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Thursday, December 31, 2009

The year it snowed

I’m not sure if you heard or not, but we had, believe it or not, a White Christmas in these parts.  I’ve lived in North Texas most of my life – all, in fact, except for about 1 1/2 years when we lived in Northern Virginia.  I can’t remember when we’ve ever had such a snow right at Christmas-time.  It actually snowed Christmas Eve and boy, it was cold and windy to boot. 

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We stayed in for a bit to let some accumulate, then it was me at the forefront pushing the kids out the door… “Let’s go play!!” 

Did you realize that different kinds of snow are good for different kinds of play?  This was a fairly dry snow so it wasn’t sticking together very well for our snowman building purposes.  The kids had little patience for it, so we made the typical Texas snowman – no taller than the kids’ knees.

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And while wet snow is better for snowman building, dry snow such as this is great for sledding.  Ice & sleet also work for this, by the way… you learn that pretty quickly growing up in Texas because that’s usually what you get. 

Would you believe that my dad bought Sarah a sled while we still lived in Virginia when he came up to visit once?  We moved back to Texas before we had a chance to use it up there and hadn’t had a decent snow here since we had been back.  We had intended to get rid of it several times but never had.  And here we were, 4 1/2 years later using it for the first time.  We found a gentle hill at the back of our neighborhood and it was perfect, especially for the 4 year old’s first time sledding.

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And you know what?  As I hopped on the sled with Nathan on Christmas Eve I realized and told him that the last time I had gone sledding, he was in my tummy.  Funny.

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We had a ball and got really cold and were late to our Christmas Eve service at church.  But that was okay because we had snow.

It was cold enough that night that we still had it Christmas Day, so Mike took the kids out to a taller, slightly steeper hill that morning.  Before long, other families began to show up with trash can lids and all kinds of things to use as sleds.  It became a little neighborhood party and was so fun for Christmas Day.

 

I know a White Christmas is pretty normal for some of you, to the extent that you even expect it.  But like I said, it’s rare around these parts. 

So 2009 will forever in our minds be remembered as “The year it snowed at Christmas.”

Monday, December 28, 2009

Christmas Redeemed

Hello, dear friends. You haven't heard from me in over a week and much has happened in that time. I hope to fill you in over the next week or so, but I wanted to share some personal thoughts, reflections and mullings I have had in recent days and weeks.

I have not written much from my own personal heart experiences lately because I have been in a difficult place, honestly, and have been wrestling with some issues. I feel like much of it is resolved now, but they are things I will continue to wrestle with in the future. So, as my therapy group (Oh, you didn't know you were my therapy group? Ooops.) I feel like I want to share with you the road that my mind and heart have been traveling as of late.

It started in the earliest days of preparations for Christmas, probably even before Thanksgiving. I just couldn't get ready for, my mind around, in the mood for Christmas. It is normally such a joy-filled and fun time for me. I normally relish every moment of putting up decorations, planning, wrapping, cooking, baking and all those things involved with what we know as the Christmas holiday. But this year was different for me.

As I realized this, over the last month I began to examine myself to try to determine what the problem was. I finally came to some conclusions and confessed them to my husband late in the evening on Christmas Eve after both the kids were in bed and we were sitting in the kitchen exhausted with still a lot to do before we would hit the hay.

It had become apparent that I have had little to no joy in the giving part of the Christmas celebration this year and that had infected my overall joy in the holiday. With our financial situation being what it has been (or hasn't as the case may be) this year, all I could see is that, with every gift we might give, we would potentially be spending money that we didn't have.

Yes, I understand the spiritual significance of Christmas and that presents are not the reason why we celebrate. And believe me, I have had to really examine how much of the commercialization of Christmas I have let myself buy into. However, as I beat myself up and had to truly examine my motives, I have had to reconcile the spiritual significance of the holiday with the secular celebration of it. I knew that I didn't want to go as far as one family I know who doesn't give any gifts to one another at Christmas, but I wasn't sure why.

