Friday, November 30, 2012

December Countdowns

There are many things people count down to including a birthday, wedding, a baby's birth, or something holiday related such as one of the many December events. With tomorrow being the first day of December, today is going to be the last day to plan such events, but never fear-there is still time!

One of the standard ideas is practiced by many-Advent Calendars. Traditionally they have a treat like chocolate that you get to claim each day up until Christmas. You can purchase pre-filled boxes or you can find many made-at-home versions such as this great mini bucket board.



 Hanukkah does not begin on the same day of the month each December, so unlike the Advent calendar that counts down days until Christmas, the counting here occurs starting on the first day of Hanukkah. There are 8 nights that are celebrated for Hanukkah in the Jewish faith.














There is also another event that some people are choosing to count down to this year: December 21, 2012. Some people believe that this is the date that the Mayans may have predicted that the world was going to end. I'm not sure what type of graphic would portray this type of count down better than a Mayan calendar with a digital countdown attached, but at any rate it is a date becoming talked about with greater frequency.

 

Lastly, a countdown that means different things to different people is the countdown until the New Year. This is one of my favorites because I am a very symbolic person. I look at the beginning of a day, month, and year as a time that change can begin. The new year means a time that I can pursue a new path and achieve new goals.




What other events do you and your family count-down to?

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Healthier Holiday Treats

I have always loved that Christmas time is a time for baking and making goodies, but with people watching what they eat and trying to eat less sugar it can be a challenge to come up with goodies that will be consumed by those watching their calories!

I don't think saying you should make "Reindeer" snacks by giving away cut carrots and calling that dessert, but that could make a good snack  for small children at school or a party instead of sugar-loaded treats. To make things a bit more interesting and festive, here are a list of some holiday inspired goodies that you can more easily justify into your diet!

Vegetable Tree - This vegetable tree makes a great presentation dish to take with you to a potluck or party that you are asked to bring a side. By bringing a dish with vegetables, you will be sure that there will be something there that you can eat.You can use a variety of different vegetables to create a similar tree.

 
















Roasted Nuts – Roast pecans, almonds, or other assorted nuts in a pan with melted butter, cinnamon  and cocoa powder. This will be plenty of protein, but have some flavor that will help fulfill a sweet-tooth.

 


Peanut Butter Balls
Prepare these quick-fix Christmas treats ahead of time.
  • 1/2 cup honey (try local honey)
  • 1/2 cup peanut butter (try no sugar added)
  • 1/4 cup crispy rice cereal
  • 1 individual serving packet instant cocoa mix (try sugar free)
  1. Mix honey and peanut butter together.
  2. Add cocoa and mix well. Stir in the rice cereal and mix until coated.
  3. Form into 1 1/2 inch balls. Refrigerate for 30 minutes before serving.













Sugar-Free Hot Chocolate
This can be a nice gift when coupled together with a mug. If made using water, this beverage can be very low calorie and no-sugar! Just note the difference between sugar-free and "no sugar added".

 

Cinnamon and Other Spices
This isn't a specific treat, but an idea. As in cooking when herbs and spices are added to foods to give them more flavor without extra calories, Christmas time is a common time to use baking spices. Cinnamon ranks among the top, but you can also experiment with nutmeg, allspice, ground ginger, and cardamom or mulling spice packages. These can give an extra boost of flavor to a healthier alternative!




Wednesday, November 28, 2012

20,000+ Views and Growing!

On behalf of all three of us (Jairica, Stephanie, and Sara Stepford), we would like to take this opportunity to thank our blog subscribers, viewers, and casual readers. We started out slowly, but we have been steadily growing in the number of views our blog has been getting.

A few fun statistics that we are able to get thanks to Google's blogger include:

Top viewed post: Carving Your Jack-O-Lantern posted by Jairica. This page has recieved over 5748 page views to date!












Posts featuring homemade items rank among the highest viewed collections we post. Some of the favorites among the homemade items include:

Five DIY Costumes by Jairica



Planning Ahead for Homemade Christmas Gifts by Stephanie

 

Cool Projects with Crayons by Stephanie

 Crayon Melting

Homemade Baker's Coconut by Jairica.

 

We have also done very well with advice posts including:

Parenting Nighttime Issues  by Sara



Facts to Avoid Getting Sick by Jairica













Marriage Tips Learned Over Time by Stephanie


 

Looking back through some of the great posts that have been shared since our beginning in May 2012 has been fun to see us grow and diversify our posts.

You can be sure to see some "Stepford Take Fives" on each of our top five favorite posts from the past some time in the future!

Thank you again for helping us achieve growing views. This gives us the motivation to keep writing since we know there is someone that cares to read it!


Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Tulips: Plant them indoors!

My last post about tulips was how to plant them outdoors, in the fall....but why wait for spring to have these bright cheery flowers around? You can "force" them (cause them to grow before their usual time) indoors and enjoy them all winter long.


The first step is to purchase appropriate bulbs. You need to make sure they firm without soft spots and at least 1 1/2 inches in diameter. According to the Department of Horticulture at Iowa State University some good varieties of tulips for forcing are: Darwin Hybrids, Single and Double Earlys, and Triumph. I have also heard that T. batalinii and T. humilis are also a couple of good indoor tulip species because they stay shorter, reaching only 6 in (15 cm) high and therefore do not need to be staked.

Before growing, tulips need a cold treatment for 10-12 weeks. If you bought pre-chilled bulbs, you can skip this step. I have read on E-How that you can make due with a cold treatment of only five days or until the yellow shoots turn green, but I have never tried that.

To give them their cold treatment fill a 6-inch-diameter pot halfway with moistened potting soil. Set the tulip bulbs on top of the soil with their pointed ends 1 inch beneath the pot rim. Space the bulbs about 1 inch apart in the pot. Finish filling the pot with soil.

Water the soil until it's moist. Place the pot in a plastic bag, and seal it closed. Store the spot in a 35 to 48 F location for at least 10 weeks, such as inside a refrigerator if outdoor temperatures are too warm. Water the soil only if it begins to dry out.


Once the cold treatment has been given you can take them out of the fridge and remove the bag once shoots emerge. Set the pot in a 50 to 70 F location where it can receive full sunlight.

Water well and you should see flowers in three to four weeks.


I also found this idea on pinterest which I might try. It doesn't talk about a cold treatment, but I think I will be giving the bulbs their treatment before trying this. I love it though, it looks so striking!



Step 1 - Fill a glass container about 1/3 of the way with glass marbles or decorative rocks. Clear glass will enable you to watch the roots develop .

Step 2 - Set the tulip bulb on top of the marbles or stones; pointed end UP. Add a few more marbles or rocks so that the tulip bulb is surrounded but not covered (think support).

Step 3 - Pour fresh water into the container. The water shouldn't touch the bulb, but it should be very close, so that the roots will grow into it.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Quick Fact: How to make your own brown sugar

I never buy brown sugar. I just don't use it often enough, but sometimes I need a little bit of it which is why I always keep a jar of molasses on hand!


For one cup of brown sugar you use one cup of granulated white sugar and a tablespoon of molasses and just mix them together with a wooden spoon. Want it darker? Add more molasses.

Viola! Brown Sugar!


Sunday, November 25, 2012

Pineapples


Pineapples are a great fruit any time of the year, when eaten fresh they are an excellent source of manganese (76% Daily Value in a one US cup serving) and vitamin C (131% DV per cup serving). They are especially seen around the holidays, which is fitting since they derive their name from the pine cone they resemble so much.

 

 

 Choosing storing and slicing your pineapple:


Choose the largest, plumpest one you can find. It should have a strong color and be slightly soft to the touch, with crisp, dark green leaves. Avoid pineapples that have soft or dark areas on the skin (which is a sign of over-ripeness), or yellow or brown-tipped leaves.

One medium pineapple will yield about three cups of chunks.

A pineapple will never become any riper than it was when harvested, though a fully ripe pineapple can bruise and rot quickly.

The fruit itself is quite perishable and storage of it should be taken seriously. If it is stored at room temperature, it should be used within two days; however, if it is refrigerated, the time span is extended to five to seven days, usually three days before cutting plus three to four more days after cutting.

 
To slice up your pineapple for consumption use a sharp knife to cut off the base and leaves, then stand the pineapple on one end and shave off strips of skin from top to bottom. To remove the eyes, cut a wedge-shaped groove on either side, taking away as little flesh as possible. To core a pineapple, cut it into quarters after peeling, then stand each one on end and cut downward to remove the core.

Fun facts about pineapples:


You can cut off one side of a pineapple and hollow it out to use as a serving dish. You can put your cut pineapple in it, fruit salad, or anything you like, I have even seen it with chicken salad.








 
You can grow your own pineapple at home from the top of a shop bought pineapple. The technique can be found here. They say it is very easy, but Shannon and I have yet to successfully get one to root.


The pineapple has served as a symbol of hospitality and warm welcome through the history of the Americas. More on that here.

 Pineapples can be used to make one of the easiest and cheeriest holiday cakes around, pineapple upside down cake.



