Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Easy Holiday Recipes

Food, food, food-my life seems to revolve around it, it seems, especially at this time of year.  Here are some simple recipes that make my life easier this holiday season.

If I need to bring an appetizer to a party, my feta dip is super easy and I know it will be gone in seconds.  (It is my most viewed post, no kidding.)  No oven, no bowls, no mixer, no stove top.  Here is the easy step by step recipe.

If I need to bring a dessert, I know Kitty's Brownies will be a huge hit.  I am telling you, these things are divine-and it's just brownie mix and 3 candy bars.  They are ooey and gooey and chocolately and taste like you slaved over them for hours.

Caramel corn or shortbread cookies are usually my old standbys if I want to bake a gift.


These pretzels are fun to make with kids and make a great snack.  My blog friend Sarah made them with her kids and they turned out prettier than mine ever do.  You can check them out here.

My favorite cut out cookies are from an old-fashioned recipe my mom used every Christmas when we were kids.  The recipe uses granulated brown sugar-they are sweet, but not too sweet, look like gingerbread, but not too gingery.  My kids love them. Here is the recipe for Butterscotch Rolled Cookies.
103

I have talked about meal planning and how it really saves me time and money and my sanity also-more than ever this season.  Sometimes I just about hate doing it, but if I don't we will end up eating take out pizza every night.  Here is an example of my menu for the week-I just want to prove that it does NOT have to be fancy-I always think "meal planning" just sounds overwhelming. I use notebook paper and tape it up where I can see it every morning. Grilled cheese and soup one night-or pizza night on Saturday-no gourmet dinners or five course meals here.  (Lots of my recipes are here and I've been adding new ones every week.)

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Christmas Guidance for Moms

Christmas:

I know I have posted some of this before years ago in different essays but I wanted to set it out again. (I sometimes I just wish I could tell my younger self these things.)  

Christmas is what we decide it will be and that means there is a need to guard our hearts and homes a little-relatives, the media, the neighbors, friends, stores, your church, etc, will all come into play as an influence so it is right and good to set out in our heads what we want Christmas to look like for our family.

---If we want to keep it simple and religious, then deciding ahead of time how we will go about "guarding our hearts and homes" is a necessity.  What we allow into our home, is what will influence those little ones in our home-from the gabs of toy magazines, and commercials vs. the Advent calendar and Nativity.  We will be the thoughtful filter, the idea-shaper for how we want our Christmas season to look for our families.

---Start small, very very small.  We all know a one year old will play with the box.  (And I have had eight year olds have just as much fun with a box too?:)  The more gifts equals the more shopping and wrapping and planning and DOING (and the more stuff in your house to clutter it!).  And when children start remembering what last year was like there is a certain expectation (not ill-willed-we all have expectations) to look forward to.  Things get more costly, and life gets busier as one adds children to the family.

It is much easier just to start as you mean to go along. There are SO many great ideas of how to keep things simple and the expectations in check, and all of them are neat traditions like the three gifts to represent the gifts of the Magi, or something to read, wear and play with, etc.  I've learned most of these cute little tidbits of genius through friends, but wish I would have learned them 22 years ago when I first started out.

---Find a way to make it relatively peaceful and fun.  It SHOULD be fun!  As I added babies in with toddlers and older children, my idea of fun had to become very simple I learned, because chaos day after day is NOT fun and the daily needs of children and the household still existed and must be met first. That means weeding out what made things chaotic, and narrowing it to a few traditions that really counted. We don't have to bake and craft and go to parties every day, maybe just once the entire month. If there is anything that we all have to struggle with today, it's too many choices, and opportunities and then there is Pinterest.  

---And expectations!  It isn't a requirement to make gifts for the entire neighborhood, and teacher's gifts can be very very simple and then after all guess what?  I have the best news!  There is NO Christmas elf that will come and arrest us and throw us in jail if we don't do teacher gifts or neighbor gifts or postman gifts or Elf on the Shelf, or if we skip taking your kids to visit mall Santa, etc etc etc.  We won't go to Christmas jail (but a day in solitary confinement might sound ok on December 26th? Will they serve hot cocoa and let us bring a book?:)

So we must learn to let it go if we can't do it, or don't want to do it, or can't afford to do it, or just had a colicky baby (hello Andrew!) or are due on Christmas Eve with your fifth baby (hello Patrick!). 

All of this extra stuff, like most of life, has gone hog wild in the last decade to the point where it's all almost laughable.  Such high expectations, such busyness, it's no wonder we feel overwhelmed. It should not be one bit about stress, but about peace and that comes in simplicity and discretion and thoughtfulness.  That is where the Christmas magic is found in the first place.

