Archive for December, 2009

Happy Holidays!

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2009

Happy Holidays! I could not be more thankful for my readers and for this wonderful outlet for sharing. I hope you all have a wonderful holiday season and I will see you all back here after the New Year!


Amy’s Notebook 12.23.09

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2009

This felted wool mistletoe is beautiful (@ A Foothill Home Companion)

This Christmas star cookie wreath is so beautiful (@ The Farm Chicks)

These chocolate covered marshmallow cookies look like a festively delicious snack (@ Annie’s Eats)

I am loving these advent coloring pages (@ elsie marley)

These tiny gingerbread houses are stunning! (@ not martha)

I love this Christmas sock tutorial (@ The Felt Mouse)

These holiday snowballs are one of my favorite holiday cookies (@ imagine childhood)

These raisin jingle cookies look delicious (@ Indie Fixx)

These Santa & Rudolph pancakes would be a fun holiday treat for the kids (@ Make & Takes)

I want to try this recipe for sugar & spice cookies (@ Salt and Chocolate)

I am bookmarking these 100 holiday crafts for future reference (@ the long thread)

Our Thrifty (And Holiday-Inspired) Birthday Party

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2009

This was a big year for Emily! We celebrated her birthday with a family brunch and followed it up with her first fantastic friend birthday party with twenty-six guests! While throwing two parties may sound expensive, I wanted to share a few ways that we were able to celebrate Emily’s big day and keep it on a budget.

The first thing I did was send an evite to invite everyone in lieu of fancy invitations. We planned an afternoon get together with snacks and a decorate your own Christmas craft and cupcake bash instead of a luncheon. It was a great way to kill the afternoon, the time allowed for our older friends to come after school, and everyone got to leave with their own little creation.

The table was set with another inexpensive vinyl tablecloth from The Christmas Tree Shoppe ($2.99). I brought out our cupcake stands (a Walmart purchase for $5 each) and topped each with a red ornament. Sundae cups from the Dollar Store (already in the cupboard) were filled with candy canes that each child could take home and tied with a little white grosgrain ribbon.

To complete the holiday look, I got out my beautiful Nativity Hurricane Candle Set that I had received last year from DaySpring to review. In all of the holiday madness, I didn’t get to show these off last year, but I could not wait to get them out this year. Aren’t they stunning?

I also threw together a holiday music playlist on our computer for everyone to enjoy while we did our decorating and crafting. Everything from Diane Krall to Bing Crosby to Ella Fitzgerald was mixed into our holiday celebration. No celebration is complete without music, in my humble opinion!

In our front room, I set up a folding table with all of the holiday crafting supplies on it. I was going to do ornament decorating, but it got expensive with the amount of supplies I was going to need to buy. I found these cute little foam kits that included placemats and door hangers with tons of fun little foam stickers…enough for twenty crafts in each kit. The total cost spent on all of the craft supplies (with plenty leftover for decorating on Christmas Eve) was $10 thanks to the half off sales at Hobby Lobby.

I was so inspired by the cupcake decorating party that was featured on Ohdeedoh (and in our weekly Notebook) that I thought that would be a fun activity for the kids to do too. I spent $4 on cupcake decorating supplies and piled them into my tin tray for the kids to assemble. I had bought a ton of cute tin stuff for entertaining for my son’s patriotic birthday party. With a holiday baby and a 4th of July baby, I know that the red items can be used often in our house.

It was time to wait for our friends to arrive and enjoy all of the food and festivities with them. We are so thankful to have so many great people in our lives to celebrate with us! The food and punch bowl overfloweth for the big day!

Here are the dishes that we shared with our friends! What made these dishes really special though? They were ALL make-ahead dishes and ALL thrifty so that I could enjoy the day with my special birthday girl!

It was time to enjoy our favorite Birthday Cupcakes. These are my favorite cupcakes in the world and are always the hit of any party. If you decorate them, the chocolate syrup frosting with sprinkles are a must! This year we left them undecorated for our activity for the kids.

The Best Birthday Cupcakes (From Cupcakes: The Cake Doctor Book)

24 paper liners
1 package plain butter recipe golden cake mix (I subbed with white and loved it!)
1 package (8 ounces) reduced-fat cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup vegetable oil
4 large eggs
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Line cupcake cups with liners. Set the pans aside. Place the cake mix, cream cheese, sugar, water, oil, eggs, and vanilla in a large mixing bowl. Blend on low speed with an electric mixer for 30 seconds, until the ingredients are well blended then stop the machine and scrape down the sides.

