Sunday, December 28, 2008

Feelin' the Holiday Spirit :)


Wishing you and yours a wonderful Christmas and a very Happy New Year!!!!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Merry Christmas

The blur of another year comes around again, and much sooner than expected!

It never fails, I'm no sooner taking down the Christmas decorations and doing a bit of spring cleaning, then summer comes with all its glory manifesting into Thanksgiving and leaving us here yet again with our hopes for Christmastime to last juusst a bit longer...I just can't keep that's it....I've given up on tring to keep up...from now on, my calendar is broken.
I'll be either very very early with Christmas and Birthday's, or a bit late, depending on God's time....not my time, GOD's time.....and that's just the way it is....
If anyone asks I'll just say,
"You'll have to take it up with my boss".

And doncha' know it.....
Christmas is always merrier when you share it with family and friends!

here's a couple on the spot Christmas poems just for you :)

Stop worrying about the lights being just so,
even if the presents aren't all tied in a bow,
The ham may be charred beyond all recognition,
and the bills may be piled to kingdom come's kitchen,
but we all have eachother to love...
Just pray a little thanks for all your blessings
and may God shine that light
on all you're stressing
there's more important things to consider
when looking in a mirror
than the number of lines that have been etched by our times
they're memories, each and everyone...
so remember, even if our errors and trials succeed or fail...
we all have eachother to love :)

Christmas 2008

It’s the day before Christmas Eve and all through the house
Everyone was fretting, even the mouse.
The rooms were all in tatters, the beds were still unmade,
The cheese was still sitting out from last night’s Christmas soiree.

“Oh, my”, said the mommy with tears in her eyes,
“How will we ever be ready for tomorrow night?”
“The house must be cleaned, the presents all need wrapping, and the cookies must be just right for Santa’s midnight snacking”.

And Daddy piped in with his own worries too,
“There’s no gifts for little Suzi this year, no dolls, or even shoes.
I was laid off from work, and the bills are stacking up I’m afraid,
Whatever will we do with no bonuses paid?”

It seemed everyone was upset about one thing or another,
From taxes going up, to the economy going asunder,
There’s wars being fought, for freedoms from poverty, greed & hunger,
Things that would terrify any waking father or mother.

What a sad sight to see, this sorry state of affairs
Had grown overwhelming, in dire need of repair.
“Oh what will we do,” cried the masses is despair,
Who can we turn to when all seems so lost and unfair?”

Then a star overhead shone brilliant & bright
To remind us of why we celebrate Christmas Night.
Jesus was born to save us from all our worries & woes,
Our sins are forgiven, our hearts would evermore overflow.

And maybe, just maybe, for one united eve & day
We could all rejoice in our blessings, Thank GOD for each and every day
Whether by loving eachother, or sharing our joy,
Let’s celebrate GOD’s love for us for every girl and boy.

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Substitution Recipes

Have you ever wanted to make your favorite recipe and found you don't have all the ingredients you need in the cupboard or refrigerator?

I've put together some substitution recipes for some common ingredients below.

Whipped Cream Substitute
1 Apple - grated
1 Egg white
2 To 3 Tbl. sugar
Instructions for Whipped Cream Substitute
Beat all together until light. This makes an excellent substitute for whipped cream. Courtesy of: Joann Pierce

Salt Substitute
5 ts Onion Powder
1 1/4 ts Thyme Crushed
2 1/2 ts Garlic Powder
1/2 ts White Pepper
2 1/2 ts Paprika
1/4 ts Celery Seed
2 1/2 ts Dry Mustard
Instructions for Salt Substitute
Combine Ingredients, Mix Thoroughly. Store in Shaker.

