Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Everyone Loves a Big Finish

And so... 
I thought I'd share the two biggest posts on my blog.  The biggest success (much to my surprise) and the biggest failure (in the name of humility and a good sense of humor).

By far, the most visited post on my blog this year was my Killer Hashbrown Casserole recipe.  It far surpassed any and all previous posts on this blog!  My wish for the new year is to actually hear from someone who prepared this dish -- and to know if you loved it as much as our family does.

If, for some reason, you missed it, here it is again.

Killer Hashbrown Casserole 

2 lbs. frozen "Southern Style" (diced) hashbrowns
2 can cream of celery soup
1 T. dehydrated onion flakes
8 oz. shredded mozzarella cheese
8 oz. cubed "original" Velveeta
1 pt. sour cream
1 tsp. salt
1 stick margarine, melted
crushed cornflakes to make 2 cups

Allow hashbrowns to thaw a little -- particularly if you're baking immediately.

Mix all but margarine and cornflakes together well, and place in a 9x13 pan (or larger -- I actually use a rectangular pyrex pan that is a bit larger than 9x13, and it's FULL!)  Melt margarine, and drizzle over potato mixture.  Sprinkle crushed cornflakes on top.  Bake uncovered, 1 hour at 350F.

Most recently, for Easter, I made this casserole the day before (minus the margarine and cornflakes) and refrigerated until I was ready to bake on Easter Sunday.  Then, I added the margarine and cornflakes, and popped it in the oven.  The casserole was bubbling-hot after an hour in the oven, and since you bake UNcovered, the cornflakes are a crunchy topping!  Delish.

This is such a simple dish to have ready ahead of time, making dinner-time oh-so-easy!


The next post was... not as memorable -- and I'm not sure why.  Perhaps the subject matter wasn't as interesting to others as it was to me: Thanksgiving Traditions.  I thought I'd do a survey about such things, but the only one who came along for the ride was.... wah, wah, wahhhhhhh... my sister, Jill.  As glad as I am that she participated, I think you could call the post a FAIL.  At this point, I do have to admit, the idea sounds pretty boring, but at the time, I truly did think it would be interesting to hear about other traditions.  Hmmmmm. Whatever.  :/


When it comes to linky parties, I'm no MyquillynJen, or Edie, that's for sure. They all gave me huge amounts of traffic this holiday season as we did HOME TOURS and COOKIE EXCHANGES -- and for that I am grateful.  And, I can't forget about my friend Vee who always sends lovely people my way for her Note Card Parties!

Thanks also to those of you like Vee, Jill, Donna, and Ohio Farm Girl who have added me to your blogroll.  I'm trying to watch my stats and be more aware of those who have done this.

Thanks for following along, dear friends!  -- for your love and support, and kind words. Here's to another year of blogging.  To new adventures, and new friends!

God bless us -- everyone!

Monday, December 30, 2013

Wrapping Up Christmas

Hello friends!  I'm still here.  Christmas was wonderful, and I am enjoying these days off with my family!  Our security guard son was able to be with us for Christmas Eve AND Christmas day, and we felt so blessed.

My sweet hubby was able to use up his vacation days at the very last minute (a nice surprise for us!) which meant some extra and unexpected days of adventuring in the warm-ish fall-like weather (which I have been LOVING!)

Today, it's back to work for the guys, but my daughter and I will have a few more adventures since she doesn't return to school until the 7th -- and in the new building!!!  There is much excitement over this, let me tell you. Fingers are crossed for the grand tour next weekend!

Yesterday, we enjoyed the traditional "Waffle Day" with my extended family -- which is actually the big send-off for my parents who will be heading south for a month.  New pajamas are acceptable attire for this get-together, and lots of chocolate-chip waffles are consumed along with bacon, sausage, tropical fruit salad, coffee, and juice.

This year, because of my brother-in-law's generosity, Jill and I will be taking a week-long "sister trip" to visit with our parents during their stay in the south.  We are very excited about that, and it'll be here before we know it!!!  Good thing I've been using THIS CHRISTMAS GIFT to whittle away at those Christmas pounds!  I'm hoping it's not too much of a shocker to bring back those spring/summer clothes! --although with all of this crazy weather, perhaps I shouldn't put the cart before the horse?  Who knows what the weather will be down south in mid-January?

