Sunday, December 29, 2013

To Make Them Smile!

We often hear on the news about the homeless.  More so this time of year whether it is because of the holiday spirit being in people's hearts or if they are more aware of the inclement weather that these people must live in.  More often than not, we take for granted having a roof over our heads and enough food to fill our bellies.  We need to be aware of this more often throughout the year.

Today my family once again participated in giving back to our community.  Ok, so technically, it is after midnight so we did it yesterday but you get the idea.  This has now become a monthly event around here and it's growing.  I wanted to write this as a follow up to my post last month about giving back.  To see this event, To Make Them Smile, (why not go give them a little love by 'liking' the page) grow as it has is heart-warming.  Last month we put together and passed out 30 bags of goodies, this month it was 100!  

One person had an idea.  She reached out to her friends for donations.  No one gave a lot but a lot of people gave a little.  Those little donations add up.  
These people (and more):

Donated this stuff (and more):

And filled these: 

And these:

It took about an hour to organize the work area and to not only fill the bags with socks, gloves, blankets, etc., but to also make the sandwiches and fill the baggies with fruits and veggies.  Everyone gathered together to make quick work of it, even the children.  

The children.  They are part of the reason that I wanted to write about this again.  We have children there of all ages from those who came in in strollers to those who are 17 and 18 years old.  They worked so hard.  And were so proud of themselves.  Instead of thinking that they're just kids, they were actually making a difference.  And they knew it!  They knew it.

The best part was seeing the kids handing out the bags with their parents.  Seeing children of all ages and from all walks of life showing compassion and giving back to those less fortunate.  

I found this picture to be so touching.  One small child handing a care package to a disabled homeless man.  This spoke to me because I know this child and he's quite uncomfortable around crowds and strangers but he was such a hard worker today.  He was filling bags like a pro and he didn't hesitate to take his bag to this person.  Peyton made made a difference.  And it made them both smile!

If you are in the Indianapolis community and would like to donate or participate in this, please go like the To Make Them Smile page and join us!  We have a lot of fun during the process of actually putting the bags together and will always welcome more help or donations!

If you are not in the Indianapolis community, find something to do in your area to give back.  Even if you don't have resources to donate, donate your time.  

Remember, sometimes, the littlest things make the biggest difference!

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas!

I wanted to take a moment to say Merry Christmas to you all!  

When I started this, I never thought anyone outside my class would ever read this. I found that I enjoy writing it and love comments and feedback from you all!

Thank you for taking time out of your day to indulge me in reading this.  May you all have a wonderful holiday!


Monday, December 23, 2013

Christmas is almost here!

In these last few days before Christmas, we're baking and wrapping and putting those final touches on everything.  I've decided that I'm enlisting help this year and the kids will be wrapping most of what is not for them.  It's not about how nicely it's wrapped but in the love that is put into the effort.  Yea, I'm going with that!

We're baking cookies as well.  Not just for munchies around here but we're also putting together little boxes for some neighbors.  We are going to help again this month with putting together bags for the homeless that we pass out and we're making extra cookies to put in those.  

We're adding something different too.  My son learned about a Yule Log at school, the cake not firewood.  I keep teasing him because I knew it as Buche de Noel and call it that.  He tried a store bought one at school and I told him the homemade ones are way better.  So we're going to make one.  I made one years ago and it's yummy but time consuming.  But he wants to make one so we're going to make one.  It'll be fun!  Here is the recipe we'll be using to make Buche de Noel.  This would be a fun gift for someone too!

Another thing that I have done to put together a fairly inexpensive gift is what I call a "dinner in a box".  I include homemade egg noodles.  Since I'm a little rushed today, I'm copying this recipe from another blogger but this is the recipe I use that is in the Joy of Cooking.  I like that this blogger includes the techniques in making the noodles.  I usually make large batches of these and I take my wooden clothes dryer and cover the dowels with plastic wrap and drape the noodles over that to dry.  Once they are dry, you can store them in a Tupperware type container or, as I do, one of those popcorn tins that everyone seems to get during the holidays!

