Sunday, December 30, 2012

Christmas Happenings & Happy New Year to all!

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Well, like most of you, we were super busy getting ready for Christmas this year and time just slipped away.  So, here I am trying to give you a little update on our holidays and wish you all a very Happy New Year! 

Let’s see…D and I plunged ourselves into holiday treat making last weekend and I’m just wrapping them up for delivery to friends today.  We made homemade caramels and Toffee Butter Crunch like we do every year.  Then I went a little cuckoo and made a double batch of my favorite soft sugar cookies.

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That’s about 12 dozen cookies total!  A little overboard, but they are SO DELISH.   Obviously, we’ll eat our share and deliver the rest to all of the lovely friends and neighbors who have been so great to us this year.

I’ve gotten pretty quick with the whole baking process, so why not add something to the already overfilled Christmas plate and try out something new??   One new thing I tested out for my cookies this year was using royal icing and a “flooding” technique for decorating.

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I’ve wanted to try it for a few years and this year I actually had the time to do it.

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Let me just say this…its NOT that easy.  It’s actually one of the harder baking type things I’ve every tried.  No joke.  I referenced Bake at 350 a lot and it was a huge help.  Not going to lie, I almost gave up after the first few cookies.  Ask the D-man.  He was standing there while I was elbow deep in cookies and thinned royal icing and saw the frazzle begin.  However, I took a deep breath and after a few more cookies, I started to get a rhythm going. 

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I really do LOVE how these cookies look and for special occasions I’ll definitely do it again.  However, my old technique that I used last Christmas works pretty well too.  Less mess, much quicker and the icing is premade.

You just take any white store bought icing, split it into small bowls, add your desired colors, microwave until thinned (about 30 seconds or more) and dip away!

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I let them dry for several hours like this…

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Then you can add more decoration to them or not.  Or add sprinkles while they’re still wet.

Among all the treat making and delivering, we’ve been busy visiting family and friends and enjoying so much needed snuggle time with the kids.  It has been a really great Christmas break and we’re not looking forward to getting back into reality just yet either. 

Tomorrow we’re hosting several ‘hood friends for our annual New Year’s Eve gathering.  The kiddos enjoy it as much as the parents and we’re all safe and sound in our own neighborhood.  I hope you all have had a blessed and fun filled holiday season. 

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Thanks for reading and here’s to a wonderful 2013!

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Thursday, December 13, 2012

Fall Family Photo Shoots

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With my return the stay-at-home world, came the return to photography.   Getting back into photo shoot mode was harder than I expected. Mostly just nerves and my perfectionist nature.  I decided to only book a few families to ease into it.

I’ve been dying to share these pics on my blog, but I wanted to wait knowing that the families might use these pictures for Christmas cards.  Then some of my readers know these families and might receive those cards, etc.  You get it right?  Anyway, on to the pics! 

First up, is the “D” Family…

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You might not recognize this little man…

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But he’s the adorable little baby that was in the WOWN Holiday shoot last year.

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All grown up and just turned the Big 1! 

Glasses. Wow, that’s a new challenge, but I’m so thankful that the “D” family mama and I are friends.

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She was patient with me getting just the right angle to get the least amount of glare.  I think we were both really happy with how it all turned out. 

Next up, the “B” Family…

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Now, this family was also in our WOWN holiday shoot last year.  The mom and I are ‘hood friends and her family is a ton of fun.

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And her husband was a great photog assistant as well…who knew?

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The kids handled the less than ideal weather situation really well. We had a very odd fall this year in Illinois.  One that didn’t make for great outdoor photography weather. 

Bea Proofs

Aren’t they sweet?

Of course, the parents are pretty cute too…

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So there you have it…my photography hobby is back on.  I really loved getting the chance to use my camera in a family portrait format again.  The other great thing?  I finally forced myself to bust out my Photoshop CS5 software.  And you know what?  I LOVE IT!  I always read that its so much more powerful than Elements, but seriously?  Its amazing! 

A big thanks to both of these fabulous families for letting me create some beautiful memories with you and helping me get back into a hobby/small business that I love so much.  Mwah!

