Tuesday, December 28, 2010

A Few of My Favorite Things!

These are a few of my favorite things:
Funny nativity plays by my kids, pillow fighting at a holiday hotels, rolling up huge snowballs, making snow forts, stacks of big packages (from Granna) tied up with bows! Stick furniture piled high with snow, virtual snowman-building, deep snow leftover at home, and Spiderman snow masks! 

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Merry Christmas!


   
Glory to God in the highest, 
      And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!Lk 2:14
May your holidays be full of Christ!
I have been working on slowing down and enjoying this holiday season--and by slowing down, I mean slowing my own heart and mind down like I talked about on Monday. Hopefully our family is beginning and continuing some Christmas traditions that will help us do just that. One of those traditions is watching The Nativity Story. This is an EXCELLENT movie for both adults and children to focus on the true meaning of Christmas. We watched it last night as a family. Yes, there are some parts that have lots of dialogue and get lost for the younger ones (and lost for the momma and daddy too while the young ones are bouncing around us) but for most part, the movie is a great way to remember that this was a real historical happening.
God came down to earth as a babe and this is truly amazing!
Merry Christmas!
Linked with  5 Minutes for Mom, Parenting by Dummies,Go, Graham, Go,Jolly Mom, Look What Mom Found,Two of a Kind,Daily Dose of ToniA Lot of Loves, Live and Love Out LoudHobo MamaMomspective,Slice o' HeavenRamblingsA Mom's ChoiceShibley SmilesNatural ParentsLife Down Our LaneMrs. MarineA Beautiful MessMy Life in JengaMiss MommyGoodbye DisposablePhoto Story Friday and Mom Start. Also linked with Works for Me Wednesday.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

10 Top Christmas Cookies

I've never been much of a sugar cookie fan. I know, it's horrible, but I'll pass up beautiful icing every time for something interesting like nuts or mint. My kids, on the other hand, will always go for the sugar cookies! So if I don't like the prettily decorated ones, what do I like? I know you are dying to know, so here's my list:
1. These Thin Mint Cookies are my new favorite, but I just realized that the reason I love them for Christmas is that my mom always used to make chocolate cookies with mint chips during the holidays and mint and Christmas have been wed in my mind ever since! I tried these for a cookie swap last Friday and, ahem, I have eaten the, er, 20 or so that were left since then. I'm definitely in love! (Since I was making 100 cookies, I only dipped them halfway in the chocolate to speed things up a bit. It was speedy, but I definitely preferred the taste of the few cookies that I completely covered with chocolate!
2. Mexican Wedding Cookies are another of my Christmas favorites. It's a funny name for a Christmas cookie, I know, but all covered with powdered sugar and with nuts inside--they are a pretty and tasty cookie!
3. Snickerdoodles (The kids usually help ball these which is both helpful and fun!)
4. Granny's Oatmeal Drop Cookies Growing up, I thought my granny had invented these just for me. Every Christmas she made everyone's (everyone's!) favorite dessert at Christmas time. It was her way of saying a great big, "I Love You!" She always made the oatmeal drop cookies for me.
5. I also love Yellow Cake Oatmeal Cookies because they mix two wonderful things: oatmeal and cake! They come out tasting more like a sugar cookie (my hubby has referred to them as, "you know, those sugar cookies that you make," but they have a lovely grainy taste to them as well.
6. I'm not one to do anything normal for very long, so Olivia's Chocolate Chip Cookies are my stab at the perfect chocolate chip cookie. The hubby still prefers the recipe on the chocolate chip bag, but these cookies have received rave reviews from everyone else!
7. And as long as we're talking about chocolate chip cookies, these pumpkin chocolate chip cookies are extraordinary! I substituted half whole wheat flour for another scrumptious cookie
8. Here's an interesting cookie to try and it's simply called Christmas Cookies. I like the idea of the graham cracker crumbs!
9. Peanut butter cookies have always been one of my favorites, and these have the added benefit of being gluten-free. Add chocolate chips and nuts for a little taste of heaven! (Here's another recipe that uses brown sugar!)
10. And for the grande finale, here's a cookie you could whip up for breakfast in the morning! (Or maybe an easy Christmas morning breakfast?) This recipe is adapted from Quaker Oats "Vanishing Oatmeal Raisin Cookies."
Olivia's Breakfast Cookies
1/3  cup butter
1  cup firmly packed brown sugar
2  eggs
1  teaspoon vanilla
1/2  cups all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1  teaspoon baking soda
1  teaspoon ground cinnamon
3  cups quick, uncooked oats 
1  cup raisins/chocolate chips (my fave!)/craisins/dried fruit
optional chopped nuts
Heat oven to 350°F. In large bowl, beat butter and sugars on medium speed of electric mixer until creamy. Add eggs and vanilla; beat well. Add combined flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt; mix well. Add oats and raisins; mix well.Drop dough by rounded tablespoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheets.Bake 8 to 10 minutes or until light golden brown. Cool 1 minute on cookie sheets; remove to wire rack. Cool completely. Store tightly covered.
Please feel free to share your own favorite Christmas cookies in the comments!
Linked with Menu Plan Monday and MMMmonday.Linked to Tempt My Tummy TuesdayTuesdays at the TableAnything RelatedDelicious DishesSlightly Indulgent TuesdayTuesday TwisterHearth and Soul HopTuesday Tastes, and Tasty Tuesdays over at Balancing Beauty and Bedlam and A Beautiful MessLinked to Top Ten Tuesdayand Lucky Linky Tuesday.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Christmas Devotions: It's Not Too Late!