In the dinner box, I'll include enough noodles in a large Ziploc bag.  I'll also include a can of chicken and a large chicken broth (If it is someone close by that this won't be waiting to be opened, I'll include frozen chicken and frozen homemade chicken broth).  I'll throw in some homemade dinner rolls that are par-baked that way when they are warmed up they won't over cook.  (Par-baked means almost done, if a dinner roll says to cook 11 minutes, I'll cook it for 7)  I will also include some type of dessert, cookies, a cake, pie, whatever I have time to make.  This is a gift that you might take to an older person who would enjoy a home cooked meal that might not be able to make for themselves.  This is also a good box to take to someone who's been ill.

Regardless of what you do or how you do it, try to include something homemade in your Christmas celebration.  Even if you just get a roll of pre-made cookie dough and bake them with your kids, it's still doing something together.  And being together is one of the best things about the holidays.  Enjoy your family and if, like us, you're going to try to make a Yule Log with a 9 year old, just remember, it doesn't have to be perfect, it just has to be done together and with love!

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Vacation Extras!

We had another round of snow last night/this morning and it's cold and icky out.  It's Indiana, what do you expect?  LOL

I'd like to take just a quick minute to remind everyone that if you have elderly or home-bound neighbors to please, at minimum, check in on them.  See if they need anything.  Shovel a walk or steps.  It doesn't take much time and can be a true life-saver to them.  

Hubby and my 9 year old went out last night and cleared the sidewalks and steps (we live on a hill) and as always they did the neighbor ladies as well.  they are 87 and 62 and neither one of them has any business using a snow shovel.  It only take a few minutes.

There's my PSA for the day!

We are behind because of finishing up the semester so we are working really hard to get things in order to get the tree up.  My son found some change on the floor under a side table.  He knows that "found money goes in Fred" so he put it there.  

This is "Fred"

Fred is a circa 1970's ish piggy bank.  I have absolutely no idea where it came from buy my kids have had it since my oldest (now 26) was little.  Fred's been around a while!  LOL

So found money...if I find money in the washer and it's under $20, I put it in Fred.  I know a lot of people who do the laundry keep it for themselves but this is an old habit from when we were really poor!  Any found money around the house is put in Fred too.  If you put it all in one place, you'd be amazed at how much loose change you find in a year.  In the past, we would wait until vacation time and count what was in Fred and we'd figure out what we could do for vacation on the amount of money that was in Fred.  

Now that things are a little easier and we can do real vacations, we still put money in Fred.  Now though, we wait until vacation planning and see what is in Fred.  We let the kids decide on what we are going to do with that money while we are on vacation.  One year, they decided that on our way home from camping in the Smokey Mountains that we would stop at Santa Claus Land.  I know, I know, it's called Holiday World now but to me, it will ALWAYS be Santa Claus Land.  There was enough money in Fred to pay entrance for everyone and to have snacks and meals in the park and buy a couple of souvenirs.  That's a LOT of lost dimes and quarters!

So find yourself a fun and quirky bank, the cheesier the better, and put it somewhere out of the way but yet somewhere where you can see it.  That way it is a reminder to put found money in it.  Then when your vacation plans are made, see what's in there and find something fun and frivolous to do with it!  My kids love Googling the area we are going too and finding something fun to do there or on the way there.  It's an adventure!  We've had some really fun times doing this.  

Oh and please remember, check on your neighbors!  

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Making a long week easier!

This week is the final week of the semester at IUPUI.  Between finals, papers due, kids parties, Scouts, making some gift baskets and needing to use some major coupons on Christmas gifts before they expire (Hey, they're really good coupons and some Kohl's cash), it's gonna be a long week.

How can you make a long week easier?  Eliminate cooking!  Ok, so that's not possible.  Or is it?  No, I'm not talking about eating out every night, tempting as that may be.  I am going to use my freezer stash.

As I have posted about in the past, I stash leftover bits and pieces just for occasions like this.  This week we are having chicken pot pie, lasagna roll ups, beef & noodles, tacos and pizza.  The pizza isn't leftovers but I won't be home Friday night so I have enough points for a free pizza so I'll have that delivered for the family.