Oil Substitute
Arrowroot Powder
Instructions for Oil Substitute
The best substitute for the oil seems to be a tablespoon of arrowroot mixed in a couple cups of water and boiled until it thickens to oil-like consistency.
(I got the "arrowroot for oil" substitution from Graham Kerr.) Bob Riemenschneider Fatfree Digest, Vol. 8, Issue 40, June 1, 1994. Formatted by Sue Smith, S.Smith34, using MMCONV. File

Parmesan Cheese Non-Dairy Substitute
1/2 c Food yeast flakes
2 ts Garlic powder
1 ts Onion powder
1 tbs yeast
1/2 c Ground sesame seeds
3 ts Lemon juice
1 tbs Chicken-like seasoning
Instructions for Parmesan Cheese Non-Dairy Substitute
Blend all ingredients. Store in air tight container. ( Grind sesame seeds in blender. )
REC.FOOD.RECIPES ARCHIVES /EGGS From archives. Downloaded from Glens MM Recipe Archive, From: (Arlen Fletcher) Date: Thu, 24 Feb 1994 17:29:50 GMT

Eagle Brand Milk Substitute
1 c Powdered Milk; PLUS:
2 tb Powdered Milk
1/2 c -Boiling water
3/4 c Sugar
Instructions for Eagle Brand Milk Substitute
Beat for 5 minutes and chill until ready to use in any recipe that calls for condensed milk. You can not tell the difference and it cost just pennies compared to the store, and made with low fat milk it has less fat content. From Geminis MASSIVE MealMaster collection at

Sweetened Condensed Milk Substitute
1 1/2 Cups Milk powder
2/3 c Sugar
1/2 c Whole or 2 percent milk
1 ts Vanilla extract
Instructions for Sweetened Condensed Milk Substitute
- To make fourteen ounces of sweetened condensed milk substitute, whisk one and one half cups of milk powder into a half cup of whole or 2 percent milk in a saucepan until it is very smooth, about one minutes. Then whisk in two-thirds cup of sugar and one teaspoon of vanilla extract, and cook over low heat, continuing to whisk constantly until the sugar and milk powder dissolve, about five minutes. Cool before using, then whisk again to be sure that no graininess remains. (This can be covered and refrigerated for up to one week). Use as you would sweetened condensed milk in any recipe.
Posted to MM-Recipes Digest V3 #289 Date: Mon, 21 Oct 1996 14:29:54 -0400 From: Martha Sheppard

Buttermilk Substitute
1 tablespoon lemon juice (or white vinegar)
1 cup milk
Pour lemon juice or vinegar into a 1 or 2 cup measuring cup (preferably glass). Add enough milk to equal 1 cup. Let mixture stand for five minutes.
Use as Buttermilk in any recipe.

Egg Substitute
1 tb (heaping) soy flour
1 tb Water
Instructions for Egg Substitute
I have been using this egg substitute in baking for years -- in fact, my non-vegetarian friends cant tell the difference between egg & egg-free. This equals 1 egg. Posted to fatfree digest V96 #289 Date: Sun, 20 Oct 1996 04:02:09 EDT From: (Judy M Gibson)
p.s. I've personally not tried this one yet, but it sounded like it would work.

Low-Fat Substitute for Heavy Cream
1/4 c 1% milk
1/4 c Evaporated skim milk
Instructions for Low-Fat Substitute for Heavy Cream
Recipe By : Glamour - June 1994 From: Date: 05/27 File

Mascarpone Cheese Substitute
16 oz Cream cheese (2-8 oz.packages)
1/3 c Sour cream
2 oz (1/4 cup) whipping cream
Instructions for Mascarpone Cheese Substitute
Blend three ingredients well.Use as you would Mascarpone Cheese in any recipe.

Cream Soup Substitute
1 tablespoon margarine
1/2 cup low-fat milk
3 tablespoon flour
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup low sodium chicken broth
Instructions for Cream Soup Substitute
Make a basic cream sauce by melting margarine over moderate heat. Stir in flour; keep stirring until flour and margarine are combined and smooth. Remove from heat and add the chicken broth and milk, a little at a time, stirring to keep lump-free. Return to heat. Bring sauce to a gentle boil and cook, stirring constantly, until it thickens.

Taste and adjust seasonings. Can be varied by using vegetable broth, sauteed diced celery, celery seed, or sauteed diced mushrooms.

