Monday, December 31, 2012

Goodbye 2012

So it's been quite a year, eh? The last few weeks have just flown by us. It did include a lot of knitting...
And painting...
And baking...

Within the next few weeks I'll cover several DIY gift ideas and recipes, but today I wanted to share a story of beauty and danger.

So as many of you know, several people predicted some catastrophic event to happen December 21st of 2012. This is mostly thanks to the Mayan calendar ending on that day. That is until archeologist found a new Mayan calendar this past summer that goes far past that date. Either way, my darling husband wanted to celebrate his birthday (December 20th) and Yule/Winter Solstice (December 21st) by camping at a near by lake. That's right. Camping. In a tent. In the middle of December.
We packed a lot, but nothing could fully prepare us.
About a week or so before this trip, we were looking ok. The weather was hovering around 40-50 degrees. There was a little wind here or there, but nothing extreme. That is until the day before our trip. There was a large cold front that brought rain and bitter wind. That wind lasted through the next day. Thankfully, two of our friends were crazy enough to join us that night.
Key word for that night: LAYERS
Ashley & I joined our husbands a little late. We both worked that day and eventually found the camp site around 8 p.m. By that time, the wind took down one tent and was in the process of taking down another tent and a tarp that sheltered our fire. Thankfully that blaze lasted throughout the night even without the tarp. We had hoped to have a delicious dinner, s'mores for dessert, and late night of fun. But the cold reality was ramen that took forever to cook, taking turns warming in my car, and a early bedtime.
My husband keeping our dog warm
I have no idea how cold it got for us that night, but I do know the wind chill in the city was 21 degrees with wind gust at 30 + miles an hour. So with that being said, we decided that the four of us (and the dog) needed to stay in one tent.
This held all five of us!
Needless to say no one slept well that night. It was frigid and the wind often woke many of us up. I was just waiting for dawn to break. For the longest night of the year to be over. And after what felt like a lifetime, we began to see the sun's rays. We then witnessed a beauty that made the whole trip worth while.
A new dawn on Lake Barkley
The world may not of ended. Nothing different even happened that day. But there's something to be said about seeing the sunrise after such a dark evening. We were able to have an early New Year's Day and speak about our hopes and dreams for the new time ahead. But with a still frigid wind in the air, we quickly packed up and headed back to our warm homes.

So why share this story? I think it's a good example on the end of one year and looking forward to a new. That night was hideous; but sometimes we have to go through awful times to move on to a beautiful morning. 2013 is the new dawn. And I greatly look forward to what adventures lie ahead of us. Here's at least a peek of what I do know that will happen in the new year:
Projects to make our home more efficient!
Journeys to enjoy nature!
Holistic projects!
And I'm so happy to share all of these adventures with you. Thanks for sticking with me this year. 2012 was good to us. But I'm over it. I'm ready for 2013. Bring it!

Monday, December 17, 2012

DIY Festivus: Homemade Wreath

So what would you say if I told you that you could get a fabulous holiday wreath that matches your decorations, is the perfect dimension, and is free. That's right. A wreath that cost nothing.
My mantle isn't so bare anymore!
So the beautiful wreath above didn't cost me a dime. It's mostly thanks to the fact I made it myself. And even that only took about an hour. Here's how you can make a wreath of your own.

What you need:
- About 8 branches that you probably cut off from your live tree to make room for the base. One time an employee from the tree store gave me extra branches from previous trimmings!
- About 5 branches of other winter plants: holly, mistletoe, etc. This one is optional.
- Zip ties of all shapes & sizes
- Extra gift-wrapping ribbon
- Extra holiday ornaments

