Tuesday, December 20, 2011

My Christmas Gift To You

I’m probably going to get in trouble with my kids for doing this, but it’s really not often that they read my blog unless it’s over my shoulder. Since they’re in bed right now I feel safe.

This gift goes back 21 and a half years to my first week as a married woman. That’s the first time I made a little two-potato pot of soup.

For the next 15 or so years I tweaked and adjusted (and increased) my recipe until I arrived at the recipe I’m using today. Somewhere along the way it became a favorite on Friday nights and most especially our family tradition to serve for dinner on Christmas Eve.

Over the years I’ve been asked to share it but I had these lingering dreams of someday selling the recipe to a restaurant, opening my own vegetarian bistro or at the very least, writing a cookbook.

Well, I’m busy. And lazy. There will be no bistros or cookbooks. It’s taking a large amount of effort to even write this up for the blog. I'm currently getting "403 - forbidden" errors when I try to publish this. But I’ve still decided to go ahead and share. (Please don’t tell my kids I shared our most sought after family secret…)

Sara’s Potato Soup
 (AKA – Coronary in a Pot)
In a large stock pot sauté:
  • 1/2 stick butter
  • 1 large onion – chopped
  • 4 stalks celery – chopped
  • 1 large carrot – grated
  • 1 t white pepper
  • 1 t salt
  • 24 grinds fresh black pepper
  • 1/4 t celery seed
  • 3-4 cloves garlic – crushed or pressed
After the above has sautéed nicely add approximately 7 pounds (a bag and a half) of yellow gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 1/2 inch cubes. You can add variety here by only peeling half of the potatoes and washing the other half. OR if you have baked potatoes leftover it’s nice to add them. I don’t peel the baked ones either. Just use a nice quality cooking potato for smoothness.

Immediately pour in:
  • 4 (14 ounce) cans vegetable broth (or about 2 boxes)
  • 3 T (rounded) McKay’s Chicken Style Seasoning OR 2 T Better Than Bouillon Vegetarian No-Chicken Base)
Be sure that potatoes are nearly covered in broth and let cook down uncovered at a gentle boil. It will get very thick with no clear liquid and the potatoes will break down except for some large chunks. Stir frequently to avoid scorching the bottom. This takes about 30-45 minutes. This is a vegetarian recipe – if you don’t want vegetarian use chicken broth and omit the chicken style seasoning.

After it’s all cooked down and thickened up, add:
  • 1 can cream style corn
  • 8 ounces cheese – grated
  • 8 ounces sour cream
  • 1 pint heavy cream (OR half-n-half)
Don’t let it boil now – just get it all stirred in – then use a stick blender to smooth it out a bit. I like to leave a lot of lumps.

Serve hot with a garnish of grated cheese or sour cream dollop and a nice salad and some great bread to scrape the bowl.

It will be very thick the next day. It’s best warmed slowly on the stove adding milk to thin it to the desired consistency.

You can reduce the calories and fat by using low fat or 50/50 butter and sour cream and using milk rather than heavy cream or half-n-half and reducing the amount of cheese. But really… how often are you going to make this? Leave it full flavored.

There you have it. No ingredients left out, no secrets saved, and you don’t have to get me anything.

Make up a pot for your family this Christmas.

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Monday, December 19, 2011

A Little Christmas

I’m ready! And I’m even early this year. Earlier than I’ve been in the last couple of years. I’ve really been trying… If you know me in real life you know I’m perpetually late to…well…everything. It’s one of the things I despise about myself. But I am aware and I am trying to do better.

The other day I was a good ten minutes early to a homeschool outing to fill fruit baskets for the local meals on wheels folks. TEN MINUTES! Can you imagine? I’d like to take credit for it, but sadly, I can’t. I actually thought I was 20 minutes late and was shocked to find nobody else had arrived yet. But I’m choosing to roll with it and say it’s my new habit.

I’m early with my gifts and wrapping too. This year I had all of my gifts (except for a few stragglers that were on order) wrapped, bowed, tagged and under the tree artfully on November 30 an hour before midnight! And as anything new has entered the house I’ve wrapped it almost immediately. Even my stocking stuffers are wrapped and ready to go. (It helps to have a handy tote full of wrapping supplies at the ready…)
I wasn’t sure if I’d like the black paper and ribbons but it really grew on me. You really can’t beat that ribbon at Costco – 50 yards for less than $7. And it’s wired so it’s easy to make a pretty bow. DSCN3683
It’s been very gray around here – overcast and gloomy outside, but not inside. We’re not complaining – we certainly need the rain in our parched Texas land – and the gray makes it seem more wintery in this place where it can get pretty toasty most of the year.