Bisquick Substitute
10 c Flour
1 1/2 tb Salt
3/8 c Baking powder
1/4 c Sugar
1 ts Cream of tartar
1 lb Crisco; (shortening)
1 1/4 c Powdered milk
Instructions for Bisquick Substitute
Mix all together and there you have it. (1 c mix to 1/4 c water makes about 4 biscuits.......450 F. for 10 minutes or so.)
Posted to TNT Recipes Digest, Vol 01, Nr 947 by "PJ Holtzman" on Jan 17, 1998

if you have kids that love to create with playdough, but don't have any in site.....
here's a recipe just for that....

Substitute Play Dough
1 c Flour Food coloring
1/2 c Salt
1/4 c Water
1/4 c Oil
Instructions for Substitute Play Dough
Heat and stir until it forms a ball. It will still feel slightly sticky. Cool and knead. Store in covered container. . Posted on GEnie by B.WESTFIELD [Chops], Jan 23, 1993 MM by Sylvia Steiger, GEnie THE.STEIGERS, CI$ 71511,2253, GT Cookbook echo moderator, net/node 004/005 Posted to MM-Recipes Digest V3 #294 Date: Sat, 26 Oct 1996 21:00:14 -0700 From: Tonya

Thanks for reading!

Never Dial 90# !

I received this email yesterday and thought it was important enough to post on
the blog so as many people see it as should.....

DON'T DIAL 90# for anyone!

I dialed '0' and asked the operator who confirmed that this was correct so please pass it on . . . (l also checked out ..this is true, and also applies to cell phones!)

I received a telephone call last evening from an individual identifying himself as an AT&T Service Technician (could also be Telus) who was conducting a test on the telephone lines. He stated that to complete the test I should touch nine(9), zero(0), the pound sign (#), and then hang up. Luckily, I was suspicious and refused.

Upon contacting the telephone company, I was informed that by pushing 90#, you give the requesting individual full access to your telephone line, which enables them to place long distance calls billed to your home phone number.

I was further informed that this scam has been originating from many local jails/prisons

DO NOT press 90# for ANYONE.

The GTE Security Department requested that I share this information with EVERYONE I KNOW.

After checking with Verizon they also said it was true,
so do not dial 90# for anyone !!!!!


Saturday, December 6, 2008

Handy Helpful Household Tips

Here's some really great household tips I had in my email that I totally forgot about.......
they are all very handy indeed :)

Hope you find that they are as helpful for you!


1. Reheat Pizza
Heat up leftover pizza in a nonstick skillet on top of the stove, set heat to med-low and heat till warm. This keeps the crust crispy. No soggy micro pizza. I saw this on the cooking channel and it really works.

2. Easy Deviled Eggs
Put cooked egg yolks in a zip lock bag. Seal, mash till they are all broken up. Add remainder of ingredients, reseal, keep mashing it up mixing thoroughly, cut the tip of the baggy, squeeze mixture into egg. Just throw bag away when done easy clean up.

3. Expanding Frosting
When you buy a container of cake frosting from the store, whip it with your mixer for a few minutes. You can double it in size. You get to frost more cake/cupcakes with the same amount. You also eat less sugar and calories per serving.

4 Reheating refrigerated bread
To warm biscuits, pancakes, or muffins that were refrigerated, place them in a microwave with a cup of water. The increased moisture will keep the food moist and help it reheat faster.

5. Newspaper weeds away
Start putting in your plants, work the nutrients in your soil. Wet newspapers put layers around the plants overlapping as you go cover with mulch and forget about weeds. Weeds will get through some gardening plastic they will not get through wet newspapers.

6. Broken Glass
Use a wet cotton ball or Q-tip to pick up the small shards of glass you can't see easily.

7. No More Mosquitoes
Place a dryer sheet in your pocket. It will keep the mosquitoes away.

8. Squirrel Away!
To keep squirrels from eating your plants sprinkle your plants with cayenne pepper. The cayenne pepper doesn't hurt the plant and the squirrels won't come near it.