Recipe for Pineapple Upside Down Cake

(From the recipes of Shannon - he makes it almost every year)

Melt half a stick of butter then stir in 3/4 cup of packed brown sugar. This layer goes on the bottom of your cake pan so if you want you can melt the butter in the pan in the oven at 275°F while you slice your pineapple and make your cake batter.

Once you have melted your butter and mixed in the brown sugar, layer the pan with sliced pineapples adding your maraschino cherries in a aesthetically pleasing way.

Then you can pour in your cake mix. Shannon always uses his own recipe for yellow cake and replaces the moisture with about a fourth a cup rum and a fourth a cup pineapple juice.

Bake the cake at 350°F for about 40 minutes or until done, checking with a toothpick for done-ness.

Be careful with your timing when you try to flip it out of the pan. If you don't let it cool enough the topping will slide right off still being a liquid, but if you wait too long it will crystallize onto the pan. Shannon recommends waiting until it is still warm to the touch, but not hot.  Use a knife to go around the edges, place your serving tray on top of the cake, and flip it over. Sometimes, despite your best efforts some pineapple will still be stuck to the pan and you will have to carefully scrape it off and touch up the cake.



Saturday, November 24, 2012

Small Business Saturday

In case you haven't heard about it through all the social media our lives are flooded with, today is a special day for small businesses all across America! Today is a day that is dedicated to shoppers taking time to remember the small mom and pop shops that were once the back-bone of our economy and shopping experience.

Over the years chain stores have become more diverse in their hours, selection, and price points. We are not to say that there aren't perks of larger stores, but supporting local shops means a lot to those business owners.


As competition in the retail market has become tough, many family owned businesses have had to close over the years. The large stores have done very well coming up with select bargains to advertise for "Black Friday" to get you in the door knowing you would buy so much more!! Well, today is the time to specifically seek out your local businesses and see what they have to offer.


You might be surprised at what you can find in a smaller store. Generally, the store will have items that are important to that area of the country rather than something that has mass appeal. This can be a great place to find that "one of a kind" gift for someone that has everything.

The best part about today is that I almost guarantee you are going to see a friendly smiling face!


Friday, November 23, 2012

Pinterest Debunked

I have recently become addicted to Pinterest. I held out as long as I could. Everyone kept telling me to join "You'll love it" they said, and I knew they were right. I knew I would waste countless hours looking at all the cool recipes, science experiments, cleaning tips, and DIY crafts, so I tried to resist. I need those hours for cleaning and cooking and actually doing the crafts I want to do. Unfortunately, I kept seeing things other people were pinning on Facebook and more often than not I was intrigued. I would save the link or picture in a file on my computer to do later. Finally, I realized it would be much simpler if I just joined and saved these things to my own board on Pinterest. Three days later I had hundreds of pins and a pile of unwashed laundry the size of Mt. Everest.

Shannon was curious about what I was spending all my time looking at so I showed him my boards, sure that he would find these things as fascinating as I did. For the most part I was right, he was suprised at how many cool ideas I had gathered...but then we got to this picture:




The idea is that you inject lemons with food coloring and they change color.


"That is not possible." My husband informed me. "There is just no way." Looking at how bright and vibrant the lemon colors were I began to doubt it myself, so we looked it up, and that was the beginning of a whole new Pintereset activity: Pinterest Mythbusters.

I would like to share with you the list we compiled in just one evening of what we found on Pinterest to be fakes and frauds and misrepresentations.

Lemons injected with food coloring - click here for myth debunked








Glow stick bubbles - click here for myth debunked














Foot callus remover made up of shaving cream and Listerine - click here for myth debunked









Melt your liquor bottles flat in a toaster oven - click here for an actual how to which is much harder than popping it into a toaster oven and can absolutely not be done with the label on.


















Helium equivalent balloons with baking soda and vinegar - You can fill balloons with baking soda and vinegar, but they are not helium equivalent. Baking soda and vinegar produce carbon dioxide just like when you exhale. The balloons will not float like they were filled with helium. Click here for a real alternative to helium for filling your balloons.


















Do you know of any Pinterest myths? Share them in a comment here or on our facebook page!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving

Today is a day to be thankful for what we have. We should all appreciate what life gives us and try and make the most of it. However, there are people everywhere that the holiday times bring sadness and emptiness upon. Anyone who has lost a loved one or friend, or is currently going through a rough time in life might dread Thanksgiving.

Since we have been blessed enough to have a place to go and family to visit for Thanksgiving, our post will be short. We hope that despite the trials and hardships of life that everyone will be able to think about something they are thankful for currently, or have been thankful for in the past.

Sometimes it is quite true that we need to experience life's downs to appreciate how great the ups are!

Happy Thanksgiving to all,

Jairica, Stephanie, and Sara Stepford
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