Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Preparing Our Hearts and Homes for Christmas, Part 5, Decking the Halls

Decking the Halls

I had most of my Christmas decorating done during Thanksgiving vacation. I wanted to enjoy every minute of the tree and all of the lights and decorations that make our home so cozy during the season. I am , however, not a talented decorator. Thankfully, my kids and husband do not mind a bit. Here are some images of our cozy Christmas home.

My absolute favorite, and the most important, of our Christmas decorations is our beautiful nativity set. It was a gift from my mother-in-law a few years ago. She has the knack for choosing the most perfect and elegant gifts. Our nativity adorns our mantle with some greenery and small white lights. Did you notice the small shamrocks? I love anything with shamrocks - it was something my Grandmother collected and used to decorate her home. I think of her everytime I look at this nativity set. I was not able to get a picture of the full set but I think this picture shows its beauty:

Our Christmas tree. The picture is complete with our little one pulling some decorations off!

I picked up these adorable cups and dessert plates through a school fundraiser. They make me want to sit down every so often and relax with a cup of tea . . . and some cookies.
A craft show find for $10:
I found this on sale after Christmas for $3.00!I hope you enjoyed my little Christmas Home Tour!

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Best Birthday Ever

I celebrated my birthday this week at a Chris Botti concert. He is an incredibly talented jazz trumpeter whom I have been listening to for the last several years. Last February, we saw him on a PBS special and found out he was coming to our area for a concert on my birthday! We had such a wonderful time! This was the third time I have seen him live and it was the best yet. After every concert, he signs autographs and takes pictures with fans. I felt a little nerdy but I was thrilled to get an autograph and picture:
I felt nerdy because I brought a copy of the picture I had from his last concert when I was just days from giving birth to our fourth daughter and HUGE:

He smiled and signed it, and I had probably the best birthday ever!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Enjoying the Holiday Craft Shows

I have always enjoyed going to craft shows at our local churches. It is a great way to support the church as well as local crafters and artists. It is also an inexpensive and unique way to decorate your home. Here are some decorations I found recently at a craft show:

Old thread spools . . . the possibilities are endless!
A beautiful Christmas candle:
Handmade candles made from a repurposed tea cup and creamer:
Handmade ornaments made from ribbon boxes and a toy tea set:
Another handmade candle made with an old tin measuring cup:

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Preparing Our Hearts and Homes for Christmas: Part 4, Making Advent Meaningful

Preparing Our Hearts and Homes for Christmas
Making Advent More Meaningful

Do you have any plans to make Advent more meaningful? In years past, I have had no plan on how to celebrate Advent. As a result, the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas went so fast that we really did nothing to actually to celebrate the season.

As I mentioned in past posts, I decided to chose a theme for Advent this year so I could have some activities for myself and my little ones to focus on. Our theme this year is Fruit of the Spirit. I will be reading A Mother's Harvest: A Devotional for Moms Based on The Fruit of the Spirit. I found many books and CDs on Amazon that could be used with children of all ages to learn more about Galatians 5:22-23 . I also found this sweet sticker chart to to reinforce what my girls are learning and encourage them to practice love, joy, peace, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control . I also plan to use some handmade coloring sheets and the lesson plan for preschoolers found on this blog.

I am also hoping to make dinner a little more special each Sunday evening as we light the candles on our simple Advent Wreath.

Here are a few other resources you may enjoy:

For some great activities for the kids, check out Holy Heroes. Once you sign up, you will receive daily educational online videos and activities for school-aged children. It is not too late to join Advent Adventure. My girls participated in the Summer Faith Adventure which was a fun home vacation bible school. They really learned a lot. I believe they also offer a free Lenten Adventure.

I have been reading Kitchen Stewardship's Advent Daily Dose here.

Here is a nice article about Advent from Faith and Family Live. The Faith and Family Live website is filled with great articles and activities for the Catholic family.

