Friday, December 21, 2007

Christmas greetings


Wishing you and yours a wonderful holiday. I'll be taking a break from blogging for the next couple of weeks, but I look forward to checking in with you after the new year!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Happy birthday, Nathan!

What a difference a year makes!


One of the reasons we chose the name Nathan is that it means "gift of God."

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Keeping Christmas

"We long for the abiding love among men of good will which the season brings . . . believing in this ancient miracle of Christmas with its softening, sweetening influence to tug at our heart strings once again.

We want to hold on to the old customs and traditions because they strengthen our family ties, bind us to our friends, make us one with all mankind for whom the Child was born, and bring us back again to the God Who gave His only begotten Son, that 'whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.'

So we will not 'spend' Christmas . . .

nor 'observe' Christmas.

We will 'keep' Christmas--keep it as it is . . .

in all the loveliness of its ancient traditions.

May we keep it in our hearts,
that we may be kept in its hope."

--from a sermon by Peter Marshall entitled "Let's Keep Christmas"

On another holiday note, thank you to Kathleen Marie for blessing me with "The Spirit of Christmas" award!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

One year ago

December 18, 2006 was a big day for me. I was scheduled to be induced that evening, and my husband was at work. Being home alone for several hours, I was a barrel of nerves. Although I have little knack or patience for sewing, I decided this last pre-motherhood day would best be spent trying to finish Nathan's stocking. Yeah, right. I don't know if a seam ripper has ever seen so much use in a short amount of time! I, and the fabric, ended up in a heap on the floor.

I remember calling my dear friend Mandi in tears, telling her how terrified I was. She prayed with me over the phone, and it was such a sweet moment. Somehow I made it through that day. More importantly, I made it through the next day (in which I labored for hours only to end up with a c-section because Nathan's shoulders were too wide for me to deliver--He was and is built like a hefty football player!) and the next day (in which I held my son with weary mind and body for the first time).

How grateful I am for God's faithfulness this past year! I think it's so important to reflect back on significant events. I'll often say, "One year ago today . . ." I think it helps me find my place somehow. To remember the past, acknowledge the present, and look forward to the future. I can only imagine what I'll be doing on December 18, 2008.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Hundred Dollar Holiday

"There is no ideal Christmas; only the Christmas you decide to make as a reflection of your values, desires, affections, traditions."

My friend Jody recently loaned me a book called Hundred Dollar Holiday. Expecting merely practical ideas, I was surprised that much of the book focuses on the history of Christmas. Though I am not a history buff, it was interesting to read how our modern holiday evolved. The author, Bill McKibben, also discusses cultural differences in North America today and offers ideas for revising our theory and practice of Christmas celebrations. McKibben and a group of local churches banded together to suggest a more modest approach: a holiday in which the budget is just one hundred dollars. The point, he says, is not that exact amount, especially for large families. The point is to scale back on spending, with an emphasis on homemade gifts and coupons for services or time together (massage, meals, trip to the zoo, etc.)

Why do this? According to McKibben, it's "to emerge from Christmas relaxed, contented, happy to have kept this season. To emerge closer to your family than you were when Advent began. To emerge with some real sense that Christ has come into your world."

McKibben introduces readers to organizations I'd never heard of, like SCROOGE (the Society to Curtail Ridiculous Outrageous and Ostentatious Gift Exchange!) and The Center for a New American Dream, which has a section on simplifying the holidays. It's very thought-provoking material!

As McKibben says, "Christmas is a time for enormous celebration, but also a time for pondering, for reverence, for awe at our sheer good fortune that God sent His only child into our midst."

In the true spirit of the book's message, Jody gave us a homemade coupon for 3 sessions of babysitting. What a great present! I'd love to hear from you--do you enjoy giving and receiving homemade gifts and coupons? What do you think of the idea of a hundred dollar holiday?

Sunday, December 16, 2007

S'more kits

After seeing recipes for homemade marshmallows and graham crackers in this book a couple years ago, I knew I wanted to make s'more kits for Christmas gifts. I decided now was the time! My mom helped me make Mary Jane's recipe for marshmallows, which uses a vegan alternative to gelatin. (If I try this project again, I will probably use plain gelatin instead for cost reasons--Wendi recently posted a recipe.) You can click here for a similar recipe for the graham crackers, which I cut into flower shapes with a cookie cutter.

