Thursday, December 30, 2010

Cheesy Ranch Appetizers

1/3 Cup Mayo
1/3 Cup Sour Cream
8 Ounces Cream Cheese
2 T. of TGC Ranch Dressing, to taste
1 Can Crescent Rolls
Veggies of your choice, finely cut or grated. Broccoli, Cauliflower, Carrots, Green Onion, Tomatoes, Olives, Green Pepper and Celery all work well.

Optional:  Shrimp, Chicken and/or Bacon Crumbles would also work well.  Grated cheese can be added as well.

Mix first four ingredients together and set aside. 
Unroll crescent rolls and press out onto bottom of a 13" x 9" pan, bake until brown (following baking directions). 

Let cool then spread your mixture on top and spread evenly, next add veggies on top and chill and serve.  Serve as bite size pieces, works especially well at potlucks as an appetizer.

For added interaction at parties make as directed, omit the garnishes and let guests build their own appetizers.  Just set out small bowels of various vegetables, meats, cheeses and let the guests interact with the food.


French Dressing Using "Ranch Dip"

2 T. TGC Ranch Dressing/Dip Mix
1 Can Tomato Soup
1/3 C. Oil (vegetable, olive or salad)
1/4 Cup Sugar

Mix together in a jar and shake well.  Chill at least two hours before serving.  Store in the refrigerator up to 6 weeks.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Staying Home on New Year's Eve......Ideas for a Fun time with KIDS!

Mini Pizza Bites
We're staying at home on New Year's Eve and spending it with our kids.....Last year we had a family friendly New Year's Party, but this year we just decided to stay at home to celebrate.  I just spent the last 1/2 hour or so looking for ideas on the Internet to make the evening special without going over the top.  I was disappointed by what I found, as the ideas seemed to be few and far between, so I am creating my own list of stay at home ideas.  I don't plan on doing all of these, but thought it  would be nice to have a list  pull from.....

Great Eats & Drinks
Since I am not sure if we will all actually stay awake until midnight, I thought we had better start the evening festivities a little early - like dinner time.  I got to thinking what would make dinner fun without going over the top and I came up with a dinner made up of nothing but finger foods or child friendly hors d'oeuvres. Here are some ideas that I came up with on my own as well as found on the Internet.
  • Wrapped Little Smokies:  Make the same as the full size version, but only use a partial croissant roll.  Get fancy toothpicks to "spear" each one.  Have several dips on hand: BBQ, Ketchup, Ranch, etc. 
  • Cheese Fondue - who doesn't like this idea?  I don't have a fondue pot so I had to do a little bit of research on this one, but I found my answer - a crock pot!  Forks or skewers can be used in place of fondue forks.  I am thinking that french bread, steamed cauliflower, steamed broccoli and steamed carrots will work the best.  I also have some large pasta shells that I might try.  I am hopeful that the kids will have so much fun with this that they won't realize how healthy it really is.
  • Some type of extreme mini pizzas, maybe made on a Trisket or some other cracker.  I will let the kids assemble.
  • For drinks I already have sparkling apple cider on hand, however I think adding frozen fruit to each drink and serving in a fancy cup will make it truly special.
  • Dessert - since I am a distributor for The Gourmet Cupboard, we already have two fun desserts ready to be made: 5 minute fudge and funnel cake!
  • Family friendly movie, it's not very often that the whole family sits down and watches a movie together so this is a good time to do so.  My husband is the movie buff expert so I will have him pick out a couple of appropriate movies so we can choose.
  • Again, The Gourmet Cupboard to the rescue.....I got my youngest daughter a play dough pack for Christmas, she has not had a chance to make it yet so saving it for New Year's Eve will be fun.
  • I am going to incorporate decorating for New Years into an activity.  I ran across several New Years items left over from least year and my brother gave me two bags of birthday party supplies.  We'll pull what decorations we can from those (I know there are balloons in there).   I saw an idea online for confetti balloons, I think we could make a few by using the paper punch outs from my three hole punch, a couple of confetti balloons for each kid should do the trick.   I know my youngest got mardi-gras beads for Christmas so we can decorate with those as well. 
  • Dress up:  since my kids are both girls, I think we can make the evening special by dressing up,which we don't get to do very often and I know my hubby will appreciate it (also sounds like a photo op).
  • More Fun:  Official New Year's Eve at Times Square
That's all I can think of for now, if you have any suggestions please feel free to comment!

