...because we all have our motley moments!


Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Shack

I just read a really cool book on my really cool Kindle. Have you seen this thing? It shows pages just like a book, but you can simply download books on within seconds. It stores like 10,000 books and it has little gadgets on it that you can do stuff with like write notes, etc... It's fun. It makes it super easy to read a book while on the treadmill and you can listen to audio books too.





Anyway, the first book I downloaded was The Shack. I loved it. I highly recommend it. It has shifted the way I view God. I don't want to give any of the plot away because there are some really juicy surprises in it. Let's just say, the end justifies the means.




So if you are looking for a good read that makes you think about how you relate to God- read it.

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A Motley Gift, Indeed

Ladies, I have been so happy to be a part of Motley Moms this year. What great fun it has been. In honor of you, I have decided that you each need handmade slippers to pamper your tootsies. But, since times are tough, I have gone the frugal route and decided that a craft day was in order.

Before you proceed, please note that these are slippers for the discrete woman. They are soft and hygienic. They include non-slip grip strips on the soles with built in deodorant feature to keep feet smelling fresh. As a bonus remember that you will no longer need to bend over to mop up spills. They are disposable, biodegradable, and environmentally safe. They come in 3 convenient sizes: Regular, Light day, and Get Out the Sandbags.































Let me know if we actually need a craft night to create more of these fine slippers. I laughed so hard, I cried. Seriously.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Gluttony

Here is a jar of the beautiful Christmas cookies I got at the MOPS cookie swap. If you look closely, you will see that my son and I emptied the jar as soon as we got home and took just one bite out of several cookies. How delicious!




I hope your holiday was filled with everything you needed and wanted!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Resolutions, Shmesolutions...

It's dangerous for a perfectionist to make New Year's Resolutions--we're the ones who go to the gym on January 2nd decked out in brand-new workout gear but are never to be seen again by the end of the month. We go into it with good intentions, we just get overwhelmed trying to maintain these lifestyle changes, well, perfectly.

On that note, a few years ago I decided to stop making resolutions. It worked for a while, but it's very un-perfectionist-like to not do something that everyone else is doing, so I took a different approach to the resolution issue. My new list of resolutions each year is made up of intentions that I should have no trouble keeping. It goes a little something like this:

1. This year I will not eat escargot.
2. This year I will not go bungee jumping or cliff diving.
3. This year I will not join an ice hockey team.
4. This year I will not run for president.

I should probably add "voluntarily" to the end of each of those, but I think you get the picture.

There you go--it's a no-fail list, and at the end of the year I can look back with pride and say, indeed, I kept all of my resolutions!

What about you? What's on your list this year?

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Re-Solutions

It's funny how we get to the end of the year and decide there must be a better way. A better way to look, a better way to live, a better way to parent our children. Maybe it's time to go green for the planet, or take a college class you never took, or volunteer more, or volunteer less, or lose weight, or learn to knit, or...or...or....

As parents of very young children, I feel like we try hard every day to make our family the best it can be. I'm sure you feel the same. Just keeping status quo around here is a big accomplishment. I'm always looking for a better solution for keeping up with the laundry, storing more stuff than we have room for, keeping the house clean, and making nutritious meals and snacks (affordably) without spending my whole day in the kitchen...I know. Sounds like dreamland.

This is why I love blogging. Not just the writing, but also reading other blogs. I get some great ideas, often I get a good laugh, and I get to share any tips and tricks I've learned along the way as well.

So if you have a New Year's Re-Solution for your life that you would like to share (writing it down might help keep you accountable!) feel free to tell us your plan. Maybe it will help someone like me who doesn't know where to begin!

We are thankful for all our Motley readers and for all of our Motley writers...you ladies rock! Happy New Year!

Donna

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas, Y'all!

Last night my husband and I did something really cool, something I hope we'll continue to do each year. (Don't worry - I'm not about to get inappropriate.) After we got all the kids' stuff set up, we opened our presents from each other. We knew that today we'd be focused on the kids and that they're too young to notice if we open gifts ourselves, so we took some time to just be together. We turned off the TV and I even put away my computer and iPhone (big deal for me, as I'm obsessed with both). We sat on the couch and took turns giving each other gifts. It doesn't sound like a big deal, but it was lovely. The only problem was that I was so keyed up over getting a new set of kitchen knives (sharp German knives!!!) that I could barely sleep. I seriously wanted to go chop up some vegetables. I will probably blog soon about losing a finger, but I'm still excited about them. 
I have thoroughly enjoyed blogging with you all this year and getting to know each one of you a little better. I hope we can continue to share our mothering and other experiences together. God bless you, every one!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Mother Christmas

I found this while surfing. I liked it so I thought I'd share it with you! Merry Christmas, everyone!