Increase the mixer to medium speed and beat for 1 1/2 minutes to 2 minutes more, scraping down the sides again if needed. The batter should be smooth and thickened.

Spoon or scoop 1/4 cup batter into each lined cupcake cup, filling it two thirds of the way full (You should get between 22-24 cupcakes). Place the pans in the oven.

Bake the cupcakes until they are golden and spring back when lightly pressed with your finger, 24-27 minutes. Remove pans from oven and place them on wire racks to cool for five minutes. Run a dinner knife around the edges of the cupcake liners, lift the cupcakes up from the bottoms of the cups using the end of the knife, and pick them out of the cups carefully with your fingertips.

Place them on a wire rack to cool fifteen minutes before frosting.

The star of the party, by far, was the cheese ball. I had so many recipe requests after the party for this one! It is so embarrassingly easy, but is always a showstopper when I bring it to holiday get togethers. Put the ingredients for this recipe on your grocery list and relish the joy in ease of the preparation and the compliments that come from it!

Bacon & Ranch Cheese Ball

2 (8 ounce) packages of low-fat cream cheese, softened
1 package of Ranch dressing mix
1 cup cheddar cheese
5-7 strips of bacon cooked and crumbled (or buy prepackaged crumbled bacon)

Mix all of the ingredients together with a mixer until they are incorporated. Shape into a ball and roll in a plate of shredded cheese. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for two hours.

This dip was nicknamed “Crack Dip” after the bowl was scraped clean when I brought it for Thanksgiving one year. I love to bring a sweet dessert dip that can be an unexpected surprise among the pies and holiday cookies. If you want to buy all of the ingredients at Aldi, I have employed my hand held chopper to chop up regular size chocolate chips for this recipe before with great results!

Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Dip

8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup powdered sugar
2 tablespoons brown sugar
3/4 cup miniature semisweet chocolate chips
More chocolate chips (optional) or chopped nuts, to roll the ball in

In a mixing bowl, beat cream cheese, butter, and vanilla until fluffy. Gradually add sugars and beat until just combined. Stir in chocolate chips. Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours. Form cheese into a ball using hand protection (Saran wrap, wax paper, etc). Optional- just before serving, roll in additional chocolate chips or nuts of your choice. Serve with graham crackers.

Hate punch? It is likely you just hate that ginger ale in the punch. This punch is ginger ale free and looks positively festive for any holiday occasion. I barely had enough for a glass left and this punch is always a hit at all of our parties!

Holiday Party Punch

2 liter bottle strawberry-flavored soda (I found this at Walmart)
2 liter 7-Up
1 (12 ounce) can frozen pink lemonade concentrate
1 (12 ounce) can frozen lemonade concentrate (yellow)
1 can pineapple juice

Mix all the ingredients together for the punch. This will fill one large punch bowl or two smaller ones.

Hit the thrift stores for vintage tins and fill them up with holiday goodies for a unique display of yummy treats! This Chex Mix was cooked up in the slow cooker. If your slow cooker runs hot, I would just keep it on LOW instead of the HIGH that the recipe calls for. Mine about burnt up without keeping a careful eye on it. Putting it in the slow cooker while cooking up the rest of the food is a great way to make the house smell yummy and free up your stove in the process! This recipe easily doubles and I did just that for our party!

Slow Cooker Chex Mix

1 cup Cheerios toasted oat cereal
1 1/2 cups Rice Chex
1 cup Wheat Chex
1/2 cup peanuts
1/2 cup pretzel stick
1/4 cup butter, melted
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1/4 teaspoon seasoning salt
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon onion salt

Combine first 5 ingredients in your slow cooker. Mi
x remaining ingredients and pour over cereal mixture; toss to coat. Cook on HIGH, uncovered, for 2 hours (I would recommend cooking on low if your slow cooker runs really hot like mine!) Stir mixture well every 30 minutes. Turn slow cooker to LOW and cook for 2-4 hours. Store in air tight container. Makes 5 cups.

Emily had a fantastic party filled with more girlie gifts than a girl could ever ask for. My, turning four is quite grand! Happy birthday sweet Emily Marie! I am so thankful for your honest-to-goodness girl power, girlie ways, and assertive little spirit. I am one lucky mom!

