Wednesday, December 17, 2014

It Smells Like Christmas!

You've probably been seeing this on Pinterest.  I did, and I had to try it.  It really is lovely.  The house smells like Christmas!



A couple of the kids help me throw this together today and they thought it was so cool that we were making homemade potpourri.  Before we even put it on the stove we were loving the delicious scent.   

I have finally finished decorating our house for Christmas and now the sweet aroma of Christmas is simmering on the stove.  The inside of our home has the look and feel of Christmas.  The kids say they're just having a bit of a struggle with the Christmas feeling when we're outside because it is so warm and sunny.  I guess that's what we get for living in Chattanooga.  

Homemade Christmas Potpourri

1 1/2 cups fresh cranberries
2 or 3 oranges, halved
3 whole cinnamon sticks
1 tsp whole cloves
1 inch piece fresh ginger
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 small branch fresh pine
1 cup apple cider
water

Combine all ingredients in medium size pot.  Fill the pot with water until it reaches 3/4 the way full.  Place the pot on the stove and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat to simmer, adding more water as needed.  


Mine is simmering now and I'm feeling super cozy.  I'm planning on leaving it on the stove all evening...especially if it keeps me in this festive mood!  :)

Thursday, December 11, 2014

All of Joy, None of the Stress

I'm just saying, 

it's that time of year when all of us women folk start getting that feeling

that stressed out, overwhelmed feeling.

Don't let it happen this year!

Make December the best, most special month of the year - not the worst, most exhausting one.  

Ask yourself this question, {that I just asked myself} - Is there room for Christ in your Christmas?  If you aren't celebrating Him, why celebrate at all?  Love, redemption, hope, now that's something to celebrate!  If there isn't room for Jesus in your festivities, make some room starting now.  If you do, it will definitely be the best Christmas ever.

How do you "make room" you ask...how do you make room in a month when the calendar is packed full, there's more for mom to do than any other time of the year, and you are already maxed out mentally, physically, and financially?

Here's how...


Look for quiet moments you can make your own.  Perhaps in the morning before everyone else is up, or at night when everyone else is in the bed, or in the afternoon while the little ones nap.  Use these quiet moments for a cup of tea, a bubble bath, some time to read, or to pray.  Make quiet time a priority.  If your days are all work -every single minute, you will find it difficult to remember what all this celebrating is for.  Even with a to-do list many miles long, 20 minutes of quiet will go far in helping your sanity.  Think of it like plugging your cell phone into charge.  If you don't do that once in a while you are going to be out somewhere and your phone battery will be dead right when you need to place a call.  


Take time to smell the Christmas tree - literally.  I'm doing that right now, as I type, and I love it.  Taking a few deep breaths near the Christmas tree is invigorating.  I love the smell of the tree and if I'm too busy rushing around I'm liable to miss it.

Think through your traditions.  Keep only the ones that are very meaningful.  Sometimes we just try to do too much.  This may be the year that you let some of the things you always do go.  Maybe you want to make some Christmas crafts with the kids this year and read them a Christmas book each night before bed.  Or you may want to do some extra baking and take the family to see some Christmas lights.  Pick a couple of things that will be special for your family but don't try to do everything there is to do.  

Have the whole family work together on a project to help someone in need.  Buy presents for needy children, take a poinsettia to a widow, bake cookies and take to the Fire or Police Department, make a meal for a shut-in, find a ministry to join up with, or whatever your family might think up to do.  Just make sure everyone works together on the project.  Be a blessing to someone while teaching your children Christmas is not all about getting presents.  

Don't be afraid to say no.  Oh, this one is so hard for me!  My husband is laying down some rules to help me with that, right now, as we speak as I type.  As hard as it may be to say no sometimes, it's worth it if saying yes is going to push you past your limit and cause you to be a cranky mama to your family.  It's probably most difficult to say no to family.  Our extended family tends to have high expectations of me - especially around the holidays.  My husband says this is the year I start letting people down.  I wouldn't go that far but I may have to say no on a few things.  Last year I spent part of Christmas Day exhausted and another part of it crying.  We're not having that this year!  :)

Practically speaking, there are ways to avoid some of the stress of the season too.  Shop online while in your pajamas sipping hot chocolate and avoid the long lines and crowds.  Buy some gift cards and let go of the quest to find the "perfect gift".  Choose one thing to host and don't feel obligated to host everything.  Divide the to-do list among the family members.  Even young ones can help.  