Mother Christmas
by Paul Curtis

The birth of Christ
Is the reason for the day
Santa Claus does his part
In his magical way
Rudolf and the other reindeer
Pull the loaded sleigh
Decorations and lights
Put Christmas on display
And festive songs and carols
Have a part to play
But it takes a mother
To make it a very special day

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

We won't be having a White Christmas here in central Florida. This video makes me laugh every time! I love how Flick screams.

Any great stories out there about getting your tongue stuck??

Monday, December 22, 2008

"For this will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger. Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests."

Luke 2:12-14



(Photo is from ICE at the Gaylord Palms Hotel in Orlando)

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Need a potluck dish?

My Mammaw's Christmas dinner was today, and we decided to try a broccoli salad recipe from a favorite restaurant, Sweet Tomatoes. We all loved the result, and my mom is even thinking about adding it to her catering menu! So, if you need a great last minute potluck recipe, this may do the trick:

Joan's Broccoli Madness Salad
Souplantation aka Sweet Tomatoes

6 - 8 servings

1 bunch uncooked broccoli, cut into florets
1/2 cup crumbled cooked bacon
1/2 cup cashews
1/3 cup raisins
1/4 cup chopped red onion

Dressing
1 cup mayonnaise
1/3 cup sugar
2 T apple cider vinegar

Mix the broccoli, bacon, cashews, raisins and onions in a large bowl. In a second bowl, beat dressing ingredients together gently until smooth.

About 10 minutes before serving, toss the salad with the dressing to allow flavors to meld. Serve on chilled salad dishes.

Enjoy!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Christmas Excess



I wrote an article for MOPS International's website about how to avoid the perils of Christmas Excess and the true meaning behind this Christ-centered holiday. You can find it over at MOPS.org.


Thanks for reading and have a blessed Christmas week!


Love,

Donna

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Best-Laid Plans...

This is what happened when I tried to take a picture of my sons in their matching Christmas t-shirts this morning:



The shirts read, "My Brother Is the Naughty One." Apropos, don't you think?

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Perfect Gift

I know, I know. I shouldn't cave in to the evil marketing tactics used on children to make them pressure their parents to buy certain toys for Christmas.

But...

I just KNOW my girls are going to be SO excited when they see that Barbie Diamond Castle under the tree this year!


They've been pining for it from the time they saw it advertised on Barbie.com (this site since banned at our household for advertising reasons). I showed them how much it was and related it to the price equalling 90 visits to the dollar store for them. We looked at the calendar and counted 90 days and their eyes got really big when they understood how much it costs.

We then discussed them saving up their chore money to buy it someday. This went over pretty well, but in the back of my mind I realized how hopeless that could be. So, after much deliberation in my mind, I set out to buy it for Christmas.

Well, since I waited a while, I didn't realize how good the Barbie Marketing Team was and I quickly saw the limited quanities available. Last week Amazon was selling it for $224! Can you say rip-off? Needless to say I was thrilled beyond belief when called Target in Kissimmee and they said they had ONE LEFT! I FLEW over there and picked that puppy up that very morning. Wow! What a rush. The best part was that it was on sale! "Saved" 20 bucks.

It does get a little crazy from there because the Barbie people are offering a $50 Visa Prepaid Card if you buy a total of $100 worth of Barbie products. OK. So of course I had to buy the doll and horse & carriage as well.






Now, as it turns out I also need to buy Princess Liana too because Princess Alexa and Princess Liana are best buds and one has to be with the other.




In between all that, I had to call Mattel and confirm exactly which princess dolls were part of the promotion. I should have known that the princess dolls at Publix that are 50% off (only $6.00) do not qualify. They have to be the SINGING princess dolls.

Whew!

Well, that's that. I really hope the castle is all they hoped for. I really do!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Star Goes on Top!


