Tuesday, November 30, 2010

What is a Linky Party? and the Christmas Mantel Linky Party has begun!

Hi loyal readers!

Welp, the
home holiday linky party has begun!
First up is Layla's Christmas Mantel Party.
What's that you say, you have no idea what I'm talking about?
What the heck is a "linky party"?
Blog speak, of course. It's 2010, folks, time to catch up on all the latest lingo. 

Remember the 80's:
BFF: Best Friends Forever
Face: kinda like when someone has been proven wrong
Foamer: a Liar
Grill: ask someone a ton of questions
JK: Just kidding
S'up: What's up?
Tight: Really cool

And then of course this centruy:
 :-)  :-X  ;-)
lol: Laugh out loud
 OMG: Oh my God
TTYL: Talk to you later
BTW: By the way
FAQ: Frequently asked questions
DIY: Do it yourself
TIA: Thanks in advance
TMI: Too much information
Y2K: You're too kind
the list goes ON and ON!

But this here is 2010 peeps, and the techy speak increases almost as fast as new blogs pop up.

Speaking of blogs, there's some blog speak that probably puzzles many at times.  Here's a few:

SAHM: Stay at home mom
DH: Dear husband
DS/DD: Dear Son/Daughter
IMO: In my opinion
HTH: Hope that helps
OT: Off topic

And now........... Linky Party: When one blogger, often a very popular blogger, decides on a theme for the party and then invites all bloggers to post their blog link on that theme.  So last week I participated in "My Favorite Things" Linky Party.  In case you missed my post read it HERE: My Top 10 Trader Joe's Items.  I worked SO hard to get that post turned in before the deadline....but as it was, I was a few minutes late.  Luckily she was sweet enough to include mine anyways, even if it was dead last on the list! If you didn't go to the party, great news, Linky Parties never end...see the post with hundreds of bloggers' (including yours truly) favorite things at  320 Sycamore.  (You know, I've gotten over 248 hits from posting on that party. That's 5 times more than any other single post I've written....my chalkboard paint post is 2nd with 49 hits.)Just FYI (oh, there's another one!) 320 Sycamore gets thousands and thousands of readers PER DAY.  She has over 6246 readers that subscribe to her blog -
OK friends, if you haven't signed up to follow my blog, sign up
I'm so appreciative of my 5 followers, but I'd love a few more!

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Now, I didn't get my act together in time to pull off my holiday mantel in time for the linky party....
well that and I don't have a mantel (just a slight disadvantage there)....
but I sure had fun looking at so many mantels from the people that did participate. 
Layla at The Lettered Cottage hosted this one. 
As of when I last visited, there were 248 blogs linked up with mantel posts. 
That's a LOT of inspiration folks!  We've all got to come up with SOMETHING for our mantels after reading through them all.

Ok, so I am going to try to participate in the Holiday Craft Party on Dec. 7.  My kids and I are going to do a Christmas Tree Ornament craft tomorrow. Wish me luck that their ornaments will come out looking linky party-worthy!  
I'll be posting it on my blog as well as Kate's over at Centsationalgirl. 

In the meantime, Happy Happy Holiday Decorating!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Menu Monday: Holiday Teas at Trader Joe's

My post today was supposed to be homemade pumpkin pie but the pumpkin I was set to use luckily didn't cooperate very well. (remember: Operation Pumpkin Clean-Up?)

So, I'll tell you about two more Trader Joe's holiday offerings! 
(What am I going to do in January?)

First up is their Vanilla & Cinnamon Black Tea and it's just as advertised...the perfect mix of, well, cinnamon and vanilla. I think I almost like aroma more than the tea it smells that good. So cozy to wake up to.  It's black tea, so of course caffeinated.  It's replaced my usual English Breakfast for the foreseeable future.

