Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Holiday Candles

I really like the look of candles while I'm decorating for Christmas.  I like how they look and how they smell.  I don't use candles to provide great scents for my home (see my next blog where I talk about Scentsy), but the soft light candles provide gets me in a Christmas mood.

But candles can be dangerous, especially when you have so many other items decorating your home.  Here are 5 tips to stay safe with candles:

1.  NEVER leave a candle unattended and don't use candles on or near a Christmas tree.
2.  Keep candles away from anything that could burn (decorations, pine needles or matches in the candle, loose clothing, furniture, etc) and keep candles out of the reach of children and pets.
3.  Trim wicks to 1/4" before using.  If a candle flickers, sparks or the flame gets too large, put the candle out.
5.  Use a candle holder designed for candles.  This is a serious concern for those of us who DIY.  Be careful wrapping anything flammable around a candle holder or putting candles directly on surfaces that could be flammable.

Source: houzz.com via Cindy on Pinterest

Speaking of DIY, I couldn't resist at least showing pictures of some great projects with candles.  I admit I haven't tried any of these myself, but if you click on the picture, it should take you to my Pinterest account and then the source of the photo, which is usually a description of the DIY.  I did have to selectively choose which projects I would show, because many were, in my opinion, a little too dangerous.  As an example, I saw several projects where a taper was placed in a candle holder wrapped in leaves or evergreen.  Here are some of the best, and I'll let you click through to see how to create the gorgeousness!

Source: bhg.com via Cindy on Pinterest

Source: bhg.com via Cindy on Pinterest

This has me itching to try some of these. They are so pretty, yet elegant. If I get started now, I just might have something for my Christmas dinner table.


Sunday, November 27, 2011

Unlimited Shopping Spree!

Well, not exactly.  Today I visited a very busy mall the day after Black Friday with two eight-year-old girls, my daughter and her friend.  Maybe it was a little crazy, but a super opportunity to use a little creativity to enjoy a "girl's day" without spending money at an upscale mall.  Before we went in, I gave the girls $1,000 each to spend any way they wanted.  That is, I gave them each a paper with $1,000 written at the top.  We were going on a pretend shopping spree!

We visited every store they wanted and picked out things each wanted.  We wrote them down and subtracted the amount from their $1,000.  First stop was The Disney Store where they spent the most money.  They love those stuffed animals!

Next stop, Build a Bear Workshop.  Kenzie actually did have some money, so she bought a bear.  Otherwise, the spree continued.

Those stops left us about $800.  But there was still shopping to do!

We found a great kiosk with gorgeous (and expensive) hair accessories.  We had to try them out:

We checked out the Toy and Hobby shop and Paradise Bakery for a few sugar cookies.  Then Mom picked the next store - Brookstone!  That set each of us back about $200 - wow!

 They have some awesome stuff!

Our last stop was to visit the big guy to share our lists:

What a great time!  We each finished with about $600 left over and had a nice restaurant lunch.

On a serious note, this was a tremendous learning experience for the girls to spend "their money" and realize they are a little more frugal than they would be with someone else's money.  It also allowed us to enjoy window shopping without feeling we wanted "something".  It gave us moms a much needed hint on the Christmas lists.  Best of all, it was so much fun - I don't know who had more fun - me or them!  We will definitely do it again!

Happy shopping!


Friday, November 25, 2011

New Adventures Part 4

I'm now about a month and a half into this weight loss journey and am happy to report that as of today I have lost 30 pounds!  I'm very excited about this milestone, especially as it comes the day after Thanksgiving.  It wasn't nearly has hard as everyone thought it would be for Thanksgiving - after all, 500 calories in a day won't even get you past the sweet potatoes and stuffing.  But I went into it knowing I couldn't eat any of those starchy foods, so I was happy to join the family eating a little turkey breast, broccoli and jello (sugar free).

I have a little over a week to go with the HcG shots, then it's time for "stabilization".  That's the 6 week period where you can't gain or lose any more than 2 pounds from your base weight.  I have to admit I'm really not looking forward to this phase.  First of all, I want to keep losing weight, with or without the shots.  My "base weight" isn't going to be my ultimate goal weight and I want to keep moving.  Second, in this phase I will have more choices for food and I need to incorporate exercise.  You know, it's so much easier to stay focused when you don't have to make food choices or schedule exercise into the day.  So maybe I should be happy about 6 weeks where I can learn to balance food with exercise, while still negotiating the holiday season.

Anyway, I'm very happy I cleared the first big hurdle of the holidays - Thanksgiving.  Bring on Christmas!