You will first need to decide how large you want your wreath to be. After you determine that, lay the tree branches in the wreath shape you desire. It maybe easier getting a metal wreath form, but I have never used one.
Once the branches are laid out, you then have the hard work of using zip ties to connect the branches. As I said, you may want to use a wreath form, but I've always just tied the main parts of the branches together. You will need to be discrete, but don't worry too much. You can always cover up some of the zip ties with the optional holiday plants/ ribbon/ ornaments. And don't forget to snip the ends after you get it locked.
Also a warning: you may want to use gloves. I broke out after making my wreath.
After you get the wreath secure enough, you can then embellish it with it anything you want. You can even use some finer zip ties. Basically work the garnish into any of the empty spaces between the branches. Ribbon is normally the last part I add that way I can cover up anything left that needs to be covered up.
And there you have it: a beautiful wreath that's ready to be hung up on a door or wall. You can also take in some pride that you made it yourself. And it's thrifty! What could be better?
A wreath from two years ago. It's a little more messy, but I wanted to show a more ribbon/ornament look
If you're getting tired of DIY holiday ideas, don't worry. It's almost over. But until January 2nd, I'm going to milk Festivus as much as I can. Love this time of year!

Monday, December 10, 2012

DIY Festivus: Gift For Newly Weds

So there was a gift I made for one of our favorite couples last year. It was their first Christmas as a married couple. So I searched for a great gift to commemorate it. Thanks to this thrifty blogger, I found the perfect present: an ornament made from their wedding announcement.
The photo I took last year only to realize I couldn't post it until AFTER I gave it to them.
So here's all you need for this beautiful ornament:
- A plastic ornament bulb (it's like 2 bucks at Hobby Lobby)
- The couple's wedding announcement/invitation/or program
- Scissors
- A pencil or dowel rod
- Glue

Making the ornament literately takes no time. First you slice up the wedding announcement horizontally. Try to keep some of the important details within the lines, especially the names, time, and address.

After that, take each strip and use the pencil/doll rod to roll up strips of paper. That will give you the rolled banner affect. After each strip is rolled, you can finagle the paper so the name or date is straight.

Then you need to get out the halved ornament. Gently place the rolls where you'd like them to be. This will take a bit of patience and work. I was able to build what I wanted in one half. On the other half, lay a little glue here and there on the lip that connects the halves. Then you simply place the top half and hold until the glue is secure... and voilĂ ! You have a beautiful ornament for your friend.
The ornament one year later...
I plan to try more of these through out the years. Maybe even attempt baby announcements! So for about $2, you can provide your loved on a one-of-a-kind gift. Not even Hallmark can do that!

Monday, December 3, 2012

DIY Festivus: Mantle Sign

So it's finally December. Can you smell it in the air? Christmas lights are up, everyone is rushing to the mall, and coffee stores are featuring holiday-themed flavors. It's Festivus!
Some of the delicious brews at our favorite coffee shop
As you can guess from my lack of posts, we've been busy. Outside of our normal duties, we're also busy decorating our home in a full holiday fashion. This is the first time we get to decorate our new home for Festivus. I'm so excited!

But I  also wanted to share one decoration I made this year that literally cost just $4 and 20 minutes for me to make.

So here's what you need:
4 Frames (bought at the Dollar Store)
Holiday-themed background (I used scrap booking paper I had from a 2011 project)
A Pencil
A Permanent Marker

It doesn't get much simpler my friends. Cut the background paper the proper size to fit in the frame. Then I drew the letters with a pencil at first followed by the permanent marker. Added some lines where needed. You can use paint, but I feel the marker is easier to control. And it practically dries instantly.
Not my most flattering photo but you get the point.
If you are not comfortable enough to do this free hand, you have a few options. There are a lot of stencils out there for the letters. And a ruler can be easily applied to sketch guidelines so it all matches.

For years I've been trying to find a good way to draw a snowflake. And if you are in the same dilemia & would like to know how I drew mine, here's a quick step by step tutorial. The design is open enough to make imperfections lovely.

After you draw out what you like & it dries, it's ready to go back into the frame then be placed in the desirable spot. For our mantel, I did intentionally pick one "odd" frame and overlapped the frames to give a 3D effect.
So there you have it! A quick, easy, and cheap way to add a new decoration to your home this season. I hope to share a few more ideas throughout the month when it comes to either decorations or gifts. I'm also pleased to share a photo of this year's Christmas tree! Are all your decorations up yet?
Happy Festivus!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Beginning Of Festivus: Thanksgiving

Well, we have finally arrived to my favorite time of year: Festivus! And that includes up coming Thanksgiving. We will be visiting my husband's family in just a few short days. But we decided to have a small Thanksgiving meal with one of our second families in Western Kentucky.

