Operation Christmas Child Update #1: The First 3 Shoe Boxes!

One of my projects this year is to pack 10 shoe boxes for Operation Christmas Child and I'm so excited to have the first 3 boxes nearly finished. 

Shopping for these shoe boxes has been so much fun!  Not only have I found some amazing deals, but it also gives me an excuse to shop for all those cute little girly things that I don't get to buy with 3 men in the house!

Shoe Box #1:  5 - 9 year old boy

Kid's Crest Toothpaste - free with coupon
Colgate Toothbrush - $.44 with coupon
Soap - free with coupon
Pencils - $.08 [pk. of 12 for $.24 Christmas clearance]
Cars Stickers - $.50 clearance
Knit Hat - $.25 Seasonal clearance
Cars Pez Candy - $.75 Christmas clearance
Stationery Set - $.59 Valentine's clearance
Sticker Set - $.25 Christmas clearance
Water Bottle - free by mail
Bouncy Balls - $.30 [pk. of 10 for $.56 Christmas clearance]
Candy - $.16 [pk. of 12 for $.50 Valentine's clearance]
Comb - $.06 [pk. of 12 for $.69]
Maze Games - $.06 [pk. of 3 for $.20 Valentine's clearance]

Total spent so far: $3.44

Shoe Box #2 and #3:  2 - 4 year old girls

Kid's Crest Toothpaste - free with coupon
Toothbrush - $.88 with coupon
Comb - $.06 [pk. of 12 for $.69]
Soap - free with coupon
Stuffed Bear - $.75
Sippy Cup - $.59 Christmas clearance
Knit Hat - $.50 Seasonal clearance
Maze Games - $.06 [pk. of 3 for $.20 Valentine's clearance]
Stamps - $.24 [pk. of 10 for $.56 Christmas clearance]
Pencils - $.08 [pk. of 12 for $.24 Christmas clearance]
Pencil Sharpener - $.08 [pk. of 12 from dollar store]
Marker Set - $1.00
Play Dough - $.12 [pk. of 8 from dollar store]
Hair Clips - $.86 clearance

Total spent so far: $5.22 x 2

There are a few more things that I would like to add to these boxes, but I think I can easily stay under my $10-per-box budget.  I am hoping to find t-shirts and flip flops during summer seasonal sales and crayons and paper during the back-to-school sales. I am also on the look-out for some great deals on washcloths, socks and toys and games.

Summer Favorites: Old-Fashioned Frozen Cheesecake

I love summer.  Warm, sunny days, lazy days at the beach, family get-togethers....and the food!  Even with a fresh coating of snow on the ground, I can't help but think about hot dogs on the grill, pasta salads and cool desserts.  Over the next several weeks I plan to share some of our favorite summer recipes.

This frozen cheesecake recipe was given to my grandma by a missionary who was visiting.  It was a favorite of mine growing up and now I enjoy making this cool and refreshing dessert for my own family.

Old-Fashioned Frozen Cheesecake

Make ahead: Needs to freeze for at least 8 hours.

1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup butter, melted
30 graham cracker squares, crushed
    or 2 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs

1 pkg. (3 oz.) lemon jello
1 cup sugar
1 pkg. (8 oz.) cream cheese, softened
3 tbs. lemon juice
1 can evaporated milk

1.  Make jello according to package directions.  Chill until it starts to thicken (approx. 1 hour).  While jello thickens, put evaporated milk and mixing bowl in the refrigerator to chill.

2.  Make the crust: In a small bowl mix graham cracker crumbs, brown sugar, and melted butter.  With your hands {I use a back of a measuring cup}press 3/4 of the mixture into the bottom of a 9x13 pan.  Set the remaining graham cracker mixture aside.

 3.  Beat cream cheese, lemon juice and sugar together.  Add jello and beat on medium speed until well combined.

4. In a mixer with whisk attachment or hand mixer, beat evaporated milk in chilled bowl until light and fluffy.  

{It should look something like this.}

5.  Add cream cheese/jello mixture to whipped milk and mix on low just until combined.  Slowly pour into pan and sprinkle reserved crust on top.  Freeze for 8 hours or overnight.

This cheesecake is delicious plain:

Or make it extra-special with some blueberry sauce on top:

Note: This recipe is impossible to ruin {believe me, I have tried!}.  If for some reason the jello doesn't thicken or the milk doesn't whip up well, it will still make a delicious cheesecake with a slightly heavier consistency.

Organize and Declutter 2012: How To Organize Your Recipes

I love collecting and trying new recipes.  Compared to some I have a modest collection, but remembering which magazine or cookbook a certain recipe is in has become nearly impossible. 

