Saturday, December 31, 2011

Organization! The Love for Plastic Totes!

Well now that the busy holidays are over I'm sure most of you are in recovery mode, I know I am! I love the holidays but afterwards always seems to be the ultimate cleanup. There is wrapping paper every where, gifts laying around, dirty dishes & well I'm sure I could go on but you get my drift. I think that this is the best time of year to get your house organized. I am an oober neat-freak & after the holidays I always seem to slip a little. Here is one my favorite way to organize & to help me stay organized...

Large Plastic Totes
I swear by these! I put everything & anything that I can in them. One of the major up side to after holiday sales is that you can buy these totes for next to nothing! I have all the different holiday ones but to me it doesn't matter because they just get stored in the garage. The ones that I get that aren't clear I just label with a permanent marker. These things come in all different sizes so you can basically store, protect & organize just about anything you can think of. Here are some of my top contenders:
- Winter gear (coats, hats, gloves, boots, etc.)
It's always a good ideas to de-clutter your closet & drawers. So I always store the things that my family uses the least often.
- Holiday decorations
I'm sure most of you keep these in a special place. I keep each holiday in a separate bin so that way I don't have to go digging through the tote to find what I need.
- Sports gear
I know that with the kiddos you can easily have piles of sports gear. The type of sports vary so much that it seems like you have so much extra clutter of balls, bats, gloves & who knows what else just lying around. I recommend keeping these bins low enough that the kids can get into them easy if they decide they need something.
- Outdoor gear
Well since my husband is an avid hunter & we are big campers, I had to put this one in there too. Any outdoor hobby can easily mean tons of equipment, small & big.
- Books, school supplies, etc.
I don't know about you guys but I have tons of books. Over the many years of school I seemed to collect a large amount of books. I was never keen on selling them back to the book store because I wanted to keep them for future reference. Also I keep notebooks with stuff that I thought was important & I can use if I ever got a job pertaining to my degree. These are also great to store the kids school projects.
- Toys & clothes
I plan on saving all my son's toys & clothes that he doesn't use anymore so that I can pass them down to my next kiddo or to my sister. I put his clothes he out grew in large ziplock bags & label what size they are.

The thing that I'm big on is going through my totes every year. I seem to collect more & more items each year. That means less room & tons of things that go unused. Anytime I get my tote out & then return the items I make sure to take a look at what I didn't use. I have a specific empty tote I keep in my garage that I put my unused stuff in, I call it my 'donate tote'. That way once it gets filled up I can easily lug it to goodwill or let family & friends sort through it to see if they can use anything.

Thing I wouldn't recommend to put in storage (unless it's stored indoor):
Movies, video games, etc.
Art supplies (pens, markers, glue, etc.)

Keep an eye out for great shapes & sizes of these totes. You can find just about any size to fit just about anything. Under the bed totes are great way to store things inside the house when you don't have extra room in the closet. The uses for these totes are never ending & they stack so easy.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

DIY Last Minute Gift Ideas

Here some super easy DIY last minute gift ideas with a personal touch! We are absolutely in love with anything in mason jars & these are fabulous gift ideas. Not only do these jars make cute gifts but they are reusable, which makes them even better!

These are great for the kids to help you put together & then they can decorate/paint the outside of the jars.  Pre-decorated holiday jars also work fabulous.
Brownies in a Jar
  • 2 1/4 cups white sugar
  • 2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans
  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
Pour sugar into a clean and dry one quart jar. Press down firmly. Add cocoa powder and press down firmly. Pour in chopped pecans, making sure pecans are evenly layered in the jar. Combine flour, baking powder and salt in separate bowl. Pour into jar and seal. Instructions to attach to jar: Empty mix into large bowl, mix thoroughly. Add 3/4 cup of softened butter and 4 slightly beaten eggs. Mix until completely blended. Spread batter into a lightly greased or sprayed 9 x 13 inch pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until done. Cool in pan. Cut into 2 inch squares.

