Friday, December 30, 2011

New Years Resolutions? These might help.

Every New Year many of us pledge to better ourselves. Here are some helpful tips to help you!

Fill your prize box with great inexpensive rewards.

Start collecting coupons. There will be a minimum of 5 inserts this week!!! So on Saturday pick up a couple Star Tribunes for $.75 each. (If you wait till Sunday will will get the same # of inserts but pay $1 extra per paper.)

Plan some great free activities with the family courtesy of Target.

Get your craft on, learn a new skill, get some easy recipes, and any number of handy tips by checking out Pintrest.

Many blessings to you and your family in 2012!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

What do you think? Am I a Hoarder?

Recently several of my friends have called me a hoarder. I have laughed 'knowing' I wasn't one of THOSE people.

I am prepared. I have a closet of inexpensive gifts for kid parties and occasions when you wish you had something to take with you. But we live 25 minutes from the nearest Walmart so it makes sense. Right?

My pantry is usually pretty well stocked, but I coupon so I stock up when the price is right, and I keep good track of what I have and expiration dates. I rotate my stock to use up stuff before it goes bad. So I am just being frugal. Right?

I occasionally have something that has been pushed to the back of the fridge that gets moldy. But doesn't everyone?

I have been able to convince myself that I am normal. That is until today. With Christmas only a couple days away, I have been doing some cleaning, and decided it was time too purge my expired coupons. It has been 6 months since I last purged and in that time I had amassed an insane amount of coupons. (See the photo above.) I once again only have 6 months of coupons in my file crate, and the stacks on the floor are gone. Looking at the ECONOMY sized diaper box Full and still almost fill another...

Maybe I am a hoarder?

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Why do trains and Christmas go together?

This Christmas I finished my shopping early, I plan on doing that from now on. I started early (Christmas shopping in July? Really?) in order to find the best prices and hopefully get gifts that show how much the receiver is loved. So instead of thinking about shopping and gifts, I have been able to focus on celebrating the Christmas Season with my family. For the first time in 8 years we decorated the outside of the house, we participated in Christmas Programs, we baked, we've made lots of Hot cocoa, watched lots of Christmas movies, and enjoyed roaring fires in the living room, and last night we went to the Holidazzle Parade!

If you've been reading my blog for a while, you know that I do my best to enjoy life without overspending. Yesterday MetroTransit opened up the trains and buses for free so that people could 'easily' get to and from the Holidazzle Parade. So we decided it would be fun. I got online and checked the train times, picked a time and we were ready to go. Instead of fighting the crowds on Nicollet for supper, we stay local and enjoyed a nice dinner at Steven's. Then jumped in the car and headed to Elk River to grab the Northstar. It was pretty full, but we were able to find 4 seats together on the upper level and had an enjoyable ride in. Once we reached Target Center, we realized just how many people where on the train. A sea of people headed up the stairs and to the light rail and Nicollet Ave.

Upon reaching Nicollet Ave, I was thankful that God had blessed my husband and I with height. We were able to look over the crowd and find a great spot that was slightly elevated, and not far from the train station, to watch the parade. It was chilly, but we had on our snow pants, boots, hats, gloves, and winter coats. The street was lined with lit trees, and many in the crowd wore there own strings of blinking lights. The parade was as festive as I remembered from a few years ago, but it did seem shorter. (Maybe I am just older.) As the crowd got bigger, we started to wonder about being able to catch a train home. :-). So as soon as we saw Santa, we hustled to the train platform.

If I thought the train seem crowded on the way there, I had NO IDEA how crowded it could be. We squeezed onto a train and hoped that they wouldn't make us all wait like that until the scheduled departure time in 20 minutes.  The first stop 4 people got off our car, so we kept standing. The next stop 8 people got off, 4 kids squeezed through the crowd to get to the bathroom, and we kept standing. Finally on the next stop close to 20 people got off and we were able to get off our feet. The 4th stop was ours, and probably half the train debarked. It was a long hour trip. My husband made sure I knew not to plan on riding during a free weekend EVER again. :-) Which was probably a good thing. Because yeah I was tired and REALLY wanted to sit, after lifting the kids all the way through the parade so they could see. But I really enjoyed chatting with the people around me on the train, and was able to completely distract myself from the discomfort.