Are your Christmas decorations down?  Though I've put a few random things away, our tree and most of the decorations are still up.  We typically take them down on New Year's Day.  However, the way the days and work schedules are lining up, I may take the opportunity to put a few more things away while my hubby is at work today and tomorrow.  We'll see.  I don't really have an agenda.  Just rollin' with the punches -- so to speak.

I hope you have a wonderful day!  Thanks for stopping in today.  I'll be checking in here and there, but don't have anything too big planned until my girl is back in school.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

One More Party...

So you have one more holiday party or family gathering, and you need a cute hostess gift?  No worries.  I've gotcha covered!  This is a super-easy last-minute idea!

In fact, I thought I was done sharing all things holiday -- but my daughter and I made these luscious chocolate Peppermint Marshmallows and I just had to share our success.  Inspired by this recipe at Barns & Noodles, I adjusted our recipe a little according to what we had on-hand.

What we used:
large marshmallows
semi-sweet chocolate chips melted over a double-boiler
crushed candy canes

The process is as easy as it looks.  Dip top half of marshmallow in melted chocolate, then in the crushed candy. Tip right side up, and allow to set.  I placed ours in the refrigerator for a little bit before placing in gift bags.

Come to think of it... maybe YOU'RE the one having the party?  These would be so cute in a pretty little bowl at a cocoa bar!  Decadent.

We made them as a last-minute project so that we could bag them up fresh for family and friends.  I thought I'd brag a bit about them, since they were such a simple and low-key project amidst the last-minute wrapping and baking.  Known for getting ahead of ourselves and messing things up, we were rather pleased with how these turned out.  Though they'd be delicious added to a steaming cup of hot cocoa, I will admit that we sneaked a few right off the tray after we made them, and we loved them!  If you are a lover of all things peppermint, I know you'll love them too!

Don't forget to check out Barns & Noodles for the original recipe!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Let It Slow... Let It Slow... Let It Slow!

Psalm 118:24
"This is the day that the Lord has made.
Let us rejoice and be glad in it."

Not overwhelmed.  GLAD.

Today could be the day to step away from the "to-do" list, and say "DONE."  Adjust priorities and expectations.  Be realistic.  Set perfection aside.

Pretty sure that's what I'll be doing as I finish up the wrapping (one of my least favorite holiday tasks), and as I wait for the last gift to be delivered (planning all the while for the I.O.U. certificate to be presented in its place).

Praying that your Christmas will be a wonderful combination of PEACE, crazy family laughter, and good times with those you hold most dear.

Merry Christmas from my family to yours!
Love, Sally

Monday, December 23, 2013

Tradition, and... GRAVITAS

"I like tradition at Christmas,
the over and over of things gives the years gravitas..."

Yes, I confess... I looked up the word "gravitas" -- not a word I was familiar with.  I'm so glad I did, because it made me love this quote from Susan even more.

I can recall a time, back in my school days, being asked to write about our family's Christmas traditions.  I was stuck.  As a kid, I didn't really think about us as having traditions.  Our family just did the same things over and over again each holiday season.  Nothing too special, I thought.  Afterall, didn't everyone "do Christmas" as we did?  Oh, the naiveté of a child!

What I didn't realize at the time was that those things that we did over and over again year after year gave OUR Christmas a certain pageantry.  At our house, we always knew how Christmas "went."  We didn't have to wonder.  Truth is, we still don't.  Though we've adapted to various situations through the years, my parents still count on doing things much the same way.  While we don't take ourselves too seriously (as the term "gravitas" may suggest), we DO enjoy knowing what to count on year after year.

TRADITION::  Bringing out a favorite Christmas afghan made by my Great Aunt

When I was a tween, my family moved from Buffalo, New York to Ohio -- and Christmas changed.  Christmas (and every other holiday) was now spent traveling back and forth across the miles to spend time with extended family.  After many years, we had the chance to wake up in our own beds Christmas morning, and we realized -- the travel HAD BEEN our tradition! -- and we missed it like crazy.

Sometimes when we're LIVING the tradition,
we don't even realize it IS one...

TRADITION::  a favorite homemade gift from a friend ~ Biscotti!

Traditions can just be the carrying on of the daily daily-ness in specific circumstances (like a holiday) -- or as Susan might say, the over and over of things that gives the years... dignity, seriousness, or solemnity of manner.

What's your favorite Christmas tradition?

Friday, December 20, 2013

Silver Foil Packages Tied Up With String

My girl has delivered her last plate of Christmas cheer, and it is officially CHRISTMAS BREAK.  She made up 11 plates of cookies (3 kinds on each plate), and we wrapped them up and labeled them for all of her teachers. We decided to wrap them up snugly in foil for the ride to school, and the day-long delivery process through my daughter's class schedule.