The pot pies will be the hardest of my meals for the week.  When I made pies for Thanksgiving, I made extra pie crusts and put them in my small pot pie pans.  I put each one in a Ziploc bag and stashed them in the freezer.  I froze the top crusts in discs rolled out to size to put on top.  I have left over chicken in the freezer and left over mixed veggies in a small mason jar in there.  Add some diced southern style hash browns to that.  You can make a thick chicken gravy or even use cream of chicken soup (don't dilute it) if you'd rather.  Mix the chicken, veggies and gravy, toss in the pot pie crust.  Put the top on, crimp the edges, vent it (just cut a little slit in the top) and bake.

The lasagna roll ups are a recipe I found on Pinterest and tweaked to our tastes.  Here is the recipe for it.  I use cottage cheese instead of ricotta because it is cheaper.  I also use 1/2 a package of spinach because my family will eat it but in limited quantities.  It's easy to use a good, sharp, serrated knife to cut the entire box of frozen spinach in half...just throw the other half in a Ziploc bag and back in the freezer.  I also keep a wedge of Parmesan to grate my own, overall, it's cheaper that way.  I had made these and frozen them before so all I have to do now is take them out of the Ziploc, put in a casserole dish in the morning.  I also have a jar that I put left over meat sauce in in the freezer, I'll move it to the fridge in the morning too.  When it's time for dinner, pour the sauce over the top and bake until hot.  During the last few minutes, I'll sprinkle some mozzarella cheese on top.

The beef & noodles is the easiest of the week.  Next to the pizza anyway...LOL  I have beef stock that I froze a while back, I'll thaw that.  I have left over roast that is in the freezer as well.  I'll set them in the fridge the night before because that much broth will need the time to thaw.  For dinner, just bring the broth and meat to a boil and add the egg noodles.  If I have time, I might make some mashed potatoes to go with.  My Mom always served beef & noodles on top of a piece of bread and mashed potatoes.  Talk about carbs!  Anyway, half the family does like it on mashed potatoes, so if time, I'll make some.

The last time I made tacos, I made too much taco meat with beans so I froze the rest.  All I'll have to do for that meal is to heat up the meat.  Open some diced tomatoes, set out some cheese, sour cream and lettuce.  Toss in the taco shells and sauce and dinner is good to go.

I almost feel bad about giving the family pizza on Friday because I'm going with friends to have some of the best sushi around!  I'm telling you, if you're ever in Fishers, Indiana and have a little extra money, you have got to try Wild Ginger.  It's seriously good eats!  (I think I've mentioned how much I like Alton Brown...LOL)

One caveat here, you have to plan on using those things that are left over in the freezer.  You can't keep them for a year and a half and expect to produce a fabulous meal with them.  They won't keep forever.  I watch what I put in the freezer and if I'm not having a week like this one, I'll just plan on integrating them into our meal rotation.  I knew that finals week is always rough so I made sure to have several meals at the ready.  Even something as simple as a post it note on the freezer can serve to remind you of what leftovers are in there that need to be used.  It's all about the planning!

Anyway, sometimes it might be easier to toss those extras left over after a meal but if you save them and plan on using them, they can make a rough week just a little bit easier.  

Now, who can help me with finals??  LOL

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Here comes the snow!

We, here in Indy, are preparing for our first major rain/sleet/ice/snow event of the season.  From what "they're" saying, we should be receiving all 4 over the course of the next 24-36 hours.  "They" say in total we should end up with 4"-6" or 6"-9" of snow depending on which one of "them" you listen too.  

Regardless, the gas stations are using the "impending" storm to jack prices up.  In the time it took me to go into the store to buy canning jars, the gas prices went from $2.99 when I went in to $3.35 when I came out.  Ridiculous.  There are also those who made the "French Toast" run.  You know, whenever there is snow in the forecast, everyone must go buy milk, bread and eggs.  It's generally craziness.  They should include some chocolate chips in that run!  LOL

Now we're all wondering (hoping) that school is delayed or cancelled.  I don't like driving in all this, so I'm secretly hoping that school is cancelled and the kids have a long weekend.  Safely at home!