Cookies in a Jar
  • 3/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups mini baking M & Ms
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
Mix together the flour, baking soda and baking powder and salt. Set aside. Layer ingredients in order in a 1 quart wide mouth canning jar. Make sure you pack all down firmly before adding the flour mixture - it will be a tight fit. NOTE: Wipe down the inside of the jar after you add the cocoa powder.
Instructions to attach to jar: . Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line one baking sheet with parchment paper or grease. Empty the contents of the jar into a large bowl and mix thoroughly. Mix in 3/4 cup softened butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Beat 1 egg with 1 teaspoon vanilla extract. Mix in with the flour mixture until well combined. Dough will be a little crumbly. Shape dough into 1 inch sized balls and place 2 inches apart on the prepared baking sheet. Slightly flatten the balls with the palm of your hand. Bake at 350 degrees for 10 to 14 minutes or until the edges are lightly browned. Remove cookies to a cooling rack. Makes about 2 dozen cookies.
Apple Sauce
  • 6 apples
  • 1/2 cup of water
  • 1 teaspoon - 1 tablespoon of ground cinnamon (add to taste)
  • 1 teaspoon of sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract
Peel & core apples, chop into small chunky pieces. Place apples in crock pot. In separate bowl mix all other ingredients.  Pour over apples & coat evenly.  Cook on low for 4hrs or until soft.  Once apples are done you can use potato masher or hand mixer to make as smooth or as chunky as you like. Let cool & then place into jar. Keep chilled until ready to serve. 
 Marinara Sauce
  • 2 (14.5 ounce) cans stewed tomatoes
  • 1 (6 ounce) can tomato paste
  • 4 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 6 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/3 cup finely diced onion
  • 1/2 cup white wine
In a food processor place Italian tomatoes, tomato paste, chopped parsley, minced garlic, oregano, salt, and pepper. Blend until smooth. In a large skillet over medium heat saute the finely chopped onion in olive oil for 2 minutes. Add the blended tomato sauce and white wine. Simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Once sauce in done let cool & place in jar. Keep refrigerated until ready to serve. Make sure to include your favor bag of pasta to make the gift complete!
  • 4 large tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice
  • 1 tomatillo, diced (optional)
  • salt to taste
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, minced
In a medium-size mixing bowl, combine tomatoes, onion, cilantro, garlic, lime juice, tomatillo, and salt to taste. Mix well. Add 1/2 of the jalapeno pepper, and taste. If you desire your salsa with more of a kick, add the remaining 1/2 jalapeno. If you are satisfied with the salsa's heat, do not add the remaining jalapeno pepper. If you prefer salsa to be less chunky then you can place in blender on low speed until you get texture you like.  Place in jar & keep chilled until ready to serve.  Make sure to add a bag of tortilla chips for a complete gift!

Now this is my all time FAVORITE granola recipe! I ALWAYS have this made & ready to eat. I'm actually eating this granola as I'm writing this post :)
  • 2 cups of rolled oats
  • 1 cup slivered almonds (you can use whole if you prefer)
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1 tablespoon of butter
  • 1/2 cup chopped dates
  • 1/2 cup raisins (you can you golden or regular, either works)
  • 1 tablespoon of light brown sugar
  • 14/ teaspoon of salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract
Place oats & almonds on large baking sheet, stir occasionally for 15mins at 350 degrees. Remove & reduce heat to 300 degrees.  While oats are roasting combine honey & butter in a small saucepan & heat until butter is melt.  Once oats & almonds are done transfer to mixing bowl.  Add hot honey butter as well as all other ingredients.  Transfer into a medium size baking pan.  Cut a piece of wax paper & place on top of granola.  Using your hands press firmly into pan with wax paper on top & throw away wax paper once done.  Bake about 15-20mins or until light golden brown.  Remove from oven & let cool complete.  Once cooled break into small pieces & place in jar.

Hope you all enjoy! Remember that the holidays are about spending time with family & cooking in the kitchen is a great way to bring family together. Merry Christmas!

Terrible Present Challenge

Humor is great for a child's development.  In fact children with language learning delays often have a difficulty time understanding humor.  So here's a funny video to help teach your kids about humor, or to make sure they're grateful on Christmas morning, or just for your own amusement... the choice is yours. :)

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Holiday Stress

Most of us know holiday stress all too well.  The holidays are typically a whirl wind of  parties, entertaining, baking, decorating, cleaning, shopping, and more.  On top of that, the recent "economic woes" have many people on an extra tight budget and running around searching for coupons or a killer sale.  

