Christmas Stress…

Even writing a post about stress during the Christmas season is stressful. Isn’t that ironic? I have wanted to write about stress for days but it has been too stressful.

I have felt overwhelmed and overloaded this week. As I see Dec. 25th looming ahead of me, my head is swimming with lists, lists and more lists. There are 1001 things that I need/want to get done and the more I think about it, the further behind I feel like I am. What can I do to relieve some of the stress before I go crazy? I am making some vows to help improve the situation.

I vow to change the list. Pairing down the list is one of the hardest things for me to do. I strive to make the holiday perfect for my family and in the process put too much on my plate. Do we really need to go caroling in the neighborhood? Do I really need to send Christmas cards to everyone we have ever met? Probably not.  I want to take time to recharge my batteries through running, baking and reading. I will add items to my list that give me joy – making cookies with my kids or sipping coffee with John in front of the fire. The first step in reducing the stress this holiday season is to shorten the have to list and lengthen the want to list.

I vow to delegate. There is nothing wrong with assigning tasks to others. I have to repeat that in my head over and over again as I force myself to let go and let someone else do something. I am a perfectionist and often feel as though no one can do anything as good as I will do it. And that may be true but not everything has to be done to exacting standards. Some things just need to be done. So, I am going to look at my list and choose some items that my husband, kids or other family can do instead of me.

I vow to not take responsibility for things that are not mine. Not only do I worry about my list, I also stress out about the items on other people’s lists. Did my husband take care of his white elephant gift for work? Did the room mom take care of the gift card for the teacher? Do I need to check and make sure the cub scout leader got everything bought for the craft? The stress can be crippling when you add everyone else’s list to your own list. I have to learn to trust that people will take care of their own checkpoints and if they don’t, then life will adjust.

I vow to concentrate on what is important. I want to make sure my focus this Christmas season is on the real meaning – the birth of Jesus Christ and the love that he offers the world. I want to take the time to show that love to my family, friends and strangers. To do this, I need quiet time and reflection in the morning and patience throughout the entire day. When I take the time to talk to God in the morning, it takes the focus off of myself and puts it where it belongs. I have been spending far too much of my day worrying about the material aspect of Christmas instead of focusing on the spiritual aspect of Christmas.

This week has found me muttering about how much I dislike Christmas because of all of the pressure. I am vowing to change that by focusing on the beauty of the season and taking the time to marvel in the goodness of it. If I can do this, it will make Christmas much more relaxing and peaceful, a present we all would wish for.

 

Happy Thanksgiving…

Happy Thanksgiving from my family to yours….

Savannah, Brittany, Josh, Noah, Jon, Kelly, Ezra, Tiffany, John, Matthew, Frank, Grandma, Mike, Mom, Rachel, Joey, Rufus and Diane

Pistachio Cake…

Growing up, my husband has fond memories of his German grandmother making certain treats and one of them was a pistachio cake. When I asked him if he wanted anything special for Thanksgiving, this was the only request that he had. So, of course I made this for him for Thanksgiving and it went over so well with the entire family that by the time I could grab a photo of it, this was all that was left…

The best part of this recipe is that it is super easy to make. I served it with French Vanilla Cool Whip and it was delicious. Here is the recipe, give it a try for Christmas – it even has a nice festive green color to go with the merry holidays.

Pistachio Cake

1 box yellow cake mix (plus eggs, oil and water to make cake)
1 box pistachio pudding mix
1 cup walnuts or pecans
1/4 teaspoon of almond extract

Prehead oven 350 degrees. Mix cake mix according to package directions. Add in additional ingredients and mix well. Pour into a greased and floured bundt pan. Bake 35-40 mins, until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Cool and serve.

Tiffany’s Notes: This is not the exact recipe that John’s grandma made for him when he was a kid but it is pretty close (I added the almond extract to enhance the nut flavor). I use the black walnuts that my grandmother grows in this cake it makes it extra delicious. But, sinceI have to shell them myself, I cut the nuts back to 1/2 cup (it take a long time to shell 1 cup).

Thrift Stores…

I am not a big shopper in most cases but there is one kind of shopping that I love….thrift store shopping. I grew up going to thrift stores with my mom. We would spend almost every weekend scouring the local shops looking for a bargain. I don’t shop that much now that I am older but when I do venture forth, my favorite place to go is the thrift store.

