cranberriesLast week my husband and I were at Trader Joe’s getting some groceries, stocking up for a new brand of smoothies that we found. In an effort to eat less packaged food and sugar, and increase our intake of veggies, fruits and healthy fats, we found we were sorely lacking the necessary ingredients. One of the recipes I found called for frozen cranberries, and thoughts of Thanksgiving began to roll around in my head. Trader Joe’s tends to just carry more seasonal items, but we did find dried cranberries and decided they would work.

When we got home, I excitedly opened the package and popped a couple of those babies into my mouth. Wow. Sour. Almost bitter. I didn’t expect that. Truth is, cranberries are VERY low in sugar content. When I make cranberry sauce for Thanksgiving, I usually add both orange juice and sugar, so I should’ve been more aware. We tried the cranberries in our smoothie recipe, and honestly, we didn’t really care for it. So, I think we’ll be finding some creative uses for these dried cranberries soon!

cranberries and candlesHere’s an idea….apparently cranberries float. Who knew? Simple enough to put together, and it has that rustic charm about it that I really love. No worries about the leaves going bad or getting soggy…it is likely this would be a table decoration for a dinner party, or perhaps just a nice low light for the family room. At any rate, because the candle inside is small, it’s one of those beautiful, temporary things.

So, if you, like me, aren’t too wild about eating unsweetened cranberries, try this out.

 

Photo credit: Cranberries, Floating candle decoration

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frangoI may have mentioned a time or two that I am a big fan of chocolate mint meltaways. Marshall Fields used to sell what they called Frango Mints, a much beloved confection in Chicago around the holidays. Also, anyone who filled out a credit card application would receive a free box! Stories were told about people filling out fake applications in order to get more free boxes of Frango Mints! They stopped making them in 1999 and 6 years later Marshall Fields was acquired by Macy’s (and some have never gotten over their bitterness!).

Macy’s has tried to mimic the well loved chocolates, but how can you even come close to a candy that is hand made on the 13th floor of its originator? I have had the Macy’s version, and it’s not half bad, but Frango Mints will always be remembered as the folkloric taste of Chicago.

magic mint choc barkPerhaps second best to the long lost 13th floor creation is something we can make in our own kitchens. I don’t think there are many ingredients that, when combined with chocolate, top mint. Am I right? Caramel comes close. Peanut butter a close third. But, mint remains clearly at the top. We can recover some of the magic of those scrumptious, melt in your mouth, chocolates with today’s recipe for Magic Mint Chocolate Bark. Okay, we can at least try. :)

So, in honor National Chocolate Chip day, you can find the recipe for this tasty treat here. Happy May 15th to you!

Photo credit:  Frango, Bark

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Simplifying our lives is a growing trend in today’s hurry-up world. We do it for a variety of reasons but mostly the result is a lot less stress to deal with. Saying you are simplifying is another way of saying you are downsizing, and t’s not easy for a lot of us to let go. A lot of grandmas are in the downsizing phase of life. and, tough as it is, they know that it just makes so much sense. Because of that, sometimes it can be difficult to know what to give Grandma for Mother’s Day, her birthday, Christmas or other occasions.

I’m not a grandma yet, but I know one of my all time favorite gifts from my sons are current photos, and my own mother was forever asking for photos when the boys were growing up. I’ve become a real sucker for photos that feature 3 or 4 generations of women. Or men. I’ve seen so many ideas on how this can be done…..faces, hands, eyes only, walking down a path holding hands, the ideas are really endless.

Here a couple of examples I found to get the ball rolling. There isn’t a mom or a grandma alive that wouldn’t love the sentimentality of images like this. Put one or many in old looking but nice frames, and you have a very lovely gift for grandma.

hands generatoins

Hands

black and white generations

Black and White

 

men generations

Formal

 

men generations 2

Menfolk

another hands

So Sweet!

And, if the generations simply cannot get together for these lovely photos, something like this will most definitely warm her heart!!

a hug for grandma

Hug

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Have you ever seen photos from the past posted on Facebook on Thursdays with the hashtag #TBT? TBT stands for throw back Thursday, and it’s quickly becoming a big trend! It is so much fun to see old pictures of friends and family, and I decided to get in on the fun recently. I pulled out some old photos when the boys were little and even some when I was little. Time slipped away quickly as I couldn’t take my eyes off my incredible sons . . . and how I want to do something special with these photos. I’ll put some of them up for #TBT, but was looking for a more permanent way to enjoy them.

photo ornamentIsn’t this lovely?! I think this is one Christmas ornament that any mom would have hanging up year round. I was thinking how fun it would be to have some that feature all of my sons, some that feature each son individually, and then some that feature our family together!

