Thursday, November 29, 2012

Sears Giftcard Giveaway With Smiley360

I am a member of  Smiley360 and earlier this month I was accepted into one of their missions for Sears! I was so excited because we desperately needed new Christmas ornaments for our tree and the $15.00 that I had to spend would sure help to go a long ways towards getting some.

We have a Sears near us, but if you don't~ don't worry! You can shop online in the Sears Online Christmas Shop for everything that you might need. Have you checked out the Sears Cheer Headquarters yet? There you will find helpful holiday tips and decorating ideas from home improvement guru Ty Pennington and lifestyle expert George Hirsch. While you are browsing the website, why not sign up for a Shop Your Way Rewards card and start earning points that you can use to buy more fun stuff?!


I purchased this ornament set online on Black Friday. I was supposed to put a picture in my post of the actual items I purchased, but since I don't have them yet I couldn't do that. The picture you see if right off the Sears website. When I receive my package, I'll update with my own picture!

Here's the fun part: I get to offer one of you a Sears Giftcard of your own!

a Rafflecopter giveaway


This is a short giveaway, so make your entries count!

I was provided a giftcard to make a purchase, but the opinions in this post are honest and always mine. 

Whole Wheat Banana Bread

 

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What do you do when you find a bag of frozen bananas in the freezer? You make banana bread! Or, at least I do. I had gotten a really good deal on bananas that were less than perfect, so I bought all that the store had. I had originally frozen them to make smoothies, but the kids got sick of them and I stopped making those for them. That also meant that I forgot about bananas until I was looking for something else in the freezer yesterday. Enter: Banana Bread.

Right now the West Coast is being slammed with a cold, wet storm. We’re getting a ton of rain and the wind is blowing like crazy (or at least it is at my house). I always bake some treats up when we have this kind of weather because I never know if our power will go out or not. Granted, it’s never out for long. But what if it was out for a while?? I don’t want my precious babies to be hungry for a snack and not be able to have one! That would be terrible. So, I made a couple loaves of this bread and the muffins from yesterday. You know, so we wouldn’t starve in the one hour that the power *might* go out….

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I’m sure this is probably a pretty standard banana bread recipe, but it’s the one that my mom uses and pretty much the only one that I have ever used. The only thing I change about it now is to use wheat flour for some of the white. I’m telling you, having a grain mill has changed my life. It’s so easy to incorporate freshly ground flour into my recipes now. I don’t even think about it I just automatically reach for my grain mill and get to work!

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Whole Wheat Banana Bread

  • 1/2 cup shortening
  • 1 cups sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 3-4 bananas, smashed
  • 1 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour, white whole wheat flour or whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1 cup unbleached white flour or all purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup nuts or chocolate chips, optional

In a bowl, beat together the shortening and sugar. Add in eggs and mix well. Stir in bananas, flours, baking soda and salt. Stir until just combined. Fold in nuts or chocolate chips. Pour into a greased loaf pan and bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack.

This loaf is very best if you can manage not to cut it until the next day. I know, I know- that’s hard to do but it’s worth it if you can possibly do it. This bread stays very moist and is dense without being heavy. So, so good. I have baked this in mini loaf pans and frozen it for gift giving as well. It freezes beautifully as a whole loaf, as slices or as mini loaves. You can add raisins, any kind of nuts, chocolate or peanut butter chips (my personal favorite!) or anything else you’d like.

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Sometimes it the plain, sturdy, tried and true recipes that we crave the most. Banana bread makes your house smell so good while it’s baking! My only complaint about it is that it never lasts long, better make 2 loaves!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Whole Wheat Pumpkin Cream Cheese Muffins

 

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Recently, I tried a pumpkin cream cheese muffin recipe I saw online and thought looked really tasty. I was wrong. It was kind of dry and a little bland. We really love our pumpkin muffins around here, and I already have a recipe that I love so I changed it (big surprise there) to add a cream cheese filling center. These turned out exactly how I had hoped and then some. I love it when an experiment turns out like that!

