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Archive for December, 2012

kids in Santa hats
Eleven years ago my husband and I took our kids for their annual holiday portrait. Getting them attired for this event was never an easy task, especially the older they got. As we sat and waited for our turn at the photo studio, my family watched other portraits being taken. By the time the photographer called our names, my kids were more than ready to go home. The photographer must have read “Photography Poses 101” or something like that, because he put my kids through the normal repertoire of poses and then uttered, “Okay, you’re done.” That’s when my oldest son said, “Can we get in that?” For an hour he’d been watching little kids being photographed with all sorts of props, but one prop, in particular, caught his imagination – a large plastic pair of Santa pants. The photographer paused to think about the question for a minute. I could tell he thought this prop was only for little kids, but he finally said “Okay.” My three kids voluntarily donned Santa hats and giggled as they crammed into the pants. The boys laughed while they pulled Santa’s suspenders over their shoulders. Everyone in the studio stopped to look at them and we all laughed at the silly sight. What a joyful moment it was and I remember it like it happened yesterday.

#1 – 82 Blessings
Children embody hope, unconditional love, and wonderment. Because children are gifts to be cherished and they are our gifts to the world, we need to nourish them and care for them physically and emotionally.  From the blog Finding Joy comes a list of 82 Blessings for Kids. Read the entire list for the children in your life and for the child in you.

#2 – Looking for Butterflies
butterfly In an article titled Finding Joy, author Karen Kleiman, MSW, LCSW, based her essay on the saying, “Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over . . . it became a butterfly.” Although she writes articles on healing postpartum depression, her words and the saying apply to anyone coping with issues. She writes about looking for the “butterflies” in life: What is a butterfly? It’s a moment of pure joy. It’s an instant in time when everything feels right. It’s a thing or a look or a feeling, a sense or an energy that grabs us from behind, often when we are not looking. Most of the time, it is fleeting. Sometimes, it rests right in front of us. We cannot see it if we do not look for it. If we aren’t mindful, we will miss it; it will be gone. If we find it, it’s exquisite.

#3 – Finding Joy In My Kitchen
white chocolate popcorn White Chocolate Popcorn, anyone? This and other tasty edible gifts can be found via links from the blog Finding Joy In My Kitchen.

#4 – Enjoy the Moment and the Music
No hip hop dancing was performed during this flash mob in Sabadell, Spain. More than 100 members of symphonies and choirs participated in this event which has been called by some people, “The most beautiful they have ever seen.”

#5 – Be Joyful
“Now and then it is good to pause in our pursuit of Joy and just be Joyful.”
Anonymous

Have a joyous holiday!

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crudities  with dip Instead of serving a tray of high-calorie appetizers at your next party, how about presenting a beautiful platter of fresh crudités? Boring, you say? Not if you serve the crudités with a variety of interesting dips! Don’t be fooled by the simple list of ingredients in the Herb Dip; the fresh herbs really shine in this easy and delicious recipe. Tempt your guests with the cooling flavor of lime juxtaposed against the heat of chilies in the Chili-Lime Sour Cream Dip. Last, but certainly not least, the Peanut Sauce is sure to be a crowd favorite – what’s not to like about peanut butter with a little attitude?

Herb Dip
Recipe by Ina Garten

Ingredients:
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup mayonnaise
4 scallions, white and green parts, minced
2 tablespoons fresh parsley leaves, minced
1 tablespoon fresh dill, minced
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Directions:
Place the cream cheese, sour cream, mayonnaise, scallions, parsley, dill, salt, and pepper in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and blend. Serve at room temperature.

Makes 2 cups

Linnell’s Notes:
Due to the cream cheese, this recipe produces a thick dip. To further cut calories, you could experiment with low-fat versions of the cream cheese, sour cream and mayonnaise. For best flavor, though, you’re going to have to leave some fat in the recipe!

Chili-Lime Sour Cream Dip
Recipe from Better Homes and Garden

Ingredients:
One 16-ounce carton of sour cream
Two 7-ounce cans of diced green chilies, drained
1/4 cup snipped fresh cilantro
1/4 cup jarred salsa
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon mild or hot chili powder
2 teaspoons finely shredded lime peel
1/2 teaspoon salt
Bottled hot pepper sauce to taste

Directions:
In a large bowl combine sour cream, chilies, cilantro, salsa, garlic, chili powder, lime peel, salt and bottled hot pepper sauce. Cover and chill overnight.

Makes 3¾ cups

Linnell’s Notes:
The level of preferred heat can be adjusted by increasing or decreasing the amounts of chili powder and hot pepper sauce. Also, the type of salsa you use, will affect the heat of the dip. Chilling the dip overnight allows the flavors to meld.