9. Flexible vacuum
To get something out of a heat register or under the fridge add an empty paper towel roll or empty gift wrap roll to your vacuum. It can be bent or flattened to get in narrow openings.

10. Reducing Static Cling
Pin a small safety pin to the seam of your slip and you will not have a clingy skirt or dress. Same thing works with slacks that cling when wearing panty hose. Place pin in seam of slacks and * ta da! -- static is gone.

11. Measuring Cups
Before you pour sticky substances into a measuring cup, fill with hot water. Dump out the hot water, but don't dry cup. ext, add your ingredient, such as peanut butter, and watch how easily it comes right out.

12. Foggy Windshield?
Hate foggy windshields? Buy a chalkboard eraser and keep it in the glove box of your car. When the windows fog, rub with the eraser! Works better than a cloth!

13. Reopening envelope
If you seal an envelope and then realize you forgot to include something inside , just place your sealed envelope in the freezer for an hour or two. Viola! It unseals easily

14. Conditioner
Use your hair conditioner to shave your legs. It's a lot cheaper than shaving cream and leaves your legs really smooth. It's also a great way to use up the conditioner you bought but didn't like when you tried it in your hair...

15. Goodbye Fruit Flies
To get rid of pesky fruit flies, take a small glass fill it 1/2" with Apple Cider Vinegar and 2 drops of dish washing liquid, mix well. You will find those flies drawn to the cup and gone forever!

16. Get Rid of Ants
Put small piles of cornmeal where you see ants. They eat it, take it "home", can't digest it so it kills them. It may take a week or so, especially if it rains, but it works & you don't have the worry about pets or small children being harmed!

The heating unit went out on my dryer! The gentleman that fixes things around the house for us told us that he wanted to show us something and he went over to the dryer and pulled out the lint filter. It was clean. (I always clean the lint from the filter after every load clothes.) He told us that he wanted to show us something; he took the filter over to the sink, ran hot water over it. The lint filter is made of a mesh material - I'm sure you know what your dryer's lint filter looks like.WELL...the hot water just sat on top of the mesh! It didn't go through it at all! He told us that dryer sheets cause a film over that mesh that's what burns out the heating unit. You can't SEE the film , but it's there. It's what is in the dryer sheets to make your clothes soft and static free - that nice fragrance too, you know ho w they can feel waxy when you take them out of the box, well this stuff builds up on your clothes and on your lint screen. This is also what causes dryer units to catch fire & potentially burn your house down with it!He said the best way to keep your dryer working for a very long time (& to keep your electric bill lower) is to take that filter out & wash it with hot soapy water & an old toothbrush (or other brush) at least every six months. He said that makes the life of the dryer at least twice as long!How about that? Learn something new ever y day! I certainly didn't know dryer sheets would do that. So, I thought I'd share! Note: I went to my dryer & tested my screen by running water on it. The water ran through a little bit but mostly collected all the water in the mesh screen. I washed it with warm soapy water & a nylon brush & I had it done in 30 seconds. Then when I rinsed it the water ran right Thru the screen! There wasn't any puddling at all! That repairman knew what he was talking about!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

To Kill an American

Every once in a while we get those really good emails that just hit home.......
this one made me proud to be an American and I had to share its message with you,
it was too good not to :)

Written by an Australian Dentist....

To Kill an American

You probably missed it in the rush of news last week, but there was actually a report that someone in Pakistan had published in a newspaper an offer of a reward to anyone who killed an American, any American.

So an Australian dentist wrote an editorial the following day to let everyone know what an American is . So they would know when they found one. (Good one, mate!!!!)

An American is English, or French, or Italian, Irish, German, Spanish, Polish, Russian or Greek. An American may also be Canadian, Mexican, African, Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Australian, Iranian, Asian, or Arab, or Pakistani or Afghan.

An American may also be a Comanche, Cherokee, Osage, Blackfoot, Navaho, Apache, Seminole or one of the many other tribes known as native Americans.

