Let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Heb 12:1-2 (NLT)

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Christmas decompression

All the ingredients were there for this to be a really fantastic Christmas: good food, good company, mild weather, contagiously excited children, a pile of presents, a little drama in the form of a phone call from my sister's ex-boyfriend's inebriated mother...

And yet Christmas missed the mark for me a little bit this year.

Having caught a cold on the 23rd didn't help, and my husband having to work put a damper on things. My husband is a shift worker. He likes to point out that he has more time off in a year than most people because of it, but I like to point out that he misses a lot of events because there is no flexibility in shift work.

Then there was the production yesterday of going door-to-door in my neighborhood looking for my husband's brand new remote control helicopter that he lost control of and crashed.

This Christmas felt like a lot of work. A little bit like an overproduction. In truth, I feel like I am living in a Toys R' Us bomb crater with two excessively overtired cranky kids. I actually have to run out and buy some organizational units to be able to put away all the things my kids got (I'm making this sound like a bad thing. I'm actually one of those people who get warm fuzzies from the prospect of buying organizational units...).

A family in town lost their house Christmas Eve when their tree caught fire. I have a pantry and a fridge filled with more food than I can fit, and a basement overflowing with toys. I can't help but feel like I am living in excess. I've already started rounding up some toys for donation.

And I think that's where my post-Christmas melancholy really stems from. I feel like this was a Christmas of consumption. I can really feel God hammering away at me to give back. It's just not entirely clear to me what form that should take, but I can already tell this will be a big topic for me in the New Year.

I also think that ordering in Chinese food and having a Christmas movie marathon while feigning the flu so that we don't have to go anywhere or have anyone over, sounds like the way to go.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Donna Partow's Vessel Takeaways (Christmas version)

The women's small group I attend through my church recently wrapped up Donna Partow's "Becoming a Vessel God Can Use" study. I would recommend this study to any woman. Partow has a blunt, truthful way of wording things and offers practical ways of becoming more God-centered. Plus, the lessons are short making completing it each week quite manageable.

As anyone who has completed any kind of study knows, as soon as you are finished and you put the book on your shelf, everything you just learned dribbles out your ears. At our Christmas potluck a couple of weeks ago, a woman spoke about how she wrote out a list of things from the study that she wanted to focus on over the Christmas season when most of us are vulnerable to missing the point by becoming too busy and distracted. With my family arriving tomorrow, I thought this was a great idea.

Here is my top-ten list of (Christmas) takeaways...

1. Instead of focusing on all the great things I am going to accomplish or have accomplished this season (like cute xmas letters, and awesome gift finds), focus on the great things God wants to accomplish through me. Seek opportunities to give back and serve others. In other words, focus my thoughts on the fact that the season is about the glory of God, not the glory of me.

2. I am responsible for the choices I make this Christmas. God is responsible for the results.

3. As I spend time with family and friends over the holidays, ask God to help me remove the labels I've given them. God hasn't labelled them and he doesn't hold things they have done (real or imagined) against them, so I shouldn't either.

4. Instead of longing for a new Coach purse, long to know God better. Ask God for the gift of faith and peace over the holidays, instead of hoping for more stuff.

5. Instead of quarrelling with God about how he made me every time I compare myself to someone else (whose baking is better, or whose house is more perfectly decorated, or who got a new Coach purse...), ask God to help me love and accept myself exactly as he specifically made me.

6. Don't allow myself to become so absorbed and wrapped up in the busyness of the season that I miss the joy my children and husband bring to it. Ask God to adjust my attitude from expecting them to do things for me. Towards my husband and children, ask God to help me be thoughtful but not moody. Helpful but not bossy. Thankful but not critical.

7. Don't allow myself to become so absorbed and wrapped up in the busyness of the season that I don't spend some quiet time honoring God and thinking about the baby Jesus who was born. The Christmas season shouldn't be about filling my life with more commitments, more activities, and more stuff, but about celebrating and reflecting on the birth of Jesus.

8. Ask God to help me let go of the expectations, hopes and dreams I hold for how I want this Christmas to be, in order to make more room for him.

9. Seek to be filled with a joyful, forgiving attitude over the holidays. Instead of expecting the people around me to provide these things, or a Christmas show or carol, look to God to provide them.

10. Listen for God's voice and act as he directs.

Merry Christmas.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Grandma's Snickerdoodles

These are my husband's favorite cookie and they are the ones we make for Santa every year.

This is one I like doing with my kids because they can get their hands dirty making the balls.


You will need:

  • 1 1/2 cups white sugar
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons white sugar
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon (you may need a little more sugar and cinnamon)

  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

  • Combine 1 1/2 cups white sugar, butter or margarine and eggs. Mix well.

