December 25, 2011

December 23, 2011

Foto Friday (Festive Edition)

With my family, celebrating December in front of Bruton Parish Church (c.1660), Colonial Williamsburg
I bought this ornament at Cracker Barrel with the hopes of using it as a pattern.  Such a fun, easy ornament to duplicate!  Have I actually made one?  Um, no.
Above (left) and below is the church tree I mentioned last week.  We went with a candy/kiddie/Dr. Seuss vibe, with of course JESUS!  It was such fun to put together.  All of the crosses and cupcake ornaments were foam (yay!  kid friendly!!!) and very inexpensive.  Because I know you're going to ask, they came from Hobby Lobby.  What can I say?  I'm addicted!

Earlier in the month, we took a weekend trip to Colonial Williamsburg, Va. where we met Father Christmas.  I wanted to take him home with me.  
 We also visited Christmas Towne at Busch Gardens.  My dad, my brother, and I were the only ones brave crazy enough to do the Mach Tower.  The view from 240 above the park was amazing at night.  I highly recommend the thrill ride.  Oh, did I mention that to get back down, it's free fall?  Love it!!  No, our eyes don't usually look like black sharpie pens.  Thanks, red-eye reduction on my point'n shoot.

Lots of togetherness in the kitchen

Some of my favorite ornaments:
 Love an acorn, anytime of the year.

 Remembering my favorite trip to Germany

 Crying my eyes out because my baby isn't a baby anymore.

Creating fingerprint Christmas lights art together.

It's been a busy December around here! 

December 21, 2011

Easy Buffalo Chicken Bites

2 c. cooked chicken, finely diced
1/2 c. wing sauce (or more to taste)
4 Tbs. shredded cheddar cheese
1 c. blue cheese crumbles
1/2 stick melted butter, cooled
2 cans refrigerated Crescent Rolls

Mix first 5 ingredients.  Spray mini muffin tins with cooking spray.  Cut dough into 2" squares (or triangles, or whatever) and press into muffin tins.  Scoop 1 Tbs. of mixture into each muffin tin.

Bake @ 400 for 15 min or until dough is cooked and mixture is bubbly.
Makes 48 bites.

December 20, 2011

All Wrapped Up

 I have 5 days and a few hours to enjoy the beauties beneath my tree.  A wrapped present represents a mystery; a gift of love; a relationship between giver and receiver.
Wrapped gifts make me happy.
I know I'm a little OCD when it comes to details, but I love it when my presents go together.  You know, a theme!  I love a good theme!

This year my theme is "I Love Hobby Lobby."  Ha!  Everything in the picture below came from H.L.  Such good prices and quality!  My personal favorite is the harlequin paper with the polka dot tag.
Remember this year I am going with a colorful/kid/funky theme for my tree. This package fits right in that category!

 That was the girl version, this is the boy version of colorful/kid/funky:

I can't have fun paper without the fun trim:
 The two "Hollywood Ribbons" were found at H.L. for 50% off.  That's 100 yards for $2 Wowsa!  (Walmart also carries the ribbon, but not usually at 50% off.)  Speaking of good deals, in the picture below the two rolls on the left are from Hobby Lobby.  Notice how thick they are!  Four bucks.  Seriously.  And it is quality, thick paper with the lines on the backside for those of us who have a hard time cutting a straight line.
My splurge this year?  The wrist tape dispenser.  Hands off, kids!  That's momma's toy!

I want to know what your favorite wrapping paper looks like.

December 18, 2011

Angelic Cranberry Bars

These cookie bars are heavenly:  light and fresh because of the cranberries and the cream cheese frosting isn't too sweet.  Hurry up and try them before cranberry season is over!

