Friday, December 26, 2008

What's Under the Christmas Tree?

Yesterday morning was a big day for kids around the US and possibly the world. The anticipation for what Santa will bring can cause kids sleepless nights (so they claim), anxiety (did we put the milk and cookies out? Did you hear something? Was that a bell ringing? I sure hope I was good this past year), and pure excitement. We tried to play down the whole Santa thing this year and play up the real reason we're celebrating-Jesus's birth. But, even with that being said, looking forward to the wonder or the fulfillment of wishes, hopes and dreams makes this the season of Hope. Even big kids hope that something will happen differently at Christmas time. I think we're geared for expectation and hope. But many people are lost not really knowing what they're supposed to be expecting or hoping for.
This year at Macy's they did a Miracle on 34th Street type of card writing to Santa. For each card written to Santa, Macy's donated $1 to the Make a Wish Foundation (I think this is correct). Anyway, our little daughter was so excited to write her letter. She wrote her "Dear Santa" asking for a couple of items. Then to add to it, I asked for something special, something that our dear daughter prays for regularly.
On Christmas morning our precious girlie came downstairs, took one look under the tree, and then surprised me. I thought she'd ask, "I wonder if Santa brought the present I asked for?", but instead she said, "I wonder if Santa brought what you (meaning me) asked for? I wonder if he brought the little baby girl from Africa for you. Maybe she's under the tree."
How precious is that!! No, we didn't have a little baby girl from Africa under our tree, but that would be quite awesome if we did. But we do have a seed of hope planted in our little girl's heart that hopes for new beginnings, compassion for others and a heart for sharing our family's love with others.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

White Christmas

This is the first white Christmas I remember having in a long time or even ever. The snow has been dumping, but the forecast looks like it'll warm up and our snowing days may be gone for awhile. My sweetheart trudged across the snow on the deck and measured 18 inches of snow. WOW!! I see the sun peeking through now, so if we're going to go out we better do it before it's gone and we miss out on the opportunity. Off to gather the kids...

Christmas Eve- A New Tradition

It's been snowing...It's still snowing! My sweetheart just went out and measured. We now have 18 inches of snow on our deck.
Because of the weather conditions our church decided to cancel the Christmas Eve services. Our pastor had mentioned the possibility of this last weekend and instructed us to gather with the ones we love, read The Christmas Story found in Luke 2 and sing Silent Night together.
So yesterday was a unique and memorable Christmas Eve for us. We (the 5 of us in the family) gathered yesterday afternoon and began watching It's A Wonderful Life. It's my sweetheart's favorite movie and a classic at that. We stopped the movie around dinnertime and ate a very non-traditional dinner. We had rib eye steak, lamb steak, pasta, and a salad.
Following dinner we cleaned up and then finished decorating the sugar cookies we made earlier. I must admit DH is quite the cookie decorating artist. His cookies were BEAUTIFUL! I didn't frost any. DH and the kids created while I snapped photos.
After cookie decorating we gathered in the living room while my sweetheart read the account of the birth of Jesus found in Luke 2. Everyone in the family was given a taper candle. Each person lit the next person's candle beginning with dad to mom, mom to oldest son, etc. It was a precious moment as we all stood together with lights dimmed and candles lit singing "Silent Night."
After our candle lighting ceremony we moved our celebration to the "piano room" where the kids played Christmas carols and we all sang along. The boys played "Away in a Manger" and "Oh Come All Ye Faithful." Our daughter finished off with her rendition of "Mary Had A Little Lamb." Everyone had a contribution.
Upon returning to the living room the kids opened three gifts each. They are now fitted with new pj's, slippers and long underwear. I would say they are a cozy bunch!
We finished off the evening with the remaining portion of It's A Wonderful Life. It truly is a wonderful life! I love the message of the story and as we sat around together, like good 'ole George Bailey, I was SO THANKFUL for the perfect way this Christmas has turned out.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

