Wednesday, December 30, 2009

A Family Christmas

Growing up, the whole Christmas hooplah was usually the same. My sister and I spent the night with our Granny on Christmas Eve and we'd rent Christmas Vacation or Miracle on 34th Street and eat Molasses cookies all pile into her bed. On Christmas morning, we'd get fixed up, load her car, and head to mom's house. When we walked in, our stockings were laying in front of the fireplace all stuffed with goodies, a fire was in the fireplace, and sausage-egg-cheese casserole was piping hot from the oven. My sister and I would take our seats in front of the fireplace, A Christmas Story was playing on the TV, my stepdad was filming, and my mom passed out all the gifts.

I loved that tradition and we did it that way every year until my third year of marriage. Once Wally and Beaver came, we decided that we wanted to start our own family traditions and we preferred to be in our own home on Christmas morning. The problem is, we live 2.5 hours away from both sets of parents, who live on opposite sides of the state. We reasoned that our house was "in the middle" and if everyone came there, we would always be together for Christmas instead of having to switch between parents every other year.

The first year we began this tradition (2004) I was pregnant with Beaver and Ward and I had just moved into our new house (built in 1977, but new to us) and we couldn't wait to have everyone there. It iced up pretty bad that year (our region of the country does NOT handle this kind of weather well) and we almost had no guests at all. My sister and her fiance slept up in the bonus room with Ward and I, my mother and her fiance slept in our room, my grandmother slept in the guestroom, Ward's grandmother slept with Wally in his room, and Ward's mother slept on the couch in the livingroom. There really wasn't much room and the kitchen in that house was so small it was almost impossible to cook in it, but we made it.

I was afraid after the discomfort that year that no one would want to come back to our house again, but this year marks the 5th year we've hosted Christmas and I think it's safe to say that we have created a new family tradition. We're in a newer, much bigger house now so we have plenty of room to stretch out, and my kitchen is big enough for all 4 women to get in there and make some yummy creations. I love having Christmas in my own home and I hope we can continue this for many years to come.

The only downfall? Cleaning up after everyone has left!!!! :)

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Inexpensive Decorating Ideas

A few months ago, I stumbled upon a website I have really grown to love This woman lives in Branson and has the most beautiful "lodge" home and she has decorated it with flannels, old milk jars, wooden signs, and pie plates. It is absolutely adorable and I love the look. She says it has taken her 20 years to accumulate all of her decorations, but I looked at my own kitchen and realized in my 8 married years, I hadn't acquired ANYTHING to decorate my kitchen.

Now, lucky for me, my kitchen and my great room are all one big room...which I LOVE. I can do the dishes and talk to my husband while he watches TV. It's wonderful! The other great thing about this set-up is that my kitchen only has two walls and both are covered in cabinets. I don't have much wall-space to decorate, but I did have plenty of room on my counter tops. We don't have room in the budget to spend much money on things like this, so I just went to Hobby Lobby and found some unpainted wood platforms and and some paint and got busy.

I was very pleased with the way it turned out, and all of it cost me less than $25! What do you think?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Attending the school's Christmas Program

I look forward to attending events at Wally and Beaver's school because they get so excited to perform for Ward and I.

Tonight is their annual Christmas Musical and they will both be wearing church clothes, sporting new haircuts and singing their hearts out for us. Today is also my birthday and Wally told me this was a special part of my birthday gift.

They have been practicing these songs for weeks and I have really enjoyed listening to them hum Christmas tunes under their breath as they play at night.

It reminded me how thankful I am that they can attend this wonderful Christian School that we send them to. The teachers, staff, and other students are so amazing and the curriculum is fantastic.

I can't wait to see what they have in store for us tonight!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Decorating for Christmas

Growing up, we always decorated the tree the Monday after Thanksgiving. I often thought it was odd to be doing that on a Monday, but we always went out of town for Thanksgiving so this was the soonest we could get it done. Mom and my sister and I would handle the inside, and my stepdad would put all the lights up outside. I remember we had candle lights in our window and I looked forward to plugging them in every night. I LOVED Christmas and counted the days down to when we'd get to open our presents. I'd watch as the pile under the tree got bigger each day, try to peek under my mom's bedroom door as she wrapped presents, and shake every box to get even a hint of what was inside.