Happy New Year!

My Favorite Things 2010.....

There are a few things that I found in 2010 that I absolutely love so I thought I'd share them with you.....

1.  Sloggers - I won't leave home without them.  I call them the "crocs for country living".  I used to be a heels type of gal, but once my feet slid into these, they did the "happy dance" and now it's torture to wear heels.  There is only one drawback to these - snow or ice!  They become ice skates in snow or ice, as I found out the first time I tried it!  I was saved by the porch railing!  I discovered these in 2009, starting with a Red pair....the only reason I now have a light Blue pair is because the dog liked the Red pair - at little too much.....
See all styles here: Sloggers

2.  Starbucks VIA Ready Brew.  Instant coffee singles.  Finally an instant coffee that actually tastes like coffee should!

See more at: Starbucks

3.  Hoover Anniversary Wind Tunnel Self Propelled Vacuum - no more bagless vacuum cleaners for this gal, everyone I tried shortly became nothing more than a dust collecting piece of art.  The dust collecting was done on the outside of the vacuum, not the inside.

My new vacuum works like a dream - I actually enjoy vacuuming now!  I haven't had it very long so I cannot attest to it's longevity, however it does come with a 3 year warranty and I've found that companies will not warrant a product for that length of time unless it can stand the "test of time".  I recommend this vacuum to anyone.  See more here: Hoover.

These are my three top picks for 2010.....if you have tried or have one of these please comment to let me know what your experience has been.  If you have a top pick for 2010, I'd love to hear about it!

Why Blog?

Mirror, mirror on the wall -who has the best blog of all?
I was contemplating this morning what makes it so that so many people want to blog including myself.  I used to be of the firm belief that blogging was narcissistic behavior, especially those whose blogs are personal in nature. Now I am not so sure that this is the case.  I'm sure that narcissism still plays a part in blogging, but besides that what makes us want to display our personal lives across the Internet?

I did some soul searching on this and the answer for me is that I want to make a difference!  I want to let others know in a small part what makes me tick.  I want my kids and my husband to be proud of me and I want to be able to pass along the small things in life that are important to me.  Of course there is enough narcissism in me that I want my blog to be followed by many along with positive comments on what I choose to write about.  Getting a new comment is like unwrapping an unexpected gift....the excitement and anticipation is there to see what others think.  You get a happy glow when you get a positive comment and it validates you in some small way.

I am not perfect, nor do I claim to be, I am just like so many others struggling to get by and along the way trying to do what is right.    I don't think of myself as a writer, as I know I do not have a gift for "flowey" words or putting prose to paper, but what I do think is that I am just like millions out there - we are all the same while we are uniquely different.

My blog celebrates a little of both, what makes me unique while being like everyone else.....

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Time to Start Thinking About the Year Ahead......

Highlights from 2010 - Our Girls
It's the 28th of December and time to start thinking about the new year and reflecting on this past year....

2010 brought us many ups and downs, some new ventures, some new people and a couple of new furry friends.  To recap the year, here is what I came up with, both the good and the not so good.

The Good:

  1. Adopted a new family dog from our local rescue - Bella
  2. Adopted a new family cat from our local rescue - Jasper
  3. Started volunteering at the Alternative Humane Society
  4. Got a bunch of new friends (both furry & human) through my AHS volunteer activities
  5. Started a pet supply business
  6. Started a pet blog
  7. Started a gourmet food mix business 
  8. Started a blog based around family and food business
  9. Youngest daughter started ballet
  10. Oldest daughter started wrestling
The Not So Good
  1. Got laid off from my 13 year long job due to the economy
  2. Watched my sister go through a divorce
  3. Quit my pet supply business
 When I reflect back on the year we have just  had, I am happy to note that "The Good" list is far heavier than the bad list!  However, getting laid off from my job has cut heavily into our family finances and has made things extremely tight around our house, thank goodness we know how to be frugal.  Looking for work has been a challenge, there is not much available out there in the land of opportunities these these days.  The employers seem to know that they have the market cornered too....lower wages and higher expectations.  I'm not talking about a dollar or two lower - it's more like five to eight dollars per hour lower for doing the same type of work.

