Tuesday, December 27, 2016

The Best New Year's Punch Ever!

I originally posted this recipe a few years ago. However it is SO good, I decided to post it again!

We have this punch every New Year's eve.  It is easy to make and tastes great too! If the amount is too much for your family, you can cut the recipe in half.

Here is the recipe:

New Year's Punch
2 packets of strawberry or cherry Kool-aid (we like cherry better)
1 can pineapple juice (1 lb. 14 oz.)
2 two litter bottles of ginger ale
4 cups sugar (you can use half of this and it still tastes good)
Vanilla ice cream

My recipe says to combine all ingredients in a punch bowl and add a few scoops of vanilla ice cream.  However, after making this many, many times - I think it does make a difference in how you add the ingredients. I have found that if you add the ginger ale last, it will keep some of the fizzy bubbles in the punch much longer.

I start with the Kool-aid packet and then add the pineapple juice. Stir in the sugar and add a few scoops of vanilla ice cream (to taste). I usually add more later when these melt a bit.
Then add the ginger ale.  The whole punch bowl will fizz up! Stir a bit and serve immediately.

This recipe also works well completely sugar free. Use Splenda instead of sugar and purchase diet ginger ale & sugar free ice cream. That is what we are going to do this year.

Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Merry Christmas!

My most favorite music video of all time is from the Piano Guys. While all of their music is wonderful, this one tops them all!


You can go to YouTube and key in 'The Piano Guys' to listen to more of their wonderful music!

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

More Christmas Blooms!

Since I have a lot of orchids, my house is full of many different blooming plants at Christmas time. Orchids are really not that hard to care for and they are so pretty to look at when they bloom! In addition to orchids, cactus is in bloom now too. (You really can't get a more easy-care plant than a cactus - anyone can grow one.)

Here are a few other blooms I have been enjoying this December.

Try your hand at some blooming houseplants! Many don't need much care are are so rewarding to display when they bloom!

Thursday, December 15, 2016

'Treating' The Poinsettia Plants - Part 3

I wanted to show you how pretty some of my Poinsettia blooms turned out to be. If you recall, I started the 'turning' process on October 1st. It really does take 60 days to get the beautiful red blooms from the plants when you are treating them at home. Here are the two super big ones. I have been 'turning' these at home for quite a few years and I didn't have any problem 'turning' them to get red blooms. (Light differences are because of the different rooms I placed them in - one gets morning sun and the other gets afternoon sun.)

For the baby ones that were only a year old, I got mixed results. One 'turned', but it took 75 days of treatment. This is entirely too long! If it doesn't turn within 60 days next year, I will toss it and get a new one to try. At this rate, it will be New Year's or beyond before it becomes a full, lovely flowering plant!

The other two.... NOTHING! These plants will be tossed in January. If they won't 'work' for their keep, they can't live at my house!

I have already purchased their replacements! I have two new poinsettia plants in small 4in (10.16 cm) pots. They will go into the bigger pots in January. These two currently are living in my bathroom.

I truly am in awe of God's wonder with this plant! (It is still one of my all time favorites - even if I can't get them all to perform for me!) I am quite happy with my work and the beauty they provide!

If you liked this post, you may also like:

Time to 'Treat' the Poinsettia Plants
'Treating' the Poinsettia Plants - Part 2

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Time To Roast The Peanuts!

This is a favorite treat for us during the Christmas season! Dry roasting peanuts is easy!. At our house, roasting is the first step to the chocolate covered peanuts I make for Christmas every year.

We roast the peanuts we grow. BTW, anyone can grow peanuts. If it is too cold for peanuts where you live, you can grow them in pots. You can also purchase raw peanuts at the grocery store and roast them. They are a great treat at Christmas parties! The scent of roasting peanuts will fill the house!

Here is how you do it:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spread the peanuts out on a cookie sheet.  (A cookie sheet with a rim works best.)

Roast the peanuts for 20 - 30 minutes.  If you have smaller peanuts like Spanish, roast for 20 minutes. If you have larger peanuts like Virginia Jumbo, roast for 30 minutes. At about the halfway point, stir and turn the peanuts over to prevent burning. This is why you use a cookie sheet with a rim. When stiring and turning the peanuts, they will fall off a flat cookie sheet. Ask me how I know this!  It is quite difficult to reach the peanuts that fall to the bottom of the oven without removing the oven racks! Here is a picture of my peanuts at the half way point.

When the peanuts are done, remove from the oven and turn them onto a plate or another cookie sheet. They will continue to cook while they are cooling so it is best to remove them from the hot cookie sheet so they don't overcook.