An Apron Full of Giveaways 12.22.09

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2009
Photo Credit: Ma Chere Finery , $49.00

Thanks so much for swinging by for our Apron Full of Giveaways! Each week we share a link list of great contests to enter and share about our own latest giveaways.

Our giveaway ends today to win a $50 gift card from Sears. Sears is offering a fantastic opportunity to win TWO $50 gift cards to accomplish the rest of your holiday shopping this year. The Sears & Kmart gift card is redeemable at Sears,on , Kmart, on, Lands End, and! All of these combined offer such a wide variety of brands for you to choose from, which most single-retailer gift cards don’t provide. Head over today to get your entry in by 8PM tonight!

I hope you have enjoyed all of the giveaways that we have offered this holiday season! We will be taking some time off for the holidays and to catch up on all of the paperwork from all of our winners. Happy Holidays!

Below are the contest links to our contests and to yours! If you are hosting a contest please link it up below. Sorry, we aren’t giving away the aprons just showcasing them! Please put your site name and then what type of contest you are hosting. For example, “MomAdvice (Children’s Movies).”

Please let me know if you have any questions and good luck to each of you!

A Gingerbread Kind of Day

Monday, December 21st, 2009

Each year I make our family a giant batch of gingerbread waffles as soon as December hits. Much like our pumpkin waffles, these are a treat that our family looks forward to each year. It is a recipe worth doubling or tripling and enjoying with a mug of cocoa to warm your belly before beginning your busy day.

This year I decided a perfect pairing would be a gingerbread house making day. To be honest, I had never made a gingerbread house growing up. What a fun and special tradition to start in our house and the kids couldn’t wait to attempt decorating their houses for the first year as a family.

These houses were the miniature size and were perfect for my little helpers. I found them for $8.99 each on Amazon although I did see them for comparable prices at the craft store. Once again though, I used the Swagbucks to put towards these and saved them until we drew our gingerbread house day from our Advent Calendar.

Although I haven’t been completing official Notebook Experiments, we have still been doing a lot out of the Notebooks each week. The idea to use hot glue to hold the gingerbread houses together from The Idea Room was perhaps one of the most brilliant ideas ever. Although it wouldn’t fly in a Food Network competition, it worked perfectly for two impatient children who were ready to decorate their houses as soon as they were pulled from the box.

I had saved a sturdy deli tray from a sandwich order that we had place for party and used that to display our gingerbread house. A little shake of confectioner’s sugar over the top and the addition of our $1.99 lighted tree from The Christmas Tree Shoppe and it looked like an adorable little snow village on our thrifty budget. The kids admired their handiwork and I took a picture with the year on it so we could see how our houses evolve over the years.

Once we were done decorating it was time to mix up a big batch of our gingerbread waffles. There are few things I love during the holidays more than a giant gingerbread waffle. I found this recipe from Rachael Ray about four years ago and it has been a family tradition every year since then.

It incorporates all of the holiday flavors I love- molasses, ginger, cinnamon, brown sugar, pumpkin, and nutmeg. What more can I say?

The only downfall to this recipe… you can’t eat just one! I hope this recipe can grace your holiday table and be a family tradition for you too. Happy Holidays, everyone!

Gingerbread Waffles (courtesy of 30 Minute Meals)

3 cups all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg, eyeball it
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 l
arge eggs
2/3 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 cup canned pumpkin puree
1 1/4 cups milk
1/2 cup molasses
1/2 cup (1 stick) melted butter, plus some to butter the iron
Syrup, whipped cream or fresh fruits for topping, to pass at table

Preheat waffles iron. In a large bowl combine flour, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and salt. In a medium bowl, beat eggs and brown sugar until fluffy, then beat in pumpkin, milk, molasses and melted butter. Stir the wet into dry until just moist. Do not overstir the waffle batter. Brush the iron with a little melted butter and cook 4 waffles, 4 sections each. Serve with toppings of choice.

Freebie Friday: December 18, 2009

Friday, December 18th, 2009

Happy Freebie Friday, everyone! It is another jam-packed week full of freebies thanks to Freebies 4 Mom! Heather’s site is my number one resource for freebies and be sure to visit her blog this week for tons and tons of holiday music! This week’s freebie that I am thrilled about is the new slow cooker cookbook download for my Kindle! Thanks a bunch to Heather for sharing her list each week!