An American is Christian, or he could be Jewish, or Buddhist, or Muslim.
In fact, there are more Muslims in America than in Afghanistan . The only difference is that in America they are free to worship as each of them chooses.

An American is also free to believe in no religion. For that he will answer only to God, not to the government, or to armed thugs claiming to speak for the government and for God.

An American lives in the most prosperous land in the history of the world.
The root of that prosperity can be found in the Declaration! of Independence , which recognizes the God given right of each person to the pursuit of happiness.

An American is generous. Americans have helped out just about every other nation in the world in their time of need, never asking a thing in return.

When Afghanistan was over-run by the Soviet army 20 years ago, Americans came with arms and supplies to enable the people to win back their country!

As of the morning of September 11, Americans had given more than any other nation to the poor in Afghanistan . Americans welcome the best of everything...the best products, the best books, the best music, the best food, the best services. But they also welcome the least.

The national symbol of America , The Statue of Liberty , welcomes your tired and your poor, the wretched refuse of your teeming shores, t!he homeless, tempest tossed. These in fact are the people who built America .

Some of them were working in the Twin Towers the morning of September 11, 2001 earning a better life for their families. It's been told that the World Trade Center victims were from at least 30 different countries, cultures, and first languages, including those that aided and abetted the terrorists.

So you can try to kill an American if you must. Hitler did. So did General Tojo, and Stalin, and Mao Tse-Tung, and other blood-thirsty tyrants in the world. But, in doing so you would just be killing yourself. Because Americans are not a particular people from a particular place. They are the embodiment of the human spirit of freedom. Everyone who holds to that spirit, everywhere, is an American.


God Bless America!

Monday, December 1, 2008

More Inexpensive Crafty Christmas Projects

Don't you just love special know, the personalized ones that someone really took time to make?
I do, and I adore finding new and different ideas.
Here's more that I found surfing the net......

Everyone loves personalized gifts, and what's better than photos for memories???

Create a family (Christmas) tree this year by customizing ornaments with old and new family photos. This simple craft will help you preserve pictures of relatives by framing each image in glass and stamping the date or year on the ribbon.

1. Photocopy a photo onto Lazertran, an image-transfer material that works like a decal.

2. Soak the paper in water and adhere the decal to a precut glass shape.

or another way to do this.

is to just buy tiny picture frames from the dollar store and add your photos, then hot glue the ribbon on the back of the frame.

3. Stamp the year the photo was taken onto the ribbon.

4. Thread the ribbon through the hole in the glass and wrap the ends together with wire.

5. Hang a snowflake wire shape from the ribbon with a safety pin.

From A Season of Giving by Making Memories.Supplies available at

Keepsake Memory Box

Gifts should come from the heart, and this thoughtful item is the perfect present for family members. Ensure that Grandma's recipes aren't lost to time by creating a recipe box with the family's favorite meals. Include pictures and memories of past holidays to make this not only a recipe box but a family keepsake as well.


    1. Spray a wooden box with several coats of white semigloss paint. Lightly sand the box between each coat to keep the surface smooth.

    2. When the final coat is dry, sand all the edges and corners to give the box a slightly worn look.

    3. Give the box a patina and luster finish by rubbing it with paste wax. Apply a thick coat of paste wax with a smooth cloth, rubbing in a circular motion. After the paste has dried enough to look clouded, buff the waxed surface with a smooth, clean cloth. Repeat the process until you have three or four coats of wax. (Paste wax is available at home improvement stores.)

    4. To decorate the box, adhere a photo to the top, then cover it with a thin piece of glass. The easiest way to adhere the glass is with four tiny adhesive dots.

    5. Hang a tag from the decorative snap attached to the front of the box.

    6. Make copies of food-related family photos, and cut them to recipe-card size to make the category dividers. For a few of the dividers, we scanned memory-evoking items such as a plate from her mom's china and the design from a favorite linen tablecloth. Back the photos with card stock printed with journaling, and sandwich the plastic tab labels between the two layers. Secure with a snap.

    7. All the card stock we used was stained with walnut ink. And the recipes follow a similar format and were printed on the computer to save time.