I canceled the magazine subscriptions several years ago, but discovered that the internet has an amazing collection of free recipes.  And now if only I could find the recipes that I need:

It was past time to get organized!  Since the binder worked so well for organizing our bills, I decided to use the binder to organize my recipes as well.  Here's what I used to organize my recipes:

3-ring binder
page protectors
hole punch
Post-It Notes {optional}
file folders or page dividers

1.  I started by punching holes in the file folders with a hole punch.  I used an old folder as a guide for where to punch the holes.  Regular page dividers could be used as well.

2.  Since I wasn't sure how I wanted to label the different sections, I used Post-It Notes for a temporary label.  When I am sure that I have the sections that I need, I will add more permanent labels.

3.  I put all the recipes in page protectors which will help keep spills and splatters from the recipe pages.  I slid a piece of cardstock behind the recipes that were less than a full page.  It keeps the recipe behind it from showing through and makes the recipe page stand out.

4.   There are many recipes that I haven't tried yet and to keep them separate, I put these recipes in the file folders.  A regular folder could also be used.

5.  I love these free recipe reference pages from iheart organizing!  If you have a several cookbooks and/or cooking magazines, these printables make it so easy to find favorite recipes.   I printed one page for each type of magazine, put them in page protectors and put them in the front of the binder. 

How do you organize your recipes?

Recipe: Lime Coconut Nest Cupcakes

The calendar says spring, but with temperatures in the 70's this week it feels like summer!  Even though we are enjoying our early summer, I couldn't resist making these adorable cupcakes that are perfect for spring. 

Who can resist a cupcake with a hint of citrus and a frosting that tastes like lime cheesecake?  Not me!

Lime Coconut Nest Cupcakes

Makes: 12 cupcakes

For the cupcakes:
1 cup flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 cup unsalted butter; room temp.
3/4 cup sugar
2 large eggs
2 tbs. fresh lime juice
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 1/2 tsp. grated lime zest {about 1 lime}
1/2 cup nonfat buttermilk {or make your own}

For the frosting:
1/4 cup unsalted butter; room temp.
1 {3 oz.} pkg. cream cheese; room temp.
1 1/2 tsp. grated lime zest {about 1 lime}
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. fresh lime juice
1 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar
1 cup shredded sweetened coconut
36 jelly beans

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line 12 muffin cups with paper liners and spray liners with nonstick cooking spray.

2.  Make cupcakes.  Mix flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt into a medium bowl. Set aside.  In a large mixing bowl beat butter and sugar on medium speed.  Beat in eggs one at a time.  Mix in lime juice, vanilla extract, and lime zest.  On low speed, mix in half of flour mixture, then buttermilk.  Mix in remaining flour mixture, just until incorporated.

3.  Using a 1/4-cup measuring cup, divide batter evenly among 12 lined muffin cups.  Bake until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean and top feels firm, about 14 to 16 minutes.  Cool cupcakes for 10 minutes in pan on a wire rack.  Transfer cupcakes to wire rack to cool completely.

4.  Make Frosting.  In a large mixing bowl beat butter, cream cheese, lime zest, vanilla extract, and lime juice on medium speed until smooth.  Add confectioners' sugar and beat on low speed until smooth.

5.  Spread topping over top of each cupcake, making a slight indentation in middle of frosting.

6.  Place coconut in a shallow bowl.  Roll cupcakes in coconut so that it clings to the frosting and sprinkle more on top until completely covered.  Arrange 3 jelly beans in center of frosting to resemble eggs in a nest.  Cupcakes can be covered and refrigerated for up to 2 days.

Souce: fresh magazine March/April 2007

Recipe: Healthy{er} Chocolate Chip Cookies

Healthy desserts seem to be a growing trend.  You will find many ideas on Pinterest and the popular food blog Chocolate-Covered Katie.  I went way out of my food comfort zone and tried Katie's German Chocolate Fudge Bites this week. 

I had no idea that dates could taste so good!  And even more surprising?  Both of my children ate them.

This week I also tried these healthy chocolate chip cookies made with.... 


I wasn't completely sold on these cookies at first.  I mean, really.  How could a cookie with no sugar taste good?  The texture is slightly different from "normal" chocolate chip cookies, but they passed the kid test with flying colors - even our pickiest eater ate them.  

If you're not sure that your family will try these, offer them a cookie for breakfast - I'm sure that will get their attention!