The Bargers & The Appels
You've probably seen the two a few times through out this blog. We decided to have a little feast this weekend. But since there's only four of us, we came up with an inexpensive way to have a portion-appropriate feast.

Here's what we featured:
- Lemon-Thyme Chicken
- Skillet Cream Corn with Bacon
- Homemade Canned Green Beans (from our good friend, Dillon)

What can I say? My man knows how to cook
My husband was in charge of this feast (we'll get to what I was up to in a moment). Here's how our recipes went:

Lemon-Thyme Chicken (which we found in the all-new ultimate Southern Living Cookbook)
1 lemon, cut half
1/2 medium onion
1 (5-pound) whole roast chicken (ours was actually quartered, but we still made it work)
1/4 cup butter, softened
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 t chopped thyme
1 t coarse salt
1 t ground pepper
1 cup chick broth
1/2 c dry white wine (we had a pinot grigio)
2 T all-purpose flour

First you normally shove the lemon into the chicken cavity. We ended up squeezing lemon juice over the quartered pieces.

Then stir together butter, garlic, and 2 t of thyme. Loosen the skin on the chicken by gently pushing your fingers in between the skin and meat. Do not totally detach the skin. Pour the butter mixture under the skin. Pour the rest over the skin. If you have a whole chicken, tie the legs together.

Place the chick, breast side up, on a lightly greased rack in a lightly greased shallow roasting pan. Sprinkle with salt & pepper. Bake at 450 degrees for 30 minutes. Then reduce heat to 400 degrees and bake for 55 minutes or until meat thermometer inserted into thigh registers 180 degrees. Baste occasionally with drippings and turn pan for even browning.

For the gravy, add broth to reserved drippings in pan and stir to loosen browned bits from bottom. Whisk together pan drippings, wine, and flour in a small saucepan for 5 minutes.

Skillet Cream Corn:
6 bacon slices
1/2 Vidalia onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
3 cups fresh corn kernels (if your ambitious, that's about 6 ears)
1/4 cup all purpose flour
1 1/2 cups half-and-half
A dash of salt
A dash of pepper
1 T butter
1 T basil

Cook bacon in a large skillet until crisp. Then do the typical drain on a paper towel. Reserve 2 Tablespoons of drippings in skillet. After it drains, crumble bacon and set aside.

Saute onion and garlic in hot drippings skillet for 5 minutes or until tender. Stir in the corn and cook for 5-7 minutes or until golden. Remove from heat.

Cook the flour in a large clean skillet over medium. Bake & stir occasionally for 5 minutes or until golden. Slowly whisk half-and-half until smooth. Add corn mixture along with salt and pepper. Cook for 5 minutes of until thickened. Remove from heat and stir in butter and basil. Sprinkle with bacon and serve.

Homemade Canned Green Beans:
We obviously just heated the green beans in a pot. But we added a bit of rosemary to spice it up. We are so grateful to our friend who sold us the chicken & threw in a couple goodies like the canned green beans. He also gave us deliciously canned apples, black eyed peas, and salsa!

Our little feast turned out perfectly, but alas, my photos did not. You have to trust that it was delicious. And even better, it filled up four tummies without over doing the table. If you need to have a smaller holiday feast, this is the way to go. It was also very thrifty. The whole thing was maybe $40 at the most? Probably less.

Oh, and what was I doing while my amazing husband was cooking? Starting up the Christmas decore of course!
This is just a preview of Ashley's & my work. There is much more ahead. But that's for another day. I hope you all have a delicious Thanksgiving. And be sure to take the time to count your blessing and express thanks for a wonderful things you have in your life. I have too many to count. But a loving husband, great friends, a good family, a roof over my head are just to name a few. What are you thankful for this year?

