Saturday, December 31, 2011

Top Ten Posts of 2011

A big thanks to all of you who take the time to read and/or comment at The Working Home Keeper!  It's so great to hear from fellow working moms and home keepers.  I'm looking forward to a wonderful 2012 with all of you.

Here's a list of the top ten posts by number of comments for 2011. 

1.  Bye, Bye 70s!  Painted Paneling

2.  What I Wore to Work - Thanksgiving Luncheon Merona Dress

3.  What I Wore to Work - My $1 Dress

4.  God Bless the Child

5.  O Christmas Tree(s) - 14 Trees & Counting!

6.  What I Wore to Work - Mellow Yellow My Michelle Sundress 

7.  As Seen On Pioneer Woman - Chocolate Chip Cookies with Malted Milk

8.  Do You Know What Today Is?  It's Our Anniversary!

9.  What I Wore to Work - Back In Black - Forever 21 Dress

10.  What I Wore to Pick Pumpkins!

Honorable Mention - What I Wore to Work - Ruby Rox Retro Style Dresses

Mary Ellen

Friday, December 30, 2011

Black-Eyed Pea Recipes for New Year's Day

In my family, and I'm sure other Southern families, its traditional to eat black-eyed peas and collard greens on New Year's Day.  The black-eyed peas are eaten for luck and the collard greens are eaten for prosperity ($$$).  Well, I hated black-eyed peas growing up!  My Momma's way of preparing them left a lot to be desired - open can, dump peas in pan and heat.  Slimy bean juice and all!  Since I've become a home keeper, I've found different (and more appealing!) ways to prepare black-eyed peas.  One of my favorites, Black-Eyed Pea Salad.

Black-Eyed Pea Salad
(adapted from recipe here)

Note:  This is one of those recipes where there's really no precise measurements.  The salad is put together by eye-balling it and by personal preferences.

Black-eyed peas, 3-15 oz cans (peas rinsed) or the equivalent in cooked, dried peas.  I prefer using dried to canned.  To prepare dried beans, soak in water overnight.  Rinse, then boil over medium heat for one hour or until peas are tender but not overly so.

Frozen whole corn kernels, steamed or boiled (about 2 cups) 

Green pepper, diced

Red pepper, diced

Red onion, diced (about 1/2 cup)

Olive Oil, about 3/4 cup

Vinegar, about 1/4 cup (I like to use red wine vinegar)

Sugar, about 1/4 cup or less

Fresh red tomato, diced (optional)

Combine peas, steamed corn, diced peppers, diced red onion and diced tomato (if using) in a large mixing bowl.  In a separate bowl, mix together olive oil, vinegar and sugar.  Pour oil and vinegar mixture over the peas and vegetables.  Mix to combine.  Refrigerate (the original recipe calls for 8 hours, but I've done it for less) to allow flavors to blend.  Stir occasionally during refrigeration. 

And here are a couple other black-eyed pea recipes we enjoy - and not just at New Year's!

Sue Gregg's Country Creole Peas & Corn

Heritage Schoolhouse - Hoppin' John 

Happy New Year!

Mary Ellen

Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Money Saving Mom's Budget - Book Review

Recently, I was selected to review Crystal Paine’s upcoming book, The Money Saving Mom’s Budget. As a working mother and home keeper, its crucial for me to make the best use our family’s resources. Crystal’s website has been a valuable money saving tool, and her book delivers the same sage advice.

In The Money Saving Mom’s Budget, Crystal covers the basics of budgeting and adopting a cash only spending plan. The book walks you through a three month plan for establishing a workable budget, and gives suggestions for reducing expenses. Crystal also challenges readers to go “plastic-free” (credit cards and debit cards), at least temporarily. This is usually a radical change for most families. When my husband and I started a cash-based budget several years ago, letting go of our credit card was the most apprehensive step for me. In the book, Crystal addresses concerns about switching to cash, from traveling to online shopping. By taking a budgeting approach similar to the one outlined in the book, my husband and I were able to pay off approximately $16,000 in debt in 11 months.