Our little adventure got me thinking though. What is it about Christmas and trains? A few years back we went to Old Town St. Charles, MO during the Christmas season and enjoyed all the Dickens's Characters and others wandering around posing for pictures and passing out trading cards, but in the midst of it all was a trailer where you could pay to view model trains. My only thought was huh? Then there is the Polar Express, but I always thought the 'magic' of the North Pole could only be found if you were riding on Santa's Sleigh. (Or had a magic snow globe) There are the snow village's with trains running through them, and trees with trains running around the base. Heck even last year I set my own kids train set up right under the tree. Yet the attraction to the 2 together, continued to allude me. In an attempt to figure it out I started thinking of all the Christmas/ train themed things. Then I remembered the train scene in one of my favorite holiday classics, White Christmas. In the movie they are on a train heading from their last show to a short vacation in New York, when they decide to ride all the way to Vermont to spend time with some new friends and enjoy a snowy Christmas.

Eureka! The connection had been right in front of me the entire time. Trains and Christmas bring loved ones together. Now a days we are more likely to drive a car or hop a plane, but the nostalgia of a train reminds us of Christmas's past and all the love and joy our parents tried so hard to give us. So when you see a train running through a miniature village or around a tree, stop and thank God for the gift of Christmas and for families, and friends who bring us joy.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Creative Christmas decorations

Christmas when I was a kid, was all about traditions. On Christmas eve we would pile into the family station wagon and head to the Children's Christmas Pageant at Holy Family Church. (It seems like every year at least one of us was a reader, Shepard, angel, etc...) Don't get me wrong, I LOVE the story of Christmas and all the music, and I am forever grateful that God came to earth as a babe, but my favorite part was after. We all would pile back into the cold station wagon and drive around town, as a family, looking at Christmas lights. There was one section of town called Candy Cane Lane, all the neighbors decorated their houses and had lit candy canes in their front lawn. In another section of town, the neighbors got together in the summer and made plywood cutouts that adorned their yards. In the years since, driving around and looking at Christmas light displays is still one of my favorite times. Yet as an adult, my own outdoor Christmas display has been pathetic. Now that my children are old enough to enjoy decorations and ask about ours, it is time to get to it. In my head it is much more grandiose than it is right now, but you have to start somewhere right?

My theme is "The Gift of Christmas". I had planned on starting with the Manger seen, with Jesus represented by a wrapped package. Instead I found some scrap plywood in the garage, and started with gift boxes that will hang from the front fence and be lit with flood lights. I have a total of $7.48 into my project so far. Here is what I did.

In September I told you about my great deal on a jigsaw. Sorry it took so long. But here is my first project!

1. I created a template based on the size of the plywood I found. I then drew it on with a Sharpie.
2. I donned gloves and safety glasses. (You will note they are tinted, I have since picked up regular safety glasses or $2 at Menard's)

3. I placed the plywood on blocks to elevate it off the floor and started cutting, being careful to not cut myself or the cord.
4. lightly sanded the rough edges.
5. Used a high quality exterior primer doing 2 coats on each side and 4 on the edges. (My scrap plywood was NOT exterior grade, I am hoping that by priming enough and keeping them off the ground I will be OK. Only time will tell.)
6. Purchased 9 exterior colored paint bottles from Michael's. (Used a coupon and got them for $7)
7. I applied 2 coats of each color for good color saturation. I then outlined using black to make it pop a bit.
8. I then attached Picture wire to the back, so that they would just hook over the fence.

I know that I am not going to win any awards, but my girls and I are happy with the result. Maybe after Christmas we will find a great deal on C7 lights and be able to amp it up for next year.


Monday, December 12, 2011

Christmas Baking Party

I have known my friend Diane since first grade at Holy Family School. Over the years we have moved apart, but still end up finding each other. We now only live a few miles apart, and she has included my family in many of her parties. My favorite is her annual Christmas Baking Party. I don't recall exactly how many years ago it started, but it has become a Holiday Tradition for our families.

We start around dinner time and work into the night. Everyone, even the kids, pitch in to cook or taste test! By the time the evening is over we are all stuffed inside from eating to much, and our bags are stuffed with goodies to take home!