Next up is the Candy Can Green Tea.  Just saw this one today for the first time.  Wow, it smells JUST like a candy cane, go figure.  It's kinda like those Jelly Bellys...I always wonder how they get them to smell/taste just like the food they are mimicking.  Actually, no I don't...that's mostly artificial flavoring...but
this here's the real deal folks. Nothing artificial. Peppermint Leaf is the first ingredient. You know what else I love about this tea, it's decaffeinated, so I can enjoy it all afternoon/evening. And you must know the health benefits of green tea by now...so sip away, get your candy cane fix for "free" (no calories) and get your fill of antioxidants, too.
I've had 2 cups already today.

But as expected with Trader Joe's, better stock up now...in January these newest offerings are sure to be history. 

Coming up soon:

- {finally}Finished Wainscoting in Master Bathroom
- A homemade Christmas Stocking craft idea (linking up to Centsational Girl's linky party)
- All sorts of things I'm spray painting (picture frames, lamps, hinges, door knobs, a wall mirror to name a few)

Happy Holiday Decorating! Have a beautiful week!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Operation: Pumpkin Clean Up! {Was supposed to be: Menu Monday Pumpkin Pie}

With Thanksgiving a mere memory, and Elf on the Shelf making his appearance, it's time to decorate for Christmas!  Yay!
We've been listening to Christmas music all day and getting in the mood.  I pulled out the Christmas picture books and left used all my will power to leave the Christmas decorations boxes in the garage. 

We have to put away all of the Thanksgiving decor and put away all of our luggage/clothes from our Thanksgiving trip to LA and the Happiest Place on Earth before we can bring more stuff into the house.  I think I'll have the luggage put away in record time (it will be easy to beat my usual 1-2 weeks).

At any rate...the pumpkin scene in our front yard has passed its prime.  I was so looking forward to making pumpkin pie out of that 119 pound pumpkin, but alas...it's "melting" on my driveway. 
Luckily, that made for a relatively easy clean-up! 
All that wetness on the ground is from the pumpkin, yuck!

The back was "melting".

DH pushed on it a little and it was Jello underneath.

And then it started to crack.....
and crack some more.....
and then the back fell in.


I wonder if it still weighs 119 pounds?
That's yard waste, right?

This is all that was left.

One shovel scoop and that pumpkin is history!

Now can we get our tree?

When do you get your tree? Have you started decorating yet?

For some inspiration, be sure to check out the holiday decorating parties starting Nov. 30!

The Christmas Mantel Party is at The Lettered Cottage

The Christmas Vignette Party is at Southern Hospitality

The Christmas Craft Party is at Centsational Girl.

The Christmas Tree Party is at Thrifty Decor Chick

Check them out, you are sure to get TONS of new and creative ideas.  These ladies are amazing!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Menu Monday: BBQ Chicken 3 ways

I know we're heading into turkey land for a while, but here's some food for thought for next week when you have had your fill of turkey for a while. Or if you are entirely sick of poultry all together, you could do this whole thing with a 5 pound pork butt.

You see, I'm still getting this cooking for 5 down. I know I've had a long time to practice now, but it still doesn't always work out perfectly for me.  I usually manage to make enough for us all for one night. I rarely have enough left overs to ever call a meal again...which is why I usually eat them for lunch  let them sit around long enough in the refrigerator to the point where I can finally am forced to toss them since they've gone bad.  Trouble with this plan is that I 
*shhhh* have to hide them under other things in the trash so DH doesn't see that I've thrown food out.  I know, I know, I feel badly and I know there are starving children in Africa...there's starving children here too for that matter...but sometimes it's hard to have left-overs for one when there's 5 in a family.  And if I wait 5 days for them to accumulate, well, there's just something about 5-day old left overs that isn't too appealing.

Ok, I DO have a point here! 
And if you skipped the whole first 2 paragraphs to get to this point,
you haven't missed anything yet.

I am always so shocked excited when something I cook ACCIDENTALLY
makes enough for 2 fulls meals..........LET ALONE 3! 
But this one, folks, did just that. 
It served my family of 5 three full times.
And the best part, it was SO easy peasy.