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I ground some wheat berries up in my WonderMill, got out the rest of my ingredients and got to work. I was going for a muffin that was moist and semi-dense without being a hokey puck. To do this I played with the oil and added a little applesauce, used 1/2 whole wheat and an entire can of pumpkin puree. The cream cheese added to the middle helped to keep thing moist and added a really nice additional layer of deliciousness. Layers of deliciousness…..I should copyright that!

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Whole Wheat Pumpkin Cream Cheese Muffins

  • 4 eggs
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 (15 oz) can pumpkin puree
  • 3/4 cup oil
  • 3/4 cup applesauce
  • 1 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry, white wheat or whole wheat flour
  • 1 1/2 cups unbleached white flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 (8 oz) package cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 cup sugar

In a small bowl, combine the cream cheese and 1/2 cup sugar; set aside. In a large bowl, mix together the eggs, sugar, pumpkin, oil and applesauce. Stir well. Mix in the flours, baking powder, cinnamon and baking soda. Fill paper lined muffin tins 2/3 full of pumpkin muffin mixture, then drop 1 tablespoon of cream cheese in the middle. Cover with 1 tablespoon more pumpkin muffin mixture and sprinkle with course sugar if desired. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 15-20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool muffins out of the tin and on a wire rack for 10 minutes before eating (that cream cheese filling gets rocket hot, so be careful here!).

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Now don’t those look so good? They were! This is probably my favorite whole wheat adaptation to date Smile They were moist, had great flavor and that sugar sprinkled on the top gave them a really nice crunch that I loved. On a side note, we froze one to see how it would do and it was just as delicious (if not a little more) defrosted. This would be perfect to pop into a lunch box or as an after school snack. They’re so easy I wish I would have double the recipe and added some to my frozen treats for gift giving later in December! Oh well, there’s still time!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Chocolate Drop Cookies

 

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The next cookie that I made and froze for my gift giving next month- Chocolate Drop Cookies. These are like a little brownie bite. Dense and chewy with just a little crispness around the edges, they freeze perfectly and bake up super quick.

Perfect for our cookie dough ball gifts, no? YES! 

This makes our 3rd cookie and I may (fingers crossed) get the 4th cookie posted today as well. I have 2 more cookies planned and then a tutorial for making the cutest packaging for them. Stay tuned and thank you so much for following along! I know it's taking me longer than I had expected, but I just keep finding so much to keep me busy that my baking is falling by the wayside. That's NOT a good thing. Nope, nope, nope. 

Once again, I have changed these up to have half whole wheat. I think for a cookie that you are giving away to someone who might not be into whole wheat cooking, replacing 1/2 the flour with whole wheat is a great compromise. They will likely never know and you can feel good about sneaking some extra goodness and fiber into their lives :) This little beauty makes it fast and easy to add whole grains into your diet.

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Chocolate Drop Cookies


  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup soft white wheat or whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 8 ounces unsalted butter (2 sticks), softened
  • 1 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Sift together the flour, cocoa, baking powder, and salt. In another bowl, cream butter and sugars. Beat in eggs, one at a time, making sure that they are completely incorporated before adding the next one. Beat in vanilla. Beat in the dry mixture a little at a time, the mixture will be really stiff.

Scoop the dough onto greased baking sheets by rounded tablespoons, about 2 inches apart. Bake at 350° for 12 to 15 minutes, or until set. If desired, sprinkle with a little sugar while they're hot.

Cool on pans on rack for about 5 minutes; transfer chocolate cookies to rack to cool completely.
Makes about 4 to 5 dozen chocolate cookies.

To Freeze: Scoop cookie dough onto the cookie sheets and freeze until completely firm. Place frozen cookie dough balls into a zip top freezer bag and label with name. Pop in the freezer to await gift giving goodness!!!

