Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Christmas Thoughts

We've come to that lovely and wonderful time of year: December.  It might be my second favorite month (after July) and something I start looking forward to about early September.  There is much to love about this time of year: extra time with family, good food, plenty of sweets, justification for shopping, presents to wrap, and a general good cheer.

Maybe we're lucky with close families that involve no overnights away from our own beds, but I don't get the stress that can surround this time of year.  Actually, my whole life is about minimizing my stress and since I've been staying home with Luke I'm able to keep it pretty low most of the time.  I don't mind being a little busier than usual with the baking and wrapping and shopping and decorating.  I love doing all those things and fitting them into our normal day usually isn't much of our problem since I use winter, snow, and colder weather to basically hide out at home anyways.

We started baking our cookies in early November, mailed Christmas cards on Black Friday, and have most of my shopping done.  Not all, I still have my lovely husband to shop for and a few things for Luke but other than that, I'm mostly done.  We don't need to talk about how far Matt is (or isn't) in the shopping that has been delegated to him. (Which is mostly me, his parents, and one of his 4 godchildren.)   I haven't wrapped a thing, besides our giving tree items which were already turned into church, but am also trying to finish up a few sewing projects before I'll give myself the luxury of watching Christmas movies and wrapping during quiet time.  I even have started on a stocking for a child we don't even have yet, mainly as an excuse to watch The Crown but also, I find it fun?  Plus, no pressure to get it done makes it easy to be a fun thing.

I find I enjoy December best when I take care of a lot of Christmas things in November.  Nothing NEEDS done at that point which makes anything that is crossed off to the to-do list feel like a bonus.  The more I can relax in December, the better.  We've also simplified our Christmases over the last few years.  This is the first year we have no celebrations with extended families.  We are in many exchanges because we obviously aren't buying presents for all our combined 27 siblings and 43 nieces and nephews.  We also don't buy presents for any friends and all those other random categories (Mailman? Who does that?).  Keeping Christmas somewhat simple keeps me somewhat sane (says the person who has already made about 9 kinds of Christmas treats and isn't done yet).

All this November prep means, most importantly, we can use December to focus on the meaning of the season, namely, Jesus' birth.  I don't think my spiritual and materialistic sides are ever more at odds with each other than in December.  It is very very easy to be caught up in all the outwards sides of Christmas, basically everything I listed above.  We have our house decorated, cookies baked, presents bought, and have been listening to Christmas music on and off since before Thanksgiving.  It's pretty dang easy to get caught up in making things look nice but not so easy to make our hearts ready and open to receive Jesus.  The material stuff is generally more concrete: address and mail Christmas cards has a pretty defined beginning and end, and can be crossed off the list.  But preparing your heart?  Well that's the kind of thing that is never complete.

Last year I mentioned wanting to reread The Greatest Gift: Unwrapping the Full Love Story of Christmas and this year I was a little more on top of things, buying it on half.com for cheap over the summer.  I didn't quite start it on December 1st (I've had an awful cold for over a month that is routinely kicking my butt) but have caught up since and it really is helping me focus a little better, even if just for a few minutes each day.  We keep trying to remind Luke that Christmas isn't just about presents and he's been playing with his two nativity scenes since we got them out (Little People and Playmobile, although he is most intrigued by the kings) but we've had trouble convincing a 3 year old that Santa and presents isn't the whole reason for the season.

I don't even know where the Santa thing is really coming from (besides every. single. person. who asks him what he wants Santa to bring him and if he's visited Santa and if he's been good so Santa can bring him presents, thanks, general public) since we don't "do" Santa.  Which Luke kinda knows, if you ask him who gives him presents on Christmas he'll say his godfather, Mom, and Dad.  In that order, every time.  We have talked about St. Nick and he did get a present for that today but we haven't come up with the right words to explain why St. Nick is giving him presents today but Mom and Dad at Christmas and why this mysterious Santa is bring presents to other kids.  But I also don't feel bad for not having it all figured out and Luke maybe possibly spoiling it for other kids since I don't think anybody else is concerned with getting all these Santa thoughts in his head.

So despite loving this time of year, there is always a bit of internal struggle going on inside me.  And while it would be easy to keep it quiet by keeping myself busy with the material stuff, I know the right, and better thing, to do is to get my heart ready as well as my home.  And while I might be the only one who knows about the former, it's really what matters and why we get to do all this celebrating anyways.  I imagine I'll have this struggle for a long time but every year I think it gets a little easier to pick the right thing to focus on.  It's not perfect, but it's an attempt which is better than drowning myself in another round of shopping, baking, and wrapping (even though I'm certainly going to enjoy all of that, in good measure). 