  • Stir in flour, cream of tartar, baking soda and salt. Blend well. 

  • Shape dough into 1 inch balls. 

  • Combine 2 tablespoons sugar and 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon in a shallow dish. Roll dough in sugar/cinnamon mixture and place 2 inches apart on ungreased baking sheets. 

  • Bake 8 to 10 minutes. Cool cookies on a cookie rack. 

These are awesome when they are still warm!

Also, my daughter's preschool xmas party is tomorrow so I shrank down and printed off more 
snowman wrappers and used them on boxes of smarties. Pretty easy for something pretty cute!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Snowman Popcorn Wrapper Favors

Every year my husband and I host an Ugly-Sweater Holiday party.

The winner(s) this year if you were wondering, looked like this. They scored big points for carrying around battery packs in their pockets:

This year I wanted to send our guests home with a party favor. These are another great Pinterest find and were easy to do.

You will need:
8.5 x 11 paper
a printer
glue stick
microwavable packs of popcorn
twist ties
dollar store gloves
medium to thick width ribbon

I found 8.5 x 11 paper at Staples that resembled brown paper bags.

I downloaded the printable from the website and imported it into my digital scrapbooking program, sbc from Creative Memories. I used sbc to add the wording, "Wishing you a Merry Christmas", (but if you don't have a digital scrapbooking program you can print them without the words).

I then printed out (landscape) the number I needed and cut them to 6.5 inches long instead of 8.

I wrapped the print-outs around packs of microwavable popcorn and glued the back.

Using twist ties, I bunched up the fingers of both gloves.

I then tied a ribbon around the twist tie to hide it (I just did a basic knot, nothing fancy).

I then slid just the glove in front (both gloves were too tight) over the top of the popcorn package.

So cute! I think I will adopt them for my daughter's preschool Christmas party this week and use them for boxes of smarties.

I love Christmas!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Rolo Turtles

As I mentioned in a previous post, I was invited to a Christmas bake exchange this year.  Last year my husband and I did a big one-day bake and in six hours produced all our baking, but it was exhausting and the clean-up took forever. So I'm excited and think this is a brilliant idea because you get all your baking done for the season but only have to make one item!

However, I had to make 8 dozen of that one item. And in a week where I have no fewer than 5 Christmas events and have to bring food to 4 of them, I went on the hunt for something quick and easy. I found the perfect thing on Pinterest (thank-you God for Pinterest!).

Rolo Turtles! These are so easy, I felt like I was cheating.

You will need:
  • a bag of pretzels. I prefer Our Compliments mini-twists because they are smaller and compact so less caramel can ooze through and stick to the pan (I couldn't find pretzel snaps like the ones pictured in the original recipe)
  • rolos (a pack of rolos has 10)
  • pecans (I had no idea pecans were so bloody expensive!)
Preheat oven to 350 F

Line a baking tray with parchment paper unless you have a nice clean non-stick pan, then the paper isn't necessary

Place pretzels on pan in nice tidy rows

Place a rolo candy on top of each pretzel

Bake in oven for 4-5 minutes or until the rolos are shiny but still intact

Remove from oven and with gentle pressure, squish the rolos down with a pecan (watch not to burn yourself)

Cool on pan until pan is no longer hot to touch, then chill in fridge for 10-15 minutes. Voile! Brilliant!

The original recipe I found on pinterest came from So Wonderful So Marvelous

Monday, December 12, 2011

A train wreck with Candy-cane cookies

One of the biggest things weighing on my heart is my relationship with my husband. I know I am the source of a lot of unnecessary conflict and frustration. And I just know that things could be better.

In my quest to be less selfish, I am also trying to minister more often to my husband. I hate the way that sounds by the way, but it sounds better than "serving" my husband. The point is, I want him to see me as a place of comfort and support, and less as a place of agitation and annoyance.

I failed miserably in my quest today.

We decided to decorate our Christmas tree. Everything started out well enough. I made the fluffiest pancakes I've ever made (I think the secret was Our Compliments buttermilk pancake mix and the small soup ladle I used to pour the batter onto the skillet), but once we started decorating, things went downhill.

My husband likes to fiddle around with the settings on our camera. So while I tried organizing the decorations and putting them out for the kids to hang, he was fiddling. As soon as I opened the box of decorations, the kids dove in like maniacs. During the commotion I told my husband to forget the camera and just help with decorating. Instead he started snapping pictures of me.

My husband takes the worst pictures of me. Instead of getting the camera out when I'm all dolled up for a date-night, he gets it out when I'm in my pyjamas, my hair is frizzy from my shower, and I'm covered in pancake batter. What's worse, I look like a downright hag because I'm frowning and in the middle of telling him to stop taking my picture. "Stop being grumpy, like you always are!" he yelled accusingly.

