Sunday, November 17, 2013

Christmas Cards, Holiday Letters or Not?

I set up my first household in 1978 and that December I was thrilled to send out our first Christmas cards.  I remember visiting the Hallmark Store, we had 2 in our town then, none now, so sad.  I purchased a booklet that let me keep track for 5 or 10 years who I sent cards to while noting their address.  My organizing instinct set in at that time because I remember when I added contacts to my book I'd write their name in ink pen but I'd write their address and phone number in pencil. So much easier to change than using liquid wite-out, yes that was how long ago it was.  I also remember having a Rolodex in my mind, I could tell you any one's phone number that I used frequently, now I'm lucky if I can remember MY cell number.  My how times have changed. No more little black books, Rolodex or phone books either.  But oh how convenient to be able to keep my contacts with phone numbers, addresses, email addresses and any other notes right on our smart phones.

You can do the same with your home computer, tablet, etc and I suggest that you start there with your annual list of recipients for your holiday cards or letters. Keeping a data base on your computer is as easy as an Excel spreadsheet or a Word data list.  Easy to change, easy to merge, easy to print and easy to make labels.  Yes, labels!  If you have a large number of people you keep in touch with by all means use labels.  Corporations and companies do, small businesses do, and even though I'm sure it's an appalling thought to the Etiquette mavens, the time you save will be enormous.  And quite frankly I've never thought the pre-made Christmas cards with the printed family greeting and name was personal either and people use those all the time. With all the decorative fonts available online you don't have to use the everyday Ariel or Courier.  Get creative with not only the address labels but also your return address labels.  Here are links to some of my favorite free fonts.

Pansy Cottage's Font-astic board

22 Free Holiday Fonts from That's What {Che} Said

Favorite Christmas Fonts & Graphics from Lil' Luna

Free Christmas Fonts from honeybearlane

Festive and Free Christmas Fonts from Over the Big Moon

The first link is my own Pinterest font board, the other four are links to the Pin for that specific blog post.  If you don't want to use Christmas style fonts I have pinned dozens of links to all kinds of fonts. There are some very pretty "handwriting" fonts out there.  If you use these to create your labels and hand write the card inside no one will fault you for using labels I'm sure. If you'd rather have handwritten envelopes then use the computer data base as a print out list to keep track of the cards you've sent.

Now to the cards . . . I was always one of those people who would shop the day after Christmas for next year's cards, wrapping, bows, anything that would make the next holiday season less expensive and easier on me. I still think that is a good idea if you have the time and energy.  But here are some ideas for alternative resources for your holiday cards.

  • Check your local craft mart.  We have an antique store with a craft booth store beside it. Many times you can find handmade cards at the booths in one of these permanent store fronts.
  • Holiday Bazaars or Craft Fairs - check the paper and local online calendars for any craft/handmade shows in your area.  Many times there are very creative people with sets of cards ready for your purchase.
  • Check with your local Close to My Heart consultant. Yes, this is a plug for my business. Pansy Cottage CTMH website There are a couple of direct sales paper crafting companies that have consultants all over the country.  Most of them would be thrilled to get a special order or may have sets already made to sell.  OR they can set you up with a home class and you can make your own cards.  It's really not a daunting task if you like to create. There are papers, rubber stamps and embellishments made especially for the occasion.
  • Online handmade resources are: Bonanza Etsy Zibbet ArtFire
  • Check with your local craft or decorating stores, they may have classes or sets ready to sell.  Please use the locally owned stores if they are available in your area.  Small business in my opinion is the back bone of this country right now for so many female entrepreneurs, they need all the support we can give them.
  • Check with the local big name craft stores such as JoAnns, Michaels Archivers and Hobby Lobby.  They may have classes ready for you to create your own.
  • Some of these resources also have Gift Card holders available that are a little more special than your regular envelope.
Your have a little over 6 weeks until the big day. If you can take a few hours in the evening or on the next few Saturdays your list can be finished up in plenty of time.  Don't think you have to mail ALL of them at the same time. As you create and/or address them, mail them out as they are done. This spreads the task over a few days or weeks and won't seem as bad as setting down for one long session. Set goals by the alphabet to complete them in groups. Also be sure to add anyone new to your list that your receive a card from this year.

