Friday, December 31, 2010

Storage bin shopping tip

One reason I haven't been posting quite as often this week is because I am frantically working on organizing and rearranging to make room for some long-term house guests. I know it is time to celebrate the end of the old year and beginning of the new one and I will be doing that (on a small scale), but this morning I am working on filling these bins. I hope I won't need them all!

The comment and "tip" I want to share is more about shopping for bins rather than anything else.

I received an online "ad" from Lowe's that these great slate blue bins were $2.50 each through January 3rd. They are regularly $4.99. I thought it was such a great price and I had an immediate need for them, so I sent my very nice husband out for some. 

When he arrived at the store, they were priced at $3.50 each and he called me to ask if I was sure they were on sale. I double-checked my Lowe's email and sure enough, the price (not an online price only) was $2.50. By the time I called him back to give him the model and item numbers, they had already checked it out and the price was indeed $2.50 and he purchased 20 of the bins you see above.
I guess my tip is be sure to check online prices and make sure the people at the stores give you the price they advertise. (I wasn't the first customer who asked for the $2.50 bin, by the way but the $3.50 price was not changed. Hmmm.) I can't imagine why the "memo" didn't get to the people at the store but I can just see many really nice customers going to the store because of a great sale and then paying one dollar more than they should pay because they don't want to cause problems. It is OK to nicely ask them to check the website or bring your phone or a printed copy with the ad price.

It is hard to imagine that the corporate offices would send out an email with a price and then not change it at the store, but I know it's hard times and maybe they would do that. That is why you really have to check the prices carefully and then stick up for yourself at the store. Let the buyer beware is an old legal term that we need to remember while shopping because companies can resort to trickery -- and get away with it -- unless we hold them to their word.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Getting a head start on the new year

Every year, right after Christmas I always feel a little energized. I know it is the perfect time to get some things done. It's time to put away the Christmas decorations and put on a pot of soup. It is not time to slave over a stove when you can fill a pot and let it simmer -- there is too much to do for that!

I like to "get a head start" on the new year because later, I feel it leaves me behind -- as soon as we get started on our garden. If I don't organize, clean and get ready for the year, I  probably won't get it done for quite awhile.

I still recommend Martha Stewart's Homekeeping Handbook if you need "advice" with cleaning and organizing. It is still the most complete and useful book of its kind to me. It helps you make a cleaning plan and some provides useful tips, including what kinds of supplies you need to do a great cleaning job.

I think one of the best tips from the book would be to start with safer cleaning products and if that doesn't work, go to harsher ones. I used to use bleaches and harsh chemicals every day until I found that mild soaps like Dr. Bonner's classic liquid soaps, vinegar, baking soda, essential oils and sometimes grapefruit seed extract work better and are cheaper than the more expensive store brands. It only takes a small amounts of natural products and in my opinion, they clean better than most prepared products.

If you prefer to use brand name products, make sure they are mild and not harsh. Start with wood soaps and then move on. There are many recommendations in the book I mentioned above. I also like Seventh Generation products, available in most grocery stores -- but they are very expensive.

I also still like my Roomba. It is great for an area you can't get to immediately, and I think it does a very good job -- maybe not as good as a high powered canister vacuum, but as good as any upright.

When I am finished cleaning, I will be sure to have a good cup of tea -- a welcome reward for jobs I hate to do but feel kind of proud of myself when they are completed.

Monday, December 27, 2010

An especially nice Christmas present

My family really a pulled one over on me this year and gave me quite a surprise. When asked what I wanted for Christmas I said the most outlandish thing I could think of, an iPad.

I really wanted one, but I didn't imagine they would take me seriously. I did say they shouldn't have but I must admit I really, really am pleased with my gift. Shocked would also be a good description.

I even tried not to ignore everyone and "play" too much while I should be visiting -- a very hard thing to do.

My blogging was done this morning on my iPad -- one reason I am a bit late -- but I am sure to get better.

Anyway, to my family, thanks very much. I really love it and you really pulled one over on me this year. I was, am speechless and I really appreciate it. As soon as I learn a bit more, it should make my life/work much easier.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Christmas greetings and chocolate chip cookies

I just want to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and my gift to you is this great chocolate chip cookie recipe.

My friend Diane gave me this recipe years ago and I have made it more times than I can count. It has always been a good recipe for me and it is one I highly recommend. Don't overcook the cookies and they will be wonderfully chewy. I like to add as many chocolate chips as I can work into the mixture and though I don't use nuts (my family prefers them sans nuts), they would be a great addition. I have used M&Ms and other kinds of chips as well -- always good. I don't know of one bad thing about this recipe except that it makes SO many cookies. I usually have about 7 to 10 dozen after I am finished, depending on the size.

