Wednesday, December 23, 2009

We wish you a merry Christmas . . .

. . . and a happy new year. See you in 2010!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Nathan's birthday celebration

Yesterday was Nathan's birthday. I feel so cliche saying it, but I can hardly believe he's 3! We had a special weekend together. Saturday morning we invited several of his friends over, and had a fun train-themed party. I created train invitations using clip-art I found on-line, and copied text I saw on a list of train birthday ideas: "All aboard the birthday express: Nathan's turning 3, please be our guest."

Mostly the kids just played together with the trains we'd set out, including a new Thomas one, courtesy of my Aunt Mary. (It was quite the hit!) I also made train-shaped sugar cookies, and set out 5 colors of frosting and 5 kinds of sprinkles so the kids could each decorate their own train. I put personalized labels (using this fun train font!) on little bags so they could take their cookie home with them.
Special thanks to Eric for helping me put the train cake together. This was my inspiration, and I totally underestimated how long it would take to create! While certainly not a professional job, I thought it turned out pretty well. The funny thing is that of course the kids only looked at it for a minute or two before we cut it up and ate it. (And there weren't even leftovers!)
Nathan had a lot of fun at his little party and received many generous gifts. We'd asked people who wanted to give a present to bring a recycled toy their child was ready to pass on, and it was fun to see what he received.

On Sunday, Nathan got to have breakfast in bed, as is the tradition Eric and I started for each other several years ago. He got a kick out of Mommy, Daddy and Natalie also eating in his room. We were traveling on his first and second birthdays, so it was kind of fun to be home this time.
Thanks to all our loved ones who called or sent birthday greetings!

Nathan, we are thankful for you and love you very much. We appreciate your desire to learn, your sensitive spirit, and your sharp mind. Happy birthday, son!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Good reads: Christmas edition

I've been on the lookout for children's books that focus on the values I deem most important at Christmastime: telling the story of Jesus' birth, being with loved ones, and an emphasis on giving rather than receiving.

I wanted to share some winners I've found thus far:

The Story of Christmas by Patricia Pingry
The Stable Where Jesus Was Born by Rhonda Gowler Greene
Room for a Little One: A Christmas Tale by Martin Waddell
Bear Stays Up for Christmas by Karma Wilson
The Tale of Three Trees: A Traditional Folktale by Angela Elwell Hunt
The Crippled Lamb by Max Lucado
Who Is Coming to Our House? by Joseph Slate
Mortimer's Christmas Manger by Karma Wilson

And here are a few titles I would like to check out--I'd love to hear if you have other suggestions:

One Baby Jesus: A New Twelve Days of Christmas by Patricia Pingry
What Is Christmas? by Michelle Medlock Adams
On This Special Night by Claire Freedman

Happy holiday reading!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Misc.

I've been meaning to mention some random blog business things:

1. I've decided to link all of my book recommendations to an Amazon Associates account, which gives me the potential to earn a small percentage of a sale anytime someone purchases a book through the link on my blog. I was linking to Amazon anyway when mentioning books I've enjoyed, so it made sense to me to try this out.

2. I also decided to add word verification on my comments. I didn't want to do so, but I was getting an increasing amount of spam, and felt this was the best way to counter that. Since enabling the verification, I've not received any spam. Yay!

3. For the last bit of business, some friends (you know who you are, D+K!) requested I post a hunting pic of Eric. I don't post these regularly, because 1) this is a blog about my interests primarily and hunting is not one of them =) and 2) I know not everyone supports or appreciates hunting. (I've received comments in the past to prove that point, but this is after all a personal blog, so I will oblige our friends.) Nonetheless, here is Eric with 5 of the 10 birds he brought home this past weekend. (If you're unfamiliar with pheasant hunting, that is a phenomenal number!)

Monday, December 14, 2009

Treat boxes

I love doing little crafty things that are simple and inexpensive, and I also enjoy making personalized gifts.