You can find me sharing on ways to give back to your community and involve the whole family on Kenmore. My article section is here and is added to monthly with new ideas on a variety of home management topics!

On the Scott Common Sense Blog, you will find new entries on budget-friendly pampering and classic slow cooker entertaining.

On MomAdvice this week, I am sharing the hidden secrets to the perfect cut-out sugar cookies, knitted prayer shawls for gift-giving, ideas for homemade hostess gifts, and don’t forget to finish your visit here with the Apron Full of Giveaways. For our giveaway contribution, we have two $50 Sears Gift Cards to give away.

Happy Holidays, everyone!

Health & Beauty
Breathe Right
NatureMade Tripleflex (Costco)
Poise (Costco)
Depend (Costco)


Bass Pro Shops Santa’s Wonderland begins (free 4×6 Santa photo)
Michaels Free Crafts & Demos
19 – Lakeshore Learning Kid Crafts make a mini snowman 11-3
19 – Lowe’s Build and Grow Clinic make Pet Treat Keeper 10-11

A Round-Up of Homemade Hostess Gifts

Thursday, December 17th, 2009

I love to give hostess gifts because they don’t cost very much at all, but can say a lot about who you are and the person you are giving it to. In my opinion, giving a homemade gift shows that you care enough about that person that you would devote time towards making something special just for them. The best part about the homemade gift is that you can make it very inexpensively, but leave a lasting message for your recipient.

I wanted to share a few of my favorite hostess gifts to give for the holiday season from our website…

A jar of pumpkin butter with some buttery bread machine rolls.

A snowflake knitted dishcloth with a personalized family tag.

A coffee cup or waffle-weave dishcloth with a bottle of hand soap tied with a little raffia.

A knitted or no-sew scarf with a repurposed container housing some homemade vanilla chai tea or other great drink mix.

A batch of ready-to-bake homemade cinnamon rolls to make your host’s morning brighter.

A set of bubbly magnets in a creatively wrapped Altoid tin.

A fresh batch of Oreo Biscotti in a pretty coffee mug.

A mix of your favorite holiday music wrapped creatively in your family holiday picture.

A can of sugar & spice nuts– the perfect holiday treat.

A batch of vanilla scented granola in a thrifted jar.

Easy and delicious quick breads pulled from your freezer.

A small box filled with Christmas goodies– don’t forget some holiday-esque sugar cookies!

A jar of homemade hot cocoa mix tied with some festive ribbon.

A jar of fancy candy cane bath salts tied with a candy-cane striped bow.

What will you be giving as a hostess gift this holiday season? Feel free to share your links to recipes and ideas!

Amy’s Notebook 12.16.09

Wednesday, December 16th, 2009

These peppermint fudge cakes look like a delicious holiday treat! (@ The Farm Chicks)

I love this sweet little gift card wallet (@ Screen Prints Blog)

This homemade Christmas tree looks beautiful and delicious (@ Chickens in the Road)

This glitter wreath is beautiful and has a great tutorial with it (@ homemade by jill)

This is a great round-up of gift wrapping ideas (@ Tip Junkie)

This felty button tree is adorable (@ scrumdilly-doo!)

This partridge in a pear tree gingerbread tree is phenomenal looking (@ not martha)

These chocolate dipped marshmallows would be a great gift to give this year (@ Craftzine)

This post on Lego hole punching would be a fantastic holiday activity to do with my son (@ Filth Wizadry)

These peppermint mocha cupcakes would be such a delicious holiday treat (@ Annie’s Eats)

This is a great round-up of last minute teacher gifts (@ the giver’s log)

I love this recycled Christmas tree (@ Just Like Martha)

I am going to have to try this recipe for homemade chocolate syrup (@ Lynn’s Kitchen Adventures)

This complete barbecue chicken dinner in the slow cooker is such a smart idea (@ eat at home)

I want to try some of these holiday cookie recipes for 2009 (@ The Washington Post)

I am bookmarking these sugar scrub recipes for next year (@ Tidy Mom)

Gifts You Can Make: Knitted Prayer Shawls

Tuesday, December 15th, 2009

I realize that not everyone can knit so I have kept my knitted gifts for last in this series. Many of my gifts this year have been knitted ones which is why I wanted to share with you a few of my favorite knitted gifts that I made. I hope that the gifts you can make series has inspired you in your gift-giving this year! In case you have missed our tutorials, I shared some hot drink mixes you could make, bath salts and soaks that can be mixed up in your kitchen, deliciously quick breads for festive giving, hand painted mugs that you paint with your children, and even a holiday wreath for your door. My hope is that some of these handmade gifts can keep your holiday budget on track and even become gift traditions each year.