Because the marshmallows were so sticky, we rolled them in powdered sugar and wrapped them in wax paper. I packaged s'more kits up for 4 different families, giving 2 marshmallows and 2 crackers per person. In Mary Jane's book, after you "smoosh" the marshmallows between the crackers, you roll the sides in chocolate chips, so I included a handful of those as well. Since everything can go in the freezer, I was able to make the treats in advance. Mary Jane suggests toasting the marshmallows over a fire or candle, but one of my gift recipients just warmed the treats in the microwave.

I think the kits turned out so cute--they're delicious and a unique treat this time of year!

Friday, December 14, 2007

Living more with less part 5

Suggestions from Living More with Less on teaching children to live more with less, with my thoughts in red:

  • Living speaks more clearly than talking. For example, an important factor in limiting children's TV watching is to curtail your own. In a recent small group discussion, the topic was television in the home--if and how we limit it, etc. I shared an idea of my mom's that excited several of the mothers in the group: TV money. When we were in elementary school, my mom made little "bills" in increments of a half-hour and an hour. As I recall, we were given 5 "dollars" per week to spend as we chose. We usually saved up 2 hours to watch the Sunday night Disney movie (remember that?!) and watched various sitcoms sparingly during the week.

  • Time is the most valued gift. Such a true reminder at this time of year when many of us seek that "perfect" gift.

  • Children, as they mature, need space in which to choose and develop their own values. Hmmm--I wonder what this looks like?

  • Children are strengthened by friends whose families hold values similar to their own.
Being so new to parenting, I don't have much to offer in the way of commentary on these points, especially the last two--these are just some of the phrases and ideas that caught my attention on the topic of teaching children about stewardship. I welcome your comments on this subject!

This concludes my series of notes from Living More with Less. Past posts can be found in the stewardship category on my sidebar. Thanks for adding your thoughts and suggestions!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Like scarlet

Last night as were putting on our coats to head to a holiday party, I suddenly noticed a foul odor. A quick check of my son revealed he was not the culprit. As I looked around, I saw an ominous spot on the kitchen floor. And then another. Thinking my husband had tracked something in on his shoes, I quickly ushered him out of the house and grabbed the mop.

When we returned home from the party, I realized the clean-up job was not yet complete. Our dog was the one to blame and he must have walked across the entire house and back. I was not a happy camper as I scrubbed at dozens of stains. I decided I needed to think about something that would make the task less, um, stinky. Then it dawned on me that my sin is much the same as those yukky stains. I track it around, it stinks, and it sometimes goes unnoticed for awhile. How faithful my Master is to come along behind me and clean up my mess.

"Come now, let us reason together," says the LORD. "Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool. --Isaiah 1:18

Hodge-podge

  • Monica upgraded my single serving hot cocoa mix. Click here for the recipe--so delicious!

  • Thank you to Niki for an award called "A Roar for Powerful Words"--I am honored to receive this from Niki, who I think is very inspirational when it comes to simple living!
  • Several swappers have continued posting pix of their cozy goodies. Check them out!

  • The winner of the microfiber cleaning cloth is Mary Ann!

  • I'm famous--ha! My response to a reader question was included in the recent issue of the Counting the Cost newsletter! Click here and scroll down to my name. My mom saw it first and e-mailed to ask if it was me. Funny!

  • I love vocabulary! (Any other English majors/word geeks out there?) This is so cool--I saw it over at Kathleen Marie's. Click here to take a vocab quiz--for each word you get correct, you donate 20 grains of rice to help end world hunger. Fun (well for us word people) and a good cause! I stopped at 1500 grains of rice, but I seriously wanted to keep going!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Works for Me Wednesday: Secret veggies

I was recently lamenting to my sister that my son (who turns one next week!) has been quite picky lately, especially when it comes to eating veggies. I've been feeling pretty discouraged and not sure of what to try. I commented to Monica that Nathan loves baked goods, and she said something about trying to combine the two. It was a light-bulb moment for me, and I got really excited: I can make zucchini bread! Pumpkin muffins!

I then remembered this book that I received from Leanne which I had put on my shelf assuming it was for older kids. Au contraire! I devoured the ideas and read the recipes with great interest. Brownies with hidden carrot and spinach?! I tried 3 recipes (or adaptations of them) on the very first day, and they were all a success. I feel renewed hope and inspiration when it comes to planning meals with my son in mind. (And one of the things I appreciated about the author's meal planning is that, in addition to these hidden veggies, she always offers at least one "non-secret" vegetable dish at dinner.)