2 eggs beaten
1 1/2 c. flour
1 1/2 c. sugar
3/4 tsp. salt
1 stick butter, softened
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. vanilla
2 c. fresh cranberries
1/2 c. chopped almonds (or walnuts)

Beat eggs.  Add next 6 ingredients.  Mix well.
Stir in cranberries and nuts.
Spread (will be sticky!) into a 9x13 pan.
Bake at 350 for 40-45 minutes.
Cool completely.  Cut into 2" squares before adding frosting.

In mixer, combine:
1/2 stick butter
8 oz block cream cheese
1 cup powdered sugar (adding to taste)

Fill a zip lock bag with icing and snip the corner.  Squeeze icing in a circular motion onto each bar.  If in a hurry, just spread with a knife onto bars.  I think the swirls of icing look more appetizing, though. :)
Refrigerate until ready to eat.

December 16, 2011

Have a Holly Jolly


We changed things up this year.  The kids asked for a "fun" mantle, so we went with it.  

We've lived in this house for 11 Christmases and this is the first time I figured out that I could have lights on the mantle.  Sing with me A Whole New World.  Oops, now you have the theme song from Aladdin running through your head.  Sorry!

Let's see, how about we get back to the theme song of the day.  Have a holly jolly Christmas, it's the best time of the year.  Oh by golly have a holly jolly Christmas, this year!
The striped and dotted balls were on an after-Christmas sale at Target last year in a tube.  They make me feel funky-happy.  
Even though I loved our mantle last year, this one sure was fun pulling together!

 Do you change things up each year or keep them the same?
Does stepping beyond the normal red/green theme make you happy or make you break out in hives?  Just curious!  ;)
Enjoy your weekend, friends!

December 15, 2011

It Takes a Village

While perusing the aisles of Target I happened upon a gingerbread village in a box.  Whoever came up with this idea must have more than one child.  In the past when we've done a  gingerbread house the kids can get a little quirky over who does what to the house.  Okay, those of us with perfectionist tendencies can get a lil' quirky when it comes to adding too much bling to the thing.   I'll not name names...
The box contained 5 mini houses which was perfect math for our family of five.  It cost the same ($8) as the other gingerbread houses/trees/trains. 

Each person got to choose a house and make it as cute or gaudy as their little hearts desired.
 I love that one daughter donned my apron while the other put on a festive shirt with a matching bow.  Lil' Martha Stewarts Betty Crockers in the making!
 Here's what we learned:
1. The icing is nasty, so don't eat it.
2. There are not nearly enough candy decorations for 5 houses, so buy extra or raid your leftover Halloween stash.  Or, only do three houses like we did since somebody didn't buy extra candy and somebody threw out all the Halloween candy last week.
3. It's so much more fun when the kids are 8, 10, and 12 than when they were 4, 6, and 8.  So much less work for mom.  Just keepin' it real.
4. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  Some think less is more while others think more is more when it comes to candy on the house.

 What a fun season to make those memories they will never forget.
Since the kitchen was already dirty and I still had my kid's-in-the-kitchen mojo, we decided to make another holiday favorite.  The kids love making dipped pretzels and giving them to neighbors and friends.  

I, on the other hand prefer these delicacies found on the same aisle as the gingerbread village:

December 14, 2011

Cookies Worth Making from Scratch

I'm not a huge cookie fan.  I'll eat them (often more than I should), but I don't flutter my eyelashes at the thought of sugar cookies.  In fact sugar cookies kind of fall into the same category as birthday cake from the grocery, boxed pudding, and peanut brittle: not worth the calories.
But THESE sugar cookies are worth every stinkin calorie!  They even stay soft, which is a big deal round here.  The original recipe is from here, and if you haven't skipped over to Cafe Sucre Farin, you're missing out.  If you're not a "from scratch" kind of girl, these cookies are a good place to start out.