    From A Season of Giving by Making Memories.Supplies available at

    Homemade Inexpensive Holiday Gifts & Christmas Crafts

    It's the first of December already, and time is flying by again this year. It seems no matter how many years pass I can never be completely ready for the holidays. I say to myself every Thanksgiving that this year will be the year that I'm going to have everything I wanted to accomplish finished by Christmas....yeah right.

    In the meantime, I've done a bit of searching and found some great things to share.

    These decorative candles are great for your holiday mantel or table centerpiece. Wrapped with the sheet music of your favorite carol and pictures of your family, they're a great family keepsake or seasonal decoration.

    Christmas Candles

    1. Photocopy music or photos onto regular printer paper. 2. Trim the paper so it's no taller than the candle. 3. Affix the paper to the candle with straight pins. 4. With an embossing gun, heat the candle until the wax saturates and melts completely through the paper. Remove the pins. 5. Embellish the candle with ribbons, charms or other notions.

    Noel Candle
    1. Wrap various ribbons around a candle. 2. Attach alphabet charms with adhesive dots.

    Peace Candle
    1. Glue pressed leaves on candle. Coat with decoupage medium. 2. Adorn with ribbon and a mini tag.

    Believe Candle
    1. Cut canvas to fit around candle. 2. Stamp "believe" on the canvas with StazOn ink. 3. Set a snap on the canvas. 4. Pin embellished canvas to candle. 5. Heat with an embossing gun until the wax saturates and melts completely through the canvas.



    Layer 1 cup granulated sugar, 1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, 1 cup powdered milk, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/2 cup miniature chocolate chips, and 1/2 cup miniature marshmallows. Makes 1 quart mix or 12 servings hot cocoa.

    Per serving: 142 cal., 20% (29 cal.) from fat; 3.7 g protein; 3.2 g fat (1.9 g sat.); 30 g carbo (2.6 g fiber); 1 mg chol.


    Layer 1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, 1 cup powdered milk, 1 cup firmly packed brown sugar, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon, and 3/4 cup chopped Mexican chocolate (such as Ibarra). Add a few cinnamon sticks to top of jar. Makes 1 quart mix or 12 servings hot cocoa.

    Per serving: 158 cal., 14% (22 cal.) from fat; 3.4 g protein; 2.4 g fat (0.8 g sat.); 33 g carbo (2.1 g fiber); 1 mg chol.


    Layer 1 cup powdered milk, 1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, 1 cup granulated sugar, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/2 cup miniature chocolate chips, and 1/2 cup crushed peppermint candy. Makes 1 quart mix or 12 servings hot cocoa.

    Per serving: 172 cal., 17% (29 cal.) from fat; 3.7 g protein; 3.2 g fat (1.9 g sat.); 37 g carbo (2.6 g fiber); 1 mg chol.


    Layer 1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, 1 cup granulated sugar, 1/2 cup espresso powder, 1 cup powdered milk, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 cup chopped bittersweet chocolate or miniature chocolate chips. Makes 1 quart mix or 12 servings hot cocoa.

    Per serving: 141 cal., 23% (32 cal.) from fat; 4.1 g protein; 3.5 g fat (1.9 g sat.); 28 g carbo (2.3 g fiber); 1 mg chol.

    Photos by David Prince

    Sources: Vintage straight-sided Ball canning jar. Rounded 1-liter French canning jar from the Container Store ( or 888/266-8246). Vintage metal-clip jar. Glass 1-quart cracker jar with aluminum screw-top lid from the Container Store.

    A perennial winter favorite, hot cocoa with all the trimmings (mini marshmallows, chocolate chips, and a cherry-red gumdrop) sports an even sweeter look packaged as a cone. This makes a great gift for babysitters, teachers, and neighbors. Be sure to add a tag letting your recipients know the cone contains enough for four servings.