These are simple, tasty and a great addition to a cookie tray. They're a little bit different from your standard cookie treats and oh-so-good. Try them, you'll like 'em!

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Figis Holiday Feast Gift Box Review


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I was sent one of Figis wonderful gift boxes to review. I was impressed with the way it was packaged for shipping and everything came to me in really great shape. Now, I have ordered from Figis before but never this particular package.
The gift box we tried out this time was the Holiday Feast Gift Box. It was filled with snack size meats and cheeses, cheese spreads, summer sausages, jams and jellies, cakes and sweets. Here are some pictures of what was included inside.
Meats and cheeses! My husband was particularly fond of this part of the gift box.
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The jams and jellies….
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The snack sized cakes and cookies….
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The extra little candies and sweeties.
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I took an overall picture as well so you could see it all together.
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My girls really loved the tiny jars of jam and jellies as well as the snack sized cakes. This gift box retails at $39.99 and has a nice assortment to for snacking. This would be really nice to lay out for a party or for sending to someone as a gift.
You can see other Gifts in the Meat and Cheese categories. There are many to choose from and there is sure to be one to fit your needs, whether that be for yourself or for gift giving. The gifts are well packaged, they ship fast and if you read the descriptions they are exactly what you are expecting. We had this along with a pizza for a light, snack-y dinner the night before Thanksgiving and it was perfect! Everyone could pick and choose what they liked and there was a lot of variety to choose from. We really enjoyed it and it was a nice way to usher in the holiday season.
Overall, I was very pleased with the gift box. Personally, I would have loved to see it include some mustard varieties to use with the summer sausages, but that would be my only suggestion.
I was sent a Figis Holiday Feast Gift Box in exchange for a review. A positive review was not a condition of receiving the gift box for review. All the opinions stated above are mine and always honest.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Dreams Do Come True

I was recently visited by The Fairy Hobmother. Who is that? Well, The Fairy Hobmother is a lovely man who comes to visit bloggers. He likes to visit talented bloggers and send them a giftcard after they spread the word about the Fairy Hobmother and the good deeds that they do on your blog.

Want to have the Fairy Hobmother visit YOUR blog? Comment on this post! You just might get a visit of your very own! You can help the Fairy Hobmother (Matt and Appliances Online) keep spreading the love! Interact with the Fairy Hobmother on Twitter and have a chance to be noticed that way too.

Don't worry if you don't hear from them right away, keep on BELIEVING and good things just might come to you too.....

Quick and Easy Thanksgiving Table Decorations



Nothing, and I mean NOTHING, makes me happier than prettying up my home with things I already have. I don't have a craft store to pop into so I tend to look at everything in my home and try to come up with new ways to use it.

Mason or canning jar crafts are really hot right now and you are seeing them everywhere. I always have a ton of them sitting around, so I thought I'd make these cute jar candle holders and share them with you today. They are totally customize-able, from the filler you use in the jars to the material or ribbon you use to wrap around them. Heck, even the candle is up to you~ scented or no?? It's your call :)



All I did was wrap a piece of flannel out of my sewing scrap bag around the jar and hot glue it in place. Next, I wrapped a cute little piece of twine around and tied it into a bow. I hot glued a small button to the middle and loved how it looked, so I stopped there.



Fill it up as full as you want with a filler of some sort. Because it is close to Thanksgiving and because I know the Pilgrims must have had corn at the first Thanksgiving (they did, right?), I filled mine with yellow popcorn. The colors are just right for a harvest color scheme and look great.

I nestled a tea light down in the popcorn and am so in love with how they turned out.

You can use any number of items to wrap around your jars. Some ideas are:

  1. Raffia
  2. Ribbon
  3. Felt
  4. Burlap
  5. Twine
You can also use many different kinds of items to fill your jars. Like...
  1. Beans
  2. Rice
  3. Buttons
  4. Whole Coffee Beans
  5. Small Candies


The biggest part of this simple craft is looking around and using up what you already have. The holidays are stressful enough, why make them worse by attempting complicated decorations too? These look lovely when lit and just as pretty during the day. I love them and I think you will too! 


