Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Pound Cake

 This is a recipe that actually stems from my very own cake wreck.

I wanted pound cake for my birthday so I found an old recipe in one of my cookbooks that looked promising and followed the recipe to the letter.  About an hour later I tested the cake for doneness outlined in the recipe and then went to put the cake out on the cooling rack. Only to meet with disaster.  The cake fell apart as it came out of the pan and batter oozed out everywhere.  Turns out the cake was about 60% uncooked.  I managed to scoop up the pieces with a bench scraper and put it all back into the pan and even though I knew the cake would look awful, I threw it back into the oven, knowing with the lack of leavening in the recipe that I wouldn't have to worry about it falling or anything.  An hour and a half LATER at fifty degrees over what they wanted for a cooking time and the cake was finally done and dense as a brick.  I decided to punt in the way my step mom suggested and saved the failed cake (which did taste decent) to use as trifle fodder later.

And then I returned to the kitchen, pulled out five recipes for pound cake and what I had left for ingredients and I used food science to get the job done.

So, you'll notice that this recipe contains leavening agents where traditional pound cake recipes don't.  This is because this recipe only contains two eggs where a traditional pound cake recipe gets any lift it has from lots of eggs (five or more I found).  I then boosted the leavening power by adding soured milk (you could also use buttermilk).   Don't worry the cake is still plenty dense, plenty sweet and plenty good.  It just requires a ton less eggs.  It also requires less butter than the recipes I found (and less than the first one I made), but still comes out plenty rich.
Pound Cake

  • 1/2 cup butter or margarine, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 2 eggs, room temperature
  • 1 1/3 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk or soured milk*
1.  Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

2.  Grease and flour a 9x5 inch loaf pan.

3.  In a medium sized mixing bowl or on some waxed paper sift together the flour, baking powder and baking soda.  Set aside.

4.  In the bowl of your stand mixer, cream together the butter, sugar, salt and vanilla extract until light and fluffy.  Add eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition until smooth.

5.  Stir the flour mixture, a little at a time, into the butter mixture, alternately adding buttermilk or soured milk until everything is incorporated and the batter is smooth.

6.  Turn the batter into prepared loaf pan.  Bake 50 to 60 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. 

7.  Let sit in pan on an off stove burner (or on a cooling rack) for 10 minutes.  Take a thin metal spatula or a thin bladed butter knife and run around the perimeter of the cake.  Turn out onto a cooling rack.  Let cool completely. 

8.  Once cool, take a plate and place over the bottom of the cake, pick up the cooling rack (cake and all) and invert the cake carefully onto the plate.  This will, yes, give you a cooling rack lines on the top of your cake, but it will also give you a cake that is in one single piece instead of potentially falling apart on you flipping it over before you cool it.
*To make soured milk:  Pour 1 1/2 tsp. lemon juice or vinegar into a measuring cup, then add milk to the 1/2 cup line.  Allow to sit for five minutes.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Menu Plan Monday: Menu for Week of 12/28/15

Well, due to money being super tight to the point of near panic inducing, we're going to be doing a lot of "no spend except for essentials" weeks here to try and get us through, somehow, until our tax return comes in come February.  Which, I'm PRAYING that the tax return isn't terrible this year (we made so little last year that our tax return was just sad) as I have four thousand dollars I somehow have to cough up to pay off my husband's one bill for his teeth by April or all the effort I've done to pay down said bill will be for naught.  Deferred interest charges will kick in at that point and right now it's at three thousand dollars and climbing as the interest rate for the card is high (like 27% interest).  And right now I'm just worried about making the mortgage payment and utilities for next month.  Ever feel like you're living in a perpetual state of panic?  That's me right now.

At least I was able to just put the worry aside of the holidays.  I purposefully stayed away from the computer and the worry inducing bank website and just actively decided to not give myself heart palpitations over money for the week of Christmas.  I needed a break and it actually worked out because by doing that I didn't find out how much my husband had spent on me for Christmas or where he'd bought my Christmas gift, so I was able to be surprised on Christmas when I opened his gift *laugh*.

This week I have a birthday to field, but luckily it's my own, so that makes my life a bit simpler as I don't really need princess decorations on my cake or anything ;).

It seems like I always cater to the kids on birthdays and get the same boxed cake mix my son will eat with the same chocolate Pillsbury icing he likes to go with it and my daughter loves it too, so it always just made life a bit easier.  This year, the idea of eating that makes my teeth hurt, so I decided to go a different route for my birthday cake. 

Menu Plan for Week of 12/28/15
Monday:  Leftover ham and beans (made these yesterday).

Tuesday:  Puffed pancake with fried ham and canned peaches (puffed pancakes were something my dad would make growing up's a Swedish thing I think.  I believe they are known as "Dutch Baby" as well).

Wednesday:  Tacos

Thursday:  Taco casserole (use leftover chips in bags in cabinets)

Friday:  Pork roast, sauerkraut, kale (sounds odd, but it's all traditions to welcome in good luck and money in the New Year...yes, I am being THAT superstitious right now)

Saturday: Pizza

Sunday:  Turkey meatball soup with spinach  

To Bake:  Pound Cake with Lemon Custard (birthday cake), bread, orange beignets (for breakfast on Saturday).  Maybe muffins for freezer.  Baking days:  Various (bread today, beignets on Saturday, etc).

Desserts:  Birthday cake, jello with whipped topping, white cranberry orange hot chocolate (recipe I'm messing with), ice cream with mint chocolate sauce (another recipe I'm messing with).

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Monthly Goals Update and This Week's Goals

You know, times like this I really wish I could transmit smells through the internet.  The house smells so good as a pot of beans with the leftover ham bone from Christmas dinner is simmering away on the stove.  My husband and I are really wanting to eat dinner *laugh*.

Well, some of the goals for last week got accomplished and some didn't. Due to us being sick I didn't get a chance to make Christmas napkins, but then my mother-in-law gave me Christmas napkins, complete with napkin rings for my Christmas gift.  So, the goal got accomplished and I didn't have to do anything.  Win win ;).  I am still tweaking the winter themed activity post, as I'm having a hard time finding winter motivation when we haven't had much snow at all, but plenty of cold weather, so it's been kind of a "meh" type of winter for fun.  I am working on it, though *laugh*.

The kids and I did watch Christmas movies and listened to Christmas music, cookies got decorated and we all had fun, so I can't really complain too much.

This week I have some things to do, for sure.  I put away the Christmas decorations yesterday and those boxes need to be hauled back out to storage this week if I can get to it and then I figured out that the Christmas throw pillows I had on the couch were the only throw pillows I have for the couch at the moment.  My son's speech therapist has been using them during therapy for different purposes, so making throw pillows is now on my "to do" list for this week.  I thought of just using the Christmas pillows and make slip covers for them, but decided against it as the pillows took a beating a bit this year and they are already looking more flat than they were at the beginning of the Christmas season.  I don't see the throw pillows lasting very long with day to day wear and tear happening on them, so I'm just going to make new instead as I can make them tougher.

So, onto the main goals for this week:

Sewing Goals:
  • Make throw pillows for couch in den.  Figure out a good design for pillows to match with different decorating schemes throughout the year.
  • Make new cover for trunk in den (I've been using a baby quilt as my main cover for the trunk, but it's really starting to fall apart so it's time for a back up plan) or at least work on a design for one.
General Goals:
  • Check ingredients for birthday cake and make sure everything is available to make it.
  • Finalize shopping goals for January.
  • Make goals for January.
  • Tweak winter menu plan for the month if needed.  Make a list of needed items and add to shopping goals for January.
  • Deep clean children's rooms, vacuum under beds, clean out closets (I'm looking at my daughter on this one), etc.
  • Catch up on laundry (this goal is sent up with a prayer that my son will let me do this without too much trouble).
  • Scrub bathtubs and clean bathroom sink tops.
  • Fold and store blankets in a more organized fashion (this is a challenge due to lack of linen cabinets in the house, but we need all the bedding we have, so I'm kind of trying, once again, to make a better storage system).
  • Work out cleaning schedule for a week and give it a shot.  See how well it works.
  • Work on grocery budget for the next couple of months.  Try to shave some off of it if possible to cover shopping goals for the month as they are needed to fill in holes in the pantry and such.
  • Haul Christmas decorations out to storage for the year.
Baking/Cooking Goals:
  • Work on recipe ideas and see how they turn out.  Share if they do.
  • Due to changes in schedule, figure out new schedule for baking days and possibly plan on more labor intensive meals because of having more time.  Plan on baking at least one thing during the weekend so that daughter can help bake (thus getting some practice in with measuring things).
  • Make granola (trying this out on my son with feeding therapy).  Find a container somewhere in the house to store it in (the hard part *laugh*).
So, there you are folks.  My goals for this week.  How about you?  What are you up to?

