Tuesday, December 30, 2008

New Year, New Resolve

Ok, in my last post I promised some semblance of a list of New Year's resolutions:

There it is, you can read it, right? Ha ha. Alright, this was just me scribbling a few thoughts, let me try to organize myself and translate for you.

Rather than make a list of firm resolutions, I decided to instead make a list of areas I want to focus on, and make a rough schedule for my weekly chunks of time to work on them. This post will be about my focus areas.

Family/Household needs- The first thing I will do to address these is to block out time daily for cleaning, and try to get back to a good baseline of cleanliness and then be able to maintain it. Rather than promising to "have a spotless house", I am going for cleaning for a certain amount of time daily. Secondly, I need to work on finishing up some painting/decorating projects. I will block out some time weekly for this. Finally, we need a new focus on saving money and paying down our debts. One way I will be working on this is by planning out weekly what dinners I will make for the week, so we can avoid eating out too much, or just grabbing something easy from the store. The part of meal prep I hate the most is that "what are we having for dinner?" moment.

Business needs- I started my year end inventory today, and that process made it clear to me that I have a lot of stuff made, but not currently listed for sale anywhere. That needs to be remedied as quickly as possible, so I am going to commit to listing something daily. Hopefully I can get on a roll and get it done quickly. I want to reaffirm my commitment to doing something daily to further my craft business. I need to concentrate on getting my sites marketed effectively so my items can sell. I will block out time twice a week to focus only on the marketing aspects.

Personal improvement goals- OK, like probably 80% of the adult population of the US, I need to get serious about my diet and exercise. I will start visiting both the Weight Watchers website and the gym with more regularity. (I am intimidated by the teens at the gym, so will wait until they return to school.) Also, I want to really stretch myself creatively, both in areas of fiber arts and metalsmithing. I plan to take a metalsmithing class in the spring, so the beginning of the year will have a fiber art focus. I need to figure out how much time, but I feel like some time weekly should be dedicated to working on techniques with no thought of selling.

I have grand intentions, but I wonder if I have bitten off more than I can chew??

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Now That Christmas is Over...

...well, it's not really over, I still have one more day to spend with my husband's family, but by this time tomorrow Christmas will be over. I am not one who feels the need to pack up the evidence of Christmas super fast, in fact, I am more one who is lucky to get it all gone by Valentine's Day!

I want some more time to enjoy the decorations, including my extensive Santa collection:

One can accumulate a boatload of Santas over the years!

Starting tomorrow night, I need to come up with my goals/resolutions for the new year. I am trying to think of a way to do that so I will not just start, mess up, then abandon the whole idea by the second week of January. I am thinking that maybe I will make it more like a schedule, where I will work on certain aspects of my life/business for the agreed upon time (the agreement being between me, myself and I!). Anyway, I am going to scribble some notes to myself regarding what I want to work on in my life, my family and my business, and will come back before the new year to post about it.

Monday, December 22, 2008

A cute little crafting idea

Aidan and I made these adorable little Rudolph candy canes for his preschool classmates. If your kids go to a school that allows them to celebrate and share their holiday traditions, this is an easy and affordable project that can be done in no time!

(your costs may vary slightly)

(2) 12 pack boxes of candy canes ($.88 each)
(1) package chenille stems (pipe cleaners) ($1/50 pack)
(1) bag 5mm googly eyes ($.89/60 pack)
(1) bag 10mm red pom poms ($.89/100 pack)
Regular white glue (no cost, we had some at home)

Total: $4.54 for 24 reindeer

The only real time associated with this project is the glue drying time.

-Add a tiny dot of glue for each eye and allow at least 1/2 an hour to dry before trying to add the pom pom nose. (If you add too much glue, the eyes will slide down, so it's best to do the gluing in stages.)
-Once the eyes are dried, add the pom poms and again, allow at least 1/2 an hour of drying time.
-Finally, the antlers- fold one chenile stem in half, loop it around the hook of the candy cane and twist it tightly to keep it in place.
-Grab both ends of the stem and fold in a zig zag motion, then seperate the two pieces and pull out from ends slightly to adjust them.

That's it!

Aidan had a lot of fun with this- he calls them "Oobi eye Rudolphs" (anyone with preschoolers who watch Noggin will get his analogy)

Sunday, December 21, 2008

This week has been about family...

I know, I know, I haven't blogged in a week, but I have been crafting, cooking, shopping, baking and otherwise prepping for Christmas. My camera is still on the fritz so taking photos without a flash has slowed me from being able to blog about the progress I'm making on all my handmade gifts and goodies.

