The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Merry Christmas season, everyone!

As I mentioned at the start of November, the day after Halloween kicks off my Christmas season. I start the Christmas music, prepare/make my Christmas decorations and watch my Christmas movies, but I do wait until after Thanksgiving to put up the Christmas tree, make gingerbread cookies, and put up decorations.

Earlier today, I was trying to think of some goals for December. November was a blur of weekend trips and getting the house ready for Turkey Day guests, and for the first time since we've moved here, I have no desire to start any projects right now. Instead, I've allowed myself to take naps after school, play Scrabble with Deric, and just do nothing if I want. At first I felt guilty for not being productive with my time, but then I realized-- those house projects I give myself don't matter to anyone but me. Sure they're "productive", but they're not essential. (And really Ashley, what's more important: a project or time with your husband?!)

So I'm giving myself a break from my usual monthly goals for December. Instead of trying to get a million things done, I'm going to try to slow down and enjoy the holidays. Rather than consume my thoughts with all the projects I have pinned on Pinterest (and there's a lot of 'em), I'm going to purposely try to think more about heavenly matters than earthly, try to talk to God more during my day. I easily get caught up in superficial things and its no different with Christmas, but what better season to try to refocus? So I guess I do have one goal for December: remember the reason that Jesus came to live on earth and the joy that we have in His sacrifice!


Thanksgiving, Round Two

Or: Train Sets Aren't Just for Two Year Olds.

My family came to our house for Thanksgiving because Tennessee is kinda in the middle of all the states in which my family resides: Michigan, Indiana, Virginia, and South Carolina. Starting with my parents' arrival at 3:30am, everyone got in on Wednesday and the house was instantly jam-packed at every turn (which is the best way for a house to be).

Isaac's Christmas gift from us, a train set, was given to him on arrival so he'd have more toys to play with throughout the weekend. After a few minutes playing with the trains, Isaac moved on to a coloring book and the men took over constructing a complex, interwoven set of tracks.

Wednesday progressed with trains, white chicken chili, and catching up on the events that happened since August, the last time we were all together. We tried to get to bed early because my sisters, mom and I were running a 5K bright and early Thanksgiving morning.

Isaac post-bath with a damp-hair mohawk

7:00am found Mom, Sarah, Courtney and I shivering in the cold amidst a pack of at least three hundred people, waiting for the 5K to start so we could finally warm up. Deric met us at the finish line so we'd have evidence that we all ran a 5K together.

Foo and I on the last leg--that's Foo in front, me waving

finish line!

After the race, our Thanksgiving Day went as probably everyone's Turkey Day goes. We watched the Macy's Day parade. Mom, Dad, myself and a few others took turns baking and cooking (but Mom and Dad did the most): turkey, stuffing, green bean casserole, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, pineapple casserole, and rolls. For dessert, pumpkin pie, pumpkin cheesecake, cran-apple cobbler, and apple pie. Goodness gracious.

someone's ready to eat!

Dinner was at 2:00 rather than the prescheduled 4:00 due to a turkey that was done cooking 4 1/2 hours early.

We took turns playing with and entertaining the two-year old.

Great-Grandma & Isaac look at the animals

 We watched Fox's Ice Age Christmas special because Foo is a big fan of Sid the Sloth, then watched the new Charlie Brown special (which was much worse than the original Charlie Browns, sadly).

Friday was much of the same. Leftovers galore, naps, animated movies, and a trip to the mall once the Black Friday craziness was mostly over. I picked up a game I was introduced to during grad school and had all but forgotten, The Great Dalmuti. Weird name, but such a fun game for a big group of people. Come over and we'll teach you how to play;)

Isaac and Aunt Foo baked sugar cookies with icing and peppermints on top. I baked gingerbread cookies, my all-time favorite holiday cookie.

On Saturday, my grandparents and Tim, Court and the little man had to head home. No more train track building, so we spent hours playing The Great Dalmuti and Farkle (a dice game). We put up the Christmas tree and hung stockings. We decorated the mantle and Sarah helped me create more yarn trees to add to the display (more to come on that).

And then, the BEST part of the entire weekend!

Sarah's boyfriend, Drew, and his parents drove up from South Carolina to surprise her. (I knew he was coming to surprise her, but didn't put two and two together as to why...) She answered the door, he had a few Christmas presents for her, including..

A ring! His grandmother's, actually-- fifty years old and beautiful.

Congratulations, Sarah and Drew! What a way to end Thanksgiving 2011!


Thanksgiving, Round 1

Happy Thanksgiving, y'all! I hope everyone is as fat and happy as I am right now! My family is in town and we're already into the leftovers and dessert (dinner was at 2:00-- don't judge!). We're gearing up to watch the Ice Age special on Fox and I thought I'd do some catching up on everything that's happened this past month. With two weekend trips plus Thanksgiving weekend, November has disappeared on me. Let's travel back a few weekends to Thanksgiving #1 with Deric's family, then later this week I'll catch ya up on Thanksgiving #2.