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Time4Learning Review


Our oldest daughter (she's 8) has struggled with reading. Not because she can't read, but rather because she doesn't particularly like to read. Getting her to put in the time to practice (it does make perfect after all) was starting to get tough. I was searching the web one day and come across the website Time4Learning.

I browsed through the curriculum, did some other research online to see what other families were saying about the online curriculum and I took the plunge. They do offer a 2 week money back guarantee, not to be confused with a free 2 week trial, and I thought we would try it out.

The second day, my hard to motivate reader was ASKING if she could get online and do her reading! The lessons are fun, they keep her attention, she is retaining far more than she was with her pencil and paper curriculum we were using previously.

To be honest, I was wary of online curriculum places. We are using Time4Learning for our core subjects, and doing unit studies along with them. We really enjoy doing unit studies because I have 4 kids at home (8, 6, 4 and 4) and we can let everyone be a part of a unit study. However, we were taking up so much time in our day struggling through reading that there was little time to get to the "fun" part of school. Reading was often followed by math, science, spelling, a little history and health lessons. Our day was long, everyone was frustrated and the other kids weren't getting the time from me that they needed.

I took a screenshot of their 2nd Grade Overview so you could see what all is included in that particular grade. As you can see, it is quite user friendly. I have found it to be really easy to use for parents AND kids alike.



Now, I can get our oldest set up and started on her work on Time4Learning at the table and help the other kids with things. She only occasionally needs assistance from me now and she is growing so confident in her reading abilities. She has a long way to go to catch up to being a fluent reader, but she is so much farther in the short time she has been doing this program I can hardly believe it! She has been reading the bedtime stories to her sisters at night and I've found her reading just because a few times.

I know there are families who choose not to use any online resources for their children, and that is perfectly fine. I was one of them who wasn't crazy about it, but now that I have tried this system with my child I would recommend it to anyone.

And it's not just for homeschoolers! It would make a great, safe after school site for kids to play on in the afternoon or to use during summer to keep their learning fresh in their minds.

I'm glad I tried it and for the low monthly price, I absolutely think it is worth it. If nothing else, it has gotten my child excited about reading and to me that is priceless!

As a member of Time4Learning, I have been given the opportunity to review their program and share my experiences. While I was compensated, this review was not written or edited by Time4Learning and my opinion is entirely my own. For more information, check out their standards-based curriculum or learn how to write your own curriculum review.

Thanksgiving Recipe Round Up

Today, because I know we are all busy getting ready for the Thursday holiday, I wanted to share with you the most searched/ most viewed recipes that are relevant to Thanksgiving.

In no particular order, here are the top 10 Most Searched Recipes from the last week. Enjoy!

1) Golden Dinner Rolls


2) Cherry Cheese Danish


3) Chocolate Custard Pie and Coconut Custard Pie

 4) Dark Sweet Cherry Cheesecake


5) Caramel Apple Cheesecake 
 

7) Overnight Cinnamon Rolls

 8) Hot Artichoke Dip with Spinach

 

9) Macadamia Nut Pie with Coconut

 10) Peach Crisp

 You'll probably see one more post here on the blog from me before Thursday, but if you follow along on Facebook you'll get bonus content now through the Christmas Holiday! Come join us! 

Monday, November 19, 2012

Peanut Butter Oatmeal Cookies



The next cookie I'm making for my Christmas Gift Cookie Project is Peanut Butter Oatmeal Cookies. Different than both a peanut butter or oatmeal cookie, these marry the best of both worlds. Deep peanut flavor, chewy oats and rich brown sugar make these really delicious.

I changed these up again and added 1/2 whole wheat, but you can certainly leave that out and make them with 100% all purpose flour instead. I'm getting serious use out of this baby, I tell ya!



