Red Stick Spice Company & A Giveaway!

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Up until a few years ago, I really had no idea what a difference good, quality spices make in cooking/baking. I’ll be honest…back in the hot dog/blue box macaroni cooking days, I thought that spices never expired! I also thought that you could get away with purchasing the cheapest spices in the store, and you’d still get the same result. However, I learned that spices usually have a shelf life of a couple of years, and it’s always smart to purchase good quality spices.

I remember going to a specialty spice store for the first time when I went to Houston with my husband, and we really stocked up, since we knew that Baton Rouge had nothing like this. It was a bummer, since Louisiana is such a food-centric state…why wouldn’t we have more stores like this? However, a couple of years ago, I first heard of this business called Red Stick Spice Company (in case you didn’t know Baton Rouge is French for Red Stick). I looked up their website, and decided that the first free weekend I had, I had to visit this business and see what they were all about!

Let’s just say I was hooked. I’m pretty sure I purchased 1/2 cup of cinnamon for my holiday baking when I went for my first visit, as well as some other hard-to-find spices that I wanted to use for some recipes. I didn’t shop there very often, because let’s face it, how often do you need to replenish spices? However, they were my go-to when I had a big spice related purchase to make! At some point, the owners decided to sell this business, and I’ll be honest…I was worried about what would happen to this spice store that I’ve just fallen in love with. Well y’all…GREAT things have happened since the new owner, Anne Milneck, took over!

I went to the store for the first time since the new owner took over a few weeks ago, and it was awesome! I’m a sucker for great logos/branding, as well as a store with lovely displays, and this store definitely has all of that!

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Handmade Christmas Stockings

I remember taking a knitting class in college, and learning how to make something simple like a scarf or a washcloth. My instructor always showed us the possibilities of knitting, but I honestly never thought I could ever grasp the idea of the more advanced projects (like sweaters and socks). However, one day while browsing Ravelry, I came across a stocking pattern. It had 5 or 6 colors involved, and the novice knitter in me thought…man, there must be a TON of knots all over the back of the stocking. I had no idea how to weave in colors then, so I thought everything was knots, of course.

Then, the crafting bug hit me when I was on the stocking aisle one year. We bought these simple stockings for our mantel, but I just wasn’t happy with it. I wanted something much more personal with more meaning. I figured there had to be an approachable way to make those stockings that I saw on Ravelry, so I did my research. It really didn’t seem that bad, so I bought some red/green/ivory yarn and took the plunge. I started working on these around Halloween, and didn’t finish until early December. I saved the extra yarn specifically for more stockings in the future, whether it be more furbabies or possible human babies. A gal needs to be prepared. :-P

Stocking Progress

Some knitting notes: For my and my husband’s stocking, I used charts that were included in the pattern. For Millie’s stocking, I googled dog fair isle charts for the paw, bone & fire hydrants. To make the rows fit, I drew my own charts based off of some shapes that I found. I used the duplicate stitch to add our names and ornaments to the trees on my husband’s stocking. I also took notes from Ravelry members, and decreased stitches EVERY round for the toe and heel, instead of every other round.

I’m so happy with how these came out. I had to refer to YouTube quite a few times, but it eventually worked out. I haven’t been able to line them yet, but that will be my project for next year. :-)

Finished Stockings

A different kind of needle…

I have an interesting attention span with crafts. When I find myself tired of one craft, I just move on to another. I never want to hate crafts, so it’s good to just jump around when one of them becomes boring or tedious. Sewing sort of became that for me. I don’t sew everyday, but I was just getting bored with it and wanted to do something different. Since the weather was cooling down, I forked out the knitting needles.

I haven’t knit in a while, so I had to refer back to my books and some Youtube videos, but it was completely like riding a bike. I was knitting like a mad woman in no time flat.

I told my husband that if he needed any gifts, I could knit some scarves up. He told me he would need 5, so I knew exactly what pattern I needed since I had about three weeks to make these. I bookmarked this pattern 2 years ago, because the design looks great and since you’re using BIG needles, it knits up fairly quickly.

Luckily, the next day Michael’s was having a major sale on Lion’s Brand Thick & Quick yarn, so I stocked up and got started.