Thursday, November 24, 2011

My Favorite Thanksgiving Dishes

Everyone has memories of great smells and busy kitchens on Thanksgiving Day (unless of course your mom couldn't cook and you were at a restaurant).  I remember my grandmother sitting at the kitchen table peeling apples and cutting grapes for her famous Apple Salad.  It was actually a Waldorf Salad, but we didn't know any better.  It had mayonnaise in it, so my sister and I didn't like it, but even after my grandmother died, my mother made that Apple Salad for years.

I also have bad memories of a Thanksgiving at my aunt's house where everyone had salmonella poisoning after the turkey thawed too long before cooking - not fun.  My aunt has a small house and with all of my family there were 15 people, each with their own trash can, doing what sick people do with trash cans.

My mom and dad are gone now, but I continue one tradition for both Thanksgiving and Christmas.  It's a recipe my mother made for Cheesy Broccoli.  It's not an old fashioned recipe, as it uses Velveeta and a microwave oven, but every time I eat it I think of the holidays with my parents and family.  I'm thankful for all those Thanksgivings I shared with them and I love sharing it with my family now.  Here's the recipe for Cheesy Broccoli - maybe you can start a new family tradition this year.  Feel free to tweak it to taste.

Cheesy Broccoli

7 oz box of white rice
1 family size bag of frozen broccoli
1 stick (8 Tbsp) butter or margarine
1/2 of medium onion
1 can Cream of Mushroom soup
1 c. milk
2 c. of chopped Velveeta (1 pound)

Partially defrost broccoli.  In saucepan or large microwave casserole dish mix butter, chopped onion, soup, milk and Velveeta.  Heat over medium heat or put in microwave on high, stirring every five minutes out of the microwave.  Heat until Velveeta is melted.  Mix in uncooked rice and broccoli.  Microwave on high 15-20 minutes (or you can cook in saucepan until rice is almost cooked and then transfer to baking dish and bake on 325-350 degrees for about 30 minutes).  Cook until everything has firmed and mixture is set.

Happy Thanksgiving!


Friday, November 18, 2011

Links in a Chain of Thanks

Although it's always special to spend time with friends and family feasting on turkey and joining together, sometimes it's hard to remember why we gather on Thanksgiving.  This year we're going to start a new tradition that will help us remember.

Start with some autumn color construction paper cut into 1 1/2" wide strips:

Provide a strip to everyone gathered at your Thanksgiving table and write why you are thankful:

Collect the strips and create a chain of thanks:

You can use the chain to adorn your Thanksgiving table or save it for next year.  It can also be a good addition to your Christmas tree to tie the holidays together.  This is a great activity for kids.  It's so easy to prepare (think about giving the paper to the kids during the morning when you're trying to cook), and it teaches children to think about the spirit of this American holiday.  You can also use the chain to ring your table and thank God for your blessings just before dinner.

Have a thankful Thanksgiving.


Wednesday, November 16, 2011

First Things First

It's not going to happen this year.  I am not going to run like a mad woman doing for the sake of doing.  I will have a meaningful holiday season.  These are my mantras as the Season looms like an approaching storm.  Notice I capitalized "Season" as if it is a threatening entity instead of the joyful and spiritual time anticipating the coming of the Kingdom.

First things first

I will not be making gifts this year.  In previous years I have made many of our Christmas gifts, especially for extended family.  I love being able to do this, as I firmly believe a handmade gift is more meaningful and personal.  However, without more advance planning, creating items at the last minute can result in sloppy gifts that are made at a time when I should be enjoying the holiday season.

First things first

I will carefully plan and purchase gifts using online resources, especially considering so many of our family members live out of state.  The free shipping and discounts I expect to see in the next week should work well with this plan.  (Just writing this has resulted in several great gift ideas.)  If I can get that done soon without mailing or wrapping, I can focus my attention on family and home.

First things first

I will make a concerted effort to get the Christmas decorating completed by the end of the Thanksgiving weekend.  In the past I have dragged out all of my Christmas decorations only to gradually put them up over a long period of time.  That has deprived us of the cozy Christmas home we expected because it was cluttered with storage bins and packing paper.  If it's not done by the end of the Thanksgiving weekend, we will have a more simple cozy Christmas with fewer decorations.

First things first

I will get the Advent calendar out before Advent begins and fill it with quotes from the Bible preparing for the coming of Christ.  I will set up our nativity and populate it each evening with a new character in an effort to teach my children about the time and place where Jesus was born.  I will involve my family in decorating our Christmas tree together with ornaments that reflect our memories of times and places we have enjoyed together.