Oh and one last thing…neighbor Katie and I put together the WOWN Holiday photo shoot again this year!!!  Looking forward to sharing those with you really soon!

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Sunday, December 9, 2012

Homemade Yogurt…so easy you’ll thank me later

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Yep, homemade yogurt.  Sounds crazy?  A little too “granola”?  I used to read posts over at The Frugal Girl’s blog and think “Why the heck is this chick making yogurt?”.  I mean the stuff is everywhere and even the generic stuff is pretty good.

Well, curiosity got the best of me and I decided to try a recipe for homemade yogurt in the crockpot.  I just couldn’t be bothered with making something on the stove, so I figured the crockpot method might be a good fit.   Ummm…..let’s just put that in the FAIL category.  I even tried that recipe a second time with the same bad result.  Too sour and soupy.  Garbage. 

After a few months, I stumbled upon The Frugal Girl’s post on homemade yogurt again.  Her recipe uses common kitchen equipment so…One more try?  Sure!

And this time…

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SUCCESS!!!

Yummy, thick and creamy homemade yogurt.  Here is a pic of me trying the DQ Blizzard flip test with my fresh yogurt…

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The only thing that sometimes comes out of the jars when you flip them is a bit of liquid, which is just the whey separating out.  Not a big deal at all.  I just pour it into the sink every time I open up the container.  I’ve heard of some great uses for the whey and might try that in the future. 

For the exact recipe and lots of helpful pictures, check out The Frugal Girl’s post.  Her recipe calls for a whole gallon of milk, which yields four quarts of yogurt.  For my first two batches, I decided to cut it in half (half gallon of milk = two quarts of yogurt).  Recently, I made my first whole gallon recipe. 

I’m happy to report all three times have been a complete success.  Call me crazy, but I get such a great feeling when I make something like this from scratch.  It’s similar to my yeast bread making adventures.  It just feels like magic?  My husband laughs.  I told him, “Ta da!  I made yogurt.  I’m god-like!”  He eye rolls.  Ok.  So I’m not freakin’ Copperfield, but its still a great feeling and you might enjoy it too. 

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The other reason I love making homemade yogurt: I control what goes in it!    Sugar, no sugar, low fat, organic (haven’t tried that), vanilla, maple syrup.  My choice!  Also, with choices come the things I get to exclude: gelatin, pectin, corn syrup, artificial sweeteners and colors, etc.  Now, I’m a lucky gal in that we don’t have any food allergies or food restrictions in our household, however every time I make yogurt I think about how great this recipe would be for a family with those issues.  Totally customizable. 

So far, I’ve only made the sweetened vanilla version because that is mostly what my family eats.  The kids also like berry flavored yogurt so I bought some berry preserves…

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Now, this might seem simple and you might laugh that I took pictures of how I add preserves to my yogurt, but trust me.  This is helpful.

I start with a dollop of preserves in a bowl…

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Then I spread the preserves around the bottom of the bowl.

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Add a few scoops of yogurt…

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Then FOLD the yogurt and preserves together. DO NOT stir like crazy!

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Seems simple enough and I’m sure you’re probably laughing at me even though I asked you nicely not to.  However, if you really like thicker, creamier yogurt you need to fold the preserves into the yogurt.  Stirring breaks down the structure of the yogurt.  The more you stir, the thinner it gets.  Trust me.  I’ve done it.  And of course, thinner yogurt is still totally edible.  I just like the thicker stuff.

Adjustments That I Made and Tips:

  1. Low Fat, 1% milk – I wanted a lower fat yogurt and although I read that low fat milk produces thinner yogurt, I did not have any issues using them.
  2. Adding powdered milk – I used this in my last two batches and it seemed to thicken the yogurt up a bit more without adding fat; I added 1/4 cup per gallon of milk while heating to 185 degrees.
  3. My starter – I used plain name brand first, my own homemade second and then vanilla flavored Activia third.  All worked fine.  Obviously the flavored starter will only work if you’re making vanilla yogurt.
  4. Sterilize your canning jars in the dishwasher – makes life easier and I haven’t had contamination issues.

