Sparkly Snow Trees

I know, I know, it's not even Thanksgiving yet... I'm not one to decorate for Christmas until after Thanksgiving. In fact, I really love the autumn season and I'm always truly a little sad to see it go, but I also love winter and Christmastime! If I'm going to decorate homemade style, then I have to plan ahead. Life gets busy during the holidays and if I don't start creating early, then I may not get my decorations done at all.

It is rainy and dreary outside my window today, although I'm expecting the raindrops to turn to snow at any moment because it's getting quite cold out there. It's a perfect day for staying indoors and creating.

Step One: Start with a rectangular piece of thin cardboard, such as a cereal, or cracker box, etc. Roll it into a cone and secure using staples and/or glue. I think the easiest way is to use a couple staples to hold things in place, then hot glue to seal it up. Use some sharp scissors to cut the bottom of the cone so that it sits evenly. Once you have your cone, you are ready for the next step.

Step Two: You will need cotton balls, a hot glue gun with glue, and scissors. Cut a bunch of cotton balls in half and use the glue gun to begin attaching them to the cardboard cone. Start at the bottom and work your way up. Try not to leave any spaces between the cotton balls. once you get to the top, take a half a cotton ball and poke/pull the center into a point, so it makes a nice top for your tree.

Step Three: Use a stiff paintbrush to gently fluff out the edges of the cotton balls, then use your hands to press the fluffy stuff smooth against the tree. This step blends the edges of the cotton balls into each other a little bit, to give a softer look.

Step Four: Mix a little bit of water into some glue. Use a paintbrush to "paint" the glue onto the cotton ball tree in whatever fashion you desire. I did some randomly curvy brushstrokes. Then sprinkle with glitter. You can also roll it across a pile of glitter. I did both methods and I think I prefer the rolled way, but they both work well. Let your tree dry, knock off excess glitter, and you're done!
This is pretty simple, but I love how they turned out. I put them away for now and will pull them out later when I do my Christmas decorating. I'm getting excited!

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Name That Critter!

A couple of months ago, we noticed something was digging outside our animal run. Inside the run is where our three Cayuga ducks and three dwarf rabbits live. We were concerned that a predator was after the animals. Although we had predator proofed the run as best as we could, we were still worried.

One morning as I was trying to get a few extra winks of sleep, my husband burst into the room exclaiming that there was a large white rabbit in our garden. At first, I thought I was just having a weird dream, or maybe my husband was talking in his sleep cause he does that sometimes (a lot actually!). I got up anyway and looked out the back window. There really was a large white rabbit in our garden and it was trying to get inside our run! I tip-toed outside, quietly opened the gate, and corralled the ducks inside their house. The white rabbit watched without running away, so I stepped back and it hopped right inside the open gate.

What a relief to know there wasn't a determined predator, just a lonely (and very hungry!) male New Zealand White rabbit. Now I wouldn't have to fill in a bunch of recently dug holes around the perimeter of the run each morning! ...Or so I thought. The next day I happened to be chatting with our neighbors and mentioned the white rabbit. "Oh good! Maybe you can catch the two brown ones now!" TWO BROWN ONES? Sure enough, we noticed the digging continued around the outside of our run.
We tried a live trap, and several other brilliant, but unsuccessful plans. Then one afternoon I saw them outside and quietly opened the gate again... in they hopped! Silly rabbits! These two were large, brown mixed breeds with definitely a little lion-head in them. Another male and a female. We quickly found homes for the two males, but the brown female one we kept "temporarily" to make sure she wasn't pregnant.

Well, here we are, about a month and a half later and she is still with us. I think it's time to admit that she is going to stay with us. We just can't bring ourselves to look for a new home for her.
There is one main problem, however. We can't seem to find a name for her that fits. We just keep calling her "the girl bunny", which is ridiculous. Especially since she isn't even the only girl bunny we have! I would love some great name ideas! Ideas anyone?
I just love the tortoiseshell markings on her face, her fluffy white tail, and long wispy lions-mane. Plus she is so friendly and will come right up to me for treats and petting. ...Just ignore my falling apart shoes in the photo below. I'm not going to wear my nice shoes out to play with the animals! Never mind the fact that I was wearing a dress and striped stockings at the time...