I also liked the following articles on preparing for Jesus while waiting for Santa and ways to strengthen your family during Advent:



I hope these resources help you and your family take some time to truly celebrate Advent this year!

Monday, November 30, 2009

Menu Plan for the Week of 11/29/09

I am a little tired after the Thanksgiving holiday, so I tried to keep my menu plan simple this week. Here is what I have planned:

Sunday: Spicy turkey chili and turkey noodle soup for the kids

Monday: Tacos, refried beans, Spanish rice

Tuesday: Balsamic skirt steak, polenta, roasted tomatoes

Wednesday: Stuffed shells, salad

Thursday: Pierogis, edamonme

Friday: Lemon chicken, steamed carrots, brown rice

Saturday: Make your own pizza night, salad - I meant to do this last week but we were busy. This makes a great Family Fun Night meal!

Join the Organizing Junkie at www.orgjunkie.com every Monday for Menu Plan Monday and lots of great ideas for your weekly menu plan!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Pumpkin Pie Play Dough Recipe

I have been trying to put together a few holiday crafts and activities for my girls since they will be home for 5 days and it looks weather is going to turn a little ugly this week.

We love to make our own play dough. It is not messy like the stuff you buy in the store. I found this recipe at this lovely blog. I am sure I will have to remind my little ones that this is not really edible!

Pumpkin Pie Play Dough

5 1/2 cups flour
2 cups salt
8 tsp. cream of tartar
3/4 cup oil
1 1/2 oz. pumpkin pie spice
orange food coloring (2 parts yellow, 1 part red)
4 cups water

Mix all ingredients together. Cook and stir over medium heat until all lumps disappear. Knead the dough on a floured surface until smooth. Store in airtight container.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


While I try to count my blessings every single day, it is especially nice to focus on all that I am thankful for throughout this holiday season.

I have been a little stressed lately thinking about our finances. But every time I send a bill or look at our checking account, I am reminded of the times where we had almost no money. Early in our marriage, we had a period of unemployment. It was a struggle getting food on the table. But I am thankful for that time. We are where we are because of that time. We work even harder now because we remember where we were.

So, for the tough times, I am grateful!

Menu Plan for the Week of 11/22/09

Happy Thanksgiving! I planned an easy week of menus because I feel like I am vacation this week. We will not be traveling and nobody will be visiting over the holiday, but I love the break in our weekly schedule! Here is what will be on our kitchen table this week:

Sunday: We treated the kids to Boston Market. They have great deal every weekend (through the end of January, I think). For every adult meal of $7.00 or more, you get 2 free kids meals. We paid about $12 to feed the six of us. We even had a $2 manager discount given because the order took a while.

Monday: Rigatoni with homemade meatballs and dinner rolls

Tuesday: Crock Cream Cheese Chicken and steamed broccoli

Wednesday: Cheese Tortellini Soup and salad

Thursday: Happy Thanksgiving! We are having all the usual stuff!

Friday: Make your own pizza night and salad. This was a big hit in our house last week so we are doing it again. Even our 16 month old had fun kneading and stretching her dough!

Saturday: Steak, baked sweet potatoes, and steamed baby carrots

Join the Organizing Junkie at www.orgjunkie.com every Monday for Menu Plan Monday and lots of great ideas for your weekly menu plan!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Preparing Our Hearts and Homes for Christmas: Part 3: Christmas Cards

Preparing Our Hearts and Homes for Christmas
Part 3: Christmas Cards

I love to send and receive Christmas cards. Every year since my husband and I became engaged, I have sent a photo card to family and friends. I am not very good at sending pictures throughout the year. With our schedule, I have rarely have time to call or even email all those special people in our lives. Thankfully, they understand! However, I love to be able to send a card with pictures of our growing family as a way to reconnect with those we do not have a chance to talk to very often. And, I know our family and close friends appreciate the pictures they receive each year, as well.