Mint-Chocolate Chip Cookies, Chocolate-Caramel Cookies, and Cherry Delights were wrapped in foil, tied with twine, and THESE sweet joyful tags from Amy.

We each made and baked a batch of cookies.  My daughter made batter for another batch, and I baked them.  I foiled and twined, while she gift-tagged.  Team work at its best!

Yesterday (the last day of school) included a half day in the brand new school building, where the kids will start school next month when they return from Christmas Break.  There's a two-story wing for the junior-high students and a two-story wing for the senior-high students, and so much more! We have been holding our breath, and excitedly anticipating this day, when all that has been envisioned will be revealed.  And, if my daughter's excitement is any indication, this new school is a sight to behold.  I'm hoping to get the nickel tour before school resumes!

What's new at your house?
Are you starting to wrap up the items on your Christmas list?

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Survey Says...

Where has most of your shopping for this holiday season been done?
In department stores.
Smaller stores.
I haven't done any shopping yet.
I'm giving gifts that don't involve shopping.
I'm not going to be giving any gifts.
via Swagbucks

I took this survey online the other day, and what I found more interesting than the survey itself was the scathing remarks left in the comments.  There were many comments left by people who could not afford to give.  They were not the scathing ones.  The scathing comments came from others, and ranged from "Your income is irrelevent, find a way to MAKE gifts." -to- "Do better at planning ahead all year so that December doesn't hit you so hard.  There's no excuse for not giving at Christmas-time."

I won't comment on the comments.  We all have our own opinions.

What struck me is that people had actually taken time out of their day to leave such unkind words.  It made me purpose in my heart to be KIND during this Christmas season -- a season that is difficult for many.  It made me want to slow down.  To look people in the eye when I say my pleases and thank yous.  To say "Merry Christmas!" and smile at strangers.  To patiently wait my turn in line.  To strike up conversations.

I was reminded again of the poem "The Christmas Guest" by Helen Steiner Rice.  You can read it HERE.

BE a blessing this Christmas!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Note Card Party ~ December '13

Well, my friends... ready or not... Christmas is just a week away.  I'm choosing to NOT dwell on what remains undone, and to bask in the beauty of the season.

Time for this month's Note Card Party!  I can't wait to see what all of you are sharing this month!

Every Christmas, I am reminded again of my love for red, and how I am drawn to it in decor -- and on other blogs!  It's such a cheerful color.  I should decorate with it more -- regardless of the season!  Here are my note card submissions for December -- reds with a little pop of blue in there for you blue-lovers!

a favorite ornament

red bulbs surround a candle

a sweet mini gingerbread house

flour-dusted cookie cutters

box top/cover

Thanks for stopping by!
Click the button below to find more Note Card Party participants.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Peace on Earth

Peace can so easily evade us at this time of year, can't it?  PEACE ON EARTH -- oh that it could be so!  But like so many things in life, peace begins at home.  As the song says:

"Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me!"

And so, as we enter this Christmas season, I need to think about MY heart.

What I LET trouble me.
What I LET stress me out.
What I cannot control.
What isn't MY problem to solve.

To some of us, these are big ticket items on our heart.  To others, it might just be the daily dailies that we get caught up in -- the "expectations" for the season.

In either case, for ME, I need to let go of those things and instead, SEEK PEACE... and EXPECT JOY.

Peace be with you this Christmas Season!

Monday, December 16, 2013

Recipe: Cherry Delight Cookies {and a Christmas Cookie Exchange!}

These cookies hold deep memories for me, having made them with a dear friend from church years ago.  I will remember her always -- her Christmas spirit, her wonderful laugh, her constant friendship -- and I'm so glad that I have some of her recipes to remember her by!

My family is NOT a fan of coconut, and so these cookies don't get made very often, as I am the only one who will eat them around here.  I remember making them one year as a young mom.  When I realized that nobody else would eat them, I froze them, and had a daily treat for myself for a long time!  (Your loss dear Family!)

I couldn't resist making them this year, and I'd like to share the recipe with you.  Cherry Delight Cookies are a rich, cherry-almond treat!  {I love that combo, don't you?}  Enjoy!