First things first

I will not focus too much on the things and tasks I need to do, including the items mentioned in this post.  The most important thing about Thanksgiving, Advent and Christmas is to enjoy time with family and friends in joy and charity, so things and tasks are less important.

First things first


Monday, November 14, 2011

Pinterest Challenge - Part 2

The other day I took the Pinterest Challenge to create several of the items I saw on Pinterest.  Over the weekend, I tried a muffin/cupcake recipe:

You start with a box cake mix and a 15 ounce can of pumpkin (or you can buy the 29.5 oz can and two cake mixes).  You add - NOTHING!  That's right, two ingredients.  No eggs, oil, water or vanilla extract - NADA!

I could not believe what I was reading when I saw this recipe.  There must be more ingredients.  The result is probably dry.  The whole thing will taste like pumpkin.  NOPE.  You can use any kind of cake mix you want.  I wanted to make a bunch of cupcake/muffins, so I tried spice, yellow and devil's food cake mixes.  (If you read my other posts about weight loss, these were a bit of a downfall.  However, I understand these are considered fairly healthy and even have a Weight Watcher point value somewhere.)

Just mix the pumpkin and the cake mix with an electric beater

Spoon into muffin/cupcake tins lined with cupcake papers, and after 23 minutes at 350 degrees, you get this for the spice muffins:

And this for the chocolate/devil's food cake (these are actually pre-baking):

As for taste - excellent!  You can taste the pumpkin in the spice ones, but not at all with the yellow and devil's food cake mixes.  If you want an even more flavorful spice version, try adding a little cinnamon or a dash of nutmeg to the mix.  We also added chocolate chips to the chocolate cupcakes/muffins, which was just awesome.  You can also add cream cheese frosting to the spice or yellow muffins.  A note - I keep referring to these as muffins/cupcakes because the consistency is a cross between both.  It's not a cake, but a very moist muffin.  The best part for me was that they were so quick and easy to make, and the yield is about 18 cupcake/muffins.

Success!  One Pinterest Challenge down, three to go!


Sunday, November 13, 2011

New Adverntures - Part 3

It's been a while since I updated the weight loss journey.  I my first installment, I talked about my goals and how I wanted to get there, and in the second installment I bragged about how fast the weight was coming off.  This installment is about reality.

I'm just over a month into this and I've lost 20 pounds.  Better than that, I've noticed serious inches coming off in all the right places.  That's the promise of HcG proponents - that the weight loss comes from "bad" fat, or fat that is in the wrong places.  That's the good news.  The bad news is that life has been getting in my way for the last two weeks or so.

Don't worry, the excuse parade isn't coming just yet.  Having said that, I have been pretty sick with a wicked sinus problem that nearly became pneumonia.  I made a decision about a week into the infection to eat a few more calories.  The problem is that once you start eating more (and whatever you want), it can be very hard to get that discipline back.  So I've had some days that just weren't so good, resulting in a serious slowdown stop gain.  (Serious gain for this diet means 2 or more pounds.)

This for me is one of those crossroads.  I have a strong perfectionist streak, so when I'm not perfect, I beat myself up and become a "failure."  It's a little hard to come back from that, but I've got a lot more to lose, both in weight and what would happen if I gave up or continued to limp along.

So I'm gritting my teeth, pulling up those big girl "you know whats" and getting back at this.  I need to reestablish my discipline before the holiday mine field is upon us.  This year the holidays are going to be about pretty, creative things, looking good in my clothes and NOT about food (unless I'm making it for someone else :)


Saturday, November 12, 2011

DIY - Oven Baked Potato Chips

We're trying some new recipes this weekend and the one my daughter wanted was for homemade potato chips.  We looked around on the internet (why bother to have a cookbook anymore!)  and found this recipe:

4 russet (baking) potatoes
melted butter
salt to taste

Peel potatoes and slice the potatoes thinly.  Dip the slices in melted butter and place on cookie sheet.  If you limiting the amount of butter, use a non-stick spray on the cookie sheet.  Bake for 15-17 minutes at 500 degrees.  Watch them when you take them out - VERY HOT!  Salt to taste as they cool.

They are so yummy!  Even better, they are easy!  We LOVE easy!

Have a great weekend.


Thursday, November 10, 2011

Pinterest Challenge

I recently saw a blog where someone tried to replicate some of their pins from Pinterest.  It does make sense - isn't that why so many of us like Pinterest for DIY?  I want to take the challenge to make a few items that I've seen on Pinterest.  I'm not challenging myself to make them exactly as they appear in the pin, and I'm not setting a time limit.  (This is supposed to be a challenge, not a chore).  Here's the pins I want to do:
Source: etsy.com via Cindy on Pinterest

This button idea looks labor intensive, but might be cool in my office.

