Wednesday, December 28, 2011

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

I really do love Christmas and all the festivity, wonder, anticipation, and trappings of the season.  Driving down the street and seeing a house decked out in Christmas lights makes me smile and, my kids will tell you I'm prone to shouted outbursts of "CHRISTMAS LIGHTS!!" 

Although I don't go head over heels with decorations, I adore setting out my nativity sets, wreaths, and candles, and will sit contentedly admiring the Christmas tree, letting the memories that each ornament brings wash over me.

The smells of gingerbread, lemon peel, cloves, and peppermint whisk me back to happy childhood days baking cookies and Christmas treats with my mother, and more recently with my own brood.

Holiday cards from friends and family far and near grace the door frame between my dining room and loving room.  I appreciate the effort it takes to get those cards in the mail, because my own cards have not made it out the door even 3 days after Christmas - but I rationalize that they will be appreciated all the more after the busyness of Christmas settles down.

Christmas music playing on the radio - or iPod,  and Christmas movies like "It's a Wonderful Life",  "The Nativity Story", and "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" all put me in the holiday mood. Christmas Eve Candlelight Service with my family, welcoming Christmas Day as the clock strikes midnight, is another meaningful tradition.  Most of all, I love being surrounded by my family.  Four of my five children are nestled again in their beds, while the fifth is nestled in a cot in a tent with 30 or so other soldiers in Kuwait.... but at least we got to Skype on Christmas Day!!!

I hate shopping, as a rule, but I love giving gifts to the people I love. I did the Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh gifts again this year, and it really helped give me direction and purpose in choosing meaningful gifts for my family.  Gold gifts = the "big" gift that is valuable or desired;  Frankincense = a gift related to spiritual growth or worship;   Myrrh = a practical gift for the body.   Stockings are filled with small items like toothbrushes, candy, toiletries, socks, gum, batteries, magazines, pocket knife, Starbucks and iTunes gift cards, ice scrapers, and football cards. I knitted these Christmas stockings years ago, when my kids were babies - they are nice and stretchy.

Sarah and Amanda both were busy with the yarn and crochet hooks this fall, and Eric and Mark were the glad recipients.

 Is it really worth all the hoopla?  Is Christmas really worth the money, energy, time, and effort it demands?  Well, it depends on why you do it.  If it is something to check off the To Do list as you trudge through the calendar, then you might not think so. 
If the trappings of the holiday obliterate the reason for the celebration, which is the unmatchable gift of Christ the King, our Savior, then it's probably not. 
But if you view Christmas is a special gift - an opportunity - to engage in meaningful traditions and create cherished memories with loved ones, then it is priceless, and as enchanting for me at age 51 as it was when I was 5.  I thank God for loving me SO much that He sent His one and only Son, so that through Him I can be assured of everlasting life!  I thank God for the rich treasure I have received in family, friends, home, and traditions.  With Christ at the center of it all, Christmas is not a chore or cheap commercialism or something to endure, but a wonderful, delightful time of celebration and commemoration.  It's the birthday of the King!

Even as we give to one another, we remember the poor, the sick, the widows, the orphans, and give to help them as well... through The Salvation Army Kettle, Operations Christmas Child, TOMS shoes, sponsoring a child in Africa through Ten Eighteen, Inc.....

Because of Jesus - who He is and what He has done - it truly is the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.    I hope it has been for you too. 

Monday, December 19, 2011

Gingerbread House 2011

Here is our Gingerbread House for 2011.  I designed it and baked the pieces. Jason did most of the assembly and decorating himself, with just a little assistance here and there.

We're proud of you.
We miss you.
We love you.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Stocking Stuffer Ideas for Teens & Young Adults

Since Jason turned 13 in August, this is the 1st Christmas that ALL my babies are teens or twenty-somethings. A recent growth spurt means no more shopping in the children's department! And no more shopping in the toy aisles at Target or WalMart.

I am still buying "educational" stuff. Sorry, but I'll always be a homeschool mom who believes in LIFELONG learning. :-)

Everyone still gets a stocking filled with goodies, and that is opened first thing on Christmas morning. They are left at the foot of each bed, so they can be emptied as soon as the eyelids flutter open.

Here's a list of some of the things that might find their way into my teens'/twenty-somethings' stockings:

1. an orange - every Christmas, there is one in the toe.
2. a coin - it always used to be a quarter; however, an upgrade to a collectible gold or silver coin might be in order
3. Gum / mints
4. candy - preferably something a little unusual - peppermint patties, turtles, dark chocolate, homemade caramels ....
5. nuts
6. toothbrush - standard or electric
7. iTunes gift card
8. CD or DVD
9. pens / markers
10. mini notepad or journal
11. Chapstick
12. makeup ( lip gloss, eye shadow, nail polish )
13. jewelry
14. pocket knife
15. compass
16. socks/ slipper socks
17. watch
18. sunglasses
19. magazine / puzzle book
20. batteries
21. Earphones
22. gloves
23. Gift Cards - Starbucks, Chick-Fil-A, Bojangles, Barnes and Noble, movies
24. Face wash
25. hand lotion/ hand sanitizer
26. car air freshener
27. ice scraper
28. nail clippers / emory board
29. tweezers
30. Emergen-C / vitamins
31. Band Aids
32. Mini Photo Book
33. money clip
34. bag clips - for chips, pretzels, etc.
35. sports trading cards
36. cable ties
37. car charger for phone
38. jump drive
39. mini mag light / headlamp
40. keyring
42. stress ball / hand exerciser
43. jump rope
44. luggage tags
45. cellphone case
46. deck of cards
47. video game
48. Post It notes, flags, tabs
49. tickets to sports event or concert
50. guitar accessories - pics, tuner, strap, etc.
51. razor / razor blade cartridges / shaving cream
52. loofah
53. hair brush / comb
54. hair elastics, ribbon, clips, headbands
55. deodorant
56. Christmas tree ornament
57. purse organizer
58. Nerf darts
59. Silly string
60. stain stick

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Gifts of the Wise Men - A Way to Give Meaningfully at Christmas

Christmas 1987.  It was the first Christmas in our new house. Alex was 2 and a half, Sarah was a newborn, having arrived just 24 days earlier.  We were living in Florida, and decided not to make the trip to Massachusetts where our families were, but to celebrate at home.  These were the only grandchildren in my family, so boxes of wrapped gifts arrived from my parents, brothers and sister, as well as Mark's family.  Since Alex had now grown into the "fun" stage, Mark and I  loaded up more than one cart at Toys R Us, and on Christmas morning the gifts spread out from under the tree, taking up half the room.

I kid you not.

For two children, one of whom was less than 1 month old.

Silly child. He kept wanting to stop and play with each toy he unwrapped. Overcome with the holiday spirit, we urged him to keep unwrapping!  There were more toys to discover!  What did Grammy & Grampa send?  Look at this! Finally, he literally begged to stop, and we allowed him to play for a while and resume unwrapping after lunch.

It was the Christmas of extreme excess.  To be fair, we were just so excited to be parents and wanted our children to have lots of wonderful opportunities to grow and learn and explore and use their imaginations!  The gifts included a Little Tykes kitchen, a tricycle, a red wagon, a child's basketball hoop!  We probably could have/should have spread those acquisitions out through the year, but there is just something so magical about Christmas morning!  But we realized that we probably weren't setting a good precedent, and Christmas morning  became a bit more sane in the following years.  However, I still struggled sometimes with setting a limit and making our gift giving meaningful.    Why do we give gifts at Christmas?  How do we instill an attitude of giving and gratitude in our children and not of greed and selfishness?

Well, my kids are mostly grown, but we still all love the Christmas holiday and opening gifts on Christmas morning is a wonderful part of the celebration of the birth of our Saviour, the ultimate gift to all mankind.  Last year I read about and implemented a new tradition related to gift giving that I really liked, and plan to do again this year.  It is giving the Gifts of the Wise Men.   We don't give actual gold, frankincense, and myrrh,  but rather gifts that symbolize those 3 gifts to the Christ child.  Each person in the family received a Gold gift, a Frankincense gift, and a Myrrh gift.
GOLD =  something valuable, something greatly desired.  The big gift.  An ipod, or bike, or video game system or jewelry. 
FRANKINCENSE = an aromatic spice/incense used in the temple;  so a spiritual gift. A bible or Christian book or DVD, praise music, Christian message tshirt or jewelry, etc.
MYRRH =  a resin, used to prepare a body for burial;  rather strange, but an important and practical thing to have ready.  So a practical gift, particularly something for the body.  Clothes. Snow boots.  Perfume. Hair bows. 

This covered the bases.  I had wrapped each type of gift ( g, f, or m ) in different colored paper, so on Christmas morning I had the gifts separated into piles and explained what we were doing. Everyone appreciated it, understood it. There were other gifts as well -  a family board game, DVDs, gifts between siblings.  But it brought new meaning to the opening of the Christmas gifts.  I think that makes it a keeper and a new family tradition.

Merry Christmas !

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Pinterest = Genius

My daughter recently introduced me to Pinterest, and I'm hooked.   Not hooked, as in addicted and can't think of anything else and keep checking multiple times a day to see what has been "pinned" lately.  But hooked as in this is something very useful for my life!  Let me explain.

First of all, for the uninitiated, Pinterest is a website. Free.  It is a virtual pinboard where you organize and share all the beautiful, inspiring, useful things you find on the web!  Let me tell you, for a visual person, this is GENIUS.   It is one thing to have a long list of Favorites, even organized into folders, but a PICTURE list of favorites organized by category is 10X better!

You create as many Pinboards as you like and give them any label you like.  Some of my boards include  Oh, to be Organized! , I Love Cupcakes, Gift Ideas, Seasons & Holidays, Wish List, Yard & Garden, Healthy Eating & Living, and Crafty Ideas.  You load a "Pin It' button onto your browsers Toolbar, and then when you are browsing the web and find things you want to save, you click the Pin It button and save it to one of your Pinterest Boards!  Later, when you click on the picture on your Pinterest board, it takes you to the original website!  You can also look at other people's boards for inspiration, and Pin items directly from there - that's the "sharing" part. :-) 

You are pinning pictures, so a recipe must have a picture, or at least a graphic that goes with it, in order to pin it to your board. 