I've gotten so many positive message, emails and comments regarding the idea of giving frozen cookie dough! I know that many of you are following along and will be giving these as gifts as well. I'm so pleased that so many people think it's a great idea :) I'm very excited to be giving such a unique and useful gift this year. It feels amazingly good to know that my recipients will be using and enjoying my gift long after the Holiday is over. Stick with me and at the end of this series, I'll have a really cute (and inexpensive!) way for you to package your cookie dough. I can't wait to share that with you!



I anticipate having all of my cookies frozen by the end of next week, fingers crossed, and then you can have a small stash of instant gifts hanging out in your freezer. A dozen or so cutely packaged is perfect for unexpected company that stops by with a gift, co-workers or anyone you need to give a little "something" to. Several dozen different varieties given in a basket or on a new cookies sheet (HOW CUTE!) would be great as a gift exchange item, for family and close friends or for anyone that might enjoy a little pick-me-up.

Christmas is the season to remember to bless people who might not ever say that they need it, so some homemade goodness will fit the bill. And since they will be ready and waiting you'll feel SO good about having a great gift to give at a moments notice, I promise!



Oatmeal Peanut Butter Cookies
recipe found on Allrecipes.com here

1/2 cup shortening
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup white sugar
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup peanut butter
2 eggs
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup flour
3/4 cup whole wheat flour (or use all all purpose)
1 cup oats

In a bowl, beat the shortening, butter, sugars and peanut butter until well combined. Mix in the eggs one at a time, just until blended. Add the remaining ingredients and mix well. Drop by tablespoon on a cookie sheet and bake at 350 degrees for 8-10 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack.

To Freeze: To prepare for gift giving, scoop cookie dough out onto a parchment or wax paper lined cookie sheet. Freeze until completely solid and transfer to a zip top freezer bag. Label and stash in the freezer for later gift giving!

This recipe makes approx 4 dozen, so you may want to double it depending on how many gifts you are looking to give. Be on the lookout for the next cookie recipe, it's a REALLY yummy one!

Friday, November 16, 2012

Fluffy Waffles



There is really nothing better than a crisp on the outside, fluffy on the inside waffle. If they are easy and fool-proof, that's just icing on the cake as far as I'm concerned. My mom makes these waffles, I've made these waffles since I was able to cook and I'm pretty sure my grandma makes these waffles too. They are just that good. 

The recipe makes enough to feed my family of 7 if I am serving something else along side (eggs, bacon, ham, etc) or they can eat all they can hold and I can freeze some for later if I double the recipe. I have one of those Belgian waffle makers that flips over and I can hardily attest for them. They are fabulous! Very fluffy and light.

Don't fall for just any waffle. Don't settle for toaster waffles from the freezer section. Make these waffles and keep them in the freezer. Pop them into the toaster oven or microwave and have a hot, homemade frozen waffle any day of the week. Mmmm, so good. I just had some of these and I already want more just looking at these pictures.

Fluffy Waffles

5 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
3 cups flour
4 eggs, beaten
2 1/4 cups milk
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
2/3 cup butter or margarine, melted

In a bowl, stir together the baking powder, sugar, salt and flour. In a smaller bowl beat the eggs for 1 minute and add the milk and vanilla. Stir well. Add to dry ingredients and stir until just combined. Slowly mix in the butter and only stir to combine it. Be careful not to mix too much. Bake in a hot iron and serve with butter and syrup, if desired.


Seriously, in less than 5 minutes you can be well on your way to eating a hot, fresh, fluffy waffle. That's not much longer than it takes to make a pre-made frozen waffle. Try them, I bet you love them as much as we do!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Chewy Ginger Cookies




I've given my Christmas gifts a lot of thought this year and I know exactly what I am giving to each person on my list. I have quite the range of people to give to- from single to married, young and old, small child to teen. I had to think not only about our budget, but also what would mean the most to the people I would be giving gifts to.

