Monday, November 28, 2011

Book Nook - Handmade Holiday Crafts

Martha Stewart's Handmade Holiday Crafts: 225 Inspired Projects for Year-Round Celebrations:

Last week, a crafty book was featured here on my blog, so I thought I'd continue with that theme and share another holiday crafts book that I've been enjoying lately.  Martha Stewart's Handmade Holiday Crafts is a huge book, filled with lots of great ideas.  There are crafts for holidays throughout the year, including New Year's, Valentine's Day, Easter, Mother's Day, Father's Day, 4th of July, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah & Christmas.  Each chapter/holiday has a neat title page done in some sort of creative, crafty way (for example, Mother's Day is spelled out by writing the name of the holiday in a pile of buttons - then, there are a couple of projects that use buttons, so the title page sort of "matches").

I think my favorite chapter in the book is the Easter chapter.  There are so many inspired crafts!  Maybe it's because I haven't seen a lot of the Easter projects yet, or maybe because Easter decorating and activities are pretty bare-bones around here, or maybe because I'm already dreaming of Spring, I just saw so many projects to do!  I definitely want to try the all-natural egg dyes (using ingredients such as cranberries, coffee & tumeric); I love all the egg-decorating ideas, but especially loved the botanical decorated eggs.  Such a neat idea & looks pretty easy to execute!  The envelope bunny treat bags are adorable.  And the projects with fresh Spring flowers have me wanting to skip over Winter all together.

But the same accolades can be given to each and every chapter in this book.  This is why I love Martha Stewart's books and magazines so much: new, fresh ideas that are sure to inspire you, in addition to excellent photography and clear instructions.  (On a side note, add all of the recipes that Martha has given me over the years, and  well, I'm one of her biggest fans)!  I can't help but look at all these neat, crafty projects and want to get started on one of them, and eventually do them all!

On Thanksgiving, our 6-year-old was setting the table and she asked about the napkins.  I asked her to get this book so that we could see some different ways of folding napkins.  Then, we kept the book on the coffee table throughout the day, and lots of our guests were perusing through it.  Even if you're not a "crafty" person, I think anyone would appreciate the many great projects in this book.

All that being said, I will let you in on a little tip: you can find many of these projects on Martha's website - for free.  And many of them (if not all of them) have been featured in her magazine.  So, you can get the ideas without investing in the book.  But, it is very convenient to have many of these ideas right there, in a handy book form.  The website also has tons and tons of Martha's awesome recipes.  It's the first place I go if I need a recipe for a dish I'm making, or if I need a crafty idea for a holiday or a party.  And now that I have her book, Handmade Holiday Crafts, that will also be one of the first places I turn to for inspired holiday crafts ideas.

Thank you, Martha!


Friday, November 25, 2011

{Vegetarian} Thanksgiving

I have really come to appreciate Thanksgiving over the years.  As a child, it seemed sort of boring, nothing more than a dinner.  No presents, no special songs, no real decorating.  But now that I'm an adult, I really love the simplicity of the holiday.  Maybe it could use a special carol, but I would add nothing more.  Getting together with family and loved ones just to have a simple meal and give's just perfect as is.

We had DH's family over at our house this year, but it ended up being a smaller group than expected.  But it was a lovely day, and after the meal we all just ended up sitting around, chatting for hours.  It was so nice!

This was my 2nd Thanksgiving as a vegetarian and I must admit that Thanksgiving Day is the only day of the year where I re-think eating veggie and consider getting a big 'ol plate of turkey.  My DH is a wonderful chef (no really, that's what he does for a living) so he is always in charge of the turkey when we host the holiday.  And it smelled wonderful!  However, I didn't budge, and still enjoyed a fantastic, vegetarian meal.  I think the key is to have lots of delicious veggie options - and we did!  I made a tasty walnut-herb stuffing that everyone seemed to love - it got a lot of compliments.  The recipe is from Martha Stewart  (I modified the recipe & used vegetable stock instead of chicken).  I usually skip stuffing altogether, but this year I had a second helping of it!  We also made mashed potatoes (DH made them and they turned out way better than mine ever do) & cranberry sauce.  Our family brought Brussels sprouts, green beans and onions and sweet potatoes with marshmallows.  Everything was so delicious!