Lastly, celebrate Christ's birth.  Yes, we're going to shop and cook and bake and decorate and wrap but in every way possible bring Christ into center focus.  Make baby Jesus ornaments with your children and let them hang their special creations on the tree, bake a birthday cake for Jesus and sing to Him, decorate with nativity sets and discuss with the children as you are putting them out (make sure you have some that aren't breakable so the little kids can handle them).  You can find wrapping paper and tableware that honors Christ at Hobby Lobby and Christian bookstores.  I even found gift bags with nativity scenes at the Dollar Tree.  Light candles and read from an Advent book each night.  Our children love this.  We were late getting started this year but we are reading each night now and it really is a special time.  It's so nice when we slow down and are reminded Who we are celebrating.  



I hope I've given you some ideas to increase the joy and reduce the stress this Christmas season.  My prayer for my family and yours this year is that we would grow closer to Christ and each other.  That's what Christmas should be about. 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Easy, Cheesy!

In the two weeks since my last post I've really, really wanted to write.  So much so that I planned to stay up very late or get up extra early and do just that.

It never happened.

I've had so many things I want to share with you.  I've also had a Christmas musical with my girls, a guitar recital with one of my boys, shopping, baking, wrapping, homeschooling, cleaning, and laundry, plus an end of year open house for our co-op, a talent show, and about 200 other things.  I don't intend to put my blog on the bottom of the list, that's just where it ends up.







Our oldest boy is finishing up final exams this week, co-op is officially over until next year, tonight is the last AWANA meeting for 2014, music lessons pick back up in January, sewing lessons finish up next week - what I'm trying to say is, things are winding up for the year and our days are going to slow down.  YAY!  {Hopefully this will give me a little more time for blogging.}

Even though I haven't been able to blog about it, we've been having lots of holiday fun.  Our four boys were able to help with a Prison Ministry Christmas party for kids, and my honey and one of our boys were able to help with selling Christmas trees for another ministry (http://www.buyatreechangealife.com/).  We've done some shopping and today we are doing some baking.  I've even done some wrapping, (which is a big deal for me since I tend to procrastinate on that task). 

One of the things I've wanted to share with you is this delicious recipe for a very easy cheese ball.  I know you are probably receiving lots of invitations to holiday gatherings and to most of those you will be taking a little something to share.  This recipe can feed a lot of folks and it is oh-so-good! Everyone loves this and I'm positive you will too.



Rebekah's Easy Cheese Ball
  • 2 8oz packages cream cheese
  • 4 1/2 oz shredded cheddar cheese (a little more than 1 cup)
  • 1 envelope ranch salad dressing mix
  • chopped pecans
  • dried parsley
Let cream cheese and cheddar cheese come to room temperature.  Mix cheeses gradually adding dressing mix a little at a time until entire package is used.  If it's too sticky, refrigerate of place in freezer for 30 - 45 minutes.  Shape into ball and roll in a mixture of chopped pecans and dried parsley.
*Can be made ahead and frozen.

I serve this with Ritz crackers and my family loves it.  I made one last week and they are already asking me to make another.  If you make this cheese ball be sure to send me word and let me know what you think.  

Happy Cozy Holidays!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving

The countdown is on.  How are things coming along for you?  I just finished up a list of everything I'm going to make today (Wednesday).  I want as little to do as possible tomorrow.  I also just finished having the paper plate debate with myself.  I've decided to use the "good" dishes but I know how much it would simplify things if we used paper plates - especially since we just grew to a party of 13.  :)

Here's a hint that goes back 20 years for me.  I read this in my very first Gooseberry Patch cookbook when I was a new wife (and Thanksgiving cook).  We tried this on our first turkey and we've been doing it ever since.  

  • Before you put your turkey in the oven, cover it with breakfast link sausages stuck on with toothpicks...the bird will look more like a porcupine than a turkey!  Cover with foil and place in oven to roast.  About 2 hours before serving, take off the foil and 30 minutes later take off the sausages (which are almost dried, and no longer greasy) and serve them as an appetizer.  The bird will now get a beautiful golden brown and everyone will dive into the sausages.



This has become a tradition for us and it really does make the turkey extra juicy!

Here's my menu plan.  One of my friends is bringing some other dishes, this is just my part.  

Turkey
Dressing 
Mashed Potatoes and Gravy
Green Beans
Macaroni and Cheese
Broccoli Casserole
Yeast Rolls
Pumpkin Pie
Coffee, Tea, Lemonade

Everyone has their way of making pumpkin pies.  Here's mine...