I like to give things that can be a blessing during the holidays. Things like meat and cheese baskets, breakfast baskets, homemade bread and jam or even blankets, books and music. Things you are going to need and use anyway. This year I have several busy families on my list, and a few single guys as well, and I had a brilliant idea.

Pre-made, pre-portioned frozen cookie dough. They can keep it stashed in the freezer and whenever they want cookies all they have to do is heat the oven and pop the cookies on a baking sheet. How nice would that be? Something sitting in your freezer that you could bake at a moments notice for unexpected company, for impromptu hot cocoa and cookie snacks to go with a Christmas movie, a special lunch treat when there hasn't been a lot of time to mix up a batch of cookies or simply just because. What a blessing! Or at least I *think* it would be a blessing. I could be wrong and if I am there are going to be some disappointed people on my Christmas list!

So, over the next few days as I make and freeze the cookies for my gifts baskets, I'll be sharing the recipes and the process that I use for getting them ready for the freezer. Follow along and by the end of 2 weeks, you could have gift baskets ready to go too!



The first cookie that I wanted to do was my famous chewy ginger cookies. I shouldn't tell any of you this, because some of you reading will be recipients of my gifts, but I'm trying to keep the flavor and texture of my baked goods while adding more good-for-you ingredients. So, in most of my cookies you will see some of the white flour replaced with soft wheat that I'm grinding myself. You absolutely cannot tell the difference in these cookies, but if you prefer to use all white flour, just substitute it for the whole wheat in these recipes.

Do what I do and make a double batch- one to bake now for your family and one to freeze as gifts!



Chewy Ginger Cookies
this is a Betty Crocker Recipe, original title "Gingersnaps"

1 cup packed brown sugar
3/4 cup shortening
1/2 cup molasses
1 egg
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 1/4 cups flour
1 cup soft wheat flour (ground fine) OR 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour

Mix the brown sugar, shortening, molasses and egg together. Add in the baking soda, salt and ginger. Stir well to combine. Add the flour all at once and stir until it's well mixed in. Scoop tablespoons out and roll into balls, then roll into granulated sugar  Place on cookie sheet and bake for 8-10 minutes in a 350 degree oven. Let cool on a wire rack.

To Freeze: Make recipe as directed through rolling the balls in sugar. At this point, freeze them in a single layer on a cookie sheet until very firm. Put frozen cookie dough balls into a freezer bag and label.

I have a seriously cute way to package these up that I'll be showing you once we have all of the dough made and frozen.

Of course I baked half the recipe for my family. Some I am freezing for later in the month lunch treats as baked cookies. To do this, I wrap a few in waxed paper and tie with kitchen twine. Freeze in a zip top bag for up to 4 months.



Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Crafting Twine Pears


I saw these cute little pears on Pinterest, but there were no instructions. The description said they were twine wrapped around a light bulb. Easy enough! I bought some twine and got to crafting.

You will need:


A hot glue gun, twine, small sticks, light bulbs, glue sticks and I opted for a protective mat so I didn't glue a bunch of stuff to my table. That's completely optional but came in very handy if I do say so myself.

These are really simple and go together really fast. Just glue on a little piece of stick for a stem.


Then glue the twine to the top...


Spread a little glue around and wrap the metal piece quickly to start your pear.


All you're going to do now is put a little glue on the light bulb, wrap the twine around and repeat until you come to the bottom. If you get to the bottom and have some spots showing, you can wrap back up the pear towards the top and glue it on the backside when you get to where you like the way your pear looks.


These are very light when finished, and they would make really cute ornaments for a tree. If I can find some little partridge birds I might glue some on the top and have my own partridge in a pear tree ;) I did 6 of them and put them in a wooden bowl on my table. They look great, used up light bulbs that were destined for the trash and took no more than an hour to complete. 

I call that an hour well spent! Make some, and share the picture with me on Cooke's Frontier Facebook page. I'd love to see them!