Here's my BBQ Chicken 3 ways:

At 9 am put into crock pot:
  • approx. 4 pounds of frozen boneless chicken (I used breasts and thighs)
  • 1 1/2 bottles (or just make it an even 2) of BBQ sauce
  • some honey, maybe 1/4 cup, optional
Turn crock pot on LOW for 8+ hours.

After 8 hours, remove chicken and shred with 2 forks. Mix chicken back into the cooking juices, using maybe 2/3 -3/4 of the juices, whatever starts to look the right consistency to you.

I use Trader Joe's BBQ sauce. They carry 2 types, they are similar, both yummy,
neither contain high fructose corn syrup (MOST BBQ sauces do, hard to find one that doesn't) and I usually mix the two. And yes, you read that right:
FROZEN chicken!  That's one of the greatest things about this, you don't have to thaw your chicken.  You don't have to think about this meal ahead of time!  Ok, but if your chicken is fresh, then just reduce the cooking time by 2 hours.  Or cook on high 3-4 hours.

OK, finally, ahem, here's the 3 meals you'll get:

1. Pulled BBQ Chicken Sandos

I like to use the Challah dinner rolls at Trader Joe's for the buns. Just sweet enough, and kinda small like sliders.  Kids can eat 1, maybe 2, I can eat 2 and DH 2 (or 3 on a night he didn't eat lunch.)  You could also use Hoagie Rolls (above)

2.  BBQ Chicken Pizza

The next night I made pizza with the left over chicken.  I started with Trader Joe's uncooked whole wheat pizza dough. It says you can bake it once with the toppings on, but that never works for me.  I bake it first, alone, on the pizza stone but with parchment paper beneath (after MANY times of trial and error) for about 12 min. on 425 degrees.  Then I put on my toppings and bake again for another 12 min. or so.  The second time around it doesn't need the parchment paper and goes directly on the pizza stone. 

I topped the pizza with:
  • A mixture of BBQ sauce and chopped tomatoes (or tomato paste)
  • the BBQ chicken
  • sliced red onion
  • blue cheese
  • a little mozzarella
  • cilantro
After baking, you can sprinkle a little more crumbled blue cheese, cilantro and if you are brave....more red onion. Just make sure your significant other also adds onion!

3.  BBQ Chicken Quesadillas

My family has a love affair with Mexican food (maybe that's cause 4 of the 5 people are part Mexican) and we seem to turn anything and everything into a burrito or quesadilla. 

So I just cooked up some fresh tortillas (Costco sells these great fresh tortillas that have never been cooked, they're that fresh) and added:
  •  the BBQ Chicken left overs that we STILL had (I know, I couldn't believe it!)
  •   Jack cheese (I snuck some Gouda in mine cause I love it so)
  • chopped tomatoes
Sorry, no picture...my camera battery was dead and my troops were restless.

And there I had it, a 3rd night of left overs!
I was SO proud of myself in that I used all of the left overs and didn't let a single morsel go to waste. 
How easy was that? 
And it took about 4 minutes to put it all in the crock pot on day 1.

Please share......do you have a fave that you cook up once and lasts for 2 meals,
or better yet 3?  (And don't say Thanksgiving Turkey, I already know that one!)

From my family to yours:
May you have safe travels, an abundance of love, food and smiles.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Top 10 Favorite Trader Joe's Items

10. Niman Ranch Applewood Smoked Uncured Bacon- this bacon is so yummy and "good" for you  not too terribly bad for you since it doesn't contain added nitrates or nitrites (except those in celery powder), no antibiotics or hormones and their pigs are fed an all vegetarian diet (not given animal bi products).

9.  Sunflower Seed Butter- this is such a wonderful alternative to peanut butter and so tasty, in fact I prefer it!  I spread it on English muffins, toast, bagels (usually combining with TJ's Super Fruit Spread).  I also us it in Asian dishes that normally use peanut butter, like stir fry and pad Thai noodles.  Tastes yummy in chocolate smoothies, too!

