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Currently: Christmas Time!

Y’ALL. I started this post in plenty of time to get it ready for posting last Wednesday, but then I FORGOT. SO! Here’s my Currently post for December, a little later than it should be. Oops.

December is here! Advent is here! And I am literally the happiest person. It’s my favorite time of year. Everything is extra beautiful, covered in greenery and frost, anticipation runs through our veins, and gift-giving abounds. It really is the most wonderful time of the year. So, since it’s the first Wednesday of the month, I’m linking up with Anne in Residence and Catherine of A Short Blonde for December’s Currently party.

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Lighting || both of our Christmas trees, and our front porch columns! If I had my way, I’d probably cover everything in lights because I love them so much. But Hubby thankfully anchors me down a little bit. Here are our trees and front porch!

Spending || a little less than usual on Christmas presents, I think. I’ve just slowed down a little on how much I’m doing. I know my kids will get plenty from their grandparents, too, and Hubby and I aren’t getting anything else for each other because we just splurged on a Vitamix and a couple of pieces of furniture. I don’t want Christmas to feel “small” for anyone, presents-wise, but I doubt that will be a problem!

Choosing || which of our family photos we’re turning into canvases for our own home, and which we’re giving to our parents! (Did I just ruin their surprise?) It’s the biggest decision to choose a favorite photo from our recent session with Urban Bloom Photography when they were ALL.SO.GOOD. Here’s a little preview…

Sending || Christmas cards! I just finished addressing them and put them in the mail yesterday! It’s one of my favorite things to do at Christmas, and I absolutely LOVE getting them in the mail! I ordered a few less than last year because I always have ten or so left over and now I’m afraid I’m going to have to order a few more! YIKES.

Singing || ALL of the Christmas music. I love Christmas music, specifically Christmas hymns and songs about Jesus (because I’m a worship leader, duh) and also just regular songs about snow and Santa and the whole deal. This year, EK is remembering lyrics and learning Christmas songs at school so it’s extra fun to sing with her!

Leave a comment and tell me what you’re up to Currently!

‘Tis the Season – of Indulging Your Taste Buds!

During the month of November, I’m participating in NaBloPoMo, where I try to write and publish each day.

I don’t know what it is about this time of year that makes me abandon any sort of diet or food regulations I might normally have going for me. Perhaps it begins with Halloween and the amount of candy that enters the house. Or it might have to do with being inside more often… which typically leads me to baking a lot. Or maybe it’s just that the holidays are full of sugary treats and fatty, sharable sides. Who knows. But what I DO know is that I LOVE food that tastes good.

Now, for me, saying “food that tastes good” covers a multitude of sins. I love fancy meals. I love farm-fresh eggs and meats. I love organic fruits and veggies. I love cuisine from all over the world (here’s looking specifically at you, Italy and Thailand). BUT! I also love a good slamburger (the term coined by my husband for a greasy burger from a no-name burger joint). I love a late-night hotdog from a street cart. Coldstone ice cream creations can cheer me up any day. My kids don’t have to beg to get me to eat at Chick-fil-A. To me, they taste good. And that’s what matters.

But this time of year, I lean in to those home-baked cookies, the cinnamon-sprinkled drinks, and the heavily-buttered breads or potatoes. I want large cuts of fatty meats (hey there, prime rib!) and richly-flavored, creamy soups (butternut squash soup, anyone?). And who can blame me?! It’s getting dark at 5:00pm and I’d like to have some compensation for the stealing of my daylight.

So today, I celebrate the pumpkin muffins with maple-pecan drizzle, the eggnog spiked with bourbon, and ramen from the Bahtmobile (our local Asian food truck). I celebrate shortbread cookies, King’s Hawaiian rolls (why are they so good?!) and 18-pound hunks of prime rib – if you’re having Thanksgiving lunch at our house, anyway. I celebrate good ol’ GBC (if you’re from around here, you should know that’s green bean casserole) and mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce and Honeybaked Ham. It’s going to be a good couple of months, y’all, in the world of flavors. Indulge. ‘Tis the season!

8 Ways to Survive Cooking with Kids

This article originally appeared on Perfection Pending.

In my experience, kids love to help cook. They love to help measure, they like to stir, and they can’t wait to see the finished product that they can claim as their own. But also based on my own experience, cooking with kids might need a little preparation. Here’s what I have to do before I get started cooking with my kiddos:

Lower the bar. I mean this in a nice way, but I’m serious. Whatever beautiful product you have in mind, you might want to, uh, let go of that image. However quick and painless you think that recipe might be, just let that go, too. Whatever you do with your kids will take longer, be more messy, and likely less attractive than you thought. That doesn’t mean it won’t taste delicious, though!

Tell them the plan. Kids always do better when they know what’s coming. They can stay on task better when they have an idea of what the task is. They need to know the first part is the fun part where they do all the helping, and the second part you might need to do on your own. Or that those muffins have to bake for ONE ENTIRE EPISODE of Octonauts, then cool for several MORE minutes before they can eat them.

Be flexible. Got a cloud of flour all over yourself? It’ll wash out! Did you lose half the bag of chocolate chips to the floor? Worse spills have happened! I try to take off my “in charge” hat before I get started. I’m often getting frustrated with whoever is “helping” if I don’t already have it in my head that all bets are off. If I’ve committed to making a mess and having fun, then it goes MUCH better!

Choose a simple recipe. Even if you think you’ll be able to control the proportions of the ingredients going into the dish, you may be surprised how sneaky the kids are at adding extra things in. If the recipe is something you know needs to be exact, then it might not be a good one to use.