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Wild Card Recipe: Cheeseburger Pasta

Sorry for another delay my friends. Alas, work always seems to overwhelm me at times. But I guess that's why it's called work right? Last week we held our 2012 election coverage. Needless to say it took a bit out of me.

Anyways, to make it up to you, I'm going to share a recipe for one of my favorite dishes. And it's been awhile since I've done a wild card recipe. It's a tasty comfort food: cheeseburger pasta. It's a staple at our home and even better- it is incredibly easy & cheap to make! I did make a few changes to original recipe I found.

All you need:
- 1 lb of ground beef
- 3 cloves of garlic diced
- 1 Tablespoon of onion power
- 1 can of condensed tomato soup
- 1 can of condensed cheese soup
- 1 1/2 cups of water
- 2 cups of uncooked shell pasta
- 1 pinch of oregano, thyme, and basil

One of of the best things about this meal is that you make in just one skillet. Begin by sauteing the garlic in some olive oil. Then throw in the beef.
There's nothing better than cooking up some local ground beef
 During that time, I toss in a couple dashes of onion powder. After the beef fully cooks, you can begin the... colorful part: pouring in the soups.
Yep. It looks gross, but it's worth it, my friends!
I normally stir in both soups a little bit before adding the water and pasta. Get the concoction to a boil then reduce heat to medium before letting it cook for another 10 minutes or so. All the while, keep stirring on occasion.

Don't worry, it will slowly become something much more delicious-looking. Just keep stirring. I had a few occasions where parts of the bottom stuck to skillet.
 You will basically cook it until the water is reduced and the noodles are tender. When you only have about a minute or so more, add the oregano, thyme & basil. After another minute and a few more stirs, you're done! It's ready to enjoy.
Pure yumminess
So there you have it, super tasty cheeseburger pasta. You basically have your own hamburger helper with less msg! One day I want to figure out a more natural replacement for the two soups, but there's at least reduced sodium versions out there.

It'll be a busy week ahead. In a few hours, I'll be off to help at our station's televised telethon. It's our 56th annual Telethon of Stars. We work with the Lions Club to raise money for several charities throughout our four state area. If you'd like to do your part, send a nice donation their way.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

When Illness Strikes

So I'm a little behind this week. But it's because I caught a nasty head cold from work. Thankfully I've had the past two days off so I was able to relax with some buddies.
What I woke up to Monday
Everyone seems to have their cure for the common cold, but I thought I would share what I'm doing to get over this ailment quickly.

First off you need some ibuprofen & vitamin C. Ibuprofen takes down any swelling or inflammation, including your ear tubes & sinus cavities. I also grabbed a six pack of orange juice cartons. Vitamin C can also help reduce inflammation and is well known for boosting your immune system. Some say while it won't cure a cold, it can help prevent further complications. Outside of juice, drinking tea is also key.

The one echinacea flower I was able to grow this year
I normally try to drink echinacea tea. Echinacea is an amazing herb along with a beautiful flower. It is actually a native plant in North America.

Echinacea's root is normally what is used, which is best after growing for three years.  Some argue the real benefits of echinacea for the flu or cold, but it does have anti-bacterial properties that can stop pathogens from spreading. It can also be used as an anti-inflammatory.

But alas, I was out of echinacea. And my normal grocery store was not selling it. And needless to say with a cold, I wasn't motivated to look elsewhere. But there's more you can take than echinacea!

I first started off with some peppermint tea. Peppermint is normally best for an upset stomach, but mint's powerful menthol does wonders as a decongestant. It's also known as an astringent, antiseptic, antibacterial, and antimicrobial- just to name a few. My mother swears by peppermint tea for a sore throat and she's right. As with about any tea, I add a bit of honey. It not only sweetens the tea, but honey is also beneficial to your throat. If you don't enjoy peppermint tea, you can also brew and steep the tea before just inhaling the vapors.

Over the past couple days, I interchanged juice with peppermint tea along with Celestial's sleepytime throat tamer. That contains chamomile, licorice, ginger, tilia estrella, and slippery elm to coat the throat. Continuing a lot of a fluids is a must when you are ill so the body can stay hydrated as it disposes the bacteria & toxins. And knowing that I'm normally dehydrated, the extra fluids can't hurt.

