Monday, December 29, 2014

A Christmas of Peace, Joy and Family

Well I am a little late getting our Christmas post up. That is because we have been spending so much time with family that I just haven't made the time. And family was what it was definitely all about this Christmas.

I typed this big ol' post with a play-by-play of everything we have done over the past several days and it was just a run on of blah, blah, blah. What I really wanted to say through all of it is that this was the best Christmas we have ever experienced. It was simple and stress free and full of family and food and fun. And that's all we needed. We had dinner at my parents' on Christmas Eve and exchanged gifts and then had a relaxing Christmas Day at home with family coming and going as they could. I let everyone know that I would be fixing a big breakfast and a big dinner that were both open to whomever was available. The house was full with guests for breakfast, but it was just a few of us for dinner as everyone had somewhere else they had to be. Rick, Eli, Brynne and I had nowhere to go and nothing to do (man, was that nice!) so we stayed in our pjs all day, played games, cleaned up here and there, did lots of eating and napping. It was a beautiful couple of days.

Then on Saturday evening we had another family gathering with extended family in Kansas City at my second cousin's antique shop and tearoom. Again, just an easy going time with good food and better company.

Sharing our time with family was the best gift we could receive this Christmas. We have a new baby in the family with the addition of Ellie, and Ashtyn is so fun to be around as a two year old. I love my nieces and how cute they are. Eli and Brynne are now the big kids, so our holidays have gotten much easier. Things are just so carefree and perfect.

And then to have my adult children is such a blessing. To see Kyndal and Collin starting their lives together is so fun. And Dawson and Taylar are so cute with each other, really putting a lot of thought and effort into their gifts for each other. It was nice to sit back and watch them enjoy each other and their holiday.

Gifts were plentiful. We all got what we wanted and more. I was particularly spoiled rotten by Rick and the kids this year, and I would think they would all agree that they were spoiled rotten, too. Everyone was happy and at peace. Definitely a Christmas to remember and one to replicate in the years to come.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The 12 Days of a Simple Christmas (Revisited) ~ Day 10 Garlands

We will be adorning our Christmas tree with two kinds of garlands this year: A dried apple slice garland and a popcorn garland.

Right now I have my apple slices drying out.

They should be ready for us to string on December 23rd, like this:

 It will look something like this when we are done.

And, of course, for popcorn garlands we will just pop a few bags of popcorn, string them and hang them.

Monday, December 22, 2014

A Letter to Eli on His Birthday

Dear Boogie ...

Today was your birthday and it was a great day, don't you think? It started out a little shaky when you immediately started crying when I woke you up to tell you 'Happy Birthday'. You said you were sad because you were no longer 10, because it was a great year. Your 10th year was a great year, and every year before it. But I gently reminded you that it is time to start building memories in a new decade. Your reaction was just like you ... you are not someone who is ready to move onto the next phase of your life. You are always content being right where you are.

That's one of the things I love most about you. Nobody in the world appreciates the every day the way that you do. And holidays and special events are just icing, days intended just for family. Today we had your perfect day. You slept late, ate all your favorite foods (the same things you eat every other day), played video games with your sister and then your daddy and brother later in the day, received phone calls and visits, and went to the movies. And that was all you needed. You were so happy and content.

I know we give you a lot of grief about being a little old man. But I have always loved little old men. Maybe that's one of the reasons I love you so much. You are definitely an old soul. And I love how you do not have even one mean bone in your body. You are lovable and kind and honest and faithful. I never have to worry about your actions. I never have to worry about your heart. You love your family and cherish your friends. It is easy for people to adore you, and they absolutely do.

I am grateful to God for choosing me as your mommy, your teacher, and your friend. I love taking care of you, learning with you, and hanging out with you. You are one cool kid and my life would be so empty without you.

So, buddy, here is to another decade. May it be as awesome as the last one.