Last year, Monica sent me some plastic gift card holders that she got as a freebie from this store. I needed a present for one of the girls in my middle school Bible study, and had the idea to turn one of the free containers into a little treat box. Since I knew my recipient had a major sweet tooth, I filled each of the small compartments with a different variety of colorful candy. All I did was cover the logo with cute paper and stickers. Can that technically be called a craft?! =)

The treat box was a hit at our gift exchange last year, so I decided to make another one this time around:
The cost of this gift was nothing! I used paper and stickers I had on hand, and I'd set aside some of Nathan's trick-or-treat candy to put in the box. I'm guessing similar containers can be found quite cheaply at craft stores, if you're interested in putting one of these together. Enjoy!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Advent wreath

I've been wanting to make an advent wreath for over a year, and finally got around to it while my mom was visiting over Thanksgiving. She brought along a wreath form (purchased here) and then we went to HL to "spruce" it up. I knew I wanted cranberries, and was excited to see that all the holiday greenery was 50% off. The cost of all the materials, including candles, was less than $15! More importantly, it was super easy to put together, and I love how it turned out. Yay!

I found some devotions on-line to accompany the candle lighting. (I'm sorry, I tried to find the link and was unsuccessful, but a Google search will provide numerous options.) When our kids are a little older, I'd like to do daily readings using Christ in Christmas: A Family Advent Celebration as a guide.
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As you continue in this holiday season, I wanted to share the following quote. I posted it a couple of years ago, but it's definitely worth posting again:

"May our decorations, gifts and festivities--or lack of them--never block our view of Him but always point us toward Him." Noel Piper, Treasuring God in Our Traditions
For more thoughts on simplifying Christmas, I did a series of posts last December inspired by the book Unplug the Christmas Machine: A Complete Guide to Putting Love and Joy Back into the Season.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Cheaper & Better

My aunt recently loaned me Cheaper and Better: Homemade Alternatives to Storebought Goods, which contains hundreds of recipes for making homemade versions of common products. Here are some that I tried:

Cookie Mix for the Pantry

3 c. flour
1 1/2 c. white sugar
1 c. brown sugar, lightly packed
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1 c. shortening
2 c. quick oats
1 c. chocolate chips

I used my mixer to blend everything. To use, mix 2 cups mix with 1 egg, 1 T. milk and 1 tsp. vanilla. Bake for 15 minutes at 350 degrees. (Yields 9 cups mix)

Healthy Whole Wheat Baking Mix

4 1/2 c. whole wheat flour
1 c. instant nonfat dry milk
3 T. baking powder
2 T. sugar
1 tsp. salt
3/4 c. shortening

Again, I used my mixer to blend these ingredients. To make 6 waffles, combine 2 cups mix with 2 T. oil, 1 egg and 1 c. milk.

It's been so nice having these mixes on hand!

I also recently tried two recipes using cranberries. After several of you encouraged me in this post, I decided to make my own cranberry sauce for use in this dish ( I followed the directions on the back of the cranberry bag). Then, from Cheaper & Better, I tried making colored sugar (for cookie decorating), using some of the cranberry "juice"--I just added some extra water to the cranberries when boiling them for the sauce. The directions say to add 1 cup of the cranberry liquid to 3 cups of sugar to create decorative colored sugar. I poured the liquid on the sugar and put it in the oven (at 170 degrees) for 20 minutes, as directed. I found it took a couple of hours before all the liquid evaporated. Also, I was expecting red, and it's more of a pale pink, but for little effort, I was pleased with the experiment. Besides, pink sugar will be a fun addition to a birthday treat for Natalie!

The other "recipe" I tried last week was to mix up some pumpkin pie spice, rather than buying one of those overpriced little bottles at the grocery store. There are many versions, but I made this one. Love it--cheaper and better!

Have you tried any homemade mixes lately? Please share! If you're looking for more mix ideas, click here.

*Question for you: Since Eric is allergic to tomatoes, I subsitute alfredo sauce in Italian dishes for him. I tried a recipe for homemade alfredo from C&B, but we were unimpressed. Can anyone recommend a simple recipe? Thanks!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Our Thanksgiving weekend

It was wonderful to have my parents here this past weekend. Natalie and Nathan loved hanging out with Grammie and Grandpa. Here are a couple fun pictures of getting reacquainted:

Nathan wanted to play Memory multiple times a day!

All she wanted for Christmas was her two front teeth--ha! These just popped in last week.


Our Thanksgiving dinner was delicious, if I do say so myself, and I loved this yummy pie. I did experience some early morning "turkey stress" and was glad to have help from my mom and husband! =) Here's Eric with the finished product:

Thanks for coming, Mom and Dad!