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Thursday, December 13, 2018

Random Acts of Kindness at Christmas Time

This time of year, there are so many opportunities to spread kindness and cheer. Here is a list of things you can do that will cost you little or nothing but your time.

Donate gently used toys to your local second-hand store
Send Christmas cards to soldiers
Go Caroling at a retirement center or to your neighbors
Leave kind notes on cars in a parking lot
Choose items to purchase from a Giving Tree
Leave a note and treat for your mail carrier or delivery truck driver
Take treats to the police and fire station
Donate food to a food pantry
Write gratitude letters to people you love
Volunteer to read to at a retirement home or library
Tape change to a vending machine to surprise someone with a free treat
Put your change in the Salvation Army buckets
Smile at everyone
Donate blood at or give plasma
Make a pinecone bird feeder
Paint and hide kindness rocks
Babysit for a friend so they can wrap presents
Bake cookies for your neighbors
Ask the store cashier what their favorite candy is, then buy it for them
Drive through the bank drive through and send a treat into the teller.
Sing Christmas Carols at a hospital
Make treats to share with your neighbors
Leave a dollar for someone to find in the Dollar Spot at Target or at the Dollar Store
Pay for Lunch for the person behind you in line or in the drive through
Allow someone to go ahead of you in the checkout line
Notice nice things about people and offer compliments.
Volunteer at your children's school
Make or buy a blanket to donate to the homeless shelter
Buy a cup of hot cocoa or coffee for a homeless person
Make small bereavement blankets to donate to hospitals for parents who deliver a stillborn
Write a kind letter to someone who has made a difference in your life.
Smile  to everyone you see

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Old Fashioned Stuffed Peppers

My parents and I have birthdays in the same month. One year for our birthdays, my grandma invited us over for dinner. She served the most comforting, delicious dinner. That was always the case, but I remember this particular meal being so good! This is the recipe from that dinner. Old Fashioned Stuffed Peppers are my favorite. I love the fresh flavors of green peppers and tomatoes with Italian seasonings.  I also think it is easily one of the easiest dinners to make.

You will need:
5 medium green peppers
2 cups cooked rice (2/3 cup raw)
1/2 tea. black pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon basil
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 lb. ground beef
1 can petite diced tomatoes
1 8 oz. cans tomato sauce

Cut tops of peppers off, remove seeds and wash. 

Combine brown ground beef, cooked rice, onion, salt, pepper, seasonings, tomatoes. Pile into peppers in a baking dish. Pour tomato sauce over peppers and cover tightly. Bake at 350 for 60-75 minutes, basting occasionally. Once cooked, allow to cool a bit before serving. Serve with cheese,

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Bakery Quality Chocolate Cake.

There is a VERY distinct difference between a cake made from a box and one purchased at a bakery. You know it and I know it. If given the choice between the two, most of us would choose the bakery cake every time. What if I told you that with a few small tweaks, your cake mix could taste as good or BETTER than a bakery cake? Well, friend, I have the recipe for you! 

This is my go-to recipe for birthdays, church functions, and every time cake is appropriate (and sometimes even when it's not).  I think my favorite part is that the cake mix is added with real, quality ingredients, which makes all the difference in my opinion. I also love the versatility of this recipe. Stick with me through the end of the recipe and I will share a few ways to change it up!

To make this cake you will need:
a box of chocolate cake mix
4 eggs
1/2 cup water
1 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/2 cup butter, room temperature.
1 small box INSTANT chocolate pudding mix

Preheat your oven to 350. Dump the cake mix in my mixer along with the pudding, sour cream, eggs, water, veggie oil, and butter. Pulse it until everything is moist then increase the speed until everything is whipped together--usually about 5 minutes on medium high. Pour batter into a greased and floured baking dished and bake according to cake mix box. Cake is done baking when a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Allow to cool completely before frosting.

Homemade frosting
1 stick butter
1 package powdered sugar
1/2 cup cocoa powder
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 teaspoon salt

cream together butter, sugar, vanilla, and salt. Add milk until frosting reaches the right consistency. 

Have fun with this recipe!
Keep all ingredients the same except the cake mix and pudding!
Red Velvet with Red Velvet pudding mix
Yellow Cake with Vanilla pudding mix
White Cake with White Chocolate pudding mix (with some crushed peppermint sticks! yum!)
Lemon cake with Lemon pudding mix and poppy seeds

Let me know what you come up with!

Monday, December 10, 2018

Cinnamon Caramel Popcorn

Every year my angel of a Mother-in-law makes caramel popcorn balls for the family Christmas Eve Party. They are the soft, gooey, melt in your mouth caramel balls that we devour quickly while they're available and then crave for the rest of the year. I am feeling sad we won't be eating caramel balls with everyone else this year. But that won't stop me from eating them alone. Ha!

This recipe is close to hers, but I added a little twist. While living in Heber, Utah, we would frequently visit the Mrs. Calls candy factory that was nestled there in our beautiful town. We'd sample all the decadent caramels and chocolates before settling on a few to purchase and take home. My favorite is their Cinnamon Sugar caramel. Guys. It is the stuff dreams are made of. There are a few things you can't buy in The South that we totally took for granted living in Utah... and Mrs. Calls Cinnamon Sugar Caramels is one of them. 

So, Today when I whipped up this little batch of chewy caramel balls, I decided to put my love of traditional Christmas Eve caramel balls and Mrs. Calls Cinnamon Sugar Caramels together. It's a winner, friends. The smooth sweetness of caramel swirled with the warmth of cinnamon added to the crunch of freshly popped popcorn--You need this perfection in your life!

To make this treat you will need

3 bags plain popped popcorn
1/2 cup butter (I use salted)
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup light Karo syrup
1 14oz can sweetened condensed milk
1 teaspoon Vanilla
2 teaspoons cinnamon

Pop popcorn, removing any unpopped kernels. Set aside. Melt together butter, brown sugar, Karo syrup. Stir constantly & Bring to a boil. Next, add the sweetened condensed milk and cinnamon. Continue stirring. Gently bring to a gradual boil and continue cooking until caramel reaches "soft ball" stage (235 degrees). Pour caramel over popcorn and mix until well coated. Spread popcorn on a sheet of parchment paper to cool. Form into popcorn balls and wrap in plastic wrap or in baggies. 

Friday, December 7, 2018

Simplifying Christmas

Sometimes I feel like I go overboard with Christmas. I always start early in the year. Sometimes I buy way too much stuff. I just love finding good deals... but more importantly, I love watching my kids open gifts and seeing the joy in their faces. Often times, though, Christmas Eve, after the kids have gone to bed, we spend a good amount of time sorting the gifts into what we'll actually give them for Christmas and what we'll save to give as Birthday presents. I

Not this year, though.This year we are simplifying Christmas. Under the tree Christmas Morning our kids will find something they want, something they need, something to wear, something to read, and something to do (an activity to participate in). We will put a few tiny trinkets and treats in their stockings but that is all.

Earlier this season, I asked my kids to give me a list of five things in each category: Want, Need, Wear, Read, Do. After explaining the plan for this year, we told them that we'd choose one thing from each of the five categories, so to give it a lot of thought before giving the list back. They were so sweet as they considered what they'd like, talking with each other and comparing lists. In the end, everyone turned in a simple notecard with simple wishlist items. It was exactly what I had hoped for and made shopping so much easier.

I am really looking forward to watching them open gifts on Christmas morning. What is your gifting tradition?  Are you an early shopper or do you wait until the last minute? Do you bargain shop or do you splurge on hot ticket items? Are you like me and buy way too much, or are you organized with specific lists, like we did this year?

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