Friday, December 2, 2016

Looking Back at November

I feel like I am just now ready for it to be September and fall but then I get REALLY excited that it's Christmastime and as much as I love fall, especially this really long and lovely fall we had, I love Christmastime even more.  December is one of my favorite months of the year (July is, naturally, #1, and I've actually thought enough to rank my top 4...I don't know why I feel the need, at 33, to rank my favorite months.  But I do) and the whole Christmas season/spirit/festivities are a big reason for that, it's certainly not the weather.  As I sit here typing this with our tree 15 feet away, looking at pictures of Luke outside in shorts is a little strange because already it feels like that weather was so long ago, but really, it wasn't.  Fall 2016, I loved you. 

1) Reading on the porch, without 100 layers, in November.  So nice to be able to do that in this weather AND be on the porch at all after it was mostly out of commission for 2 months.
2) Outside in short sleeves and enjoying popsicles without freezing in November.  This fall was magical.
3) Luke and I did a lot of bike/scooter rides to look at pretty trees.
4) Closing the lake on another gorgeous fall day.  Not like being there in the warm months but just walking in the cottage and smelling that lovely musty smell, brings back SO MANY happy summer memories.
5) Family picture at the lake.  This picture made our Christmas card.
6) All of a sudden Luke is looking really old and is talking about being 4.  4!  I'm in denial.
7) He loves wearing these "Harry Potter" glasses which, of course, make him look hilarious and adorable.
8) He's been picking me every dandelion he's seen all year.  I love it.
9) Gorgeous fall colors.
10) He just recently mastered this at the playground and is SO proud of himself even though it makes me very nervous.
11) Luke and Lemur in their matching super capes.  He's decided Matt and I need them now too so we can all save the world from bad guys.
12) At the park on the Friday before Thanksgiving, 70°, about 12 hours before we woke up to snow flurries.
13) Baking Christmas cookies!  Luke was SO into helping me this year (until it came to clean-up).
14) Take my son to work day!  Talking with my boss about scheduling and babysitters and I got permission to bring Luke in with me or work from home, basically whatever it takes for me to keep working (mainly because nobody else wants to do my job but still, job security).  Luke even cried when we had to leave.  Apparently it's that much fun.
15) Mailing my Christmas cards on the way to Target on Black Friday, per my tradition.
16) Getting our tree Thanksgiving weekend!  Christmastime has begun!

Books finished: 12 (124 for the year)  (update to this massive, 18 book high, to-read pile: today I'll finish #6 from that stack but have also picked up another two holds...14 is better than 18! #progress)
Things sewn:  6 burb cloths, 8 clutches, 7 tote bags, and 9 blanket scarves.
Miles ran: 11.8.  I'm pretty amazed and proud that I ran at all, about 98% certain those were the first outdoor November runs of my life!
Currently watching:  I'm more than halfway through Hart of Dixie (started it in April), working through The Crown.  And sometimes House Hunters with Matt.  And our normal tv shows that are currently airing.
Most read post this month: Quick Lit - November followed by {5} Random Thoughts
Luke's current favorite song: "Paint it Black" had a long run but it's now a Christmas Melody sung by Sesame Street characters.  I just asked him the other day if he knew Elmo had a tv show.  He did not. 


Thursday, December 1, 2016

Make Your Own: Blanket Scarves

According to the fashion blogs I read, blanket scarves are definitely a thing.  This appeals to me mainly because I spent most of December – March cold, and the idea of wearing a blanket around all day is pretty appealing (Sherry of Young House Love has described her favorite temperature as "hot car" and I've definitely stolen that. It's my favorite too.)  Very appealing.  When I’m on my computer or watching tv with Matt at night I am usually wrapped up in a blanket.  But I never bought a blanket scarf because…I just don’t buy many scarves I guess.  Then I saw a super easy tutorial for sewing my own and I was sold.  I am always looking out for easy sewing projects, especially when they will save me money or give me more color/pattern options.  Plus I just like sewing.  I’ve made these for less than $5 a scarf (not including the cost of thread…which is slightly more than minimal here but still pretty negligible).  

As long as you can cut and sew in a straight line, you can easily make a blanket scarf.  And, bonus, you’ll have an extra for a friend!   I’ve had the best luck with thicker fabrics.  I bought one at Jo-Ann that was super soft but was thin which gave me all sorts of tension issues when sewing.  After tearing around about 20 feet of stitches…I’m less sold on it.

I made a bunch of these for the craft bazaar I did with two of my sisters a few weeks ago and they were my second biggest seller (after burb cloths, which was good considering how many of those I've made).   Which may or may not be saying much.

Supplies needed
2 yards flannel shirting fabric 
Sewing machine
Tape measure/way to measure

1) Buy fabric and wash.  Lay out and cut in half, length-wise.  This fabric was about 40 inches wide which left me with two pieces, each 6’ x 40”.  One I bought was extra wide so I got 3 scarves out of that one.
2) Sew all the way around the fabric, about 1/4” in and then a second time, all the way around, about 1/8” in from the first line.  

3) Iron and clean-up any loose threads.

That’s it!  It is a decent amount of sewing but mostly all straight lines which makes it go pretty quick.  Now I’ll be wearing a blanket all winter and feeling at least slightly warmer.  