And last, the most important thing:

One day a mother's Christmas will change. And it hurts our hearts I assure you. It will make us shed tears of reminiscence and nostalgia and sadness for what will never be again.  PLEASE, if you have little ones, just enjoy it.  Soak it all up.  Don't run yourself ragged and miss the "sparkly eyes" because you are too busy and tired.  Don't waste time striving for perfection or stressing about incidentals. If you have believers in your home, treasure it.  If you have shouts of joy on Christmas morning as a child unwraps a present that cost $7.99, revel in it. One day things will change-and not change for the terribly worse, but it will change.  Surprise and joy and wonder are at their height in the young childhood years and one day you will wish them desperately back if just for a moment. 

Set the path before you, walk slowly and carefully, and keep your head clear and focused and have a simple vision.  

Some past thoughts on Christmas here and here.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Our Favorite Christmas Books


Here's an updated list of our favorite, most-played with, delivered-to-your-doorstep, Mom-approved toys.

And here are our favorite games.
Here are some great teen gift ideas.


My favorite are the classic ones from my childhood, and the Nativity books with beautiful pictures.
I think the books we grow up with are so impressionable-they form the images in our mind of what Santa looks like, and Jesus in the manger, and elves, and the wise men.  Does it seem overly-thoughtful that I want to "choose" these images for my children?  I think it might, but I still choose carefully.
The Night Before Christmas -The one illustrated by Leaonard Weisgard on the right is my favorite.
Frosty the Snowman- I am working on getting my hands on the vintage Golden Book version of this story, but this one with vintagey-illustrations will do.



I have a Golden Book collection and a few more (like the Frosty one) on my wishlist.

My mom bought this years ago (she is the best book picker-outer) for my kids and they love this story.  Beautiful illustrated and just the right amount of words in this version of the classic fairy tale.


I love this book because it is tells the traditional story, with beautiful illustrations.  

Another beautifully illustrated book.  Mothers will love this book because Mary tells the story.

We love I Spy books.  They hurt my eyes but they are also so addicting.  Once I start a page I have to finish all the searching.

and Janey's favorite is the second Santa Mouse book:
Santa Mouse, Where Are You?

All of the great Little House snowy Christmas stories in one book, can't get any better than that!
I love this reminder of simpler times, with less "buying", more "creating", and better "giving".

I have always loved this story since I was a little girl. This is a beautifully illustrated book!


The story with all it's history in one book, appeals to older children and adults.  This really brings depth to the story and it all makes more sense with historical reference. 

(this copy with Barbara Cooney is out of print, but it can be bought used)
We borrowed this book from the library and I promptly bought it I loved it so much. Definitely a "girl book" with a doll, and an orphan girl and a family finally found.  I would have loved loved loved this book as a child. 

I can't get through this book without crying.  
It is my favorite Christmas book ever.  The illustrations are beautiful, and the story of a son giving the gift of service for his hard working father is even more beautiful.  

(Another one that must be bought used.)
I think we have every Gyo Fujikawa book because I am in love with her illustrations, especially her prolific babies.  This book is chock full of those babies.



I feel like I've read this book 1,000 times in the last 2 weeks. So cute, and a favorite around here and a great message of sharing to boot.  

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Thursday, November 30, 2017

A Few Of My Favorite Things

Usually when I see gift ideas for moms they are way too fashionable for me, or much more than I'd ever spend on myself, or things I just would never use. One of my most favorite things is my new vacuum I bought myself last year for Christmas for my husband to give me.  No kidding. But there HAS to be someone else out there that thinks getting a new vacuum for Christmas is exciting? Maybe?

Here is a list of my favorite things, lame or not:

I really tried not to want a Kindle, but my son told me I just HAD to have one and I would love it and he was going to buy one for me anyways because he was just so sure it would be one of my favorite things.

And it is! What I love most about it is the ease of reading at night-no head lamp that always runs out of batteries needed, AND since my eyesight has declined rapidly in the last few years, I don't have to hunt for my glasses-I just make that font bigger or smaller.  I borrow almost all the books from our library so it's not costly.
Here is the case I bought for it.

I loved my first Dyson but when it bit the dust (we put that thing through hell) and it came to buy a new one I had sticker shock. Wow, those prices have gone up!  So I took my chances, read some reviews and bought something more budget friendly.  And I love this vacuum, in fact, I really think it has stronger suction that the Dyson (it puts vacuum lines in my Berber!). All the pieces and parts come apart also, in case a small sock or precious Lego gets vacuumed up or stuck. The cord is nice and long and the attachments are useful.

Image result for vitamix two speed blender
This Vitamix 2-speed Blender is not inexpensive, but I bought it only after going through a couple "cheap" blenders that broke.  I LOVE this thing. We use it daily-smoothies, shakes, and my favorite treat ever-banana ice cream, which I eat just about every night.  It has excellent reviews on Amazon.