Why do I love the thrift store? Let me count the ways…

1) It is cheaper. Yes, I am sure you could have figured that out. I can buy most clothing items for $1-$2 and shoes for $2-4, so it makes our clothing budget stretch further. You can also find kitchen items for a fraction of the price or furniture that is selling for pennies on the dollar. This week I bought 5 items of clothing from the thrift store and still had change from a $5 bill. Another plus is that you can bargain more effectively than you can in a new retail outlet. I often offer less than the marked price for an item to see if I can do any better and more often than not, they accept my offer.

2) It is a treasure hunt. You just never know what you might find when you go to the thrift store. I have seen everything from lightbulbs to motorcycle helmets. They have had tools, Christmas decorations and paintings. I love the variety and knowing that the inventory will change on a daily basis. This is also a negative, you have to realize that something you saw there last week will most likely not be there this week. If you find an item that is in good condition for a good price, you better buy it then because it won’t be there is you try to come back for it. Here is the futon that is pictured above when I found it at the local thrift store. It didn’t look like much but I saw that it had potential. I bought it for $30 and took it home. Once I got it home I stripped the cover and threw it away (it had a broken zipper and was not exactly a beautiful print). I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the mattress was in like new condition and a very nice neutral navy color. I then cleaned the entire thing with clorox disinfecting wipes and vacuumed the mattress. It takes vision and a love of treasure hunting to see not what it is but what it could be.

3) It is more environmentally friendly. I love the fact that the stuff at the thrift store did not go to the landfill instead. Too often people will take the items that they don’t want anymore and set it out for the trash to pick up. These are items that still have lots of life left in them and knowing that they will be used again gives me great joy.

4) The quality is better. For the most part, a lot of what makes it to the thrift store is of a higher quality than what you can buy new. These items were made years ago and have stood the test of time. The furniture is often made of real wood  and the clothes are 100% cotton fabric. These higher quality standards means that they can stand up to my 7 year old’s attack with his nerf gun and going through my wash cycle three time in a week.

5) The money goes for a good cause. Several of the local thrift stores around me use the profit they make toward a good cause. We have a thrift store that supports the local humane society, one that helps men with substance abuse and one that offers assistance to families in crisis. It makes you feel good to know that the money that is being made off of the items that you are purchasing is helping out in other ways in your community.

So, next time you need to buy something, take a look at your local thrift store. I bet you will find what you are looking for and at a better price than you would have thought.

 

Successful Sleepovers…

My oldest turned 10 recently and she wanted to have her first sleepover to kick off double digits. I was a little leary at first. I remember my sleepover experiences and they were positive for the most part. My main problem was that our house in on the small side and the idea of adding 8 girls to the mix sounded crazy. My second concern was the cost of this outing. We normally do home birthday parties anyway because they are less expensive to do than at other venues but having that many kids for that long sounded pricey. But since that is what she asked for and it was a simple, I was determined to give it to her and make it as frugal as possible. And boy, am I glad I did! The girls had a great time and the sleepover was a success. Here are some things we did that I would recommend to anyone having kids spend the night:

Games

We played several games during the night that we had found the on the internet. It kept the girls moving and helped with the kids feeling bored and homesick.

Piggly Wiggly: All the kids put down their sleeping bags into one area. One child leave the room and counts with their eyes closed while the other kids hide in sleeping bags that aren’t their own. The child who is “it” comes back into the room and choose a sleeping bag by placing their hand on the person in it. The child who counted then says “Piggly Wiggly” and the other child answers “oink oink”. The “it” chid then tries to guess who is in the sleeping bag. If the “it” child guesses the right person in the sleeping bag, they are then the “it” person and the other child gets to hide in the next round. If they don’t guess right, they play again and the “it” child stays the same. Cost: $0

High Heel Relay: Split the kids into 2 teams and give each team a pair of high heels (or boots if it is boys). The first runner puts on the shoes and runs a predetermined course. They then come back to the team and hand off the shoes to the next person who then runs. This continues until one of the teams finishes first. Cost: $0

Aluminum Foil Fashion Show: Split the kids into 2 equal teams. Give each team a roll of aluminum foil and masking tape (purchased at the dollar store). Tell each team to make the coolest fashion they can with their aluminum foil and tape. One child is the model for the fashion. When they are done, have a competition to see who made the best clothing item. Cost: $4

Glow Sticks on the Trampoline: I bought several 2 packs of glow sticks at the dollar store and put them inside white balloons. It made the balloons glow in the dark and the kids took them outside on the trampoline. It didn’t take long for the balloons to pop but then the girls had the glow sticks to jump with. They loved it! Cost: $5

 

Food

What is a sleepover party without lots of awesome goodies and treats to eat?