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
John 1:14
We hear it all the time: "Jesus is the reason for the season!" But let's face it, it is tremendously difficult to actually carry through with that philosophy. There are presents to buy, houses to decorate, parties to throw and attend, and we know in our hearts that these are good things too. And they are. Yes, we may do too many things during the holidays, but that is not really the problem. The real problem is our hearts. They are fickle, distracted things, and focusing on Jesus is hard at any time during the year.
I realized last week that my heart was slightly bitter against other people for filling up my holiday with necessary events, so that it was difficult for me to focus on the real reason for Christmas. But this thinking is wrong! There is no reason why I cannot party, decorate, buy presents and wrap presents with Christ in the forefront of my mind and heart.
This is not a "pull yourself up by the bootstraps" issue at all! It is completely supernatural--entirely Holy Spirit powered. But there are some simple things we can obediently do to help our minds and hearts focus on Christ this season. One of those things is to stay in the Word. Do you feel like it's too late to start a Christmas devotional for yourself or your family? It's really not! In fact, why not do one in January to start 2011 out with a Christmas-all-year-long mentality? Here are a few that I have found:
Unto Us A King is Born--this free downloadable devotional covers the Christmas story during the month of December (or any other month!) with daily Bible readings and points of reflection.
Nativity Advent Calendar--One of my friends has this calendar, and it is fun, meaningful and beautiful! Each day, you or your children can open a tiny door to find a magnet to attach to the nativity scene.
The Advent Wreath--This is a count down that would be easy to start and finish this week. Light some candles in a circle and talk about the coming of Jesus--simple and effective! Even adults sometimes need to touch and see something (like a candle) for words to sink in. The link takes you to some suggested Advent readings, but if you don't like those, there are many more from which to choose! This advent devotional is especially great for children.
As I've mentioned before, the Jesse Tree is a great tool for teaching children (and ourselves) that the entire Bible is about Jesus and that Christmas is a story for the entire year. We have been following this as much as we can throughout this month, and we have a branch full of ornaments to remind us of His story.
(If you're interested, hot glue will hold almost anything to almost any wall, and it peels right off when you are done.Test on a small area first, of course.)
And last, but not least, I still love the What God Wants for Christmas presents and nativity. We let our youngest open all of these presents over the last week, so that they have a nativity scene on the table that they can play with. The figures change positions at least 10 times a day!
Linked with Homemaker's MondayMotivate Me MondayMiscellany MondayMakes My MondayHome for the Holidays  and Tools are for Women,