"For nothing is impossible with God"
Luke 1:37

This phrase caught our son's imagination, when read from Luke during our Advent candlelighting at dinner. He repeated it several times, with this big, goofy grin on his face.
He's very sappy and a little goofy, just like his Daddy...I love it!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Christmas in Russia

I love this Christmas story, and I hope you will too. My dad shared it with me shortly after we got home with Alex. It has been passed around in emails, so you might have heard it before. It is probably fictional, but very heart warming, and I have no idea who wrote it. Interspersed are pictures from some of the cathedrals in Moscow.

In 1994, two Americans answered an invitation from the Russian Department of Education to teach morals and ethics (based on biblical principles) in the public schools. They were invited to teach at prisons, businesses, the fire and police departments and a large orphanage. About 100 boys and girls who had been abandoned, abused, and left in the care of a government-run program were in the orphanage. They relate the following story in their own words:

It was nearing the holiday season, 1994, time for our orphans to hear, for the first time, the traditional story of Christmas. We told them about Mary and Joseph arriving in Bethlehem. Finding no room in the inn, the couple went to a stable, where the baby Jesus was born and placed in a manger.



Throughout the story, the children and orphanage staff sat in amazement as they listened. Some sat on the edges of their stools, trying to grasp every word. Completing the story, we gave the children three small pieces of cardboard to make a crude manger. Each child was given a small paper square, cut from yellow napkins I had brought with me. No colored paper was available in the city.


Following instructions, the children tore the paper and carefully laid strips in the manger for straw. Small squares of flannel, cut from a worn-out nightgown an American lady was throwing away as she left Russia, were used for the baby's blanket. A doll-like baby was cut from tan felt we had brought from the US.

The orphans were busy assembling their manger as I walked among them to see if they needed any help. All went well until I got to one table where little Misha sat. He looked to be about 6 years old and had finished his project. As I looked at the little boy's manger, I was startled to see not one, but two babies in the manger. Quickly, I called for the translator to ask the lad why there were two babies in the manger. Crossing his arms in front of him and looking at this completed manger scene, the child began to repeat the story very seriously.

For such a young boy, who had only heard the Christmas story once, he related the happenings accurately--until he came to the part where Mary put the baby Jesus in the manger. Then Misha started to ad-lib. He made up his own ending to the story as he said, "And when Maria laid the baby in the manger, Jesus looked at me and asked me if I had a place to stay. I told him I have no mama and I have no papa, so I don't have any place to stay. Then Jesus told me I could stay with him. But I told him I couldn't, because I didn't have a gift to give him like everybody else did. But I wanted to stay with Jesus so much, so I thought about what I had that maybe I could use for a gift. I thought maybe if I kept him warm, that would be a good gift. So I asked Jesus, "If I keep you warm, will that be a good enough gift?" And Jesus told me, "If you keep me warm, that will be the best gift anybody ever gave me." "So I got into the manger, and then Jesus looked at me and he told me I could stay with him---for always."

As little Misha finished his story, his eyes brimmed full of tears that splashed down his little cheeks. Putting his hand over his face, his head dropped to the table and his shoulders shook as he sobbed and sobbed. The little orphan had found someone who would never abandon nor abuse him, someone who would stay with him- FOR ALWAYS.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Unconventional, yet Traditional...

At our MOPS meeting this week we were asked to talk about our family traditions. After a week of holiday stress and battling illness in our home, I sourly thought as I arrived that it appears that my holiday tradition is to overextend myself and make myself sick in the process. Now, I know most of you are probably playing some delightful music on your "world's smallest violins" for me because we all tend to do too much at this time of year, but after I really reflected on it, I do tend to get sick every year by the time I reach my parents' home for the first round of holiday visits, and usually it is following a month of mega-baking, mega-decorating, and mega-celebrating. So, indeed, I think I can safely say that I have created a tradition for myself. Not a great one, but a tradition nonetheless.

And that brings to mind many other things that my family and I do every year that aren't exactly what one would see on the pages of a Christmas magazine. These are things that have simply happened along the way, yet they have managed to ingrain themselves into the patchwork of our experience. These are the accidental family favorites that make us real, and in some cases, they are the "favorite things" that we recall from year to year.

For example, years ago my parents started celebrating Christmas with my sister and me on Christmas Eve. This was a decision based on us no longer believing our gifts were "delivered" on Christmas morning and the fact that we started our Christmas day family gatherings early, thus leaving little time for our own festivities. When we made the switch to the Eve, we also decided to go a step further--since then, we have eaten a non-traditional Christmas Dinner of Pizza Hut Pizza on every December 24th. It has to be Pizza Hut, and it must be the "pan" variety. Bread sticks must also be involved for it to truly be Christmas Eve Dinner. We drink Goldenrod-brand Boiled Custard, and we exchange gifts when dinner is finished. One year someone actually suggested that we make pizza at home instead of ordering it. That suggestion was swiftly denied. Sorry, Pizza Hut is our tradition (and, well, it's the only time of the year that I can actually allow myself to enjoy every bite of that butter-soaked crust).