It is fun to see how the kids grow from year to year. This year the oldest even contributed with recipes she did on her own.

Beth's Peppermint Almond bark
6 squares of chocolate almond bark melted (we use a microwave)
6 squares of vanilla almond bark melted
stir 1/4 tsp of peppermint extract into each of the melted almond bark bowls.
Pour almond bark into a parchment lined jelly roll pan. Over lapping them and swirling with a spoon.
4 crushed candy canes sprinkled over the top.
Chill for about 1 hour. (Being in MN, the back deck is used as our 'walk in cooler' for the evening.)
Break into pieces and serve

One of my favorites from year to year has been Kelly's pretzels, She REALLY tried this year she went to at least 6 stores in search of Orville Reddenbacher Butter Flavored Oil. But no one seems to carry it anymore. And since it is a key ingredient.... She still rocked out a ton of recipes though. She has perfected the almond bark treats, she melts in the microwave and NEVER has to wait for the oven. She even makes an Oreo Cookie one my husband loves!

In an attempt to keep us from eating just junk all night. We have a table laden with plenty of food and snacks such as meat and cheese platters, chips, salsa etc. This year I brought some roasted turkey that made great turkey nachos!

Easy Roasted Turkey
Thaw turkey and place in a counter top 18QT Roaster. (No need for bags or basting.)
Coat with a generous coating of Grill Mates Montreal Chicken Seasoning.
Place lid on roaster, set temperature for 325 Degrees (low roasting will double cooking time, but it will just fall off the bone when ready) Check pkg for time based on weight of turkey
Remove meat from bone, shred with a fork and place in crock pot
Add juices/stock to crock pot
Set to warm and serve all evening.

We all made lots of recipes and did lots of laughing. So much more enjoyable than slaving away in your own kitchen to make all those recipes, or even making dozens of a single cookie to take to an exchange. The effort it takes to coordinate schedules so that we can all be together is well worth it. I know that some of us make EVERY effort to be there from year to year. The year we got hit by a blizzard was actually one of the most attended!

We are blessed to have such great friends, and family.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

I bought a Pomegranat! Now what?

Aldi had Pomegranates for $.69 each this week, so I decided to splurge and get a few. I love pomegranate juice so this should be great, right? I brought my bag home grabbed a cutting board and a knife, I cut it in half and quickly realized I had NO idea how to eat one of these things. 

Since I mentioned this great sale to many of my friends, I decided I had better figure it out, and quick before they start calling with questions!

For starters the best way to choose a pomegranate is by weight. They are prized by their juice content, so the heavier the better, provided the skin is unbroken.

Start by cutting about 3/4 of an in off at the stem. Use a plastic cutting board as the juice will stain a wood one.

Then make 4 scoring marks dividing it into quarters. Be careful not to cut open the seed/juice pockets. Then gently break along scoring marks.

Immerse in cold water to gently remove the seeds. If your water turns pink you are being to rough. The seeds will sink to the bottom and the rind will float to the top.

Skim off and discard the rind. Then use a strainer to remove seeds.

Cover in an airtight container and freeze for 3 days. Freezing helps to break down the fruit allowing you to eat them easier. After 3 days you can just pop them in your mouth to eat. Or you can sprinkle over a salad. I intentend to try my hand at juice. So come back in a couple of days to see my progress. :-)

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Our First Gingerbread House!

It is Sunday afternoon and Jeremy is watching the football game. What better time for us girls to go in the kitchen and make a gingerbread house.

I had grand plans of making the gingerbread from scratch and cutting out the shapes with a knife. I pulled out the cookbook, checked the recipe, and wrote down the ingredients I needed, then off to the store.

While out I need to run to Aldi to pick up a few things, and guess what I saw right at checkout?

A Gingerbread House kit with precooked and cutout shapes, frosting, candy, and even a special tray to help it stand all for just $6.99. So this year we cheat. :-)

It was simple to assemble and I helped with the frosting, But the girls had a blast with the 'decorations' and eating the remnants. If we had made it all from scratch we could have wasted away the entire game, but now we are free to play, blog, and interrupt dad while he finishes watching the game.