But, as childhood wonder begins to fade as you grow older, my anticipation for the big day diminished over the years and then it began to seem like a chore to drag out all of the decorations, bake until I couldn't stand the smell of food anymore, fight the rude and nasty shoppers at the retail chains, and spend hours and hours cleaning and changing sheets in preparation for all of the relatives to come.

I decided to have a different attitude this year. I can see a little of myself as a child when I watch Wally and Beaver do the same things I did 25 years ago. It makes me happy to see how excited they are getting and how they almost can't stand the wait. They sit in our livingroom and stare longingly at the gifts every day afterschool and I love listening to them tell each other what they think is in each box. It reminded me WHY I break my back to have a traditional Christmas each year, and it made it all worth it. This year, I bought almost everything online, so I don't have to fight the crowds, and I'm baking a little each day so that I don't have to spend 3 days straight getting everything put together. My house is clean now, and I'll just spend the next 2-3 weeks KEEPING it that way. This year when we put the decorations out, I put on some Christmas music and we all sang together as we decorated for about 4 hours and it made all the difference.

Sometimes I forget how influential my own attitude can be on the entire house. If I'm grouchy, everyone is grouchy. If I'm upbeat and light, everyone else gets that way, too. I am going to keep a smile on my face this holiday season and make sure my boys have the best Christmas ever. I have to keep reminding myself that you never know what is going to turn into a lasting memory for them. Every conversation or action could be something they remember vividly 40 years from now, and I don't ever want to be remembered as the momma that yelled and screamed and was too stressed to enjoy Christmas. :)

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Baking Bread

I LOVE to cook and look for the opportunities whenever I can. I'm pretty consistent about getting 5 cooked meals on the table per week, with one night of sandwiches and one night of leftovers. I also love to cook for friends and family and I usually give baked goods as gifts for new neighbors, holidays, etc.

My FAVORITE thing to make is bread. I love homemade fresh bread and the boys really enjoy it. I started baking bread about a year ago and at first it was only every once in a while, but now I'm making it about 3-4 times a week!

My favorite bread recipe is one I found on 50's housewife's blog. See the left side of my blog for a link to her site. She has MANY yummy recipes. It's a challah bread and it's very simple.

3 TBS butter
3 TBS sugar
1 tsp salt
1 1/4 c. water
1 packet active dry yeast
3-4 cups flour
2 eggs

Add butter, sugar, salt and water to sauce pan and cook on medium heat until about 120 degrees. (if it gets too warm, it will kill your yeast)

In a large mixing bowl, combine yeast and about half the flour. Add wet ingredients and begin to mix. Once it gets party incorporated, add the eggs. After they are all combined, start adding more flour until the dough gets soft and is a little sticky. Pour it out on to the counter that is well-floured. Start kneading by hand and working more flour into it until its a nice soft ball. The dough will still be warm and should make a pretty smooth ball. Put olive oil in a large bowl and drop the dough down into it, covering with oil on all sides. Cover and let rise for 1.25 hours.

Seperate into three balls and let rest another 15 minutes. Then roll out into three ropes and braid. After it's braided, move it to a cookie sheet and cover and let rise another 30 minutes. Before baking brush all over with egg whites. Bake for 25 minutes or until golden brown.

GORGEOUS bread and so tasty!

Helping a friend in need

Sometimes when I look at my life, I don't realize how great we have it and how lucky we are to have each other. Ward is a great husband and father, we have a nice home, reliable transportation, clothing, food, and we're all healthy. I am thankful for those things and praise God often for giving us such a wonderful life, but there's one component that I forget about sometimes because it comes so naturally to me... Ward and I have a great marriage and are still very much in love. I guess I just assume all married couples with kids are happy, because on the outside, it usually looks that way. But I found out recently that looks can be very deceiving.

A new friend of mine (a mother at the school) rencently disclosed that her husband moved out and is living in the city 30 miles away. Her children are 5 and 7 and they were very confused and upset when she told them. My friend says that the marriage has had problems since day 1 and she's not "weepy" about the decision, but instead needs to focus on her responsibilities as a mother and just keep busy. I know she is overwhelmed right now with Christmas, church duties, school duties, and taking care of the children, so I offered to help her in any way I can.