I'd Hate to be a Postman or a UPS Driver This Week

We didn't have mail delivery yesterday. The roads leading to our house are a mess of packed snow, ice and more packed snow and ice. Once you get to the state maintained road you're fine, but there's about a 2 mile stretch of misery.
It's about 9pm and the doorbell just rang. I went to the door and saw in the distance the poor UPS man trudging back to his van. In normal winter weather I've seen the UPS trucks chain up and they seem to get around fairly well. But the fact that our normal UPS deliveries occur around 4-5pm I knew this poor Man In Brown was not having a good day. I shouted out, "I was wondering how you guys were doing." He turned around and in a frustrated voice said, "Not Good."
As I shut the door I wish I had something prepared for him to wish him a Merry Christmas despite the miserable conditions.
Tomorrow I'll be more prepared! I'm anxiously awaiting the arrival of a NEW COMPUTER and some type of delivery company may need to come to our home. I'm also waiting for the missing Christmas cards I ordered. So if you haven't gotten a card from us yet, you know why.
I've been reminded to take a moment to thank the delivery people who do so much for us on a daily basis. I've heard people who haven't had garbage pick-up because it's not safe for the trucks to travel the roads. I bet they're missing their garbage men right about now.
Thank those special people in your world.

Christmas Baking- Sparkling Cranberry Muffins

A dear friend made us a special collection of Christmas treats. In the box of goodies were the cutest mini-muffins. After eating one or two muffins our dear daughter exclaimed, "Mom, you have GOT to get this recipe!" So after returning home I promptly emailed my friend and asked for the recipe. She confessed it was a Williams Sonoma package mix, but if you have to go with a package, Williams Sonoma is a FAB pick.

But my curiosity was still piqued. I wanted to find a mini-muffin recipe I could make and use the cranberries I still had in the fridge. I found a great, kid-pleasing recipe in the Land O' Lakes Classic Cookies, Baking and More cookbook. These muffins were such a hit they barely had time to cool down before the kids and sweet hub ate most of them.

This cookbook was given to me by a fellow teacher as a wedding gift. Giving cookbooks is a great gift idea!

Sparkling Cranberry Muffins

The butter and sugar coating is what make these homemade muffins special.

1 cup chopped fresh cranberries
2 Tablespoons sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter
3/4 cup orange juice
1 egg, slightly beaten
1/4 cup butter melted
1/4 cup sugar

Heat oven to 400 degrees. In small bowl combine cranberries and 2 tablespoons sugar; set aside. In large bowl stir together flour, 1/3 cup sugar, baking powder and salt. Cut in 1/2 cup butter until mixture is crumbly. Stir in orange juice and egg just until moistened. Fold in cranberry-sugar mixture. Spoon batter into greased 12-cup muffin pan (I used a mini-muffin pan). Bake 20-25 minutes (a bit less if using mini-muffin pan) or until golden brown. Cool 5 minutes; remove from pan. Dip top of each muffin in 1/4 cup melted butter, then in 1/4 cup sugar. Serve warm.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Comfort Food- Cream of Chicken Soup

Stranded at home. Laundry is done. House rearranged. No mail. Still cooking up a storm. The weather condition is keeping us at home and when I'm at home without something pressing to do- I cook.

Today I made Sparkling Cranberry Muffins, Cranberry Coffee Cake and Cream of Chicken Soup, and I'm not talking Campbell's. I'll post the cranberry recipes later, but I wanted to get the soup on first. You may be at home cold and this will warm you up in a jiff.

I got this recipe from The Cozy Home Cookbook by Gooseberry Patch. I like to use Costco rotisserie chickens for soup. They are so well-flavored and add that special something to soups. Even if we eat the chicken I usually boil the carcass for broth. So good!