Stress can lead to a nagging cold, the flu, insomnia, shingles, digestive problems, heart attack, and more!  Being worn out and run down can be bad for your mood making you a bummer for your family and friends to be around.

Don't fret!  There are plenty things you can do to relax, and no I don't mean eggnog and rum.  Here are some healthy tips to prevent and stop holiday stress:
  • ALONE TIME: Find time for yourself everyday. 
    • On your commute sing along to your favorite songs or listen to an audio book. 
    • Take a bath with some herbal tea before bed or journal.
    • Wake up 10 minutes earlier in the morning to do some yoga or take a walk.
  • JUST SAY NO: Prioritize and focus on what's most important to you, not others.  Taking on too much will make you distracted and divide your attention; that can be disappointing for everyone involved.   
  • SLEEP: Not getting enough sleep is horrible for your mood and your skin.
  • EXERCISE: It improves mood and energy levels.  A 1st grade teacher and busy mother of 3 recently told me the only thing that keeps her from getting sick during the holidays are her weekly runs!
  • GOOD ENERGY IN: Find room on your plate for some whole foods like raw veggies and fruits, drink lots of water, and take your vitamins.
  • LAUGH & SMILE: Lift your mood and lighten your heart.  If you pay attention reasons to laugh and smile are everywhere.
Here are some links for more info and tips on managing holiday stress American Psychological Association (APA) , Mayo Clinic  , WebMD , and The Happiness Project

What do you do to relax and cope with holiday stress?
*I'm big on making my driving time useful to my health because in the car you're trapped without unhealthy options and nothing better to do.  Pack a baggie of baby carrots, snap peas, and cherry tomatoes to eat in the car; drink a bottle of water;  at every red light flex your ab muscles and every stop sign clench your glutes for a mini workout; or practice deep breathing techniques. 

My favorite vitamins are by New Chapter they're whole food, organic, and scientific.  The have stress vitamins and herbal blends.  Use their supplement advisor to get what's just right for you.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Johnson's Baby Shampoo/Wash

Here is a scary report on Johnson & Johnson shampoo & head to toe wash...

(click the link to read the about the products)

It has been in the news for a little bit now that there are two ingredients in these products that are shown to cause cancer! I just wanted to make sure that all your moms out there were able to take a look at the ingredients they say cause cancer so that you can double check your baby products.

I actually went to the store to replace all mine bath items because I was using Johnson & Johnson.  Make sure to be extra careful on the store brand one's because I checked the ingredients on some of them & they contain the exact same bad ingredients!  Here are a few suggestions on what to use that don't contain the two ingredients that are dangerous:

Sesame Street Baby Naturals

Burt's Bees Baby Bee

California Baby

Yes to Carrots Baby Collection

Make sure to double check all the ingredients no matter what product you buy so that you know for sure that your baby is safe!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Holiday Baking Time

The closer it gets to Christmas the more excited I get! I LOVE LOVE LOVE any holiday because it's a perfect excuse for baking :) As most of you know I love anything & everything to do with baking, especially cupcakes but for Christmas I like to switch it up a bit.  I wanted to dedicate today's post on some fabulous recipes I've used this year... specifically ones that are currently covering my holiday baking gift trays.  I love the idea of giving baked goods as gift.  It makes it so much more special to know that someone took time to make something just for you & to top it off it tastes super amazing! Who wouldn't love to get some homemade yummies?!?! Best part is that you can make tons of these goodies ahead of time & freeze them :) That way they are all ready to go for holidays parties or even to grab really quick if you forgot someone on your Christmas list. Hope you all enjoy these & please please please share any fabulous recipes that you love. It's always fun to try new ones!!

Pumpkin Rolls
  • 3/4 cups flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 3/4 cup pumpkin
  • 1 pkg cream cheese- soft
  • 1 cup powder sugar
  • 6 tablespoons butter- soft
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

CAKE: Preheat oven to 375. Grease 15x10 inch jelly-roll pan. Sprinkle a thin cotton kitchen towel with powdered sugar. Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt in small bowl. Beat eggs, sugar and pumpkin in large bowl. Stir in flour and mix. Spread even into prepared pan.
Bake for 13-15 minutes. Immediately turn cake onto prepared towel. Roll up cake and towel together. Let cool completely.
FILLING: Beat cream cheese, powdered sugar, butter and vanilla in small bowl until smooth. Unroll cake and remove towel. Spread cream cheese mixture over cake. Re-roll cake. Wrap in seran wrap then foil.
Let roll cool completely before serving.  These freeze VERY well so it's great to make a whole bunch ahead of time & put in the freezer.  They are also easier to slice when they are still slightly frozen.