Small business or big business, it doesn't seem to matter, everywhere you look it's all about the money or lack thereof.  To top that off whenever a job does come available the number of people who apply for that one position are staggering.  Then there are the Craig's List postings that are nothing but a bunch of scams, some are easy to spot and some are not, they are mixed in with the legitimate job postings so applying for a job has become a challenge in itself.  You have to be careful not to give up too much information in case it is a scammer, but you have to give enough to get you noticed in case it is a legit job posting. 

The latest retail reports are showing that the retail business has picked up over last year's holiday shopping which is usually a sign that things are improving  Unfortunately we live in the Pacific Northwest so we are always last to see any changes, from fashions to trends and the economy!  I'll know when we are finally in an upturn by the quantity of job postings - the more jobs are posted, the brighter that the future looks.  If you look at the local job market we are still "smack dab" (I like this term, but wherever did it come from?) in the middle of a bad economy!

I am hopeful that "my job" is out there and 2011 will be even brighter, to that end I am off to fine tune the resume!
Highlights from 2010 - Valentine's Day

Highlights from 2010 - Mother's Day

Highlights from 2010 - Tru Blood

Highlights from 2010 - 4th of July, waiting for the fireworks.....

Highlights from 2010
- I hate golf, but I tried it to make hubby happy!

Highlights from 2010 - Our new furry friends, Bella and Jasper
Highlights from 2010 - Easter!

Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Christmas - The Day After

Christmas Phase I - Santa was here!
It's the day after Christmas - a day filled with cleaning up little messes here and there, helping the kids put together any new toys that escaped yesterday's marathon assembly session and in our house it is a day of leftovers and relaxation!
More "evidence" that Santa had visited!

All is quiet in our house this wet winter morning, it's 8 am and everyone except me is still sleeping, the dog has been out for her morning constitutional and even she went back to bed.  As I write this post, I am surveying the aftermath of yesterday's festivities and deciding whether or not I will truly relax today of if I will spend the day putting the house back in order!  Right now the pull of another cup of coffee is strong, but I seem to lack the energy to get up and go make a fresh pot - if my current energy levels are any indication it seems that my house will stay in it's present state at least until tomorrow.....

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Countdown to Christmas: Day 25

He is here!

Luke 2:1-22 (New King James Version)

Luke 2

Christ Born of Mary
 1 And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. 3 So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city.
4 Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, 5 to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child. 6 So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Countdown to Christmas: Day 24

Christmas is a time of getting together with family and sharing good food, laughs, love, togetherness and gift giving.  Christmas just wouldn't be the same if I did not have my family to share it with.  Both my sister and my brother are out of town this year so they will only be with us in spirit as we celebrate Christmas.

Christmas morning at our house is spent opening the socks that Santa has filled and the gifts he has brought.  Only myself, husband and daughters (and our furry friends) will be part of Christmas morning at our house.  At some point during the day my husband's parents come over and we celebrate with them.  Christmas dinner this year will be ham, potatoes and all the extras.  My adult son, his fiancee, my parents and my grandma will join us for dinner which will be followed by more gifts, more eating sweets and phone calls to my brother and sister.

I am so thankful that I have my family around especially at this time of year, I know there are many out there who are not so blessed.....special prayers will be said for all of those who are not so fortunate.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Countdown to Christmas: Day 23

Bella and I.
I am really looking forward to this year's Christmas since we added two furry friends to our family this past year and it will be their first Christmas with us.