Then in a conversation I had with my daughter sometime over the last week or so, I began to realize that it is okay that we give gifts at Christmas. It became clear to me that it is one vehicle that we use to celebrate. Somehow the subject came up and I explained to my daughter that God gave us the greatest gift of all in His one and only Son and one way we can celebrate that gift of grace is to bless others with gifts.

That concept had never rung more true to my heart than that day as I spoke those words to my daughter. I love how gently God sometimes speaks to us, even through our own words.

So, I had reconciled that in my mind... great. That still didn't solve the fact that we didn't have any money to buy any gifts this year. But the Lord provided so graciously and confirmed that it was okay that I wanted to give to the people that I love at this time of year. I can give you some specific examples, too. God provided for gifts for people at Sarah and Nathan's school through this blog. He provided gifts for my sisters, the kids' teachers and grandparents through homemade ideas He put into my head. The Lord provided for many of the gifts my children received through toys that had been purchased in years past for my stash to have for birthday parties and such. He provided for a gift for one of my nephews through a dear friend who had gone shopping on Black Friday and purchased a gift that she would not end up using and allowed me to barter cookies for toys. The Lord provided over and over again. He is good, indeed.

And yet there was still something else nagging at me. Expectations. Not only did I have expectations of what we could do gift-wise based on past years, but I also felt that other people in our lives had expectations. And by other people, I don't mean our kids... I mean adults in our lives. I felt like there were people who would be focused on the material thing and not be able to appreciate the handmade gifts that the kids and I had made and accept them graciously.

Looking back on some of the reactions to our gifts over the last couple of days, it appears that I was right. There were some whose reactions were less than desirable, from leaving the gift behind to making remarks about them or putting undue spotlight on the simplicity of what we were able to give. However, I am beginning to release that into God's hands. Just as God cannot force us to receive his gift of salvation, it is not my responsibility how a person receives the gift we give them. The best we can do is give what we can knowing that we are doing it in celebration of God's gift to us.

As I said, I confessed much of this to Mike on Christmas eve. And then, all of the sudden, it was Christmas morning. And as simple as our Christmas in our own little family was, the excitement that filled our house on Friday morning as our kids opened their few gifts was just overwhelming. They received nothing big or flashy. Nothing, in fact, that even required batteries. But they just overflowed with the joy of giving and receiving. And their joy was contagious.

My Christmas was redeemed and full of joy.

I hope yours was as well.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Cupcake Advent Wreath

I read a post last week over at Bakers Banter, the King Arthur Flour blog in which the writer made a Cupcake Menorah.  I found it to be a neat idea, but not being Jewish, it didn’t really apply to me. 

Or did it?

Then I thought, I could totally do that as an Advent Wreath.  I mean, what a great way to make the Advent Candle lighting a little exciting for the kids.  Our church lights Advent candles every Sunday in December, but without much explanation of why.  I wonder if half the people even know the symbolism of the candles.  So, I decided that this was a good way for us to practice this tradition in our own home putting our own little twist on it while being able to teach our children the principles behind the symbolism of each of the candles.

But just as the Cupcake Menorah presents challenges on a practical level (the need to completely burn the candles and ending up with a horrible waxy mess on top of your cupcakes as a result), so did the Advent Wreath.  For instance, usually when an Advent Wreath and candles are lit at a church, it is done over a period of 4 weeks (i.e. one each Sunday of Advent totaling 4 weeks) which would make for some awfully stale and possibly moldy cupcakes at the end of it all.

And what is the use of cupcakes if you are not able to eat them because of wax, staleness or mold

Seriously.

If a cupcake is meant for anything, it should be to be eaten.

So I decided to alter our Advent candle lighting schedule.  We will be doing our wreath and candle lighting beginning on December 21st and we will do a reading and candle lighting at home each remaining night (daily for 4 days instead of weekly) until the 4th candle is lit on December 24th, Christmas Eve.

This is the Advent reading guide that we will be using:


Advent Candle Readings -

Normally the 5th candle in the center of the wreath, the Christ candle, would be lit on Christmas Day, but since we have our Happy Birthday Jesus cake tradition, I figure we’ll just stick with that instead.