Once they are cooled, you can store them in the shell until you are ready to eat!


Thursday, December 8, 2016

Make Your Own Christmas Ornaments for Just Pennies! (Victorian Style)

Middle class in Victorian times was much different than it is today. When the Victorians wanted to decorate their Christmas tree, they didn't go to the store to purchase ornaments. They had to make them!

(As a nugget of history: presents were also placed on the tree or in your stocking, not under the tree. Presents were much smaller in Victorian times because disposable income for middle class families was much less then it is today.)

So, in honor of our ancestors, I am going to show you some of the easiest (and inexpensive) ways you can decorate your tree this year.

The first one is quite simple. Get some ribbon that you like (this is a great thing to do at the after Christmas sales - then you can save it for next year) and tie it on the tree in a bow.  It is just that simple and very Victorian!  

Here is a picture of one of my bows.

The next idea involves aluminum foil. 

Victorian children spent the entire year saving aluminum foil to decorate their trees. Aluminum foil was not available in the stores like it is now. Aluminum was use by florists, wrapped around cakes of chocolate, cream cheese, large packages of tea and inside the paper used to wrap tobacco. Now, this foil was quite thin. I can just imagine how many pieces were torn as they tried to make the ornaments! I can certainly understand why it took all year to save enough to decorate the tree!

For my ornaments, I used heavy duty aluminum foil and I still scraped many of them because they tore as I handled them! However I imagine in Victorian times, if you started making these as a child, I bet you got to be really good at it by the time you were a teenager!

I saw this idea on a Craft blog a few years ago. You can see the original post here. To make an ornament, start with a piece of foil. I like the look of smooth foil, but they shine in the lights at night just a much if the foil is crinkly.

I like mine small, but if you are making these with children, bigger is better so they don't tear. I used a piece of foil about 1 inch by 4 inches (2.54 cm to 10.16 cm).

Fold it in half and cut it with scissors as described in the original post. Basically it says to cut on opposites sides of the foil for the entire length. I spaced mine about 1/8 of an inch apart (.20 cm). Here is a picture of mine.

Open the folded foil carefully! Once completely open and laying flat, gently pull at each end of the foil.

What the original post does not tell you is that this technique steps the decoration like stairs. So it is either coming towards you or going back away from you. For best results, don't make them too long. You can either hang with string or ornament hooks. Here is one of mine on the tree.

If you want to make them longer, I recommend a different technique. Fold over the foil, but make the cuts all on one side (similar to making fringe). When you unfold the foil, use a stick, handle of a toothbrush or something similar to open the ornament for you. (Pulling on this one won't work.) I used a barbecue skewer because that is the first thing I thought of.

When cut this way, the ornament hangs straight down and looks much nicer as a long piece. Here is one of mine on my tree.

The last idea is also super simple. Decorate your tree with cookies! I have made gingerbread men in past years and placed them on the tree. If you have dogs, this can be tricky. I remember one year I had a beagle that tried to climb the tree to reach a cookie! (My cat was never interested.)

All of these ideas were used by your grandparents and great-grandparents to decorate their trees! They don't cost much and the whole family can do it together! And, I bet it will also be something your kids never forget!

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Five Dollars and 20 minutes to update the Christmas Door Wreath!

As you can see in the picture on the left, the ribbon on my Christmas Door Wreath was in very poor condition when I pulled it out of storage last month. I created this wreath about 10 years ago, and for the most part, it withstood the harsh weather conditions I put it through for 10 years!  (I put my Christmas wreath up on November 1st and keep it there until about May 1st every year. It gets hot afternoon sun.)

I tried to bend the ribbon back into some form of shape and it looked OK for a few weeks. However, I looked at it Saturday morning and it just looked pitiful. The ribbon ends were all torn and falling apart.

It was time for an update! Just because it caught my eye, I purchased some new silk flowers a few weeks ago at the big box store the last time I was there. I got one bunch and it cost five dollars. I really liked the contrast between the gold and red.

The new ribbon came from my leftover stash. These three were the best matches. I chose the one in front because it too had gold and red in the ribbon and matched the silk flowers. Of course the one I wanted only had about 18 inches (45 cm) left on the roll! I wanted to use it like I did in the old wreath but 18 inches was not enough to go around the entire wreath! I had to make a smaller bow.

Step one was to remove the old items. The ribbon was attached with floral wire so I needed to cut that off and then I just pulled out the old flowers.

Now, start adding new pieces.  There isn't any 'special' way to do it. Decorate it to please you. The only 'rule of thumb' I can give you is that an odd number of items looks better then an even number. For example, using three poinsettia flowers/ using one pine cone, etc.