This year, as with most families, our holiday budget is very tight. I considered not sending cards this year but I knew I could find a way to keep up this tradition while staying within budget. I received a deal from Shutterfly for $10 off and free shipping on orders of $30 or more, good through 11/30/09. If anybody would like the code, please let me know and I would be happy to email it to you. It is listed as a "unique code" so I do not know if it can be used more than once.

But wait . . . .

As I was about to place my Shutterfly order, I came across the DEAL OF THE CENTURY on photo cards. On www.freebies4mom.blogspot.com, there is a deal for 50 FREE 4x8 photo cards and FREE shipping from www.seehere.com by Fugi Film. You can find the code here.

I ordered my cards last Tuesday night and I had them by Friday morning! Absolutely free! They turned out very well! They also sent me an email offering an additional 100 free prints.

Hurry, this deal ends November 30, 2009! I will be addressing my cards tonight, and I will be ready to send them out for the first week of December. What a great feeling to have this done so early in the season.

In my next installment, I will talk more about our family's Advent theme and activities that I have been preparing.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Preparing Our Hearts and Home for Christmas, Part 2: Pre-Planning and Organization

Preparing Our Hearts and Homes For Christmas

Because the Christmas season is a busy time of year, I started planning early (as in early October) in order to stay organized, peaceful, and calm. Planning ahead and lowering expectations will make this a wonderful season for our family! At the end of October, I created a free Christmas Countdown Holiday Planner which can be found here. Having everything in one binder allows me to avoid all the notes and lists on tiny scraps of paper, missing receipts, lost addresses, etc.

Here is my Holiday Organizer:

First and foremost, my planner includes a Holiday Values Worksheet. I am using this to remember what is truly important to our family during the season. This is the first page of my planner so it is the first thing I see every time I open the book!

Next, I have a series of printouts to record gifts, stocking stuffers, a to do list, a shopping list, cleaning list, Christmas card planner, baking list, cooking ideas, weekly menu plans through New Years, traditions, and a full section for the kids with ideas on activities, crafts, and some baking of their own. I also have an envelope to hold all receipts.

Also included in my binder is the Heavenly Homemaker's Guide to Holiday Hospitality and the Heavenly Homemaker's Guide to Holiday Hospitality for Kids which both can be found here. These e-books are full of biblical inspiration, ideas, tips, recipes, crafts, lists, etc. I absolutely love the Heavenly Homemakers website and all of Laura's e-books! Check it out!

FlyLady also has many holiday resources including a free Holiday Control Journal here.

I have been purchasing gifts here and there throughout the last few months using sales and coupons. I have not purchased anything that has not been on sale or that I was not able to use a coupon for. At this point, I have almost completed my shopping, and I can start wrapping this weekend. Shopping early has kept me on budget. If something I previously purchased gets drastically marked down between now and Christmas, I will return it and buy it again on sale. I will share some of our favorite toys and gifts later this month.

I have started my holiday baking by making and freezing some dough each week so when I need some sweets to give or enjoy, I am ready.

One of the most important things I have done is to menu plan for the coming weeks. I think it is important during this often indulgent season, to make sure I am cooking healthy meals for my family in the midst of all the cookies and candy.

In my next installment, I will discuss Christmas cards and include a link with a GREAT FREE deal on photo cards. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


I had a rough day today. I took my "petite" toddler to the pediatrician today for a weight check and found out we should have "further testing." I was notified by our credit card company that our interest rate was jumping through roof despite the fact that we ALWAYS pay on time. We had a bill that we paid in a timely fashion returned because we accidentally put our own address in the envelope window . . . which cost us a big late fee. The kids were antsy and a little crabby in the afternoon . . . and the evening. I have have a dentist appointment tomorrow . . . and I scheduled my three year old's FIRST dentist appointment . . . at the same time.

Day is almost over but I am still GRATEFUL. I may not be able to articulate what I am grateful for at the moment but at I am GRATEFUL!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Chocolate Banana Muffins

I made these muffins for my daughter's Daisy Scout Troop last week. The girls were making homemade butter during their meeting. I wanted bake something for snack so they could use the butter that they had worked so hard at making. They were very simple and yummy!

