Thursday, January 2, 2014

Christmas Part 3- Prepping For Next Year

Prepping for Next Year's Christmas

    Just when you think your holiday shopping is over, all the Christmas decor and wrapping goodies go on sale.  This year, on New Year's Day, Scott and I went to Big Lots and Wal-Mart to stock up on wrapping paper, gift tags, and even votive candles for our centerpieces at over fifty percent off. It is also a good time to replace those Christmas lights or worn out garland now while the prices are so much lower and while you can still remember what you need.

Take down decorations patiently
    I have learned over the years that my impatient nature this year can make decorating the following year a miserable experience.  When taking down decorations, take your time and even spread the process out a few days to do it well.  Label all containers specifically.  Instead of just "lights", specify which tree they are for on your label or whether they are for the roof or outside trees etc. Write yourself little notes to pack with your decorations, such as, "Use three extension cords for livingroom tree (ours is large) or you will blow tree light fuses" or "Couldn't find wrapping tissue on sale, you need to buy some this year."  You will forget these things by next Christmas and decorating/wrapping will be more of a struggle as you "discover" these things the hard way - all over again.  I am so thankful that my husband is meticulous when it comes to packing the outside lights. He wraps them carefully around their holders and stores them in labeled plastic containers. Which brings me to the next suggestion.....

Invest in plastic Christmas totes.  
   Hooray for nice, sturdy, containers in which to store decorations. Those decorations will be waiting in a garage, shed, or attic for an entire year where boxes can crush, deteriorate, or get invaded. Storage containers also make your storage more attractive and easier to relocate if necessary. Even if you can only afford to invest in one storage container a year, you can gradually replace all those old and ugly boxes and better protect those heirlooms.  The smallest totes and ornament boxes will run you about five dollars here in the south, and a large plastic one for your Christmas tree will run you about thirty.  They even have circular shaped ones for wreaths. Most of the post holiday totes are available in festive red or green colors which make them easier to locate amongst the other totes (usually gray colored) in your storage when you need them.

Buy/locate rubber bands
    These little guys are so handy for maintaining order with wrapping supplies. After I fold down shirt boxes that are worthy of another use, I match bottoms to tops, stack them, and place a couple rubber bands around them before placing them into the long gift wrap tote.  I also do this with flattened gift bags.  Rubber bands will also hold previously opened rolls of wrapping paper together so they don't flap open.

Buy/locate freezer bags
     These are great for storing decorative bows, opened boxes of ornament hooks, gift tags, etc.

Buy/locate clear packing tape (look by the postal supplies)
     I use this stuff so much for a variety of things; but in this case, it is a great tape for sealing down handwritten "index card" labels on your totes or reinforcing other labels.  Other tapes seem to peel off the plastic totes and then your labels fall off.  It is also great for repairing boxes.  I could write an entire article on how much I use this stuff as a homeschooling supply.  'Tis better than duct tape!

Buy/locate bubble wrap or pre-used wrapping tissue
    Want to know what to do with all that wrinkled wrapping tissue from opened gifts?  Save it for wrapping and packing up fragile ornaments or centerpieces!

Thoroughly wipe down plastic tablecloths/wash holiday linens before storing
    Just a little bit of leftover food or moisture may grow mold or mildew while in storage.  Also clean out old wax from candle holders.  Click here to view a video "how-to" for wax removal.

Learn how to change Christmas light fuses
   Whenever you purchase Christmas tree lights, they are accompanied by a little baggie of optional flasher lights to make your lights "flash" and a few extra bulbs for blow outs.  The flashers are usually clear and have a red tip.  You will also find what looks like a small capsule with tiny silver ends.  This is a replacement fuse for your lights.  Sometimes when your lights suddenly go out, it does not mean that there is something wrong with a little rebel somewhere on the strand.  Often, it simply means that you had so many strands hooked together that you blew a fuse on the last strand attached.  My son, Harrison, is now a master at prying open the little sliding door on the plug and pulling out the old fuse with a pair of tweezers and popping in the new capsule-like fuse from the baggie.  He has saved many a strand of Christmas tree lights for me! Anytime that this occurs, however, it means that you need to end that last "train" of connected lights.  Attach an extension cord where the last strand you just fixed used to be and plug it directly into the wall.  Use your repaired strand to start the next light "train".  If you don't, they'll just blow out again. When taking down the decorations, retest and fix all lights before you pack them and throw out the hopeless ones.  Who wants to mess with that next year when you'll be excited and anxious to get everything up?  And remember, save those baggies with the extra fuses and bulbs!  You can consolidate them into one freezer bag for better organization.