8.  Very Green Powder & Hemp Protein Powder- both additions to our morning smoothies (along with flax, which TJ's also carries, but I buy at Costco)

7.  milk & yogurt (&  cheese for that matter)- I just love that all of their dairy is rBST-free (butter, cheese, sour cream, cheese, milk and yogurt)
6. Non fat frozen yogurt- pleasantly tart (read: VERY tart if you are expecting sweet vanilla ice cream!) This fro-yo is processed in such a way that preserves the live cultures (most cannot say that), something all of our guts can use daily.  (and another fave snuck into that picture, too!)
5. Tea Tree Tingle Shampoo and Conditioner- I've been using these for a few years now and love them. They don't contain parabens, sodium lauryl/lauryth sulfates, or many of the other yuckies that are in many products out there.  For the price and what they contain don't contain, they're a winner in my book bath.
4. Dr. Bronner's Magic Soap- I use this bar soap for my entire body, face too.  It's just about the purest soap out there, containing NOTHING toxic.  Have you looked up your beauty products on Skin Deep? It will tell you how your products rate as far as all the "bad stuff" (ie. parabens, sodium lauryl/lauryth sulfates, etc.)

3. Barn Star Omega 3 eggs- from hens fed a vegetarian diet, not given hormones or antibiotics and contain 350 mg omega 3 per egg.
2.  Challah Bread- Once a week my family enjoys "French Toast Day" with Trader Joe's Challah bread! It is super yummy and great for French Toast. I just slice it up, dip it in a mixture of egg, milk, real maple syrup (also a TJ's fave), cinnamon, and vanilla, and cook in a bit of butter on the stove-top on med-low. Doesn't need any syrup!

Sorry, as of posting time, I didn't have a picture of it ready to go...we used it yesterday for French Toast Day! I'll get it posted soon.

1. The Dark Chocolate Lover's Chocolate Bar- the darkest chocolate around at 85% cacao, these little squares of heaven just might keep us alive a little longer with their huge antioxidant power. So don't feel guilty! Enjoy with another antioxidant fave, red wine.

Since I do 80% of my grocery shopping at Trader Joe's, I have many many favorites.  These are some staples that are always in my house (except the Challah bread!) and  all items I will make a special trip to TJ's for. 

couple handful of honorable mentions include:

~Organic Tampons (no need to expose our bodies to more chlorine and pesticides, and their price beats everyone around)
~All Natural Anti-plaque Toothpaste (without fluoride- and I haven't had a cavity since braces in middle school)
~Quick Cooking Steel Cut Oatmeal
~String Cheese
~Shredded Mexican Blend Cheese
~Super Fruit Spread
~Rosemary Ham and Smoked Turkey lunch meats (contain NO nitrite/nitrates)
~English Breakfast Tea
~various flavored Green Teas
~Whole Wheat English Muffins
~Whole Wheat mini bagels (no high fructose corn syrup)
~Cuties (ok, you can get these anywhere, but who doesn't love these little mandarins without seeds?)
~BBQ and Sea Salt & Vinegar Potato Chips (made with healthier oils)
~anything Pumpkin (cream cheese, muffin mix, pancake mix, ice cream, pumpkin butter to name a few)
~Uncooked Pizza Dough (I have a system for cooking so it doesn't stick to the pizza stone)
~Fresh Pesto Sauce
~Whole Wheat Gnocchi
~Dry Roasted & Salted (but the 50% less salt blue label) Mixed Nuts, NO peanuts
~Dark Chocolate covered pretzels (dairy free!)
~Italian Sweet Chicken Sausage (uncooked, I remove casing prior to cooking)

and last but not least, 2 Buck Chuck  Try it with some dark chocolate tonight.
This bottle is left over from our wedding! We served this at the bitter end to guests that were too many drinks in to know better.
Seriously my list could go on and on.  I love Trader Joe's, did I mention that? 

What's YOUR favorite thing at Trader Joe's?

I linked this posting up on another blog having a "Favorite Things" linky party.  It's my first linky party!  Check it out:

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Before and After: A boys dresser, refinished/painted, DONE!