Chocolate Banana Muffins
4 tbsp. butter
6 tbsp. cocoa
4 tbsp. hot water
1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tbsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
2/3 cup milk
1 large egg
1 tsp. vanilla
2 mashed bananas
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Melt butter. Combine cocoa and hot water with melted butter. Cool slightly.

In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. In a small bowl, beat the milk, egg, and vanilla blending well.

Mash bananas and add them to the milk mixture and the cooled chocolate mixture.
Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, stirring until blended. Stir in chocolate chips.

Pour into greased muffin tins and bake for 22-25 minutes.

Makes 12 muffins.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Menu Plan for the Week of 11/15/09

I planned my menu this week based upon what I had in the freezer and pantry so that I would have a light grocery shopping trip. I am happy with this week's menus. It should be a tasty week!

Sunday: Grilled Cheese Sandwiches and Crock Pot Cabbage Soup

Monday: Lemony Chicken with Vegetables and Parmesan
Buttered Orzo

Tuesday: French Dip Sandwiches
Sweet Potato Baked Chips

Wednesday: Crock Broccoli and Cheese Soup
Dinner Rolls

Thursday: Creamy Ranch Chicken
Steamed Broccoli

Friday: Baked Tomatoes with Orzo and Olives
Crusty Bread

Saturday: Make Your Own Pizza Night
Crock Rocky Road Candy

Join the Organizing Junkie at www.orgjunkie.com every Monday for Menu Plan Monday and lots of great ideas for your weekly menu plan!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Gratituesday - Beautiful Warm Days and Ice Cream

This week I am so grateful for the beautiful, sunny 70 degree weather we have been experiencing in Western Pennsylvania. As winter is knocking at our door, I really appreciate a few days of perfect weather!

This weekend, we took advantage of the warm temperatures and got the remainder of our yard work done. As a treat, we took the kids to our favorite ice cream parlor:
How could that not put a smile on your face :)!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Menu Plan for the Week of 11/08/09

Last week, I was busy with Halloween and school activities so I did not plan and shop from my weekly menu plan. While I got most meals to the table each night, we somehow ended having McDonalds for dinner one night. Yuck! I learned my lesson. Here is my plan for the week:

Sunday: Udon noodles

Monday: Go Steelers!!
Crock Pot Hot Italian Sausage Sandwiches, Meatball Sandwiches for the kids
Vegetable Tray with Dip, Chocolate Banana Muffins for dessert

Tuesday: Homemade Vegetable Soup and dinner rolls

Wednesday: Chicken Piccata, salad

Thursday: A Simple Autumn "Homespun Meal"
Crock Pot Sesame Pork Roast, Butterhead Lettuce with Parmesan and Fresh Mushrooms, Sour Cream Mashed Potatoes, Roasted Green Beans

Friday: Date Night Out At a REAL Restaurant . . . we have family visiting so we have babysitters!!

Saturday: Scallops in Lemon Butter Sauce, Baked Potatoes, Steamed Broccoli. A special treat from my little sister visiting from college!

Join the Organizing Junkie at www.orgjunkie.com every Monday for Menu Plan Monday and lots of great ideas for your weekly menu plan!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Linguini with White Clam Sauce

I made this meal last night and had a few requests for the recipe. It is very easy, very quick (30 minutes), and very yummy. I tweaked this recipe a bit from one of my favorite cookbooks, Saving Dinner Basics from Leanne Ely which can be found here.