I don't have a baby, but I think this would be great to make for a group of unwed mothers.

I know mine definitely won't look like these, but I do have a pattern for a pincushion I want to try!

This would be great for a holiday meal!

OK, I think that's as many as I dare to take on!  Again, no promises as to when I will get this challenge going, but now that I've put myself out there, I have to try.  By the way, all of the pictures above go back to my Pinterest boards and ultimately back to the websites of origin.  I did not take any of these pictures and claim no attributes, but leave that with the original sources which you can see yourself.

Wish me luck!


Monday, November 7, 2011

Super Woman (Almost!)

Today I was almost Super Woman.  It's amazing considering that the day began poorly with a repeat trip to the doctor.  Right now, as the day ends, I have written my blog (you're reading it), read to my daughter, made my son's bed and almost made two school jumpers.  I didn't want to "almost" be Super Woman.  I wanted to BE Super Woman.  All night as I worked on those jumpers I kept thinking about how I would write this and how proud I would be.  After all, I successfully argued a motion in court, reviewed some ordinances, made it home for dinner with the family, worked with the kids (see above) and cut and (almost) sewed two school jumpers.  All of this while fighting off a very nasty chest cold. Tah daaa!!

Even though I didn't make it (when I saw that bias tape, I buckled), I'm going to bed pleased with myself.  I'm not sure if I can "do it all," but some days I get close enough to be satisfied.  And that's just fine with me :)


Sunday, November 6, 2011

Harvest Fest

While in other places fall is well underway, in the desert it takes a little longer to feel fall.  This year for us fall actually coincided with the Fall Festival at the kids' school.  Some Fall Festivals have been in shorts and hot, but this year was the first day to pull out jackets and maybe long pants.

Whether you're in Arizona or anywhere else, Fall is a great time for a festival, carnival, party, whatever.

You can climb the walls; or

Play some video games in a truck; or

Get your hair sprayed red; or

Tag a few friends, or even

end up in jail.  Where else could you do all that?  Best of all, festivals are great places to spend time with special friends:


Thursday, November 3, 2011

Loving Me Some Sparkpeople!

`Have you checked out Sparkpeople??  This has to be one of the best weight loss sites on the web.  There's so much to say about it but I'll give you ten of the best reasons:

SparkPeople.com: Get a 100% FREE Online Diet

1.  It is completely FREE.  No, really, it is completely free.  It costs nothing to sign up and you never pay a thing.
2.  It is NOT a diet site.  It does not encourage you to pick a "diet," but one is available if you need it.  Mostly it is a support site with great tools to help you.
3.  You can track your weight, food and fitness levels, as well as energy, measurements, goals or anything else.
4.  There is a huge community of people, both local and groups with common interests where you can participate for advice, support or ideas.  There are message boards, blog opportunities and a place where you can create your own page.
5.  Sparkpeople has workout plans, exercise demonstrations, reports of your activities and suggestions for improving your calorie to exercise balance.
6.  There are great articles on health, fitness, recipes, nutrition, motivation and lots more.
7.  You can motivate yourself with streaks, challenges, group activities, spark mail and emails (only if you want them) and stages of weight loss/improved fitness/increased wellness and health.
8.  There is a mobile application to track food, fitness, weight, water consumed and give you reports about the same (oh yeah, it's free too)
9.  The site was started by a guy who approaches weight loss, increased fitness, wellness and lifestyle with a practical and easy methodology (balance calories consumed with the amount of exercise done)
10.  Did I mention it's FREE??

Free Online Diet Plan at SparkPeople.com

I can't say enough about this website.  If you are interested in a place where you can get practical advice, support, a place to track your progress and a never ending supply of information, Sparkpeople is like no other place on the web. By the way, I was not compensated (or even asked) to recommend Sparkpeople.  I just believe in it.


Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Just a Little Day Trip

For those who have not seen the variety of beauty in Arizona, it can be breathtaking.  Sedona is one of those breathtaking places.  It's nearly impossible to take a bad picture in Sedona.

During Fall Break, my husband took the kids up north to Camp Verde, Sedona and Flagstaff.  They did a little hiking in Sedona.

In addition to the flora and fauna, they met this little guy

Yep, that's a tarantula.  Better than a rattlesnake, I say.  

The contrast between Sedona and Flagstaff is amazing even if they are only about 30 miles apart.  Sedona is red, Flagstaff is green (white in the winter).

The best part of it all - these places are all an easy day trip from Phoenix.