Our 6-year-old was especially helpful, setting the table and doing little tasks for us to help get ready.  As her reward, she got to eat her meal on one of the "fancy" plates:

Little Dude found a quiet moment to sit by the fire and look through a book:

Here's a shot of the best pumpkin cheesecake ever.  I think it's going to be my Thanksgiving staple from now on - wherever I go, it goes.  The recipe is from The New Best Recipe and it is soooo good.  In fact, I had a piece for breakfast this morning (blush).

Isn't that one of the best things about having Thanksgiving at your own house......the leftovers!

Hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving, too!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


The menu has been set by tradition.  Old recipes have been brought out, new recipes have been printed out.  The headcount is set (we think!)......

Fine china has been pulled out of the cabinet and washed.........

Ingredients have been sitting patiently until they get to room temperature........

We're having 18 people over to our house for Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow.  It's exciting and also a little bit.......yikes!

I hope you & your family have a very Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Book Nook - Holiday Crafting & Baking with Kids

Holiday Crafting & Baking with Kids written by Jessica Strand:

Unbelievably, the end-of-the-year holidays are upon us.  Every year, I try to do some fun activities with the Bachsters to celebrate the holidays and keep them busy while they have a break from school.  This book is packed full of great crafts for kids - decorations, gifts and fun stuff to do.

The projects start with Thanksgiving and include things like making a leaf wreath, decorating a cornucopia and making place cards for the Thanksgiving table.  Other holidays included in the book are Christmas, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, Boxing Day and New Year's.  There are also a couple of snow-themed projects just for Winter.  So there's something for everyone here!

I think the Bachsters would love to try the magic ice on page 49.  Here, you submerge a snowflake-shaped pipe cleaner ornament into a jar of water and borax.  Overnight, crystals form and make a really cool snowflake.  I also really want to try "wrap it up" on page 61, in which you take plain paper and paint holiday-themed shapes on it to create your own wrapping paper.  I think the soft felt ornaments on page 73 would be lots of fun, and would make great gifts to the grandparents from the Bachsters.  Of course, I'll need to check with them to see which projects they would like to do (I'm guessing the ones with the sweet treats)!

One thing I really liked about this book is that all of the projects are very kid-do-able.  And all of the photographs show projects that look like a kid actually did them.  They're not perfect, but as anyone who has done crafty projects with kids knows, perfection is not the goal.  It's all about having fun!  Let the crafting begin!


Thursday, November 17, 2011

Playing in the leaves

I've been sick all week & I've been trying to spend lots of time in my knitting chair (where both knitting and dozing are known to occur) and less time at the office chair!  So, I'm just going to share a couple of cute shots with you now & then hopefully later this week I'll feel up to a lengthier post.  We had a really fun excursion recently & I can't wait to post some shots.

A few days ago, the 6-year-old announced she was going out to rake the leaves.  Ranger went with her and before I knew it, he was out there barking and she was out there cracking up with laughter.  It turns out that Ranger went berserk over the rake and every time she tried to rake up leaves, he tried to get it and tackle it to the ground!

Of course, when you're 6, it's just too hard to resist throwing leaves all over your puppy, which just added fuel to Ranger's crazy-dog fire.

I don't think they managed to actually rake up any leaves, but those two did have a fun time!


Monday, November 14, 2011

Book Nook - Happy Day

Happy Day! written and illustrated by my 8 year-old DD.

This is a very special Book Nook selection because this is a truly one-of-a-kind book.  And since it will be more fun to show you the book vs. just writing about it, here is Happy Day in its entirety (along with some minor translations):

 Happy Day!

It was Nov. 12, so it was the day before a birthday!

We were hiding presents and decorating at night.

In the morning we took her out for breakfast at Cracker Barrel.