A version of this tradition has now become a part my little family--we visit our parents in other states during Christmas, so my husband, son, and I have begun celebrating our personal holiday on New Year's Eve. What's on the menu? Spaghetti with ground beef and jarred sauce. And as much buttery garlic bread as we want. Simple, um, pretty fattening, but delicious.

So, what do you do? What makes your holiday celebration unique?

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Panic Attack

I am in full-blown panic attack mode. Last week I was in Wal-Mart and I saw several people with carts full of wrapping paper, bows, etc. and I thought to myself, "Should I be worried that I have none of that stuff in my cart?" Apparently, I should have been. All my Christmas decorations are up and I don't do much more cooking at Christmas than I do during the rest of the year (although I did make some kick-A peanut butter kisses for MOPS - thanks Pam!), but I need some presents. I have bought like 2 minor gifts for my husband, but that's it. I'm making a special photo/ handprint gift for my sister-in-law that I haven't even started on yet. I have nothing for my mother-in-law, nephew, or my kids. I have no wrapping paper! I have no bows! I keep forgetting to get my kids to do the Advent calendar for the day! Worst of all, my mother is coming here on Saturday. I will spare you the anxiety that strikes within me and save the worst of it for my therapist. However, I will tell you that I should have her gift. I need it so I can give it to her on Saturday because that is the only time I will see her during the holidays. I also need to get my grandmother's gift so my mom can take it to her when she goes to Alabama for Christmas. When am I going to do this? What am I going to get them?! Have I mentioned I'm freaking out? 

*Breathe*

Okay, I'm better now. This year I am trying not to worry about things that don't matter, such as buying the perfect gift for someone who returns most of her gifts anyway or baking cookies that my husband and I don't need to eat. I have a beautiful LIVE tree. I have a beautiful wreath for my front door. The family togetherness has been planned and I am happy with the arrangement. Christmas isn't about gifts, anyway, except for God's perfect gift, His Son, Jesus. And I have a little boy who, when we told him the other night that we were going to drive around and see Christmas lights, lit up like our tree and said, "Oh, cool!"

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Fairy Bin

How do you organize play clothes?

I've tried different ways. Hanging up, stuffing in, etc... They usually end up in a mess on the floor of each room.

This Christmas I wanted to give my girls some dress-up clothes along with a bin to keep them all in. When I looked up how much a new bin would be, I decided that $99 for a pretty white one would be too expensive and I devised another plan.


Thus....

The Fairy Bin!

I went to Wal-Mart and bought two clear plastic bins ($25 total) and then bought wall stickers at the Dollar Store ($5 total). When I got home, I had a blast creating a fairy scene on the outside and covers.

I plan to put all the new dresses in here and wrap it all up for Christmas. I made two. One for dress-up clothes and the other for blankets and pillows. They LOVE to dress-up and camp-out in the backyard.

Playing pretend is the glue that keeps them together. They play so nicely when it's just the two of them, dressed-up and camping out. It really is magical. Those are the times I sigh and smile at the two sisters enjoying each other's company. It balances-out those times they don't get along.

P.S. I bought the dress-up clothes after Halloween for 50% off.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Holiday Stress (and a Tip)



I love the holidays. I DO NOT love the stress I feel when preparing for them.

[I am also happy to report that I am feeling much less stressed this year than last year. I think this is mostly because my in-laws will not be coming to my home for Christmas as they did last year (I fed 24 adults and 4 children last Christmas). Oh yeah, I am also not pregnant and totally hormonal this year either. Take my advice, it's not a winning combination.]

First, I realize that this stress is self-induced, mostly. I compare what I do to what I think is the 'perfect' way (mostly Martha-esque kind of stuff). And, well, I always come up short as far as that goes. I feel like the memories that my children and family have of Christmas are up to me and me alone to make 1)joyous, 2) meaningful, and 3)positive experiences for everyone.