The 12 Days of a Simple Christmas (Revisited) ~ Day 9 Ball and Burlap Tree

I hope you have been enjoying this 12 Days of a Simple Christmas reposted series. Again, these were a series of posts from 2010 when we decided to spend only the few days before Christmas preparing for it, just like in the olden days. It was a meaningful Christmas, definitely, and one I won't ever forget. As I looked at this post my heart melted. Look at how tiny Eli and Brynne were!!! Today is Eli's 11th birthday, so reposting this is especially emotional for me. Here is what I wrote in 2010 ...

I had it in my heart to get a Ball and Burlap Christmas tree this year. (Honestly, I didn't even know what they were until I came across one as being a Christmas tradition of old.) What is a Ball and Burlap tree? It's a tree that has been dug out of the ground, roots and all, instead of cut. The roots are bound in a ball and wrapped in burlap. After it is used as a Christmas tree, it can be replanted. Something excited me about the idea of letting our Christmas tree continue to live instead of tossing it into a ditch after we were done with it. I have visions of cardinals sitting on it's branches after a big snow.

We went yesterday and picked out our tree. We have a wonderful Christmas tree and blackberry farm in our town. We have purchased cut trees from there in the past and picked blackberries there for the first time this past summer. The owners are the nicest people and the guys they have working there are always so friendly and helpful! They also always have several places set up for fun photo ops.

Rick, Eli, Brynne and I went to pick out our tree. Kyndal and Dawson are teenagers ... which means they weren't real interested. Instead they stayed home and made our traditional pretzel snacks.

Here are some pictures from our time at the farm. We had a fun time playing hide-and-seek in the rows of Christmas trees and picking out the "perfect" tree.

We have a picture of Brynne in this same sleigh when she was 4 months old.

Here is the tree we chose.

This is where it will reside for the next couple of days. We will bring it in this week and get it ready to decorate on the 23rd.

She will be about 30 feet tall at the height of her maturity.

If you are interested in a Ball and Burlap tree, you can go here for instructions on how to care for it.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

The 12 Days of a Simple Christmas (Revisited) ~ Day 8 Luminaries

Instead of paying the electric company to light the outside of our home, this year we are making luminaries to place on our sidewalk, front porch and doorstep.

I purchased half-pint mason jars. We are covering them with Christmas tissue paper and decoupage glue. Then we will just add a tea light to each one and put them out on Christmas Eve to light the way for the Christ child.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

The 12 Days of a Simple Christmas (Revisted) ~ Day 7 Lacey Candles

Since making Bayberry candles would be a challenge, I found an alternative so that we can still get in some candle making which was a tradition in Colonial days. These lacey candles are not difficult and turn out beautiful!

(These are candles from the Taste of Home site. Mine are below)

Complete instructions can be found at this Taste of Home site.

Here are a few tips from me.
  • I used small milk cartons I got out of the trash at my son's elementary school. I just rinsed them out, cut the tops off and let them dry completely.
  • I used two, 1-lb. blocks of paraffin wax and pre-made 3 1/2" wicks with tabs (instead of "tapers"). This made eight candles using small milk cartons.
  • To put in the wicks, I hot glued them to the bottom of the milk carton.
  • To melt the wax, I just put the blocks in an oven-safe pan, on a pizza pan, and melt at 225 degrees.
  • I actually filled the milk carton about 3/4 full with crushed ice and then poured wax until the ice was just covered.
  • We also added glitter over the ice before we poured in the wax to give them some shimmer, since we didn't add color to the wax.

    Friday, December 19, 2014

    The 12 Days of a Simple Christmas (Revisited) ~ Day 6 Pomanders

    One natural way to decorate your tree is with fruit! We will be making dried orange slices to put on our tree, apple slice garlands and pomanders.

    To make pomanders, you just take a whole orange, decorate it with whole cloves and ribbons and you're done.

    These always smell so good and look even better. Make sure you hang them on a sturdy branch on the tree!