The Money Saving Mom’s Budget also covers one of my favorite subjects, couponing! Crystal dispels the myth coupons are only for junk food. She then gives detailed information on how to obtain coupons (for free!), organize them, and how to use them effectively for reducing one’s grocery budget. If you are a seasoned couponer, you will probably already be versed in the strategies outlined in the book. But someone new to couponing or the “drug-store game” will definitely find this section helpful. And for those who do not use coupons, Crystal provides suggestions for lowering your grocery budget without them.

Other topics covered in The Money Saving Mom’s Budget include goal setting, frugal family entertainment and embracing an attitude of contentment. All in all, this book is a comprehensive guide to streamlining your life and your finances!


The Money Saving Mom's Budget is set to be released on January 10th.  You can pre-order your copy today at Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

Mary Ellen

(Disclosure:  I received an advanced copy of the book in order to write this review.  All thoughts expressed are mine.  This post also contains an affiliate link.  See my disclosure policy here).

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Christmas Day 2011

Looks like Santa came!

Ashleigh unwrapping one of her gifts

Captain America (aka Reed) feeling much better after his Christmas Eve trip to the ER

Mee-maw (my Momma)

Ashleigh with a tower of Barbie accessories and Moxie Girls

Clayton opening his GI Joe policeman

More Captain America!

Santa brought Dave a new pair of running shoes.  And for me, two pretty aprons and a new roasting pan.  Which got put to good use later that morning for cooking the Christmas ham!

Hoping your family had a wonderful Christmas Day!

Mary Ellen

Monday, December 26, 2011

Christmas Eve...In the Emergency Room

On Christmas Eve, Dave's Mom, brothers and sister came up for a visit and to exchange presents.  The boys eagerly awaited Grandma's arrival!

Ashleigh helped prepare the snacks

The table set with light snacks for our guests

Grandma brought big presents!

Dave putting together the Razor Rip Rider for Reed

Clayton took on his uncles in some X-Box hockey.
As you can see from his expression, he's serious about his gaming LOL!

Ashleigh with her Barbie townhouse

Dave giving Clayton some tips on how to ride his Razor scooter from Grandma

My mother-in-law gave Dave a Kindle Fire for Christmas.  And for first  pieces of Le Creuset cookware!  Two rectangular dishes and a dutch oven.  I can't wait to use these in the kitchen!  

After our visit with Dave's family, we were planning to ride around and look at Christmas lights as part of our tradition.  But plans changed later that evening.  Reed had been coughing throughout the day, but by the evening he was wheezing and rather lethargic.  We rushed off to the emergency room where he was quickly taken back and started on a breathing treatment and an oral steriod.  His temperature had also jumped up to 101.  He was given a chest x-ray to rule out pneumonia (negative thankfully!).  After several breathing treatments (and some anxious hours), his oxygen levels returned to normal and his fever began to drop.  The doctor on call stopped short of calling it an asthma attack due to Reed's age.  He said at this point, it's referred to as "reactive airway disease".  Reed had a similar incident when he was a year old and needed to be hospitalized overnight for bronchitis.  It's still unclear if Reed will need to use asthma treatments when he's older.  Some kids grow out of the symptoms.  With Reed, the wheezing is not a daily issue.  But it is something we have to be especially vigilant about any time he gets a cold.  With him, some colds are just colds and pass without incident.  At other times, it leads to respiratory distress.   

Luckily, this time didn't require an overnight stay in the hospital.  We got back home around 11:30pm to find Ashleigh and Clayton already asleep.  By the morning, Reed was up and ready to see what Santa brought for Christmas!  Lots of Captain America stuff if you couldn't tell :)

Mary Ellen               

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas!

May the joy of the 
season be yours

Merry Christmas! 

Friday, December 23, 2011

A Christmas Tradition

Christmas Eve 2010

In my family, we opened no presents until Christmas day!  However, in Dave's family, one of Santa's elves made an early delivery of a small gift that could be opened on Christmas Eve.  Usually it was a new ornament for the Christmas tree.  We decided to carry on the tradition with our little family.  On Christmas Eve night, we go out and take a look at the Christmas lights and decorations around town.  When we return home, the kids find that an elf has left them a surprise.  An ornament (marking a milestone from the past year or favorite character) and new pajamas.  The pajamas are a reminder they should hop into bed and get to sleep!