And then there are the aesthetics of the whole thing.  Traditionally, the candles themselves are either purple, rose or white in color.  Well, to be honest, those colors just don’t go with my red and green Christmas decor and I don’t feel the need to be all that traditional about colors when I’m making the thing out of cupcakes. 

And, to help address the dripping wax issue, I used tea-lights instead of tapers.

Now, I am certainly no expert cupcake decorator, so I am sure that other people could make this look a LOT cuter.  But, here’s what I did:

I made Red Velvet cupcakes in red foil cupcake liners.  I substituted butter for the Crisco called for in this recipe and may have over-filled my cupcake liners so all my cupcakes came out looking like flattened mushrooms.  But they had a nice light texture and tasted delicious.

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I topped them with piped cream cheese icing.

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I garnished them with green sprinkles and some extra red sprinkles on the ones that would hold the candles.

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And lastly I placed the candles in the appropriate cupcakes, filled in a little bead of piped icing right around the edge of the candle and finished off with a few more red sprinkles.

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We totally plan to eat as we go through the advent readings so this is the only pretty picture there will be of our wreath.

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I look forward to this being a new tradition in our family as we celebrate the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ to the earth.

 

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Words schmords

During my daughter’s Christmas concert at school the other day, one of the songs that they sang was “Sing We Now of Christmas.” You know it right? Here’s how it goes:

Sing we now of Christmas, Noel, sing we here!
Hear our grateful praises to the babe so dear.

Sing we Noel, the King is born, Noel!
Sing we now of Christmas, sing we now Noel!

So Sarah has been practicing this song, among others, off and on for a little while and was singing it in the car on Monday evening. She sang it a couple of times, then I also played a recorded version that I have on my iPod.

Later, when we got home, Nathan said something and I asked him to repeat what he had said.

“Oh my gosh, oh dear,” he said.

And then he started singing it.

Sing we now of Christmas.
Noah sing we here.
Bringing gifts for Jesus.
Oh my gosh, oh dear.

I never could get a recording of it and I just couldn’t bear to correct him because, dangit if it wasn’t just the cutest thing EVER!

Have you ever or have your kids ever butchered song lyrics? Oh please, do share…

Friday, December 11, 2009

Hot Chocolate Mix and Zesty Southwestern Peanut Brittle {Homemade gift ideas}

I assume you’ve noticed that we’re having quite the “homemade” Christmas around our house this year and I am trying to share with you as many ideas as I can.  One thing you can always be certain of with me, though.  Some of my gifts every year will come from my kitchen.  I have some old favorites that I have made year after year, but this year I wanted to try some new things.

In preparation for my Christmas gift cooking, I recently purchased a big bag of store brand granulated sugar because, you know, the pennies must be pinched.  I later told my husband to knock me up-side the head if I ever make such a mistake again.  This particular store brand of sugar is full of big lumps and I am having to sift it before each use and throw out a lot of unusable sugar because of all the lumps.  That’s not a very economical use of sugar, wouldn’t you agree?

Enter C&H Sugar to save the day.  Just when I didn’t know how I was going to get the cooking done when I needed to for Christmas gifts, C&H came along with a beautiful, high quality product that gives me perfect results. 

And do you know what I found out?  C&H Sugar has a great website as a resource for recipe and gift ideas.  It was on that website that I got some ideas for a few gifts that I will be giving.

I found that I had some of these darling jars in my closet that were just begging to have something delicious placed in them.  Being as cold as it’s been this fall, Hot Chocolate Mix seemed perfect. 

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Making this is so easy, it’s ridiculous.  Here’s what you need:

1 3/4 cups nonfat dry milk powder
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (I used dark cocoa powder)
1/2 cup firmly packed C&H Brown Sugar
1/4 cup C&H Pure Cane Sugar

Instructions:

Layer ingredients carefully in a quart jar. Or if you’re like me, you might simply chose to go ahead and mix the ingredients before placing them in a jar (and my jars are smaller than a quart – they are 2 cups).   Add mini marshmallows or chocolate chips to fill additional room and add a sweet treat to your mix.  Seal tightly. To reconstitute, mix ingredients well. For a single serving, add 8 oz freshly boiled water to 1/2 cup mix in mug. Stir until completely dissolved.