Because if the gray I’ve avoided taking you on a photo tour of our home for the holidays, but today it was light enough that I snapped a few photos. 

Care to take a tour?

Christmas Front Door Wreath
I purchased two of these fresh Christmas green wreaths this year. Since we have a faux tree now I can’t clip greens from the bottom and use them around the house. And the tree lots don’t like to sell piles of greens anymore – they know they can profit well by wiring them into garland and wreaths.

I added a bow to the first and took apart the second wreath and used it around my house…look for photos below. Each wreath was about $16 at Costco.Christmas Legos
Even the Legos are ready for Christmas.Christmas Mantle with Music Candles
This is my favorite and easiest Christmas craft this year – covering my (battery operated) candles with antique sheet music. I found the music at a Habitat for Humanity Re-Store for just a couple of bucks, color copied it and just taped it in place. This way, I can easily remove it when I get tired of it, or change the music seasonally. The iron stars seem to be a Texas staple and I thought they were Christmassy too.Christmas Mantle with Sheet Music Candles & Iron Stars
Because the candles sit in front of a mirror it makes the seams easy to see – but I think they are much more visible in photos than in real life.
Christmas Mantle with Music Candles close up
I like to use a sparse garland (in this case, sugared fruits) and fill in around it with fresh greens. The branches are just tucked in - It gives the house the smell of a fresh tree without all the mess. I like the way it dresses up my dining room light fixture.
Christmas Dining Light with Greens
The kids are anxious to start nibbling on the candies in the apothecary jars now that I’ve got my blog photos…

Every time I see my silver trays on the wall I love them even more. Thank you, Pinterest, for the inspiration.
Christmas Apothecary Jars & Silver Trays
My favorite tray is the one I painted with chalkboard paint. Easy peasy, lemon squeezy. I like to change out what the chalkboard says every now and again. Don’t ask me what it says or how to pronounce it, though… I do know it’s not Spanish.Silver Tray Chalkboard for Christmas
I swiped this garden basket from the wall in my Gramma’s garage last summer. Instead of an abundance of zucchini and giant tomatoes it now holds the littlest Christmas gifts.Christmas Gifts in Antique Garden Basket
A friend of mine hosted an Altered Advent Calendar class a few years ago at her church. I love how mine turned out. This year we added events and outings as well as chocolates.Paper Crafts Altered Advent Calendar
I added some long cinnamon sticks (from the grocery store) and clippings from our holly bushes to some of the greens from that extra wreath I bought. It looks nice wired to the garden basket.Christmas Greens on Garden Basket
A few more greens and some of the pinecones from that same wreath make a nice base for my Mercury Glass Pottery Barn votive holders. See… I buy stuff from Pottery Barn (when it’s less than $4…)Mercury Glass Votives with Christmas Greens
White Pitcher Collection with Christmas Greens
Even my white pitcher and creamer collection got a few greens and holly sprigs.

A small bit of greens I would have tossed out really dressed up my lantern (lit with a battery candle).
Snowy Lantern
Another small bunch spreads the Christmas cheer to a pile of stripped books from the thrift store.DSCN3710
Our (beautifully monogrammed) stockings are hung near our chimney with care.Christmas Stockings & Nativity
And this is our reminder of the Real Reason we’re celebrating. I added some battery powered tea lights to give our Nativity Crèche a soft glow.DSCN3716
Only two trees this year – one in the living room and one in Michaela’s room. I didn’t have the energy for all the others.
Christmas Tree Lights with Wrapped GiftsJesus is the Reason for the Season
Enjoy these last few moments of anticipation before the big day. Take some time to reflect on the most Wonderful Gift.

Merry Christmas to you and yours!

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Monday, December 5, 2011

The Goats of Christmas Presents

In an effort to earn some more Christmas cash, we recently had a garage sale, which is pretty impressive if you know that we don’t even have a garage. I’d have called it a yard sale, but after a year of “exceptional drought” we don’t have much of a yard either.