1 pound linguini
4 (6 oz.) cans chopped clams, undrained
1 (14.5 oz.) can low sodium chicken broth
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
4 cloves garlic, pressed
2 tbsp. flour
1/4 tsp. dried thyme
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
Juice of one lemon
Salt and pepper to taste

Prepare pasta according to directions. Drain.
While pasta is cooking, melt butter over medium-high heat and saute' garlic.
Stir in flour.
Cook on low for a minute or two, stirring constantly.
Gradually stir in the juice from the four cans of clams, chicken broth, and thyme.
Bring to a boil and simmer for a minute or two.
Stir in clams, parsley, lemon juice and heat through.
Add salt and pepper to taste.
Serve over hot linguini.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Preparing Our Hearts and Home For Christmas, Part 1: Keeping Christmas Centered on Christ

Preparing Our Hearts and Homes For Christmas
As I looked at the calender today, I was a bit giddy noticing that Advent and Christmas will be upon us so soon. It is such a beautiful season. I have many plans this year to prepare our hearts and our home for Christmas. Over the next several weeks, I would like to share some of the celebrations, activities, prayers, projects, gifts, and food that I hope will make this season very memorable for our family. I will also include Thanksgiving in this series because I think having a thankful heart is a wonderful way to begin the season of Advent. We, as a family, want the days and weeks leading up to Christmas to be a time of reflection, prayer, calm, joy, peace , love, tradition, fun, and organization.

I have spent some time over the past few weeks thinking about how to celebrate and use tradition to keep our Christmas centered on Jesus.

I have made a commitment this year to make Advent something really special for my family each and every day before Christmas. We will have an Advent Wreath on our dining room table and have a few minutes of prayer each week as we light a candle.

Our theme for Advent will be The Fruit of the Spirit. The girls and I will be studying, reading, and doing activities to practice love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

We, of course, will attend weekly Mass as a family. I will also take my girls to Eucharistic Adoration a few times during the season. A few churches in the area have weekly Pray and Play Adoration where families with children can attend and a little noise is expected!

The girls will be reading and doing activities from Magnifikid. I will also be praying and studying with my Magnificat.

We will also participate together in a few service projects including making Thanksgiving placemats for the local soup kitchen, making a box for Operation Shoebox, purchasing a gift for a child from our church's Angel Tree, and Christmas caroling and visiting with residents of our local assisted living facility.

I am sure there will be a few more religious activities and outings in the coming weeks that I will share. I want to keep our celebrations and traditions simple and age-appropriate. Stay tuned for Part 2 of Preparing Our Hearts and Homes for Christmas: Organization!

November Gratitude Challenge

I have so many things to be grateful for! Here are a few things that have been on my mind and in my heart lately:

1. My healthy family.
2. My husband's job affording me the privilege to stay home with my children.
3. Good, no, really good friends.
4. Always having just enough. Not too much and not too little.
5. The love of my husband and children even when I am not a great wife and mother.
6. And as I sit here writing this - sleeping babies and the rare sound of silence!

What are you grateful for this week?

Monday, November 2, 2009

My Little Halloweenies

After a very busy but fun weekend, I am spending today playing catch-up. Cleaning, menu planning, food shopping . . . Here are a few images of our Halloween fun:

Our Halloween dinner : Mummy dogs, brussel sprout brains, and sweet potato witches:

Here is our stash of candy at the end of the night. I am taking everything, well, almost everything, to a local toy store to donate. They are giving out $1 coupons for every 1 pound of candy. Our bag of candy weighs more than our 15 month old.

Organized or insane?

I hope you, too, had a great Halloween. Now bring on Thanksgiving!

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Pumpkin Patch Fun

It has been a very busy week with school parties, Halloween activities, and our annual trip to the pumpkin patch. Like almost every other holiday, Halloween has become a week long event. Lots of fun for the little ones but often tiring for moms! I may be exhausted, but here are some images of the fun we had at the pumpkin patch. We were blessed with 70 degree weather, too!

I love this yearly picture, and it shows a little bit about each of my girls' personalities.

We enjoyed fresh apples and apple cider:

We picked a huge pumpkin to carve.

We decorated little pumpkins:

Erin grew a mustache:
We played in the corn crib:

And the hay jump:

We had a wonderful day! Happy Halloween!

Just a reminder that Christmas is right around the corner. I have been busy getting organized so I can have a relaxing holiday season. Does anybody else have an organization plan for the upcoming holidays?