Cream of Chicken Soup

4-5 pound chicken (I used a rotisserie chicken from Costco)
2 celery stalks, diced
2 carrots, diced
1 medium onion, diced
1 cup orzo pasta, cooked (the orzo is like little dumplings in the soup-yum!)
1 cup cake flour (I used regular flour)
1 1/2 cup cold water
2 cup milk
1 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
1/4-1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon dried parsley
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

Place chicken in a stockpot, cover with water and boil until chicken juices run clear when pierced (not necessary if you use Costco rotisserie chicken, just cook until meat easily falls off bones). Remove meat from bone and return to stockpot. Add celery, carrots and onion to broth. Bring to a simmer and add orzo to broth; bring to a boil. Blend (cake) flour and cold water, stir until smooth and add to the broth when it boils. Add milk and simmer until soup thickens, stirring often. Add salt, pepper, parsley and garlic powder.
Enjoy with a rustic baguette or other crusty bread.

Comfort Food- Beef Stew

We're enjoying many varieties of comfort food that warm the heart and fill the tummy on these cold winter days. The other day I made a VERY easy version of Beef Stew. It's made in a crock pot. So all you need to do is cut up the beef and the vegetables, layer them, and let the crock pot do its thing.

Beef Stew

2 1/2-3 pounds stew meat (I cut up a roast in cubes. I added a bit more since my man likes his protein)
1/2 cup flour
1 teaspoon salt (I ended up putting in about another 1/2-1 teaspoon of salt, add to your taste)
1/2 teaspoon pepper
2 cups beef broth (I did 1 cup beef broth, 1 cup red wine)
1 Tablespoon Worchestershire sauce
2-3 bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon marjoram
1/2 teaspoon oregano
4-6 cups cubed, peeled potatoes
3 cups carrot chunks
2 onions, chopped
2-3 stalks celery, chopped
1-14 oz. can diced tomatoes, undrained
2 cups peas, frozen
1 cup corn kernels

Place meat in a crock pot. Sprinkle with flour and stir. Add all other ingredients except peas and corn. Add these the last hour of cooking. Cook on low 8-9 hours. Enjoy!

The Gift- Get It?

This time of year as we're waiting in expectancy to celebrate the birthday of our Lord Jesus Christ I often wonder why so many people through the generations and today haven't made the connection that the Christ child is the Son of God, promised through the Old Testament, born to a virgin, crucified on the cross to save us from our sin, rose from the dead on the third day and now sits at the right hand of God awaiting his Bride.
In our humanness that seems like a lot to believe. But to the Christian this is the foundation of our faith.
Our pastor preached on Luke 2:25-32 this weekend. We focused on Simeon. I don't remember too many sermons on Simeon, but hearing about him puts some pieces of my puzzle together.
Simeon waited on the Lord. I personally don't excel in the art of waiting. I pray for patience and God gives me more opportunities to wait. Waiting just doesn't come naturally for many of us. We want life to fall into place rapidly. We want answers quickly. We want God to act on our time frame rather than seeing that He has a time frame that was figured out before there was time. Isn't that something?
It's been recommended that I take a moment each day and sit and do "nothing". That sounds like waiting to me. I've already established that waiting doesn't come naturally, but it's in those quiet moments of doing nothing where I may find my opportunity to wait on the Lord. I can imagine there are many things I miss through my busyness. I'm such a work in progress. I checked Webster for the definition of "wait" and found, "to stay in place or remain in readiness or in anticipation." Waiting may not be doing nothing, but preparing or remaining ready in anticipation for something. That's interesting! I like that.
In waiting we realize our timing is not God's timing. We want people to "Get It" on our time. We sense the urgency of salvation for our friends and/or family, but God's timing is perfect. There's a quote I've heard often that is, "You never know God is all you need, until He's all you got." God's people will "Get It" when they realize there's no where else to turn.
Israel waited for over 400 years between the Old and New Testaments. I'm sure something was happening, but there's nothing recorded in the Bible. I bet many people began to lose hope. Without hope what do we have?
The second thing that stuck out to me was that the Holy Spirit revealed to Simeon that he would not die before he had seen the Lord's Christ. He was moved by the Spirit. It's the Holy Spirit who moves people. Isn't that awesome! For many people that may lift a huge burden. It's our responsibility as Christians to glorify God. We reflect His Glory. The Holy Spirit moves the heart of man to make the commitment to follow Christ. The Bible reads in Luke 2:28-32 that Simeon found salvation in the revelation of Jesus Messiah. It was revealed to Simeon. I looked up the definition of revelation. Webster defines it as, "something disclosed, especially when it comes as a great surprise." Wow! A great surprise! What could be more surprising than God incarnate coming to earth taking on human form as a baby!
I think of the countless doctors who at the delivery of a baby say, "Surprise, it's a boy!" or "Surprise it's a girl!" Imagine God saying, "Surprise, it's a boy, and he's my son!" What a gift we have been given! It's the gift of a perfect baby who grew to become our perfect Savior. And his gift of salvation is nothing we have earned but freely given for you and me this Christmas.
I hope you expect something great this Christmas. I hope you don't miss what this Christmas is all about. It's about you waiting and receiving the greatest gift ever given.
Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Romance Cookies