*Just a side note: after asking around our neighborhood, it was determined that these rabbits were drop-offs. Sometimes people decide they no longer want their animals and just drive them out somewhere and dump them. As winter approaches, this is more common because people don't want to care for them in the cold weather. Please don't ever do this! This particular story has a happy ending, but that is not the norm. If they don't die from starvation or predators, they can reproduce and begin a feral population which can easily get out of control and cause a lot of damage.
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Spicy Apple Muffins

I was mixing up a batch of apple muffins, when I suddenly wanted something spicy. Muffins can be spicy, right? Why not!? These spicy apple muffins will warm you up on a cold autumn day. These are made using more of the one-handed apples that my brother picked for me. I've been enjoying eating them raw and baking with them too! I don't know what variety they are, but they are delicious! 
3/4 C oat flour (Gluten free if needed)
1/2 C brown rice flour
1/2 C yogurt
1 large egg
1/4 C sugar
1 tsp ginger powder
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp cayenne
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp soda
3/4 C diced fresh apples

Mix all ingredients well. Spoon into muffin tins, I set aside a few of the apple pieces, tossed with some cinnamon and placed them on top of the muffins, but that is not necessary, it just looks cool. Bake at 350 for about 25 minutes.

The muffins are spicy, so if you aren't a fan of "hot" stuff, then you might want to skip this recipe. I write about my brother a lot, I know, but I'm going to do it again... When he was little, he was so sensitive to spicy foods, that he refused to drink soda or eat peppermint because it was "hot". He's grown out of that and although he doesn't like a lot of heat in his food, he does enjoy a little spicy flavor. I think these muffins are mild enough that he could handle them, but they do have a bit of a punch to them. If I have him taste-test these, I'll give him a big glass of milk to go with them just in case...

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Last Minute Thanksgiving Decor

Sometimes things sneak up on you. You think you've got all this time and then suddenly you look at the calender and realize that Thanksgiving is only a almost here!

One thing I love about Thanksgiving is that it's kind of the last hurrah for the autumn season and there are so many natural elements that you can use to decorate for the fall. If you're running out of time and you need some ideas for quick and fun Thanksgiving or fall decor, give these a try!
These are all very inexpensive; I just used things I already had on hand. They are also very easy. If you can handle simple tasks involving cutting, gluing, and writing, then this will be a piece of cake (Mmmm... CAKE! That sounds good! I might have to do some baking later today!).

Autumn Leaf Wreath:
The idea is very simple. Glue some fall leaves to a cardboard circle and you're done. There are a few tips though that will make this easier. Choose leaves that are mostly dry so they will keep their shape better and work gently because any dry places will crumble if you use too much force. Also, use larger leaves in the back, smaller ones in the front. I used a variety of maple, and tulip tree leaves. I have neither one of these trees. It has been rather windy lately and these leaves blew into my yard just so I could use them to create fall decorations. How nice!
Autumn Leaf Garland:
All you'll need for this simple leaf garland is string, wire, or ribbon, glue and an assortment of leaves. Arrange your leaves in the order you want them, or grab them randomly. Glue them along your string and hang them up to enjoy. As with the wreath, use mostly dried leaves so they keep their shape better. Some curling will happen and that's ok. If you use completely dried leaves, they will be very brittle. Work gently so as not to crush the drier parts of the leaves. Also, you may choose to cut off the stems or leave them. I cut mine off, but it doesn't really matter.
Thankful Banner:
This is the most difficult of the three projects, but it's very simple also. Cut uniform triangles out of brown paper grocery bags. Stamp them all over with various leaf patterns in fall colors, then use a good quality marker to write the letters. I spelled out "Thankful", but you can choose any word (or words) you please. Next, glue them onto a ribbon. You could also use decorative yarn, string, or whatever strikes your fancy.
There you are! Three simple ideas to decorate for this season. I hope you enjoy them and maybe they will inspire you to come up with some other ideas as well. If you have more time on your hands, consider checking out these other fall decorating tutorials:
Acorn Branches

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Apple Pecan Crumble

My little brother is great! I occasionally mention him in my blog because he is one of my trusted taste testers. As I've been experimenting with this new (to me) gluten free way of life, it's been nice to have his opinion on many of my trials. I can always count on him giving me an honest (but kind) review of my food.