Idea #1 Since Nathan likes "grilled" cheese sandwiches, I spread squash puree on each slice of bread before adding the cheese and melting. He gobbled it up.

Idea #2 I made oat and applesauce muffins with a half-cup of the squash puree. He's loved these, too, so I'm planning to make more and freeze them for quick snacks during the holidays.

Idea #3 In the blender, I pureed wilted spinach with some of my homemade spaghetti sauce. I then made Nathan a "pizza" with the sauce, a half-slice of French bread, and a sprinkling of mozzarella. Another success!

Thanks again to Leanne for sending me this resource! Though there has been some controversy surrounding this particular book (previous books have been written on the same subject, the author is married to a celebrity, etc.), this approach is working for us right now. I'm all for that!

What works for others? Click here.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Make your own mix: single serving hot cocoa

At the check-out in our grocery store, they're selling cute little packets of single serving hot chocolate. The price? $1.25! So, my friends, though I had never made hot chocolate mix until yesterday, I experimented with a one-cup serving recipe. Delicious! Not surprisingly, when I checked the back of our commercial-brand mix, the ingredients were remarkably similar--minus the partially hydrogenated oil.

So here you go--enjoy a mug this afternoon or package it as little stocking stuffers for loved ones. If you add peppermint (chopped and mixed in, or a mini candy cane tied to the package), it will be even better!

2 T. sugar
1 1/2 T. cocoa powder
1/3 c. powdered milk.

Add 1 c. water. Stir constantly on low heat.

A parable

Remember this guy? Well, I told you I had more to share about the lecture we attended. When Dr. Sleeth began telling the story of the good Samaritan, I was thinking, "yes, yes, I've heard this before--how does it relate to caring for the environment?"

After reviewing the details of the well-known parable, Dr. Sleeth summarized the sequence of the Samaritan's response:
  • He saw the problem.

  • He was moved to compassion.

  • He used his resources to help.

  • He took on-going responsibility.

What a fabulous lesson in stewardship! Dr. Sleeth brought new insight and perspective to this parable I've read so many times, and these words inspired me in a new way.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Microfiber

I used to clean mirrors with Windex and a paper towel. Then I switched to a coffee filter, which can be dried and re-used. Now I've acquired this cleaner and a microfiber cloth. Much more green, I'd say!

Microfiber is great for picking up dust and lint--and since it's washable, it's a great replacement for paper towels.

Want to try it? Just leave a comment and I'll enter your name in the drawing for a microfiber cleaning cloth--just in time for pre-holiday cleaning! Contest open until noon 12/12 (Wed.)--anyone may enter.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Bella

What a powerful movie! A friend recommended Bella to us, and we decided to see it today. You can click here for a synopsis, but I'm glad I didn't know much going in. The story is very engaging, and I felt very connected to the characters. I encourage you to see this film!

Friday, December 7, 2007

Saying what's on your heart

For the past couple of months, I have been co-leading a small group for 6th and 7th grade young women from our church. As a former middle school teacher who has spent the past several years in college ministry, I've really enjoyed working with this age group again. I truly have a heart for girls encountering this pivotal and transitional time in their lives.

Our group has been studying A Young Woman After God's Own Heart, and this past week our focus was on developing a commitment to (and understanding of) prayer. I admit I did not have the best attitude heading into the evening. It had been an unusually chaotic Sunday--hardly a Sabbath--and though I had read the chapter once, I had not reviewed my notes or written down any questions in advance.

As so often happens, God took me in my weakness and brought something beautiful out of it. We began summarizing the chapter as we usually do, but I sensed the need to dig deeper. A small group, by our definition, should be a place for honest questions and admissions. So I told the girls that I thought it would be really cool if any of them would be willing to share something about their own experience with prayer--whether positive or not.