3/4 cup sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground cloves
2 eggs
1 can (15 oz) 100 % pure pumpkin
1 can (12 fl oz) Evaporated Milk
1 (9 inch) deep dish pie crust

Mix sugar, cinnamon, salt, ginger and cloves in a small bowl.  Beat eggs in large bowl.  Stir in pumpkin and sugar-spice mixture.  Gradually stir in evaporated milk.

Pour into pie crust.

Bake in preheated 425 degree oven for 15 minutes.  Reduce temperature to 350 degrees, bake 40-50 minutes or until knife inserted near center comes out clean.  Cool on wire rack for 2 hours.  Serve immediately or refrigerate.  Makes 8 servings.

Do you need a side dish for your Thanksgiving meal?  Here are two of my favorites.

Macaroni and Cheese

Put in crock-pot:
2 cups evaporated milk
1/2 tsp paprika
1 tsp salt
2 tablespoons mined onion
1 egg, beaten
2 cups cubed cheddar cheese
2 tablespoons butter

Stir well.  Cover and cook on high for one hour, stirring occasionally.  Add 3 or 4 cups cooked macaroni, drained.  Cover and cook on low for 3 - 5 hours. 

Broccoli Casserole

1 cup mayo
1 box chopped broccoli - thawed
1 can cream of mushroom soup
2 eggs
1 1/2 cup shredded cheddar
1/2 cup Pepperidge Farm stuffing
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp onion salt

Mix soup, eggs and mayo.  Add remaining ingredients and mix well.  Pour into baking dish.  Sprinkle stuffing on top.  Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes.   

   
Lastly, here's a simple and inexpensive table.  Do you want to know my number one tip for making a beautiful table?  Iron your tablecloth.  This one little chore will make your table look ten times better.  It only takes a few minutes and if you don't have time ask one of the kids to do it, an older child who knows how to use the iron without getting burned.  You don't want an injury on Thanksgiving day - ain't nobody got time for that!



I ironed mine early this morning before anyone else was up.  


You do not need to spend loads of money on things to make your table pretty.  I found everything I needed at Hobby Lobby and the Dollar Tree.  I was in and out of the Dollar Tree in five minutes flat.  All I needed were two candlesticks and two candlestick holders.  Total spent: $3.00




I made a quick run into Hobby Lobby where most of their fall stuff is 80 percent off.  I bought these three pumpkins for pennies.  They were floral picks and had long stems on them but I used wire cutters and trimmed those right off so they would sit flat on my table.  




I picked up one more little bush while I was there and it was only a few cents as well.  I added it to my vase in the middle of the table for a little more umph.  


 

Now the grown up table is all set and it's time to start working on the kid table.  Oh, and the cooking...who's doing that?  Oh yeah, it's me.  I better get to work!






Don't be fooled here.  Things aren't perfect at this table.  The silverware doesn't match and those dining room windows need to be cleaned, but it's warm and inviting and the kids think it's special.  Soon the house will smell delicious and be full of people and that's what it's really about.  Things don't have to be perfect to be lovely.  An imperfect table will still bless your family.  Don't let perfection get in the way of a really wonderful holiday.  Enjoy your family and make memories.

Happy Thanksgiving!  I hope your day is extra warm and cozy. 

Monday, November 24, 2014

All These Kids

Do you ever have one of those days that goes on and on and on?  I have them quite frequently and I had one today.  

The doorbell rang early this morning.  We start the day with that.  My husband calls from the bank - where there's an issue.  One son needs a costume for an oral presentation at co-op, (dress rehearsal is tomorrow) his sister has agreed to bring two dozen cupcakes to her class.  Tomorrow.  And our cat!  She told the teacher she would bring our cat to class.  Yes she did.  The laundry is backed up like never before.  I'm trying to cook and clean while working on Math and Language Arts and that's always tricky.  Both vehicles need attention and one of the older boys is off to college and another one of the older ones is helping a neighbor for the first half of the day.  There's this new obsession pet frog at our house who is cute but high maintenance.  It feels like everyone is going in a thousand different directions and one of those persons is a three year old who needs her mama to keep up with her.  



It's funny how I will think there is no way I can possibly get everything accomplished but somehow when the day comes to a close, it's done.  

This is a reminder of God's grace in my life.  