Pizza: Always order more than you think you will need, the kids load up on pizza. We order $5 pizzas from Little Cesars and they were perfect. We did order too much pizza but we ate it for lunch the next day and the kids took it all week in their lunch box. Total Cost: $30

Drinks: I had  not planned on buying soda for the birthday party only because it is expensive and I knew that I could come up with something else that would not have as much sugar in it. But, Halloween was the previous Monday and my neighbor had given me 8 two liters of various soft drinks that were leftover from the neighborhood party. So, since I had it and it was a special occasion, that is what I served. The kids loved having so many different choices and I loved the cost. Cost: $0

Chocolate: I picked up a chocolate fountain at the yard sale this past summer and we pulled it out for this party. As soon as Brittany knew she wanted to have a sleepover party, she asked for the fountain to be set up. It has to have special chocolate that is very pricey but I used a Michael’s 50% off coupon to purchase it. The chocolate it needs has a higher oil content so it melts smoother and stays running through the fountain. Total Cost: $9

Cake: Typically I make the kids birthday cakes myself. Neither one of my kids likes the overly processed cake with weird colored icing that you get from the grocery stores. This is both a blessing (it is cheaper to make at home) and a curse (it take more time to make at home). This year’s cake was super simple, we found the idea online. The sleeping bags are Twinkies covered in icing and the heads are vanilla wafers (borrowed from a neighbor). Cost: $4

Breakfast: We wanted something different for breakfast but would still be easy to make. We settled on Rainbow Pancakes, hot cocoa and sausage. I found the idea for the rainbow pancakes on another blog and it was a hit. Mine were not as brightly colored as her’s (I think she used gel food coloring) but the girls liked them anyway. The hot cocoa and sausage were both bought on sale. Cost: $8

 

Goody Bags

For me, this is the expense that hurts the most. I remember when I was a kid the only person who got a present at the birthday party was the kid having the birthday. But now it seems that everyone needs to go home with something. So, I try to do that as cheaply as possible. I am blessed that both of my kids have birthday after a major holiday (Halloween for Brittany and Easter for Josh) so I load up on clearance as soon as I can. I got all of Brittany’s good bag items this year on clearance and didn’t pay more than $.60 for any multi-pack of items. If I were really on the ball, I would buy Josh’s goody bag stuff after Halloween (it is more boy oriented with skulls, etc.) and Brittany’s after Easter (it is more girl oriented with fluffy bunnies) but I never seem to be that organized. Cost: $12 (including cute reusable bags)

The most important thing to realize about kid birthday parties is that they are often the most satisfied by the simplest things. You don’t have to break the bank to celebrate with your kids and their friends. Just having everyone together and having fun is the best present you can give them!

Christmas Card…

I am working on my Christmas cards this weekend. We took pictures with the kids at Autrey Mill Nature Preserve a few weekends ago and I am excited by how they turned out. I always make my cards with Shutterfly, they do an awesome job. There are hundreds of styles to choose from and their quality can't be beat. Here is a sample of one of the styles I am working on...

With Love Christmas Card
Turn family photos into personalized Christmas cards.
View the entire collection of cards.

Grocery Totals and Weekly Menu 11/10/11

This week was a good week for me. I went to 2 Publix, 1 Kroger and 1 Target. My totals were good and we are stocked up on some baking items, meat and Kleenex.  I am so stocked up right now that I am running out of room to put things. We don’t have a basement, just a pantry, so I have to be creative about storage while still making sure I can find everything I need. I won’t even mention what my freezer looks like right now with atleast 60 lbs of chicken in it!!

We will be out of town the next 2 weekends so this shopping trip is my last big one until after Thanksgiving. I got some items for donation (disposable razors for $.60/pkg), more cheap sugar ($1.49/bag) and some items for entertaining in December. I was able to find some Brie on sale for $3.00/pkg and I had coupons for $2.50/each so I got it for $.50 (regular price $5.99/each). They don’t expire until Dec. 18th and it will make a nice snack or something for guests to munch on during holiday get togethers.

