Sunday, December 30, 2012

10 Best of 2012

With the year nearing an end I thought it would be fun to highlight the ten most popular posts of 2012.  If you missed any, here is your chance to get caught up on those that got the most hits/pins. 

10.  Loving Your Looks in an Airbrushed World {A Note to my Girls}

9.  Hydrangeas & the Family Table

8.  Strike Up the Grill: Grilled Bruschetta Chicken

7.  In a House of Girls

6.  Faithful

5.  Let's Dance {Photo Display}

4.  What's Cookin? {& my DIY Menu Board}

3.  Teaching the Easter Story: {DIY} Resurrection Eggs

2.  Why I'm Not Hugging my Kids Closer Today {a Response to Sandy Hook} 

1.  A Pinteresting Bathroom

I'm honored that many of you have signed up for my posts through the new email subscription option and I'm super excited about some meaningful messages planned for you in early 2013.  God has revealed some great lessons to me in the midst of fun activities over the last few days and I know they'll speak to you too.  :)

And one last thing! Don't forget that you have through tomorrow to get free shipping on both my books with Pam Stenzel and the rest of her products by entering SHIPPING into the coupon code at pamstenzel.com.  Christmas might be over, but they will set your t(w)een up right before Valentine's Day.

Have a safe and wonderful New Year's.  I'll be watching my old high school's band in the Rose Bowl parade and chowing down on some yummy food while watching football.  Did y'all catch that Vikings game today?  YES!

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Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Hot Cocoa Stirrers

This Christmas break has been bursting with unexpected fun.  At our joint family Christmas Eve meal my mother-in-law surprised everyone with a photo booth that made for so many smiles.  On Christmas, we made Jesus his birthday cake {a cupcake heart} and Hannah suddenly belted out "Happy Birthday" Marilyn Monroe style.  And, last night we wrapped up Christmas with our first-ever played Christmas Carol charades.  The object, obviously, being to act out a Christmas carol and once the proper team guessed the right answer we all sang it.  We got spirit yes we do!

There have also been many still moments that will forever remain documented in my mind.  I loved seeing my hubby's eyes fill with tears during "O Holy Night" at Christmas Eve worship.  I'm so blessed to be married to a man with such love for the Lord.  And the kids, in between some occasional bickering and Ava discovering how to cover her ears when being spoken to, have clearly adored the extra family time since my hubby was fortunate enough to be home three full days.  Among my favorites have been Grace reading the story of Jesus' birth, games, and, of course, snuggling up for movies.  My all time favorite is Elf and Charlie had never seen Miracle on 34th Street (Can you imagine?) so we remedied that.  The little girl in the newer version is entirely to cute!

And, there is no better way to watch a movie than with hot cocoa AND hot cocoa stirrers. 




I first saw the idea on pinterest but the original recipe called for genuine white chocolate and sprinkles on the bottom.  Sprinkles sounded a little odd to me, but why not use some extra candy cane?  More mint with product we were already using was a modification that I thought made for perfection.

So here's how you can make them:

You will need:
Regular size candy canes
White chocolate almond bark
Marshmallows

Get out the number of candy canes that you want stir sticks.  Break the curved end of the candy cane off so that you have straight stir sticks.  {They will stand up better if the candy cane sticks are only a few inches}  Crush up some of the curved ends.

Melt some white chocolate almond bark and dip the end of the candy cane in it.  Press firmly into the marshmallows and allow them to dry.  Then, dip the ends of the marshmallows in the melted white chocolate almond bark and roll it in the crushed candy cane.

ALL of these items can melt into your hot chocolate and add to its yumminess!  Charlie and I made a date night out of it in the kitchen and found these quick and easy stirrers to make sipping hot chocolate at home with our littles and out and about at holiday gatherings a whole lot more fun.

And, now that Christmas is over, the candy canes are probably on clearance.  Go get some and enjoy the stirrers with the people you love!  Maybe you could even surprise them for a little unexpected fun in your house. :)

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Friday, December 21, 2012

Merry Christmas

 
 
 
From our family to yours.
 