Some women "miss out" on doing this amount of laundry but they miss out on this number of hugs, and kisses, and laughs too.  Some might not want my job but I wouldn't trade it for anything - not even a nap.  Some Mamas have a whole lot more help with their kiddos than I will ever have.  But doing this with just my honey has made us strong.  Some recommend birth control in an effort to "control" the chaos, or financial strain.  I've learned to trust God in what He gives me knowing full well He will never make a mistake.  I didn't always have this kind of trust but God, through my husband, brought me to this place.  I'm ashamed to tell you that while I was pregnant with our fifth child I encouraged my husband to have a vasectomy.  He gently explained to me why he would not.  He prayed with me, and for me, and asked me to pray and talk to God about the number of our children.  He ask me to allow God to choose the number.  When I look back at that time I'm once again reminded of God's grace in my life.  He took my fear and grew trust in Him.

Our days are extremely un-perfect.  I burn dinner, get overwhelmed, and forget to return calls.  My house gets messy, my dishes and laundry pile high, and I'm sometimes a grump.  But for the most part this is a happy place.  Our kids laugh all the time and they love each other.  A lot.  All I had to do today was step back and look around and I fell in love with life all over again.  It's loud when guitar is being practiced and lines to the Christmas play are being shouted over top.  It's discouraging when the last square of toilet paper just got flushed and there isn't a speck more in the entire house.  It's sort of shocking when I work on a meal all day and it vanishes in under 10 minutes.  I won't lie, it's intimidating when I look at the school work that needs to be done.




I'll take it - the crazy, the busy, the hard work, the chaos.  I will endure the comments and the judgement and the naysayers, and the lack of sleep.  I'll do it for the love.  The unimaginable multiplication of love.  The joy, the teamwork, the strength in numbers - I'll take that.  Even the busiest days come to an end.  There's nothing sweeter than "a bunch of kids" in their pajamas sleeping soundly in a quiet (yes!) house.  

Thank you, Lord, for this day and for all these kids.  Help me to remember this tomorrow morning when I am wrestling the kids, and the cat, into the van (and help whoever is carrying the cupcakes not to drop them).  


Hot Potato

Hey Everyone!

I've got a really easy dinner idea for you tonight.  You probably have lots of cooking and baking to do this week.  I know I do!  Since I'm busy with Thanksgiving preparations I try to keep the meals in the days leading up to Thanksgiving ultra simple.  Tonight we are having Baked Potatoes and Salad Bar.  I'm giving my oven the night off (actually, I'm cleaning it) and I'm making the potatoes in the crock-pot.  If you've never done that before, here are some easy instructions.


  • Stab potatoes with a fork.
  • Wrap each in foil.
  • Fill crock-pot with potatoes.

  • Cover and cook on high 4 hours, or low 8 to 10 hours.  (*Do not add water)
Remember to remove potatoes with tongs.  We once had guests and someone reached in to get a potato with their bare hands.  They are too hot to handle for sure.  



You can cut up a big salad, like I'm planning to do, or make a pot of chili, or just set out some butter, sour cream, shredded cheese, bacon bits, broccoli, or whatever you like to top off your baked potato.

Check back here tomorrow for a hint on how to make your turkey extra juicy and delicious.  I'll also share with you my Thanksgiving meal plan (with recipes) and a simple table.

Have a cozy day!!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Yum-O Dinner

Sooo...what's for dinner tonight?  Any ideas?

I've actually got chili cooking in my crock-pot today and I'm very much looking forward to eating that tonight...(it's cold here, how is it your way??) but I brought you a delicious recipe that you just might want to whip up right now.

Teresa's Chicken Enchiladas




My dear friend, Teresa, shared this recipe with me several years ago.  When I tried it on my family they went cr-azy for it and request it frequently. 

1 can cream of chicken soup
1/2 cup sour cream
1 cup picante sauce
2 tsp chili powder
2 cups chopped cooked chicken
1/2 cup shredded Monterrey jack cheese
6 flour tortillas (warmed)
small tomato (chopped)
green onion (sliced)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Stir soup, sour cream, picante sauce, and chili powder in medium bowl.  

Stir 1 cup of the soup mixture, chicken and cheese in large bowl.

Divide the chicken mixture among the tortillas.  Roll up the tortillas and place seam side up in baking dish.  

Pour remaining soup mixture over filled tortillas.

Cover and bake 40 minutes.  Top with tomato and green onion.

Yum-o!

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