Friday, December 17, 2010

Fruit Wreath

Last year, I was supposed to send fruit to the boy's pre-K class. When the day came, I only had apples and oranges. In an effort to make those frugal fruits look appetizing I created a fruit wreath. This year when the teacher's asked, "What are you going to bring to the party?" I immediately answered, "Fruit Wreath!" The funny thing is that even amidst candy canes and rice krispy treats and cookies and other 100% sugar yummies, these fruit wreathes were gobbled down by the oldest, the boy, and their classmates! Last year's wreath featured a fruit- by-the-foot bow, but the fruit-by-the-foot was not cooperating this morning (could have been that the boy was shaking all the papers out of Bible all over the floor and the 2yo was sticking very expensive stamps to her forehead and the girl was refusing to get dressed for school? Nah!) so the bows for this year's wreathes were plucked off the tree!
Fruit Wreath
Sliced red and green apples
Sliced pears
Sliced oranges
Sliced kiwi
Cherries
Cranberries
(And any other fruit you'd like to add!)
Arrange the apples and pears and oranges in a circle. Stick a cranberry or a cherry on a toothpick and insert the toothpick through layers of apples, pear, and oranges to secure the Enjoy!
Linked to Frugalicious FridayShow and Tell Fridays, Friday Favorites, Foodie Friday, Look At Me, Frugal Friday at Shabby Nest and Life as Mom, Pumpkin Seeds, Feature Yourself Friday, Photo Story Friday and Fab Friday.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Still Christmasing

We're still Christmasing here, and this week God added a little cold snow into the mix.
Clockwise: Coke and candy bars make a pretty teacher's gift, The boy runs up the hill in the snow, happiness is boots after the snow, newly planted pansies get snowed, we love snow! sledding down the road, our house with a little icing.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

10 Top Savory Appetizers

It seems like I need at least three or four good appetizer recipes every Christmas season. I haven't yet found THE recipe that I bring to every party, but I have found some really good ones. Here are some that I've made, some that I've tasted (yum!), and some that I would like to make this year.
1. Bacon wrapped dates: If you've never tasted this, you might think like I did that it doesn't sound so good, but knowing that bacon wrapped around just about anything would be yummy, I gave it a try. It's not just yummy; it's amazing! The ones I tried do not have cheese, but the recipe I linked to does--and that might be even better!
2. Taco dip: This is the hubby's absolute favorite. Sometimes we've had it with taco meat as the bottom layer as well. Serve this with your favorite corn chips, and you definitely have happy party-goers! (And just for added goodness, how 'bout some guacamole to go with it?)
3. I love this recipe for mini reuben sandwiches! Again, it's something I want to try for dinner, but it would make a great party dish.
4. I'll probably be making something similar to these ham and cheese sandwiches for our party this weekend. This is not the most adventurous of recipes, but sometimes the hostess has to do the responsible thing and think about filling guests' tummies!
5. If you're not going to do chips and dips, these taco sandwiches are a good alternative packing a taco-sized punch in one little bite!
6. I don't know if I'll get to this one for parties this season, but I can't wait to try this Cheesy Ham Braid! It would make a great appetizer (beautiful, tasty, and filling) or a fun dinner.
photo
7. These Potato Skins another one that meets the tasty, beautiful, and filling requirements.
8. This is one that I do get asked to bring again and again! Be careful! Hot crackers are very addictive. I got the recipe from my aunt:
5 sleeves regular saltine crackers
1 cup canola oil
Hidden Valley Ranch dressing mix (1 pouch)
1 T-1/4 cup crushed red pepper flakes (I've tried the 1/4 cup, and they are HOT! I usually go for around 2 T!)
Mix oil, dressing mix, and pepper. Place crackers vertically in a tupperware container and pour oil mix over them. Let them sit for at least 5 hours. 
9. These tomatoes and mozzarella sound like a simple yet elegant (can an appetizer be both?) party dish. I know I love tomatoes and mozzarella pie, so I would serve these next to some kind of delicate pastry or cracker.
10. It looks like these Spinach Appetizers  have a similar feel to the sausage ball. The hubby would scoff at trading spinach for sausage balls, but I would like to try them!
Merry Christmas, and may all your parties be cheerful and all of your appetizers well eaten!
Linked with Menu Plan Monday and MMMmonday.
Linked to Tempt My Tummy TuesdayTuesdays at the TableAnything RelatedDelicious DishesSlightly Indulgent TuesdayTuesday TwisterHearth and Soul HopTuesday Tastes, and Tasty Tuesdays over at Balancing Beauty and Bedlam and A Beautiful Mess.
Linked to Top Ten Tuesdayand Lucky Linky Tuesday.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Christmas Gifts for the Kids