So how do you spend a snow day?  If not for the ice, I'd take the kids sledding at the park.  However, since we have ice, we will bake!  I will also take advantage of getting some things made for stock ups.

I've been making homemade Bisquick.  It's pretty easy.  

Mix in a food processor (I do half at a time):

8 cups flour
1/3 cup baking powder
2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons sugar (optional)

Then pulse in:

1 cup of butter-flavored Crisco

You can store it in an air tight container or Ziploc bag.  It's nice that you can take 1 1/4 cups of mix and 1/2 cup of milk and it makes 2 biscuits.  Great with homemade jam!

I am also going to make thumbprint cookies (Recipe is here) using my homemade jam.  Yummy!

If you are snowed in tomorrow (or any day) you should really get the kids in the kitchen and bake something.  It makes the house warm and cozy and it's something fun to do with the kids.  Let them pick what cookies to make or what cake to make or muffins.  

Oh, and don't forget the hot cocoa!

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Christmas Ornaments

December is here!  Christmas isn't far away.  It's too early to start baking but it's not too early to get in on some holiday fun.  

The ornaments on my Christmas tree are a mix of things my children have made over the years and the "new" ornament we get each year.  That is a tradition that my dear Mother always did.  Each year there was a new set or ornaments, one for each of those in the house and if not matching exactly then obviously part of a set.  

In the lean years, we made ornaments.  One year, she got some little plastic figures from the manger scene, like the biggest plastic person was about an inch tall.  We took the tops and bottoms out of tuna fish cans and covered the can with felt and brick-a-brack from her sewing box.  We then tied a string around it so it would hang in such a way that you were looking at a circle.  I hope that makes sense.  We'd glue cotton balls where the bottom of the circle was and the glue the little plastic characters on the cotton.  I wish I had a picture of those to share.

There are ornaments you can make with your children rather inexpensively.

The picture here shows some of the ornaments that my kids have made over the years.  Some of these were made through school and some through Girl Scouts and some just because there was boredom in the house. 

The one on the upper left is great for little kids.  It is just a clear glass bulb that we removed the hanger out of the top.  Then covered the entire bulb in Elmer's glue, just plain white school glue.  I put glitter on a paper plate and let the kids roll the bulb in it, they also used their hands to sprinkle it on.  This is not a non-messy project but they sure do have fun with it.  You can spray a clear sealer over it if you'd like but we didn't and this one in the picture is at least 15 years old.

The one on the upper right is so easy.  It is just a colored bulb that you can use paint or a colored sharpie to write their name on it.  Then you glue it to an ice cream cone.  Again, with Elmer's school glue.  Easy.

The lower left is a little more challenging.  Start with the same clear glass bulb and remove the topper that it hangs from.  Break up potpourri and carefully put it down inside of the bulb until it is full.  Put the top back on the ornament.  Then take some lace that has some holes in it that you can weave a thin ribbon through.  Use the ribbon to bunch up the lace and tie it around the top of the ornament.  We make the ribbon match the color of the potpourri but you can use whatever you like.  These smell fabulous too!

Finally, the one on the lower right is easy but requires some patience.  Again, start with clear glass bulbs.  Remove the top and put a little paint inside.  Not a lot and roll it around to get the paint down in it.  Wait a bit and add some more and do the same thing.  You don't want to use too much paint at a time as it will pool in the bottom of the ornament, too little and it won't cover all the glass on the inside.  It really works well if you can let it sit for 10-15 minutes between colors to allow it to tack up so that when you add more paint, it won't become a muddled mess.  I have one or two that ended up that way and they're on the tree too!

These are just a few ideas of things that we've done over the years.  The best part isn't in what ornament you decide to make or how beautiful it is, it's about having fun with your family.  Making something together.  That years from now, you will look at your Christmas tree and think "I remember how much fun we had making that one!"