I think what I’d do is make nice black and white or sepia colored copies of the photos, arranged in a collage. If you are looking for the perfect Mother’s Day gift OR a Christmas gift for the mom who seems to have everything or never has any suggestions for you, I think you’ve just found it.

I know of no mom who wouldn’t just adore an ornament/gift like this. Just follow this tutorial, and give your mom something she will defintely, always and forever cherish.

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old fashionedBeginning in April, I started a series of posts around the idea of re-creating an old fashioned Christmas. We decorated vintage style, we spent more time with the ones we love, and we resurrected some very old fashioned Christmas treats.

This week, I’m wrapping up the series talking about spending less money. I know, not very sexy is it? But, we’re learning some really neat stuff about setting a budget and making our own gifts. Those are both becoming very chic these days!

Today it’s all about free activities. Not everything needs to cost money even though sometimes it feels like it just does. And, we accept it often without even questioning, and reason “Well, it’s Christmas, not the time to skimp.” Let’s talk about that for a minute.

Remember those camping trips you took when the kids were little? Remember the rain? The mud? The close quarters? The fire that wouldn’t start? The noises in the night? Haha, me too. And, when we get back home we’re so happy for our warm, dry beds, for the hot shower, and all the comforts that home brings. But, I venture to say you still talk about those camping trips just like I do, often with lots of now-hilarious stories and laughter as if it were the best. vacation. ever.  Lotsa stuff went wrong and yet here we are, still talking about it. Funny, huh?

family

Truth is, spending time doing the simple things often produces some of our best ever memories. We can pack our Christmas holiday with so much busyness that we end up irritated OR we can back off of the merry-go-round and plan some simple free things to do together.  We have a cupboard full of table games that gets added to every year. We can spends hours and hours together playing the latest and greatest game that just came out or the oldest one in the drawer, doesn’t much matter.

Or, how about puzzles? Jigsaw puzzles are great because you can really talk!

Snuggle up on the couch and watch a favorite movie, pop some popcorn, or go for a walk.

The list is as long as all the stuff your family loves to do on ordinary days. Do you like music? How about renting a karaoke machine and hamming it up? Like being on stage? A good ol’ game of charades will do the trick.

What other free things to do around the holidays can you think of?

 

Photo courtesy:  Holly, Family

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coffee cozieWe are continuing our month-long “Old Fashioned” series, and this week our focus is on how to spend less money. In a culture that wants for more and more of everything, it has become old fashioned to spend less, to simplify. It sounds strange that something as simple as spending less money is considered out of style, but there is change in the wind. A growing movement of people of all ages are talking (and doing) all about how to simplify life and ultimately, to do just that….spend less.

Last time I talked about budgeting and how sticking to one doesn’t mean you have to live a sparse life. If you missed that post, you can find it here. Today I want to tell you {again!} about one of my favorite topics, and that is handcrafted gifts!

It has been said that a homemade gift is a gift from the heart. It is often a sacrifice of time, and one of the things I love most about making gifts is that while I’m doing it I spend lots of time reminiscing about the person and our history together.

I absolutely adore the whole idea of  simple, hand made Christmas gifts, decorations and of course food. Such gifts of time are considered to be uncommonly good in today’s consumer culture, and maybe that’s part of what is bringing this old fashioned practice back to life.

In fact, the best sellers on our website come from the lovely Bucilla line of kits that provide all the materials to make stockings, decorations, tree skirts and more! Best of all, many of them have that traditional, old fashioned feel to them. And from what our customers tell us, these items are often treasured for years and years, creating those wonderful fuzzy feelings and some really great memories.

This blog has been filled with tons of ideas and instructions for some of the most unique and simple gifts around. I encourage you to take a peek back and see! Shopping at the store will always have its place, and I don’t think we should ever feel guilty about opting for a store-bought gift. But, including a few handcrafted gifts each season is such a touching thing to do. I know that some of the most meaning gifts I have ever received have been hand-made!

 

Photo courtesy

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shoestring-budgetToday we’re going to talk about the “B” word. Before our family created and began living by a budget, I had the idea that doing so would be restrictive, boring, that it would steal all my joy and I’d never be able to do anything or go anywhere.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. I like how John Maxwell put it:

“A budget is telling your money where to go instead of wondering where it went.”

Well said, Mr. Maxwell, well said.

It may sound old fashioned, but the idea of boundaries and self-imposed restrictions is one of the best ways to get focused on personal goals and encourage vigilance in seeing them into reality. It is responsible, and instead of chasing all our fun away, it ends up enhancing our lives over and over and over again.

overspendingApplying this principle to our Christmas spending works the same way. I know lots of people who live by a budget all year long, but when it comes to Christmas, all bets are off. It doesn’t have to be that way in order to bless those we love. And, it doesn’t have to mean going without as much as planning for what we want.

So, to complement our household budget (help here if you need it), we consider what we typically spend at Christmas time. We include the gifts we purchase, the decorations, the food, the parties, and add it all up. Divide by 12 and then see if we can find a place for that amount in our monthly budget. Then, when Christmas season rolls around, we can let go of any repressed guilt for “spending so much”! And, that feels good.

This is one old fashioned idea that deserves to find its place again in every day life.

 

Photo courtesy:  Shoestring, Shopper

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Yesterday I shared about the story of The Elf on the Shelf, and announced that Merry Stockings would be carrying the newly released Elf on the Shelf Bucilla craft kits. Today, I want to show you some of the cute little things you can do with this charming, and evidently mischevious little elf.

elf

 

elf 2

 

elf 3

 

elf 7

elf 5

 

elf 6

 

That should get the creative wheels turning!

Photo courtesy:  Shower, Sink, Drawer, M & M’s

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Elf-LogoGreat things can happen over a cup of tea. I’m really more of a coffee girl myself, but I will give tea its due because there’s just too much proof to discount its overwhelmingly mysterious way of inspiring really great stories.

This is exactly where The Elf on the Shelf was born. Have you heard of this latest phenomenon storming the world with all its charm and savvy? Well, here’s how it all got started.

Carol Aebersold and her daughter Chanda Bell were sipping their tea and talking about Christmas memories, and more specifically a game they played with a little toy elf. Every year around Thanksgiving, the elf would appear on a corner shelf, hidden so as not to be obvious. The tradition stated that each night after everyone had gone off to bed, the elf would fly back to the North Pole to report on what had happened and who had been naughty or nice. Then, before everyone in the house woke up in the morning, the elf would fly back and occupy a different place in the house. The game ends on Christmas morning when the elf flies back to the North Pole and stays until the next year.

As they sat there, mother and daughter, reminiscing over all the fun times and wonderful memories made from practicing this Christmas tradition, Chanda had a brainstorm. She suggested to her mother that they co-author a book so that other families could share in the fun too. And, the story was born.

Sounds kinda sweet, a perpetual game of hide and seek between a little toy elf and each member of the family! Merry Stockings wanted in on the fun, so we’ve decided to carry the 2014 newly released Elf on the Shelf Christmas craft products, made by Bucilla. This new line includes two felt Christmas stocking kits, an ornament kit featuring 4 pieces, an advent calendar kit and a felt wreath. And, they’ll all be available for order beginning in May!

Start your own Elf on the Shelf tradition and get started today on these coordinating craft products by Bucilla.

 

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gingerbread houseIs there anything more fun for kids of any age than constructing a gingerbread house around the holidays?! I don’t know how many people actually eat their creation, but even if you are staying away from the sugar these creative little things are so much fun to make and look adorable. They are really conversation starters, too!

This particular gingerbread house is one of the easiest for the kids, and if you don’t want to buy the gingerbread house kits from the store, graham crackers will even work for this A-frame. Copy the candy used in the photo, or get creative and come up with some of your own ideas. I’m sort of partial to snowcaps for the roof, those round chocolate candies that have the white sprinkles on them.

While the “kids” are making the gingerbread house, they may need your assistance to get started, but once the decoration is in full swing they may want you to back off, lol. And, the perfect thing to do if you really want to stay nearby is to make some fudge.

fudgeThere are as many fudge recipes are there are grandmothers I think…everyone seems to have their favorite. I happen to love the peanut butter/chocolate combo (who doesn’t?), so this recipe is one of my all-time favorites. Package small pieces of this up as pictured for gifts OR put small pieces in a festive candy dish when guests are coming over.

Pretty old fashioned, aren’t they both? I am always surprised how a childhood gingerbread house has the uncanny ability to light up the eyes of even the aristocrat! It just speaks fun and whimsy. And, fudge? No explanation required there. Both are a labor of love and such a welcome part of the Christmas holiday.

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