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Frugal Friday (well Saturday): Money Saving Weekly Recap

It was another week of sickness around here this last week, unfortunately.  My daughter managed to come down with a cold the day after school let out and spread it like the plague before she got well (she's GREAT at that).  So, I had a very out of it husband during Christmas Eve and Christmas Day and I was getting cranky and depressed by the end of it due to lack of sleep and just generally being tired from fighting the cold off (which thank goodness it at least seemed to come and go quickly for me).  The husband and children loved their gifts that I made, which made me feel good.  We managed to get gifts hopefully to where they needed to be for people to get them and others had already gotten theirs, which was good.   I found out I am going to be an Aunt again.  It was a mixed bag of good and bad...although really isn't that life in general?

Anyway, when it came to saving money this week, there was some silver linings in the clouds!

1.  My friend Stephanie gave me her freebies for Fred Meyer she'd accumulated over the last couple Freebie Fridays (one of which is seen above).  I'd missed the Mentos gum coupon because I was busy, so it was a nice boon being able to get those (thanks, Stephanie!).  I also was able to get two free cans of Sheba cat food, one with the E-Coupon and one with a coupon on the actual can letting you try one for free.  One of my cats likes said cat food, the other one doesn't.  Since the one who doesn't like it is the one who is the size of a aircraft carrier, I'm not too upset that she doesn't want to eat it and leave it for our light weight and scrawny-in-comparison feline *laugh*.

2. sent us an e-mail Christmas Eve and gifted us a free 10.00 credit, no strings attached to use on the site, the only catch was that you had to use it before 12/31.  We love Rifftrax around here so we were thrilled with the gift.  We used it to get enough .99 shorts to fill up two DVD's worth of laughs for us.  This, by far, was one of the coolest gifts I've gotten as a holiday freebie from anywhere, so it was definitely a high point of the week.

3.  I got my latest Smiley 360 mission coupons and went to the store to get some free chocolate covered pretzels.  While my son won't be able to have them (peanut cross contamination), the rest of us still ate a few out of one bag and then I'm planning to save the other bag for later in case of party needs or if something else comes along where they will be useful with my daughter or husband.

4.  My mother-in-law gave me a giftcard to Fred Meyer for my birthday.  She sent it to me early, which worked out well.  I used the giftcard to buy some last minute groceries while my son was in OT earlier in the week.  I was even able to get some enchilada sauce on reduced for .99 for big cans (one of my shopping goals for next month actually) and a few other items I needed.  Walked out of the store paying 2.99 after giftcard was applied.  Not exactly a thrilling use of a giftcard, but still very much appreciated.  Thanks, Stacey!

5.  This is another one of those "saved money by not spending money" types of things.  I avoided going to the main stores today to avoid buying Christmas clearance items I don't need.  I realized that while I REALLY wanted to go and get wrapping paper on clearance that I still have plenty left in my stockpile for next year, so why waste even a few dollars going and getting more?

6.  I realized, finally, that I REALLY needed a few new pairs of jeans.  I have some Old Navy pairs that are five years old and barely holding together and just finally realized that darning them wasn't going to save them as the material was too thread bare.  So, I went to the used store today and found two nearly brand new pairs of jeans for 5.00 a pair.  That I can afford.

7.  We did go to Lowes earlier in the week and got some LED's to replace the ones that burned out in my daughter's room (the lighted garland I hung up to replace them are just regular Christmas lights) for 5.00 and some change.  I took down the Christmas decorations today (with the exception of the wreath, the swags and a few other minor items that can be left up past the new year without worries of my son beating on them too badly) and put up the new LED's in her room as she likes to have the lights to make her room fancy.  This way, if she wants her room lit up a bit, at least it won't consume too much electricity.

8.  I sat down and planned out what I want for my birthday dinner and cake this year and added it to the menu plan for next week.  I am not planning on us spending money eating out for my birthday this year as we don't have it, so I figured out what I had and and what everyone would eat.  I think I have a decent plan of action, anyway.

9.  I realized that I was going to need to get another big spool of white thread from Jo Ann Fabrics here soon as I've got some projects I have to get done and am actually running out of white thread (I was surprised to realize this, actually *laugh*).  I decided to wait until coupons came in the mail to see if there was any sales that would help me save some money on the purchase.  The "save 50% off regular priced thread or buttons TOTAL purchase coupon" will definitely come in handy next week!

10.  Since the kids are on break, we've been staying home a lot lately, which is not only saving me money by keeping me out of the stores, but also is saving us money by us not consuming gas.  We do end up taking drives to keep my son from going too stir crazy, but we have tried to keep them relatively short, but entertaining.

For instance we went to a local neighborhood twice last week to see the Christmas light displays.  This neighborhood goes ALL OUT for Christmas complete with airing their own radio station with Christmas carols and the houses all of have lights set to timers to play in time with the music.  It's super impressive to watch and the kids had a blast watching all of the lights.  And it was free with the exception of the gas.

We also went to Sears and just walked through their Christmas section.  This up till now has been a really fun trip for my daughter as she always loved the light up motorized animals and stuff they'd have in their mini "Christmas village" area.  Unfortunately, Sears didn't have any of those things set up this year, so my daughter was a bit bummed out, but she did have fun looking at their Christmas section was just a much shorter trip than in previous years.  Lowes made up for it though with the giant inflatable Christmas things they had set up.  We were a bit perplexed by the giant "Billy the Singing Big Mouthed Bass" with the Santa hat on, but whatever floats people's boats I guess *laugh*.

11.  I did end up having my husband pick up something for dinner a few times this last week as we were baking cookies and cleaning and such, but we made sure that we kept the purchases smart and down on a decent monetary level so that they would keep us within our weekly grocery budget.  And because we spent the money smart the purchases we made will last a few more meals for us for over the Christmas break.

12.  My son's speech therapist finally got the assisted technology she'd been waiting for in the mail Christmas Eve and came over today to start my son on his assisted technology evaluation.  Once this is done she'll be able to write up the grant paperwork to turn into his insurance and we should be able to get a dedicated device to help him communicate for free with the program he's training on installed on it.  It's been a long hard road to get this evaluation done for him (we've been hammering on the schools to get this done since he was three), so to finally be looking at him being able to train to communicate gets me teary eyed, honestly.

13.  My brother sent us his usual gift card for Christmas this year (and I don't mean "usual" as a bad thing as I request one every year :) and per usual he was way more generous than I feel I deserve with it.  I used it to buy computer devices for both my son (back up communication device in case something should happen to the dedicated device once he has it) and for me (as my laptop crashes and freezes pretty much constantly).  I would have loved to have saved the giftcard for food items, but a back up "voice" for my son?  Is about as important to me as breathing right now. 

And there you are folks.  My money saving attempts in a nutshell this week.  How did you do?

Thursday, December 24, 2015


So, say you are reading this blog on Christmas Eve because you are desperate to find a simple, cost effective and tasty home made cookie recipe for a get together or just for family snacking tomorrow. Well, here you go folks. You can't get simpler than Scottish Shortbread. Three ingredients total, this recipe takes no time to put together. Takes a bit more time than a normal cookie recipe to bake, but worth it.

And if you want to make it really fancy? Dip one half of each cookie wedge in chocolate. You're welcome ;).

  • 1 cup butter, softened (2 sticks)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 1/2 cups all purpose flour, sifted
1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

2. Beat butter and sugar until creamy and smooth. Traditionally you work the flour in with a wooden spoon until it's all incorporated and you have a stiff dough. I just dump the flour on top of the butter and sugar mixture in my stand mixer and mix until combined and the dough comes together.