We got home and PARTIED

Then we (besides her) made a cake and blew up balloons.

She opened her presents and we ate cake.

It was a very good day!  P.S. She got a Boston Terrier.

The End

What a story!  I love the plot!  The characters aren't very detailed, but the storyline moves along and keeps the reader's interest.  And I love the illustrations - I think this book should be a contender for the Caldecott Award!

Did you know that this is actually a piece of non-fiction?  It was really my birthday yesterday!  And we really did go out for breakfast at Cracker Barrel.  And there was cake, as well as presents.  There was not, however, a Boston Terrier!

It was a wonderful birthday.  And Happy Day was one of the best presents this birthday Mama could ever receive.


Friday, November 11, 2011

Chestnut Ridge & woolly bears

A couple of weeks ago (yes, I'm seriously behind on posting!) the Bachsters and I went to Chestnut Ridge Metro Park, just outside of Columbus, Ohio, to take some pictures of the Commit to be Fit hike taking place there.  It was a warm Fall afternoon, the kind where you don't really need your jacket.  And the kind that brings out the woolly bears, much to our delight!

Last Fall, we had found a woolly bear, kept him in our mesh butterfly house and watched him hibernate all winter.  Sadly, he never came out of hibernation in the Spring, so we placed him under our pine trees and hoped that he was just being extremely sleepy.  So, this year, I told the Bachsters that we would just hold any woolly bears that we might find, but not try to keep them long term.  I have a "brown thumb" when it comes to woolly bears, apparently!

Well, on our hike each Bachster found a woolly bear just for his or herself.  And our woolly bears hiked with us the entire time we were at the park.  When we let them go at the end of our walk, they just instinctively knew which direction to head.


Did you know that you are supposed to be able to predict the weather based on how thick the brown band on a woolly bear is?  According to the woolly bears we found, it's going to be a mild winter.  One can only hope!


Monday, November 7, 2011

Book Nook - Skinny B**ch

Skinny B**ch, written by Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin:

This book is like the Basic Training of the diet world.  You're going to be called all sorts of mean names, and you're going to suffer.  But in the end, you'll be nice and buff (or in this case, skinny). 

The tone of this book is really what sets it apart.  Seriously, you will be called some mean names by the authors, in their attempt to snap you out of your evil eating ways.  The tone starts right with the title, which as the authors explain, was chosen to get your attention and get you interested in reading this book over the billions of other dieting books out there.  Throughout the book, the authors use the tone of tough-love, relating to the reader on a very I'm your best friend & I'm gonna tell you like it really is level.

One criticism I've seen of this book is that it's a pro-vegan book in disguise.  I can see this reviewer's point of view.  There's really nothing about the title or idea behind the book to let you know that veganism is a much discussed topic here.  But that's not necessarily a bad thing, I think.  I believe that everyone should be well-informed about the food they eat.  Yes, the book touches on the positive aspects of being vegan (like being better for the environment, eating way less saturated fat, not to mention the issue of animal cruelty) and really pushes the vegan agenda.  If you are a meat eater, make sure to read the book all the way through.  Perhaps you'll learn something about being vegan (or, on the opposite end, you'll learn something negative about eating meat) that will nudge you to give vegan a try.

One warning: the section on animal cruelty is difficult to read.  The authors thankfully tell you that it's coming up and give you the option of skipping ahead, although they encourage you to read it.  The horrific stories of cruelty in the slaughterhouses of the meat industry and the egg and milk facilities of the dairy industry are heartbreaking.  And eye-opening.  And although I'm not a vegan (but am a vegetarian) I've been thinking about trying it just based what I've read in this book.  Actually, on a side note, I think it would be sort of neat to keep a few hens around for eggs.  That way, you can still have the ease and wholesomeness of eating and baking with eggs without buying into the cruelty of the egg industry.