 There are SO MANY gifts swimming around out there on the internet! I really could not even begin to scratch the surface if I was going to look through them all to find gifts for the kiddos. Are you having some of the same trouble? Probably most of you are completely on the ball and already have your children's presents wrapped and under the tree, but if you're still looking for a suggestion or two, here are the things the kiddos might be getting for Christmas. (In other words, these are the things I have told the grandparents about!)
I looked and looked at these handheld Leapfrog games. I considered the Didj, but it seems a tiny bit advanced for the two kiddos who rarely even play games on the computer (not because they don't want to but because they have an ogre of a mother who forgets that such things exist most of the time!). I chose the Leapster because with an age span of 4-10, it includes both of my kiddos, so they can share games. I think it looks slightly more kiddish than the more modern video-game savvy Didj.
And then there is a gift that I sent over to my dad (wonderful man!) that I am almost excited about as the kids will be. Who wouldn't be excited about a Razor Dirt Quad Electric Four-Wheeled Off-Road Vehicle in red? This is something in between the Power Wheels and the full fledge ATV. It will hold up to 120 pounds and go up to 10 mph, but it has many safety features and a lock that will keep it at 4mph until the kids are sure of themselves with the machine. The oldest got a Power Wheels jeep for her 3rd birthday (I think it was the 3rd) and she and the boy wore two sets of tires out on it before we finally retired it completely. They are going to LOVE this gift!!

The youngest is all about Snow White right now, so this Snow White Play Tent is going to rock her world. I can't wait to see her eyes when it pops up right before her and she can really BE Snow White!


The oldest is loving her Looks Like Me American Girl Doll, but the Christmas will revolutionize her American Girl Doll play! I happen to know from a reliable source that the creator of some wonderful smocked doll dresses is also creating a treasure box full of both period dresses and modern clothes for the oldest's current doll, and perhaps there will even be another doll to share the clothes! (And maybe her momma will get to play with her!)
So all in all, the kiddos are going to get some really fun toys this Christmas that their mother they will be so excited to play with! Thinking about their faces when they see some of these gifts (and for that matter, the grandparents' faces when they give them!) really makes my Monday!
Linked to Makes My Monday and Making the World Cuter.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Christmas Crafts

Wednesday are our school-at-home days, and since the kids' school doesn't really have time for crafts (they attend a 4-day-a-week, 3-hour-a-day school) we dedicated our Wednesday to them!
Because it was snack time by the time we got started, I pulled out the edible play dough for our first fun. With 1 cup peanut butter, 1 cup dry milk powder, and 2-3 tablespoons of honey, you can play and eat! And it's really not all that bad for you either, if you count all the protein you're getting! (Hmmm, dip balls of this in chocolate for a yummy treat, anyone?)
Here's what the kiddos came up with on Wednesday:
 Oh, and I failed to mention that pretzels, chocolate chips, raisins, nuts, craisins, etc, make this play dough even more edible and even more fun!
The boy immediately created his rendition of a zhu-zhu pet.
The oldest was a little more holiday-minded with her Christmas tree, and the boy's second creation was a long, spotted snake.
After the kids had played a while, I got the idea of using food coloring to create colored edible play dough! I'm sure everyone else has already been doing this, but we were all very impressed with the results!
 After creating colored volcanoes spilling out raisins and pretzels, the kiddos gobbled up their creations, and we were on to craft #2.
I have appreciated the teachers in the past that have helped the kiddos create Christmas tree ornaments with their pictures in them. There is one from a few years ago of the oldest, where they apparently dressed each child up like an angel to take the pics. The expression on the oldest's face (then 4) is so funny and un-angelic that it makes me laugh every time I pass the tree! Anyway, I wanted to create something like that for the kiddos this year.
We started out with wire, lots of beads, pictures of the kids, card board, hot glue, and ribbon and ended up with bead-framed picture ornaments that are now front and center in our family room tree. Here's what we did:
The kids each received one piece of floral wire to string whichever beads they wanted to. Make sure the wire will wrap around whichever picture you are using. I found that even the 2yo was able to put the beads on the wire, even though she has trouble putting beads on string. When the wires are full, make a loop with them by twisting the ends together and tucking the extra wire back under the beads. Glue the pic onto the cardboard, make a loop of beads around the pic and hot glue it there. Hot glue the ribbon to the back of the cardboard as well. These ornaments were quick and easy and after just a few minutes of momma gluing, the kids were able to put their handiwork on the tree!
Happy Christmas crafting!
Linked with Frugal Friday at Life As Mom and The Shabby Nest. Also linked with Thrilling ThursdayFAB FridayFriday FavoritesLook at Me FridayFeature Yourself FridayFrugalicious Friday I'm Loving It, Cheap Thrills ThursdayGet Your Craft OnIt's Stinkin' CutePhoto Story FridayShow Off Your Stuff and Strut Your Stuff.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Top Ten Holiday Sides