But here’s what I’m really excited about.  In perusing the list of recipes on the C&H Sugar website, I came across this recipe for Zesty Southwestern Peanut Brittle.  Now, being from Texas, I just can’t pass up a “Zesty” and “Southwestern” twist to an old favorite like Peanut Brittle.  And since I had never made Peanut Brittle before, I knew I had found my new thing to try for this year. 

I was a little intimidated by the thought of making candy.  However, I found this recipe to be very easy and pretty quick to make.

Zesty Southwestern Peanut Brittle

Makes:  about 1-1/2 pounds peanut brittle

A bit of Cayenne Pepper gives this classic candy a subtle kick.

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Ingredients:

1/2 cup water
1 cup corn syrup, light
2 cups C&H Pure Cane Granulated Sugar
1/4 cup butter
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp. salt
2 cups peanuts, raw shelled (I used dry roasted)
1-1/2 tsp. baking soda

Instructions:

Combine first six ingredients in a large saucepan and cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until the mixture reaches 275°F on a candy thermometer. Add peanuts (this will lower the temperature a bit). Continue to cook over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until the mixture reaches 295°F. Remove from heat and stir in the baking soda. Pour onto a heavily buttered cookie sheet. For very thin brittle, stretch candy with a fork before it cools and hardens (or split the recipe and pour into 2 cookie sheets).
Credit: Recipe Developed and Tested By Contest Winner Gregory Ware

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I divided the peanut brittle into bags of about 4 ounces each and that gave me 9 bags.  That’s NINE small gifts from one batch of peanut brittle that probably only cost a couple of dollars to make.  These will be perfect for giving to Sunday School teachers and the aides and administrators at the school.

So thank you to C&H Sugar for the wonderful gift and recipe ideas on your website and also for sponsoring this post with a $20 gift card to help out with the expenses of my Peanut Brittle experiment.  I might not have tried it without you.

***

I have linked this post to Chocolate Friday hosted by Lisa at Stop and Smell the Chocolates.  Join us over there for more chocolate recipes!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Is there a meeting for this?

Last night, I was working on dinner. Nathan walked through the kitchen and stopped at the oven. He clicked on the light and looked inside.

"That's weird."

Mike and I looked at one another and then looked at him and both asked, "What's weird?"

Shrugging his shoulders he said, "It's empty."

Hi. My name is Donna and apparently I have a baking problem.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Pine Cone Christmas Tree Craft {Homemade Gift Idea}

We got busy this weekend on doing some Christmas crafts and making some more Christmas gifts. One went really well. The other… let’s just say it could have gone better.

First let me explain that last year with the big new pre-lit tree that we had purchased on clearance the year before, we passed our other tree down to the kids so that they could have their own tree for all their ornaments and to decorate however they want. I try to come up with new and fun ways for them to decorate it. Last year, we made paper chains. This year…. oh I had a great idea for this year.

Popcorn strings.

Yeah. That’s the thing that didn’t go so well. There was more eating of all the broken popcorn pieces than stringing going on.

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This was the final result.

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Yes, there are, in fact, popcorn strings on the tree. Well, strings might be a slight overstatement. See those two little white lines going across the top. Yeah, those. Those are our popcorn strings. Sarah’s is about 1 foot long and Nathan’s is a bit less than that.

The problem was that I purchased tapestry needles so that the kids wouldn’t poke themselves and have bloody popcorn strings. The tapestry needles were just too big and broke most of the popcorn in half as you pushed it through. So, I’ve got some tweaking to do in my approach to this one. We may try again next year with a little sharper needles.