I have it on good authority that Santa Claus will even be bringing them a few presents!  Bella Ruby joined our family at the end of January, we got her from our local animal shelter and she quickly became a part of our family.  We have twilight fans in our family, thus the name Bella.  The vet put her age at around 2 years and she is a Beagle Pit mix weighing in at about 50 pounds.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Countdown to Christmas: Day 22

My house isn't properly decorated for Christmas until I pull out my snowman collection.  I have snowman ranging from small to large like the one above - he stands about 2 feet tall and greets people as they come into the house with various sayings like, "Come on in, it's cold outside!".  I am not sure how it happened but most of my snowmen decorate our main bathroom, I think the only place in our house that escapes the Christmas decorations is our master bedroom!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Countdown to Christmas: Day 21

In our house we always have some kind of Advent calendar during the Christmas holiday, some years it's just a matter of marking the days off of the calendar and other years we buy the advent calendars that have the chocolate hidden behind each window.

Last year my husband's parents gave us a bunch of Christmas decorations, but since we already had our house decorated we put them away for this year.  Several of the decorations now grace our house, including a new advent calendar which is designed to be used every year.  So here is our "new to us" advent calendar:
I had to do a close up so that you could see that first thing we did was loose the number one, thankfully the calendar came with "blanks" so I was able to create a new #1.
Merry Christmas.....only four days left!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Countdown to Christmas: Day 20

I think I mentioned before that Rudolph is one of our favorites, this snow globe is also a bank
Somewhat to my husbands dismay, I am a knickknack kind of person - which is a pain when it comes to dusting, but I like to look at them and remember the story behind where I got them. 
Synonyms to knickknack: bauble, curiosity, doodad, gaud, gewgaw (also geegaw), gimcrack, novelty, ornamental, tchotchke, trinket
Because I like tchotchkes, I like to collect various groupings of items, including Christmas themed items, so today I am going to introduce you to my Christmas snow globe collection (well some of them anyway).  I like to look at snow globes because they seem to have a magic in them....a tiny world contained within a glass ball.  I guess I probably have an over active imagination to enjoy such things, but that's me and who I am.  So without further ado, here are some of my Christmas snow globes.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Countdown to Christmas: Day 19

A special thank you to my husband this Christmas season!  Last night he took us all on a Christmas excursion that was enjoyed by all.  Let me premise this to say that when I first met my husband some 18 years ago, he was kind of Bah Humbug on the whole Christmas experience, which needless to say has changed over the years!

So we all piled in the van about 6 pm and took a drive to a local church that was having a live nativity.  The kids and us got to pet the animals and see Jesus, Mary, Joseph and the Wise men.  On our way into the church we were greeted by the Innkeepers wife and we got to hear the story of Christmas from her perspective.  Upon entering the church we were greeted by the smells of fresh coffee, hot chocolate and cookies which were free for all.  My youngest also made a Christmas ornament which now resides on our tree.  In addition to all of that the church ladies had made and were giving away hats with sizes ranging from the smallest to the biggest.  We each took our time choosing the perfect hat!

After we left there we drove to James Street Estates, a retirement community in a manufactured home park.  Every year they decorate their homes and invite the community in for vehicle tours.  There are always many oohs and aahs when we take take the tour.  By the time we were done we were all hungry so my husband took us all out for Chinese food.   After dinner we took a final drive through our old neighborhood to see the Christmas lights.  On the way home we sang Christmas songs primarily lead by my youngest daughter, who had her own version of quite a few.  We did create a version of the 12 Days of Christmas that featured fast food......

Again, no photos for this post as my hubby took the photos and I have not gotten the camera from him to download the photos......

Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Countdown to Christmas: Day 18

Santa Paper 2006
Santa presents!  Every year without fail Santa visits our house and fills up the stockings with little wrapped gifts, candies, fresh fruit and nuts and he leaves new presents under the tree.  Now, we can tell at a glance when Santa has been here, you see Santa Claus doesn't have the same wrapping paper as everyone else!  All of the presents from Santa Claus are wrapped in special "Santa Paper".  The paper many vary from year to year, but it always features Santa Claus and all presents from Santa are wrapped in the exact same paper.
Santa Paper 2007

Santa Paper 2009
I remember once my son said the following to me "Mama, I KNOW that there is a Santa Claus because you don't have any wrapping paper like that!"  He (my son) was old enough that he had helped me wrap some of the relative's presents that year and he was also old enough that he was starting to look for reasons to "confirm" his belief in Santa Claus!  The innocence of youth is something that I helped my kids to hold on to as long as they could as it is a precious and wondrous thing.