We headed up to Corbin, Kentucky to spend the weekend with Deric's side of the family at Cumberland State Park. It was a jam-packed two days filled with hiking, lots of eating, playing cards and board games, watching the Purdue v. Ohio State game (a big deal to that Indiana/Ohio family) and watching a "moonbow".

First up, a hike through the woods.

The majority of our hikes were through at least a foot of leaves...see? Can't even see my feet.

We hiked down to see Cumberland Falls.

I found a tree I could climb in, and how could I resist? Its not everyday you can stand inside a tree. ;)

Deric had to take a turn too. He tried to be sneaky, but to no avail. He also took a few 'senior pictures' which were very classy.

No pictures of the moonbow, sadly. We could only see it at night (about 9:30) and I didn't bring my camera because I knew it'd be nearly impossible to get a picture of it. Read the sign below for a mental image of the moonbow.

We spent time with Deric's parents, grandparents, brother, sister-in-law and niece (who's always the star of the show--seriously, what was our entertainment before kids?). We played Candy Land--she won-- and Life--she won again-- and the adults played cards while she passed out Life money to everyone.

This was the view from the restaurant at the Inn. Beautiful, huh? I'd like to see it when the leaves are still changing colors. The weekend was so fun that we may do Thanksgiving in Cumberland again next year, so maybe I'll get my wish!


Our Only Organic Meal

I'd buy everything organic if I had the money, but that would mean spending our life savings on groceries and I'd rather not. Outside of the information I've learned from Food, Inc. (go watch the documentary!), I can't understand why organic food has to be usually triple the cost of regular food. (I also can't understand why there are so many chemicals in our food, but that's not the point.) I'd just like to be able to eat food with ingredients I can pronounce and know that what's going into our bodies will benefit them, not harm them. 

We do manage to have one organic meal per week thanks to Earth Fare, an organic supermarket equivalent to Whole Foods, Trader Joe's, etc. Every Thursday night is their family meal night, so for one $5 purchase at their deli or hot bar, you can get up to six kids' meals for free. Don't judge us-- that's SIX meals for FREE! And because I get their emails, I always get a coupon for a free item with a $5 purchase. Last week, we got a coupon for a ready-made salad, a $7 value. This week, we got one pound of Braeburn apples for free (which is only three apples, but you take what you can get).

Its become our tradition to hit up Earth Fare for dinner on Thursdays. Deric and I pick a sandwich to split from the deli (about $6) and then each get three meals of what we want. Here's a typical kids' meal for me: chicken salad wrap, veggies, fruit, milk carton, and gummy rabbits. Deric's choice: turkey provolone wrap, veggies, fruit, juice box, and 'cheddar bunnies'. What we don't eat that night becomes grab-and-go snack food for the weekend. Plus, as we open our juice boxes and cheddar bunnies, we're reminded of our childhoods and all those lunches in the school cafeteria...;)

Total value from last night's grocery run/dinner: $32.61 for one sandwich, six kids' meals, and one pound of apples. We paid $7.21 for the sandwich and got everything else free. I'd say that's a pretty good deal for an entirely organic meal, wouldn't you?

Thank you, Earth Fare! Now if you'll just have deals like this every night of the week, we'll become your most loyal customers.


White Chicken Chili

Ya'll have to try this recipe for White Chicken Chili. It'll take you two seconds to find it: search for 'white chicken chili' on Google and its the first (second, if you count the ad) link that pops up. Its Cha Cha's White Chicken Chili recipe from allrecipes.com, and it is absolutely wonderful. And easy. And quick. If you don't believe me, check out the comments on the bottom of the recipe. Each review raved about it, even if they did turn down the spicyness a bit. I'm not a huge fan of spicy so I followed the advice of a few comments.

I omitted the jalapeno peppers and cayenne pepper that the recipe called for, but left everything else the same. It turned out perfectly-- a slight kick (as there should be with chili), tons of flavor, and just enough broth to soak up with cheese and tortilla chips.

With preparations included, it probably took thirty minutes to cook the chili (fifteen of which were letting it simmer). Deric, Chad and I devoured the pot of chili and an entire bag of tortilla chips while watching Fast Five-- their Redbox pick, not mine (although I did actually like it).

All three of us decided this chili is a must-make-again-next-week kind of meal. Ok, maybe not that soon, but it'll certainly appear multiple times over the coming winter months. I love finding good recipes and adding them to my repertoire!

P.S. Deric and I realized today that we haven't had spaghetti in at least a month. We're either eating out a lot more or I'm getting much better at cooking!