    Random 5

    1. Unlike the usual me, I an REALLY feeling the Christmas spirit this year! I can't remember the last time I felt this way. Even with my Christmas spirit, I am still not a huge fan of Christmas music. Instead, I have been listening to Pandora, to a channel I created myself using the search of "How He Loves David Crowder Band". That is one of my very favorite songs ever. It brings me to tears and causes me to stop what I am doing and close my eyes and worship God, even in the bathroom in the middle of flat ironing my hair. Every song that comes up under that search could be a Christmas song, to me, as they tell of Jesus' love and redemption. That is the reason we celebrate Christmas.

    2. Dawson had a doctor's appointment this week for a recent issue that is going to require some outpatient surgery in the next few months. The news about the potential problems should he not have the surgery was a crushing blow to him. Everything should be all right, but we would appreciate your prayers for total healing and a calming of fears for him.

    3. Do you read Christmas books this time of year? I don't mean picture books for your kids, although we read tons of those, too. I am talking about some good ol' feel good Christmas novellas? I always try to. They are heartwarming and an easy read for this time of year. Here is my stack of books to read. I have already finished Christmas at Harrington's. I loved it. I am now moving onto my favorite Christmas author Richard Paul Evans. Do you have any other Christmas novels you would like to recommend?

    4. Gift wrapping is such a chore, isn't it? I usually put it off until Christmas Eve morning (for our Christmas Eve gift exchange with my family) and then Rick and I stay up half the night that night wrapping for Christmas morning. THIS year, however, I am ahead of the game! I am going to get all of our gifts wrapped by Christmas Eve. I have made a huge dent in my pile. There is still tons to do, but I will have it done. Like I said, I am in the Christmas spirit this year!!!

    5. Rick texted me the other night and said that gas in Tulsa was $1.95 a gallon. Can you believe that? It's been about 10 years since gas was that cheap. It's still about $2.15 here, but even that's an awesome change from the past few years. Now maybe grocery prices will start to go down!

    Thursday, December 18, 2014

    Tuesday Coffee Chat ~ Christmas Eve

    I came across another weekly linky called Tuesday Coffee Chat hosted by Leslie at Time Out for Mom. I realize it's Thursday afternoon, but this linky involves drinking coffee and answering a themed question every week. So, I'm in.

    This week's question is ....

    What does Christmas Eve look like in your home?

    Our Christmas Eve has changed in the past 5 years. When we lived in Oklahoma we always spent Christmas Eve at our house celebrating with Rick's sister and her family. Our tradition was to eat Mexican food, therefore a little Feliz Navidad celebration even though we are not of Spanish speaking descent. It was just fun! We had the most amazing enchiladas and salsa made by Julie and I provided the tacos and guac. After eating we would watch Christmas Vacation and then the kids would open gifts.

    Now that we are in Missouri, they are four hours away so Christmas Eve is not possible with them. We now spend Christmas Eve with my family. If we have Christmas Eve dinner at our house, we still do a Mexican meal. But if we eat at my mom and dad's, we go more traditional. We eat dinner together as a family and then gather to exchange gifts. We still exchange gifts with every member of our family and it's lots of fun.

    After we come home we pop in Christmas Vacation. The kids get to open their Christmas Eve pjs and then they all head upstairs to Dawson's room for a sleepover. In years past Rick and I (and last year Kyndal and Collin) have stayed up waaaaayyy too late and wrapped all of our presents for Christmas morning. I do not want to do that this year. I'm going to try my best to get all of our gifts wrapped before Christmas so that after our movie we can play a game as a family, or maybe even get to bed at a decent hour so that we are not totally exhausted on Christmas morning. Really I just want Christmas Eve for us to be easy, relaxing, and stress free.

    So I guess Christmas Eve looks a little different at our house every year. But one thing is constant ... we spend time together as a family and it's my favorite evening of the whole year.

    The 12 Days of a Simple Christmas (Revisited) ~ Day 5 Salt Dough Ornaments

    First of all, be still my heart .... look at how adorable my little Brynney was in 2010. I want to reach into that picture and gobble her up!!!

    I had originally planned to make sugar cookie ornaments for the tree. But then I got to thinking about the four puppies and what they would do to a tree full of sugar cookies. Sooooo, I switched my thinking to Salt Dough.