Thankfully, she was comfortable enough to pass the torch on a looming church responsibility. She allowed me to help cater a church function for 75 people. I was happy to have the opportunity to expand my little "side business" and also to knock something off of her To-Do list. People are so self-sufficient these days that very often they don't reach out and ask for help. I'm so glad she did and I think our friendship will be strengthened in the process.

Think about your own circle of friends. Is anyone in need of some help, but unwilling to ask? Take the first step and offer to cook a meal for their family, help with laundry, or baby-sit their children. You might never know how much that could help someone.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Thanksgiving "Untraditions"

Thanksgiving is one of those holidays in my family that is important, but one that never seems to have much "tradition." It seems we do Thanksgiving different almost every year. When I was growing up, we spent Thanksgiving with my grandparents in Louisiana and it was the most anticipated trip of the year for me. My sister and I were the only "kids" in the family, so we usually got a lot of attention, but concurrently we also got lost in the shuffle a lot and were allowed to explore the pond behind their house and raid the pantry undetected. When I got older and married and started my own family, that tradition stopped and we started spending Thanksgiving with Ward's side of the family out-of-town at his mom's home. And when it got to be too much to bring the boys up there for that long period of time, we started having it here. But because Ward's grandmother has been ill and family has come in town to be with her during this rough time, we thought it would be best to go back up there for Thanksgiving, and I'm glad we did.

I guess I just realized that it doesn't matter that it's different every year, the people we share the day with change every few years, and we're not always in our home. I'm just thankful that we all find a way to come together for a great meal and praise the Lord that we made it one more Thanksgiving with everyone still healthy and alive.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

I love the Food Network!

Who doesn't love the Food Network? I discovered it years ago and the first person I saw on there was Paula Deen. I fell in love with her instantly! I must admit that I'm completely addicted to the network and will watch almost anything on it. I try not to spend too much time watching TV because I get easily "sucked in" and before I know it a few hours have passed and I've done nothing around the house and ignored the kids. However, the Food Network is something I found I can keep on in the background without ever really stopping to watch. I love listening to Ina, Paula, Giada, Rachel, Sandra, Guy, Robin, and the Neely's while I cook and clean and play with the boys.

Wally really likes Paula. In fact, when we have our weekly "dates" with each other, he always wants to drink hot chocolate, eat my chocolate chip cookies, and curl up in my bed to watch "2 Paula's". And that's pretty much what we do every time. He especially loves any show that has to do with desserts, and he's recenly discovered Ace of Cakes since it was on one Friday night when he was "spending the night" with us.

I love that my boys show an interest in cooking and I try to get them in the kitchen whenever I can. At this point, it's much easier to get them to help with sweets than anything else, but I'll take what I can get.

What are your favorite shows on the Food Network???

Monday, November 23, 2009

Comfort Food

There's something about a chill in the air, a fire in the fireplace, and a football game on the television that makes you crave comfort food. I love this time of year because I have an excuse to get in my kitchen and fix my favorite foods like macaroni and cheese, meatloaf, chili, fried chicken, and pot roast.

Wally and Beaver are out of school all week and we had a fun day today at home. They got a new Nintendo game with their allowance this weekend (Indiana Jones Legos II) and played that for a bit while I puttered around the house in my houseshoes and tended to my neglected housework. I'm hoping to have it all caught up by tomorrow, laundry included.

I wanted to make something special since it was such a dark and gloomy day, so I made some pot roast and homemade challah bread. As soon as Ward walked in, he mentioned how great the house smelled and that he was starving. My recipe is VERY simple and I get rave reviews each time.

Simple Pot Roast and vegetables

1 medium beef roast (doesn't matter the cut)
Olive oil
Salt and Pepper
3 cans beef consomme
Canned carrots
Yellow potatoes (sliced)
Yellow onion (long thin strips)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees
Salt and Pepper the beef very well on all sides.
Heat a large pot on the stove with a 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil.
Once the olive oil is hot, add the roast and sear the meat on all sides.
Keep the meat in the same pot and pour all three cans of consomme over the top. Add a little water to make sure the beef is competely covered in liquid.
Cook 2-3 hours depending on size and then add vegetables.
Cook 1 hour longer, or until potatoes are soft.
Remove roast to cutting board and let rest for 15 minutes while you set the table, get drinks, etc.
Slice the beef, add the vegetables to the serving platter, and pour a little of the juice over it. Reserve the rest of the 'gravy' and put it in a gravy boat.