But, the positive thing about so much cookie dough is that it keeps for a week in the refrigerator and you can make fresh cookies at a moments notice. If you don't use the dough within that time, just roll them up into cookie-sized balls and freeze them. Bake them when you want. The dough will last a month or two in the freezer, if well wrapped.

My favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe:

1 pound butter, softened
2 cups brown sugar, packed
1-1/2 cups sugar
3 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
6 cups self-rising flour
4 to 6 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips

Optional, 1 cup pecans; use different kinds of chips for different flavors

Mix butter and sugars until creamy. Add eggs and flavoring. Slowly beat in flour, then chocolate chips until are ingredients are well-mixed. Refrigerate for a couple of hours until mixture is well-set. Form into tablespoon sized balls and bake at 350 degrees until cookies are lightly browned. Allow to cool on cooling racks.

Merry Christmas and I wish you all the blessings the season can bring.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Recipe for easy, "angelic" sugar cookies

Start out with a little angel. This one is six and has just finished performing in a Christmas play.

You will need the following:

Store-bought sugar cookies (or home-baked ones -- even better)
Red, green and white icing sealed in plastic baggies
Sugar sprinkles in red and green
Candies, like M&Ms
Paper plates
Plastic knife

Put the cookies on a paper plate. Cut a small hole in the edge of the plastic bag and use it to apply the icing to the cookies.

 Spread on the icing and then add sprinkles and candies until the cookies are perfect.

When you are finished, you have a very sweet memory and a tasty cookie treat.

Friday, December 17, 2010

A new Christmas tea

Every year there are interesting products available on the market only during the holiday season. Fruitcake, eggnog and pumpkin spice flavored drinks are just a few examples. I am always looking for a few things that will excite my guests' palates during the holidays. I especially like it when I have a new tea to serve.

That is why I was so excited when my friend, Angela, shared some of her "Sugar Cookie Sleigh Ride tea with me. It is one of the Celestial Seasoning holiday blends and I was happy to try it and even happier when I got it home and read the ingredients.

The main ingredient, milk thistle, is a cleansing herb and could really help during the holiday season -- which unfortunately is a season in which I have a tendency to overindulge. But the best thing about it is that my husband really loves it. I mean really loves it. Milk thistle does have a nice milky flavor and maybe that is what he likes. Also, it does taste a bit like sugar cookies. I guess it really tastes a bit like milk and cookies. What is not to like about that.

 Another tea he really likes is Peppermint Tea. I am a bit surprised at that, because it is not a favorite of mine. I like peppermint candy but I don't really enjoy it any other way -- just as candy.
 His very favorite tea is India Spice Chai, but this year I have not been able to find it in the grocery stores.

I can find the Tazo brand which is not quite as good to him, but he will drink most spicy chais, though he does tend to enjoy Celestial Seasonings brand the best.

One year I bought Grandma's Apple Pie Tea and all my female tea drinking guests really enjoyed it but not my husband.

This year I will probably add another holiday flavor or two by Christmas, maybe eggnog -- my favorite. It would be good if I could find a tea with the flavor of eggnog but without all the fat, cholesterol and calories of that yummy (to me) holiday drink. I am thinking a good gingerbread flavor would be nice, too.

All the goodies do call for a good cup of tea. I think this year I will have one treat and two cups of spicy holiday tea. Maybe then I won't have to make so many tough New Year's resolutions.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010


We are still waiting for our gourds to dry. They were quite green and are now turning brown and developing the character that gourds usually develop before they are ready. At least that is what I have read. I am on new ground with these gourds. I really like them, but I don't have any experience.

Any ideas for Christmas decorations? I thought about tying read and green bows around them but I don't have any definite ideas. I do like the fact that they are changing colors. They are developing a greenish, beige color that is very nice. They should become brown as they dry and I think these are "browning" nicely. 

I thought about "glittering" them but I just hate it when glitter gets all over the house, so I don't think that is an option I would choose. They are too big for ornaments and they are not quite dry yet so and I don't want to interrupt the process.

I have seen very small dried gourds made into miniature bird house Christmas ornaments, complete with a little hole drilled in them for the little bird ornament -- a small cardinal sitting on a perch -- very cute, but I didn't have any miniature gourds, only large ones. Maybe next year I will have a Christmas birdhouse with a cardinal for a decoration. I could paint cardinals on a full-sized birdhouse. That would be pretty.

Any suggestions for this year? I would really appreciate it!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

No sew tote bag

It is already an established fact that I am a bag lady. That is why I can hardly believe I forgot to share this easy craft. This was one of the things we shared at the recent Tea for Toys event. I made the one above from a plastic tablecloth, staples, strapping and duct tape. I made around five bags from the tablecloth so it was a very economical project.