Being told I'm "always" grumpy is a hot button for me (maybe because it's a little too close to the truth at times?), so I launched into the "what about you!?" sequence of our typical argument. Yay! What's more fun than a good game of "no I'm not, you are!"? Joy to the world...

Anyway, after wrapping that up we continued decorating the tree in stony silence. I know, the holiday cheer is overwhelming.

Feeling guilty about the lack of Christmas goodness, after the tree was done I decided to make some candy cane cake-mix cookies. The kids and I had been to the Santa Claus parade the week before and had accumulated quite the stash of mini candy canes. No one in our house cares for candy canes. I thought chopping them up and putting them into a cookie with chocolate might make them more appealing.

What are cake-mix cookies you say? Only the EASIEST cookie recipe out there! Remember when you bought like four boxes of cake mix at Safeway because they were buy one, get one free? Well now you have a way to use them!

Candy Cane Cake-mix Cookies

You will need...
- 1 box of cake mix (white or chocolate)
- 2 eggs
- 1/2 C oil
- 1 C (or more) of chocolate chips
- 1/4 to 1/2 C chopped candy cane pieces

Mix together cake mix, eggs and oil with a wooden spoon for one minute. The dough will be stiff. Stir in 1 C of chocolate chips and 1/4 to 1/2 C chopped candy cane pieces. Bake 8-12 minutes at 375 until just set. Cool on sheet for 1 minute then on cookie rack.

If you like chocolate and mint, you are going to love these.

My daughter doesn't like chocolate and mint, so she took one bite and made a big production of spitting the candy cane bits out. Feeling a little downcast, I turned to my husband for his reaction. He doesn't like chocolate and mint either, so his reaction was,  "Ummm...". Now I'm feeling really annoyed, so I resorted to "you never like my baking!" (yes, I am guilty of making my own "always" statements). It's also a clear over-reaction stemming from my frustration over the lack of cheer I was managing to create.

And that's just it. The whole day was about me. I had a picture in my head of how I wanted the day to play out, and when it didn't go according to my plan, I got frustrated with the players. I also took it personally. I was trying to "create" Christmas cheer so I took their rejection of my fabulous cookies as a reflection of my ability to do something fun and Christmassy with my family.

Can you imagine how much more fun we could have had if I had just hammed it up for the camera instead and took their rejection of the cookies as a blessing because now I would get to eat more of them? I can. And it makes me wish I could kick myself in the butt.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Herding cats

I was thinking the other day about how before I had kids, I would stand firm about not to doing anything "Christmassy" until December 1.

Now Christmas seems to sneak up on me towards the end of November despite my best efforts to hold it off. Does this happen to anyone else? At the start of November, Christmas still seems so far away. But suddenly at the end of the month it feels like I will never get everything done. Like as soon as I turn the calendar over to December it's pretty well all over. I can't believe we're into December. Happy New Year everyone!

I've spent the last week making to-do lists, writing a family Xmas letter, getting photos developed to make into mini-albums for grandparents, making calendars for parents, buying the ingredients for a bake-off, buying containers and tags to put the baking in, planning our annual ugly holiday sweater party, making a Xmas gift list, writing a letter to Santa, decorating the house, shopping, cutting up school photos to put in cards, and of course writing out Xmas cards. Oh the cards. I feel like we send out a ridiculous number of cards. The result of moving towns every three years and having a large family. And EVERY year I make the same mistake: I buy 36 cards thinking I can pare down our list to under 50. Then I end up having to develop more photos and buy more cards when I run out. I really AM a slow learner!

All this business and December is just beginning! At first I enjoy these activities, but then they start to overwhelm and frustrate me. I start to feel like I'm racing around trying to herd cats.

The holiday season is a pretty good representation of my life in general. I create a lot of busy work for myself. My husband complains that I can never just sit. Upon reflection (prompted by the book Becoming a Vessel God can Use by Donna Partow), I really do seem to run through life aimlessly but at a frenetic pace. The result is that I am pretty much at where I was 3 years ago, even 6 years ago! I might get promotions, or accumulate more stuff but I have the same complaints about not knowing what I should be doing. How I should be passing the time. Donna Paltow has given me a clue and it has reflections of Rick Warren's A Purpose Driven Life, so I've picked that one up to retread over the holidays. The resounding message is that discovering your God-given purpose for your life will drastically simplify your life and give it more meaning. As the Christmas season ramps up, this appeals to me more than ever. I just hope that in my excitement and anxiousness to discover what my purpose might be, I don't get discouraged and frustrated If things aren't immediately clear. And let's face it, they rarely are.

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