Recently he broke his hand in two places and was stuck in a cast for three weeks, but he didn't let that keep him down! While in his cast, he brought over a whole bunch of apples that he had picked himself... one-handed. The following recipe is using some of those yummy apples! I might be posting a few other apple recipes in the future, not just because I have apples to use up, but because I love apples!
The Apple Layer:
2 C diced fresh apples
2 TB sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1 TB molasses

The Crumble Layers:
1 C brown rice flour
3/4 C pecan meal (Easy to make in a food processor. Just grind up some pecans!)
1/3 C sugar
1/1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
2 TB olive oil
4 TB water
1/2 tsp vanilla

Stir the apple layer ingredients well until the apple pieces are evenly coated and set aside.
Mix all of the crumble layer ingredients together until well blended. It should have a crumbly texture to it, but if pressed together, it should clump. Evenly and gently press about half of the crumble mixture into the bottom of a greased (or parchment paper lined) 8x8 baking dish. Pour and spread the apple layer mixture on top of the crumble layer, then evenly spoon the remaining crumble mixture over the top of everything. Using a fork or other implement, evenly press the top layer of the crumble mixture so it is nice and even across the top. This will also allow the mixture to push down into the apple mixture and help hold things together once cooked. Bake at 350 for approximately 40 minutes or until lightly browned on the edges. Let cool before serving. Serve warm or cool with or without ice cream.
After making those delicious Maple Pecan Pancakes last week, I wanted something else with pecans and I decided apples and pecans should be friends. I was right, this turned out great and while my little brother hasn't test tasted this one yet, others have and the responses have been good. I do need to have my brother over soon though so he can enjoy some of this.

My husband liked his best warm, but I liked mine cooled. Either way it was delicious! It tends to be more crumbly when warm, and although I would recommend a fork, when served cool, these do hold up fairly well! I admit to just grabbing a slice by hand and munching it that way too, then licking the crumbs off my fingers. Such bad manners! Ha ha!

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Maple Pecan Pancakes

Pancakes are comfort food for me, and ever since going gluten free, I've had a difficult time finding a pancake to be excited about. Pecans are something to be excited about though and it was the pecans that inspired me to come up with this recipe. I've been stewing over it in my mind for a while now and finally decided it was time to try it out.
Maple Pecan Pancakes:
1/2 C chopped pecans
1/2 C oat flour
1/2 C brown rice flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp soda
1.2 tsp salt
3/4 C plain Greek yogurt
1 large egg
2 TB maple syrup
1 TB water
1/2 tsp maple flavor

Pulse the chopped pecans in a food processor until they take on a very course meal-like consistency, but before they become a paste. In a large bowl, mix the pecan meal with the oat and rice flours, baking powder, soda, and salt.

In a smaller bowl whip together the yogurt, egg, and syrup. add to the dry ingredients and blend well. Finally, stir the water and maple flavor into the batter. Cook using a frying pan, or griddle the way you normally cook pancakes. I found that cooking on a lower temperature than I was used to, really helped. Does anyone else have problems making pancakes? The first few pancakes I make always turn out badly and it's been this way my whole life! It doesn't matter what kind of pancakes either. If anyone knows a good tip, I'd love to hear it!

Serve these pancakes hot with more maple syrup on top. I also ate some with Wild Orange Honey Butter. It was amazingly scrumptious!
These pancakes are really good! They hold together well and have a nice fluffy texture. The flavor of the pecans is pronounced, and the maple compliments it perfectly! I ate a few warm, right out of the griddle and they were great that way too. I think these might hold up well to freezing and I plan to make some more to try that way. I like having quick snack that I can pop into the toaster and I think the texture of these pancakes will work for that. They aren't too crumbly like some gluten free pancakes are. Hooray for great pancakes!