Peanut Sauce
Recipe originally from Sunset Hors D’oeuvres Cookbook

Ingredients:
1/3 cup crunchy peanut butter
3 tablespoons firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1/4 cup lemon juice
2 tablespoons chili sauce or ketchup
1/2 – 1 teaspoon soy sauce, to taste

Directions:
Mix ingredients until well-blended. Serve with raw vegetables (cucumber, jicama, bell pepper, carrot and celery)

Makes 3/4 cup

Linnell’s Notes:
After tasting this at one of her parties, I begged my friend Tina for this recipe. Because it’s a crowd-pleaser, I double or quadruple this recipe when I make it!

Enjoy!

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dog in raincoat One step out of the front door, one downward dour look, and one step back into the house – I could tell that no amount of coaxing was going to persuade my 14-year-old dog to go for a walk in the rain. Inside, he looked at me with pleading old eyes, as if to say, “I’m not going outside, Mom. The rain is one thing, but this silly raincoat is another! How embarrassing to be seen like this!” Even though I thought he looked cute, I relented and we headed to the backyard instead.

#1 – Dog Love
man and his dog Humans and dogs share a special bond. This series of photos titled, “Let’s Take A Minute To Appreciate Our Dogs” proves that point. Seeing these photos will tug at your heartstrings and make you smile.

#2 – Gifts that Give Back
Giving gifts that give back is a win-win situation. There are websites that organize lists of charities, so all you have to do is purchase a gift card from one of the sites, give it to someone, and let the recipient choose which charity to donate to. So whether the recipient’s worthy cause supports education, animal rescue, or food for the hungry, etc., you’ll both feel good about the gift. Here are a few sites worth checking out:

Network for Good

Donors Choose

Greater Good

#3 – Samsuta Candles
samsuta candles Seeing this photo of a DIY Samsuta Candle and reading the easy directions, I eyed the bag of freshly-picked Samsutas sitting on my kitchen counter. I can only imagine what a wonderful aroma this candle must release as it burns. Honestly, I haven’t had a chance to make one yet, but it’s definitely on my “to do” list.

#4 – Rockwell’s Inspiration
Norman Rockwell inspiration Have you ever wondered what or who provided the inspiration for some of Norman Rockwell’s paintings? Take a look at The Photographs Behind Norman Rockwell’s Iconic Paintings and then compare them to the images of the paintings. It’s interesting to notice what he added or changed along the way.

#5 – Within Each of Us
“There is within each one of us a potential for goodness beyond our imagining; for giving which seeks no reward; for listening without judgment; for loving unconditionally.”
― Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

Enjoy your weekend!

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ravioli casserole

Looking for something tasty and hearty to take to a holiday potluck? Well, consider yourself “potlucky” that you found this recipe! Like a lasagne, this casserole has layers of meaty tomato sauce and shredded cheese, but magnificent rows of cooked raviolis replace the lasagne noodles. My two guest taste-testers gave this casserole a two-thumbs up and even took some home as party favors.

Lisa’s Ravioli Casserole
From Paul & Phil’s Potluck Cookbook

Ingredients:
9 oz. fresh or frozen raviolis
1 lb. extra-lean ground beef
Salt, garlic, ground black pepper, and Italian seasoning, to taste
1 – 26 oz. jar of spaghetti sauce
2 cups shredded cheese (mixture of mozzarella, Romano and Parmesan)

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

2. Boil 8 quarts of water and cook raviolis according to package instructions. Drain them.

3. While raviolis are cooking, brown hamburger with the spices. Drain fat from meat. Stir in spaghetti sauce and set aside.

4. Spray a large casserole with nonstick spray. Layer meat sauce in the bottom of the dish. Place a few raviolis on top of the sauce. Put another layer of sauce on top of the raviolis. Sprinkle a layer of cheese on next. Continue to layer the ingredients with final layer being cheese.

5. Bake for 45 minutes or until the cheese is slightly browned and bubbly.

Serves 4-8

Linnell’s Notes:
1. This recipe creates a good casserole. Nothing exotic, though. The great thing about this recipe is its adaptability. The next time I prepare this casserole, I will use more interesting tasting ravioli (I used cheese ravioli the first go-round) and add some sweet Italian sausage to the ground beef mixture for more depth of flavor. Chopped spinach (defrosted and squeezed dry), chopped mushrooms, diced green peppers, chopped onions, and a can of diced tomatoes would also enhance the flavor of this recipe. Oh, and maybe a little wine, too . . . .

2. I doubled the recipe and it fit nicely in a 9 by 13-inch pan.

3. Instead of placing “a few raviolis on top of the sauce” as the recipe states, I layered the  raviolis in rows to cover the sauce (approximately 4 raviolis across and 6 raviolis long). This way every person is guaranteed to get his share of ravioli!

Enjoy!

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Close up of frog

Photo by Linnell Chang

He: It’s late. Are you coming to bed?
She: In a minute.
He: What are you doing?
She: Taking pictures of a frog.
He: A frog? Where? It’s one o’clock in the morning!
She: Yeah, well, when I was checking the door to see if it was locked, I noticed a frog stuck to the glass. It’s not everyday you can see the belly of a frog up close!
He: I should have known better than to ask you what you were up to!