Image result for cuisinart griddler panini and sandwich press
Cuisinart Griddler Panini and Sandwich Press
Another kitchen appliance that I adore.  We use this at least two times a week, maybe more. It is easier and quicker than grilled cheese on the stove top.  We make ham and cheese and turkey and cheese mostly.  The kids can use this easily also.


My oldest daughter wanted to buy a pair of these for me for years and years, and frankly I thought they were overpriced and ugly, and made everyone look like they have Big Foot feet, and also that I'm (a tad;) too old to wear them.  And they are expensive and they are sort of ugly and I am too old to wear them, but darn, she was right, I love them. I wear them all winter with everything and don't ever want to take them off.  I am always cold in the winter, but these keep my feet warm inside my drafty old house and outside too, and are so comfortable and easy.  The new gray ones are so cute too.

I don't wear perfume because I am sensitive to fragrance, but I found this lotion in Seaside, Florida a couple years ago and it smells wonderful to me-just like the beach.  That is the same bottle I originally bought-I only use a little bit and it's just enough.  You can find it here.

For daytime,  I have sensitive, dry skin and I haven't found anything that works better. It is light enough for under makeup, and strong enough that I use it in the evening too. It doesn't have a strong scent either. I go through about two bottles a year.

ANTI AGING SERUM - 100% natural, anti wrinkle, anti aging skin care with Essential Oils by moisturizing and nourishing skin
My face needs moisture, but it doesn't like all the chemicals in the drug store brands. Everything to me smells like a test tube of acid.  And NONE of it ever could keep up with dry skin. 
I found this brand on Etsy and ADORE this stuff.  I only put it on at night after I wash my face. It's straight oil, but has never made me break out once.  I won't say it took away all my wrinkles, but I will say my wrinkles look a ton better compared to when I was using the really expensive wrinkle creams and acids. (Which I will never use again!)  The $18 bottle lasted me almost a year.

Image result for elta sunscreen
Elta MD Sunscreen-I started using this WAY too late-like 47 years too late.  I tried so many different brands, but either it was once again too chemical smelling and feeling, or just really greasy. I was given a small sample of this and loved it.  It has a nice dry feeling to it, and this SPF works great for me, even on burning hot soccer fields.  It has excellent reviews on Amazon.

My hairdresser used this once on my hair, and the next time I visited she sold me a bottle.  Sometimes my hair has a tendency to get sort of fuzzy from highlighting and blow drying. I can't use much conditioner in spite of the tangles, or my hair gets limp. I just use a tiny little drop of this every two days, rub it into the ends of my wet hair before blow drying and then I have smooth soft hair that isn't limp or fuzzy or tangled.

Goody Round Brush-I was looking for something to give my hair more body when blow drying (I have fine, thin hair) and this inexpensive brush ($6) does a wonderful job.

My hardcover Little House series. When I opened them for Christmas, I read them all cover to cover over Christmas break...which is about the tenth time I've read them, the last being when I was probably in junior high.  When read as an adult (and as a mom), I gleamed more wisdom than I ever had as a child.


I use this for reading every night.  Reading glasses, headlamp, turtleneck and flannel pajama pants.  That paints a pretty picture doesn't it?  

This is a cheap lens ($120) as far as camera lenses go, and takes beautiful photos, especially portraits.  It is a fixed lens, which means the lens doesn't zoom in and out, the photographer has to move in and out. It's nice and light.  It allows me to take natural light photos in low light-inside-which comes in handy in the winter months.

I love scented candles, and we have a Yankee Candle by our house, so often if I am lucky to find an hour to myself, I hit the bookstore, and then treat myself to a candle. They have great coupons if you sign up on the email list.  When the kids ask me what I want for my birthday or Christmas I send them to pick out a candle.  I love having the house smell nice and not like bacon or wet soccer cleats.

I bought this print from a cute Etsy shop and it sits next to my sink so I see it every morning. She has many beautiful sayings and I love the simple artwork.

I still use a wall calendar (I just can't transition to technology) and I have been buying Susan Branch for years. I can always count on this under the tree and then love spending time filling it out over Christmas break. It seems like I just bought this one yesterday, 2015 went so quickly!

Darn I wish I would have never tried one of these.  And Janey loves them too and says I have to share with her. It's the most I'll spend on chocolate, but they are heavenly, and they are also hidden under the broccoli in the refrigerator.  (This year they are a special Christmas treat since I have been eating healthy!)

Visit the updated versions of the popular posts
Our Favorite Toys, Books and Games where I list our favorite most-played with quality toys from the last twenty-one years of gift giving.