The instructions are on the following website.

View the video and follow the directions. This would make an easy and inexpensive hand made gift.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Garden greens

Last weekend I went to pick greens. It wasn't the last of the greens from our garden but we really don't have too much left at this point. We still have some turnips greens with turnips and some kale. We have about six collard plants left after we picked the ones above. We felt we needed to pick most of them because we knew the weather was going to get quite cold, even here in middle Georgia we worried about what a freeze might do to them. I don't know how long they will survive if the temperatures stay below freezing for several nights -- the forecast for this week.

I thought the view of the back of my car was wonderful. The collards look like big dark green cabbages to me. I put them in buckets and kept water over the stems until I could wash them and freeze them. I hate it when my greens wilt before I get to them. Because the weather was cool, there was no need for me to rush to get them in the freezer. It took me a couple of days but they were still at the peak of freshness when I washed, chopped and froze them.

For all the collards we picked, we put them in just two 2-gallon bags to freeze. Knowing how they cook down, I am thinking that will make a generous "mess" (as my grandmother called it) for  our traditional New Year's dinner.

We did pick some kale but it is not growing as well as in the spring. I have been using the kale in my green shakes -- very yummy.

I am happy to show this photo of our garlic. It is beginning to come up and looks very healthy. It will be a welcome sight in the summer.

That is probably the last look at our garden for the winter. It was great while it lasted and we will revive it again in the spring.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Tahini Blossoms (A no-peanut-butter version of a popular treat)

My daughter sent me this photo of a "No-Peanut Butter" cookie that is very much like a peanut butter cookie but made with tahini. In her comments she said this was the "easiest recipe ever!" I do think it looks very easy. She apologized for sending me a photo of the cookies on a baking stone because she said they were so much prettier on her Christmas china.

I am sure that was right but I am glad to show it this way because I think a baking stone is the perfect way to bake cookies. I overcooked so many cookies until I purchased my baking stone. I don't think I could bake them without it.

Back to the recipe. I had to question her on a few things because the recipe seemed to be a little too easy. It didn't have any leavening and no eggs but she assured me this was her recipe. I have tried the recipe, sans the kisses and the cookies are good. She said she had tried the cookies with and without leavening and it really didn't seem to make a difference. The spelt flour is lighter than the whole wheat flour and makes fluffier cookies. If you decide to use wheat, the leavening might be more important.

Tahini Blossom Cookies

1 cup of whole spelt (wheat would work, but might need leavening)
1/2 cup tahini
1/2 cup honey

Mix together. Roll into balls. Mash a little. Press in a Hershey's Kiss.

Bake at 350 degrees for 12 to 15 minutes. Check after 10 minutes so they won't overcook.

Whole spelt is lighter than whole wheat and therefore makes lighter whole grain baked goods.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Tissue flower wreath

One of the ideas for Christmas decorating we presented at the Tea for Toys last week was this tissue wreath. People really seemed to like it and it is an easy thing to make. The cost to make this one was under $5 (one larger than 8" would cost more). I have always liked tissue flowers ever since I learned to made them as a child from Kleenexes and hairpins.

I found a thick styrofoam wreath at my local Dollar Tree and I cut it in half to make two wreaths. I think the higher priced ones at the craft stores are of a higher quality and maybe easier to work with but the price difference is incredible.

Here are the directions. I hope you enjoy my wreath if you make it.

Tissue Flower Wreath Directions

4 to 5 sheets of red tissue paper (fold and cut into 3 inch circles)
2 stems of lacquered red berries (each stem contains approximately 21 berries)
1 (8-inch) styrofoam wreath
Wire cutters
Low-temperature or hot melt glue and glue gun
1 (8 1/2 x 11) piece of cardboard to cut a circle for the back (optional)
Ribbon for the inside of the circle (optional)

To make the flowers: Cut three inch circles from the tissue paper. Separate the lacquered berries from the  stem. Each will have a wire attached. Take at least three circles and insert the wire into the center of the tissue circles. Form a flower loosely around the berry and lay the flowers aside. You will have approximately 42 flowers.

For the optional cardboard backing on the wreath, lay the styrofoam wreath onto the cardboard, trace the shape and cut out the circle.

Insert the stems of the flowers randomly into the styrofoam wreath. Cut the excess wire from the back of the wreath with wire cutters. Secure the flowers by gluing them to the styrofoam wreath underneath the tissue, taking care to make sure the glue doesn’t show through.