What are your Christmas traditions?

Mary Ellen

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Dijon-Pineapple Ham Glaze Recipe & Christmas Dinner Menu

While we have turkey on Thanksgiving, I usually serve ham for Christmas Day.  It works out well because I can use the ham bone and leftover meat to season my collard greens for New Years!  I take the easy route for Christmas and buy a fully cooked, bone-in ham that just requires heating before serving.  But to dress things up a bit, I make this Dijon-Pineapple Glaze.  The glaze is spread over the ham while its in the oven, then heated and served as a sauce to accompany the meat.

Dijon-Pineapple Glaze
(adapted from Kraft Foods recipe)

1 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup maple syrup or honey (I've also used the glaze packet included with the ham for the syrup)

1/4 cup Dijon mustard

1 can crushed pineapple, with juice (I chop up frozen pineapple or canned pineapple chunks in my Vitamix)

1 tablespoon corn starch

whole cloves

Maraschino cherries, halved (optional)

 Heat oven to temperature listed in cooking directions included with the ham.  Mix syrup, sugar and mustard until blended.  Spread a portion of the glaze over the ham.  Add cloves and cherries to the top of the ham.  Bake ham according to directions.

Before the ham is done cooking, combine remaining glaze with corn starch and crushed pineapple in a saucepan.  Bring to a boil over medium-high heat.  Cook and stir over medium-low heat for 5 minutes or until thickened.  Serve sauce alongside ham.


Christmas Dinner Menu

Ham with Dijon-Pineapple Sauce

Sweet Potato Casserole with Pecans

Macaroni & Cheeese

Image(s) courtesy

(Note:  This post contains an affiliate link.  Read my disclosure policy here).

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Morning Train

Today my thoughts are with our family back home.  We learned yesterday my Momma's sister, my Aunt Pearl, passed away early Monday morning.  My aunt had such a sweet and gentle spirit.  She was the mother of 13 children.  Yes, thirteen - no multiples!  According to my cousin, her last day was filled with family and church.  She attended a granddaughter's baby shower and a Christmas program at her church, where she read a poem.  Later in the day, she went home to rest.  And as my Momma said, Monday she left on the morning train.  What a wonderful legacy she leaves behind in her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.  It's a reminder the most important work I do, is in the lives of my children.

   I'm going home on the morning train
 {Come on go with me children}
 I'm going home on the morning train
The evening train may be too late
I'm going home on the morning train

Mary Ellen

Monday, December 19, 2011

Pink Velvet Cupcakes with Mint Frosting

My not quite red velvet cupcake!

I have wonderful Christmas memories of sitting at the kitchen counter in my parents' home, watching my Momma busily baking up cakes for Christmas.  Some of the cakes would be frozen, boxed and shipped to Germany.  At the time, all three of my older sisters were stationed overseas in the military.  And of course, a few cakes stayed behind for us to enjoy!  My Momma would make a cake to suit everyone's taste.  A coconut cake for my sister Betty, a German chocolate cake for my sister Sarah, a pineapple cake for my Daddy, chocolate cake for me and my older brother and red velvet cake for my sister Carolyn.

I'm nowhere near the baker my Momma was!  But in preparation for our Christmas Eve family gathering, I made an attempt at red velvet cake this weekend.  Since I didn't have enough red food coloring on hand, mine was more of a "pink" velvet than red!  I used the Pioneer Woman's Red Velvet sheet cake recipe for my cupcakes.    

Candy canes in the Vitamix

When my Momma made red velvet cake, she used cream cheese frosting with chopped pecans added.  However, some say a boiled frosting is the more traditional choice for red velvet cake.  Last year, I tried making a cooked frosting with milk for my Christmas cake.  It did not turn out well for me!  So, I just stuck with my go to frosting recipe - the buttercream recipe we used for the Christmas cookies.  This time, instead of adding a teaspoon of vanilla, I added peppermint flavor.

Crushed in seconds!

To finish off the cupcakes, I sprinkled crushed candy canes on top.  No need to get out the kitchen mallet for the candy canes!  I just tossed several broken candy canes into the dry blade container of my Vitamix blender.  In just a few seconds, they were pulverized!  Crushed candy canes add such a festive touch to cupcakes and cookies this time of year.  Crushed canes are also great for chocolate bark, as an ice cream topping and for adding into cups of hot chocolate!