Total Spent: $94.23
Total Value: $185.49
Total Saved: $91.26

Weekly Menu

Friday:
Shrimp Soft Tacos
Homemade Guacamole
Steamed Rice

Saturday:
Linguine with Chicken Scampi
Garlic Bread

Sunday:
Sesame Chicken
Steamed Rice
Greenbeans

Monday:
Lasagna (Doubled for the freezer)
Broccoli

Tuesday:
(Crockpot) Chicken Stew
Cornbread

Wednesday:
Rachel Ray’s Cashew Chicken
Steamed Rice

Thursday:
(Crockpot) Homemade Beef Stew
Leftover Cornbread

This week’s recipe:

Chicken Stew
Southernplate.com

Ingredients

  • 1 chicken
  • 2 lg onions, chopped
  • 7 cups water
  • 4 cups canned tomatoes
  • 6 med.potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 3 Tablespoons sugar
  • 2 cups frozen or canned whole kernel corn
  • 2 Tablespoon butter
  • 5 teaspoons salt
  • 2 teaspoons pepper

Instructions

  1. Cook chicken until done in water. Remove chicken from broth and discard skin. Separate meat from bones and shred meat.
  2. Dip off as much fat from the broth as possible.
  3. Simmer potatoes in 1 cup of broth in covered saucepan until done, do not drain. Mash potatoes slightly, keeping them lumpy.
  4. Add corn, onions, tomatoes, sugar, salt, and pepper to broth.
  5. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes.
  6. Add potatoes and chicken and simmer slowly with lid off for at least 45 minutes.
  7. Right before serving, stir in butter and let it melt. Best if made a day ahead and reheated to serve.

 

Tiffany’s Notes: I have not made this yet but I am going to try it this week. I am going to adapt it for the crockpot, I will let you know how it turns out. I don’t have any whole chickens but I have LOTS of chicken breast so I will use that. I will use some frozen tomatoes and corn that I have from this summer. I’ll let you know how it turns out!

Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls…

I am always looking for a new pumpkin recipe and when I saw this the other day, it was calling my name. I love cinnamon rolls, especially on crisp fall days and with the addition of pumpkin – oh, be still my beating heart! While making these, I was a little nervous. Just looking at the recipe, there seemed to be too much yeast and no rise time. How can you have big beautiful gooey cinnamon rolls without letting them rise? I don’t know how it happened but it did. These came out smelling like heaven and only took me approx. 30 mins from start to finish, excluding bake time. My only complaint is that the dough is softer than my usual cinnamon roll recipe which made it trickier to cut.

Quick Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls

By missinthekitchen

Prep Time 30 Minutes
Cook Time 25 Minutes
Servings 16 Difficulty Easy

Ingredients

FOR THE DOUGH:

  • 1 cup Warm Water
  • 2 Tablespoons Active Dry Yeast
  • ¼ cups Sugar
  • ⅓ cups Vegetable Oil
  • 1 whole Egg
  • ½ cups Pumpkin Puree
  • 4-½ cups All-purpose Flour
  • 1 teaspoon Salt
    FOR THE FILLING:
  • 2 Tablespoons Butter, Softened
  • ⅔ cups Pumpkin Puree
  • 2 teaspoons Ground Cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoons Ground Nutmeg
  • ½ cups Brown Sugar
  • ½ cups Sugar
    FOR THE ICING:
  • 4 ounces, weight Cream Cheese, softened
  • 2 Tablespoons Butter, Softened
  • 1-½ cup Powdered Sugar
  • 1 teaspoon Vanilla Extract
  • 2 Tablespoons Milk

Preparation Instructions

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

In a large mixing bowl add warm water, yeast, sugar, and oil and stir together. Allow to set for 3 to 5 minutes or until bubbles start to form. Then stir in egg and pumpkin. Add 2 cups of flour and combine. Add salt and 1 more cup of flour. Stir until a soft dough forms and starts to pull away from sides of bowl. Add additional flour if needed.

Pour dough onto a floured surface and knead for 5 minutes, adding flour as needed until dough is soft and smooth but no longer sticky. Allow dough to rest for about 5 minutes.

Roll dough out into a rectangle shape – about 12 x 15 inches.

Make the filling: In a medium sized bowl mix together the butter and pumpkin puree until smooth. Stir in cinnamon and nutmeg. Spoon filling over the top of the dough and spread into a thin, even layer. Sprinkle brown and white sugars evenly over the pumpkin mixture.

Starting from a long side of the rectangle, carefully roll up dough, pinching the edges to seal. Using a sharp knife (I like to use my bread knife) cut the roll into 1 1/2 inch slices. Place onto a greased cake pan, pie plate or other baking dish.

Bake for 25 minutes or until rolls are cooked through and lightly browned.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, mix together the cream cheese, butter and powdered sugar. Stir in vanilla and milk, mixing until smooth.

When rolls are done, remove them from the oven and allow to cool just a bit. Pour icing over the warm cinnamon rolls, gently spreading to cover the rolls.

Serve warm or at room temperature.

Yield: 16 rolls.