Organize those recipes
   This year, it was my hope to invest in some recipe binders I found at Barnes and Nobles.  I didn't have the funds to do this before this year's holiday season, but hope to do this soon.  My girls have hope chests where they can eventually store theirs and I must admit that my recipe book shelf is overly crammed with handwritten recipes and printouts from Online.  It seems that each year the girls and I have to rifle through a pile of papers to find that recipe for "Holiday sweet potatoes", "broccoli casserole" or whatever.  How nice it would be to hand write each recipe favorite onto a pretty page (and placed into a page protector) in a binder to have at my fingertips. Because these books are binders, they can be continually alphabetized as you build your collection. If my girls can get this done, they'll have a book full of their favorite recipes to take with them someday.  I can't tell you how many times I've had to run upstairs and get Online to check our own blog to find a recipe!

Send packages ahead when traveling
   Next year, if the Lord is willing, we will get to visit my sister in Wisconsin for Christmas.  Since most of our shopping is done Online, we have learned to ship our Christmas gifts directly to my sister's address during those years we go to her house, where she hides them in her storage room until we arrive.  She sets up a "wrapping room" in this area where Scott and I can wrap our gifts after we get there. This enables us to travel more lightly without a van full of gifts.  When we stop at a hotel for the night while traveling, we also don't have to unpack everything and bring it into the hotel with us to keep it safe. She keeps me posted via email or phone calls me as packages arrive and opens them for me to make sure all is well.

Save now while you can
   We do not use credit cards and so there isn't much room for Christmas add-ons.  In August when deer hunting season begins, my husband works an additional part-time job at a deer processing business until the first week of Christmas.  This extra income gets us through the holidays financially. Because we don't purchase many clothes or toys during the remainder of the year, Christmas is when my children receive most of the only new things they'll get for the year.  I always keep track of how much I am spending on each child as I go.  I painfully realized that I was spending almost twice as much per child this year to get the same amount of gifts that he/she received last year. Because I kept track of my purchases, I know about how much money I will need to save for Christmas shopping next year.  Remember, you'll not only need extra money for those Christmas presents, but also for food and travel.  Don't forget you'll also want extra money to "stock up" on those turkeys and hams!

These are just a few things we've learned over the years and I'm sure I'll remember more later.  I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's celebration.  For New Year's Eve, our pastor encouraged us to each bring a verse to church with the word "New" in it to share and to pray about.  Below is the one I selected:

new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another.
John 13:34

May the Lord bless you with such love and enable you share it with many.


Christmas Part 2- Leftovers

Wise turkey and ham purchases
    Beginning in November, my husband cannot resist purchasing as many turkeys and hams as financially possible.  They are priced the lowest this time of year and provide a welcome meal for our large family throughout the winter and spring months.  Most of our turkeys are purchased during November and our hams are purchased in December.  I also make it a point to purchase any turkey gravy packets I can find (especially on sale), since they are harder to find during the other times of the year and a turkey dinner at our house requires mashed potatoes and gravy!  Although I almost always incorporate the turkey drippings into the gravy, I often use packets to multiply the amount and intensify its flavor.  What a comfort when an outside freezer is stocked and ready.  I can't tell you how many times I have wandered out to the freezer when the budget was too tight for shopping only to find a ham or turkey hiding in there!  Only the Lord can provide a feast during times of financial famine, so we take advantage of the opportunities He grants us.