WONDERFUL! Enjoy! :)

Sunday, November 22, 2009

A trip to the In-Laws

Ward's grandmother has been ill lately, so we made an impromptu visit to his mother's house this weekend, since his grandmother lives around the corner. She didn't look well and had lost a lot of weight and was pretty tired from her recent stint in the hospital, but it was nice to see her just the same. Her oldest son had come in town to visit, so most of the family was together, which rarely happens.

We spent most of the weekend talking, watching football, eating great meals, and playing Phase 10, a game this family introduced me to 8 years ago when Ward and I first started dating. Ward's mother made shrimp creole Friday night and chicken and dumplinds Saturday night...mmmmmm! I got to help out today and made my homemade pizza. We had such a great time and it really helped unload some stress off of Ward's mother and uncle. The boys love visiting up there as well. My mother-in-law doesn't have much of a yard, so normally the boys spend the entire weekend running through her old house, shaking the walls, and doing flips off of the couch. But this time, they discovered some stone steps leading down to the back of the house and spent much of the day today running up and down the steps. Ward and I were rewarded for letting them do this because they slept for most of the 2.5 hour ride home. :)

I enjoyed the weekend away, but about 20 minutes before we arrived back home, I remembered that because we left on such a whim and I was so busy serving the Thanksgiving feast at the kids' school on Friday, I didn't have time to do my normal housekeeping. I walked in to a complete MESS and now I'm tired from traveling and stressed because I have to get a lot of laundry finished and dishes done before I go to bed. The dogs hadn't been fed in two days, so they tore up the backyard and porch searching for food. To add to all of this...we have NOTHING to eat so a trip to the store is definitely in order, and probably late tonight after the boys go to bed.

Note to self: Clean the house BEFORE you go out of town.... :)

Thursday, November 19, 2009

When Daddy comes home from work

My day goes by in a blur sometimes. I wake up very early, eat my breakfast and get myself dressed, wake the boys and feed them and help them get dressed, take them to school, come home and work on the computer, do house work, run errands, exercise, go get the boys from school, play with them and help with homework, fix dinner, set the table, and do last minute straightening up before Daddy comes home from work. Sometimes I get in such a hurry to get everything done that I forget why I'm doing it. I'm not doing it because I HAVE to, I'm doing it because I WANT to. I want my kids to grow up remembering playing in our yard after school while I was inside preparing dinner. I want them to remember that I always had a nice dinner on the table, the house looked nice, they always had clean clothes and bedsheets, and I was always around for school events. I want them to feel cherished.

I know I am old-fashioned, but I like for everything to be done when Daddy gets home from work. I make sure that I look nice, the kids are cleaned up, and dinner is just about ready to eat when he gets here. He loves and appreciates that I do this and he tells me often. I think this is the boys' favorite time of day. Our door has a chime on it from the alarm system, and everytime someone opens it we hear a "beep beep beep." The boys get so excited when they hear that chime and they see Daddy come through the kitchen with his briefcase and jacket. They run to him and he picks them both up and it reminds me that this simple life we are leading is the most perfect life I could have ever imagined. And I'll keep right on doing the same routine tomorrow, but I'll pay a little more attention to those small moments, because they'll be grown and gone in a hurry...and someday, the only one who'll run to the door when Daddy comes home from work is me.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Cub Scouts...what a great organization!

We signed Wally up for Cub Scouts this year because he is in the 1st grade and this was his first year of elligibility. He is officially called a Tiger Scout after earning his Bobcat Badge last night. We have REALLY enjoyed this commitment and look forward to years of service with the Cub Scouts.

Wally has loved wearing his little uniform to the weekly den meetings, selling popcorn to our friends and neighbors, and learning about camping, fellowship, and community service. We are looking forward to singing Christmas Carols to the disabled Veterans next month and participating in the Holiday Food Drive for the local Food Pantry.

