Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2014 - A More Simple Resolution

I hate New Year's Resolutions.

I don't know if I've ever kept a New Year's Resolution.  Why can't we make resolutions on our birthdays, or summer solstice or Labor Day?  Making resolutions at the end of the year right after the excesses and "highs" of the holidays pretty much blows any chance at realistic goals.

Instead of making resolutions for the New Year, I have a better idea I remember from a song:

Let peace begin with me, let this be the moment now.
With every breath I take let this be my solemn vow.
To take each moment and live each moment in peace eternally.
Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.

Be peaceful and make 2014 the best year you can have.


Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas Traditions

It's 20 minutes until Christmas and I'm catching my breath.  I have been at church since 3:30 p.m. watching my daughter sing, singing myself and directing my husband's choir.  Christmas Eve is always a long day, but we are just getting started.

My husband will be home about 12:30 a.m. from his last Christmas Eve mass.  (If you haven't figured it out yet, he's a music director at a Catholic church.)  By that time we are both tired.  It's been a long day.

Now is the time for our private Christmas traditions.  When he comes home and kicks off his shoes, we'll watch the Pope at mass at the Vatican.  We'll also watch some of the local midnight mass with our bishop here in Phoenix.  We just can't seem to get enough liturgy, but it's nice just to watch and pray instead of serving as a liturgical minister.

Now is the time for the egg nog, maybe with a little bourbon whiskey :)  We will talk over how the night went, whether the children sang the Polish Christmas carol well, whether the contemporary band sounded OK on O Holy Night and how the adult choir fared on the Hallelujah Chorus at the end of midnight mass without a director (I needed to come home with the kids!).

Then it's time to get to work - Santa time.  There are gifts to be wrapped and others to be "placed".  Thank goodness our kids are tweens so we are out of the phase of assembling toys!  We're mostly removed from the 15 minute battle to wrestle toys out of boxes and packaging.  Usually we grab a bite of Santa's cookies, but this year we'll have to eat See's candy because the kids didn't have any cookies.  Works for me.  We're happy to help Santa however we can.

Finally, about 2:00 a.m. we will roll into bed.  Hopefully the house isn't too messy and the gifts are all there.  Hopefully I will be able to get dinner on the table on time and find something to wear for my Christmas dinner guests.  Hopefully everyone will be happy with their gifts.

Ready or not, Christmas is here.  Ready or not, the Christ-child is here.  Babies are like that.  You can clean, prepare, decorate, buy gifts and even celebrate, but in the end they will come in their time.  Christ came in His time.  Christ will come again in His time.

I pray I'm ready for that day.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Give a Girl $1,000 and Shop!

*This was originally posted two years ago, but I love it so much I can't help repeating.  Plus, it's still a great idea!

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!


Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Holiday Snacks - Orange-Cranberry Snacks

This is a recipe I like to repost every year not only because it's good, but also because you can never have too many little gift ideas.

It's getting down to the wire when I've got to think about all the "little" gifts I need - for teachers, babysitters, mailmen, other last minute recipients.  These are my favorite gifts because although I like to make them interesting, I don't necessarily have to give a lot of personal thought to them.  I also like to combine my love for the deal.  Specifically, I like to buy Christmas things right after Christmas for a song and wait and use them the following year.  When I unwrap my Christmas decorations, I enjoy finding something new - like Christmas comes early.  A couple of years ago I found these glass Santa containers on sale for $1.00 each (originally $4.99) at Target.  I thought I would make cookie mix, but because of the small size, I needed to think of something else.

 Cranberry/Orange Snack Mix

The ingredients are pretty simple:

2 c. Corn Chex
2 c. Oat squares
2 c. Mini Pretzels
1 c. whole almonds
1/4 c. butter
1/3 c. frozen orange juice concentrate, thawed
3 Tbl packed brown sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
3/4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp allspice
2/3 c. dried cranberries (Craisins)

Preheat oven to 250 degrees and coat a 13X9 inch baking pan with non-stick cooking spray.  Mix the first four ingredients in a large bowl and set aside.  In a smaller bowl melt butter and add orange juice concentrate, brown sugar and spices.  Mix well and pour over the dry ingredients, stirring them to coat. 