It's a wonderful time of year to make messes in the kitchen! Today I'm thinking about the sides that I want to serve with the several holiday meals I'm in charge of. Here are the contenders:
1. Sweet Potato Casserole--Who can resist a sweet vegetable mixed with brown sugar and butter? Too bad no one else in my family likes it!
2. Corn Pudding--Another sweet one, and yes, this is one of those ultimate comfort foods!
3. Grits Casserole--I've already mentioned on Of Such is the Kingdom that I love grits casserole. With sausage, it's a main dish. Without sausage, it's an extravagant side. Go ahead, serve grits for dinner!
4. Rolls--this is an easy go-to recipe, and really doesn't take that much time away from family in the pre-dinner hours. And I have yet to mess this recipe up, which is saying something for someone who has made spaghetti sauce with cinnamon (it was an accident!) and 6 loaves of bread at one time that taste something similar to dirt covered rocks (I kid you not. I threw them all away; it was very sad.)
5. Green bean casserole--I usually leave this one out because I love good old buttery, salty green beans so much, (and because cream does funny things to my insides) but the hubby loves this dish very much, and I think I'll give it a go this year. (Note: I like this recipe for the insides of the casserole, but you have to put French-fried onions on top, don't you think?)
6. Baked apples--The pic of the plate above from 2 Christmases ago has baked apples on it, but I think the ones in the link are much prettier! Imagine a beautiful whole red apple on a pretty plate beside each meal!
7. Broccoli rice casserole--This is another cream de la cream recipe that my tummy just can't handle, but it is a crowd pleaser and very easy!
8. Cold vegetable salad--I prefer everything to be warm on my holiday plates, but if you're looking for a good cold salad for the holidays, try this one! It sounds like a great mix of plain veggies with a flair!
9. Spinach casserole--Okay, I know my kids wouldn't touch this with a ten foot pole, but I love spinach, and it sounds yummy!
10. I'm going to cheat with this one and put a list of the less spectacular, but equally yummy favorites: mashed potatoes, garlic and steamed broccoli, macaroni and cheese, orange glazed carrots, and just about any kind of garden veggie steamed and served up hot.
Can you tell I love side dishes?
Happy eating this holiday! (Oh, and come back next week for a list of my favorite savory appetizers to bring to all those parties I know you're attending!)
Linked with Menu Plan Monday and MMMmonday.
Linked to Tempt My Tummy TuesdayTuesdays at the TableAnything RelatedDelicious DishesSlightly Indulgent TuesdayTuesday TwisterHearth and Soul HopTuesday Tastes, and Tasty Tuesdays over at Balancing Beauty and Bedlam and A Beautiful Mess.
Linked to Top Ten Tuesdayand Lucky Linky Tuesday.
Also linked to Beautiful Christmas on a Budget.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Caution: Christmas Can Be Dangerous!