Knitting Progress

As you can see, even the dog helped out (not really), but she was a cute cuddle buddy.

Instead of making these into a cowl, I just knit using double the length of yarn (since these skeins were more than double the length the pattern calls for) into a long, thick scarf.

Since I was in a bit of a time crunch, I would knit every day during my lunch breaks, in the afternoon and before bed. I’m pretty sure I knit one purl one in my sleep at some points. :-P It was worth it in the end, though. Look at how beautiful they came out.

Christmas Scarves

I absolutely loved seeing the reactions of my husbands aunts and grandmothers as they opened these. You could tell at first that they appreciated the scarves, but when I sort of hinted that I made them, their appreciation grew so much more. I love it when people appreciate handmade gifts. It was all worth it! :-)

Did you go handmade with some of your gifts this Christmas?

The season of giving..

Things have been a little quiet here. Oops! With two blogs, I usually find my stride with one and the other kind of just suffers. Since it’s the holiday season (aka baking season), I’ve been a little busy in the kitchen, so I’ve had a good bit to share on the other blog because of it. At the same time, I’ve been working on quite a few things non kitchen-wise, which I want to share with y’all.

One of the biggest pieces of news I have is that I entered a recipe contest. It was a local one that my newspaper held, and I stumbled upon it sitting in traffic reading one of those billboards that seems to flash from one ad to another. I immediately started brainstorming in my car when I saw “Holiday Dessert Recipe Contest”. I had two ideas in my head and the idea I tested out was a peppermint bark cheesecake truffle.

I ended up making one batch and brought it to my coworkers. I thought it was a decent dessert, but I mean, you are your own worst critic…I just thought it could be better. However, my coworkers started raving about these truffles and quite a few of them wanted the recipe. So I thought, maybe this truffle is perfect just the way it is. So that evening, I submitted the recipe.

To become a finalist, you had to be in the top 10 popular vote-wise. The hard thing about it was that if you wanted to vote, you had to register on the website. So, that made begging for votes even harder. I was in 7th or 8th place with votes in the end, so I barely squeaked by as a finalist. Whew!  (Thanks to all of you who voted for me!)

After I was selected as a finalist, I had to bring my truffles to the newspaper’s office for a taste test. I can’t tell you how nervous I was to bring those truffles to the office. What if they all HATED them? I started to doubt my recipe. So, I thought…maybe if I put them in a cute tin with some paper shreds, I might get some presentation points? (I have no clue if this was part of the judging criteria, but to me, a pretty dessert never hurts!)

Peppermint Bark Cheesecake Truffles

I was told that they were announcing the winners on Saturday at a furniture store, which was 40 minutes away from our house. H offered to bring me, since he knows that I ::really:: needed to know and waiting until Monday for a possible phone call would just KILL me. So, we went.

I can’t tell you how nervous I was. My palms were sweaty, I had butterflies in my stomach and I kept telling my H that there was no way I placed. No way. Listening to some of the finalists, you could tell they knew what they were doing.

They announced 3rd place (wasn’t me)….2nd place (wasn’t me)…so, at this point, I told H at least I tried. The 2nd and 3rd place winners won gift certificates to a local grocery store, which to me, would have been completely awesome to put towards the Christmas dinner we were hosting! But yeah, didn’t win 2nd or 3rd place.

They go to announce 1st place, and my H is just smirking. I was 99% sure I was just going home empty-handed, because the 2nd place winner made a cheesecake. Why would they choose another cheesecake-type dessert to win? However, they said “Peppermint Bark Cheesecake Truffles”.

WHAT?

I WON?

I looked at H and started tearing up like a dork. I’m such a dork. I couldn’t BELIEVE I won!

The prize for 1st place was a $1000 for Paula Deen furniture at the store. I already discussed with H that if I won, I really wanted to get my family a new sofa for Christmas. He was totally on board with the idea since my family’s sofa is/was about 20 years old and had DEFINITELY seen better days.

Sadly, the store didn’t carry Paula Deen sofas, but thankfully, the clerk who helped me allowed me to use the credit towards ANY sofa. SCORE!