But along with fluids, vitamins & herbs, I must confess that I used some medications. I'm dealing with a head cold- there's nothing wrong from the next down. There's just a sore throat and a lot of head congestion. So I caved in and took either some form of NyQuil or Mucinix. But we can still go over what these medications do to the body.

First we have DayQuil, which is obviously a "day" version of NyQuil. It has acetaminophen, phenylephrine, and dextromethorphan as active ingredients. I would rather see ibuprofen than acetaminophen since acetaminophen reduces inflammation in different way than non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (like ibuprofen & aspirin). And Tylenol never really does anything for me.

But it's the Phenylephrine that matters the most to me. It's a decongestant and is marketed as a replacement for pseudoephedrine. Decongestants retract blood vessels in the chest and nasal cavities which reduces inflammation and mucus in those areas. Peppermint tea can break congestion up, but I needed my body to stop making unnecessary mucus.

Dextromethorphan is a cough suppressant, but my cough in this case isn't terrible. That ingredient is just a bonus.

Ok, a friend convinced me to also take some Mucinex D. Its active ingredients are guaifenesin and pseudoephedrine. Guaifenesin is a cough suppressant like dextomethorphan. Both are debateable as a "good" cough suppressant, especially for kids. I would say if you are looking for a good cough suppressant, stick with honey and tea.

Mucinex D or even NyQuil D's biggest selling point is that it has pseudoephedrine, which is the leading cause of a big debate in my state. Pseudoephedrine is not only a degonestant, but a powerful stimulant. Drug makers use pseudoephedrine to make meth. In response, lawmakers in several states are making restriction of how a person can get medications with pseudoephedrine. So most drug companies conjure up a replacement for pseudoephedrine & can be sold over the counter. I'm not too concerned on this topic, but I can understand the arguments.

So there you have it- what I used to battle an icky head cold. It's been about two days & I'm feeling a lot better but it's also thanks to one thing I haven't mentioned yet: rest. I filled in at work over the weekend & in return I had Monday & Tuesday off. While it's always awful to be sick over your weekend, I'm overall glad. It happened over a time period where I could get a lot of rest. Sleep is the number on best way to get rid of an ailment. Resting allows your body focus entirely on destroying the bacteria or virus. And who doesn't enjoy a lazy morning or two?

Also something to keep in mind: a good amount of sleep, vitamin C, and tea will help keep away the cold or flu. So rest well my friends; and enjoy a cup o' tea for me.
Katsumi ensuring that I keep resting

Monday, October 22, 2012

A Little Fall Decore

We are well into autumn so I realized I better get out some decorations out before I have to take it down and get Festivus gear in order. Thankfully, I have some help this year.
Preparing the Jack O' Lanterns & Painting
I don't know why I didn't realize this before, but fall decorations can be expensive! A couple weekends ago, we went out to a local pumpkin patch. Don't get me wrong, we had a great time, but some of the costs for autumn decoration can cost a pretty penny.
It's not fall without a good ole' fashion hay ride!
We found a loverly little pumpkin patch
We still ended up purchasing a few pumpkins (and pie pumpkins for cooking of course), but we got into thinking about decorating without breaking the bank. Here are some key words: Hobby Lobby & Dollar Tree. First, I've mentioned it before, but if you're looking for a cheap way to all a little creativity with class to your home, you got to try painting your own letters!
I've been working on have a new Monogram for each season: here's autumn
At Hobby Lobby, the cardboard letters are about $2-3, depending on which you get. There is an initiative cost of getting enough paints, but after that, that's it! And here's to think the store's actual painted letters (only in one color mind you) cost more than $8.