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Amazing Strawberry Buttercream Frosting

You might be wondering why I am posting a recipe for an incredible strawberry buttercream when it is most definitely not strawberry season.  It’s the complete opposite of strawberry season.   I have good reason for this those, I promise.  First, this is one of my two favorite frosting recipes EVER (see the other here) AND, even better, it can be made year round because it doesn’t require fresh or frozen berries.  That definitely makes it holiday season appropriate.

This the frosting I used to make Luke’s requested strawberry cupcakes for his birthday (using the cupcake recipe at the source).  Then when Matt and I were talking cake flavors for his birthday he ended up on a white cupcake with strawberry frosting.  I made the white cupcakes from scratch but they weren’t really good but the frosting was, again, amazing.  Then when I was taking cupcakes into his work for his birthday (a month late, due to some sickness and car issues), I just used a box white cake mix from Aldi with the frosting.  And you know what, nobody noticed if the cupcakes weren’t the greatest since they were topped with such amazing frosting.  It’s seriously amazing.  I’m not a big frosting person (unless it’s chocolate) but this stuff is good.  If you are the type of people who have cake for Christmas (are there those types of people?) then this would definitely be a winner.  Or for any other occasion any time of the year.  

I have no good strategy for decorating (you may notice that) but my best tip is to just buy a big tip.  It makes all cupcake decorating, regular and mini, so much easier.  I frosted 24 regular sized cupcakes in under 10 minutes without a problem.   

Note: I buy my freeze dried strawberries at Target, I believe they are near the raisins?  Or maybe trail mix.  

Amazing Strawberry Buttercream Frosting
yield: enough for 24 regular sized cupcakes
-1 cup (10-12g) freeze dried strawberries
-1 cup (235g) unsalted butter, room temperature
-4 cups (480g) powdered sugar
-3TB heavy cream
-pinch of salt

1) Use a blender or food processor to process the strawberries almost to a powder.  It should be around ½ cup.  Set aside.
2) Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium speed until creamy, about 2 minutes.  With the mixer on low, slowly add the powdered sugar, strawberry powder, heavy cream, vanilla extract, and salt.  Increase to high speed and beat for 3 full minutes.  Add small amounts of cream or powdered sugar to adjust consistency (I've never had to do this).  
3) Frost cupcakes immediately.  The frosting to fine to sit out for a few hours but if you are keeping them overnight I refrigerate and then let come to room temperature before serving.  

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Beauty in the Mornings

I love my kid and he's usually pretty darn adorable when he first wakes up and comes downstairs in his t-shirt and shorts (regardless of the temperature outside).  However, over the last few years, and especially the last few months, I've realized I feel like a better Mom and an actual person when I get up and get going before he is awake.

Now, I know we are very lucky to have a kid who sleeps in.  His awake time has changed over the years and changed again with lovely daylight savings a few weeks ago (Does anyone understand why we have to change our clocks twice a year?  I still don't understand it at all).  The "fall back" was pretty nice before we were parents.  Now it just means "your kid is now awake an hour earlier".  Which is slightly less exciting.

However, with a few nights of adjusting and he's back to waking up about 8am.  I know that's later than a lot of kids and definitely wouldn't work for a lot of working Moms.  I have sisters and friends who tell horror stories of their kids routinely waking up in the 5-6 range.  I'd probably be drinking coffee and stumbling around half asleep if that was the case here (feel free to mentally throw your coffee at me).  I know Luke routinely sleeping to 8 is a luxury and not one I take lightly.

As tempting as it would be sleep in until a 3 year old shaped alarm clock wakes me up, I feel better when I get up before him.  Some days significantly before him.  It's just the act of getting out of bed for myself instead of being forced that starts my day on a much better note.

Bare minimum: getting out of bed and downstairs before Luke is awake
Most days: getting up, working out, and showering before he's awake
Favorite days: getting up, working out, showering, breakfast, and hobby time

One or two days a week Matt has to go into work early and those are my favorite because I have a very good reason to be up early and almost always have some good "me" time before Luke is downstairs.  Some days I read.  Some days I work on the blog.  Some days I sew or prepare to sew while watching a tv show from the night before.

I feel like I am getting in some bonus time when something productive happens before I have to parent.  I start my day a little happier than when we are rushing around.  I can't count on that time and therefore when I get it, it feels like a special little bonus.

I realize being proud of being up and around by 8am doesn't say a whole lot about me.  I know it's largely thanks to a kid who will sleep until 8.  And as much as I love that time, it's not always enough to get me out of bed when the house is cold and the bed is so warm.  Telling myself I'm getting up to workout isn't very tempting BUT I know I'll be happier when I get up and just get it done.

There is definitely a beauty to those early mornings and getting something fun done while Luke is still asleep.  No matter the hour, its like a little head start to my day.  And maybe that will help me avoid the snooze tomorrow and just get up and going.  I know I'll be happier for it.