*** Edited to add: I just got an email suggesting to pop the popcorn a couple of days ahead of time and let it get stale to keep it from breaking apart. That might also solve the problem of the more eating that stringing... at least on the part of the mom. ;) ***

We also completed another craft that will be some Christmas gifts. Money is tight right now so I am working hard to do as many low cost homemade gifts as possible this year. This definitely fits that to a “T.”

You’ll Need:

Pine cones
Acrylic paint (green & white)
Paint brushes
Paper plates/newspaper
Yellow felt
Star stencil (or freehand)
Scissors
Hot glue

First, be sure to cover your working area with newspaper and have the kids put on old shirts that you don’t mind getting dirty with a little paint. Have them paint the pinecones green, covering as much of the brown up as possible.

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It’s a lot to do all at once, so you may need to allow a couple of different sittings to get all of it done.

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Allow the green paint to dry completely. Then have the kids go back with the white paint and put snow on the tips.

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Use a stencil or free hand cut stars out of the yellow felt. Once all the paint is dry, hot glue the star to the top. You can add a ribbon or string to it to make it a hanging ornament if you like.

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Have you done any Christmas crafts this year? Have they been a success? Or busted miserably?

Monday, December 7, 2009

The end of another era… {Mama Braggin’ Monday}

Every once in a while you realize that something is passing out of your life as a mom and you know you will never see it again.  Kind of like when you changed that last diaper, washed that last sippy cup or took apart the crib.  We’re not always sad to see these things go (hello… diapers?) but on some level we are because it means that our little ones are just growing up too fast for our taste.  Before we know it we will be saying good-bye to Barbies, high school and our kids themselves as they go out into the world on their own.

Well, I feel like I’ve had another one of those moments this weekend. 

Ever since we left the training swallowable toothpaste behind when she was about 3, Sarah has used some sort of kids Princess toothpaste.  For five years I have known that my little girl loved her some pink princess toothpaste.  

Then, yesterday it happened. 

8 year old: “Dad, I need more toothpaste.”

Dad: “Sure, sweetie.  We’ll go to the store probably tomorrow.”

8 year old: “But, dad, can it not be the princess kind?”

Dad: “Sure. What kind do you want?”

8 year old: “I don’t really care.  As long as it’s not the princess kind.”

I can’t believe I’m waxing nostalgic over toothpaste, but here I am… the mushy mom.  I just can’t help myself.  It just feels like this is the beginning of many more similar things to come and before I know it, she’ll be going to the prom.  Yes, it’s quite a jump to go from princess toothpaste to the prom, but you know what I mean.  It’s just one more little girl thing that I’m having to let go of. 

When I’d rather just stop time.

What has been your most recent “passing of an era” moment with your kids?

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Charmed Bookmarks {Homemade Gift Idea}

I mentioned on Twitter yesterday that I was working on these charmed bookmarks yesterday to be some homemade Christmas gifts. Someone asked how I did it and I promised to take pictures and that I’d share with all of you.

This is so simple it’s not even funny.

What you’ll need:

Charms
Connector ring thingys (that’s a technical term)
Needle nose pliers (maybe)
Tape measure (optional)
Ribbon
Coordinating thread
Scissors
Sewing Machine


I found most of the supplies at Hobby Lobby. And when I was there, both ribbon and the charms were 50% off, making for some very cute, very inexpensive gifts.

The great thing is that these can be as simple or as ornate as you want. I like the simplicity of one charm, but you can use a string of them together or add beads as well if you like.

First attach the charm (or charms) to the little connector ring.

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Measure out 12-15 inches of ribbon. Double that length and fold the ribbon in half.

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Thread the ribbon through the connector ring of the charm until the charm is at the half way point. “Eyeball” or measure about 1 inch down from the fold.

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Sew a short line at about that 1 inch point. I like to use a tight zig-zag stitch.

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Make sure you cut the ends into a pretty angle cut.

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And you’re done.

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The idea is that the charm and ribbon will stick out from your Bible or book just a little.

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And with the ribbon being folded and stitched, multiple pages can be marked.

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So there it is. Have fun!

****

Edited on 12/8/09:

This post was linked up for Works For Me Wednesday at We Are That Family.