My mom just shared with me that this recipe came from her childhood best friend's mom. My mom had them when she was young and fell in love with the buttery coconut flavor. They are YUMMY!

I think it's interesting that they're called "Romance" cookies. It's funny how many of the recipes we make have something to do with love, romance, all those good feelings associated with a great creation. If you need a little "Romance" in your life this would be a safe place to start, but remember don't eat too many or you'll need to make some serious New Year's Resolutions.

Romance Cookies

1 cup butter (do not substitute margarine, ONLY BUTTER)
1 cup brown sugar
2 cups flour

Mix above ingredients until crumbly and press into 9X13 glass baking dish. Bake in 350 degree oven for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, while crust is baking mix together:
1 1/3 cup brown sugar
2 beaten eggs
4 Tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 cups shredded coconut
2 cups chopped walnuts

When crust is done pour coconut mixture over and spread out evenly. Place back in oven and bake for additional 20-25 minutes or until golden brown.

Christmas Baking-Tried and True Favorites

Every year we bake Christmas cookies. My family tends to go a bit overboard in the baking department, but baking is one of the things that we love about the holidays.

There are many recipes that have been passed through our family and go back a couple generations. I'm sure the stories behind the recipes are wonderful. I've heard a couple of and will try to include them as I post.

Beware: These recipes are not Jillian Michaels approved! They are more Paula Deen approved-lots of fat, butter, sugar, YUMMY!

These are two of my favorite celebrity people. I would love to be Paula Deen in a Jillian Michaels body. Too bad things don't work like that.

I hope you enjoy!

Ahhh...A Warm Morning Welcome

After a long day of waiting for a repairman to return our call we finally made a connection with the second company we called. We heard the first company had over 140 calls and we were number 40-and we called at 7:30am. I can't imagine what happened to the 100 people after us. I'm sure they're shivering.
It was so great to wake up to a warm house. You don't know what you appreciate until you don't have it (which has caused me great thought about what I'm truly thankful for).
I'm sure you're all just wringing your hands wondering what was wrong with our furnace. It turns out the air intake was clogged. With what you ask? Snow! Who would have thought?
There's supposed to be another round of snow coming and hopefully it will blow the right direction, which would be not in the air intake.
To a warm cozy house!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Winter Wonderland

We're Running Out of Time...

So today we planned to brave the cold and ice outside and head toward the mall to do some Christmas shopping. Notice I didn't say finish up Christmas shopping. This year I've put off the shopping to the very last minute. I'm not usually like this, but with home schooling and having the kiddos with me most of the time, it's hard to slip the gifts in the cart when they are looking with big inquisitive eyes.
I have a dear neighbor who has volunteered to have the kids over while we are out. Thank the Lord for neighbors!
But the snag in the day is our furnace issue...
If you read the earlier post you know in addition to the urgency of finishing up the shopping we have the urgency of providing heat to our home. A space heater doesn't heat 3700 square feet up very well. We've called the on-call heating company and are anxiously awaiting a return call. Our house has warmed up 1 degree in the last hour. We may go for the layered look today like our friends in China who live in heat-challenged housing.
Let's hope this is the extent of our challenges for the day. DH has had his fill for the week already with traveling, having the flu while away, missing his flight home because of weather and now the furnace.
We'll keep you posted on the furnace...