I am not saying that my darling husband doesn't help. He is awesome at pitching in and getting things cleaned up before guests come over. That alone is a huge weight off my shoulders. However, his idea of clean and mine are not always the same. Here is a great example. RM was off last Friday and told me he would clean the house for our Sunday School party progressive dinner on Saturday night (we were hosting dessert). So, I went to work slightly relieved that I would not have to stay up all night cleaning. When I got home, he had worked hard all day. He cleaned the front and screened in porches and scrubbed a rug and had it hanging to dry.

The rest of the house had not been touched. Seriously. Toys and books were strewn about. The laundry was stacked beside the washer, still dirty. Dishes were dirty and in the sink and half empty coffee cups were distributed through just about every room downstairs. I am happy to report that I did not have a stroke at that moment. I even smiled and thanked him for his hard work (on rooms that no one would probably even go into). Then I locked myself in the bathroom and had a breakdown. No lie.

Then, I cleaned like mad and was able to have the downstairs (excluding the airplane work room which I can not even write about here without taking Valium) clean and dusted by noon on Saturday. RM worked outside on a plumbing issue he discovered and thank the Good Lord we did not have to call an emergency plumber. RM did mop the floors and clean the bathrooms after he and THE Princess took their nap, and that was awesome. The man can use some bleach like nobody I know.

I cooked until we dropped the kids off at the nursery and got it all done! Although I had a hard time relaxing and enjoying the first two courses because of my anxiousness about having dessert ready when everyone arrived. And, I need to let it be known that I really love to host and cook for others. I like the planning for that. I like the cooking. I like using fancy dishes and polishing the silver to serve it on.

[If you ever need to polish silver, you should know about this. Take a huge pot and line it with aluminum foil. Put in a couple tablespoons of baking soda and fill with water to cover the object that needs to be polished. Bring to a boil. Make sure the silver object isn't dirty (wipe off any gunk) and submerge so that it is covered with water and also touches the foil. Leave for about 2 minutes. Pull it out with tongs and the tarnish should be mostly gone. Put it back in if necessary. Replace the foil when it stops taking the tarnish off. Dry with a soft cloth.

So, back to the Christmas experience. I am the one who plans, shops and creates the gifts, sends out the cards, decorates the house (RM does assemble our fake tree and carry the boxes). I wrap everything. I make sure no one in the extended family is forgotten. I plan and schedule attending events. And I love doing it, but it does stress me out.

I would love to deligate some of these jobs. But, I know what will happen. On Christmas Eve RM would be running through the mall purchasing gifts on the credit card and paying to have them wrapped. People would be forgotten. The stockings would hang empty on the mantle. The food would be take-out or purchased from Publix to the tune of more and more money. Gifts would be mailed around New Years, if at all. There would be no holiday parties. And the house would have clean floors (which I would enjoy) and nothing else.

Is this a purposeful method that people use? Sometimes I think so. Because, if they do it badly once, then they won't be asked to do it again. And of course, I can't stand to watch it be done badly. So, I jump in with both feet.

And, as I was telling RM my theory last night he said, "Honey, I love that you are creative. Just not screaming, crying, lunatic creative. I like the smiling, crafting, happy creative." And so do I.

So, tell me, how do you make your holidays less stressful? Or, do you just freak out like I do? 'Tis the season, right?

Monday, December 8, 2008

Finding Christmas

I have to admit that sometimes instead of finding Christmas, I feel more like hiding from it - especially in years past. Have you read John Grisham's "Skipping Christmas" or seen "Christmas with the Kranks"? How can we escape the holiday rat race (or mouse race if you are at Karly's house) and embrace and even share the joy of the holiday season? This year, I am making most of our Christmas gifts to give to our family, so I have been able to avoid shopping stress, but in its place is a new stress. Each day, I am looking at my list and wondering if it will all get done! I feel like the days are flying off of the calendar faster than I can sew, and I am already sad that Christmas and all of the songs and decorations will soon be gone.

I grew up baptist, and I must admit that until just a few minutes ago, I didn't even know what Advent meant. I was sitting at my desk trying to decide what to write when I looked down at my "Light of Life, Advent Meditations" book written by FPC's own Miriam Rockness and Chad Reynolds. Since my computer locked up while trying to open a forwarded email, I opened the book to see what it was about. When what to my wondering eyes did appear, but the answer to my blue Christmas. "Advent means coming," and the season of Advent is designed to help prepare our hearts for the celebration of Christ's birth! This is what I want. This year, I want to really celebrate Jesus's birthday. I want to make memories with my child and husband that will last a life time, and I want to enjoy this whole entire month one day at a time. I am not sure of the logistics of it, and I am sure there will be some stress involved. I don't think even the wise men would be wise enough to avoid all holiday stress - like four family Christmases across 200 miles in less than 72 hours!?!