Sugar Cookies
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup powdered sugar

1 stick butter, softened
1 large egg
2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In mixing bowl, cream the sugars and the butter. Mix in egg, set aside. Combine flour, salt, baking powder and cream of tartar. Add the oil and the flour mixture alternately to creamed sugars, mixing after each addition. Mix in vanilla. Cover and chill in refrigerator three to four hours or in the freezer for 30 mins.
Heat oven to 350.
Roll dough into small balls, 3/4 to 1 inch in diameter. Place on cookies sheet that has been lined with parchment paper and flatten with the bottom of a glass, using a small square of wax or parchment paper to keep the dough from sticking to the bottom of the glass.
Bake 10-12 minutes.

Lemon Icing (pink above)
2 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup lemon juice

Sugar Icing (green above)
2 cups powdered sugar
3-4 Tbs. milk
1/2 tsp. vanilla or almond extract

December 12, 2011


Current Playlist: Third Day - Christmas Offerings (album); Sugarland - City of Silver Dreams; Adele - One and Only;  Natalie Grant - Ring the Bells

Current Books: Scottish Crown series by Carol Umberger; One Thousand Gifts Ann Voskamp

Current Drink: Skim Decaf Peppermint Latte -or- Nonfat, No-water Chai Latte

Current Mood: Disappointed.  Normally I'm very easy-going and fun-loving.  It's been a rough few weeks in the family-relational department

Current #1 Blessing: a fulfilling marriage

Current Indulgence: Well, it is December ... peppermint chocolate anything;  Almond Joy coffee creamer;

Current Wishlist: a professionally cleaned house; Kurig coffee maker; a white Christmas

Current Foods: pomegranates; sweet potato casserole

Current Favorite Favorite: receiving our sweet Compassion sponsor child's information just in time for Christmas.  Part of my heart now lives in Kenya.

Current Bane of My Existence: spots on my carpet; self-absorbed people

Current Triumph: Overhearing my daughter tell someone that I am "the best teacher."  Even better... she said it in front of someone who doesn't approve of our choice to homeschool.

Current Outfit: 1st choice: pajamas  2nd choice: jeans, white shirt, black ruffle/long cardigan, colorful scarf, Dansko shoes.

Current Excitement: Just returned from a visit to Colonial Williamsburg and Busch Gardens' Christmas Town  SO MAGICAL!

Current Links: 34 Breakfast Casserole Recipes;  Christmas Crafts for Kids ideas; Pinterest (of course!)

Tell me one of your "currents."

December 9, 2011

Comfort And...

 I found this JOY ornament at Walmart last year.  It was under $2.  I'm a word-girl so I fell in love.  As we were spreading holiday cheer throughout the house this year, my 12 year old made this all on her own.  A turquoise glitter flower box filled with red sparkly ornaments and gilded with the JOY ornament.  Love. that. girl!  Two of my favorite colors in a beautiful display of happiness!
I had the opportunity to re-do the Christmas tree in the children's hall at our church.  We went with the turquoise and red theme (with a lil' Dr. Seuss funk).  I can't wait to show you pictures ... but first I have to remember to take my camera to church!

Anywhoo, I also bought the JOY ornament in lime green and this year I added it to my mantle.  Here's a lil' sneak peek of my kid-fun-candy-happy mantle.

It's been a week of highs and lows around here.  It was my birthday week and while I was able to spend time with various friends leading up to the day, it definitely was a lonely quiet day.  My mom asked what I had planned for the day and I said, "not a single thing."  She took pity on me and made my favorite breakfast dish before dashing off to her busy day.  We took the kids to Kanki Japanese Steakhouse for dinner because the kids still qualify for the cheaper kids meals and I had a free dinner it was a fun place for the kids.  My sweet man stopped by the Cheesecake Factory and after the rest of the family went to bed, I enjoyed a piece of Lemon Raspberry by the fire.  Yes, it was definitely a day that matched this season of my life: quiet and reflective.