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Acorn Branches

Recently at a craft store, I came across an ugly item. It was a hideously fake-looking branch with poorly made plastic acorns stuck to it. You'd have to see it to believe me, but it was just not right. It was also an outrageous price! I picked it up, gasped at the price, and thought to myself, "I could make something much cuter for much (MUCH!) less money!" So, I went home and did. Now I'm passing the idea on to you! You don't have to settle for expensive, poorly manufactured acorn branches anymore. You're welcome!
Remember those acorns I collected and de-bugged and used for two different fall projects so far? Well, I still have lots left over! Hooray! I'm so glad I gathered so many because I am having lots of fun using them to decorate this season! Please refer to my Twig & Acorn Wreath post to see how to de-bug your acorns for using with craft projects. I also used a few Brown Paper Bag Leaves, like the ones I posted about last week.
I started with some branches from my yard. You might also find suitable branches at a florist shop or craft store if necessary. Using a hot glue gun, attach a few acorns onto your branches in random, natural looking places until you reach the desired amount. It looks pretty cute like this and you could definitely use them this way. They would be great mixed into a fall bouquet or just in a vase by themselves. The ugly branches at the store were just bare with acorns, but these natural looking ones look 200% better than those ones!
Personally, I think the leaves add a nice touch though and I'm really happy I went with them. If you want to add leaves on yours too, then take a few minutes to create some paper bag leaves (read about how to make them HERE). Glue a few leaves to your branches. Once the glue is dry, you're done and ready to decorate with them!
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Sweet Potato Pie Brownies

Combining different tasty food items is not always a success. Strawberries, eggs, dill pickles, and milk for example. Or maybe vanilla, green beans, pumpkin, almonds and onions. If those sound good to you, I apologize. To me they sound disgusting!
Here's another odd sounding combination: garbanzo beans, cream cheese, quinoa, dark chocolate, and sweet potatoes... This combination is different! They may not seem like they should go together, but they definitely do! Don't believe me? Try this recipe! You won't regret it!
Brownie Layer:
1 1/2 C dark chocolate chips (melted)
1 C garbanzo beans, cooked, drained, and cooled
1 C cooked quinoa (I used red quinoa)
2 large eggs
1/2 C sugar
1 TB olive oil
1/2 tsp baking powder

Sweet Potato Layer:
1/4 C sugar
1 C sweet potato puree
3 oz cream cheese (softened)
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground clove
1/4 tsp nutmeg

In a food processor, blend together: melted chocolate, garbanzo beans, quinoa, sugar, oil, and baking powder. Once they are blended well, add the eggs and blend some more until everything is smooth.

I do it in this order because I don't want egg to come into direct contact with freshly melted chocolate if it's still hot at all. Once the chocolate is blended in, the other ingredients will cool it down enough to avoid partially cooking the eggs. It might be just fine to blend everything at once, but I'm paranoid because I once had a roommate accidentally cook parts of the egg in her cookie dough when she poured hot melted butter in it. Those cookies were not very good. Anyway, on to the next step...
Also check out my tutorials on making grapevine wreaths and creating brown paper bag leaves.
Pour the brownie batter into a greased 9x9 or similar sized baking dish and smooth it out evenly. Next, mix together all of the ingredients for the sweet potato layer. Spoon the sweet potato layer evenly over the top of the brownie layer. Give it a few stirs if you want to create a marbled effect. Smooth out the top. Bake in the oven at 350 F for approximately 45-50 minutes. Eat warm or chilled. Store, covered in your fridge. I think I enjoy them chilled best and with a dollop of whipped cream, the same way I like my sweet potato pie!

These brownies are gluten free, packed with fiber, protein, and other great nutrients, but they don't taste healthy to me! They are rich and fudgy. So far the non-gluten free people I've fed these too have enjoyed them too. I always make them guess what's in them and they can never tell! I hope you enjoy them!

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Down Home Blog Hop at Tilly's Nest
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Brown Paper Bag Leaves

Right inside my entryway, I have a vintage vanity dresser. It makes a great place to decorate for the different seasons. This fall, I decided I wanted a garland draped across the top of the mirror. I started with a few corn cobs. These are strawberry popcorn cobs and later I will probably eat them. Yum! I love popcorn! Then I wanted to fill in with something leafy. I could see in my mind, a garland of beautiful fall leaves and I loved what I saw! There was however, a slight problem: I'm an impatient person. I like to gather a lot of my own fall decorations from nature, but nature wasn't working fast enough for me. Although the leaves are beginning to turn colors in the nearby mountains, I've been so busy at home that I haven't found time to go on a leaf gathering trek. And then there was the issue of how to keep the natural leaves looking the way I wanted. Leaves dry out and curl up pretty quickly and that wasn't quite the look I had envisioned. There are a few methods of preserving falls leaves, but nothing really grabbed my attention... One morning, I decided I needed to just make my own leaves. I'm quite pleased with how they turned out! The best part: they were easy to make and cost me nothing because I had everything I needed already.