Glue on the optional cardboard back and ribbon in the center with a low temperature glue gun.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Jazzing up Christmas cards

Every year while I do Christmas shopping, I usually find Christmas cards with a message I like, but the cards are not usually very decorative. I know it is hard to see from this photo what I have done, but I have found that if I add some glitter glue it really does make a cheap card have a more expensive appearance.

On the right I added glitter glue on the stars around the snowman and on the left, I added glitter to the star. I have found that just a little bit of glitter makes a real difference but too much can make them look worse. I just try to focus on one or two areas and it does seem to improve the cards.

Other things you can use are small bows, buttons and little scrap booking decorations. The good thing about this is that it really doesn't take very much time. A few dabs of glue and a little time to dry and the cards look so much more expensive.

I am sure I will buy even more cards with good messages in the future and hopefully I can add just a little bit of pizazz to make them acceptable.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Tea for Toys a success

Last week I participated in Tea for Toys. It was sponsored by Newnan-Coweta Magazine and Holly Cottage Tearoom and benefited Project Joy, a toy drive held by our local Foster Parent Association. The tea was held at Holly Cottage Tearoom on Savannah Street in Newnan. My editor, Angela McRae and I hope to make it a yearly event and though it took a good deal of work, especially for Angela, it was very satisfying since at the end of the day, we had a huge pile of toys that will find their way underneath the Christmas trees at foster homes all around our county.

I think the spirit of giving was in the air. All of those in attendance came in feeling good about giving toys to needy children. The tearoom was beautifully decorated and everyone was so nice.

We had so many door prizes, including a gift from Holly Cottage and a Times-Herald gift subscription. We also gave away the handmade Christmas craft projects we made to share with the attendees.

The tables were set so beautifully and each person was given a "shoe" favor which was a hand-made and decorated Victorian shoe with Christmas teabag inside. The shoes went along with our theme, "Stepping Up."

The shoes were all different and were a beautiful decoration for the tables. The menus included Vanilla Rooibos tea and for the main course, two gourmet tea sandwiches, one plump traditional fruit scone with lemon curd,  berry preserves and clotted cream condiments, a hand-rolled truffle and fresh fruit. For dessert, a Traditional English Sherry Trifle was served.

During the dessert, we gave out a hand-made booklet that doubled as a program and a memento. The booklet contained recipes and directions for hand-made Christmas decorations and ideas.

I hope everyone had as good a time as I had. It was very nice and I think everyone felt pampered and happy that they had contributed to a good cause. I feel I should have taken a photo of all the toys but I forgot to do that.

For the next few days, I will share some of our craft and decorating ideas, beginning with the wreath above.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Ribbon embellished gift bags

Wrapping is a chore for me so I love using gift bags for Christmas presents. I usually make a trip or two to my local Dollar Tree store and stock up because they have plenty of pretty, decorative Christmas bags.

Another frustration is that at the last minute (usually on Christmas Eve) I find I have forgotten to bag one or two smaller presents and I am either panicked and have to make a last-minute dollar store run, or I have to get out the wrapping paper and tape and actually wrap a present.

This year I have decided to also purchase some white (or kraft) lunch sacks and add my own little easy, decorative twist to them. If I add some tissue paper inside and put on a pretty ribbon, perhaps people will think I am just creative and not a person who just hates wrapping presents. I know these sacks are cheaper than $1 each and they are very easy.

So, I think I will never myself short a gift bag if I keep these items on hand:

White or brown kraft paper bag
X-acto knife or sharp scissors

Directions: Cut a ribbon and tie a knot forming a 4 inch loop on the top. Fold the bag over three to four inches then make two slits slightly wider than the ribbon in the bag, the first at around 1 inch from the top and the second at 1 1/2 to 2 inches from the top. Thread the ribbon through the slits, making sure the knot holds. The loop will form a handle for the bag.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Choosing chargers

The other day I ran across these green lacquered chargers on sale. Since the price was right, I decided to buy them to to use with my Christmas china. I thought it was a very good buy, especially since I could also use them with my everyday china. I am a sucker for anything I use for special occasions that I can also use every day. It seems a shame not to enjoy things all the time. I guess it seems kind of silly to have Christmas china because I only use that during the holiday season but I do also make exceptions for Christmas.

Above is my everyday china sitting on the new charger. I think it is really interesting how different the chargers look with different plates.

My daughter disagreed with my choice because she said my Christmas Spode would look better on a red charger because the green would stand out more. I think she might have been right, but I still have more use for green chargers. I thought I would be semi-practical about my choice, especially since chargers are not the most practical thing I could purchase.

There is still time to swap the green for red so I would really like your opinion. What do you think? Should I have purchased the red or is green the best choice, or should I take them back and look for something different?