We’re most looking forward to my hubby getting some extra time off work, family coming to share in worship and gifts, and squeezing the kiddos and all our loved ones tight.  Plus, we will uphold two very special traditions.  On Christmas Eve everyone from my family and my husband’s family will get together to share in a joint family meal.  And, on Christmas day, the kids will make a birthday cake for Jesus.   I imagine some family movies and board games will be sprinkled in there as well. J  Ultimately, we try to soak up the family time for all it’s worth with special attention to the baby in the manger.
Thank you for joining me time and again in this space to chat family and faith.  I’m pray God’s blessings over you and yours this Christmas season.
 
May the God of hope fill you with all joy & peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. ~ Romans 15:13 
 

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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Gift is Jesus

Last Thursday night Hannah had her one and only preschool Christmas program.  She loudly proclaimed, “The gift is Jesus” over and over again between song and message and, if you weren’t quite sure of the meaning of Christmas before you came, you most definitely knew when you left. Give four and five year olds a chance to yell and they’ll gladly take it. J

When the program was done, we crowded around tables and told our little ones how well they did while talking amongst friends about all that comes with this busy time of year - the common question being, “Are you all ready for Christmas?”  Obviously the underlying issue was whether all the gifts were purchased.  If one was really good, they were already wrapped under the tree. 

None of us could know how the world would change the next day.
And then I found myself wrapping for hours last night.  Thanks to some pinspiration, I wrapped juice boxes for today’s Christmas party to continue the theme.  I finished them off with a bow and cute sticker tag that said, “The gift is Jesus.”



As any mom that has ever taken on a craft project for her child would tell you, these festive juice boxes took significantly longer than I anticipated. Working into the late night hours, I was left to commune with the Lord in my flannel PJs on the living room floor.
Your gifts are as fleeting as this juice.

Yes, these gifts that we’re stressing over are meaningful and given with thought, but we don’t make Christmas through packages under a tree.  We get Christmas through the miracle in the manger. 
I am the one and only gift that sustains.

The world is broken.  We are more aware of that than ever. 

“Bring your peace into our violence
Bid our hungry souls be filled
World now breaking Heaven’s silence
Welcome to our world” ~ Michael W. Smith
 
 Why again are you stressing?

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:6

 
 
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Monday, December 17, 2012

Why I’m Not Hugging my Kids Closer Today {a response to Sandy Hook}


I was on the way to my Hannah’s preschool when I first heard news about Newtown.  Once she was safely inside, I sat frozen in my van as tears filled my eyes thinking of the many parents who dropped their child off just like I had with no one left to pick up.   My next stop was my daughter’s first grade classroom where I was set to spend the afternoon volunteering.  A school with a female principal similar in size to Sandy Hook.

Upon arrival, I went through our own safety protocol and then paused to thank the most two amazing front desk women a school could ever have.  In the hallway, I stopped to thank the principal, doubly struck as both an administrator and mother of elementary aged children, for all she did to keep our children safe.  And, when I hit Grace’s classroom, I gave her soft-hearted teacher a hug for being the special person she is in my daughter’s life.  They are all everyday unsung heroes who love my child well.

Grace came running toward me with that beautiful spark in her eyes that lights up my life.  She enveloped me in a hug and I tightly squeezed her back.  Was I thanking God to have her? Yes.  But was it different than any other time I’ve stepped foot in her classroom?  No.  This is our norm.

I chose not to turn on the news much over the next few days.  Our girls are simply too young to process this in any sort of healthy, meaningful way so we intentionally shielded them, and I didn’t feel like investing a bunch of energy into media could bring any good to this horrific situation.  Rather, I bent my knees in prayer and looked at the Christmas tree with even more anticipation for the arrival of baby Jesus, who chose to come into our messy, broken world and redeem all.  Thank you, Lord, for that.

I would see the faces of the lives lost and pray for them each by name as well as hear a few stories of bravery that remind us all how invested school workers are in the lives of our daughters and sons.  And I appreciated that.  But I would also hear cries to hug our children closer, and I struggled with that.