Anyway, I think you're seeing where this book is heading.  To be a skinny b**ch, you just need to eat a plant-based diet.  Give up the sugar, the soda (the authors call it liquid satan).  Yes, even diet soda (did you realize that a bi-product of aspartame is formaldehyde).  Give up the junk food.  Give up the meat & the dairy.  Give up the coffee.  (See, I told you it's the equivalent of Basic Training!)  The authors encourage you to eat organic fruit and vegetables, whole grains and soy products.  Personally, I'm not so sold on all the soy products out there - some of them are very processed, and you know what they say about processed foods.  But the point is that there are options out there, and many better options than the vast amount of fast food, junk food and sugary sweets Americans consume on a daily basis.  I really loved all the research that the authors mention.  There is a lot of good, factual information here to give you the motivation to stop eating all this bad stuff - and get the body you want in return.

Usually, I love reading my books on CD, but this one, I think would be better in book form, simply because the latter section involves lists of current organic, vegan products the authors recommend (listening to a product list is kind of boring, and I think I actually fell asleep during that part).  There's also a list of common ingredients in processed foods and what the ingredient actually is.  This is good to have and maybe even take with you to the grocery store, but it's not the most intriguing thing to listen to on CD.  Plus, there's lots of bad language and you definitely don't want your kids to overhear it!  So, I'd say get this one in book form, not on CD.

I've been eating lots of junk lately & feeling like I need some motivation to get healthy.  This book provides a large dose of facts to motivate you to eat healthy and get the body you want, all without making sacrifices.  Sounds pretty good to me!


Friday, November 4, 2011

Homemade apple goodies

Did you see this post from a few weeks back about our trip to the apple orchard?  We only have one apple left from our half bushel (20 lbs) that we picked that day.  I couldn't resist baking up some of my favorite apple recipes with all those apples!

The first thing I made was an apple pie.  The recipe is from one of my favorite cookbooks, The Best Recipe.  I think it's a must with vanilla ice cream (Little Dude actually ate only the ice cream, so I ended up eating his, too):

Next, I made one of my absolute favorites, apple crisp (one of the best recipes I've found is from  Vanilla ice cream is also a must with this recipe.  I should have made a double batch - it was gone in no time!

We also treated ourselves to apple slices with store-bought caramel dip.  Quick, easy and yummy!

The Bachsters love muffins, so I tried the chunky apple muffins from  I added an extra apple to the recipe, since we had so many.  DH said he thought these were really good, and snatched the last one up before I could get to it!

I think I'm going to slice up that last, lonely apple and eat it with peanut butter - what a yummy snack on a beautiful Fall afternoon!


Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Our Halloween

The Bach family has been busy all weekend, through Trick-or-Treat night, getting ready for Halloween.  We had our first ever Halloween party on Sunday for the Bachsters and a bunch of their friends.  I'm happy to say that the party was a big success!  We planned several games and activities for all the little "monsters" - one of the best games we had was a doughnut game, in which you tie a doughnut to a branch of a tree and the person has to try to eat it without using their hands.  It's definitely easier said than done, and all the kids had a blast:

We also had a "spooky relay race" in which the kids had to race across the lawn holding an egg on a spoon (and all the eggs were painted like Jack-'o-lanterns.  This was also a lot of fun and helped the kids burn off some energy from the monster pinata candy:

We also had a bean bag toss game, and we painted pumpkins for our crafty activity:

We ended our party with pizza & cupcakes by the bonfire.  It was so much fun - I can see this turning into an annual affair for us!

The next night was Trick-or-Treat.  The Bachsters dressed up as Bumblebee (from the Transformers), Darth Vader (that's my tomboy girl!) and glam-witch.  Ranger was a punk rocker.  Here's a shot of the crew before leaving:

It was such a fun Halloween - with lots of sweets & treats & time with friends!

Edited To Add: I can't believe I completely forgot to mention that we also made the neatest Haunted Forest!  Well, it was all my DH's idea & execution and he did a great job.  The kids walked on wooden planks through the trees and bushes in our back yard, and spooky Halloween ghosts and spiders lined the path.  The kids all loved it, and we even kept it up so that the Bachsters can enjoy it for the next few days!