But I decided to do a little more than just a new seasonal letter. So, I bought the letters to make a banner- "FALL." It didn't cost that much & only took about a week to finish.
During the first few steps
I decided to have each letter incorporate different things. "F" was for fall in general, so of course I had to get in some pumpkins. The other letters were a given: "A" had apples & acorns, "L" had leaves, "L" again for lantern. I was really happy with the end product.
Now here's the tough part. I decided I wanted to hang this out along our porch, but I didn't want to get my husband worried about drilling holes. So, I'm trying out a temporary structure using staples and twine. I simply strung twine across the back of the letters & stapled it to the letters. I did a few staples for each to get some support. Thankfully this project is light, but I'll have to keep an eye on it throughout the season.
So after that was all said & done, Ashley & I got to work on the porch. Most of it is a lot a great finds we got at the Dollar Store- couple window decals, a skeleton Ashley painted, and a lot of fake cobweb. You'd actually be surprised how well that stuff works.
It's all spooky!
But it's time for le piece of resistance! Thankfully, we already have a few hooks for planters & such on the porch. I tied the twine through the hooks and then touched it up with some ribbon. I'm so happy with how it turned out!
Ashley also got some cobweb on it
So all in all, our porch now has a touch of Halloween & autumn- all while spending $50 at the most. I hope this inspired you with a few some thrifty decoration ideas!
Happy Harvest Season!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Knowing Where Your Food Comes From

Taking a quick break from pumpkins to give an example of why I love living & eating in Western Kentucky.

This weekend, we went with another couple to Palmer Farms, which provides local, grass-fed beef. This is where we've been getting our more nutritional beef that takes a chunk out of our carbon footprint while tasting absolutely delicious. You can read more of why I'm getting picky about my beef here.

So, this was my second time going out to the Palmer Farm. It's about an hour and a half round trip drive for us to pick up about $50 (normally) worth of meat. And the ground beef is $4.50 / pound. And I can tell you without any hesitation that every cent, tank of gas, and minute of my time is worth it.

Both times we've been to the farm, it's been a wonderful experience. And this last time was no exception. We were first greeted by Stacie and two handsome lads who couldn't wait to show us some of their calves! We were able to spend some quality time with two calves that were just a week old and needed to be bottle fed. They were precious!

Couldn't get too many still photos of this guy- he was frolicking all over!
It took awhile to get this sleepy girl up, but isn't she a beaut?
In the midst of hanging out with these calves, Stacie's husband Mike showed up. We all ended up having a lovely symposium on the drought, livestock, and how a cow's diet impacts the flavor of meat. Then general crops came up in conversation and they offered to show us their tobacco barns. And oh my, did it smell wonderful.

Just one of the Palmers' barns that are full of tobacco leaves
During that time, we were able to not only learn about a crop that assisted in making our great nation, but also about American farming in general. On my first note, it was just a few tobacco seeds that John Rolfe was able to smuggle to the new land that gave a jump start to the colonies. You can just tuck that random fact away for a rainy day.

But we were also discussing what all has to be done in order to get the crops (like tobacco) to harvest in time. And I guess it just never crossed our mind for my husband to apply for seasonal farm work. I say this because the hubster is in the process of starting a career in (what he hopes) biology. Farm work, along with finishing school, could definitely get him one step closer! And of course, we all hope we can work something out next season.

I'm sharing all of this to tell you that I'm so happy to have these conversations with the family that raises my delicious burgers and steaks. We are able to talk about what grass the cow eats and what all they have to do when a calf gets sick. When it gets a bit dryer (can't believe I'm saying that after this devastating drought), we will even get to tour the pastures! And we hope this is only the beginning. There's a couple of other farmers when it comes to different livestock and crops. There's even one Amish farmer out here that wants to do a pig roast with his customers. These are relationships that are lost for most Americans. 

I got around to a few other things this weekend- mostly cleaning, cooking, and strangely: gardening! With the rain and still semi-warm temperatures, the tomatoes are still producing and my chamomile even seeded into a flower bed. So that's now a potted plant we will figure out how to house during winter. Maybe I'll get more tea out of it!

Live in Western Kentucky and love the thought of knowing your farmer & getting delicious grass-fed beef? Check out the Palmer Farms website. Not only can you learn more about the health benefits of grass fed beef, but Stacie has their prices along with some recipes on there.

Palmer Farms