Brrrr... It's Cold In Here!

My sweetheart returned home from southern California yesterday. He came home to MANY inches of snow and our own Winter Wonderland. It really is beautiful.
Home life when he was gone went very smoothly. The kids and I baked cookies, played in the snow, watched movies, cleaned out the house and just enjoyed being home. There were no troubling matters to speak of.
But then we woke up today...Normally in the morning the house is a little cold because we turn down the heat a bit in the middle of the night. But today was like Artic chill. I threw on my trusty fleece and ran downstairs to check the thermostat. I looked in amazement, or maybe panic, as I saw it read 51 degrees! No wonder we were so cold. DH thought it was because he wasn't acclimated to our area, but we're pretty sure there's something much more serious going on.
After examining the furnace in the frigid garage we know there's something not right with it. We've called the furnace repair man and we're trying to heat the house with some space heaters and our gas fireplace.
I'm grateful this happened today and not yesterday. My sweetheart is here to take care of things.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

How Many Kings?

If you have your sound on and are checking this blog in December you'll hear How Many Kings by Downhere from the Bethlehem Skyline cd. I've been playing it quite a bit and my kids are starting to say, "Not number 1 again!" (it's the first song, #1, on the cd).
I listen to it while we're driving around town with tears streaming down my face. I'm so humbled by the lyrics! The other day I made it through the song without crying and my oldest son exclaimed, "Mom, you did it. You made it through the song without crying!"
This Christmas season if you think about what God did for us and what Jesus did for us- it's HUGE! My prayer is that you'll be able to reflect on this miracle birth, incredible incarnation, and wonderful Savior gift that we've been given.
I know I'm having a Christmas season filled with gratitude and humility!

How Many Kings

Follow the star to a place unexpected
Would you believe, after all we've projected
A child in a manger?
Lowly and small, the weakest of all
Unlikeliest hero, wrapped in his mother's shawl
Just a child
Is this who we've waited for? 'cause...

How many kings step down from their thrones?
How many lords have abandoned their homes?
How many greats have become the least for me?
And how many gods have poured out their hearts
To romance a world that is torn all apart
How many fathers gave up their son's for me?

Bringing our gifts for the newborn Savior
All that we have, whether costly or meek
Because we believe
Gold for his honor, and frankincense for his pleasure
And myrrh for the cross he will suffer
Now, do you believe?
Is this who we've waited for?

All for me, all for you
All for me, all for you

Christmas Cookies with a Finnish Flair

It's Christmas cookie baking season. I love making our traditional family favorites, but I also love trying some new cookies that may become future family faves.
I came across this recipe for Ruiskakut (Rye Cookies) in the 2007 edition of Christmas Baking. It is a publication of Better Homes and Gardens.
The simple, easy to make, recipe calls for rye flour and I happened to have some in the pantry so thought we'd give it a try. I couldn't imagine a recipe with rye flour and only 4 other ingredients could produce a yummy cookie, but I was pleasantly surprised.
"In Finland, where rye grows better than wheat, rye flour is used in baking appetizing sweets as well as breads." pg. 32 Christmas Baking 2007
When my husband was growing up he had an exchange student from Finland. My mother-in-law still stays in contact with their former exchange student. I hope she tries this recipe and reports to them the results of her Finnish creations. Happy baking!
Ruiskakut (Rye Cookies)
Prep: 25 min.
Bake: 8 minutes per batch (in my oven we had to bake a little longer)
Oven: 350 degrees F