These photos are from the second day, but there weren’t any of what you’d call ‘big ticket’ items – mostly just junk you might look for at bargain prices.354

I won’t tell you how much I originally paid for this box of family memory making, values affirming, monthly activities… Somebody is getting a nice Christmas present though.355

I even parted with my service for twelve, hope-chest china. I actually bought this stuff when I was in seventh grade. I was preeeetty hopeful, huh? Now I just hope that someone had a nice Thanksgiving with it. (And I’m thrilled to have this kitchen cabinet space back.)

We spread our sale over two days, a Friday and a Sunday, and got equal traffic both days. We were fortunate that there was a well advertised but not well marked estate sale just a block or so away from us. We actually got some customers that were looking for the other sale.

As the sale started my kids were very excited about the potential funds being added to my Christmas coffers. With each transaction they did the math in their heads to trying to figure how much more mom could afford to spend on each of them. But as the first day ended and we started counting up our earnings we remembered a goal we had set for ourselves the previous year – we wanted to give a significant gift to another family that was struggling.

The kids quickly changed course and decided that we should use our yard sale coinage to bless someone else. We grabbed a catalog that had arrived in our mailbox and started making some new calculations to see what we could afford from its pages. There really weren’t many options and there was a deadline of December 16 to make our decision.

Then I remembered, our own Church does this same thing year round – I did some digging around on their website and found that the  Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) was developed in 1956 to provide humanitarian relief and welfare.

ADRA currently has more than 4,000 workers active year round in 125 countries showing God’s love through compassionate acts of humanitarian service. Did you know that the United States ranks 20th among developed nations in foreign aid spending. I was surprised to learn that. That’s less than half of 1% of the gross national income for the World’s poor. And I have been known to whine about how “we’re always helping everyone else”…

Something else I learned is that my old donated blanket or sweater isn’t always the more cost effective way to go. ADRA’s page says:

These items must be washed, disinfected, sorted, packed and shipped. In the end, the cost of preparing the delivery of a used sweater exceeds the cost of simply buying a new one near the disaster area. Often, unsolicited goods clog transportation routes, hindering needed supplies from gaining clearance at shipping ports. In addition, by the time supplies arrive after this long process of collecting, sorting, and cleaning, the emergency phase of a disaster is usually over. Monetary gifts allow ADRA to immediately purchase specific items that survivors need. Most essential relief goods, such as medicines, temporary shelter, tools, clothing, blankets, and latrines can be purchased locally or in neighboring countries at lower prices. In addition to providing these items quickly, purchasing them locally helps stimulate the economy in the disaster area.

Two of my favorite features on the ADRA website are  the Really Useful Gift Catalog and the Kid’s page. The Really Useful Gift Catalog features gifts from $1 and up that will make a difference worldwide. You can choose your gift by program, region or price and specify just where you want your gift to go. The Kid’s Page has puzzles, games, coloring pages, maps, recipes and a place where kids can pack a variety of helpful virtual boxes then just click, the price of your box is added and you can click again to send the box. A little more digging on the Kids In Action page even revealed ADRA’s plan for hosting a yard sale!

So this year for Christmas those difficult to shop for Grandparents are receiving goats. We settled on goats for Tunisia (We could afford two with our yard sale profits.)

Goat for Tunisia

Rather than just telling them about the gift we picked up a couple of plastic goats at Hobby Lobby and have wrapped them with a short note of explanation asking them to put the little plastic guy (or hopefully gal) in a prominent place and to remember to pray for her protection, health and purpose as well as to ask for blessings on the family she is serving.DSCN3547

I encourage you to take a look at the options that ADRA offers as you make some of your gift giving decisions this Christmas. ADRA's Really Useful Gift Catalog is an avenue through which you can choose a meaningful gift which will transform lives around the world.

ADRA Gift Catalog

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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Sabbatical Ended

I’ve been on a long break here. a lot has happened since mid-September but I’ve mostly spent the last eight to ten weeks trying to figure out how to step back in here gracefully. If you know me in real life you know that “gracefully” isn’t often a word used to describe me.

We’re in the thick of the holiday stretch now, just coming off of Thanksgiving. It was a great day with family and a couple from church with more than enough food but not quite enough leftovers. Not sure how we managed that one.