What happened next made my heart leap. One of the young women mentioned that she felt like her prayers were boring and she just didn't know what to say. She said her prayers usually consist of "Help me have a good day tomorrow" as she falls into bed each night. When I asked her what she wanted her prayers to be like, she said she felt they should be more meaningful. (That was her word--love that--from a 13 year-old!) So then I asked, What makes a prayer meaningful? The response, from a different young lady: "I think it means saying what's on your heart." Bingo! I got so excited--that is exactly what prayer is. What a beautiful definition--and a reminder to us all, especially when we try to make things more complicated than they actually are.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Creative repurposing

Two recent examples of creative ways to recycle:

  • Students handed out these notebooks at a recent event. What a creative idea! The front and back is made from a cereal box, and the paper is printed on the back side (scratch paper from assignments and handouts). Though the college print shop assembled these, they wouldn't be difficult to duplicate if you had access to binding equipment at a school or office.
  • I've made much of my son's baby food, but he was not a fan of green veggies unless they were very smooth; thus, over the course of several months, we acquired nearly 100 small plastic Gerber containers. I've been washing and re-using them to portion my own purees, but I had a box sitting in the basement full of the extras. I couldn't bear to throw them away and planned to post them on Freecycle--hey, you never know what others might deem useful! Well, one of the dorm directors called me last week and said she wanted to give a little gift to each of the 200 women in her hall. She thought it would be fun to make sugar scrubs and needed small containers to package them in. I was thrilled--what a great way to re-use these little tubs! It's times like these that I'm glad I'm somewhat of a packrat!

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Stroopwaffels

Ever heard of a stroopwaffel? It's a decadent Dutch cookie, a "syrup waffle." Never mind that the syrup in these bad boys consists of a pound of butter--they are delicious! We make a batch each winter with an older couple named Howard and Bernice.
Making the cookies is a very interesting process. The dough is very thick and has to be kneaded until you think your arms will fall off. You then take spoonfuls of the glistening dough (coursing with another pound of butter--yikes!) and roll them into balls. If you make them too big, Howard (self--appointed to quality control) pinches some off, in a quest for consistency. Four at a time, the balls of dough are placed onto a pizzelle iron, a fancy sort of waffle iron. Then hot off the press, each cookie must be thinly sliced into 2 halves, drizzled with syrup, and pressed back together. We take turns switching jobs, except Howard who always mans the pizzelle.
I sure wish I could share one with each of you, but I hope you enjoyed reading about these tasty treats!

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Spiritual nourishment

I feel like I could write pretty much the same post every month when I take my retreat. I always head into it tired and discouraged, and come away feeling much more calm and peaceful. As great as these monthly retreats have been, I'm learning that I need to experience that calm and peace much more often than every few weeks. I'm not sure what that looks like--how to incorporate "mini retreats" into my life. I'd be interested to hear from any of you who are willing to share: (How) Are you intentional about time and space for true rest and reflection?

As usual, the book I've been reading during my retreats offered great challenge, insight and encouragement on this journey. Author Ruth Haley Barton writes, "He waits patiently for us to stop flailing around until we can relax and receive the nourishment of His presence."

I was in tears as I read a paragraph in which Ruth poignantly described life with her newborn daughter:

"Charity was a very intense child with little patience. She had her own ideas about where she wanted to be and was generally trying to squirm her way somewhere else when any of us held her. This was disappointing and frustrating at times when my whole self longed to cuddle and cradle this beautiful girl."

Our son has been just like that--intense and impatient, and it has been a very challenging year for us. Ruth's point in sharing about her daughter, of course, is an example of how we can act with our heavenly Father. And how I relate to that as well! Please teach us, Father, to stop flailing, to relax and receive the nourishment of Your presence.

Monday, December 3, 2007

7 things--Christmas version

Lauren posted this meme, and I thought it was a fun theme idea! Here are 7 random things about me, related to Christmas.

1. My sister and I created a little activity we called the ornament game. We would sit in front of the tree and take turns selecting an ornament, and the other person would have to guess which one it was by asking questions. We could play this game for a long time!

2. We always had homemade cinnamon rolls for breakfast at our house growing up.

3. My family can only have an artificial tree because we live on a college campus and have to obey the fire code.

4. My parents allowed my sister and I to open our stockings first-thing, but we had to wait until at least 6:00 (!) before waking them.

5. I love our traditional Christmas Eve snacky supper (cheese and crackers, veggies and dip, etc.)

6. My favorite Christmas hymn is "O Holy Night."

7. My mom started this, and now my husband and I've adopted it. We give each other 4 gifts, according to the categories of this little poem: "Something you want, something you need, something to play with, something to read."

I enjoyed writing this list and tag anyone else who loves Christmas!