!

What is your favorite cookie? Did you already know about this one? You would be the first people ever that I have met that have eaten them without me offering one first.

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Well, I am almost done prepping for the holiday madness!

We are getting ready to start leg two and three of our five (yes five) total Christmas extravaganzas. I know you’re jealous, right? Who doesn’t want to travel to spend the night in 3 different states while physically trekking through 7 different states up and down the east coast and spending a total of approximately 55 hours in either a car or a plane while you switch between eastern and central time a total of 8 times in about a month. See – I told you. You’re jealous.

I have a love/hate relationship with our multiple Christmases. Pros are that we get to see lots of people, open lots of presents, and share lots of laughter and memories. The cons include traffic, long drives, lots of fast food, toll booths, bad radio, and being away from my lovey kitties. I know in the long run the good outweighs the bad, but man – I am already tired and beat!

What’s the schedule this year? Well, unlike most of you we have already had one Christmas in PA over Thanksgiving with my daddy. Now, we are taking a four day weekend starting Friday so we can hit up my momma’s house (6-7 hours from home) and then head to his momma’s house (2 hours from my momma’s) then home (another 6 or 7 hours). We have two days back in the office (and two evenings at home in which I need to get a significant portion of laundry done) before we head back out. Next stop, we drive to Ocala, FL where we spend actual Christmas with hubby’s best friend who has a baby being induced today and then ships out to Iraq on January 2nd. So it will be an emotionally charged visit, but one I am excited to make. We drive back the Sunday after Christmas and work another 4 days. Finally, we will fly out on the first to spend 6 days in Key West with hubby’s dad to finish out Christmas and get a well deserved vacay.

Are you tired yet? I know I am…. but it is all worth it.

Anyone else having multiple Christmases? What is your routine and how do you cope?

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There was a protest today at my home. A boycott on blogging if you will…


It was a passive demonstration.


But effective ….


I guess I just need to spend this evening cuddling with someone special.


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Seriously, what woman doesn’t love jewelry? I can’t think of one.

This is why when I married the hubby, who has no brothers and three (yes - three) sisters, I knew exactly where I was going. I was going to learn how to make jewelry. This has been the foundation of my Christmas gifting prowess for the last four years. I wasn’t sure if it was a popular gift until last year when they opened the gift and said “Oooohh … it is our Jess’ jewelry gift!!” It is a thing now – my girlfriends love it too.

So here are a couple of things I am working on …
(Disclaimer – I still haven’t told the majority of my family and friends that I even have a blog so I can reveal some of my Christmas gifts. The hubby knows, my dad knows, my lil bro knows. And I have told my mom and she swears we will go out “and look at my blog thing” when I am there this weekend. Oh and my BFF Meighan knows – and she does read – love you Meeeiiighan!)

So for another BFF Kelly (who I will be telling as soon as she calls me back) I have made this necklace, not for Christmas but for her birthday (Happy Birthday!!). I chose this message especially for her – and she knows why.

For my sis-in-law Amy, I made these earrings. Cause I know she likes them big and with bling!


And for my other sis-in-law Megan, I made this necklace. I get to give it to her on Saturday. She finds out what her baby is on Monday! I am hoping she gets lots of dreams are between now and then!


I know what you are thinking … where is the gift for the other sister? Well, we don’t "Christmas" with her until after the New Year so I have a lil time. Don’t judge me, I have already told you I am a procrastinating crafter …


Linking up with Kimba for DIY Day

DIY Day @ ASPTL


and getting my Craft on with Today's Creative Blog


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Ok – so I admit it. Other than my adorable tree – I got nothing else going on here that is festive.  I have no mantle, no stockings, not even a cute hand towel. It is all in VA, and quite honestly, I don’t have the space to store the stuff once the holiday is over.

So I have had to “sit” this Christmas out. And I admit, it got me a little down. Especially with all the holiday home tour linky love that is out there right now. And I was a lil grumpy Sunday afternoon as I was working on my Tree Post.

To try and brighten my mood, I was trying to at least have the holidays on TV. And I was watching the original “Grinch who Stole Christmas.” I was feeling kinda Grinchy anyways, but when it got to the part where he was slinking around – stealing the trees, stockings, and all the trimmings – and it gave me an idea.


I am going to “steal” Christmas! (Virtually that is! I know you were totally about to run and lock your door. Don’t worry!)

I have decided to “build” a Christmas dream home based on what some of my favorite bloggers have done this year. I will (of course) give credit where credit is due and I hope you go out to visit all of the people I love to stalk.

I am obsessed with Karla’s Red Door @ It’s the little things that make a house a home. And I love it even more with this beautiful wreath.


I love Rhoda’s @ Southern Hospitality entry that is featured in her Christmas Tour -

This Banister at Isabella & Max’s Rooms is beautiful. I adore the blue ornaments! So fresh!

The brilliant Centsational Girl has also done a beautiful banister with crystal jewels! Ah, I love the bling you know …

She also has this fantastic mantel with hot pink accents! So fun and whimsical!

This living room by Chris at Just a Girl is so cozy and warm. I love her mantel and furry wreath!

What about this mantel that Melissa @ The Inspired Room created? I love the creamy neutral background with the blues and greens!

This Christmas Village Tablescape is so magical! It is of course by the Tablescape Queen, Susan @ Between Naps on the Porch. This is the kind of thing that makes adults and kids believe in the magic of Christmas! Now I am going to have to start collecting little houses!

And of course, I couldn't build a dream house without this lovely bathroom from Beth @ Stories From A to Z. The beachy Christmas vibe is perfect for the tub.  

Isn’t this little tree so perfect? It is by Edie over at lifeingrace.

She also has the cute kitchen cupboards. Oh I love it!! 



Of course this isn't all the great stuff these ladies have done!  Stop by their blogs and check out the other lovely details!


P.S.  I am feeling less grinchy now.  How about you?

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Now I know I gave you a sneak peek at my blinged out tree the other day. Well this lil tree is now sparkling to the max. Our “other tree” is still in VA so I got this one the other day for $25. Now, it was a true Charlie Brown tree when I first put it up. It was so pitiful and sparse. But I knew if I filled it up with glistening ornaments it would be just fine. So here it is ….

Isn’t it cute! My tree skirt was a 70” table cloth that I found on clearance at Target for $4.99. I used a little silver tulle to tie up the hole I cut in it and tied the excess into a little bow. (I admit – my bow tying skills are sub par.)

Here are some close ups of the bling
 
 
 

Don’t you just love it? I especially am digging the way my Rope Ornaments turned out! And for those of you who thought they looked hard – they aren’t. Seriously – once I figured out the stick pin trick, I could make one in about 5-10 minutes.

I am going to go link this up amongst some of the holiday linkies that are out there but this is all of the Christmas that I have going on in the little apartment. But – never fear – I have a plan to build a little more Christmas into the blog! It may require me to be a little “grinchy” though. Intrigued? Check back in tomorrow to see what I mean.







Linking up with Rhoda @ Southern Hospitality

Julia @ Hooked On Houses





Donna @ Funky Junk Interiors



Sarah @ Thrifty Decor Chick


And The Nester!
Christmas Tour of Homes with The Nester

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