 Spread the resulting mix on the baking pan and bake for 50 minutes.  You will need to stir the mix every 10 minutes.  

Once it's done, you add the Craisins and lay the mix out on a flat surface until it's dry.  You can store it in any airtight container.  As an extra bonus, your kitchen will have a wonderful smell of spiced orange and cranberry.  

This is better than any old cookie mix :)


Thursday, December 5, 2013

Etsy Finds - Gifts for Her

I know the majority of my readers are women (let's be serious, ALL women).  However, ladies, your guy is suffering right now.  He doesn't have a clue what to get you for Christmas.  Many of them just want you to point out something specific you want, others just want some ideas.  (You may actually prefer to point out a specific item because you've gone that route of letting him choose.)  Either way, Etsy is an awesome place to shop.  Give him the hint now and he can avoid the crowds at the mall, especially on Christmas Eve.  So, send him the link to this post, give him a couple of hints and let him go.

Gentlemen, if you are reading this, your favorite lady would like you to give a little thought to her gift (which I'm sure you would like to do anyway).  Etsy is easy - most sellers take credit cards (through the safety of Etsy, sellers don't see your credit card information).  They will mail it directly to you.  Watch the date for last Christmas delivery, and if the seller doesn't identify it, send them a message.  Here's some ideas (click on the title to see the Etsy listing):

Gifts $25 or Under

Gifts $26 to $50

Hopefully, this gives you some ideas to find that special gift for that special lady.  If you just can't decide, Etsy has gift cards.


Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Christmas Snacks - Muddy Buddy Mix

I like this one from last year, so I'm reposting for more holiday yumminess.

If you're looking for a sweet little snack as an alternative to cookies, this one is easy, quick and (seriously) not as messy as making cookies.  This looks just like snow in a bowl.  It's also a change in pace for Santa on Christmas Eve.  (Let's face it - he's tired of cookies at every house!)  This snack is actually good any time of year, so jot down the recipe for later if you're one of those cookie purists.

The dry ingredients are somewhat approximate, just make a big bowl of crunchy stuff and then mix it with the other ingredients.  You need:

1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup peanut butter
1 tsp. Vanilla extract
4-5 c. Chex (any flavor(s) you like)
2 c. Mini pretzels
1 c. Powdered sugar

Place first three ingedients and heat in microwave for 1 minute. Mix well and heat more if needed to melt everything. Add vanilla extract and mix well.  Mix dry ingredients (you can also add nuts, M&Ms or anything else).  Pour chocolate mixture over dry ingredients and mix well.  Wait a few minutes for the hot chocolate mixture to cool down a bit  Transfer the mixture into plastic ziplock bags with 1/4 to 1/2 cup of powdered sugar in each, close and shake to coat.  Coat all of mix (adding more powdered sugar as needed).  If you end up with too much powdered sugar or if it is clumping too much to the chocolate covered ingredients, you can use a colander or sifter to reduce the powdered sugar.  Serve or chill to store.

 (I just noticed my pictures look like it's a container full of powdered sugar, but it's my flash adding to much light.  It is coated, but not drowning in powdered sugar!)

Dive in!!


Saturday, November 30, 2013

Pumpkin Palooza - Pumpkin Cheesecake Swirl Brownies

O.K., by now pumpkin might be getting a little old for most of you, but here's one more recipe I'll throw at you.  The pumpkin taste isn't as prevalent and there are chocolate and cheesecake tastes to boot!   I will admit that instead of being a purist by making the homemade portion of these brownies, I took the easy way out and used a box brownie mix and kept the recipe limited to the yummy pumpkin cheesecake topping.  Without further delay, here is the recipe for Pumpkin Cheesecake Swirl Brownies from Table for Two Blog:


1 box brownie mix (and all the ingredients required to make them) (I would suggest a "moist" brownie mix - advertised as extra fudge or rich)
4 oz cream cheese, softened to room temperature
1/4 c. granulated sugar
1/3 c. pumpkin puree (you can use canned pumpkin and puree it with a blender)
1 large egg (in addition to any that might be required for the brownie mix)
1 tsp. pumpkin pie spice

Prepare oven according to brownie mix directions.  For best results, use a parchment lined pan and spray it with non-stick spray.  After preparing brownie mix and pouring it into the pan, set aside and make the topping:

Beat together cream cheese and sugar until fluffy.  Add pumpkin puree, pumpkin pie spice and egg and beat until well mixed.  Using a tablespoon put spoonfuls of the topping onto the brownie batter.  Using a toothpick or knife, swirl it around into the batter.  Don't forget to make some pretty patterns!
Bake the brownies according to directions (about 35-40 minutes).  Definitely don't over bake.  If your mix offers you the difference between a chewy brownie or a more cake-like brownie, choose the chewy - you don't want these like cake.  After baking the center should still be jiggly.  Let cool 20 minutes and then use the parchment paper to lift out of the pan onto a wire rack to cool completely.  After cool, put them in the refrigerator for 30 minutes before cutting.

Here they are.  (Again, photographing food is not by best skill):

Enjoy for the holidays or anytime during the year!


Saturday, November 23, 2013

All About Arizona - Desert Winter

Today Sun stretched out to kiss Moon,
Tenderly touching the midnight clouds
Until they blushed in purple hues.
Shy Moon faded, slipping a wan glance at her suitor.
Sensing no return embrace, Sun draped his rays
Over the shivering shoulder of a waiting mountain,
Awakening the desert

Saguaro lifts his arms to the warmth.
Javalina collectively shuffle to the shade of creosote.
Coyote dogs slunk
After a night of howling and carousing.
In single file Quail whispers
Good morning to her briskly moving brood
Under azure skies.

Sun beams, strides warm
Patiently steadfast, this steward of the day
Lingering then, yearning, reaching back
Toward twilight tendrils and tomorrow's chance
To kiss his Moon.


Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The BEST Pumpkin Bars Ever!

It's Pumpkin Palooza week and here is a recipe that lives up to its name.

The BEST Pumpkin Bars Ever

No kidding - these are the ones!  I don't know if I ever tasted a pumpkin "bar", but these things are the bomb!  I can't take credit for any part of this - not the title, the recipe or the awesomeness, but I do want to introduce you to one of the most fabulous pumpkin things I have ever eaten.

I found this recipe through a beautiful photograph on Pinterest.  That led me to Mique at 30 Handmade Days and her great recipe.  Click through the link to her post and the recipe; it's written out in a way you can print it or save it.

These bars are definitely not for those on a diet - they are made with oil, eggs, sugar, pumpkin and a few other ingredients.  They have a consistency almost like a moist brownie.  The frosting is a homemade cream cheese frosting (which I plan to use on many more recipes).  They can be baked in a shallow pan like a cookie sheet.  I chose to use a 9 x 13" pan, so mine are deeper and denser.

The taste?  You can eat them cold, or better yet, warmed with the frosting melting slightly.  When they're cold, they taste like a wedge of pumpkin pie, but with a firmer consistency.  When they are warmed up, they melt in your mouth.  They stay firm and moist, even after a couple of days.  We stored them open in the refrigerator and cut them as we ate them, and they never dried out.

These pumpkin bars passed the picky test with my kids and husband, which is impressive for a pumpkin dish.  This recipe is definitely a keeper and one I plan to pull out for a party this weekend.



Monday, November 18, 2013

Pumpkin Palooza!

Have you had enough pumpkin yet with Halloween?  It's time to stop looking at it like a porch decoration and bring it into the kitchen!  (O.K., don't bring the rotting pumpkin on your porch into your house, it's just figurative.)
Seriously, now is the time of year for pumpkin recipes and here at Straddling the Gap I'm trying four recipes I've found in various places - Pinterest, Facebook and family recipes.  I can't guarantee they will all be great, but I promise to let you know if they aren't.  If you find the right recipes, add them to Thanksgiving or other holiday festivities.