My husband's grandfather passed away early this morning.  It's been a long road for that sweet man.  While we are sad to say goodbye, we know that he is no longer in pain and probably enjoying a piece of Kentucky Fried Chicken, something he craved for the last couple of years of his life, but couldn't swallow.  I'm sure there's some KFC in heaven just for him. ;)

Today (as of a few minutes ago) marks the beginning of our Christmas break from school.  (Cue the angels singing)  I have a boatload of ideas I want to try with the kids that I have earmarked on Pinterest.  I'm also in the crafty mood for some things for myself.  I'm not a big crafter, but sometimes I just get the itch.  Do you?

If you like the JOY ornament, the Walmarts in NC have them again this year in several colors, so go make that $2 investment.  May it bring you Comfort and Joy!

December 7, 2011

Winter Vegetable Medley

 I've been on a veggie-roasting kick lately.  This recipe is so easy and yummy!
Roasted Winter Veggies
1 large sweet potato
2 red poatoes
4 large carrots, peeled
2 Yukon potatoes
1 small sweet onion
2 Tbs. olive oil
2 Tbs. herb medley*
1 Tbs. sea salt

Cut all veggies into 1 inch cubes.  Pour olive oil, veggies, and herbs into a gallon size zip-lock bag.  Shake to cover.  Empty bag onto a large cookie sheet (with raised edges).  Sprinkle with sea salt.
Broil on Low for 10-15 min, until veggies are fork-tender.

*I like a "Herbs de Provence" medley which includes basil, lavender, rosemary, marjoram, etc.  I think an Italian Herb medley would be great, too.
** You can use a package of dry Ranch dressing, but I like this recipe just as much because it's less $$ and less sodium.  :)

December 5, 2011

When Cleaning Floors Becomes a Privilege

Yesterday evening we discovered a "gift" from our dog.  Apparently he decided to eat the remains of a dead squirrel that my kids had thrown into the bonfire the day before.  To clarify, the squirrel was already dead; drowned in my parents' pool, but it made for an exciting leaf pile burning experience. 
Anyways, back to the "gift."
90% of my downstairs is hardwood.  He decided to give us the dead squirrel and the charcoal he had ingested on the 10% that is carpet.  Isn't there a saying about a family that dry-heaves together stays together??  
Needless to say, I had a wee bit of an attitude about the condition of my floors as I went to sleep last night.

A picture of us with our char-squirrel-eating nemesis. 

This morning I awoke to some devastating news.  One of my dear childhood friends experienced something we all hope to never have to face: her house burned to the ground last night as they slept.  She and her family were spared, but nothing was left.

As I mopped my floors and scrubbed my carpet, I found myself actually thankful.  Thankful for floors to clean, toilets to scrub, and pets to love. Thankful for the treasures we hold dear.

Please pray for my friend.  Her husband is a pastor in Rock Hill, SC.  They have two daughters that will surely be traumatized.  It's such a hard thing to grasp, but I know they are being showered with love and care by their church family.  I ask you to pray for peace, wisdom, and comfort as they deal with it all.

Suddenly dirty floors feel like a blessing.

December 2, 2011

Hello December

Can you believe it's here?
The fall decorations are back in the attic.  The pumpkins are tossed into the woods.
The lights have been pulled out.
The kids are giddy because we changed things up this year.  We stepped away from the Olde Southern tradition of white lights and added some color.  First time since I was a very young child.  My brother thinks I lost my marbles.
The tree is filled with glory.  We like to get it up as soon as possible.  How about you?
We're early birds.  We usually choose-n-cut in the NC mountains over the Thanksgiving weekend; haul it home, and have it glowing by Tuesday.  This year, because of the way the calendar landed Thanksgiving, we had it up before December!

Here are a few highlights from our Thanksgiving weekend:

Apparently we like to wear costumes to play football in the backyard.

It was the warmest Thanksgiving we can ever remember.  Two days after we left, they had a snowstorm.

I overcame my unfortunate event from the last time we were in the mountains and got back on the horse.  Literally.