Helen's Cherry Delight Cookies 

½ cup margarine
½ cup sugar
1 egg
½ tsp. almond extract
1¼ cups flour
½ tsp. salt
½ tsp. baking powder
2 T. chopped maraschino cherries
1 cup shredded coconut

In a mixer, cream together margarine and sugar.  Blend in egg and almond extract.  Mix well.  Add flour, salt, and baking powder.  Blend in chopped cherries and coconut by hand.  Drop by teaspoonfuls on baking sheet. Top each cookie with half of a cherry (like a thumbprint).  Bake at 375F for 10-12 minutes or until set up. They won't brown much on top, but you'll see the coconut around the edges getting brown.  (Makes about 2 dozen.)

Today, I'm linking up with Edie for an Online Christmas Cookie Exchange.  I hope you'll stop by and check out the submissions.  Who knows?  You might find a new favorite!  Click on the photo below to join the party , or just to stop by and discover new cookie recipes.

p.s. thank goodness i got these cookies baked for you on saturday, as sunday afternoon, my oven decided to clean itself in the middle of a baking cycle, burning a batch of cookies my daughter was baking.  oy.  never a dull moment around here, that's for sure!

Also linking up at The Everyday Home for a Christmas Cookie Exchange Link Party.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Two Winter-Weather Tips

Many of your are facing Arctic-like temperatures, and word around here is, ours are going lower too.  I don't know about your house... but at our house, winter brings its own unique set of... issues.

The first is that my fingers tend to split open at the end because of all the dry air, and my constant washing of hands while cooking and baking.  Though some of you have thoughtfully provided solutions, this girl is on a budget, and big-ticket moisturizers are not included.  While I was in Carlisle with my nieces, the "season" officially began as THREE of my finger-tips split.  In desperation one day, I covered them with Blistex Medicated Balm, usually used on my lips.  I am a long-time fan of this product, and let me tell you... it healed up my finger-tips faster than any other product I've used.  Sometimes the thing that WORKS will not be the most obvious, but trust me on this one!  It works on split lips, right?  I use this all the time now -- and have a tube of Blistex set aside for just this purpose on my bed table.  (Cost: under $1 at Target.)

The second issue is that my daughter's throat is perpetually sore due to... (well, I'll just say it) allergy drainage.  If you were around here last winter, you know that we dealt with some health issues during our daughter's first year in public school.  Apparently her body could not stand the onslaught of germs, and she was sick [missing school] a LOT.  This year, she is doing a lot better, but we are also trying to be more proactive, not letting things spin out of control.  While I was surfing around on Pinterest the other day, I was reminded of a tip that our doctor gave us... gargling with saltwater.  Most of you are probably saying "of course" -- everyone has heard of this.  But, how many of us put it into practice?  We have become better garglers around here lately, and I think it has made a difference in how much my daughter's throat bothers her.  [Please: do not ask HER.  She despises this, and only gargles when I insist.  Oh well.  This is a battle I'm willing to fight!!! -- and I gargle right along with her!]  IN FACT, we keep this cup and measuring spoon at the ready, and as a reminder.  ONE CUP of warm water to 1/2 TEASPOON of salt.  Dissolve salt & gargle away.  My daughter and I usually split the cup, and gargle till it's gone!  (Cost: minimal)

Sometimes, people... it's the simple things that do the trick, and I'm all about sharing what works -- so, MERRY CHRISTMAS.  May your split fingertips be healed, and your throats be clear of.... well, you know.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Traditions: The Tree Topper

When we were newly married, and shopping for our first Christmas, I found a sweet little angel made out of a lace-bordered handkerchief, and dreamed of making her into a tree-topper.  Someone along the way suggested using starch on her skirt, allowing her to sit upright on the top of the tree.  Well, that's what I did, and she sat atop our tree for many years.  But she was rather "country," and after many years, she seemed dated, and wasn't the look I was going for any longer.

I decided to shop for a "real" tree-topper -- you know? -- a traditional ANGEL or STAR.  Oh, I couldn't wait to find the right one.  I did eventually find a star I liked-but-not-loved -- and brought it home only to find out that it was WAY too heavy, and would in no way stand upright at the top of our skinny tree.

In desperation, we threw a plush santa hat to the top.  The bulb on the top branch shone through the fabric, causing it to look rather lovely in its glowing scarlet-ness.  But... it bothered me that anything "santa" was at the top of our tree.  Our kids were older, and I had chosen to remove most santa items from our Christmas decor.  (Call it personal preference.  No judgement on those who use Santa's image!!)