Before I settled on this leaf making method, I tried a few other things that didn't turn out the way I wanted. My sweet husband is such a supporter of my creativity. He came home from work that evening to find the house had exploded with art supplies. Rubber stamps, scissors, paints, tissue paper, glue, random bits of paper... *sigh* I really enjoy an organized house, but sometimes when I get really excited about creating, things get out of hand. Luckily instead of reacting to any of the mess, he just raved about my paper leaves. What a great guy! I had to spend a good amount of time putting things back in their proper places, but I think the finished project was worth the art-supply tornado aftermath. Here's the method I came up with so you can make your own brown paper bag leaves.

Supplies you'll need:
A brown paper bag or two (large heavy-duty grocery store type) or thick brown craft paper
Acrylic paints in your desired color scheme.

1. Cut out your leaves. I folded a section of paper in half and then just free-hand cut into an oak leaf shape, but you could choose any type of leaf shape you wanted. I cut out a variety of sizes and since I was free handing it, each leaf was a little different. I think it turned out really nice that way.
2. Paint your leaves. I used yellow red, brown, and black acrylics paint to mix up a variety of fall leaf colors. Some leaves I did a wash style painting using lots of water and a just a little paint. Other leaves I painted more thickly, but even then I diluted it some so it wasn't too thick. I wanted the colors to look rather muted. Some of them, I just painted evenly one color, others I did with more detail, others still I was more random with the coloring. Try a few things out to see what you like best. It's fun! Turn on some music or put on your favorite movie and paint away! Set them to the side to dry.
3. Shape your leaves. This really is the finishing touch. Once the leaves are basically dry and starting to curl up, gently crease down the center of the leaf and then down the sides to mimic the veins of a leaf. You don't want hard creases, and they also don't need to be perfectly in line. you just want to add some subtly shape to your leaves.
4. Decorate with your leaves. This is the best part! I used my leaves to fill in my fall garland. I started with some natural colored yarn, tied the corn cobs on, and then used a hot glue gun to attach my paper leaves to the yarn in between the corn cobs. As a finishing touch, I used some extra acorns from my twig and acorn wreath project and glued a few of them on with the leaves. These look beautiful as a garland! I also glued some to mono filament and hung them in my front window. I'm not done decorating in my window. It needs something else, but so far, I'm loving the falling leaf look! I have a few other ideas of how I'm using my paper leaves as well, so you might see more of these in the future. I'm thinking I might decorate some of my grapevine wreaths with these. What do you think?
If you make some paper leaves, I'd love to hear how you decorated with them. There are so many possibilities! Have fun!
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October Arrives

It's October already! We recently got our first snowfall in the mountains; just a little dusting. You can still see the beginning of the fall colors on the mountain. Several days later and the snow has mostly gone ...except on the very tallest of the mountains.
Autumn is a busy time of year for me. I'm still harvesting tomatoes and a few fall crops and preserving what I can. I've got lots of clean up in my yard too as some of my summer flowers have begun to die back. Some of my summer annuals are still in full force though and that makes me happy. We are also regularly gathering eggs from our ducks and of course getting things ready outside for the winter weather that will, no doubt, sneak up on us before we know it. Yesterday I spent some time planting fall bulbs and perennials. It might seem crazy to some, but this is a great time of year to prepare for next year's gardening season. Here are a few photos from my yard and garden for you to enjoy.
This is Zinnia. She is the friendliest of our ducks and actually seems to enjoy being held and petted.
Yummy! A pretty selection of heirloom tomatoes and peppers from the garden. Check out these recipes for ideas on using tomatoes and peppers right out of your garden: Roasted JalapeƱo Hummus and Roasted Tomato Marinara
I love finding praying mantis in my garden! They are wonderful beneficial insects.
Another beneficial insect pollinating a Calendula blossom.
Well, now I'm off to do some more gardening. I've got more plants to put in the ground today. I'm excited to see how everything looks next year! "To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow" I think Audrey Hepburn said that, but whoever said it, it's such an accurate description. I definitely believe!
Happy autumn everyone!

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