My mom and I have to remind the men that tree shopping is an EVENT.  It's more about the experience and the photo op than the finished product.  After all, it's hard to find an ugly tree in Ashe County.
Not to brag, but did you know that NC is the #2 state in Christmas tree production, second only to Oregon?  It's a $1oo million revenue for our state and we ship trees all over the world to wholesale vendors.  We have about 400 farms that offer choose-n-cut and over 300,00 people take advantage of this fun memory maker!  Ashe county is #1 with 12,000 acres of Christmas tree fun.  That concludes Christmas Trees for 100, Alex.
I realized that this will probably be our last Christmas before a couple of my kids pass me up in height.  Wow.  They sure grow up fast!

Here's what I want to know:
Do you do a live or artificial tree?
When do you decorate your tree?

November 30, 2011

Goodbye November

It's hard to believe this is the last day of November.  November tends to be a tranquil month, doesn't it?  It slips in, ready prepare our hearts.

My heart needed quite a bit of pruning this year.  
It's been quiet around NEM, have you noticed?  I've had a rough couple of weeks and needed time to process rather than vomit words/feelings onto the published page.  
I have had a soul wrestling season.  Do you have those?
While this blog is a place for you to find encouragement and humor, I also desire for it to be a place that is real, exposing the lie that bloggers have perfect lives all tied up in a bow.  I try to be as candid as possible about my joys, daily blunders, and heart matters.   I am often encouraged when I discover that other women are dealing with the same kinds of life-stuff that I am.  It keeps us on the same page, digging through life together.

However, I recently learned the hard way that sometimes when we are transparent with others it opens us up to criticism and skewed perspectives.  I've been through a world of hurt over this and I need to apologize to you.

My post about our finances may have come across as discontentedness.  What a world we live in, for me to complain about medical bills when there are so many who have never seen the likes of a Bandaid.  I know that I have more than some could ever dream of.  My life is full.  I have much to rejoice over.  My world is not built upon the ups and downs of our financial journey.  I have 3 precious children and a wonderful husband that are living gifts worth every diamond in the world.  My heart is full.  I do not want to have a complaining spirit.  Sometimes in my effort to keep it real, it comes across as discontentedness. Yes, the weight of this world is too much to bear sometimes, but I am filled with gratefulness.  

This "November heart pruning" has made me realize that sometimes we assume things about others which causes a separation of souls.  For example, if you saw my new Christmas tree  lights, you might be scratching your head wondering why I would complain about finances when, clearly, I had enough to purchase new lights.  You would assume that I was spending recklessly and deserved to be in the pit I am in, after all, I dug it!  What you might not realize is that I used some of my Christmas money last year and shopped the 75% sale after Christmas to replace the lights that we had used for 15 years.  Now my spending doesn't seem so reckless, does it?  I'm not trying to justify myself.  I've just been made acutely aware of the danger we can be to one another (and ourselves) when we allow judgements to cloud our view.

We all already know our own imperfections.  We don't need others to point them out or look for ways to dig chasms.  I am as real as it gets.  I don't try to hid behind a veil of false perfection.  I struggle.  I heart-wrestle.   I desire to be transparent with you.  
We all need grace.

Since it's the last day of November, I thought I'd finally share my fall mantle.  
Better late than never, right? 

November 17, 2011

Things That Made Me Laugh This Week

1. As I sat in the paper towel outfit on the doctor's table I couldn't hide a giggle when I read the "Having a Blonde Moment" plaque hanging on the examining room wall.  My doctor is African American.

2. After a quick walk through Walmart (at a location we typically don't frequent) my daughter said, "Mom, why are we the only people who weren't weird in there?"

3. We spent the morning watching a dear friend's 6 month old baby.  It was precious to watch my kids be so enthralled with her.  My sweet boy, with pleading chocolate eyes said, "please can we have one?"

4. Last night my group of 7th grade girls were oohing and aahing over Scotty McCreery.  At one point one of them said, "do you know any of his songs?"  To which most of them muttered a quiet "no."