Share the fryer!
    This year, we had a large family from our church spend Thanksgiving with us.  It is our practice for me to roast one of the two turkeys in the oven while my husband deep fries the other in the backyard.  Since the fryer is already going anyway, and peanut oil is expensive, our guests brought a thawed out turkey of their own (with a turkey pan) so theirs could fry for take-home while we ate. After their turkey was finished, we simply placed it in their turkey pan and covered it with foil. They went home later that night with a freshly, deep-fried turkey of their own!
Christmas Day Breakfast - Utilize those leftovers!
      On Christmas Day, we had several mouths to feed for breakfast.  Since my husband, children, and I would be leaving at noon for James Island, we needed to keep it simple.  My brother's wife, Regina, brings the most fantastic potato casserole I have ever had.  She makes it every year and it is a favorite with everyone.  She actually pushes peeled, baked potatoes through a ricer before adding more ingredients such as cheese, sour cream, and bacon.  Since she makes two casseroles, we saved the other one for breakfast the next day.  I popped it into the oven in the morning, and then topped each person's pile of yumminess with a fried egg.  We also had leftover pancakes and sausage links made by my brother-in-law, Brad from the day before (we lovingly call his masterpieces "Bradcakes").  Brad always seems to have a new variety of pancake to share. This year he added white vinegar to his batter to add an "angel food cake" like fluffiness to this year's special breakfast.  As always, they tasted amazing and were as big as your face!

Turkey Leftover Option 1
     Unfortunately, few of the twenty-five guests with whom we celebrated Christmas are fans of the turkey's dark meat.  I almost always end up with a pile of wings, legs and thighs from two large birds. When we visit my in-laws on Christmas day, they also often send us home with leftovers.
     This year, while my immediate family visited the in-laws on James Island, my sister and brother-in-law hosted my extended family here at our home Christmas Day.  The folks who didn't need to spend the night drove back over for a large lunch and some more family time.  My brother-in-law, Brad and I had gone shopping to pick up dinner rolls, mayo, etc. for the turkey sandwiches ahead of time and all the leftovers were pulled out again.  By the time Scott, the kids, and I had returned, most of the leftovers had been consumed except for that stubborn dark turkey meat. This had also happened after Thanksgiving.  Our Thanksgiving leftover tradition is to make and freeze several turkey pot pies.  See our link for them from last year here.

ham picture via google

More Ham and Turkey Leftover Ideas
      When I bake a ham, I always add a cup of water to the bottom of my roasting pan before adding the ham for baking.  This allows the drippings to pour more easily into a container after baking for freezing.  Later, I'll scrape the white fat off the top and use the frozen drippings in soup (along with the ham bone). Without the water, your yummy drippings are more likely to caramelize and stick to the pan, making them unusable.
     After Christmas, Scott and I work together to make one of his favorites:  ham salad (and our new addition, turkey salad). Scott prepares the leftover meat by cutting it into grinder-sized chunks. For turkey salad, he carefully pulls all the meat off the leg, thigh and wing bones. I gather it as he works and run the grinder at the same time. Soon, we have two large bowls of ground leftover meat. If you don't care for ham or turkey salad, you can freeze this ground meat in labeled bags and add it to casseroles.
     Scott's mom used to make ham salad for her family all the time and I quickly learned this simple recipe soon after we were married.  If you haven't invested in a meat grinder, I highly recommend purchasing one. Don't let them intimidate you. They are very easy and even fun to use! The one I currently use was given to me by my mother-in-law and may be as old as I am.

Ham Salad recipe
Leftover ham or turkey
large jar of pickles

Grind your leftover ham or turkey in the meat grinder into a large bowl.  Into another bowl, grind a jar of pickles.  Drain the ground pickles in a strainer and mix well into the ham.  If you think you would like more pickles, grind some more!  It is important to drain the pickles because the ham is already so salty it will simply be too much salt.  When making this with turkey, I still drain the pickles, but sometimes actually add some pickle juice after the mayo to salt it up a bit and add some moisture if needed.  Finally, mix in your favorite mayo until it looks the way you like it. Taste it as you go to monitor the salt. Soon, you will have a tasty sandwich spread for dinner rolls or white bread.  My family loves these sandwiches with a side of chips, and my dark turkey meat is not wasted!  You could also mix the turkey and ham together and make one big salad, but my oldest daughter, Hayden, (a ham salad purest) begged us not to.