3. Divide dough into three parts. Working with one part at a time roll out to about a 5-inch circle on a ungreased baking sheet (I just use parchment paper to make life easier). Score dough with a knife lightly into wedges (think making mini pizzas here). These are just marking lines, so don't cut through the dough, just mark the top of the dough with the knife. Then take the tines of a fork and pierce through the dough all the way through along the score lines. This will make break lines for your cookies later on after they are baked.

4. Take the tines of the fork and press into the edges of the circles all the way around to make a decorative look to the cookies and then lightly pierce the dough with the tines of the fork at random on top of the circles (once again, this is decorative).

5. Bake at 325 degrees for 25 minutes or until cookies are faintly golden brown (they are going to be really pale looking...I overcooked mine because I forgot to set my timer...oops).

6. Remove from oven and let sit for about 5 to 10 minutes to set a little bit and then move to a wire rack or a towel to cool. While still warm, if you desire, break cookies along the score lines and then move individual cookies to racks or to a towel to cool.
Honestly, I like to leave mine in the cool looking circle and just break them when they are cold. If you want a nice straight line, take a knife and line it up with your score lines and press as you break the cookie with your other hand.

Store in covered containers. I've managed to keep these for a few weeks without them going stale on me, but they've never lasted longer than that.
Merry Christmas everyone! I hope you all have a GREAT holiday!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Pepparkakor (Swedish Spice Cookies)

When it comes to family traditions growing up, my family had a few of them.  Some of them I've held onto and this is one of them.

I've had gingerbread cookies over the years, but nothing beats Pepparkakor like this recipe that was passed onto my mom by my dad's mom when the two of them married.  My grandmother's parents were fresh off the boat from Sweden and raised my grandmother in their traditions and because of that my dad was raised with a lot of Swedish traditions (for instance, in my family we always opened gifts on Christmas Eve, not Christmas Day).  One of those traditions was Pepparkakor at Christmas. 

Consider these cookies like gingerbread.  But so much more flavorful.  I love to eat these without any frosting on them at all normally and I dip them in milk or coffee (I put frosting on them this year though to appeal more to my husband's pallet and also to give my daughter sprinkles duty as putting sprinkles on cookies is important at Christmas and we painted the other cookies, so I had a gap to fill).

Note that these cookies contain cardamom.  Cardamom is really expensive to buy, but if you don't have any in your cabinets (I've used the same jar for years, honestly and even though it's a lot less potent than it used to be, it still works for me), feel free to use nutmeg instead.  It won't taste quite the same, but it'll get the job done.

Also, this recipe makes a REALLY soft dough, so refrigerating before making the cookies is definitely recommended.  I tend to put it in the fridge the night before I'm set to bake them and let it set up good and hard before I roll.  You can do it without refrigerating first, but it's a lot harder to get the dough to not fall apart on you.

Pepparkakor  (Swedish Spice Cookies)

  • 1 2/3 cups AP flour
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 3/4 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cloves
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cardamom (or nutmeg)
  • 6 TBS butter or margarine (3/4 of a stick)
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup molasses
  • 1 tsp. grated orange peel (fresh is best)
1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2.  Sift the flour, soda, salt,  ginger, cinnamon, cloves and cardamom into one bowl or onto waxed paper.

3.  Cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.  Beat in molasses and orange peel.  Stir in flour mixture 1/3 at a time, blending well to make a stiff dough.  Refrigerate for several hours or overnight until stiff enough to roll.

4.  Roll out dough to 1/8 inch thickness.  Cut out cookies and place 1" apart on a lightly greased baking sheet (I just use parchment paper instead).  Bake in 350 degree oven for 7 to 10 minutes or until lightly browned on the edges (it's hard to see because the dough is so dark, but I usually pull them at 10 minutes with my oven and call it good).  Remove to a towel or rack to cool completely. 
Top with your favorite frosting, if you so desire.

A Christmas Light Adenture

Twas the week before Christmas and all in the Mat-Su Valley were trying to see Christmas lights at the Alaska State Fairgrounds.

Sure, I could have tried to make that rhyme, but with the exception of a couple of twisted little poems I've done in my time, poetry and me...yeah...we don't get along.

Anyway, back to my tale...

Last week we went and saw the Christmas "Bright Up the Night" light display at the Alaska State Fairgrounds.  Armed with the instructions that the website provided (enter at Green Gate, wherever that was, and exit at Red Gate, admission free, hours of operation, etc) we managed to get the kids into the car, and I only put my son's shoes on the wrong feet twice in the process!  I packed the children snacks and some drinks just to be safe from temper tantrums while we were out and we set off.

We got to the Alaska State Fairgrounds without much incident, but we had no idea where Green Gate was (we don't go to the fair primarily because of my son and crowds).  The fairgrounds are of a decent size, for those who don't live around here, and are set up with roads on all sides of the Fairgrounds.  So, the first place we checked was the main fairground "gate".  Turned out that was Purple Gate and was locked, so my husband shot down the road a bit further and turned the corner, figuring we could get into the Fairgrounds a back way and then just drive around to where we needed to be. 

Nope.  All the entries were locked and we did a couple of U-Turns to find our way.

We finally turned back onto the highway and headed toward the Fairgrounds from a different way than when we started and finally saw an open gate, so we turned to go in.  Driving down the not well lit road we quickly saw a nice big orange sign with white letters that read, "Event" (or something similar) with an arrow and we figured, "Ah ha!  We have it now!" and drove in the direction that the sign pointed.  Another sign pointed us to enter through a gate and so we did, me noticing with a sense of unease that the gate we were ENTERING through was actually Red Gate. 

And so we followed a few more signs, all pointing us toward the "Event" and we could indeed see the Christmas lights off in the near distance, so we figured that the signs were pointing us the way.  And then suddenly the signs just weren't THERE anymore.

My husband and I, confused, tried to logic out what had happened and we drove around a bit in the back lot area of the Fair.  Finally my husband saw where we needed to go about 30 feet in front of us, but we were blocked from just driving to where we needed to be due to there being a large portion of grass and other "unknowns" before we could get there.

Finally my husband just decided to back track completely and see if we'd missed a sign.  By this point we were seeing the humor in our situation and laughing a bit at the signage, my husband joking that they'd put up the signs to confuse people and make them drive right back out of the fairgrounds.

When we were almost through the entrance/exit area where we'd come in, my husband looked off to the right and saw that the Christmas light area we were trying to get to might be accessible through a side street that you could barely make out and so he decided to take a chance and drive through the side street.

And sure enough suddenly we were in the Christmas lighted area.  We suddenly saw "Please Stay in Your Vehicle" signs on the road, but we'd have to crane our necks to see behind us to see what the signs were saying.  We quickly realized we were going through the event we'd been seeking backwards.

My husband drove until we were at the very beginning (or ending?) of the event and turned around so we could drive through the right way.  I took some pictures as we drove and we were relieved we were going through the event the right way this time and wouldn't have to worry about possibly running into another car going the right way through.  Suddenly signage started making sense and directions were clearer as we drove through the actually relatively small event (although the kids loved it :).

I was really starting to feel kind of stupid that we'd gotten lost so much and mentioned to my husband that I kept wondering if we'd missed some signs or something along the way. 

It was then that we noticed the cars.

We looked off into the night and there were cars EVERYWHERE around the event, but none of them driving through the actual event.  There were lines of cars that were ringing the event anywhere there were roads in the back lot area.  It was then that we started to really laugh as we started joking that this was going to be the one event that everyone would see from the outside in first.

By the way we did finally find Green Gate.  We went looking for it once my husband was sure where the entrance was, figuring that there had to be a road where the gate was.  It was marked by one little itty bitty sign that proclaimed the display and that was it.  No where to be had was a bright orange sign proclaiming "Event".

If nothing else, this gave us an adventure that my daughter will always remember as she laughed so much that night she cried *laugh*.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Sugar Cookies

This being Christmastime and all, I thought it appropriate to share a recipe I've made every year since my sister-in-law Ana gave me a home printed recipe card with a recipe simply marked, "Good Sugar Cookie Recipe".  Intrigued I later found out that this was a recipe my husband's grandmother had passed on.  Now whether she wrote it herself or got it from somewhere I can't say.  What I can say is that this recipe makes a really nice cakey sugar cookie if you do it right and the best part is it is a really cost effective recipe to make as it requires no butter, but shortening instead and yet it still gives a good end product.