Food, Fun, Friends

Kick off to the Holiday's starts a bit early in our home. We have a birthday just a few days before Thanksgiving, so we start with Birthday cake, then pies and treats all the way through Christmas, followed by another birthday to finish the season with a Birthday cake! This year I decided to have some friends over to help us eat some of that cake, and they were kind enough to stay and help us make Lefse. (Not the stinky fish one, it is more like a potato based tortilla)

I start the night before cooking the potatoes.

Riced potatoes
 5lb bag of russet potatoes. Peel then boil. When they are fork tender It is time to 'rice' them.

Cover and refrigerate over night.

In the Morning mix in 3/4C Evaporated Milk
1/4 C. Regular Milk (1% - Whole)
2/3 C. Melted Shortening
2 tsp. Salt
2 Tbsp. Sugar
4C. flour (Have way more than this on hand.)

Combine until a bread like consistency, use more flour if you need it, and refrigerate 8 hours.

Split dough into 2 bowls and start making balls the size of  large eggs. Always keep 1 bowl in the fridge and rotate often. Colder dough seems to roll out and cook better.

Tools you will need:
Lefse Griddle. This is a round griddle that should be used for NOTHING else oil/grease should NEVER touch it's surface.
Round Pastry Cloth (Mine covers a board that keeps it taught and flat)
Lefse Rolling Pin (it is a pin with tiny squares etched over the entire surface)
Rolling Pin Cover (This is a luxury that you don't NEED, but they are only $2 and will save you the yucky job of picking dough out of the rolling pin with a toothpick. I would highly recommend you get one. They are washable and reusable. I have had mine for 6 years and have yet to replace it)
Lefse Stick. This stick is used like a spatula for moving the lefse from the pastry cloth to the griddle, to the sweeping station.
Pastry brush. used for sweeping away excess flour.
White Cheese Cloth type towels. you will need 3 or 4

Your Dough is ready, you have your utensils... Lets do it!
Start by HEAVILY flouring your pastry cloth. You should NOT be able to see any of the red writing. It is important to use a lot of flour. If your dough sticks even once to your cloth or your roller, it will be a pain to finish the rest of rolling. 

Then roll it out thin. The thinner the better.

Use the lefse stick to gently lift the lefse off the pastry cloth and onto the griddle. Cook for a couple minutes on each side. It will bubble up and get light brown spots like a tortilla. Remove from griddle and place on top of towels. I like to lightly moisten the towels with water to keep the lefse soft.

Use pastry brush to swipe away excess flour from lefse and griddle as needed. This swiping step is why earlier you can use so much flour to keep it from sticking.

Lefse can be eaten many ways. Use it like a wrap for your Thanksgiving leftovers. I like to slather it in butter and then sugar or cinnamon sugar, roll it up and yum. Store in an air tight container in your refrigerator. If it starts to dry out place a moistened towel in the container.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Follow up for today's couponing session at ECFE

Welcome to my blog! We had such a great discussion I forgot to mention a few things. I hope that you find some useful things on my blog.

I wanted to point out that the business cards I passed around and the cute personalized tote that I was carrying everything in, I got for FREE* at I sometimes have to do a google search to find the right link for the free tote, coffee mug, notebook, calendar or pen. The free business cards, car magnets, etc are usually easy to find on their site.
* You do need to pay for shipping I go with the 21 day option. I have NEVER had it take that long, but if you need something fast, remember it is Christmas and everything is taking longer right now.

I like to plan ahead so I usually start ordering things in the summer. Personalized calendars with your family photos and ALL your family birthday's, anniversaries, and other important dates make GREAT gifts for the grandparents who most likely don't need/want anything.

Last Christmas I made personalized Totes for all the ladies at our annual Christmas Baking party.

A cute personalized coffee mug with a $5 Caribou Gift card makes a great Secret Santa gift for work. The possibilities are endless..

The best way to save on gifts is to be organized and start early. Last minute shopping usually costs a lot more!

****Spoke with the Princeton Coborn's Meat Manager, The best time to find great deals is any day BEFORE noon. So happy hunting. :-)****

We also had some discussion on Christmas Gifts. Good Morning America has announced that they are going to offer GMA viewers EXCLUSIVE AMAZING daily deals. They are on the GMA website and you must use promo codes and they expire daily in most cases. For more info watch this video on yahoo.