One tradition I hope to start (and keep) is to make a birthday cake for baby Jesus with Alex. I used to do this a long time ago, and I am really looking forward to doing this with him this year. I would also like to share with you my favorite Christmas verse:

Fear not, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be
to all people. For unto you was born this day in the city of David, a savior,
who is Christ the Lord." Luke 2:10 &11.


Can you hear the Charlie Brown version of O' Christmas tree playing in the background while you read it? I wish you all joy and peace on this second Monday in December. May you find some time today to just savor the season!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Osh Kosh...Ganache!



OK, so that's a really goofy title, but I couldn't get it out of my head once I thought of it. Forgive me.

It's that time of year, and with the holiday season comes potlucks, cookie swaps, and all kinds of bring-your-best-dish activities. Friends and neighbors stop by to visit, and if you're like me, you like having something festive on hand, even if it's just for munching while you're watching Rudolph on TV. I would like to propose to you the miracle of Chocolate Ganache.

Ganache is a super-simple thing to make, and it has oh-so-many uses. One batch can serve as a dish of luscious Amaretto Truffles, the frosting on a cake, the filling of a tart, or even a simmering pot of hot chocolate (not hot cocoa, hot chocolate). You could even stand in your kitchen and eat it from the bowl with a spoon (it's that wonderful), but I don't really recommend making a habit of that. Trust me.

This is the basic recipe and method. Take equal parts of chopped dark chocolate (chocolate chips are fine) and heavy whipping cream. Usually I use 2 cups of each so that I'm using the entire bag of chips without leftovers. Next, put the chocolate in a bowl by itself and heat the cream to boiling in a separate container. Once boiling (nearly boiling over, but not quite), pour the cream over the chocolate, tap the chocolate bowl to ensure that the cream has reached the bottom, and let it sit for a couple of minutes. After it sits, take a spoon or a whisk and stir until something magical happens. This somewhat-ugly chocolate-speckled cream mixture slowly transforms into this dreamy pool of silky, rich, but not-too-rich chocolate ganache. You'll know when it's ready because all you will be able to do is stare at the seductive mixture and restrain yourself from taking that spoon and going for it right then and there. Let it sit for about 15 minutes so that it can cool. Store the finished ganache covered in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.

(Allow me to interject here that if you use larger chocolate chips such as the Ghirardelli baking chips, they do not always completely melt thus resulting in a less than perfect texture. Option 1: (Fun, but not recommended) Eat the whole bowl for yourself and start over. Chop the chips into smaller pieces next time. Option 2: Declare it a new recipe for "Chocolate Chunk Ganache" and use it anyway. If you sound like you did it on purpose, most people won't question it.)

Ganache on its own is lovely and can stand by itself, so don't feel compelled to flavor it too quickly, but if you would like there are two ways to do so. You can flavor the cream before adding it to the chocolate by infusing flavors like black tea, espresso, lavender flowers, and orange zest into the cream during the boiling process. You can also add ingredients to the finished ganache after it has cooled. Liqueurs like Amaretto and Grand Marnier can be stirred in as well as strained fruit purées or Nutella :).


Once you've mastered the basic recipe you can play with the cream-to-chocolate ratio to create a full spectrum of delicacies. Add less cream and whip the ganache to make a delectable frosting, and add more cream and some milk to create the richest hot chocolate you've ever tasted. If you need a firmer texture without sacrificing the cream (as for truffles), put the basic ganache into the refrigerator for a few hours. If you need a more pourable consistency (as for glazing cakes) heat it up a little. Do you get the idea?

So, go forth and experiment with this amazingly simple yet wonderfully elegant concoction called ganache, and tell me all about it! What's the worst that could happen? You'll have bowl full of molten chocolate to deal with? Grab a spoon!


(Note: I learned much of what I know about this technique from the book, The Secrets of Baking by Sherry Yard.)

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Such Good Intentions

Okay, Christmas, here I come down a road paved with good intentions. Last Saturday, I posted about the Advent Wreath I was putting together to begin lighting on Sunday (past). Well, the candles are ready. I found some beautiful beeswax candles in a local shop in a deep eggplant purple color. I also found the white Christ candle to go in my Waterford Millenium candle globe.

I have NOT found taper candle holders. We have NOT lit a single candle all week. We have NOT gotten a tree yet, or put a single green thing in the house during "Green the House Week."

We HAVE read a Christmas book each evening, including our Advent Storybook, by Antonie Schneider, beautifully illustrated by Maja Dusikova. Little Benjamin Bear is anxious for Christmas to come, so to help him go to sleep each night, his mother tells him part of the story of a little bear's journey to Bethlehem, following the bright star in the sky. There are 24 stories, one for each day in December leading up to Christmas. We love this book!

I HAVE spent 2 1/2 hours in my doctor's office to figure out how to treat my mind-blowing migraines AND I got a flu shot that day, so I really started feeling the effects of that last night (hence this late post!).

We HAVE decorated gingerbread cookies with some friends and we HAVE set up our fancy nativity set and the kid-friendly nativity set. The picture is from last year, when KID 1 was almost four. He would typically crowd all of the people and animals around the baby Jesus to "see." This year he's decided that they all need to wait in an orderly line for their turn to view the Little Prince! (I have no picture because KID 2 comes behind him and rearranges all the pieces...causing some strife in Bethlehem, I can assure you.)

We even polished our silver yesterday (not a huge task, since we only have 4 silver pieces: a tray, a pitcher, and two candlesticks...I just need two more!).

This year, I am loving all the traditions we're incorporating for our family. I'm enjoying everything we do. I am not stressing about the stuff we don't do. We will eventually get a tree and finish decorating with evergreen branches. We'll get the lights up on the house at some point before Christmas. It's all going to happen, but probably not on the schedule I've set for myself. That's just the way things go with two preschoolers in the house!

Enjoy all of your Christmas preparations, but don't forget to prepare your expectations!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Traditions...or Not

I get a little panicky when people start asking about my family's Christmas traditions. In truth, we didn't have any. Most of the time my dad had to work, but sometimes he didn't. Some years we opened the presents on Christmas morning, some years on Christmas Eve, and one year we opened them on the 23rd. We spent some holidays in Alabama with my extended family, but most were spent at home. My mother might be the least sentimental person ever. One year she opted for a "theme" tree and didn't hang any of my childhood ornaments. When I married she gave me all said ornaments. I love fresh trees and begged for one every year. My mom usually gave in, but when I was in high school she bought a fake tree on sale. Arrrrrggggghhhhhh!!!!
I love Christmas. I love cold weather and trees and carols and hot chocolate and live nativities and Advent calendars and crowded church services. Working out the family togetherness gives me heartburn, but I really do love the whole season, especially now that I have children. We are trying to start some traditions for our kids. The year I was pregnant with Ethan my in-laws gave us a homemade Advent calendar. There are pockets for each day and in every pocket is a Bible verse or quote and something to attach to the Christmas tree on the calendar. Most of the items are personalized, such as an Alabama jersey or a tae kwon do top. I send out Christmas cards and this year we're even going to do a Christmas letter. We celebrate Christmas morning at our house, with just our family, then the extended family comes over later for breakfast and we open presents with them. We ALWAYS get a real tree. We open one present on Christmas Eve. We drive around and look at Christmas lights often. My husband and I set a dollar limit on gifts for each other, but gifts that fit in the stocking don't count (it's an unspoken rule). We draw names with his family. We adopt a family from the Care Center. We have 2 nativity scenes - both kid-friendly - my MIL made one and the other is the Fisher-Price plastic one.
One thing I am torn on, and welcome ideas about, is Santa Claus. I don't think he's evil or anything, and I agree that kids can learn about faith in God through faith in Santa. It's just, well, I don't like lying to my kids. I don't like telling Ethan this elaborate story and insisting it's true when it isn't. Not that I've never lied to him, but I really try not to. Honesty is important to me. I didn't believe in Santa for long - when I was 4 my dad took me outside and told me the truth - but my husband did and for him it was great fun. I want my kids to have fun and I don't want them to miss out, but still, I don't want to lie. Help?

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Gifts

I'm in the middle of wrapping gifts. Feverishly. My kids are in school and I need to pick them up soon!

Why am I wrapping so early in December? Well, we're going away on a family trip in a couple of weeks and we'll be back right before Christmas. I need to get things wrapped up literally or else I'll be a basket case come Christmas week.

Thus...