I make these for my husband every year and then put a decorator icing on top of it that I found in an old cookbook that he loves.  The recipe for that is so easy I have it memorized by now.  It's just 3 1/2 cups sifted confectioner's sugar, 3 egg whites (use pasteurized egg whites if you are worried about safety) and 1/2 tsp of cream of tartar.  Mix together till smooth with an electric mixer and then divide into different bowls, color and paint cookies.

I know, I'm odd, but I love to paint sugar cookies for my husband every year.  It gives me an opportunity to paint, for one, but also allows me to take some time to show him how much I love him in a small way.

So, here you go.  One recipe for "Good Sugar Cookies" :).
Sugar Cookies

  • 4 Cups all purpose flour, sifted
  • 2 1/2 tsp. double acting baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 2/3 cup shortening
  • 1 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 4 tsp. milk

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2.  In a medium sized mixing bowl, sift flour with baking powder and salt.

3.  In the bowl of your stand mixer mix shortening with sugar, eggs and vanilla until light and fluffy.

4.  Mix in flour in 1/3 increments, alternating each installment with milk (I usually end up with about double this to make a stiff, but workable, dough, but start out with four teaspoons and see where it gets you).

5.  Refrigerate until easy to handle, about an hour (honestly, I skip this step).

6.  Roll out dough on a floured surface to about 1/4 inch thickness (I do this with about 1/4 of the dough at a time to avoid over rolling of the dough, if you over roll the dough it'll get tough).  Cut into shapes of your choice.
7.  Bake 1/2" apart on parchment lined baking sheets and bake 8 to 10 minutes or until the edges are just barely golden (seen pic above for a good visual example).

8.  Remove to towels or cooling racks to cool and then decorate with frosting of choice.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Monthly Goals Update and This Week's Goals

Well, as weeks go this one had been productive!  I managed to get the Christmas gifts buttoned up (I keep getting this nagging feeling like I wanted to make one more thing that I'm forgetting, but it'll either come to me or it won't), I took the kids to the "Bright Up the Night Display" at the Alaska State Fairgrounds (I'll cover that more in depth in a future post as it was a rather humorous story if nothing else.  One of the pictures is seen above) and I managed to get some housework accomplished.  We've actually had a lot of fun this last week doing stuff and about 99.9% of it was free (I'm not counting the gas consumption as "free" *laugh*).

I got my food and toys dropped off at the drop off locations this week too, so that got accomplished.  I managed to take pictures of the daughter's Christmas concert, got the pictures edited and saved and nothing bad happened to my SD card in between (the first time I had an SD card die, with about four years worth of pictures on it, was right after my daughter's Kindergarten Christmas concert.  I'm now overly paranoid after each concert to make sure I get the SD card backed up).  I dropped off about 80% of the Christmas gifts to my in-laws house where the majority of the family will stop by at Christmas or around.  The other gifts we were going to attempt to deliver today, but we had one family that had to go out and run errands and another that was sick, so those might be getting dropped off at my in-laws later in the week if I have to.  We shall see. 

Got all the gifts delivered to teachers (still have ONE therapist to deliver to on Tuesday) and got my daughter's friends gifts delivered as well. 

I even managed to juggle some last minute holiday problems.  My daughter's LED Christmas lights in her room died...well half the strand did anyway.  They were older lights that had no way to replace bulbs, and my husband after looking at them carefully just suggested we throw them out.  So, we did.  Instead of trying to go and buy her new lights this late in the season, I found a lighted garland I kept hoping to decorate the front porch with the last couple of years and hung that up in her room combined with the silver candy cane garland you can see in my "Gift a Day" posts as a Christmas-y background thing.  She loved it, it saved me 20.00 and we got it sorted.  Then her mini-Christmas tree that is in her room went out.  I didn't have any replacement bulbs, but I did have a brand new set of Halloween orange Christmas lights that I had gotten for 1.00 at the used store, so I used some of the bulbs from that for replacement bulbs.  Not the most cost effective solution, but it kept a little girl happy and in a Christmas mood, so it worked for me.

Man, I have to say this feels GOOD!  It's been such a terrible year for health for us and...well...a terrible year for everything else, that being able to get these things done without incident just makes me feel so relieved that they are done without problems.  I even made Christmas cookies today and my son was nice enough to nap while I did it, so I didn't have to worry about him trying to grab hot cookies off of hot trays.  How heaven sent is that???

So, onto this week's goals!
1.  Get through Christmas without anything bad happening, no kids getting sick, etc (not really an attainable by me type of goal, but I'm hoping God will help me out with this one *laugh*).

2.  Make some winter/Christmas themed cloth napkins (I really want to do this and am really hoping I'll have time *fingers crossed*).

3.  Decorate Christmas cookies with daughter (this and more Christmas baking is set for tomorrow).

4.  Blog about frugal winter themed activities (sorry this one is taking a while).

5.  Make recipes that have been screaming at my subconscious.  If they turn out, blog them.

6. Watch Christmas movies, listen to Christmas music, have fun playing with the kids.
And yeah, that's about the total of my goals for the week and I hope I can accomplish all of them :).

Friday, December 18, 2015

Frugal Friday: Money Saving Weekly Recap

For a nice change of pace this last week no one got sick!  I slept awful as every time my son twitched upstairs I was out of bed like a shot and checking on him, but at least we got through the week with no stomach issues.  The kids got through all of the fun school activities that went on this last week and my husband and I were even able to go to my son's class party yesterday, which was fun.

We also got to attend my daughter's Christmas concert (my daughter insisted on posing with the inflatable Santa they had by the door, thus the photo above *laugh*.  I just thought it was so cute, I had to share :).  The school this year had all the grades performing at the same concert (normally they break it up into several performances during the week).  It was very crowded (we were some of the people in the "standing room only" category), hot and my daughter was on the other end of the gym from me.  Thank goodness for 13x zoom on my camera so I was able to get some decent photos of her despite the distance.

After the concert we drove around some of the local neighborhoods and checked out the awesome Christmas lights displays people had up.  It amazes me how intricate some of the light displays get anymore with the LED's.  My kids really, REALLY enjoyed the ride and checking out some fun Christmas displays.

And now onto the week on the money saving front!

1.  My daughter's teacher sent home a list of things she was hoping parents could provide for the Christmas party.  I looked down the list and most of the things she was asking  for were things we didn't have around the house because of my son's peanut allergy, but then I saw "marshmallows".  So the free marshmallows I got last week from Carrs went to my daughter's Christmas party so the kids could have marshmallows in their hot cocoa.

2.  I ended up staying home a lot this last week as I was working on house work and honestly trying to catch some sleep while I still could as I knew naps were going to be completely out as soon as my son got on Christmas break.  So, not going anywhere saved me gas and it saved me money by keeping me out of the stores.

3.  My husband and I went shopping yesterday to get groceries for next week as much as we could so I didn't have to try and go shopping with holiday crowds with both kids in tow.   I found pork loin roasts for 1.99 lb, which beat anything I've seen on pork the last little bit, so I picked up two to cut into roasts and steaks.  I almost didn't get two, but we desperately need SOMETHING to break up the chicken monotony right now and we were getting very low on pork.

I also found my son's favorite brand of chocolate chip cookie that's safe for him on sale cheaper than I've seen it in AGES, so I bought three containers for therapy and school to use as reinforcers.  Yes, it'll be a few weeks till he's back in school, but the cookies will keep.

4.  I worked really hard to make sure to only run full loads of laundry (like that's ever a problem around here) and dishes to conserve energy.

5.  Turning down the heat at night and before we leave the house has paid off in savings on the gas bill.  My electric bill might be insane, but at least my gas bill is about 50.00 lower right now than it normally is this time of year.

6.  I got one of my "Smiley 360" missions in the mail today.  In this case it's a mission that comes with some coupons for some free chocolate covered pretzels.  So, I'll be looking for those the next time I go shopping for milk early next week.