What are you doing to help your children invest their time and energy into community service? If you're looking for a way to do this, I highly recommend the Cub Scouts! It's a great way to be a servant to the community, but also a wonderful bonding experience between a boy and his parents.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Cinnamini's anyone?

My boys LOVE to have their afterschool snacks and I'm pretty good about having something homemade waiting for them on the counter. Ihave a nice-sized jar that I got for Christmas one year and it has a red top, which I love because my kitchen is red. Everyday, before they come home from school, I'll fill it with pigs-n-blankets, popcorn, grapes, cookies, etc. Today I filled it with homemade cinnamini's and they were ecstatic. Especially on a chilly gloomy day like today. Here is the recipe:


1 pkg active dry yeast
1 cup warm water
3 TBS sugar
2 TBS shortening
1 large egg
1/2 tsp salt
3-3 1/2 cups flour
Brown sugar

Combine yeast and warm water in small cup and let stand 5 minutes

Combine yeast mixture will all other ingredients, except for 1 cup of the flour.

Mix with electric mixer using dough hooks until blended. Slowly add the rest of the flour until the mixture is soft. Roll the dough out onto a flour surface and knead a little big until you have a nice smooth ball. Place ball of dough into large bowl with a little bit of oil and cover and store in a warm place for 1 hour.

After an hour, punch down the dough and roll it out to a big rectangle. You want the short sides to big significantly shorter than the long sides because you want these to be CinnaMINI's. Paint softened butter all over the rectangle with a brush and then sprinkle brown sugar and cinnamon all over. Roll up the dough as tight as possible and then cut your cinnamini's in about half inch portions. Place on greased baking sheets and light rise again for 30 minutes. Bake at 350 until light brown. This recipe makes about 40 depending on how thin or thick you roll out your dough.

Drizzle with icing when cooled (I just mix powdered sugar and milk until I get desired consistency).

The wind is whipping through the trees and outside pets are hunkered down in their beds, but we're warm inside our house with a fire going in the fireplace, a cinnamini in one hand, and hot chocolate in the other.

Join us, won't you?

Thunderstorms in the Night

Normally, I love a good storm, and especially if I can putter around the house in my fuzzy socks while it's raining away outside. But Wally and Beaver don't share my love. They are 7 and 5 and still afraid of the big bad storm clouds. They like for me to get on and check out the 10-day forecast about every other day so they'll know exactly when the storm is coming and when it will pass. They usually handle it ok when it storms during the day because they can see the rain and the clouds, but when a storm comes at night....I can fully expect two terrified little boys trying to crawl into my bed in the wee hours of the morning.

And that's exactly what happened. I did get them settled in the floor in their sleeping bags that were left there from their weekly Friday night sleep-over in our room, but not until after a few minutes of convincing them we were safe and then making them use the restroom. I am dragging a little bit this morning and having trouble getting into my Monday morning routine. If only I could squeeze in time for a nap... :)

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Old Magazines from the 1950's

Some of my friends and family think I'm stuck in a time warp because I spend so much time looking at magazines, books, TV shows, and movies from the 1950's. I love that time period, and although I know it wasn't "perfect", I still think that the focus on simple family time was much stronger back then. Today, so many families are overscheduled and/or would rather spend time alone on the computer or on the phone with their friends that with their families. I love thinking about how homelife must have been before TV took over, cell phones, multiple phone lines in the home, etc.

A few years ago, Ward found 8 'bound' books of magazines from Better Homes and Gardens and Good Housekeeping from 1949-1956. I TREASURE these books and pour over each page time and again. I love reading the recipes, letters to the editor, signs of the times, advertisements, short stories, housekeeping tips, fashions of the day, etc. It's probably one of the best presents he's ever gotten me.

My most favorite part is the 1950's decorations and furniture. Who doesn't love all of the built-ins of that era?

A day in my life...

I will try, once a month on the 14th, to show you what a day in my life looks like, no matter what day the 14th falls. This time it fell on a Saturday and we had a busy and full day!

Friday night, I made ham-egg-and cheese casserole and let it sit overnight in the fridge. I popped it in the oven around 7:45a.m. and then went right back to sleep since everyone else was still asleep. (On Friday nights we let Wally and Beaver get their sleeping bags and sleep on our floor. I have no idea why they enjoy this so much!)