Just a Few Problems

I found two of these lamps in a clearance aisle at Target a few weeks back.

I checked the tag and immediately grabbed both lamps-- two lamps for under $25? Yes please. We've been wanting lamps for our bedroom since the overhead light seems glaringly bright at night.

As soon as I got home, I disassembled the shade from the base and took the bases out to the garage for some white spray paint. The shades were recovered in linen I had leftover from our headboard. Everything was fine until I actually brought them into our room and set them on either nightstand.

There's just a few problems.

Problem #1: Proportions are a little off. Next to the headboard, the lamps look teensy tiny.

Problem #2: Our side tables are so low that this is my perspective when I walk in.

Problem #3: I could have done a slightly neater job when recovering the lamp shades. :)

We're still using the lamps until I find taller lamps to take their place. Once I find those, I'll put these lamps somewhere else...somewhere high, like on top of a dresser, so I can't see down in the shade. And I may recover them again as well. I wish I could just redo the linen, but its hot-glued to the shade and will probably do a lot of damage to pry it off.

Live and learn, right? The lamps are still going to be put to use (just not next to our bed) so they're not a total loss. In the meantime, I'll be scouring Goodwill and Target's clearance!


Notes in the Margin 11.6.11

"Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy." Matthew 5:7

In the well-known story of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), we're shown three components of mercy.

1. See the need.

"A priest...saw the man and passed by on the other side."
"A Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side."
"A Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him..."

2. Feel compassion.

"...when [the Samaritan] saw him, he took pity on him".

3. Act.

"He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. 'Look after him', he said, 'and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.'" (10:34-35)

Two of the three men in this story saw the need and do nothing about it. They didn't even feel anything when they saw him (that we know of). Both of those men were religious men: one was a priest, and one was a Levite. You'd think they would have been the one to take care of the beaten man, but they ignored him and went on their way. I've heard two morals to this story. First, compassion by itself doesn't help anyone. Compassion should lead to action. Second, its easy to get distracted by 'ministry' (and all the programs that go with it) and miss the point: to help people.

Both morals from this story are a challenge to me. I usually feel compassion for people who are in bad situations or who need help, but I rarely do something to help those people. I keep myself pretty busy with the events and programs going on in the church, and in doing so, I forget that its the kids that are important-- not the logistics, the food, the games, etc.

The sponsor who taught this lesson in Sunday school challenged us to keep our eyes open for ways we can help people. We need to get used to acting mercifully in small ways so that we "build up" to acting in bigger ways.

"'Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?'
The expert in the law replied, 'The one who had mercy on him.'
Jesus told him, 'Go and do likewise.'"
Luke 10: 36-37


A Billion Tiny Pieces

For longer than I can remember, my favorite eye shadow has looked like this:

I refuse to throw it out and buy a new shadow although it drives me crazy to deal with all the teeny tiny pieces that inevitably fall out and dirty up the bathroom counter.

Enter Pinterest (of course). There's a tutorial out there that says if you mix rubbing alcohol in your smashed up shadow, you can make a paste and resurrect your favorite makeup. I figured I'd give it a shot since there's definitely nothing to lose, and it worked!

Its not as pretty as it once was (its hard to smooth it out with a spoon that's bigger than the compact). But its back in one piece, and that's what matters!

Shortly after I fixed my eye shadow, I managed to smash my foundation. I was about to drop it on the counter but in trying not to drop it, I dropped it on the floor and made it even worse. I haven't yet tried the rubbing alcohol with my foundation because I'm a little nervous it may not work on foundation. I'm going to test it on a small amount first but it should work, right? Eye shadow and foundation are kinda the same thing...


Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal Muffins

It feels good to bake again. Last winter, I baked all the time. I baked sourdough and whole wheat bread, cinnamon rolls, made an apple pie from scratch (even the crust!), various muffins, and Elizabeth's perfect chocolate chip cookies. But then we moved to a house without a dishwasher, and I think I've baked once in the six months we've been here. Clean up is such a beast without a dishwasher that it kills any motivation I have to bake.

But as per my October (and now my November) goals, I wanted to bake something new that involved apples. I was going to try Smitten Kitchen's whole wheat apple muffins, but I didn't have yogurt on hand so I couldn't use her recipe. I searched Pinterest and found apple cinnamon oatmeal muffins, which sounded really good.

The verdict for the apple cinnamon oatmeal muffins is good, but not great. They'll certainly be eaten but they didn't blow me away. They do make the house smell fantastic, however.

I think that from now on, I'll be sticking to muffins that are made with yogurt. Out of all the different muffins I've made, the ones that include yogurt are always the best. Softer, less crumbly, more taste...every time. So maybe I'll try Smitten Kitchen's version here soon and compare. And maybe I'll wait to bake those until Deric's home and willing to help with clean up...