5. This is my new mantra:

I think it's a brilliant response to my kids' favorite phrase.

It's been a busy week.  The Lord is teaching me many things.  I have been blessed in unexpected ways.  I'm so thankful for grace.
I hope you've been blessed!

November 13, 2011

Quiet House, Stormy Thoughts

I sit in a silent house with nothing but the hum of the refrigerator and the crackle of the fire.  I hold vigil over my sleeping child, whose body is fighting off the attacks of a migraine.  At first the silence is deafening.
Even though a quiet moment is a gift, I have been trained to the static noise of life.  As I allow myself to bask in the silence, thoughts begin to tumble.  Thoughts I've held at bay because I am a stuffer.

The past 36 hours have left me spent, feeling swallowed by the highs and lows.  I've shared our financial journey here and here.  You would think by now I'd be over myself.

This is when I feel like I need to give you permission to slip out the back door quietly, shaking your head because you thought you were attending a "You Can Do It" seminar.  Not today.  Today I am just going to be me.  Just the real me.  The me that has highs and lows.  The me who has more questions than answers right now.

We received our medical bill yesterday.  A bill that includes an ER visit, CT scan, xrays and lab work.  Even with medical insurance, it's overwhelming.  I suddenly feel like an idiot who just squandered her children's Christmas away in the name of some bruised ribs.

2 steps forward, 3 steps back

The all too familiar churning of my insides begin to assail.
How will we ever get ahead?
My husband sees the fear behind my lying eyes.  Eyes that try to be brave.
He whispers assurances, but my heart is too weary to readily agree.

I am broken.
Then I am angry at the injustice.
Mad at myself.
Frustrated with the impossible mountain we can't seem to conquer.
Questioning my decisions.  At what point do I determine that our financial upheavals may be the end of living my dream as a stay-at-home-mom?  My dream?  His calling?  The lines are blurred.

Tonight, as I sit in the silence I stumble onto this post.  A post that quite possibly will change my life.  The pictures are gorgeous, but the story causes me to tremble.
We have so much.  Yes, I feel like we are drowning, but suddenly my personal storm turns to an afternoon shower compared to Jonathan's lonely existence.
But he chooses to sing praise.

I move on to this story and I am brought to my knees.
Lydia has waited for 3 years.  Three years of waiting for God to provide. She waited as I yapped about pumpkin butter and peppermint mochas.

When I was a child my parents faced a financial crisis.  My dad's answer was, "we need to give more."  It doesn't make sense on paper...  or a napkin, or on anything else you try to write the math. But God's ways are not our ways.

So on an evening that I thought would be perfect for a little commiseration, I find myself turned upside down.  My heart burns for a child who is waiting on the Lord.  Waiting for me to make a difference.  Though we often wonder how we are going to afford dental care for our own three, surely we can find a way to provide $38.  After all, it's an eternal investment.

November 11, 2011

5 on Friday

1. I found myself amused that our oil company still uses a handwritten ledger even though a computer sat on the desk.  The multitude of "No Smoking" signs apparently didn't apply to the administrative assistant at the desk.  Not so amusing.

2. We ordered butterfly larvae for science.  Clearly I wasn't looking at the calendar.  It looks like they will be traveling with us for Thanksgiving.  The more the merrier?

3. November brings my one of my favorite family past times:  building a fire in the fire pit.
Okay, specifically, 'smores over the fire pit.  Have you seen these new marshmallows?  They are flat, so they fit on a graham cracker better.

They are definitely less messy for kids.  My love for a fat, melty mallow was too much, so I put two on each 'smore.

4. I am almost completely healed from my accident.  Still tender and a little slower than normal, but back into life, full swing.  Well, no swinging yet, but you know what I mean. :)

5. We pulled out the Christmas playlist this week.  I'm not ready for the holiday yet, but I do LOVE the music!

Have a FANTASTIC weekend!