If you’d like a tutorial on how to make a pumpkin arrangement like this you can take a look at this post from 2009.DSCN3484

Friday morning bright and early my babies’ daddy unloaded the Christmas boxes and totes from our shed. This was much easier since I just hosted a yard sale weekend before last and returned none of the unsold goods to the shed. (“Hosted” makes it sound like something glamorous you’d get an engraved invitation to, no?)

As I started putting up the very convenient pre-lit tree, I was excited to know that the tree was officially "paying for itself” this year. I also remembered we had a little issue with lights last year going out in the middle of my main tree. So the “trouble shooting” began. I believe the term “trouble shooting” must come from someone having trouble that made them want to start shooting something.PC250039

We did find the magic light fixer thingy and bought it some of those expensive little tiny silver cookie batteries. Turns out it’s not so magic. Four hours later there was no solution to the problem, but a lot of annoying beeping had taken place.

We gave up and shoved the boxes aside for Sabbath. Saturday night we started in again and finally decided to just remove the bad light string. By Sunday morning I was no more motivated since now there was another section of four branches not lighting up. I started by replacing bulbs as I came to them while fluffing the branches – harvesting donor bulbs from the first string pulled off. I was pretty surprised that about half the bulbs I was harvesting were no good. I ended up using nearly the entire string to replace burnt out bulbs. This is not a good showing for the convenience of “pre-lit” trees...

Just as I was removing the second string it LIT UP again. Oy! I shook and yanked and pulled on it until I was thoroughly convinced it was going to stay lit. Then I started re-attaching the string.

Finally late Sunday evening I got both of the strings replaced, found the “best” side, got it turned to the front of the room and started hanging decorations. About 10 ornaments in I noticed the first string I replaced was out again.

I gave up and just turned the dark spot to the back and kept hanging ornaments.



By late Monday evening I was finished. My teenaged son has suggested that it might be a little bit cluttered. Really, son? Cluttered? Like your bedroom, cluttered? I don’t think of it as cluttered… It’s my Christmas  “scrapbook”. Every ornament means something or marks some milestone for our family.DSCN3520DSCN3519DSCN3515

I don’t think the solution is fewer ornaments – the solution is clearly a larger tree (pre-lit, of course). So at the least we’ll need a higher ceiling. That means either a re-model or a new home.

You see how hard my life is? It’s no wonder I don’t have time to blog very often…

Is your tree up yet, and are you a faux or live tree fan?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Crayon Love

There’s just something about a new box of crayons that I can’t resist. Especially at the start of a new school year. The sharp points, the colorful array, even the smell. New crayons are like a bouquet for new school year.
My apothecary jar collection is growing and since I don’t have a place to store it right now I have to use it. Rather than fill the jars with the ever-disappearing candies I took a friend’s suggestion and filled the jars with stuff that makes me happy at the start of a new school year.DSCN3265DSCN3266
I wasn’t exactly sure how many boxes of crayons it would take to fill my largest jar, so I bought 16 of them just to be safe. They were just $ .25 each, so it wasn’t a big investment.DSCN3267
Well, as luck would have it, it only takes 6 boxes, so I had a few leftover.
The other day I was on Pinterest, (my latest addiction) and saw a cute project that sparked an idea for my extra crayons. (By the way, I’ll be trying this idea at Christmastime.)peppermint stick vase
It doesn’t take much at all to throw this together and it’s another one of those 5 minute projects.DSCN3274DSCN3280 If I spent a few more minutes I could make this great – maybe add some string and buttons to that burlap bow, or go and and buy some more measuring tape ribbon, but my goal was just to inspire you today, so it’s a quick one. This is the $ .50 version. the only thing purchased for this project was the boxes of crayons. By the way, if you can find candle cups like these you should pick up a dozen of them. I’ve used them over and over with different results every time.DSCN3272
I want to warn you – if you’re going to give this as a gift or move it around much you’ll want to secure your crayons with more than just a thick rubber band. Maybe a bit of hot glue or double-sided tape. If you don’t, you could end up playing your own game of 48 crayon pick-up.DSCN3277
I still had a few crayons left over so I went looking for more ideas on Pinterest. If you need an invitation to Pinterest just holler – I’d be glad to send you one – but you can’t hold me responsible when you can’t tear yourself away.DSCN3278
Here’s what I found… Crayon MonogramCrayon wreath
Colored Pencil Vase
Hope you have a colorful day! (in a good way…)
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