7.  I repaired a hole in my daughter's hat.

8.  My mom called earlier and told me about Jo Ann fabrics coming out with a calendar for next year that has all kinds of coupons in it.  I really wanted to get one, but 9.99 seemed like a hard price to swallow to buy a calendar when I could just go get a free one at the bank, so I kept going back and forth about buying one.

Then my mom called me this week and told me she mailed me one.  I really appreciated the gift, doubly so, as I will now have a calendar for next year too.  Thanks, mom!

9.  I took inventory of what I had in the house and decided instead of trying to bake extra stuff for my daughter's teacher and my son's independent OT, I instead decided to give them a jar of home canned goods instead.  Since it's two jars, I'll be able to replace those easily at the used store next year for cheap.  My daughter's teacher loved the wildflower jelly and I'm sure my son's OT will appreciate the cauliflower pickles.

10.  Today I dropped off Christmas gifts for about 2/3 of the extended family at my mother-in-laws.  These are people I know will stop off there at Christmas or a couple of days before the holidays, so they'll be able to pick up their gifts from us there.  This will save us the gas of running around trying to deliver everyone's gifts and will save those people gas as well as they don't have to worry about coming to pick up said gifts.

When I went out I combined trips with the rest of the errand running I had to do today to conserve gas and time.  It worked well.

11.  When I had to go into town earlier in the week to get gas (the closest place to use my fuel rewards for Safeway/Carrs) I stopped off with my loads of toys and food stuffs and put them in the bins at the stores.  All of the stores are basically nearly across the street from one another, so it didn't take any time and didn't waste any gas to do so.  While there I also swung by the post office (also right near by) and mailed off Christmas cards.  I felt good when I went to donate my bags of food only to find the food bin nearly overflowing with other donations.  By the time I got strategically stacking my food in the bin it was overflowing, but it was so worth it and warmed my heart that people are thinking of others this time of year.

And there you are folks.  Some ways I saved money this week.  How did you do?

Thursday, December 17, 2015

A Gift a Day Gift Thirty-Four: The "Black Watch Plaid" Quilt

Well, so I THINK we have finally come to the final gift in my "Gift a Day" series.  Not exactly the "low key" December I had planned, but at least I got it all done before the start of Christmas break, thus I won't have to worry about my son destroying the house while I'm obsessively running the sewing machine.

Course, I could be forgetting something, which has been known to happen, but I'm hoping I got everyone covered and all the gifts accomplished for the year.

This final gift is a gift to my husband and son, in that I MADE it for my husband, but I'm thinking my son will immediately claim it as anything blanket related he tends to grab as soon as he sees it.

Some people take great pride in being Irish or Swedish or Italian.  My husband takes great pride in having some Scottish blood in him. 

Years ago (like 12 or so) I tried to get a hold of enough Black Watch plaid to make a kilt for my husband, but I was never able to get a hold of very much at one time before Jo Ann's sold out of it, even when I special ordered it!  I have a few 1 yard scraps from all of those years ago and thought about maybe making my husband a quilt out of those somehow this holiday season.

And then I ran across a nice big chunk of black watch plaid in a high quality woven fabric and bought it at the used store for 1.50 a while back.  I finally pulled out all three remnants of fabric and picked the longest one to make my husband a quilt out of this year, and the woven fabric won on length and width.

I just used the plaid as a big center panel in the quilt and then added strips of dark blue I cut from a queen sized flat sheet I had in my fabric stores.  I was able to even get the bottom for the quilt out of the same sheet with just a teeny tiny bit left over, which worked great for me.  The final product ended up being somewhere between a twin and a full sized quilt, but I know it'll work well for my husband to curl up in on his recliner or in his desk chair, so I was happy enough with the final size.

I then quilted the final quilt with some green thread my step-mom sent me.  I ended up buying some quilt binding for the quilt as all I had was one container of this color or that color of quilt binding and I wanted it to look nice, so I just bought new instead.

Total Cost to Make Gift:  About 9.00 for the quilt binding and 1.50 for the original remnant of fabric.  I'm not sure what the original cost on the sheet was since I've had it for a long time, so I'm not counting that cost.  The batting I had bought at a yard sale for .50 a couple of years ago.  So all totaled about 11.00.

I used quilt basting spray vs. pins, but the basting spray was leftover from a previous project I had done, so I'm not counting it in with the cost of the final product here.

Total Time to Make Gift:  About four hours, as the quilt came together pretty quick and quilt basting spray is a wonder of wonders to make life easier.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Holiday Fruit Salad

In my mind there are two things that my mother-in-law makes better than anyone else.  One is meatloaf.  I learned how to make a good meat loaf from that woman.  And two is a dip she makes during the holidays for fruit, which contains marshmallow creme and cream cheese.

The dip is awesome, so I thought it would be neat to try and recreate the same holiday flavors in a fruit salad, thus saving me from having to buy tons of fresh produce for a fruit try and it would help to hide the fruit in the salad, so my daughter would be more likely to eat new fruits.

Fred Meyer has whole pineapples for 1.49 a piece right now (all of them did last week, but I noticed that my one local Fred Meyer still had them on sale for that price yesterday), so I bought one, grabbed some other fruit and got busy.

Here's the recipe I came up with.  A couple of things of note:  My husband and I both agreed the banana slices in this salad were the most awesome tasting, but the pineapple that I got was kind of sour (produce is a crap shoot this time of year up here) so we didn't like it as well.  The salad tasted good though *laugh*.

Second, yes you can use whatever fresh or canned fruit you prefer here.  I used what we had to make this, so that's what I'm listing here.

Holiday Fruit Salad

  • 1/2 to 3/4 of a block of cream cheese (depending how cheesy you want it)
  • 10 large marshmallows
  • 1/4 cup half and half (you could PROBABLY use evaporated milk or whole milk here, but I had half and half to use up, so that's what I used)
  • Pinch of nutmeg 
  • 1 Container whipped topping (Cool Whip) or 2 cups whipped cream
  • 1 can fruit cocktail, drained
  • 1 can mandarin oranges, drained
  • 1 pineapple, cut into bite sized pieces (you can use a can of diced pineapple instead, drained)
  • 1 apple, peeled, cored and cut into bite sized pieces
  • 1 banana cut into slices

1.  After you cut up your apple and your banana, quickly throw them into a zip lock bag with your pineapple, shake the fruit around a bit to make sure that the apple and banana get coated with the pineapple juice (it'll stop them from browning).  Set aside.

2.  Combine the cream cheese, the marshmallows and the half and half in a small sauce pan over medium low heat.  Stirring constantly, wait until the cream cheese and the marshmallows are melted and everything comes together into a thick sauce-like consistency and is smooth (this takes a little bit, but it's worth it.  If you have marshmallow creme and a good mixer you could probably skip this step by whipping the marshmallow cream with the cream cheese and the half and half, but I only had marshmallows).  Add pinch of nutmeg and stir well to combine.  Turn off heat and set aside for a few minutes to cool (if you stir it once every 15 seconds or so this will go pretty fast).

3.  Dump the cheese sauce into a bowl and then add 1/3 of the whipped topping to the bowl.  Stir the cream and the cheese sauce together until well combined (this helps lighten up the cream cheese sauce before you have to incorporate it into the whipped topping completely).  Add the rest of the whipped topping and fold the cream cheese mixture into it until everything is well combined.  Add fruit and stir gently to coat the fruit with the mixture (so you don't beat up your bananas too badly).

Serve immediately or it can be chilled for up to 1/2 hour before serving.

Just note:  This can be eaten the next day, but the bananas do brown finally and get mushy and the whipped cream will fall in the salad and get kind of liquidy.  Still tastes good, but not as good as serving it right after you make it.

A Gift a Day Gift Thirty-Three: Fur Pillow

My son, being the sensory seeking little thing he is, I really wanted to make him something with fake fur because he LOVES it (mainly loves plucking it and watching it float, really).  Originally I REALLY wanted to make one of those awesomely cuddly looking throws with the fur on one side and something cool, like flannel or cable knit, on the other, but I realized I didn't have near enough fake fur right away and I was wondering before THAT if I'd be able to dig up enough material for the other side of a throw anyway.  So, I let the little gears in my head turn and finally came up with the idea of making him a fur pillow.