Merry Christmas

Friday, December 17, 2010

Countdown to Christmas: Day 17

Pillsbury Cinnamon Rolls!  Every Christmas morning!  It used to be that on Christmas morning we got up opened gifts and then had a big breakfast, however by the time we got done clearing away the breakfast remnants and dishes we were behind on getting Christmas dinner in the oven.  Over the years our Christmas morning repast has turned into something more simple including pastries and  fruit (usually found in the Christmas stockings).  The kids have not seemed to mind missing out on the big breakfast as they are usually too busy playing with their new Christmas toys and games.

    Cinnamon rolls may not be the normal breakfast in most households come Christmas morning, but for us it works - less stress and time than preparing a big breakfast, they can be eaten while opening up the gifts and any leftovers can be reheated.

    Less stress and less mess - it's what should be on every holiday menu!
    Christmas morning 2007 - hubby eating his cinnamon rolls.

    Merry Christmas!

    Thursday, December 16, 2010

    Countdown to Christmas: Day 16

    Would it be Christmas without all of the cookies?  I try to start baking my cookies at least a week before Christmas and they all go into the freezer as I make them to be taken out on Christmas eve day so we are snacking on them for at least two whole days!  There are four types of cookies that I make every year without fail......sugar cut out cookies, spritz cookies, nut butter balls and chocolate mountain cookies.  The spritz cookies are made in the traditional way using a cookie press and are decorated with sugar sprinkles before we bake them.  The cut out cookies are frosted and decorated after we take them back out of the freezer.  I usually manage to make a couple of more varieties of cookies as well depending on what ingredients we have on hand.  My husband and son's favorites are chocolate chip cookies so they are usually made too!

    In addition to cookies I always make homemade banana bread.  In the months leading up to Christmas bananas are thrown into the freezer when they get too ripe for eating - this year for some reason I ended up with many more bananas than I usually have.  Needless to say I ended up making a batch of Banana bread that was 6 times the normal recipe - it yielded 11 full size loaves of banana bread, which guarantees that Banana bread will be given out as gifts this year.

    I wasn't thinking about taking pictures of the cookies or bread and now they are in the freezer, so unfortunately no photos on this post - you'll have to wait for Christmas!

    Merry Christmas!

    Wednesday, December 15, 2010

    Countdown to Christmas: Day 15

    Every year when I was growing up our school had a Christmas performance that included songs and sometimes skits.  The performances were usually held during the day and most of the students had parents that attended and a few of the kids even had grandparents that attended.  One year I shared the stage with another as a narrator for the whole performance.  The end of the performance usually included a sing-a-long where everyone joined in.  Going to see my kids in their school performances was something that I looked forward to.

    It was to my surprise that I discovered that the school district that my kids attended did not have a Christmas or Holiday program.  They did have a winter program, but it was held in February.  When I inquired why the schools did not have any sort of holiday program I was told (among other things) that they did not want to offend anyone.  So I was left wondering why was it o.k. to offend those of us who wanted one by not having a Holiday Performance - something I am still baffled at today.
    Although we moved out the the county a year and a half ago our girls didn't start school out here until just this year.  Let me give you a comparison of the size difference between the school districts.  The school district in the city has 13 grade schools, 4 middle schools and 3 high schools, while the county district we are in has 3 grade schools, 1 middle school and 1 high school.  The number of students at each of the schools is less in the county as well.

    Today we were very happy to be able to attend my youngest daughter's Christmas performance at her school!  Apparently the county schools have something that the city schools do not - tradition and belief that the good of the many outweighs the good of the few.  My oldest started school in 1993, so I had to wait 17 years before I was able to see one of my kids sing in a Christmas performance.  She (my daughter) did not understand the significance of her performance, she was just proud to show off to her parents, grandparents and great grandma!
    All dressed up for her school Christmas Program

    I am so happy and thankful that we took the opportunity to move to the county when we had the chance, we live a simpler, more grounded life surrounded by rich tradition and heritage.
    There she row, fourth from the left!