I was so thrilled with how my twin girls’ shabby chic dresser turned out that I decided to do it again! 
If you missed that post, see it HERE! It looks so cute in their girly room.
Last weekend I finished my son's dresser, and today I was a little less annoyed sooooo happy as I put the laundry away!
I got this dresser for free from a friend who found it beside a dumpster.  It's solid wood with a great style, perfect for a boy's room. 

I love the detail work.
It has this great old school coin tray in the top drawer.
And a drawer divider in one drawer.
Too much character to wind up in a dumpster if you ask me!
First I sanded it with an electric sander.  I know there are many primers out there that claim you don't need to sand, and you probably don't...but I just feel better starting from bare wood.  Plus, it's fun to use the electric sander.
After sanding, I applied one coat of Zinsser Smart Prime with a Purdy brush.  Did you know you can prime with white paint even if you are using a DARK color on top?  Well, you can!
I have tried every combination of brush/foam roller/foam brush...rolling on and following with one brush stroke, rolling on following with a smooth foam brush, etc.  After trial and error, I always come back to my Purdy brushes.  So I did this dresser entirely with a brush.
I chose Benjamin Moore's Kensington Blue for the main portions of the dresser:
and Benjamin Moore's Edgecomb Gray for the trim work and top:
I painted all my blue areas first and didn't bother taping off the parts that would be gray since I knew it would take way longer to tape than it would to just paint another coat of gray to cover the blue!
I did 2 coats of the blue.
Once the blue was dry, I taped onto the blue so I could paint the gray trim. 
The taping took 2 hours!
I painted 3 coats of gray on the trim (I needed to cover all the blue, remember!)  But after how long the taping took, I was sure glad I didn't try taping prior to that.
Did you know there are 2 kinds of blue tape?  There's blue tape and then there's BLUE TAPE.  There's a new blue tape by Scotch that is called Edge Lock and it is supposed to be guaranteed not to bleed.  That's what I used.
And then there's Frog Tape.  Have you tried this yet?  I haven't, just read about it.  It's supposed to be GREAT!  Let me know if you try.
With anything textured, bleeding is almost inevitable
Here's two tricks I know of to help you get
straight lines on textured surfaces:
-after applying tape, paint over the tape with the color that is UNDER the tape first...that way when it bleeds under, it will be the color you WANT under there, and it will fill the holes under the tape.  Then once that dries, paint over with the color you want next to the tape and it can't bleed under the tape since the previous color already filled the holes.
-use silicone caulk where you want your line, let it dry. paint, let dry.  remove caulk.
I pulled the tape off while the paint was still damp.  This is so important so you don't risk peeling the paint (if it does dry, you can always score it with a razor blade...don't skip this step!)  I pulled the tape down and away at a 45 degree angle.  I tried to take a picture to explain, not sure if it helps.
I think I got pretty good lines.
After removing all the tape, I added new hardware.  I chose some modern looking brushed nickel pulls and knobs.  And now it's DONE!
Did I say I was going for the Art Deco look?  Well, I wasn't.  Ooops. 
So I have to admit, it didn't come out quite the way I envisioned.  I think it's beautiful and am happy with it, but I think for my son's room I was kinda thinking of a slightly darker blue and maybe not quite so much "Art Deco" detail!!  Maybe just solid navy.  You know, Pottery Barn Kids Navy.
You just might see this dresser again...........perhaps in a posting titled:
"After the After, A boys dresser repainted again, DONE for sure this time!"
Unless I just sell it and start again.
For now, it made laundry day so much more pleasant for me and
my son loves it! 
Really, that's all that matters.
Next project:  I need to pick a new paint color for his walls.  His room gets very little light and always feels so dark.  Gotta lighten it up.  Any suggestions for a great light neutral color for a boy's room?
I'm linking up at ThrifyDecorChick's Before/After Party!

and Domestically Speaking's Power of Paint Party!

Domestically Speaking


Friday, November 19, 2010

Giving. Thanks.