I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 
John 14:18
Let's say that you're like me (just for the sake of explaining my title), and you have been buying gifts and decorating your house and baking for Christmas. Along with those joyful outward expressions of Christmas, you've been praying that God would open your heart and give you a true Christmas attitude--that same attitude explained in Phil. 2--an attitude that brought our Savior down from heaven into a manger.
Well, then take yourself to Sunday School one Sunday morning and listen to a man named Pierre talk about the orphanage in Haiti that he directs. And he says things like this:
*As many as 80 children a month are offered up by their parents to the orphanage, and because of the constraints of money and space have to be turned away.
*Haiti is a country dedicated to Satan, where human sacrifice is an accepted form of worship.
*Children have been found in and rescued from (by Pierre's orphanage) the trash heap.
*Most Haitians eat 3-4 meals a week.
*Pierre's orphanage takes care of 74 children right now and only 6 have adoptions in the works.
And really, that heart that you opened for the Christ child begins to break and leave you with an ache that says, "We must do something!"
So, yes, Christmas is a dangerous time! If you open up your heart for the Christ child, who knows what might be asked of you! But I timidly, hesitantly, and humbly ask you, indeed beg you, to try it. And may God bless you with a true Christmas spirit!
Here's a video about this orphanage and its ministry.
My favorite quote from this video is, "It was exactly what I wanted; it was chaos and it was dangerous!" Isn't this so true about many of the Kingdom ministries!
Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Joyfully...

Joyfully decorating, making messes, and baking
(and singing and eating and watching football...)

Friday, December 3, 2010

Suggested Christmas Gifts

Shopping for Christmas gifts online is one of the wonders of our age. I'm loving it, for sure!
Here are two websites that are great resources for gift giving:

Go to the National Center for Biblical Parenting for gifts for those parents among us. Give these books to anyone who loves reading up about parenting, or give the kids' activities to those kids on your list. They have some great books that have been recommended to me because they well represent both justice and grace in parenting. Consider them a Biblical half-way point between Train Up Your Child and Shepherding a Child's Heart. I can't wait to read their book (even the title is great!) Say Goodbye to Whining, Complaining, and Bad Attitudes... In You and Your Kids. (Hint, hint to those who are planning to buy me a gift!) While you're visiting the National Center for Biblical Parenting, be sure to sign up for their excellent daily parenting tip emails!
And for a different group of people on your list, though they may overlap, The Patriot Shop is a great place! The shop has a vast array of American-themed gifts including gift foods, Christmas tree ornaments, books, t-shirts, and more. We are buying gifts for our conservative-minded friends here. They also have weekly emails for a great synopsis of the news (or just check out their website) at The Patriot Post.
Happy Christmas shopping!
Linked to I'm Lovin' It!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Jesse Tree

image
I've been waiting all year to try this with our family! We will do our What God Wants For Christmas as well, but I would love to add the Jesse Tree to our Advent learning this year.
Isaiah 11:1: "A shoot will spring forth from the stump of Jesse, and a branch out of his roots." 
The Jesse Tree is a beautiful way to teach children (and ourselves) that all of Biblical history points to Jesus. Each day before Christmas a story is read and an ornament is placed on the tree or branch. I'm hoping to find a branch from our back woods and to hang our ornaments on.
There are many wonderful places to get resources for the Jesse Tree. For background and a great chart of readings, go here. If you'd like to download a free Jesse Tree devotional book go here. Another great listing of readings is located here. Here's a great place to get images for the tree (or coloring sheets to go along with the lessons). And for more links about Jesse trees, check out the image link to the left.
If you're inclined to just buy your ornaments, there's a very easy tree kit available at amazon.
May your Advent Season be filled with the wonder of our Messiah!
Linked with  5 Minutes for Mom, Parenting by Dummies,Go, Graham, Go,Jolly Mom, Look What Mom Found,Two of a Kind,Daily Dose of ToniA Lot of Loves, Live and Love Out LoudHobo MamaMomspective,Slice o' HeavenRamblingsA Mom's ChoiceShibley SmilesNatural ParentsLife Down Our LaneMrs. MarineA Beautiful MessMy Life in JengaMiss MommyGoodbye DisposablePhoto Story Friday and Mom Start. Also linked with Works for Me Wednesday.
Also linked to Get Your Craft On, Hookin' Up with HOH, It's Stinkin' Cute