    Merry Christmas!

    Tuesday, December 14, 2010

    Countdown to Christmas: Day 14

    Christmas Cards?  Is there anyone out there who doesn't like getting something fun in the mail?  Christmas cards seem to be on the decline these days which I am sure is attributed to the cost of the cards, time involved in signing and addressing and the high cost of mailing.  It seems like the more "hooked up" we are to the computer the less and less we see things like Christmas Cards arriving in the mail.

    How many of you remember your childhood and the arrival of December 1st?  Every year starting the first  week of December Christmas Cards started arriving in the mail......many of the cards were filled with newsy letters catching up on the past year and parents showed off their children by including school pictures.

    Do you remember the little clothes line string and the little clothes pins to hold all the cards or the Christmas wall hangings with pockets to tuck the cards in?  These days we are lucky if we get enough cards in the mail to tape up on the cupboard doors.  I still try to mail out cards every year, but I must confess that I have had to scale back on the quantity of cards that I mail out, primarily due to the cost of mailing.

    Although we are all so connected on the Internet these days I often wonder if the superficial connections that we make have caused us to loose something much more important.  We have so much instant gratification out there that we have forgotten how to wait and anticipate.......

    To date we have three Christmas cards hanging up and although I have over 200 "facebook friends" and I am able to send out Christmas Greetings online I will be mailing out Christmas cards this year, so watch for our little piece of Christmas past to arrive in your mailbox.

    Merry Christmas!

    Monday, December 13, 2010

    Countdown to Christmas: Day 13

    Before the arrival of VHS & DVDs we all waited with anticipation for the Christmas shows & movies to be on T.V.  One of my favorites was Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer followed closely by Frosty the Snowman.
    Every year at Christmas time we would scour the T.V. Guide to see when the Christmas programs would be on television.  In addition to the Christmas cartoons there were the Christmas musicals....I can remember watching the Osmond's Christmas and it was always one of my favorites especially since I had such a crush on Donny Osmond!

    Nowadays we have all of the Christmas classics on DVDs so my kids (and myself) don't have to wait for them to come on T.V., we can just pop in a DVD and watch them whenever we want.  The movie "A Christmas Story" wasn't around when I was young, but nevertheless it has become a Christmas favorite in our house and as long as they continue the tradition of playing it for 24 hours straight on Christmas Day we will continue to have the T.V. tuned to that channel every December 25th.
    One of my personal favorites is National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation followed closely by all of the Santa Clause movies.
    Memories are often triggered by particular smells, tastes or sight so every time I watch one of these shows, especially the older ones I am transported back to childhood memories of my youth.  Now when I sit down and watch the movies with my kids I know that we are creating moments in time so that when they are older they will be able to watch these movies with their children and be transported just as I was.  We have created a "Pay it Forward" of memories.......

    Merry Christmas, now go watch Rudolph!

    Sunday, December 12, 2010

    Countdown to Christmas: Day 12

    I think the picture is worth a 1000 words!  Cookies for Santa.....every year we leave out cookies for Santa.  Sometimes we even put out carrots (we leave the carrots outside) for the reindeer.  I remember one year when my son was young we found reindeer prints in the snow on the deck and most of the carrots had been eaten!  There is so much anticipation from the kids when choosing which cookies to put on the plate for Santa and the joy and look on their faces when they get up in the morning and see the proof that Santa visited our house during the night!

    Saturday, December 11, 2010

    Countdown to Christmas: Day 11

    Christmas Music is a must!  Every year I pull out the Christmas music just before Thanksgiving.  I like listening to it all from Traditional to the Chipmunks!  Even better than listening to it on the radio is going to Christmas concerts and listening to it in person.

    We just went to a Norwegian Christmas Concert down at the Norway Hall.  Both my Mom and Grandma are in the ladies chorus.  My oldest daughter was Santa Lucia again and passed out the traditional cookies.  Although most of the concert was in Norwegian (which we don't speak) you were still able to recognize the music from quite a few of the songs and the sound was fantastic.
    My daughter as Santa Lucia while the Chorus Sang.

    My Mom & Grandma in their Norwegian dresses