Last weekend my son and I did something we've both been looking forward to for a long time...
we volunteered at the San Francisco Food Bank. 
The SF Food Bank is about 50 min. from our house, on a Sunday morning at 8:30am...but it's the closest place I could find that welcomes children as young as 4.  Our local food bank must have a plethora of volunteers because they ask for a once a week commitment year round for all jobs, even sorting food (which is what we did last weekend).  And even at that, they do not have any opportunities for 6 year olds.  Well, that's not entirely true...they welcome donations of brown paper grocery bags decorated by children to pack the food in for their customers. 

If you are in the Marin area, you can donate brown paper bags, decorated by children, to Marin Food Bank at 75 Digital Dr., Novato.  This is a great way to give and help out this holiday season, with your kids, without having to leave home (except to drop off the bags).  Just decorate grocery bags with holiday pictures, or any artwork for that matter (please just don't use chalk or water color as it can rub off on people's clothing) and bring them to the Marin Food Bank in Novato.  They need up to 500 bags a month, so go ahead, use up all those bags you've been storing (but then, please, start bringing your own bags to the grocery store and say
"paper and plastic, no more!")  A great rainy day project, too.  Decorate some this weekend.
Ok, I ramble.  So here's our experience at the SF Food Bank.

We signed up on line and got several email confirmations with directions.  Our time was 9am-noon.  We left the house a couple minutes past 8am and got there just in time.  As we pulled up to park, my son asked, "where's all the homeless people?"  A great day of education this would be.
  You check in at any one of  5 laptop computers at the front entrance. 
After checking in, you wait in the "break room" for everyone to arrive.
My son and I patiently waited and discussed what we thought we might be doing that morning.  We signed up to "sort food", whatever that meant.  For us that day, it meant re-bagging rice.  After a little instruction, donning some attractive hair nets and gloves, we were off to work. 

doesn't it look like Costco in there?  without the samples, though
It was an assembly line:

-scoop rice into a bag, approximating 1 pound
-weigh the rice, adding/subtracting by the grain to get exactly 16 oz. (with a scale sensitive to 1/8 oz.)
-sealing the bag with a plastic sealer
-placing a label on the bag
-stacking the bags into a box that holds 15 bags, exactly

Since Sunday is the only day of the week children ages 4-8 are welcome, there were about 40 kids and 40 adults.  Luckily, all of the adults at our table were from a school and very patient with children.  We worked at the same "station" for the first 1 1/4 hours...for my son, that was scooping rice into a bag, and for me, weighing the rice (I knew that math degree would come in handy again). 
Then we took a break (union rules).  The highlight for my son was the
Lemonade Vitamin Water they passed out in the break room. He was ecstatic as his overprotective health conscious mom doesn't usually let him consume "fake sugar".
Back to work again, this time I took over as bag sealer and my son flip-flopped between labeling and boxing (his favorite job). 

After another 1 1/4 hours it was clean up time.  You've never seen so many kids fight over happily use a broom. 

Three hours later, we had that fuzzy warm feeling that we've helped someone many people.  One bag of rice that just might make someone's Thanksgiving a little happier.  In total, the 80+ people that were there that day bagged 3,825 pounds of rice...all in 1 pound increments. 

And off we headed home........ALMOST.
We're way out at the far end of SF, 
 kinda Timbuktu...and I discovered on our way out that in my rush to not be late excitement to get started, I locked my keys in the car.  Darn! 
We waited close to an hour for help to arrive.  The food bank is in the middle of nowhere...so we did what anyone would do while waiting,
built a castle out of parking lot rocks, of course.

And then:
My son was very disappointed they didn't send a tow truck.

And finally we're headed home.
We'll certainly do this again.  It was a fun time together, and a great experience for both of us.

How do you give to those less fortunate during the holidays? Do you have a favorite place you like to volunteer at?  What about with young children?  Talk to me people! Leave a comment.

I've been having a little computer trouble lately....so I'm a tad behind.  But coming up SOON is my finished boy's dresser!!  A sneak peek: