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.