    3/4 cup cocoa mix
    2 (6- by 12-inch) cone-shaped cellophane bags (available at party stores)
    2 clear rubber bands (we used ponytail holders)
    1/4 cup mini chocolate chips
    3/4 cup mini marshmallows
    1 large red gumdrop
    1. Pour the cocoa mix into one of the bags. Close the bag with a clear rubber band, then trim the end of the bag 1 inch above the band.

    2. Place the cocoa-filled bag into the second bag and flatten its top so the end doesn't stick up.

    3. Layer the chocolate chips and the marshmallows, then top with the gumdrop. Secure the bag with the other rubber band.


    Christmas HOT COCOA KIT

    You can make one of all of the above cocoa mixes (mocha cocoa, pepp. candy cocoa, mexican cocoa, etc) and put them in a basket with cute Christmas cups, Christmas Hershey's Kisses and marshmallows...mmmmmmmm :)

    Another Homemade Cocoa Kit

    This easy-to-make kit, with cocoa mix as the centerpiece, is a fun holiday gift. Package it in a pretty gift box lined with tissue. Include Hershey's Kisses — they further sweeten and deepen the chocolate flavor — and marshmallows for dropping into the cocoa, if you wish.

    Spice-Kissed Hot Cocoa Mix For 8 cups

    * 1/3 cup best-quality unsweetened cocoa powder
    * 1/4 cup superfine sugar
    * 1 whole star anise
    * 2 cinnamon sticks, each about 3 inches long

    Mix together all of the ingredients. Place in a tin or jar that seals securely. Add a recipe card with the following directions: Hot Cocoa 8 cups whole milk Spice-Kissed Hot Cocoa Mix 8 Hershey's Kisses (optional) Marshmallows (optional)

    In a heavy saucepan over low heat, bring 1 cup of the milk to a simmer. Stir in the cocoa mix. Mix until well blended. Add the remaining 7 cups of milk and bring back to a simmer.

    Remove the star anise and the cinnamon sticks and discard. Serve hot, along with the Hershey's Kisses and marshmallows, if desired.
    From Christmas Family Gatherings © by Donata Maggipinto. Used with permission of Chronicle Books LLC, San Francisco. Visit

    IN-A-JAR Recipes from

    Brownie Mix in a Jar

    Who doesn't love brownies? Nobody, that's who. That's why a brownie mix in a jar makes a great gift: it looks cool, it's easy and inexpensive to make, and it turns into brownies! I like to keep a couple of these on hand for "emergency" situations, like when someone gives you an unexpected gift and you want to look like you already planned something in return.

    Basically, you layer all the dry ingredients in a jar, then add a tag explaining what wet ingredients (like eggs and oil) to add and how to finish the recipe. There are countless variations; this one comes from and includes pecans, which have no business in a brownie but can be replaced with chocolate chips or even coconut. In addition to the ingredients themselves, you'll need quart jars and tags for the baking instructions. Buy everything in bulk and you'll have enough lovingly homemade gifts for everyone on your list.

    One final note: this doesn't have to be a regular old brownie mix. Search for "in a jar" and you'll find loads of brownie varieties as well as cookie recipes. Yet another variation: Family Fun's Hot Chocolate Cones, which rely on cone-shaped bags instead of jars.

    Holiday Peppermint Bark

    Spray a large cookie tray with non-stick spray and then line it with a piece of way paper. Take several large candy canes or a bag of peppermint candies and crush them into small pieces. (How much peppermint flavor you like should determine how many you chop up.)

    On the stove, melt two bags of white chocolate chips at a low temperature. When melted, add most of the crushed peppermint and stir it in. Pour the mixture onto the cookie tray and spread over the tray until flat and even. Sprinkle the remaining peppermint pieces on top, pressing them in with a spatula.

    Let it cool. Peel off wax paper and break into pieces. Enjoy!

    MORE Cocoa in a jar

    Layer the ingredients for homemade cocoa in a jar, add a ribbon and a tag, and you have a simple but stylish gift. Our mixes will fill 1-quart jars (12 servings; see below for sources), but if your containers are different sizes, just keep the ratio of ingredients constant. On the back of the tag, write: "Mix contents in a large bowl. For each serving, place 1/3 cup cocoa mix in a mug and stir in 1 cup boiling water. Store remaining mix in airtight container."