Tiffany’s Notes: I added pumpkin pie spice in place of the nutmeg since I thought it would compliment the pumpkin puree. I also used my pumpkin puree that I made a few weeks ago that has been in the freezer. I was a little shy on pumpkin puree so I shorted the filling just a tad and it didn’t seem to affect anything. I also cut the sugar back to 1/4 cup of white sugar in addition to the 1/2 cup of brown sugar in the filling – it just seemed like too much sweetness for our taste. And since I had an opened container of vanilla frosting in the fridge, I used that instead of making my own.

Grocery Totals and Weekly Menu 11/3/2011

This week was a stock up week for me with trips to Target, Kroger and Publix. I also made a chicken run, even though I have plenty of chicken left from last time. I got an email from Zaycon Foods saying that they had some cases available for sale at $1.49/lbs to I took advantage of it and got a 40 lbs case of chicken. I also stocked up on a few items including 6 bags of sugar ($1.99/ea) and boxes of Kleenex ($.99/ea) because we go through so much of both of them in the winter time. We use a lot of sugar because when it is cold I like to bake even more than normal and the Kleenex because it is cold season coming upon us.

Total Spent: $124.72 (does not include the chicken run since I used my overage envelope for most of it)
Total Value: $218.78
Total Saved: $94.06

Weekly Menu

Friday:
Dinner Out (celebrating Brittany’s Birthday!)

Saturday:
Pizza (Birthday Party)

Sunday:
Cheeseburgers
Oven Baked Fries
Homemade Applesauce

Monday:
Chicken Quesadillas
Buttered Corn

Tuesday:
Baked Chicken & Rice
Blackeyed Peas

Wednesday:
Country Fried Cube Steak w/Gravy   
Buttered Baby Potatoes
Fried Okra

Thursday:
Homemade Pizza
Spinach Salad

Corn and Cheese Chowda…

My good friend, Erika, is leaving today for a whirlwind adventure through the United Kingdom. She will have eleven days of new foods, new adventures and new discoveries. I will have…..eleven days without her. Since that bring sadness, I decided to enjoy my last day with her by having her over for lunch. We do this a few times a month, one of us will cook lunch for the other one and then sit and talk for 2 or 3 hours. The time just whizzes by and before we know it, we are running out the door trying to make it to the bus stop on time. These are some of the perks of being a stay-at-home mom, the ability to eat lunch with a friend for a few hours and chit chat. Since Erika is a big cheese lover, part time vegetarian and fellow soup lover, I decided to try out a recipe that I have been wanting to make. I am the only person in my  house who will eat a soup that doesn’t have meat as the super star so I have to take the opportunities for new recipes when I can get them. And lucky for me, I had everything I needed right in my kitchen including the the corn which was frozen this summer, at the peak of sweetness. It was delicious and perfect for lunch on a Fall day!

Here is the recipe:

Corn & Cheese Chowder (click to see the original recipe)
From The Pioneer Woman 


Ingredients

  • 4 Tablespoons 1/2 Stick Butter
  • 1 whole Onion, Chopped
  • 3 slices Bacon, Cut Into Pieces
  • 3 whole Bell Peppers, Finely Diced (red, Yellow, Orange)
  • 5 ears Corn, Kernels Sliced Off
  • ¼ cups All-purpose Flour
  • 3 cups Chicken Stock Or Broth
  • 2 cups Half-and-half
  • 1 cup (heaping) Grated Monterey Jack
  • 1 cup (heaping) Pepper Jack
  • ⅓ cups Sliced Green Onions
  • Bread Bowls

Preparation Instructions

In a large pot, melt butter over medium-high heat. Cook onions for a couple of minutes. Add bacon and cook for another minute or so, then add diced bell peppers and cook for a couple of minutes. Finally, add corn and cook for a minute.

Sprinkle flour evenly over the top and stir to combine. Pour in broth and stir well. Allow this to thicken for 3 or 4 minutes, then reduce heat to low. Stir in half-and-half, then cover and allow to simmer/thicken for 15 minutes or so.

Stir in cheeses and green onions. When cheese is melted and the soup is hot, check seasonings. Add salt and pepper as needed.

Ladle into hollowed out boules and serve immediately.

Tiffany’s Notes: I cut the recipe in half since it would just be two of us eating it for lunch but I didn’t half the bacon because, come on, it’s bacon – more is always better. For cheese, I used 1 heaping cup on grated cheddar jack but if I had had the Pepper Jack, I would have thrown that in too (a little spice is nice). No green onions because I didn’t have them and I wasn’t going to run to the store for them. I served this with buttered garlic toast and lots of laughter!