There the hat stayed for that entire season.  And the next.  And we grew to love it.  I GREW to realize that I was placing much too much importance on what graced the top of our tree.  The hat has no significance.  It is merely a decoration, and now... a TRADITION.  Our daughter couldn't wait to see it at the top of the tree this year!

Turns out it was exactly the look we were going for.  *wink

P.S.  If you like those cute little baby picture ornaments, you can find out more about them HERE.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Traditions: The Cookies

It has been the tradition the past few years for the grand-kids to help Grandma (my mom) decorate her Christmas cookies on the Second Sunday of December, after our lunch together.  Then, she freezes them for the BIG DAY.

Grandma has the cookies made in advance, and provides frosting and sprinkles for the kids to use for decorating.  Sometimes they are so wrapped up in their work that a call from Aunt Sal to "look up" for pictures surprises them...

On Christmas Day, we all enjoy Christmas Dinner at Grandma & Grandpa's.  In addition to the decorated sugar cookies, we usually enjoy birthday cake (or cupcakes) for Jesus, peppermint ice cream, and Peppermint Patty Brownies.  There aren't usually any "new" additions, as we are a family that knows what we like!

We were loving this new RED frosting that Grandma found this year.  It's much more festive than the PINK that we usually get with a few shots of red food coloring.

What is your family's favorite Christmas cookie?

Monday, December 9, 2013

A Christmas Tour of My Kitchen

The other day, my daughter stole my camera and said, "You will thank me for this later."  I was in the other room, and had no idea what she was up to.  But over the weekend, I found these first two photos.

Thank you Shelby.  I love 'em!

And... they are the perfect way to welcome you today.  I'm so glad you're here.  Pull up a chair, and I'll make you a hot drink.  Cocoa?  Tea?  Coffee?  Name it.  We can just sit here and visit, because this is a one-room TOUR.

If you told me that I had to choose only one room to "decorate" for Christmas, I would instantly choose the kitchen.  I could easily forego the Christmas tree, or any of the decorations around the rest of our home -- because our kitchen really is the heart of our home.

The other day, I shared about how I go around the kitchen in a "sweep" to clean up.  I thought I'd circle the kitchen in the same fashion and show you how I've decorated in here.  Let's get started!

My hubby's been trying to eat more oatmeal in the mornings, and I decided to encourage that good habit by putting the oatmeal out in my Tom's marching peanuts jar.  I added some brown sugar to one of my blue jars, and wound some twine around the top to keep a spoon close at hand.  I added some Christmas-y cupcake liners too!  I love it when useful things can be eye candy, don't you?

This is my favorite little corner.  The recipe box that my dad made for me is precious to me, and there are lots of other important things here to get our day started... cereal bowls, mugs, and sugar cubes in a pretty snowy-scened jar.  One lump or two?  [The teabags, cocoa, and marshmallows are nearby.]  

I love the way the sugar cubes peek through this snowy scene!

I have a confession to make... I love straws.  We mostly only use them in the summertime, but I couldn't resist using all the red ones I could find to fill this little pitcher.

A few actual candy canes are added too!

This sweet mini-gingerbread house sits atop my recipe box.  My daughter received this as a gift last year, and we tucked it away so we could use it again this year.

One stem of Paperwhites has opened.  The others are still growing!!

On the kitchen table, I have a 3-wick vanilla candle.  I added these red bulbs around the base.  You might remember them from last year and my Hot Beverage Station.

This little ornament hangs from our ceiling fan -- but I took it down to show you.  I don't know why, but it's always been a favorite of mine.  I think it's that special little jingle bell -- it makes it seem like something old and precious.  Santa peeks out of the chimney on the other side!  [I'm pretty sure this was tied onto a gift I received at work years ago!]

I have to keep this Gooseberry Patch cookbook handy, since it has my recipe for Peppermint Patty Brownies in it.  They are requested every year for Christmas day dessert!  The twine and scissors stay close-by too.  They get used for a million things during the holidays!

This is the scene on the top of our microwave.  It just sort of came together as lots of items were laying around waiting for their turn in the decorating cycle.  Gotta love that!

And last but not least, the scene on the bookshelf.  You might remember that this sweet little origami Christmas tree was the First Gift of Christmas a few years ago.  Our red birthday plate gives a pop of color, but also reminds us that we are each special to God -- indeed the reason that he sent his son -- and that we celebrate HIS birthday during this Christmas season.

Thanks for sitting and visiting with me.  I always enjoy it when you stop by.  I pray that God will richly bless you as you strive to seek him this Christmas.

Love, Sally

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