So, my H and I finally found this sofa set that was discontinued on major sale. Not only were we able to get a sofa, but we also got my family a loveseat. I tried to keep it a surprise from my Mom as long as I could, but in the last few minutes, I had to spoil it, since we had to clear the old sofa and the stuff around it before the delivery people arrived.

Blurry shot, but here is the new set!

My family absolutely loves the new furniture, which makes me so happy. When it comes to the holidays, I care more about giving gifts than receiving them. I truly love to see the reactions of those I give gifts to, and this one just had me beaming.

Thanks so much to The Advocate for having this contest! Winning this contest was one of the big highlights of 2011 for me, and I’m sure it was for my family too!

A New Outlook on Christmas

I really can’t believe it’s almost Christmas. The tree is decorated, stockings are hung, (most of) the gifts are wrapped and food gift boxes are finished.

It’s sort of a routine now….a different routine than it was for me 15 years ago. I tend to miss being a kid during the Christmas season.

I remember when I was younger, my siblings and I would glance over every page in the Sears Toy book. We’d carefully write our lists in our best handwriting, give the lists to our parents, and they made sure that it got in the mail for Santa. Even after the lists were done, we still looked over the book, dreaming about what toy might be ours on Christmas. It was such a happy time, full of anticipation and excitement.

When the holidays were approaching, school was out. I remember lounging around, watching cartoons, adding sprinkles to freshly baked cookies and drooling over the smell of fudge and pralines cooking on the stove.

On Christmas Eve, my sister and I would talk non-stop about the next day. We shared a room, so this led to a fairly sleepless night. We’d wake up at the crack of dawn, tip-toe downstairs, wake up our brother and sister and watch Christmas cartoons, waiting for Mom and Dad to come out with the video camera. It was a rule that presents could NOT be opened until Dad got the camera. :)

Once Dad would get the camera, I remember ripping open our toys from Santa, amped up on Hershey’s Kisses and Mom’s Mickey Mouse pancakes. We’d all scream, “OMG THANK YOU SANTA!” (I’m pretty sure Christmas Day with kids is the reason Advil stays in business..haha!) This happened again at my aunt’s house, where we all met up for Christmas. By the end of the day, we’d come home with way too many presents and a sinking feeling of “it’s over…no more Christmas”. :-

As an adult, things are a little different. I mean, of course, I look forward to the gift giving and receiving mumbo jumbo, but, as an adult, I will say, that I now understand that consumerism does not hold the true value of Christmas. As a Christian, I know that we are rejoicing Christ’s birth and HE is the reason for the season. To this day, I cringe when I see “X-mas”. I think most people don’t think the way I think, but I think it’s such a disregard for the reason of Christmas. Not to get all religious on y’all, but seriously, Christmas is a celebration for CHRIST…why “X” Him out?! Lame…

I like to look at Christmas with a different perspective now. It’s not the gifts that get me excited about Christmas (and I’m being completely serious…completely..). It’s really about seeing family and friends. Christmas just SCREAMS gathering to me, and I love that I get to see so much family at once. It’s wonderful to catch up and reflect on the past year with them. :) While I can say, I completely miss that level of anticipation over Santa’s surprises, I have to say, I can appreciate this new outlook on the holiday season that I have as an adult. Not only does it make me feel a little bit more fulfilled, but even after Christmas is over, it’s not a sinking low feeling that I had as a child anymore.

What do you think of the Christmas season, now that you’re an adult?

No Place Like Home for the Holidays

Decorating for Christmas is one of my favorite things. If I’m not in the holiday spirit before then, I’m definitely full of spirit right afterwards! Over the past 3 Christmases, we’ve slowly added to our decor.

The new additions to our mantle is Millie’s stocking and holder, the knit Christmas tree and the fabric bowl full of leftover ornaments that I purchased to make our wreath last year. I love it!

The Mantle

Since we don’t have much space for a Christmas tree, we definitely LOVE our skinny tree. The hubs bought this at Kohls on major sale. The majority of the ornaments are from Sam’s Club. They sell mega packs of ornaments in different color themes, and I fell in love with the brown/bronze pack, since it’s neutral.