    And what about this cool DIY gift for your favorite guy (or gal)...
    The Winter Emergency Car-Kit

    Think of a friend or loved one stranded in the ditch while the snow continues to pile up. Not a pretty picture, is it? A homemade emergency kit not only helps ensure their safety, it also says you care.

    Start with a large coffee can. Decorate it as you see fit, starting with blank or holiday paper wrapped around the outside. Now, fill it with the following:

    * Rock salt, filling roughly half the can. If the car gets stuck in the snow, the salt will help give the tires some traction and, hopefully, get it unstuck.
    * A few roadside flares.
    * A couple granola bars (stranded people get hungry).
    * A pair of stretchy knit gloves (which are very small until you pull them over your hands). Maybe a knit cap, too.
    * A small flashlight and a pack of fresh batteries.
    * A mini first-aid kit with bandages and aspirin.
    * A small bottle of water. Yes, it may get frozen, but it's still worth having.
    * A pocket-size book of Sudoku puzzles to pass the time waiting for the tow truck.
    * A small, laminated sheet of emergency numbers, like AAA, towing services, etc.
    * If you're really ambitious, add a compatible Energizer battery, or  To Go powerpack for the recipient's cell phone. Because the battery will invariably die the moment the car gets stuck.

    Everything but the rock salt should go inside an oversized Ziplock bag to keep it from getting mixed in with the salt. All told, the kit shouldn't cost more than $10-15, unless you add the Energi To Go (which costs around $20).

    Here's a site that offers 'how to's' on making your own creative Christmas projects and crafts;

    and here's a cute project that's great if you want to recycle those favorite Christmas cards;

    How to Make Greeting Card Placemats

    Recycle your Christmas cards, or other greeting cards, to make pretty placemats for your table. This is one way to keep and display some of your prettiest, or most memorable, greeting cards. Next year, you can bring them out for holiday entertaining; perhaps your guests will even recognize their own cards in your selection!


    Christmas cards or greeting cards
    clear contact paper or self-adhesive plastic film
    drinking glass or cardboard circle template
    optional: wrapping paper or card stock as a backing; glue stick

    Craft Project Instructions:

    Assemble your collection of greeting cards and a circle template. You can make a circle template from cardboard, or use a drinking glass to trace around.

    Begin tracing four to six inch circles around key areas of your greeting cards, centering the most pleasing designs.

    Cut out the circles.

    For the backing, cut a piece of clear contact paper, wrapping paper or card stock in a rectangle that is approximately 20 inches wide by 26 inches long (or trace around an old placemat).

    If using contact paper, peel away the backing and lay it on the table, sticky side up. If the paper curls up at the sides, find something to weigh it down at the corners while you proceed with the next steps.

    Arrange the greeting card circles in a trial run on the table. You can use a layout like the one shown, with three circles in the top row, then four circles in the center row, and a bottom row of three more circles, with the circles overlapping so there are no spaces between them.

    You could also try a pyramid (like the triangle shape of a Christmas tree), or maybe experiment with a wreath design.

    Once you have a design that you like, begin placing the greeting card circles on the backing sheet. If you're using wrapping paper or card stock, swipe a glue stick across the back of each circle, just to hold it still until the top contact paper is in place.

    Cut a piece of contact paper the same size as your backing.

    Peel away the backing paper of the contact sheet and carefully place it over your card design, aligning the edges as well as you can, and smoothing out any bubbles.

    Trim the placemat all around, leaving about 1/2 inch to one inch of space around the card circles. You can keep the corners square, or place your circle template close to each corner, tracing around the upper section of it to round off the corners.


    Cut the cards into different shapes - triangles, or free-form shapes, instead of circles.

    To make a reversible placemat, glue two identical shapes together, with right sides out, so a design can be seen on either side of the placemat.

    Write the year of construction on the placemat somewhere, to create a dated archive of your favorite card collections.

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