If you are doing a family letter try keeping it to one or two pages. Hit on the high points of the year and remember to include any pictures you might want to share with family or friends.

Again in order to enjoy this time of year and not make more stress in your life, fore go the cards all together, and feel no guilt.  Maybe a nice phone call, FaceTime or Skype is in order and would be enjoyed just as well.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Cookie Recipes for your Holiday Preparation

Many years ago I would knock myself out the last two weeks of November and into December making all kinds of cookies, candies and baked items to fill platters for presents.  I LOVED IT!  It took a lot of planning, starting the end of October or before, to start stock piling the ingredients so I wouldn't break my budget.  At the time I had an extended family that was huge on my then, husband's side.  These food platters were the simplest way to give a gift to the aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, nieces and nephews without breaking the bank on gifts.  And I had hairdressers, gas station, mechanics and paper carriers that I like to give a gift to and this was the best way for me to do it.

I think those days have come and gone, at least to the extent they were then.  With the easily found gift cards from in stores, restaurants or interests of any person on your list, you can find one for everyone.

Still there a few people in my close family and friends that miss my baking efforts so I try to do some each year. Today I would like to share with you one of the cookies from my long ago childhood. It has a funny story, they were a hit and it became a tradition for many years.  The first time my mom, brother & I made these cookies I was in probably 3 or 4th grade.  It was early in the Christmas vacation and we had a very prolific cookie making day.  The one recipe yields 4 dozen and I think my mom made a double batch along with a couple of other kind of cookies.  When my dad came home from work, there were cookies covering the top of the washer & dryer, most all the kitchen counters and I think were starting into the dining room.  He couldn't stop laughing, he thought it was hilarious.  He thought he had Lucy, Ethel and Fred making a mess in our kitchen.

I'm going to share this recipe with you today and again a few recipes I've picked up from Pinterest that look fantastic but have a minimum of prep work and ingredients.

My Mom’s Pumpkin Cookies – yield appx. 4 dozen

1 ½  cups Pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling)
1 cup walnuts, chopped (or pecans) if you like raisins you may add ¾ cup of them also
½ cup oleo (use softened margarine)
1 egg
1 cup sugar
2 cups flour, UNSIFTED
1 tsp cinnamon or pumpkin pie spice
½ tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. vanilla
Cooking spray

Combine the egg, margarine, sugar and pumpkin until well mixed.  Add the salt, vanilla, and soda, mix again.  Add the pumpkin, then the flour and nuts and/or raisins.  Beat by hand gently until all is combined.  This is a moist dough that is served best by using a ice cream scoop to drop onto the greased cookie sheet. Use the smaller scoop to get a higher yield of cookies.

Bake at 375 degrees for 12-14 minutes, they will start to brown around the edges.  DO NOT overcook in order for them to keep their moist texture.  They are ready to serve or store when cooled completely.

I have made these both plain or iced with your favorite Cream Cheese Frosting. They are a moist not overly rich cookie and very easy to make.

Here are some of my favorite cookie finds from Pinterest.  I have a Cookies board with over 500 Pins, so you may find others you are looking for there. The board contains some candy/fudge recipes too.

The Best Snickerdoodle Cookies - Lil' Luna These truly are the best and very simple to make.  Visit Lil' Luna's Blog for the recipe, she has some of the best!

The Best Sugar Cookies - Creative Culinary As with all sugar cookies they can be complicated as you want them, by rolling out & cutting, then icing. I have always been in the easy sugar cookie camp and these fit the bill. You can make them with the kids using icing and sprinkles, etc or you can dress them up for a sophisticated girls night out like the ones shown above.  Visit the blog to see the easy recipe and options for decorating.

Packaging Hints:

  • Don't go overboard with 10 different kinds of cookies.  You'll drive yourself crazy and break your budget too.
  • The dollar stores are excellent places to get inexpensive glass plates, containers, ribbon, tissue paper, any of the items you'd like to wrap your gift of cookies. If you use glass platters be sure to include plastic wrap on your list to cover them for delivery.
  • They also have cheap paper gift bags that you can use along with tissue paper to make an easy gift.  Just put the cookies in zipper bags, into the gift bag along with color or patterned tissue paper and the gift is ready.
  • The last several years cookie exchanges have become quite popular in some communities.  Maybe those you work with or go to church with would like to help plan this.  Usually you come together with X amount of one kind of cookies made and exchange them with others so each leaves with a variety.  I like this idea for cookies you may want to serve at your home throughout the holidays.  This would give you a nice variety without having to make 6-8 different kinds of cookies.
  • For gifts of cookies, deliver EARLY!  You don't have to wait until the few days before Christmas to share a present.  And the person you give them to will probably appreciate it more at that time.
Whether you're trying for memories with your family or to make gifts for friends be sure to enjoy the process by shopping early. Sales are already out on most baking ingredients, so buy weekly a little at a time, up to the date of the baking day.  Also, I am a paper artist, love scrapbooking, so remember to take those pictures to cherish!

Again if you have any questions on specifics of anything I've suggested please email me and I'll get back to you. Or leave questions in the comments below. I would love if you would follow this blog as I am just getting it started.

Stay warm tonight,

Monday, November 11, 2013

First things first - easy dinners.

Are you tired of fast food?  Tired of spending too much on so-so food?  At this time of year going through the fast food line is the easiest thing to do, especially for those who work outside the home.  With a bit of planning and some easy recipes having a home cooked meal can be a snap. Below is one of my go to recipes that is delicious and quick to fix.  My orginal recipe used regular soup and cheese but in trying to cut back on calories and fat I have started using the healthier versions of these items.

Chicken Tetrazzini

2 – 10 oz cans Chicken (all white)                              1 – can Cream of Chicken
1 – 8 oz can water chestnuts (drained/chopped)        1 – can Cream of Celery
1# linguine (cooked & drained)                                   ¾ cup Parmesan cheese
1 cup Sharp Cheddar cheese, grated                         1 Tbs dried onion

Heat oven to 350 degress.  Cook pasta el dente, do not overcook, and drain.  In a large bowl combine both cans of soups, dried onion and Parmesan cheese.  Mix thoroughly then add the broth from the cans of chicken.  Add the cheddar cheese reserving ¼ c for the top.  Finally add the cooked pasta and mix very well.  Pour into a 9x13 pan, sprayed with cooking spray.  Spread out well and top with reserved cheddar.  Bake 25 - 30 minutes until bubbly.  Some do not like water chestnuts, they can be omitted.
****You can add 1 Tbs of Mrs. Dash, but I don’t add any salt.
****You can use Healthy Choice soup, low fat cheddar to save on the fat/calorie content.
This is a great recipe to make the night before, refrigerate and just pop in the oven the next day.  Also, you can have minimum clean-up because you can use one large bowl to prepare and one pan to bake.

I know there are a lot of "soup" snobs out there but if you were born in the late 50's and early 60's you grew up with lots of cream of something recipes. I promise I'll have other easy entries without the soups as a main ingredient. Campbell's soups are my favorite. I purchase most of my groceries as generic brands but I won't skimp on my soups, they have to be Campbell's.  **No paid endorsement of Campbell's products, just my opinion**  

Two ways to save time on home cooked meals is taking time on the weekends. In just a few hours, you can have several meals made, frozen and ready to cook when you get home.  Also making a dish the night before like this recipe or using a crock pot will make the week night easier.  OK, I"m a child of the 60's and it's showing but there are thousands of great crock pot receipes out there too.

The second process that helps with meals is planning.  Whether you shop weekly, bi-weekly or monthly for groceries if you at least plan 3-4 meals a week this will not only save you time but money.  Anytime you step into a grocery store you will spend money on things you don't need or that are not on your list.  If you will print a calendar for the week or the month, note the meals you plan to make then create your grocery list this will save a good amount of time.

I am going to list some of my favorite dishes found on Pinterest that are easy to cook:

I have an Easy Food board on Pinterest and if you follow any of these links you'll get to my board with 277 recipes on it so far.  If you haven't become addicted to Pinterest this may or may not be the time of year you want to but it is a fantastic tool for all kinds of ideas. Please join me and if you'd like leave your Pinterest ID in the comments, I'll follow you.

To summarize:
  • Plan meals in advanced whether weekly or bi-weekly.
  • Use your meal plan to create your grocery list.
  • Check ads on Wednesdays for bargains on main course items.
  • Use recipes that can be made the night before, quickly so they can be popped into the oven when you return home.
  • Prepare several freezer ready meals on the weekend. In just a few hours on Saturday or Sunday you can have 2-3 meals ready for the week.
  • Use only recipes that you know everyone likes the ingredients.
  • Use to store your recipes.  This is an online recipe "box" that will store your recipes and then help you create grocery lists using the ingrediants of the recipes you choose.
Ziplist is a wonderful tool and also has mobile apps that will sync with your laptop, tablet, etc.  This means you won't have to "write" down your grocery list, it will follow you on your mobile app and be there when you need it.

I use a couple of different note taking apps to keep lists at hand for other things too.  To-do lists and lists for stores other than groceries.  If your grocery store has an app they will probably have a list feature that will work well also.  While I haven't gone totally paper-less I am more organized when I keep it all on my phone.

Tomorrow, easy cookie recipes to get your baking on for holiday gifts and parties.

Friday, November 8, 2013

"It's just a more relaxed, happy time of year!" ???

"Tis the Season . . ." 

Below is a post from the Facebook page of the Hallmark Channel USA from yesterday. The title of my blog post is the line they posted with it.  I at first only saw the picture, and like everyone else this time of year, it invoked warm fuzzies, memories and awe.  But then I read the line they had with the post and I wanted to laugh. I'd like to find 5% of the American people that think this is "a more relaxed, happy time of year".  Unless you're Super Woman or have a mansion of servants you house will probably not look like this anytime before or after the holiday season, relaxed and happy is probably far from what you're feeling going into this season.

Is it no wonder that this time of year has the highest suicide deaths?  The highs and lows of the holiday season can try the patience of the best organized person you know, yes HOLIDAY SEASON because it starts the day after Halloween and includes not only Christmas but Thanksgiving. The stress is on and every FB posting or Pinterest pin will remind you that you're not doing "enough" to bring this picturesque scene to your home. We are bombarded with TV commercials, print ads, billboards, and now social media with images and stories of those elusive people that always have everything perfect for the holidays. From the decorating, food, and presents to the homemade craft and food items they give.

Repeat after me, THIS IS AN ILLUSION, an illusion that only the David's could pull off, Copperfield, Blaine or Tutera.

I would like to help you over the next 7 or 8 weeks with recipes, lists, suggestions, and support so that you can feel great about your holiday season instead of overwhelmed and manic.
  • Christmas cards, letters or none?
  • Recipes that will help save you time in the kitchen, before, during and after the big days.
  • To-do lists to help you know where you are or want to be.
  • Recipes for holiday food, gifts, treats, from my many years of food gift giving.
  • Simple gift suggestions for a variety of people on your list.
  • Suggestions for "me" time, don't laugh, you want to relax too right?
  • Support by email for any questions or problems you'd like me to find a solution to.
  • Support, suggestions, and to-do lists, starting in January to get you ready for the next season and give you the month of December "off".
I have been told by many that I'm one of the most organized people they know.  I'm a work in progress but I've been working on it for 35 years and I know I have some suggestions that will help you.