Healthy{er} Chocolate Chip Cookies

Makes: approx. 2 dozen

1 1/2 cups regular rolled oats
1 cup coconut flakes
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. allspice
1/4 cup flour
1/2 cup mixed nuts, finely chopped {optional}
1/2 cup chocolate chips
3 ripe bananas
1/4 cup oil
1 tsp. vanilla extract

1.  Mix the dry ingredients together.  Tip: if you don't have allspice on hand, you can make your own allspice by adding 1/4 tsp. cinnamon, 1/8 tsp. nutmeg and 1/8 tsp. cloves.

2.  In a separate bowl, mash the bananas and add oil and vanilla.  Add to the dry ingredients and mix well.

3.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  I didn't have parchment paper, but aluminum foil and cooking spray work well too. 

Drop dough by heaping tablespoon onto prepared pan and use your hands to form into a cookie {you can also use a cookie cutter}.

4.  Bake at 350 degrees for 15-20 minutes or until the edges are golden brown.  Cool completely.  Store in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

To make shaped cookies:

Spoon the dough into a cookie cutter and gently press down with a spoon.

Source: Adapted from No Sugar Oat Drops from Blueberry Girl

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Featured at: Tasteastic Thursday!

Organize and Declutter 2012: How To Organize Your Bills

Have you ever gotten a cancellation notice from your insurance company because you forgot to pay the bill?  Not only forgot to pay the bill, but couldn't even remember getting the bill?

Trust me, it's not a good feeling.  There may have been a little bit of extra stress in our home a few weeks ago.  Okay, a lot of stress.   So cleaning up the paper piles in our home is now considered top priority and is next on my list of organizing and decluttering projects for this year.  {You can find all of the projects I have completed here.}

This binder idea is originally from Laura at Happy Canadian Home.  I love this idea and knew right away that organizing our bills in a binder would work well for our family.  

3-ring binder
page dividers
3-hole punch

1.  Open the bills as soon as you get them.  Don't leave unopened bills on a counter or table.  They will get lost and after a few weeks you may not even remember getting it. 

2.  After you open the bills, write them on the calendar under the date they are due.    There are many, many, many free printable calendars online.  I printed this one and put it in the front of the binder.  

3.  Put the unpaid bills in a folder labeled "unpaid bills."  Since we still pay our bills the old-fashioned way, I use a paper clip to keep the bill and mailing envelope together.

4.  After the bill has been paid, punch holes in the bill with the hole punch and file it in the correct section in the back of the binder.

Keeping our bills organized this way has already made such a big difference in my life.  I can now sit down at the beginning and the end of the month and see at a glance which bills are coming due.  Since the bills are all together in one place, I no longer waste time sorting through paper in order to find all the bills for the month.

The binder is also a great place to keep a budget, receipts and rebate forms and information.  I have also added birthdays and important holidays to remember {such as father's day} on the calendar so that when I check for bills that are due, I also get a reminder about other important dates that I want to remember.

What system do you use to organize your bills?

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Recipe: Chocolate Coconut Granola Bars {No-Bake}

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Since one of our children is allergic to peanuts, I was thrilled to find a peanut-free granola bar recipe.  Not only is this recipe extremely easy, it is also very similar to our favorite store-bought brand. 

I adapted the recipe in order to make my favorite coconut granola bars, but don't be afraid to experiment--a variety of nuts, chocolate and dried fruit can be mixed and matched for endless possibilities!

Chocolate Coconut Granola Bars

Makes: 10-12 bars

1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup honey
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup coconut
1 1/4 cup quick cooking oats
1 cup crispy rice cereal
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1 1/2 cups milk chocolate chips, divided
1 1/2 tsp. shortening, divided

1.  In a large bowl, mix the oats,

2.  crispy rice,

3.  and the coconut.  Set aside.

4.  In a small pot, add the butter, brown sugar and honey and cook over medium-high heat until mixture starts to bubble.  Reduce heat and cook two more minutes.  Stir in vanilla.

5.  Pour brown sugar mixture into dry ingredients and mix well. Firmly press the mixture into a lightly greased 9" baking dish.  Let cool.

6.  In a microwave safe dish, melt 1 cup of chocolate chips and 1 tsp. shortening.  Spread over bars.  After the chocolate has hardened, cut into bars.

Melt 1/2 cup chocolate chips with 1/2 tsp. shortening.  Put melted chocolate in a zipper bag and cut off the tip.  Drizzle chocolate over bars; sprinkle with coconut.

Source: Adapted from No-Bake Chocolate Chip Granola Bars from Lauren's Latest

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