Start with the first piece. I placed a flower on the wreath and pulled the stem through to the back. 

Sorry for the blurry picture. I needed three hands for that one!

Now, just wrap the stem around the base of the wreath. No wire or glue needed. I usually wrap it a few times so it won't fall off. The only piece I attached with wire was the ribbon.

Continue adding pieces until you like the way it looks!  It took all of 20 minutes (from start to finish) to make mine! Once I put it on the door, I adjusted it a bit more so the ribbon showed up better. This is what it looks like now.

Pretty to look at, quick to do, and very frugal!

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Light The World This Christmas Season!

This message was shared with us in Church this past Sunday: To help the world be a better place, you must serve others!

What a beautiful message this Christmas season!

Serve 25 ways in 25 days!

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Have You Ever Made a Gingerbread House?

My goodness it is super fun! I am going to start gathering my supplies to make one next week. What do you need? Your imagination is the limit on how you can decorate yours! In these three blog posts from a few years back, I take you through the steps on how to make one from scratch!

Make the cookie pieces ahead and plan a Saturday or a day off from school to decorate it with your kids!

Have fun!

Make Your Own Gingerbread House, Part I
Make Your Own Gingerbread House, Part II
Make Your Own Gingerbread House, Part III

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The Colder Weather is Coming! Completing Some Pre-Winter Gardening Chores.

I had some chores to do out back and decided to take one of the warm days we had last week to accomplish my end-of-the-year gardening tasks.

It was 75 (23 c) degrees outside late last week and I needed to change the water in our hot tub (I despise doing this in the cold weather and today it is only going to be 61 (16 c) degrees!!! I am glad I did it last week.) While I was waiting for the hot tub to drain, I decided to pick some of the last summer squash (I got 12!) and also wanted to take cuttings from one of my plants that grew too big.

This plant is a frangipani. I got it at the outdoor market in New Orleans 2 weeks before Hurricane Katrina hit there in 2005. It took 11 years to get this big. It is over 6 feet (1.8 m) tall! I no longer have room for it in the house. (It must come inside for the winter where I live.) Time to take cuttings to save for next spring.

Taking cuttings is so easy! Just cut off a piece. I used a hand held saw.

These will stay in the grass until the white milky sap stops running. I am going to leave them there overnight. That is it! Store them in a cool dry place until next spring! (The leaves will drop off as the pieces go dormant.) Then, in the spring, I will replant them to start growing all over again!

FYI - if you live in a sub-tropical climate, they can can be planted outside in your landscaping.

Another pre-winter chore I do every year is to prune the apple trees and grapes. To me, the apple trees are easier than the grapes. As you can see in the first picture posted above, my grapes grow on a trellis. It is quite challenging to figure out which vine to cut! I use the power of prayer to help me decide which of the pieces needs to go!

Here is one of my pruned apple tree. You can see, the pieces I removed are piled in the front of the picture (along with the princess!). I will cut them into smaller pieces and save for kindling for the fire place - they will not be used until next winter - they need a while to dry out. Apple wood makes great soap so I will be saving the ashes from the fireplace! 

Pruning is necessary to make sure that branches do not rub on each other. (That invites diseases.) It also helps the tree to maximize the number of apples you get each year. Pruned trees produce more apples. The last thing I need to do is spray with dormant oil. I will do that when all the leaves fall for the year and the trees are truly dormant. That may not happen until mid December.

The hot tub was draining slowly so while I waited, I also decided to plant a few more bushes in one of the new landscaping areas I created this summer. This area has some encore azaleas (they bloom in the fall as well as the spring) and razzleberri chinense flowering bushes. These things grow 4 to 6 feet tall (1.2 to 1.8 m). They will be perfect to screen the view of the fence! I plan to mulch them tomorrow.

I also harvested some of the carrots and put up my mini greenhouse on one of the raised beds that is growing additional carrots, spinach and peas. This should produce all winter long!

Friday, November 18, 2016

Happy Birthday to My Princess!

It seems to me that I just brought her home last year! But alas, I took this picture almost 11 years ago! It was her first night at our home and she kept me up all night. She finally fell asleep at 9:00 am the next day and I snapped this picture.

My husband and I have had some wonderful times with Molly! She is the best dog we have ever had. We did something different with this one, we followed the guidance from Cesar Millan, (the Dog Whisperer). I have two of his books and am a fan of his TV show. It made a huge difference in Molly's behavior! (as compared to the other dogs we had in the past.) She is the sweetest girl, does what I tell her to do and likes to play jokes on us!

Sometimes I scratch my head at her antics!