I know there are some draw backs to this as it's not even a pillow sham (I didn't think fake fur would make a good pillow sham, honestly), but an actual throw pillow.  One:  I'm sure this fur isn't able to go through the dryer and washing it might mat up the fur.  Two:  If my son starts plucking it and creating bald spots, you can't just flip it over like you could a throw and hide it.

But, I also figured that the fake fur was given to me by my husband's grandfather in a sack of cloth that used to be his wife's and I think Molly would be happy with the idea of a child getting enjoyment out of something like this while it lasts.

We'll see how it holds up over time.

I just cut a basic shape of a throw pillow out of the fur, using as much of the fur as I could (thus why it's rectangular vs. square and has a few places where it's a BIT off of straight), put right sides together and sewed it up with a 1/2 inch inseam.  I left about a four inch hole to stuff it (I have small hands, which helps for things like this) and then hand stitched the last bit shut with a whip stitch when the pillow was stuffed.  

Total Cost to Make Gift:  Free.  The batting came from the bags of batting I found in storage over the summer and the fake fur was given to me.  The thread came from the stash of thread my step-mom gave me.  I did switch out the needle on my sewing machine to a heavy duty denim needle for this, but that was also given to me by my step-mom (have I mentioned my love of that woman lately?  :).

Total Time To Make Gift:  About an hour.  The batting in the bag was the nice heavy duty fill, but it did NOT want to un-clump from it's huge lump in the bag, so I spent a good portion of time getting coated in fiber fill as I had to tear one small chunk at a time off of it to stuff the pillow.  Got done right about the time I was starting to get frustrated *laugh*.

Menu Plan Monday: Menu for Week of 12/14/15

I've been kind of out of the loop when it comes to menu plans the last couple of weeks, I'll admit it.  Things have been so crazy around here between holiday things going on, sick kiddos and money worries, that the idea of trying to complete a menu plan just seemed...well so HARD.  Which is really, really sad, but true.

So, it's time to get back to being more organized.  So, here's this week's menu plan!

Menu Plan for Week of 12/14/15
Monday:  Steak, mashed potatoes, holiday fruit salad (recipe coming soon)
Tuesday:  Pizza
Wednesday:  Chili and Cornbread, leftover fruit salad
Thursday:  Turkey Meatloaf, leftover mashed potatoes, green beans
Friday:  French Toast, bacon
Saturday:  Baked Chicken, rice, peaches
Sunday:  Leftovers
To Bake:  Bread, Christmas cookies.  Baking Day:  Friday.

Desserts:  Jello with whipped topping, vanilla pudding.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

A Gift a Day Gift Thirty-Two: Photo Cards

This is kind of a combination gift and also Christmas card to the grandparents in the family.   I normally try to send out gift cards to my extended family, but didn't have much money to spare this year so the gift cards were kind of on the pathetic end of puny.  This, sadly, has been a continuing trend the last three years or so, but I figure one thing I can do to help make up for it is to make sure my step mom and my mom get current pictures of the kiddos.

I printed off the pictures of the kids myself.  I always buy the photo CD from the school picture taking people and print off the photos myself so I can control the size and number of photos I get.  Only downside is you only get one background to choose from, but I still think it's worth it for 15.00 per disc.

I printed off enough pictures for the grandparents and put them in different cards I had.  The ones I made for my mother and father-in-law are seen above.  I bought a bunch of  "print it yourself" cards at a yard sale one year for .50 (for packs of 50 cards) and these cards were one of the various styles.  They had a spot in the front to put your child's picture and I thought they were really pretty Christmas cards.

So, I printed off a picture of each kiddo and put them in the photo holder spot on the cards.  This way if my in-laws want to frame the photos they'll have a nice Christmas themed mat that they can just cut down to the size of their photo frame.

The cards that were going across country, however, I put those photos in regular nice and thick Christmas cards so that the at-home printed photos will survive the trip without getting beat up and scratched.  I figure my mom and step mom would appreciate the extra step for protection vs. hopefully getting really cute cards in the mail.

Total Cost of Gift:  I'm not really sure as I'm still working on the starter cartridges for my printer, but I'll estimate about .15 per card or so.

Total Time to Make Gift:  About an hour to get the sizes set right, get things cut out and envelopes addressed, etc.

Monthly Goals Update and This Week's Goals

Well, despite my son getting another stomach bug yesterday (the bug took down half of his class by Friday...I was hopeful he wouldn't get it, but nope) and stuff, I was able to get stuff done this week.

1.  I managed to organize the video shelf area in my living room (seen above).  I hauled about three armloads of movies (VHS's mainly) downstairs to put on our video shelves and then moved the old TV stand so it stood against the wall instead of being in the corner.  It freed up some floor space, looks a lot better as things aren't falling into the open corner space anymore and I am happy with how it turned out.

I organized the hats and gloves area in our den.  Before we had tons of Rubbermaid drawers that constantly caught winter hats and I was constantly fixing snags.  We had no space for the kid's backpacks and we had boots (for all weather conditions) EVERYWHERE along with summer shoes, etc.

So, I took the hats and gloves and placed them in the top Rubbermaid container as those are the things we're going to be accessing the most this time of year.  The container below that houses dress shoes and summer shoes.  And the bottom container houses water boots and any "misc" types of shoe items we don't access until the Spring/Summer months.

Now the backpacks can sit on top of the Rubbermaid containers when the kids get home from school, everything looks a lot cleaner and I even have a spot for my daughter's umbrella. 

Feeling pretty good about that reorganizing.

3.  I wrapped the Christmas gifts (some seen in the pic above there). 

4.  I worked on Christmas gifts and SHOULD be down to just doing a few gifts for my husband.

So, yeah, the only thing I didn't get done on the goals list for last week was sorting the laundry, which is going to get rolled over onto this week's goals and will (hopefully) get done tomorrow *fingers crossed* if everyone remains healthy, so I can get work done.

We've got a tremendously full week this week.  We've got interviews for my son's insurance renewal, speech therapy, a visit from missionaries, a Christmas concert and gifts to deliver to teachers, therapists, aides and friends (in the case of my daughter).  I'm already tired and the week hasn't even started yet *laugh*.

So, this weeks goals are:
1.   Sort tremendous pile of laundry and put it away. 

2.  Try and finish the last few Christmas gifts.
3.  Drop food off to food drive box.  Pull out the few toys I have left to donate and drop off at "Toys for Tots".
4.  Make cloth napkins and embroider for fun.
5.  Take pictures of daughter's Christmas concert.
6.  Take kids to the Bright Up the Night Display.
7.  Deliver some gifts to family and make sure to deliver gifts to teachers, aides and therapists.
8.  Make Christmas cookies (Friday so daughter can help me).
9.  Shampoo upstairs carpets (again) to make sure 100% of nasty germs from my son's stomach bug are for sure dead.
 So, there's my list for this week.  How about you?

Friday, December 11, 2015

Frugal Friday: Money Saving Weekly Recap

Well, today has been kind of stressful.  My son got a hold of another kid's cookie in his class before anyone could stop him today and it turned out it was made in a facility that processed peanuts.  Which led to a stressful twenty minutes for his teacher, the school nurse and me (I was on the phone with the nurse) as we waited to make sure he didn't have a reaction.  Luckily his teacher and aides reacted super quick and handled everything quickly and correctly (got food out of his mouth, rinsed out his mouth quickly and wiped anything they could find that resembled a crumb on him, etc).  Now, after everything has turned out alright, I just feel bad for the kid that my son stole a cookie from.

Then I get the mail and I was one of the lucky people whose personal information was compromised with the recent government hack, so I'm on a fraud alert for the next three years along with my kids *scowl*.

And then I make the mistake of opening my electric bill.  Due to the unseasonably cold temperatures of the last month and then the major hikes in electric rates the last six months, my electric bill was astronomically high (like 150.00 higher than normal, high and it's normally high this time of year).  Times like this I just get so discouraged being broke.  I'm panicking over utility bills.  Ugh.  Just ugh.