1 cup butter, softened
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2 cups rye flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
3 Tablespoons cold water
blue and white decorating sugars (we had red and green on hand so we used them instead)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a large mixing bowl, beat butter with an electric mixer on medium to high speed for 30 seconds. Add granulated sugar and beat until combined, scraping side of bowl occasionally.
2. Beat in the rye flour and all-purpose flour with an electric mixer on low speed until mixture resembles fine crumbs. Add the water, tossing mixture with a fork until a moist dough forms. Gently knead the dough until a ball forms.
3. Roll dough on a lightly floured surface to 1/8-inch thickness. Cut with a 2 1/2-3 inch scalloped round cookie cutter, rerolling scraps as necessary. Place cutouts on and ungreased cookie sheet.
4. To make wreath shapes, cut out the centers with a 2-inch scalloped round cutter; remove centers and place on a cookie sheet. Sprinkle with decorating sugars.
5. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until cookies are firm and edges begin to brown. Carefully transfer to a wire rack and cool. Makes about 48 cookies.
To Bake Ahead: Prepare as directed. Layer cookies between waxed paper in an airtight container; cover. Store at room temperature up to 3 days or freeze up to 3 months.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Wrapping Up The First Quarter- Projects

This was the yard our service class worked on. The yard wasn't very big, but it was extremely overgrown. The morning glory vines, black berry vines, spreading, prickly holly branches and weeds were taking over. The precious woman who owns the house has degenerative vision disease and at the time we went there her vision was failing pretty bad.
We were so excited to be able to bless her and give some life back to her yard.
The kids tore out vines that had taken over her fence, shed, walkways, and were hiding the nice plants that were trying to survive. We turned dirt, reshaped flower beds and then hauled away a couple truck loads of debris.
Approximately halfway through our work time, our recipient came out and shared with us that the one thing she can still do with her failing vision is knit. Although her vision is failing her sense of touch is still great so she can feel the stitches and create knit projects. She wanted to know how many people/kids were helping in the yard. We counted up and she let us know she was going to pay her blessing forward. What a great principle to live by! She was so filled by her blessing she plans to knit the number of hats for the number of people who helped and then she'll give them to us so we can deliver them to the homeless or less fortunate.
This was a reminder to me that we all have something to give to bless others.
For us it was giving three hours of our time- that's not very much, but many hands make light work. In those three hours we were able to transform her yard. In turn, she's going to bless many who may experience cold temperatures this winter. Who knows, maybe someone who receives a hat will decide to pay that gift forward. Wouldn't the world be a better place if we ALL practiced a little selfless giving?
Now Go Give somehow someway. I can guarantee you, your giving will bless you greater than the one receiving.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Wrapping up the First Quarter

We've been wrapping up many first quarter activities and classes. Our home school co-op is now on Christmas break. I'm happy to report the service class I taught ended very well.
I was concerned and feeling a bit defeated two weeks prior to the break. This last quarter the kids did some great service projects. We put together gifts for children in the hospital (a gift bag with a hand made card and a beanie baby), we cleaned up, cut back, and revitalized the yard of a lady who is losing her sight, we wrote letters to a friend serving in China and a soldier serving in Iraq, we made meals in jars for widows (or moms who could use an easy meal), we had guest speakers who coordinate medical services for children with serious health needs, we had a guest speaker who shared with us the need of children and poor in southeast Asia, and as our culminating project we raised OVER 1000 pounds of food for a local food bank. (Note there were only 11 kids in our class and 20 families in our co-op).
When we set the goal of 1000 pounds it didn't seem like too much, but as we were gathering I started to feel defeated. We only had 2-3 weeks to gather the food. And in addition I heard comments like, "Wow, 1000 pounds, that's a lot of food. It's hard to raise that much food, even for a big group, but you have a small group." For a minute I started to believe it was going to be too much. But the night I was feeling down, one of the kids called me because he was SO excited! Along with his brother and sister, he had collected 200 pounds in a day. Amazing!
The following day I read them the story of the Little Red Hen. Hard work gets the job done and these kids were working hard. I was so proud of them. During this quarter I saw them giving, serving and donating time, money, or talent.
I'm happy to report the night of our end of quarter event the kids had raised 987 pounds of food. We made a good effort and were only 13 pounds from our goal. Then one family arrived late and handed me a bag of food they wanted to donate. We weighed the food and...this is such a God thing...their bag weighed 13.8 pounds! We met and exceeded our goal!
What a great lesson of faith for the kids and for me. The Bible tells us we only need to have faith the size of a mustard seed to move mountains.
"He replied, "Because you have so little faith. I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you." Matthew 17:20-21