    On Monday I whipped up two batches of Salt Dough, got out the tin of Christmas cookie cutters and put my two little elves to work. They made stars, snowflakes, gingerbread men, reindeer, stockings (one for each member of our family), snowmen and other things.

    And then they will be painted, starting today.

    So far we have made a couple of batches of crystal ornaments and salt dough ornaments. Paper ornaments are next. Today, tomorrow and Friday we are going to spend all day making ornaments. Things are coming along nicely!

    ** The only picture I have of these ornaments was on our tree and it is so far away you can't even see the ornaments. But believe me, they turned out so good!

    Wednesday, December 17, 2014

    Wednesday Hodgepodge

    We are on Christmas break so I am sitting on the couch, covered in dogs, with a cup of coffee working on today's Hodgepodge questions. This might be the definition of my perfect morning.

    Time Magazine has selected The Ebola Fighters as their person of the year for 2014. Do you agree, and if so who would you say is a close second? If you disagree with their choice, who do you think should have been chosen?

    I am glad I do not have the job of choosing this person each year because I do not keep up enough with current events. I really cannot think of anyone else that should have been awarded this title this year. I mean, really, who has fought a more sacrificial fight than the Ebola volunteers? They have risked their lives in unimaginable ways, most certainly in ways that I wouldn't even consider doing. The only other person to specifically add to that list might be the Ebola survivor whose blood they are using to transfuse those in the United States who have contracted the disease. And the dude who figured out that using his blood transfusions might work? He is a pretty important guy, too. Kudos to those folks ... an honor well-deserved!

    This question comes to you courtesy of Susan who blogs over at Stew Mama Says.She knows we have a wedding happening any minute now, and she asks, "What's your favorite something old? something new? something borrowed? something blue in your home?" Be sure you hop over to say hi to Susan today!

    My favorite something old would have to be the antique clock that was my late grandmother's. I always loved winding that clock at night when we spent the night with her and the loud 'tic-toc-tic-toc' lulled me to sleep many Saturday nights.
    My favorite something new? Oh definitely our new direct vent furnace! It has kept us so warm so far this winter and I am so grateful to have it!
    My favorite borrowed thing would have to be my entire house. My mom very graciously (and maybe a little self-servingly ... it got us to move the 4 hours back to our hometown) loaned us the entire amount of money to buy our house 2 years ago. Without her loan, moving here would not have been possible.
    I am more of a warm-color kind of person, so finding my favorite something blue was a challenge. Ah, but then I just looked down and saw the greenish-blue color of my robe. And it is definitely my favorite thing in this house that is blue.

    Fudge -- yay or nay? Your favorite flavor? Do you make it yourself? With nuts or without?

    Where was I last year when I ate the most delicious peanut butter fudge? Oh, I know! It was at church on a Wednesday night potluck dinner. It was made by Sue Taylor. It absolutely melted in my mouth. I am not typically a huge fudge eater, but it was to die for!!! I think I had three pieces. I am definitely going to hit her up for her recipe. So peanut butter flavored would have to be what I would prefer. I don't really like chocolate fudge, although I like dark chocolate so maybe I would enjoy that. I don't want nuts in it.

    December 17th is Wright Brothers Day, commemorating the first successful flights made by Orville and Wilbur Wright in 1903 in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. How old were you when you made your first flight? Do you like to fly? Have you ever been to Kitty Hawk or other parts of the North Carolina Outer Banks?

    I had to ask my mom this one. I was in an airplane for the first time when I was 6 weeks old. My little mama was only 20 years old and flew with me alone back to Virginia where my dad was stationed in the Navy. Can you imagine doing that as a 20 year old? That's Kyndal's age ... and as a brand new mama. Whoa. I honestly don't really like to fly. I like the convenience of it, but I get really, really bored on a plane. I would rather drive to see the scenery and experience new places. I have never been to North Carolina, but that sounds like it would be a neat place to visit.

    Do the people in your family tend to follow a particular career path, and if so what's the path?