The four recipes (five if I really get ambitious before the end of the week) I'm making are all desserts.  I'm just not adventurous enough to make savory pumpkin dishes because I know my family won't give them a second glance.  Truthfully, they will be the picky taste testers on the pumpkin desserts.

So, get some cans of pumpkins, sugar, eggs, flour and a couple of mixes and get ready!

Pumpkin Palooza!


Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Try It Tuesday - Overnight Oatmeal

Here's another one of those recipes you see on Facebook.  This one looked so yummy, there was no way to resist.  It doesn't hurt that I love oatmeal and don't get to eat it much.  And if that isn't enough - it's in the crockpot so there is no work!!  'Nuf said - here we go.

Place in your crockpot (in this order):

2 sliced apples (I used a sweet apple like a Gala or Honey Crisp)

1/4 c. brown sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
Pinch of salt
2 c. of oatmeal
2 c. milk
2 c. water


Cook overnight, about 8 hours on low heat.  (My old crockpot runs really hot, so I only did it about 5 hours).

In the morning, give it a good stir and add a little more milk if needed.  This stuff was awesome and I'm keeping this recipe!


Thursday, October 31, 2013

Making Loveys

I've been in a blanket mood recently.  I wanted to try something I've seen online, but was a little nervous about trying it full size.  Solution?  Loveys!

A lovey (or blankie) is a small blanket perfect for babies and toddlers to sleep with, cuddle, drag around and refuse to let go in time for kindergarten.  I made these with cotton fabric on one side with minky on the other, all surrounded by a contrasting ruffle.

They were easy to make.  Decide on the size of lovey you want to make.  There is no uniform size for a lovey.  Mine are 18" x 21".  I wanted the lovey to fit a number of purposes - a doll or infant blanket, a small pet blanket or (mostly) a lovey to love.  I cut the two middle pieces 18 1/2" x 15" - one in cotton and one in minky.  

I wanted my ruffles to be about 2" wide finished, so I cut the contrasting fabric in two strips, each 5" wide x 36" long.  Those measurements assume 1/2" seams and 4" extra length for the ruffle.  


I hate taking pictures while I'm sewing, so while I describe the (easy) process, I'll intersperse the beautiful pictures taken by my friend Kate Eschbach (of Kate Eschbach Photography).

I began with the fun part - the ruffles.  I am estranged from my ruffler attachment and I did attempt a reconciliation for this project, but it just was not to be.  That left me with the old fashioned way.  First, sew the ends of the two strips together to form one long strip.  Fold in half and iron.

Using the longest stitch on your machine, sew long raw edges together with a 1/2" or less seam, leaving extra length of thread hanging after you cut it.  I would not recommend trying to ruffle the entire length at once - your thread will break (several times).  I only did about 12" or less at a time because I'm a ruffle weenie.  I also would go back after each section and sew the ruffles down with a normal length stitch instead of waiting until I ruffled the whole thing.  That doesn't leave a lot of room to adjust before you sew it to the main pieces, but as I said, I'm a ruffle weenie.

Once the long nightmare ruffle is done, take the 3 pieces - cotton rectangle, minky rectangle and long ruffle and make a sandwich lining up the edges - cotton rectangle, right side facing DOWN; ruffle with raw edge matching raw edges of the rectangles in the middle; and on the bottom, the minty with right side facing UP.  Sew a 1/2" (or deeper) seam, catching all three.  Sew all the way around the blanket. Be generous in gathering ruffles at the corners so you don't have to go tight around them.  Leave the last 4-5" on the side open so you can turn it inside out.

Turn the blanket inside out and hand-sew the remaining opening closed.  After I turned the blanket right side out, I went back and removes some of the visible extra threads on the finished product from the places where I initially sewed the ruffles.

And there you have it - easy, right?  (If this looks a little different than the other pictures, this is a second lovey I made.)  You can find both of these lovies for sale in my Etsy store, Pretty Pretty Cindy

You can't have too many loveys.