So, yeah, it was an afternoon for sure.  I am working really hard on not showing my worry over the electric to the kids right now as honestly this is the one time of year where I want the kids to be able to plug in their strings of Christmas lights and just enjoy themselves without obsessing second hand about how much the electricity is going to cost.  At least the lights are LED, so it's not like they are consuming much.

At least some things worked out well on the money saving front this week, so let's get to those shall we?

1.  This was a good week for freebies from the stores.  Carrs offered me some personalized freebies.  I was kind of surprised when I was offered free AP flour and a free thing of marshmallows as I'm not used to baking freebies, but they were appreciated for sure.

I also grabbed last week's Freebie Friday from Fred Meyer which was a container of juice. This, along with some allergy friendly foods I've gotten cheap or free due to coupons over the last year, will be going to the various food drives going on this time of year.  I've had kids with various food allergies through the years and know how hard it is to afford gluten free, dairy free or other allergy friendly foods.  I can't imagine if you are dependent on the food bank or other charitable areas for your food and your children have allergies.  The worry alone would give you a stroke.  So, I try to help out by donating foods that people would want with allergies but would not be able to afford in bad times.  Dairy free chocolate chips, rice pasta, gluten free gravy mix and things like that could be the difference between a holiday of pure survival and an actual enjoyable holiday.  So, I try to help out where I can.

2.  I combined trips when running my errands and while I was out, since I was out a good portion of the day running from store to store and such, I used a coupon we'd gotten off of a french fry we'd bought for my son when he was sick (McDonald's french fries are one of his food groups)  for a free small coffee.  That was the only thing I had to eat all morning, but it worked out alright and kept me going and it was nice having something hot to drink in the frigidly cold temperatures (seen above with the other freebies I got that morning).

3.  I also had a freebie that Sears e-mailed me for a free foot care kit or a shoe care kit, so I ran to Sears and looked EVERYWHERE to see if they carried either one.  Which they didn't.  I felt kind of stupid for wasting the ink to print the coupon they sent by the end of it, but by crawling through the store I was able to find some really nice and well built clearance socks for my husband for Christmas.  They were about 70% off with the markdowns, which was definitely worth it by the time it was all said and done.

4.  I was able to remember, despite my son (per usual) not sleeping, to drop off some toys to the local "Toys for Tots" box.  My grandfather was a proud marine, so I try to donate to "Toys for Tots" when I can in his memory instead of just dropping the toys in a random toy donation box :).

5.  I dug through my freezer and found the pork pieces and pork bones with meat left on them from cutting up pork shoulder roasts.  I put them into a pot and made bouillon to go over the top of the bones and meat and then added all the vegetables that were sort of past their prime from the pantry and the fridge.  I was actually really impressed how much meat came off the pork bones and the vegetables came out tasting wonderful with how flavorful the pork was.  My husband and daughter I just spooned out the meat and vegetables for, but I ate mine with the broth like a stew.  My daughter wasn't happy about it, but she did eat it (she doesn't like vegetables) and my husband was happy that I didn't make him eat soup.  Overall, we got three days worth of meals out of two big pork bones and a bunch of stock, so I was super happy with how that turned out.

6.  When I realized we were going to be out of bread and not have any for toast this morning I quickly made bread last night and we were even able to enjoy it with the leftover pork and veggies.  I was happy I did that as it saved me money when grocery shopping today and took a load off of my mind on breakfast this morning.  By the way I love this recipe for bread when I'm in a time crunch.

7.  I kept the lights out as much as I could this last week to avoid wasting electricity and I turned down the heat when I could during the day to try and keep the utilities as low as I could.

8.  I worked on Christmas gifts this week some more, which definitely has saved us some money.  I've still got a couple more to go but am hoping to finally be done with Christmas gifts this weekend.

9.  I made our meals at home, which saved us money.

And there you are folks.  Some different ways I saved money this week.  How did you do?

Thursday, December 10, 2015

A Gift a Day Gift Thirty One: The Elsa Dress

Remember the fancy teddy bear I made for my daughter?  Well, I ran across some fabric I had and remembered that I'd wanted to make my daughter an Elsa (Frozen) like doll but had never gotten around to it.  So, I thought it might be fun to make her an Elsa-like dress for her teddy bear instead.

Boy was this dress a pain.

 First this is a two layered dress.  The upper fabric is sheer with little rhinestones in the fabric, which was cute, but problematic (broke two needles when I'd get that one in a million shot and hit two stones at one time with my sewing needle).  The lower fabric is a silver satiny fabric.  So, I had to double fold the seams all the way around to safeguard against the fabric fraying, which added time and more chances for my needle to break on the rhinestones.

I simply double sandwiched the two fabrics together, sewed them together and then went about my merry way using the "new fabric" as my fabric for the dress.  It worked alright overall...just dealing with the fabrics was kind of a pain.

After I had the fabric cut and sewed together I used elastic around the top of the dress so that my daughter could simply pull the dress on and off the bear.  Since this made a glorified tube (since it's a teddy bear and doesn't really have much of a form to speak of), I hand sewed a piece of ribbon loosely into the front of the dress.  I secured one end of the ribbon down at the side seam for the dress, leaving plenty of extra ribbon on the end to use for the tie on one side.  I then used a really huge straight stitch along the front the dress and when I felt that I had it pretty much lined up right along the front I tied a couple of knots in the ribbon to make sure it wouldn't get sucked into the dress very easy (kind of like the idea of sweatshirt ties and the knots that are in them so they stay put a bit better).  Then I just pulled the one side that wasn't secured to the dress to gather the front of the dress and tied the ribbon in place in the back of the dress.  It actually worked rather well.

I then hand sewed a tulle train onto the dress and embroidered (or attempted to embroider) a few snowflakes onto the tulle.  This was a PAIN as the fabric is transparent so you have to make sure all of your embroidery lines up on both sides of the dress so people can't see any stitches but the ones you want them to see.  And the tulle isn't exactly strong weave wise so you have to be really careful to not break it as you sew. I used a full thickness of embroidery floss for these as the tulle is so loosely woven together.

I did two snowflakes and quit as I was worried about doing too much structural messing with the tulle, but I thought it turned out alright.

Total Cost to Make Gift:  Nothing as I had all the materials in my stores.

Total Time to Make Gift:  Four hours.

Christmas Decorations on the Cheap Part 4: Throw it!

This is a decorating technique ANYONE can do in any type of financial situation, so I thought I'd share it.

This time of the year I go with the adage "throw it" when it comes to decorating for winter/Christmas.  What do I mean?  Use what you have in the way of material, sheets, or throws and just plain throw it over furniture for a festive flair!

This is my couch and trunk/coffee table in my den this year.  Remember the white duvet that I bought at the used store for cheap?  Well, I found it went really nicely with my winter themed throw pillows and so it found a home on the back of my couch.

Side note:  The throw pillows were actually one of the few things I've bought new when it comes to decorating.  I ran into them at Target three years ago, thought they were really nice and would go with a lot of different decorating schemes and bought them on sale (but not clearance or anything like that).  I put them into storage with the rest of my Christmas decorations and pull them out every year.  This is year three for them and they still look brand new doing it this way, so I'm happy.

Anyway, back to the original point.  The throw that I put over the trunk?  Was bought at a yard sale for .50 in the middle of summer three years ago (can't tell I was going through a "gee I need to really redo my Christmas decorating now that we've moved to a new house" can you?).  I originally bought it to throw over maybe a recliner to use as a lap throw, but found it too busy for that.  So, a tablecloth it became.  And I personally think it looks great where it is.  It will remain on the table through most of the winter as it's a winter themed throw vs. a purely Christmas one.  I love using throws as table clothes for coffee tables and such because they are 100% washable, which is ALWAYS a good thing.  The red tray some may remember I got at a local used store earlier in the year and thought it would look cute as a Christmas tray (I like to keep some type of tray on my coffee tables to catch any glasses that might end up in the room.  Helps protect the furniture).

The afghan was a gift from my step mom years ago and has rotated around the house into pretty much every room at one time or another.  Right now it's sitting on the couch in case someone gets cold (and also to cover up the shredding couch cushion that I switched out from upstairs for the photo.  Keeping it real folks!).