Home Decorating, Wedding Planning, Homeschool ideas, Recipes, Vacation Planning .... so many ways to organize and plan!

I created a Wish List of things I would like to receive and gave my husband the link - because when he or my kids ask me, "What do you want for Christmas, Mom?" , I generally draw a complete blank!  I don't keep a mental list of gift items in my head - I have too many other things to remember!   But occasionally I'll think of something that I'd really like, and then I can go find it on a website and Pin It, and voila!  It is there so I don't have to "remember" to tell him!

Pinterest works by "invitation".   You can go to the website and request an invitation, or have a friend invite you.  ( a marketing ploy, I'm sure, because it causes people to spread the word to all their friends )  Guess that worked. ;-)

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Menu Plan to Get Back to Healthy Eating

I have gotten away from menu planning lately, much to the detriment of our good health! Too much fast food, processed food, prepared food - all things I know are not good for us but have been quick "no brainer" ways to get fed in a hurry.
As Mother/Wife/Head Cook/Nutritionist in this family, I MUST do better!

My goal is to include lots more fruits and vegetables in our meals, focusing on variety of colors and textures, and including specific foods and spices known for their anti-inflammatory and immune-building properties.  Walnuts, almonds, spinach, cinnamon, ginger, garlic, blueberries, sweet potatoes, oats, green tea, mushrooms, salmon ... all considered Super Foods!   Cold & flu season is upon us, and nutrition plays a vital role in keeping healthy!  Also, inflammation is now considered a major culprit in numerous diseases and ailments, including the arthritis in my fingers and knees,  and the allergies that just seem to become worse each year! 

I have also been remiss in not enforcing healthy eating practices with my family as the kids have grown up. I was much more deliberate when my older kids were little, but I guess I have gotten lazy.  My 13-yr-old is a pretty picky eater, and prefers canned ravioli and frozen Hot Pockets or taquitos to healthier lunch items. However, I'm the one who has caved and brought those items home from the store. If we don't have them, he can't eat them!  Hubby can get complain-y if meals get to health-y .... but it's time to bring out the Tough Love.

If I have a plan, we'll definitely do better, even if we have to deviate occasionally, than with no plan at all.  Also, breakfast and lunch are an issue right now, so I'm going to plan those as well.  Mark will still eat what he wants for breakfast and lunch.  So here is my Healthy-Eating Meal Plan for the coming week.

B:  Smoothie ( froz. blueberries & strawberries, plain yogurt, stevia, orange juice, flaxseed), Oat & whole wheat Waffles w/ blueberries
 L: Chunky Chicken & Brown Rice Soup (*w/ garlic, ginger, cayenne);  Apples & cinnamon
D: Salmon,  Brown & Wild Rice w/ mushrooms, Spinach Salad, whipped butternut squash

B: Smoothie, Oatmeal w/ walnuts, cinnamon, & brown sugar
L: Tuna Salad Sandwich (tuna, celery, relish, mayo/yogurt, onion powder on whole grain toast, w/ tomato and lettuce );   pear
D:  Chicken & Veggie Stir Fry w/ mushrooms; Brown Rice, Egg rolls,

B: Smoothie,  veggie omelet ( 1 egg, 2 egg whites, peppers, onions, mushrooms, sprinkle of cheese) w/ whole grain toast
L:  Chunky Chicken & Brown Rice Soup, whole grain crackers, Apple
D:  Fajitas (chicken, colored peppers, onion, mushrooms, black beans, guacamole, cheese, sour cream salsa  in low-carb tortillas )

B:  Smoothie, Oatmeal
L:  Turkey –Tomato Panini,  pita chips & guacamole
D: Spaghetti & Turkey meatballs ( homemade sauce w/ shredded carrot, garlic, chopped red pepper) ;  Veggie Salad (broccoli, cauliflower, red & yellow pepper, carrot, red onion, celery, purple cabbage, tomato, black olives – olive oil & cider vinegar dressing )

B:  Smoothie,  Veggie Omelet  w/ whole grain toast
L:  Taco Salad (seasoned ground turkey, lettuce, avocado, tomato, shredded cheese, salsa-sour cream dressing, tortilla chips )
D: Crock Pot Jambalaya (stew of brown rice, colored peppers, tomato, onion, cayenne, turkey kielbasa, shrimp, red beans ) ;  whole grain bread

B: Smoothie, Oatmeal
L:  leftovers (pack for Co-op), apple, yogurt
D: Homemade Pizza ( whole grain crust, pizza sauce, mozzarella, turkey pepperoni, peppers, onions, mushrooms, olives )

B:  Smoothie ,  Oatmeal
L: Turkey Roll-up (low carb tortilla, turkey, spinach, avocado, O/V, oregano)
D: Roast Chicken, Veggie Salad , sweet potato “fries”