Many churches offer a prayer shawl ministry and making prayer shawls has been on my list of things I would like to do to volunteer my time and talent towards those in need. This month though, I knew that I really wanted to make two special ones for two ladies in my life that need prayers and comfort this holiday season.

As you know, my grandfather passed away recently and the holidays are going to be a particularly difficult time for both my mother and grandmother. I knew that I wanted to do something special for them both that would honor my grandfather’s memory and offer some comfort to them.

Prayer shawls can be simple or complicated, but the idea behind them is that they are woven together with yarn and with prayer. As you create them, you pray for the person and ask God that the shawl can offer them comfort through difficult times.

I found a fantastic book on prayer shawls called The Prayer Shawl Companion by Janet Bristow & Victoria A. Cole-Galo. The book offered thirty-eight different patterns that could be used to create a unique prayer shawl for someone in need. In the pattern book, I chose, “Alice’s Lace Shawl,” because the pattern had only one row of pattern and then a row of purling and a row of knitting. It was simple enough that I could concentrate on prayer and complex enough that it created a scalloped edge with just enough lace, while still being warm.

This prayer shawl is knit on size fifteen needles and knitted with bulky yarn. With such large needles and with the bulkiness of the yarn, it only took me two or three evenings on the couch and a little knitting here and there between household chores to get these done. It is a faster project than it looks, I promise you!

I really wanted the shawls to be special so I went to Michael’s and visited the jewelry department where I found two tiny picture charms (for only $2.99 total) that could be used to embellish the shawls. We shrunk and printed my favorite picture of my grandfather and then I tied it onto the shawl with a little ribbon. The picture can be worn on the outside or can be worn next to the heart on the inside since the shawl pattern looks the same on both sides.

Each of the shawls was tied with red ribbon, which was my grandfather’s favorite color, and each included a prayer of comfort for them. I printed these on some scrapbook paper from my craft supplies and loved the antique look of the paper.

The prayer I chose came from the book and said this…

No Farther Than a Prayer

I wrap the prayers of warmth and love around
Your weary frame, praising, thanking God for
the gift of you as I pray your name.
Every stitch sends forth a plea that joy will fill
your soul. On and on the needles fly, making a
pattern of prayer gold.
The shawl takes on a holiness for prayer is
wrapped inside. It is so soft and warm, a place
where you can hide.
It becomes a prayer itself, this pain that you
endure. And it rises with love’s incense, sacred,
warm, and sure.
So as you wrap the shawl around may you feel
my presence there. I may not sit beside you but
I am no farther than a prayer.

Author Credit- Jean Quigley

If you would like to create a prayer shawl of your own, be sure to visit the official Prayer Shawl Ministry for a free prayer shawl pattern and instructions on how to complete a prayer shawl for someone who may need comfort this holiday season!

An Apron Full of Giveaways 12.15.09

Tuesday, December 15th, 2009
Photo Credit: City Girl Aprons , $23.00

Thanks so much for swinging by for our Apron Full of Giveaways! Each week we share a link list of great contests to enter and share about our own latest giveaways.

We have a fantastic new giveaway that you will not want to miss this week. Sears is offering a fantastic opportunity to win TWO $50 gift cards to accomplish the rest of your holiday shopping this year. The Sears & Kmart gift card is redeemable at Sears,on , Kmart, on, Lands End, and! All of these combined offer such a wide variety of brands for you to choose from, which most single-retailer gift cards don’t provide. Head over today to get your entry in!

Our giveaway ends at 8PM tonight for the adorable Webkinz Jr Plush Toy, perfect for our parents with children in the 3-6 year old category! You won’t want to miss this cute furry friend- remember the contest ends this evening and I would love to send one your way!

My goal is to help you have the best Christmas ever and we promise more giveaways next week!

Below are the contest links to our contests and to yours! If you are hosting a contest please link it up below. Sorry, we aren’t giving away the aprons just showcasing them! Please put your site name and then what type of contest you are hosting. For example, “MomAdvice (Children’s Movies).”

Please let me know if you have any questions and good luck to each of you!