Christmas Baskets! I love 'em. The adults in our family are each getting one personalized to their tastes. Who doesn't like to eat a yummy snack? I know I do! Each basket contains things like Nutella (YUM!), fancy tea, yummy cookies, jelly, cheese, etc... plus a little something that I know that person will love.

The Dollar Store was a BIG help. These baskets are only $1 and you can even get those wrapping bags and ribbon there too! I think I spent at least an hour perusing the aisles for cute things and totally found some.
Well, gotta go now. Bye!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Bad Word


I am always trying to teach and reinforce good manners at our house. We say please, and thank you. We read books about manners. We have flashcards about manners. I insist that everyone asks to be excused from the dinner table when we are done. We shake hands with people that we meet and introduce ourselves by looking them in the eye and telling them our name. We set the table and clear the dishes after a meal. We unload the dishwasher and help fold laundry. We say, "excuse me" when someone is talking and we want to be heard. And we don't say bad words.

I am not talking about swear words. We don't say mean or rude sounding words either. Or grammatically incorrect words, like "ain't." (I seriously thought ain't was a bad word until I wan in middle school.) We don't say, "butt." We say "bottom." Everybody knows this. And by everybody, I mean my husband.

Here is our afternoon yesterday. I am not even kidding.

THE Princess: Mommy, Daddy said 'butt!'

Me: Daddy, please try to make a good choice and say bottom. Butt is not a nice word.

RM: I was talking about my BUTTon. The BUTTon came off my jacket. Can you sew my BUTTon on?

THE Princess: He keeps saying it, Mommy! Daddy is not making a good choice!

RM: BUT, it wasn't bad! BUTTon isn't bad.

THE Princess: Mommy, he's saying it again!

Me: Please stop it? Please?

RM: What about a flying BUTTress? Those aren't bad!

THE Princess: Mommy, do you hear him? Brother is going to learn a BAD word!

RM: What if I BUTT the Christmas tree stand up against the wall?

THE Princess: He needs a red card! Mommy!

RM: Or I could eat some bread with BUTTer. I love BUTTer in a BUTTer dish and to spread it with a BUTTer knife.

THE Princess: MOOOOOOOOMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMYYYYYYYYYYYYYY!!!

RM: I love BUTTer beans......and was that turkey a BUTTerball? Did you like it my little BUTTerfly?



I was ready to gouge out my eye with a spoon. I am so not even kidding.

I don't know who is worse. Seriously.

Monday, December 1, 2008

You might be a redneck If...

...you've ever used chicken wire to make a fence around your Christmas tree.

Before I explain, I must say that I am a rural country girl. I grew up in the midwest in a small town of around 100. Most of my friends were farmers, and for a brief period in the late 80s, I wanted to be a farmer. I am very proud to say that not only was FarmAid started in my home state, but I have also went to FarmAid. I am still afraid of parking garages and elevators, as I was never around these new-fangled, big-city technologies growing up. Having said all of this, I think I have earned the right to use the word redneck as a term of endearment.

So we had just moved to Mattoon circa 1998, and like usual, we bought a real Christmas tree. At the time, we only had our two furry children, our cats Salty and Pepper. I loved watching our cats play, and Christmas was no exception. They would chase each other up into the tree, and the whole thing would shake. I remember fondly watching Salty chew on the branches of our beautiful tree and smile. How cute, I thought to myself.

Then, she started getting sick. I'll spare you the details, but it had an odd green color. Let's just say it wasn't a pretty Christmas green. Ironically, it took me a while to figure out that eating pine needles was probably not good for her. When I took her to the vet, I was shocked to learn that too many pine needles could actually cause a blockage and be fatal! We were really lucky that she didn't get very sick, but we now had a Christmas decorating emergency.

I have long been a tight-wad, so buying an artificial tree after I had already bought a real tree in the same holiday season was not an option. Until we could decide what to do, we moved the tree, decorations and all into our spare room. Finally, it was clear that the best option was to fashion a fence out of chicken wire, no less, to keep the cats out of the tree. We headed over to our local Rural King (a farm supply store, which is really cool BTW), to get our supplies. I have to tell you that it doesn't matter how many strings of Christmas lights you use, chicken wire is chicken wire. You can't really pretty it up.

Here is a photo of Salty and the tree, before her evergreen eating binge. Isn't she cute?



Oddly enough, I do not have any photos with the chicken wire. So, do you have any redneck Christmas stories?