So, there is my homemade yogurt experience so far.  My kids and I totally love this recipe and I’m making a new batch tomorrow.  D-man isn’t as impressed as we are, but he likes the whipped chocolate version from the store.  Not sure how I could make that at home.  Any ideas are welcome as usual.  Until, then more yogurt for me and the boys!

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Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Button Monogram Wall Art

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Hey everyone!  Just wanted to share my guest post today at Everyday Mom Ideas!  It features a super easy and frugal piece that I just whipped up recently…

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For a full tutorial and more pictures, check out my guest post on Everyday Mom Ideas!

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Sunday, December 2, 2012

Humor for the Holidays

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I need some laughter.  Actually, I always need some laughter.  It’s the holidays and I’m sure you could use a few laughs too.  Everyone is bustling around trying to buy gifts.  Money is tight for most people =  STRESS!  And stores and parking lots are packed.  Then people do stuff like this…

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Grrrrr!  So, here are some things that have made me laugh recently.

Holiday Decorating…

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My husband doesn’t understand foo foo girly decoration stuff.  Heck, neither do I most of the time.  However, I do understand that a large outdoor bow for our very large wreath is not disposable.  It’s not considered a consumable.  Nope.  It’s a reusable.  Well, he didn’t get that memo and somehow he tossed my very large bow last year while taking down the holiday decorations. 

While pulling out all of our holiday d├ęcor this year, my very large wreath looked very naked.  Too naked to be hung proudly above the garage. 

Me:  You killed Christmas.

Derek:  What?

Me:  You threw away my very large bow.  You have killed Christmas like the Grinch.

Derek:  Seriously?

A few days later…

Kids:  Where’s that big wreath that you usually hang above the garage? 

Me to the kids:  Oh you mean the one with the very large bow?  Well, daddy threw it away and now I’m not sure if Santa will come.  He’s killed Christmas.

Kids:  WHAT?

I searched several stores for a replacement very large bow and apparently waiting three days post-Black Friday isn’t the best time to go on that hunt. 

Finally, I went to Party City and found a somewhat decent replacement bow.  I called my husband to tell him that I saved Christmas.  His eye roll could be heard through the phone.

Very large bow shopping bonus situation…

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What REALLY made my trip Party City a score was not just my new very large bow.  I also became the lucky recipient of this in change…

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Yep, it’s a sign.  I should frame it.  It says, look at me and laugh.  And I did.  Although a very concerned neighbor/Facebook friend told me to burn it and he would gladly reimburse me.  Sorry L.M., I’m holding on to it for now.  It’s my Dolla Makes Me Holla, Honey Boo Boo good luck dollar.  Don’t judge.

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More Boo!

Yes, Halloween is clearly old news.  However, my kids and husband have taken to ganging up on me.  And scaring me.  And hiding in dark corners and jumping out at me.  What gives?  Freaking outnumbered is what gives.  Help!

Upper half of the female body talk…

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While doing a little blog reading catch up browsing, I stumbled upon a post by Jen from The Martha Project.  Jen’s a local blogger that I’ve met once before and she wrote a hysterical bit on Vicky Secret bras and just boob issues in general.  Check it out HERE. 

I’m not stalking you Jen…a totally random stumble on an old post of yours.  I had a similar Vicky Secret experience, but in a totally opposite size direction.  Does the half full, stretched out water balloon ring a bell for any readers?  Well, that’s when members of the IBTC (I’ll message you what this stands for if you don’t know) grow up, nurse their young and then lose some of their baby weight.  Anywho…check out Jen’s post. Very funny!!!

On the subject of toughness…

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Me:  Who is tougher mommy or daddy? 

We both flex our muscles.

Braden:  Daddy.  Cuz he has fur on his arms.

Yes, he does honey.  Thank goodness for that.  I will concede to his toughness.

Well, that’s all for now.  Hope that was good for a few laughs at least.  Feel free to share some of the funny love with me too.  I love a good laugh…or 10! 

Happy Holidays!

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