So when then they were filled, He said to His disciples, "Gather up the fragments that remain, so that nothing is lost."  Therefore they gathered them up, and filled twelve baskets with the fragments of the five barley loaves which were left over by those who had eaten.  
John 6:12-13


Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Christmas Part 1

    Christmas was a special, extra large family gathering this year.  Relatives drove in from Wisconsin and North Carolina, as well as from the upstate.  My sister's family (Wisconsin), spent several days with us and my brother's family (North Carolina) spent the night Christmas Eve.  My stepbrother's family drove in from the upstate and my dad and stepmom brought a friend.  We were grateful that my mother, who is currently fighting breast cancer, was also able to attend with my stepdad.  She restarted chemo treatments the day after Christmas after it had been interrupted by a post-surgical infection.  This was also the first time I was able to see my new niece (now nine months old). The total head count was twenty-five and I am grateful for my church's willingness to loan me tables, chairs, a high chair and exer-saucer for the week long festivities.  Below are some pictures with comments about the preparation.  Parts 2 and 3 are some post holiday tips/traditions we recommend and enjoy each year.

                      My beautiful sister, Elizabeth and one of her daughters, Addison (Addy).

       My mom, the trooper, holding her newest grandchild, my sister's other daughter, Skylar.  My stepfather, Norm is behind her and my nephew, Robert is behind him.

                                 The best gifts ever - my kids with their cousin, Addy.

                                                              The whole gang

                                    The cousins having a Nerf gun fight in the yard.

                                                        The living room tree

My stepbrother's daughter, Savannah (front left), and my brother's sister-in-law, Angela (behind her), have practically grown up together with my children.

                                              My stepmom, Shirley, joins them.

                                                   Getting ready to eat in our den.
I wanted to focus most of my Christmas money on gifts so the budget for any new table decor was tight.  The girls (and Harrison too!) made the candy cane striped table runners from some material a friend had given us and I purchased the votive centerpieces from the Habitat for Humanity Restore at $1.50 each.  The sparkly holly between them was purchased 50% off from Big Lots.  My biggest investment were the gold plastic tablecloths and napkins from a party store at $1.99 each!  The girls also made a matching striped table covering for our drink table.

My brother's wife, Regina is holding our new niece, Skylar.  On the left of Regina is her sister, Angela. Behind them is my stepbrother, Chris.  Sitting with his daughter, Clarissa on his lap, is my brother, Kristian.  On Regina's right is my sister's daughter (and Skylar's sister) Addison.  My dad is in the red shirt and Chris' wife, Ann, is peeking from behind my dad.

                                   Getting excited (uh, especially my nephew, Miguel)!

                                              Praise the Lord for exer-saucers!

The menfolk gather round to fry the turkey.  My son, Harrison, is in the front with my husband, Scott. My two brothers, Chris and Kris, are in the back.

                                            Chowing down between my parents.

                                             Two peas in a pod: Addy and Clarissa.

After returning from a lovely Christmas Eve church service, the girls sing for us.  Addy, already in her jammies, shyly joins the big girls.  Sammy is holding the "keyboard" on Angela's phone.

                                              Getting ready to open the presents!

My stepbrother, Chris, made ALL the desserts.  There will be fighting around the almond cheesecake!

Tables are cleared as all begin to get ready for bed. That is my brother-in-law Brad (married to my sister, Beth) with their daughter Addy.

                                       Early the next morning, the fun begins again!

My brother, his wife Regina, and daughter, Clarissa are still a wee bit tired the next morning. That is what he gets for starting a Nerf gun fight on the staircase with ALL the boys at eleven o'clock at night!  Although HE may be tired, his two boys are probably still running around my house....

When He ascended on high
He led captivity captive,
And gave gifts to men.
Ephesians 4:8