I finally wound up borrowing a camera that does have a flash because I was desperate to take some photos of the kiddos for holiday cards. (yes I know it is the 21st and Christmas is in 4 days but better late than never!) One problem with the camera though- my card reader will read the photos but not transfer them to the dern computer! That's not really very helpful now is it?

So anyway, Friday was my mom's 62nd birthday. I made her some beaded bell ornaments and gave her some yummy peach infused white tea- her favorite flavor! The bell ornaments were quite nostalgic for both of us. About a month ago she said to me "Gee, I used to make such pretty ornaments. I wish I could remember how to do those bells we had on the tree when you were growing up..." (Sets the wheels in Tara's head turning and an online hunt for a pattern soon follows.)

I finally found a site that carried a kit- supplies to make 4 ornaments and printed directions. They take about an hour a piece to make, but are not overly complicated, so I had fun doing them. She was thrilled, which made me happy; I really wanted to stick to "handmade" this year!

The boys and I took her out to lunch and then sang "Happy Birthday" over a lovely chocolate eclair with a candle in it. We barely managed to hit the road and get home before the snow started to pour down on us. All in all I think we have around 10-12 inches outside (which is a giant amount for the coast) and I took a pile of pictures of the boys playing on Friday afternoon (these shots are within the first hour the snow was coming down) and on Saturday I took the entire lot of them up to CVS and used the photo kiosk thingy to burn a CD and print out copies of the ones that came out the best. I have now successfully filled out, photo'd and mailed all my cards!

These are my favorite shots

The Christmas card

I found a cute frame that has a nice little blurb about grandchildren carved onto it and will give this to my mom from the boys for Christmas

This is my (almost) 3 year old, Avery

This is my 5 year old, Aidan (love this shot!)

And this is my big kid, almost a teenager, Austin (Aus)

On Saturday afternoon, after a ton of shoveling, Ed (hubby) and I took the boys sledding. I had such a wonderful time. Ed has honestly not had a day off since November, this was his first break from work and I was so excited that he had energy left to come play with us after digging out both cars from the mountain of snow the plows pushed against them. There was minimal fighting, optimum sledding conditions and hot cocoa when we came home. Couldn't have asked for a more perfect day with my guys!

Okay, enough blogging for me, I have a bunch of sugar cookies that need tending to, I better get back to it!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Russian Tea Cakes!

These are my husband's favorites... so rich and buttery they melt in your mouth!

1 cup softened butter or margarine
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
3/4 cup finely chopped walnuts

In a large bowl combine ingredients on low speed of mixer about 1 minute. Blend well. Gradually add flour at low speed until just combined; stir in nuts.

Roll dough into 1 inch balls; place about 1 inch apart on ungreased cookie sheet. Bake at 350 F for 8-10 minutes until firm to the touch; note from experience:

Do not overbake- they will crumble when you try to pick them up if they're cooked even a minute too long. These cookies don't brown when done!

While warm, roll in powdered sugar. Cool; re-roll in powdered sugar before serving.

***I tripled this recipe and made 10 dozen cookies***

Friday, December 12, 2008

Raspberry jam thumbprint cookies

Morning everyone! Here's my second recipe for some pretty easy but snazzy looking cookies:

1 (1 pound 1.5 ounce) pouch Betty Crocker® sugar cookie mix
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 egg
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/3 cup seedless raspberry jam
1 cup white chocolate chips

Heat oven to 375 degrees F. In large bowl, stir cookie mix, butter, egg and flour until soft dough forms.

Roll dough into 3/4-inch balls; place 2-inches apart on ungreased cookie sheet. Take the backside of your 1/4 tsp measuring spoon, dip in sugar (before each impression) and make an indentation in the center of each cookie. Spoon about 1/4 teaspoon jam into each indentation.

Bake 8 to 10 minutes or until edges are light golden brown. Cool 5 minutes; remove from cookie sheet to wire rack.

Melt white chocolate chips over a double boiler until smooth then spoon melted chips into a small ziptop plastic bag; cut a tiny hole in corner of bag. Squeeze bag gently to drizzle melted chips over cookies.

***one batch yields approximately 5 dozen cookies***

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Maggie's Cookie-o-rama

Tara and I were chatting yesterday about blogging, working on our gift lists (she's mostly making, I'm mostly buying) and baking. She encouraged me to post pictures and recipes for the cookies I was working on. She said it would be cool to feature bunch of cookies on our blog. I sort of agreed (typed "k", while thinking "no way"). But I knew she would not just let it go away- I would either have to do it or tell her I am a dork who couldn't do it!