Upstairs in my living room I decided to go lazy and simple when it came to a coffee table topper this year.  This is just a piece of light blue flannel I found at a thrift store years ago and had in storage for a long while.  So, I washed it and just threw it over the table without any sewing or anything.  It looks nice, will stay in good shape through the holiday season and if I find I want to do something with the cloth later I can without being pegged into using it strictly for a tablecloth.  Yup, I'm lazy!

Oh and another side note?  The Little People nativity was purchased on the Christian Family Bookstores site on an after Christmas clearance sale for 14.00 when my kids were little.  This set is awesome, has put up with rough play from my kids and is still going strong 5 years later.  I highly recommend it!

So when it comes to decorating use your imagination.  Do you have a light blue, or maroon, or any "Christmasy" colored sheet you could use to quickly make a furniture cover of for the holidays?  Have any quilts with blue in them or afghans (which I have those over the back of furniture too right now around the house).  Think outside the super expensive store bought "only for the holidays" types of decorations.  You can still make your house look nice and reuse the things you used as soon as the holidays are done!

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

A Gift a Day Gift Thirty: Chocolate Filled Ornaments

I ran into a couple tutorials to make ornaments filled with different things on Pinterest and became intrigued with the idea of making some for teachers and aides.  So, when I ran across a box of clear glass ornaments that I could fill at the used store for 1.00 (not all of them are pictured above), I decided to give the idea of hot chocolate filled ornaments a shot.

I washed the ornaments out with hot soapy water and then let them dry, opening down, for a few days to allow the water to evaporate out of them.

I then took a funnel and measured out the amount of hot chocolate from the hot chocolate/drinking chocolate mix I made earlier in the year for one mug at a time.  I then added that amount (I found that three heaping teaspoons was enough to make a good cup of hot chocolate, so that's what I did for each ball with a little extra "for luck").  I then crushed up some candy canes that I had around, four of them to be exact, and then added the crushed pieces into the balls, about two teaspoons to each ball.  I then put on the lids and felt all proud of myself for only making a BIT of a mess in the kitchen.

And then the balls shifted and fell over a little bit and I realized what the tutorials on Pinterest had failed to mention.  That the balls are OPEN at the top because of the way the mechanism for the hanger works, so they leak EVERYWHERE if they shift a little bit onto their side.

Thinking on that for a few moments I took some plastic wrap, stretched it over the opening on each ball and then poked the two prongs for the hanger carefully through the plastic wrap to make sure the holes were really small at the top of the ornament vs. wide open.  Yes, the ornaments have some plastic wrap at the tops of the ornaments now, but I wanted to be sure that people would realize that there was plastic there so they didn't later try to drink it by accident.

Now don't limit yourself when it comes to these types of ornaments.  You could fill these halfway with glitter and call it "fairy dust" and then glue the lid shut with a hot glue gun so they don't leak.  You could fill them up with some ash from your fireplace halfway, glue the lid to prevent leaking, put a label proclaiming "floo powder" and give it to the Harry Potter fan in your life.   Use your imagination.  You could have a lot of fun with these :).

Total Cost to Make Gift:  Well 8 ornaments came in the box and I used four, so .50 for the four I made.

Total Time to Make Gift:  About an hour to fill the balls and figure out a way to stop them from leaking and about 32 hours or drying time.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Christmas Decorations on the Cheap Part 3: Make the Ordinary Fun

When people ask me what the one piece of advice I can give them when it comes to decorating with class but cheap, I always tell them, "Keep it simple".

And by that I don't really mean just shove a Christmas ball into a bowl and stick it on your table and call it good.  I mean use what you have, buy a few key pieces if you want and use those as focal points, but the big thing is don't buy into the mindset that you have to have your home looking like a Pottery Barn catalog with every season and that you have to spend a lot of money to get a certain look.  It just isn't necessary.

Try to figure out something that helps you to show your own unique style and personality and just go with it.

For instance, when talking about key pieces in decorating, seen up above is the top of our antique bar in our den.  In the center stands a hurricane vase (I think that's what it's called *laugh*) that I got at a yard sale for .50 a while back.  That vase stays put all year, but during the different seasons the contents change.  In the Spring/Summer I put small sea shells in it as I go with a coastal type of theme in the den for Spring and Summer.  In the fall I put pine cones mixed with some Indian corn and put some fall picks sticking out the top. 

And above is what I do for the Christmas season/winter.  The contents are some vintage glass ornaments that I love but will not be put on my Christmas tree because I don't want them to get broken.  In between the ornaments, to help protect them from breaking in an earthquake and also to add depth to the vase, I put a bunch of pine cones I harvested from my yard that I reuse every year just for this purpose.

Don't have a vase you can use for something like this?  What about a glass bowl placed in the middle of your kitchen table?  Don't have a clear glass bowl?  How about a mixing bowl you aren't using with some Christmas ornaments in it?  Even a plastic bowl with some unbreakable ornaments could look pretty festive.

On the right is a quart mason jar I had in the den and I just placed candy canes from a Christmas tree past on it (I bought certified peanut free candy canes this year and tend to reuse candy canes from year to year, so I had some extra).  On the left I put some spools of Christmas ribbon I use for Christmas wrapping (for the most part they are old Costco ribbon spools that I bought at used stores for 1.00 or less through the years).

In front I put a red cinnamon scented candle that I've had since my husband and I got married I think (14 years?).  I normally keep it in my china cabinet for emergency lighting "just in case", but I pull it out at times like this for decoration purposes.  The steel platter is normally in my den floating around and I needed a place to put the candle so it didn't stain the bar, so voila!  Instant landing zone.  The pine cones I bought at a used store in a bag of big pine cones for like .75 years ago and I float them around from place to place to decorate during the fall and winter months.  My son loves to play with them, so I'm thinking one day soon I'll have to buy more, but for the time being they are surviving.

And here is the area where the "buy for the next season after the holiday has passed" thing comes into play.  All of the above things were purchased at 90% off at different stores.  The houses light up and are all Peanuts related (well Snoopy's dog house doesn't light up).  My kids love them and they were 1.00 to 3.00 a piece when I bought them.  The plate I got at Fred Meyer years ago on clearance and we use that as our "Santa cookie landing zone" for Christmas Eve.  My daughter has already asked if she could inherit the plate some day, which I told her we'd talk about it if it survived till she was an adult.

And above you can see a few Christmas frogs that I have (I used to collect frogs hard when I was younger...still think they are neat, but I don't collect them anymore *laugh*) and think are really cute.  They too get put into storage and pulled out with the Christmas decorations.  Most were gifts given to me years ago that I just reuse from year to year.

 Another area where I decorated with everyday items for the holidays when it came to the ribbon.  It also leads into my next piece of used if you can get it cheap!  I have never bought ribbon new and have found new spools at the used stores for .25 to 1.00 as the years have gone by.  I finished off the top of the shelf with an antique German glass bird that I found at a used store for .25.  I collect German glass ornaments (they are now all in storage because, kids), so when I saw the little bird missing it's tail I had to grab it and bring it home.  Unlike other birds in my collection, which I LOVE (birds on your tree mean joy you know.  I have thought they were wonderful since I first laid eyes on them when I was 12), this bird had an actual hook system to hang on a tree instead of a spring loaded clip to attach to a tree branch.  So, I figured I could put it somewhere OTHER than on a tree.

I brought it home, put some lace carefully into it's tail with a knitting needle to replace the horse hair it used to have and then placed it in a small little bird's nest I had left in my Christmas decorations.  Every time I see it it makes me smile.

And here's one more example of using what you have to decorate.  I just placed some of my collection of Christmas cookie cutters into the same glass jar I used at Halloween to place candy in on my sideboard and then placed it over on my bread box.  It shouts "festive", but does double duty as both a practical storage solution for my cookie cutters for the time being and also as a neat Christmas decoration as it shows off different cookie cutters.

There are a lot of different ideas you can do with cookie cutters to help you decorate.  I saw a tip to turn them into napkin rings (just tie a string around the cookie cutters or if you have the metal frame type just put the napkin through the middle of the cookie cutter), tie them to some string to make into a little garland for your kitchen...get creative! 

I have a few other tips for another post, but here's hoping you might have gotten some ideas from this one!