I don't think we even had her a month when she climbed up on her daddy (OK, I helped her get up on the couch) and fell asleep.

Happy Birthday to 'the baby'!  We have had almost 11 great years together! I am hoping for many, many more!

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Do you have an Emergency Car Kit?

For the past month, over in the featured post, I have featured articles about how to create & update an emergency car kit. Since winter is coming, I wanted to mention one last time how important it is to have a kit in your car. Take it from me, you will use it!

Just last week, I had a situation that required me to dig into my emergency car kit. I wouldn't call what happened 'an emergency' situation, but a situation none the less. My car kit came to the rescue!

Anyone who lives where it snows regularly, should definitely have one. What would happen if you got stuck in your car in the snow? Do you have snacks for the kids? Do you have warm blankets? Do you have any food for the dog? (I do not have food for my princess, but I make sure there are snacks that don't have chocolate in them that she could eat if it became necessary. I do carry water for her.) 

Do you have extra towels and hand wipes in case you are stuck in the rain or mud? My husband and I had a tire blow out on I-75 in North Florida once. It happened just after a hurricane, and the ground was very muddy. Our truck tires weight over 100 lbs each. It takes two people to change a tire. (Well when you are older, it sure does!) My husband and I were both covered in mud by the time we were done. The towels, hand wipes and a change of clothes were very necessary that day!

You don't need to go out an purchase new items to fill your kit. Mine features old blankets, old towels (some people may consider them rags), and old clothes that may be stained or have a spot or two of paint on them.

If you are creating an emergency car kit from scratch and need some ideas on what to put in it, check out the featured post on the left. However, tailor your emergency car kit to your family and your family's needs. My kit won't look like yours - and that is OK. I am not using your kit - you are. 

If you get stuck somewhere this winter, you will sure be glad you have it!

Friday, November 11, 2016

Happy Veteran's Day!

Veteran's Day isn't about a day off from work or sales at the store. 

In the words of Lee Greenwood:

And I am proud to be an American
Where at least I know I'm free
And I won't forget the men who died 
Who gave that right to me

And I'll gladly stand up
Next to you and defend her still today
Cause there ain't no doubt I love this land

I thank all my fellow veterans for their service.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Harvesting Your Own Loofah Sponges

This is the first year I have grown loofah sponges. I have no idea why I haven't done it before, it was so incredibly easy! Really! All I did was plant them in a plastic pot full of potting soil and put the pot in the mulch next to my fence. (I tried planting directly in the soil, but they didn't like my clay soil.) Here is a picture of some gourds left to harvest.

I think I watered them twice all summer - and we had a hot, dry summer! The only time I touched the plant is when it tried to climb the side of my house. I wanted it to stay on the fence so I pulled it off the house and used a twisty tie to secure it to the fence. I literately did nothing else! I planted three seeds and was blessed with 15 gourds that will make a lot of beautiful sponges! In reading about these sponges, I believe if I payed a bit more attention to them I would have gotten even more gourds. Still, if I can plant it and forget it, and still get 15, I consider it a win! Since it was so easy, I think I will plant more next year!

Fall is here and even though the temperature is still in the low 80's, it is time to start harvesting the sponges. I started with the first few gourds the plants produced. They were starting to yellow and dry out, exactly what you want when harvesting the sponge. 

I read that some people wait until the gourd is completely dry before harvesting. In my opinion, that will make it harder to peel. They are supposed to be easier to peel when still slightly moist. When you slightly squeeze it, you should be able to feel that the outer skin has separated from the sponge. Squeeze a bit harder and you will feel a 'gap' before you feel the sponge. 

Here is a picture of the second one I harvested. The first thing you need to do is to press your nail into the skin to create an opening to start the peel. (As you can see, Molly wanted to help!)

Then just peel the skin off. It does have a bit of a slimy feel to it - that is sap. 

Next, shake all the seeds out of it. I just slapped mine against the patio for the first two, but later on I switched to using a bucket (it is faster - just hit the sponge back and forth against the sides of the bucket.)

Now, it is time to clean it to remove the sap. I washed mine in a bucket with some soap, rinsed well and then let it dry in the sun.

You can find videos on the internet that say to soak the sponge in a bleach solution to get it white. I didn't do that - the sun works just fine! In this picture you can see the first one that dried in the sun (on the left) and the second one that I just finished washing (on the right).

I trimmed off the ends of the first sponge to provide some shape, and to size it for using in the shower. Some of the larger sponges that will be harvested next, I will cut up and use to make soap scrubbies for Christmas gifts! 

Stay tuned for that post later in the month!