Opportunities to learn something new present themselves everyday, all day long. It’s easy to ignore or dismiss these moments because we live busy lives and because we take the world around us for granted. So the next time you see something you take for granted – a frog on a window, an autumn leaf on the ground, a candle burning, etc., ask yourself these classic questions: why, when, what, where, and how? For example, how is a frog able to cling to a smooth surface? Why do some autumn leaves turn yellow, some orange, and some red? When a candle burns, where does the wax go? Whether we take the time to observe, study, or investigate depends on our willingness or receptiveness to learn. Don’t forget . . . the more you know, the more you grow.

#1 – Sharpie Art
Sharpie decorated mugs Isn’t it time you learned that Sharpie pens are not just for writing? Take a look at these 20 Sharpie Projects Perfect for the holidays! You’ll be surprised with what you can create with a Sharpie pen!

#2 – Santa Hat Pretzels
Santa Hat Pretzels Looking for an easy-to-make holiday treat? Make these cute Santa Hat Pretzels. Simple, clever, and no baking required!

#3 – Ink and Water

Alberto Seveso

Part of the A Due Colori Series by Alberto Seveso

In the hands of an average person, mixing ink and water together spells out one big mess, but in the hands of Italian artist Alberto Seveso, these two elements create something beautiful. Click here to see more of his intriguing work.

#4 – Random Acts of Kindness
random acts of kindness When we truly open our eyes to the world around us, we take down our blinders and open our hearts, too. It’s been awhile since I’ve posted about random acts of kindness, so when I saw these 16 Unbelievable Acts of Kindness, I knew I had to share them with you. They’ll restore your faith in mankind and propel you to do something kind for someone else.

#5 – Just For Today

Just for today, I will not be angry.

Just for today, I will not worry.

Just for today, I will be grateful.

Just for today, I will do my work honestly.

Just for today, I will be kind to every living thing.

The Five Reiki Principles by Dr. Mikao Usui

Learn something new this weekend!

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Fishbowl Snowman
Something’s fishy about this snowman. What is it? Look closely. He’s made out of fishbowls! But don’t overlook his other adorable snowman qualities: fluffy, white, cotton ball innards; a black top hat sprinkled with snow, coal-black button eyes; a cute, orange, golf tee nose; and a warm plaid scarf. A set of “Mr. and Mrs. Fishy the Snowman” will soon be ready for my son and daughter-in-law’s first Christmas together as a married couple. How appropriate for a couple who had a “fishy” wedding!

Some of the materials you’ll need:
Fishbowl snowman materials Cardboard
Black felt for hat
Ribbon for hat
Wired ribbon for scarf
Glue
2 Fishbowls – the neck of the smaller one must sit inside the opening of the larger one
Embellishments – buttons, golf tee, pony beads, Christmas decorations, etc.
Glitter paint
Cotton balls, marshmallows, or popcorn for filling

Instructions:
1. For top hat, cut one piece of cardboard 4 inches by approximately 12½ inches; roll and glue together to make a chimney. Glue felt on chimney. Cut both a piece of cardboard and a piece of black felt into a circle the diameter of the chimney. Glue felt circle to cardboard circle and then glue circle to top of chimney. I used black mat board for the brim and a heavy black card stock for the chimney portion of the hat. You can use a tin can as a guide to wrap the cardboard around when forming the chimney part of the hat and for tracing the top cover/circle of the chimney.

2. For the brim, cut out a round piece of cardboard with a 7¼-inch diameter; cover with felt on both sides. Glue chimney to brim. Let dry. Paint splotches of glitter paint to resemble patches of snow. Circle the hat with a length of ribbon; tie or glue the ends together. Decorate it with a Christmas pin or a holiday decoration.

3. Wash and dry the fish bowls. Glue the buttons on for the mouth, eyes, and the snowman’s buttons.

4. Glue on the golf tee nose. I did not have a short orange golf tee, so I lightly sanded a natural wood one and used a paint pen to color it orange. If you don’t have golf tees, you can also glue a stack of four orange-colored pony beads together to use as a nose.

5. Fill bowls with whatever stuffing material you are using. Place the small fishbowl on top of the large one. The necks of the fishbowls should fit inside each other well. If your set of fishbowls don’t nest securely, you can try using clear packing tape to temporarily adhere them together. I wouldn’t permanently glue them together, though, because at some point you may want to change out the stuffing.

6. Cut a length of wired ribbon and tie the scarf just as you would tie your own scarf. Arrange the ends of the scarf in a “flowing” manner.

7. Glue the hat to the snowman’s head.

Linnell’s Notes:
The fun thing about this snowman project is that there are many ways to personalize it. Decorate it anyway you want and fill it with whatever you want. Fishy the Snowman will bring holiday cheer to your home or to your dining table!

Update: Mrs. Snowman is finished. What a cute couple they make!
DIY Mr. and Mrs. Fishy Snowman

Happy Holidays!

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