The truth is with each rise and fall of our chest we are all one breath closer to dying.  Parents leave us too soon, children quit breathing, medical diagnoses change lives, and unseen tragedy surprises.  Daily.  Most of these stories will not make the national or even the local news, but waves of grief resonate just the same for family required to say goodbye.

We are a nation in mourning.  Senseless violence has claimed lives of the innocent and we’re all left crying out to God, acutely aware of the gift our children are even on their naughtiest of days. Should we hug them close? Absolutely. But, embracing them as a temporary emotional response to another’s loss does not honor the parents whose arms now run empty or write any sort of life message on their hearts.  It must be our permanent way of life.

This horrific act of violence cannot be changed.  And my heart will continue to weep for a school destroyed and parents called to bury their first grade children on the same day I entered Grace’s first grade classroom and helped healthy children make sparkly Christmas gifts for their parents.  However, we can examine whether we are fully appreciating the people God’s given us and, if necessary, make a change. 

Unfortunately, in time, those of us on the perimeter will see and hear less of Connecticut and “normal life” will resume.  But what will your “normal life” look like?  Will you still be saying thank you and smothering loved ones in hugs?  Because that is the story your kids will know and the memory loved ones will have of you.

We’ve always been huggers on good days and bad.  My children noticed no difference on Friday and for that I am thankful. 

Lord, let us never take our children or any other loved ones for granted.  May we always hug them tightly while they’re here.     

 
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Monday, December 10, 2012

It's a Christmas Sale! {Free Shipping}

Still wondering what to get that teenager on your Christmas list?  Why not help translate this faith-filled holiday into a faith-inspired life?  Pam Stenzel and I want to help you do just that! 

So, for the remainder of December you can get FREE SHIPPING on all orders placed through pamstenzel.com. 

Social media is a key form of communication in their life so why not get them a book written in that style with words and stories from their peers that helps them examine how they are using the media in their life



and challenge them to use it for God?  Who's In Your Social Network is the answer.

And with Valentine's Day quickly on their mind after the switch to a new calendar mind, get them thinking in advance with



Nobody Told Me.

If you haven't heard Pam speak, you are going to want to do that pronto and she has great videos to make that happen.

The Love Lesson's relationship curriculum is awesome for your religious ed, youth group, or homeschool.




The leader's guide (written by me) has everything you ned to facilitate conversation and answer queestions while deepening students walk in their faith.

Her updated talk called The High Cost of Free Love (available in both faith-based and secular versions)



is an insanely great resource to help the teen you love understand the physical, emotional, and spiritual counsequencs to sex outside of marriage as well as the power of touch and chemical bonding...in a way more fun way than they'll ever hear in chemistry class. :) 

I always suggest watching this and then going through the Nobody Told Me book because the chapters expland upon each area of the time restricted talk.  They fit goether like peanut butter and jelly! :)

Close to my heart as the mother of three girls is Take a Look in the Mirror.



I want my girls to understand whose they are so that they can grow into women of character attracting men of integrity.  This will help accomplish just that.

And, for you parents that are banging your head against the wall wondering if what you are saying is making any difference, Parents Maatter




Will help you walk away a little taller.

To get in on the deal, simply fill your virtual cart with lots of good stuff and then enter "shipping" into the coupon code box when you place your final order.

Happy shopping... and Merry Christmas from Pam and I!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

A Decade of Domesticity {with a 2 Ingredient (Microwavable) Fudge Recipe}

In 1997 I graduated high school and moved in to the college dorms.  According to one of my mom's friends, this Erin girl was attending the same school and we would make good roommates.  We met at Applebees and had a meal.  Few words were shared and when we left we did the awkward "So do you want to room together?" "Sounds great."  Done deal kinda thing. 



We probably both left praying we hadn't made the worst mistake of our lives.

Day one of moving into the dorms we set up our stuff.  The following morning her alarm went off and she popped out of bed, panicked. "We're going to miss TPIR!" (short for The Price is Right)  I began to question my decision.  My lack of enthusiasm probably caused her to do the same :)  Her boyfriend came and made our room totally cutting edge, setting up surround sound before it was the "in thing" and my boyfriend gave it a trial run over Home Improvement with him.  The stage was set for our living arrangement together. 

Before long we were staying up late in the night talking.  We laughed.  We cried on each other's shoulder, at times.  We both studied up the wazoo.  And, when we weren't, we were doing super important things like having a slew of girls in the room to watch "The Wedding Story" and covering our door in wrapping paper to stay seasonally festive. 

Quickly I found an amazing friend in this Barker fanatic turned nurse extraordinare.

We both married those boys that helped us set up our freshman dorm room - character high school boyfriends with a great sense of humor and love for the Lord.  We were a part of each other's services and helped each other settle into full fledged adult life.  We dreamed of babies and painted new walls.

One year after graduation we decided we'd start a Christmas cooking tradition.  It didn't go so hot.  One pan of burnt chocolate and an extra day of goody work later we wondered if we were cut out for this.  But we had so much fun we continued.  Year. After. Year. 

Our domestic skills grew, favorites were formed, and our families grew.  Seven children now call us "mom" and make this carved out time in our lives that much more special.  It is a day to make food to bless others, but more than that, it is a full day I can plan on sharing with a woman I was blessed to be set up with because she's become one of my most cherished friends.

This year we added two ingredient microwavable fudge to our list.  {Hey, I said we got better.  Not that we became master chefs.}  Chad and Charlie both joked over our supper (tradition is that our families share a Qdoba meal when our work is done) that it was probably a mistake the first time someone made it and true hard-working, stove-laboring women are probably rolling over in their graves with our new found Pinterest gem that we call a recipe. But, mistake or not, it worked.  And it is good.  So, if you are going to a holiday party and want something on this fly this would be it.



Here's how you make it:
1 can of chocolate frosting
1 (12oz) bag of semisweet chocolate chips

Put in the microwave at 70% for two minutes and then take it out and stir until all the chocolate chips have melted in.  Put it in an 8x8 waxed paper lined pan and stick in in the fridge to cool for around two hours. 

I think it would be fun to try a cream cheese type of frosting sometime too.

This year we made 910 pieces of candy in 5.5 hours. 



Our list was:

1) 2 ingredient fudge
2) gluten free peanut butter star kiss cookies
3) peanut clusters
4) chocolate peanut butter balls
5) almond bark pretzels
6) holiday button pretzels

Last night before leaving my man said, "You ladies got this down to a science." And, after a decade, I'd have to agree.  Thanks for the tradition, Erin.  But, most of all, thanks for your friendship.  I look forward to much more laughter, singing, and meaty discussion memories over candy making days in the decades to come.

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Monday, December 3, 2012

Broken

I pulled the lid off the tote with eager anticipation.  There is something about Christmas décor that puts a skip in my step.  The smells of seasonal scents.  The glow of the Christmas lights creating the perfect setting for reflection and writing.  The meaningful adornment that seems to bring added beauty to a sometimes mundane looking home.

The reds, greens, and golds drew me in.  My fingers dug deep, and as I pulled out each item the story of where it came from and what it meant danced through my head.  The smile couldn’t be erased from my face.
Near the bottom was a new advent candle setting I received for Christmas last year and, quite frankly, had forgotten about.  I opened the box and brushed my fingers along the gorgeous angel base. “Prepare the Way of the Lord.”

This is nicer than anything I ever buy myself, I thought. Definitely centerpiece worthy on the dining room table.
Pulling out the green gathered runner, I brought new look to the dining room table. Finished with a silver tree and the advent candles, I smiled at the picture worthy view.  It looked like the put-together, pretty life that I long for.

Days passed and Ava climbed onto the dining room table.  I lunged toward her.  I wish I could say it was solely for her safety but the truth is I really didn’t want my pretty looking life ruined.  But, before I was able to reach her, her chubby little fingers circled a candle and broke the new treasure.
 

Hannah looked at me with eyes of curiosity.  What is mom going to do with this? 
Taking a deep breath, I removed my sweet, smiling toddler from the table and told Hannah it would be okay.  We could get a new candle for only a few cents.  But inside I was crushed that reality struck so soon.  