Christmas Tree

And, as you may know, this is Millie’s first Christmas with us. I was pretty worried about how her curious little self would react, but she ignores it, for the most part. :) I think she has some Christmas spirit too (gotta love puppy smiles).

Christmas Smiles

How is your home decorated this year? Feel free to share some blog posts. :) I love seeing holiday decor!!!

Happy Thanksgiving!

I hope everyone had a wonderful day with family and friends. :)

I just wanted to leave you with this awesome Thanksgiving song, since we don’t have many of those on the radio. :)

By the way, don’t forget to check this blog tomorrow for a HUGE Black Friday sale in the Etsy shop. :-)

Are you ready?

I can’t believe it’s almost Thanksgiving! I mean, it feels like it’s still August out here, weather wise!!

Thanksgiving also makes me think of Black Friday, which is my FAVORITE shopping day! Now, before you shake your head and call me crazy-pants, there is a method to the madness. I really do find amazing deals that way, and something about it gets me in the holiday spirit!

Here’s some pointers I have for Black Friday.

  • Get coffee before you go. Preferably a holiday flavored coffee drink. Gets you in the spirit, I promise.
  • Hit up 2-3 stores that feature your favorite sales. You will seriously burn out otherwise, unless you’re super shopper. I’m honestly not that much of a shopper.
  • I like to prepare myself with a little list of what I’m going for. There are quite a few Black Friday sites out there with scanned ads in there for the sales. This is one of them.
  • Big ticket items are a no-no. Most of the time, stores have 4 or less of the item, and you’ll only really get one if you’re lucky and get there after polishing off the turkey. Worth it? I don’t think so…plus, there are big ticket deals like those on Black Friday throughout the year!
  • Do not get your heart set on finding the item. You’ll get majorly let down that way. Go there with a “this will be nice if I find it” mentality. Scrooge-y attitudes SUCK on Black Friday!
  • Most of all, play Christmas music on your car radio on the drive there. Nothing like a little holiday tune-age to get you in happy spirits. Again, Scrooge-y attitudes SUCK.

How many of y’all hit up Black Friday? I know I’m not the only one out there!!

Block Swap ::gulp:: Quilt?

Once upon a time, I helped to host a quilt block swap.

Soon after…way too soon after, since time flies and all, I had a bunch of ::awesome:: squares in my hands. I knew/hoped all of the participants would be happy, because I sure was!

Then, a little idea popped into my head.

I printed grid paper, used most of my mechanical pencil’s eraser, but my little idea ended up on paper.

I started sewing up part of a charm pack that I bought months ago to start making my little idea a reality.

Charm Pack

My little idea is starting to look good.

My little idea isn’t a quilt, though.

Tree Skirt Idea

As you can see in the bottom left corner, I did the math wrong, but I fixed it in Picnik.

Surprised? ;)

I hope you don’t mind. :)

Blocks of Christmas Cheer!

I found myself at Target today to get a couple of things for lunch. I was absolutely stunned to see that the store was completely decorated for Christmas! It’s that time of the year again, for sure!

The decor reminded me SO much of the quilt block swap. :-) I’ve been so excited to assemble these block packages for the swap. It was sort of like a little bit of Christmas to me, opening those packages of blocks.

Sadly, a few participants decided against sending blocks, which sort of stinks. :-(. Good news though…there are some seriously adorable blocks that were mailed, great quilts to be made and I cannot wait to see them all! Can you?!?

I got this super cute card in one of the packages. Just adorable.

Quilting Card

I really loved the fabrics that were mailed in. Everyone’s were different…some traditional, some modern, some whimsical. Just awesome. :)

Quilt Blocks 4

I’m just posting slight previews, because I don’t want to giveaway how the quilts will come out! :-)

Quilt Blocks 3

And I’m not going to give it away, but….

Quilt Blocks 2

…take a wild guess at which of these pictures include the fabrics I submitted!

Quilt Blocks 1

I simply cannot wait to sew up these little blocks of Christmas cheer! I hope everyone loves their fabrics too. I tried to sort by giving everyone a variety of block colors. :-)