So what kind of frosting do you use for red velvet cake?

Mary Ellen

(Note:  This post contains affiliate links.  Please see my disclosure policy here).


Friday, December 16, 2011

Only 9 Days Till Christmas!

According to Ashleigh's Christmas countdown paper chain, there are ONLY 9 DAYS TILL CHRISTMAS!  Wow!  These past few weeks have really flown by.  I haven't even sent out my Christmas cards yet!  Dave and I spent yesterday Christmas shopping (and having a nice lunch date together!) while the kids were in school.  We got gifts for everyone on our list except my mother-in-law.  She's always a hard one to buy for.  What do you get the person that has everything?  Now comes the wrapping.  And the planning and preparing for the Christmas Eve gathering at our house with Dave's family and our Christmas Day dinner.  So much to do, so little time!

How are your Christmas preparations going?

Mary Ellen 

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

O Christmas Tree(s) - 14 Trees & Counting!

Merry Christmas!  And welcome to our home!
If our family was going to be featured on a TLC show, it might be called "14 Trees & Counting!"
Have a look...

Tree #1 - our burgundy & gold Christmas tree - greets you as enter in the foyer.

As you look into the family room, you'll see Tree #2.  This is our main Christmas tree and is filled with family ornaments.  Some of the ornaments go all the way back to my husband's childhood!

Trees #3, #4 and #5, I refer to as the "triplets".  They are also in the family room along with the main tree and have red, apple green and turquoise blue ornaments. 

By the window in the family room

By the back wall in the family room

I bought this wooden "Ho, Ho, Ho" and red mercury glass tree at Target on after Christmas clearance a few years back.

Tree #6 is in the dining room and decorated
with blue & gold.

Mercury glass tree under a cloche in the dining room
(another Target after Christmas buy)

Glass pine cone ornaments
(Target again!)

Tree #7 is in our kitchen and has a variety of colorful ornaments

Moving into the living room, you'll see Tree #8

I bought these large ornaments on clearance last year from you guessed it - Target!  This Spring, we had the dark wood paneling in our living room painted a beautiful blue-gray (Sherwin William Comfort Gray).  And I was so excited to unpack these ornaments because I knew the antique white and gold tones would go so well with the room's colors!

Silver wreath above the mantle
(not from Target - Michael's after Christmas clearance)

In the corner of the living room is Tree #9.  It's a white tree with pearl bead garland and white & gold glass Martha Stewart ornaments.  I bought those ornaments many years ago from Kmart on clearance.  I've only felt brave enough to use them in the past few years now that the kids are older!

Wooden nativity by the old window on top of the roll top desk in the living room

Last year, I remember the Nester placing a strand of lights in a lantern.  I loved it and couldn't wait to do something similar this year!

Tree #10 is our recent trash to treasure rescue.  Right now, it just has silver ornaments but I'm planning on adding a few homemade ornaments to help fill it out.

In our sunroom, is Tree #11
A white tree with red ornaments and pine cone garland 
(Big Lots after Christmas clearance)

The sunroom tree also has these beautiful vintage looking ornaments from Kmart's Vintage Christmas collection.

Moving upstairs, you'll find Tree #12.  We call it the Candy Tree.  It has gumdrop garland, pearl colored bulb and various candy themed ornaments.

My favorites are these Country Living fabric cupcakes!

Last year, we had a tree in our upstairs master bathroom.  This year, I decided to put Tree #13 in our recently painted upstairs master bedroom.  I decorated the tree with navy blue and silver ornaments to match our bedding.

And last but not least is Tree #14.  This is our "Charlie Brown" tree.  It's small, scraggly and missing a few branches.  I put it in Ashleigh's room so the kids could decorate it with their toys.  But so far, it hasn't gotten much love!

And those are our trees!
Fourteen trees may sound excessive to some, but for us it's an enjoyable part of our Christmas celebration.

Mary Ellen

Linked at Nesting Place 2011 Christmas Tour of Homes

(Note:  This post contains affiliate links.  Read my disclosure policy here).