Despite my greatest efforts my life is not flawless.

I questioned what to do with it.  I didn’t want to take the entire decoration down, but I didn’t want to remove the candle and have people think I wasn’t smart enough to know how many Sundays there were in Advent.  So I left it there.  Broken.
Each time I entered the dining area my eye caught the broken candle.  I got frustrated with the kids, and I looked at it.  Fear entered my heart, and I looked at it.  Heartbreaking news reduced me to tears, and I looked at it.  Over and over again my eyes were driven to the damaged wax.
And through my tear filled eyes, I realized that it is the perfect Advent candle and, oddly enough, the right decor.  It represents life this side of glory.
I am broken.  Human imperfection robs me of a picture perfect life and frailty causes me to fracture.  I need something bigger and stronger and far more perfect than I.  I need Jesus.

Lighting the candle drives me to acknowledge me need for a Savior and the flame symbolizes true hope for me in the midst of an imperfect, messy, not always so picturesque, hurting, broken life.    
Baby Jesus, come.

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Saturday, December 1, 2012

{DIY} Attributes of the Lord Christmas Tree Ring Advent Countdown




The calendar page has been turned and my children are buzzing with excitement.  Christmas is on the way!  As a mom, my goal is to invest time in making sure they truly understand the reason for the season.  And that investment can be made with very little money.

Last year for Advent we did a Birth Story Candy Cane countdown.  When Grace (my seven year old) asked me a few days ago if we were going to do the same thing again this year, I found myself smiling and nodding saying, "Yep, we're going to do something special,"  Unfortunately, I had no idea what this "something special" was going to be and, clearly, time was of the essence.  I only knew I didn't want to involve the actual Christmas tree because with Ava being 18 months old we opted against putting the ornaments up and candy would only entice our energetic climber.

There are so many wonderful Advent activities I'd like to try with my children over the years.  The challenge right now is making it understandable for their ages.  Thankfully, I'd seen this cute Christmas tree ring countdown and I transformed it from a basic countdown into a faith-focussed activity.

If you are wanting to do something on the fly, this is a craft for the win.  You only need some colored construction or scrapbook paper and a pen.  Pretty simple, right?   

Cut your paper into the number of strips that there are days in Advent.  I cut one gold for the very top, and a mixture of red and shades of green for the rest.



Then I made my own list of attributes of the Lord I feel it is important for my girls to know and Scriptures to support them.  Since Advent is 23 days this year, I went with 22 attributes and the final gold ring {Christmas Eve} is to read the birth story.

Here is the attribute/Scripture list I created-

1)      Hope  John 16:33
2)      Forgiveness    Isaiah 1:18  
3)      Peace  Isaiah 26:3
4)      Trustworthy  Deuteronomy 31:6
5)      Comfort   Matthew 11:28
6)      Direction  Jeremiah 29:11
7)      Strength   Philippians 4:13
8)      Loving  Psalm 107:1
9)      Sustenance  Matthew 4:4
10)   Empowering  2 Corinthians 12:9
11)   Joy  John 15:11
12)   Forever  Isaiah 40:8
13)   #1 King  Revelations 19:16
14)   Making us Whole  Colossians 2:10
15)   Claiming Us  Galatians 4:5-6
16)   Light  John 8:12
17)   Preparing a place for us  John 14:3
18)   Protection  Isaiah 43:2
19)   Miracle Worker Psalm 77:14
20)   All Knowing Luke 12:7
21)   Intimate  Psalm 56:8
22)   Eternal life  John 3:16
23)   Read the birth story  Luke 2: 1-20

Obviously the attributes and supporting Scriptures can be exactly what you want them to be and, if you choose to use the same list, can be hooked together in any order.

I wrote "The Lord Is..." on the front of the yellow ring so that the girls know what we will be focussing on this Advent.  The whole thing only took about 15 minutes to make and was completely free because I had some paper in the house. 

Despite its monetary cheapness, it will be rich in teaching and the girls can't wait to get started.  I can't wait to see the discussion it promotes.  :)

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