At around 9:00am, everyone hopped out of bed and headed towards the kitchen for some casserole.

After breakfast, we quickly got dressed for Wally's "Go See It" outing with the Cub Scouts. We went to our county's historical museum where they had pioneer rope-making, candle-making, turn-of-the-century games, and an old homestead set-up and completely decorated with period pieces. Then, we went inside the museum to see a big model train display...the highlight of their day!

When we came home we had lunch(leftover home-made pizza from Friday night), and then the boys went to their rooms for some quiet time while I did some light house-cleaning (the floors) and Ward took a nap on the couch.

While everyone was still sleeping, I made some "cinnamini's" for the boys (their absolute favorite treat) and then started getting things ready for their dinner since I had plans to meet my girlfriends for dinner in the city.

When the boys woke up, Ward took them outside to play football and enjoy the beautiful fall weather we've been having here lately. It was 69 degrees with a nice breeze and the perfect day to be outside enjoying God's creation.

I met my girlfriends at a new Mexican restaurant and we had a great time catching up. We've been going to dinner together 5-6 times a year for the past 6 years and we've seen each other get married, start families, change jobs, etc. We really enjoy our dinners and always try to pick a new and exciting restaurant. This one was great. I had the BEST burrito!

When I got home, the boys were already in bed and Ward and I cuddled up on the couch and watched the history channel until we fell asleep.

Great Day!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Friday Night Movie Rentals

When I was a kid, there was a family-owned video store less than a mile from our house and right on the way home from school. My sister and I would stop by the store on our way home from school on Friday afternoons and pick which movies we wanted to rent that night. Then, after dinner, our mom would take us down there and we'd rent a big stack for the weekend, usually for 99 cents each. We would probably get 1 or 2 new releases, and then 3 or 4 "favorites." Our favorites generally consisted of The Money Pit, Troop Beverly Hills, Shag, Steel Magnolias, Splash, The Great Outdoors, Christmas Vacation, The Parent Trap, etc.

Now it's completely different. Most movie rental places are big chains and renting movies cost 3 x's as much, so we don't do it very often. There are still plenty to choose from, but I want my boys to also enjoy some of the movies of my childhood, so last night we rented Ghostbusters and Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. We started the movies after dinner, put a fire in the fire place, got our pj's on, made some popcorn, and cuddled up on the couch under a soft blanket. Aside from the boys asking 200 questions during the course of the movie, we had a great time, and it warmed my heart seeing them enjoy the same movies I did when I was their age. It brought back so many memories of watching these movies with my mom and sister and it was a great family night.

I wonder, in this age of individualism, with all of the texting, video games, and IMing, if other families out there are still making an effort to come together on Friday nights to rent movies. I am hoping to make this a tradition my boys will look back on fondly, and carry on to their children as well.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Sweet and Hot pickles

I love to make these delicious pickles year-round. I think I picked up this recipe from my mother-in-law years ago. As soon as we run out of these, I make a new batch so we're never without them. My husband eats them 4-5 times a week! :)

Sweet and Hot Pickles

1 gallon dill pickles; drained, rinsed and cut into chunks or slices (your preference)
6-7 jalapenos, washed with tops and bottoms cut off and cut into half-inch chunks
6 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups white vinegar
1/4 cup vegetable oil

Return prepared pickles back to jar, layering with the jalapenos.
Mix sugar, vinegar, and oil and pour into jar over pickles.
Shake jar vigorously (with lid on of course) every 20 minutes until the sugar has dissolved. Store in refrigerator.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

I'm finally doing it...

After "threatening" to start a blog for several years now, I'm finally going to do it. What will I say? Will anyone read this? Will I tell my friends and family that I am finally doing this? Who knows! I just enjoy other blogs so much and I really feel I can share some of my own experiences and help other stay-at-home mom's realize that what we're doing is so great for our kids. I'll probably be posting house-keeping tips, couponing tips, recipes, "a day in the life", and so on. I want to try to remain anonymous and even though Donna Reed is my all-time favorite show, I think I'll use the Cleavers for names simply because I am raising two boys. We'll call my husband Ward and my boys Wally and Beaver.

So here goes. Let the games begin...