Peanut Butter Blossom Cookies
  • 1/2 cup shortening
  • 1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • additional 3-4 tablespoons of sugar
  • 48 foil-wrapped milk chocolate kisses, unwrapped (I personally love to use the caramel filled ones)
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Cream together shortening, peanut butter, brown sugar and 1/2 cup sugar. Add egg, milk and vanilla. Beat well. Stir together flour, baking soda and salt in separate bowl. Add flour mix to creamed mixture. Beat on low speed until stiff dough forms. Shape into 1-inch balls. Roll in sugar. Place 2 inches apart on un-greased cookie sheet (DO NOT press down dough balls). Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until light golden brown. Remove from oven & top each cookie immediately with an unwrapped chocolate piece, pressing down firmly so that cookie cracks around edge. Remove from cookie sheets to cool.

Pecan Pie Bars
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1 cup butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups light corn syrup
  • 1 1/2 cups white sugar
  • 3 tablespoons margarine, melted
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 1/2 cups chopped pecans
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease the sides and bottom of one 15x10 inch pan. In a large bowl combine the flour, 1/2 cup sugar, margarine or butter and salt until the mixture resemble coarse crumbs. Press firmly into the prepared pan. Bake at 350 for about 20 minutes. While crust is baking, in a large bowl stir the eggs, corn syrup 1 1/2 cups white sugar, melted margarine and vanilla until blended. Stir in the chopped pecans. Spread the filling evenly over the hot crust. Bake at 350 for 25 minutes or until set. Let cool before slicing.

Ultimate Oatmeal Cookies
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 cups rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1 cup raisins
  • 1/2 chopped pecans
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease cookie sheets. In a large bowl, cream together butter, brown sugar and white sugar until smooth. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Combine flour, baking soda, and salt; stir into the creamed mixture. Mix in the oats, chocolate chips, raisins, and pecans, one ingredient at a time. Drop by rounded spoonfuls onto the prepared cookie sheets. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes in the preheated oven. Allow cookies to cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

DIY Ornaments

Are you feeling a little crafty this holiday season & have been trying to find something to involve the kiddos with too? Growing up we absolutely LOVED making our own ornaments! We'd spend hours at our grandma's house making these ornaments & our parents still hang them on the tree to this day.  Not only are they super fun for the kids, but they are amazing mementos & a great gift idea for family members... think grandparents!

Decorative Dough (Salt Dough)
2 cups flour
1 cup salt
3/4 cup water

Mix together flour & salt.  Slowly add water & knead dough until stiffens (about 8-9mins).  Shape & then bake about 30 mins at 325 degrees.

Some helpful tips:
-Poke hole in the top before baking, that way you can add a cute ribbon to hang on the tree.
-Feel free to add food coloring before shaping, but be cautions or else you might get dye on your hands.
-Toothpicks, forks, & butter knifes are great for decorating tools & carving year/name on the back.
-Once they are cooled off the kids can paint them or even glue items to them.
-These are a great idea for using as a mold for hand or feet prints too. 

Make sure to keep an eye on your kiddos, safety is always the best option!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Holiday Shopping

We're starting our first post with the perfect topic of holiday shopping! Once again the holidays are here and Christmas is less than 2 weeks away! What type of holiday shopper are you?  Did you finish all your shopping weeks ago, do you just have a couple of the hard to buy for family members left, or are you the last minute type?  Online shopping is great for a wide selection of unique gifts and avoiding crowds.  

Here are some of our favorites for this holiday season!

Personalized fingerprint or paw print jewelery Priceless Prints by Prairie Creations.
 (us GOOP as a promotional code & get 10% off your order...

Uncommon Goods has unusual gifts like this construction plate with utensils and these fun hand tattoos


Unique handmade gifts like this rooster bag and Anchor Man quote pencils from the ever so popular, Etsy.

For anything and everything else like the amazing Kindle or cute peanut butter pocket you can't go wrong with, get on the Amazon Mom waiting list for free 2 day shipping and get exclusive deals.