I was whining to Tara -"My food photos stink!" but she was having none of that since she managed her fabulous pinwheel picture with no flash on her camera! So I decided to go ahead and blog about my cookie adventure of the day. If nothing else this will show how very different Tara and I are! Tara's cookies are works of art in every way, while mine are more utilitarian - meant only to feed my giant and perpetually starving teenagers.

Scroll down and you will see that Tara has taken a wonderful picture of her cookies on a lovely plate. Well, cookies at my house rarely touch a plate. I usually put them in ziplocks as they cool and then my family grabs them out of the bag. Only if I am taking some to a party or family event do they see a plate. I am pretty sure if I put them on a plate around here, no one would eat them because they would be afraid they were not meant for our family, but for some event! I took the portrait of my chocolate chip cookies on the wire cooling rack. Oh, and the recipe? You can find it on the Nestle chocolate chip bag just like I did! I actually have a recipe I usually use, but for some reason today just made the one on the bag.

A few weeks ago, I went looking for cookie recipes that would be good to mail, because I was making cookies to include in care packages that were to be mailed to the college students from our church. I found this nice site, Recipe4living, which had this great article about mailable foods. I made the Butter Pecan Bars , and they were super fast and really very good. My 13 year old was sad that all those cookies got baked and then immediately left the house, so I promised him I would remake some. I chose those Butter Pecan Bars and this batch was better than the first! (Oh and see, Tara, I told you my food photos stink!)

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Cranberry pinwheel cookies

As promised, here is the first recipe of the four cookie types I am making this Christmas:

1/2 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup finely ground cranberries
1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts or pecans
1 tablespoon grated orange zest
3 tablespoons brown sugar
2 teaspoons milk

In a large mixing bowl, combine first four ingredients; beat until light and fluffy, scraping the bowl occasionally. Combine the dry ingredients; add to the creamed mixture; form into a ball, wrap tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 1 hour.

In a small bowl, combine cranberries, walnuts and orange peel; set aside.

On a lightly floured surface, roll dough into a 10-inch square; combine brown sugar and milk; spread over the dough then sprinkle with the cranberry mixture, leaving about a 1/2-inch edge at both ends of the dough; roll up tightly, jelly-roll style. Wrap with waxed paper; chill several hours or overnight.

Pre-heat oven to 375F. Cut roll into 1/4-inch slices and place on a well-greased cookie sheet. Bake for 14-15 minutes, or until edges are light brown.

** *I made a double batch (two jelly-roll logs) and it yielded 5 dozen cookies***

Happy baking!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Gifts on a budget

With the economy the way it is, it seems everyone is trying to find ways to cut back this holiday season. Going handmade is always a great way to save a little money while still telling the people around you that you think they're great!

My husband has 16 employees- add that to my childrens' teachers and all our distant family relatives and it adds up to several dozen more gifts to pass out at Christmas time.

My approach this year is to bake cookies. My financial investment was minimal (most of the ingredients are found readily in your pantry cupboards)- and I grabbed up the rest of the stuff I needed on sale at the grocery store. To package them, I found these terrific little tote bags from The Lakeside Collection for around $1.15 each.

Today is my cookie baking day- Cookie-o-rama to coin a term Maggie uses. I thought as I baked, I'd take some photos and share the recipes here in our blog for anyone who might be looking for some affordable gifts that people will appreciate. Who doesn't love a fresh baked cookie?! :)



Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Second month of 365

Second month of 365
Originally uploaded by magscrafts
Wow! I noticed that I recently passed the 60 day mark on our 365 days of "ahteestic" endeavors. I blogged about hitting the 30 day mark, so figured it was time to celebrate again. Please indulge me and do not point out that the other blog article was on Sept 29, so it took me way more than 30 days to get 30 pictures. There were definitely days I did nothing the least bit artistic, as well as days I did stuff and took no pictures. I also found pictures I took, uploaded to FLICKR and then failed to number for the 365 project. I thought of going back and fixing the numbering, then said "Nah". I know Tara is having issues as well. I think she has fewer days where she does nothing artsy, but has had camera trouble, so more days with no pictures.

I think the important thing is that we continue to forge ahead and try to keep the project going. We started on this journey for a reason, and it is still valid, even when our lives might get in the way a little bit. If it takes us 2 years to get 365 days, so be it, we will still be better off than had we sat on our butts and not even attempted it.

Monday, December 1, 2008

We Have a Deck the Halls Blog Giveaway Winner!

An the winner is (drumroll....)


Thanks to everyone who reads our blog and entered the contest, we love getting your feedback! And stay tuned for our next giveaway which will be in early 2009!

-Maggie and Tara