    For a while it looked like it might be so. My grandfather had a plumbing construction company that my dad took over when he retired. My brother was being groomed early on to take it over when my dad retired, but he decided it was not for him and gave it up. If Dawson was in line to do it, I think he would have. But my dad has had an eager and dedicated young man working for him for the past several years and the company should rightfully be sold to him when the time is right. Dawson wishes we would have lived here when he was younger so he could have gotten into the business at a younger age to keep it in the family. He thinks he would have liked to take it over. But God has a plan for Dawson and if it didn't include taking over the business then we are completely okay with that. Excuse my language but my dad has always said that it is a shitty job, but somebody has to do it. Hee Hee!!

    What is the one thing you absolutely, positively must accomplish today?

    I really must vacuum, mop and dust, and finish laundry! Dirty dirty house.

    This Christmas I hope .....

    to just relax and enjoy my family, and eats lots of good food.

    Insert your own random thought here.

    I know that this is going to be the most peaceful and enjoyable Christmas ever. I have been reading back over my blog posts from past Christmases and, man, was I keyed up! There were years that I was trying to find the perfect balance, and provide the perfect day for my family. There were years that I was lonely and trying to find ways to fill my loneliness of being away from extended family. There was the year that I made efforts to make it a simple Christmas and realized that it was a lot of work to make it that way. There were years that I was just plain angry and fed up. Last year was a really nice Christmas without much stress. But this year I think we've finally just got it all figured out. We have completely simplified our decorations. Instead of filling every single night and weekend between now and Christmas with activity, we are slowed down and just enjoying the peace and quiet. The activities we have done have been ones that we want to be traditions for years to come. We have no real plans for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day except to just spend time with family. I am normally a huge Scrooge, but this year I am so, so excited for Christmas! It's going to be a great season!

    The 12 Days of a Simple Christmas (Revisited) ~ Day 4 Teacher's Gifts

    Eli is one of those students who loves every teacher, and every teacher loves him .. even if he doesn't have them for any classes. He loves the secretaries (and never leaves for the day without hugging each of them), loves his principal and librarian and P.E. teacher and music teacher and computer teacher. He also has a speech pathologist, occupational therapist and reading specialist. Of course we give a Christmas gift to his homeroom teacher. But, he would be devastated if he didn't get to hand a gift to each of his other teachers (down to the lunchroom monitor, nurse, counselor and school instructional assistant.) That can get expensive!!  But we are grateful for them all and want to thank them for their love and care.

    Here is our yearly solution, that doesn't cost much. But they are oh ... so ... good!

    Spicy Pretzels

    15 oz. bag pretzels
    1 package  dry ranch dressing (i.e. Hidden Valley)
    3/4 cup oil
    1/2 tsp. lemon pepper
    1/2 tsp. garlic salt
    1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper

    Put all ingredients into a gallon-sized ziplock bag and shake. Shake and mix every 20-30 minutes for a couple of hours. Let sit for 24 hours before dividing. These ingredients fill about 3 cellophane Christmas snack gift bags.

    Now that we are homeschoolers, we don't have all of those teachers. However, these are great gifts to give to Sunday school teachers, the mailman, the librarians, and coaches. They will all be receiving these from us this year.

    Tuesday, December 16, 2014

    The 12 Days of a Simple Christmas (Revisited) ~ Day 3 Crystal Ornaments

    In 2010, when we celebrated our Old-Fashioned Christmas, we made all of the decorations for our tree. Our favorites were the Crystal Ornaments. They are easy to make and really beautiful!

    We will be making all of our decorations for our Christmas tree this year. One type of ornament that we will be mass-producing is crystal ornaments made from pipe cleaners and Borax. I got the idea from Nature Mom's Blog (go there for step-by-step instructions), and I can't wait to adorn our tree with them!

    In addition to these styles, I also want to make lots of silver snowflakes.

    Not only are we doing these for our tree, but we are making several of them for Brynne to barter at her bartering table at Homeschool Coop this Friday.

    (We have actually made these ornaments a couple of times since then. They are easy, pretty, and lots of fun. My favorites were white pipe cleaners twisted into spirals. They looked like icicles.)