Be careful. If your kids are still short, they’ll either be standing on a chair or stool, or sitting on the counter with you. Make sure they’re being safe – or else they can’t be good helpers!

Get everything out and close by before you start. This one goes with “be careful” because the more you have at an arm’s reach, the less likely you are to have a kid get loose, or dump something extra into the mix! Whatever your ingredients, tools, etc. are, have them close by before you are running around the kitchen while your kid is dumping the olive oil on the counter.

Divide the labor. If you’ve got more than one helper, make sure they know they’ve got to take turns. There are only so many steps to the recipe – either half it, and switch the helpers out, or go back and forth with pouring, measuring, and stirring. My kiddos can get frustrated when they’re standing around for too long, watching their sibling have all the fun.

Let your inner germaphobe take a back seat. Of course you had the kids wash their hands before you got started… but that doesn’t mean someone won’t sneeze a little too close to the bowl, lick the spoon, or reach in there with their sticky, contaminated fingers to be a taste-tester. You’ve just gotta let that one go.

Cooking is definitely something you want your kids to learn, and learn to enjoy. A bit of preparation can make the process of cooking alongside your littles less stressful and more successful. Relax, don’t worry about the mess, and have fun!

I finally know my way around.

During the month of November, I’m participating in NaBloPoMo, where I try to write and publish each day. Often, I’ll be writing to a prompt – like today. 

My husband is great at finding his way around. We can be in a neighborhood he’s never been in, winding through stop signs, turns, and houses that all look the same, and he can find his way out without any problem. He’s got a great sense of direction, and often looks at the car’s compass (in his car, it’s just a lit-up letter on the rearview mirror) to decide whether to go left or right. Me? Not so much.

It took me several years of living in my town to start knowing my way around. When I moved here, for college, there weren’t phones with GPS, and so I had to rely on friends’ directions just to get to the nearest grocery store, the movie theatre, or a restaurant. I was using the highway to get around town almost exclusively for years, not knowing other ways, whether they were shorter or easier, or not.

But somewhere amid moving into the house we live in now, and attending work trainings at different schools in the area (back in my teaching days) I finally got to know some new neighborhoods, lots of good shortcuts, and the best way to use our main thoroughfares. I can cut through my neighborhood on any single street and get to where I’m going – and that is quite an accomplishment for me!

You see, this city felt like home even before I knew how to navigate it. I loved my college campus. I had, and still have, great friends, including many who grew up here, and some who, like me, came here for school and decided to stay. It’s a warm and welcoming town, lots of opportunities to meet new people, join local organizations, or find cool events that are happening all the time. It’s not too big, in case you get overwhelmed in huge cities full of skyscrapers. But it’s not too small, either, for those of us that think that tiny towns have a little too much familiarity. It’s a good size, particularly when you need to run an errand on one side of town, and one on the other… you can do it within a reasonable amount of time.

Finally learning my way around – well – seemed like the final piece of the puzzle toward becoming a “local”. Now that I’ve been here for 13 years, I definitely consider myself an expert navigator, directions-giver, or even shortcut creator. And when I go back to the town I grew up in, a smaller town with less big highways, I feel like the newcomer. I’ve forgotten the shortest distance between two points, or I can’t remember street names that I have aways known. It seems I’ve only got memory space enough for one town’s road map.

Growing Pains

This post originally appeared on Everyday Exiles.

The past couple of weeks have been a little tough on my family. We’re facing some growing pains of a particular kind. Our schedules have all changed, due to having our two younger children at one (pre)school, and our eldest child at elementary school. Our toddler is potty-training and teething. Our family is an integral part of a church launch, which is taking much of our emotional and spiritual efforts, if not those in the physical sense. Our jobs are more demanding, somehow, in addition to these other things, and I would be remiss if I didn’t admit we’re suffering a little for it all.

Thankfully, these growing pains are all for good reason. They’re happening because we’re involved in sowing seeds, we are in the business of nurturing life, and we are experiencing a fine harvest. And yes, those things can all be happening at the same time.

Life is full of seasons, but within a family, there can be sowing and reaping simultaneously. We are sowing seeds of learning and a love for education in our daughter as she begins kindergarten. My husband and I are sowing as well into our professional lives, putting in extra hours, collaborating with our colleagues, and making more plans. We are nurturing our toddler as his body grows and changes. We are experiencing a beautiful harvest with our church family as we expand our congregation and launch a new campus, welcoming a new community to become a part of the Lord’s work as a part of our century-old church.

Growing pains are a sign that you are living life fully and well. You cannot experience growing pains by remaining stagnant, lying dormant, or settling. Sitting and waiting on something to happen to you isn’t the way to grow. Of course, there are seasons for rest, but we were created to be workers, to toil the land, and to rule over and take care of the earth. That’s literally the reason God created Adam (Genesis 1:28, 2:15) and it’s in our very design! Toiling as builders, as growers, as shepherds, as healers, as parents… these things are in our DNA, and they’re what our Creator divined for us. Great things that happen are almost always preceded by work – whether we worked for it, or God has done the work for us.

Did you know? It’s National Men Make Dinner Day!

During the month of November, I’ll be participating in National Blog Post Month, where I’ll publish a post every single day.

Did y’all know that November 2 is “National Men Make Dinner Day”?! For a lot of women, this would seem like a good opportunity to have your man to get in the kitchen. I know lots of wives and mamas who get burned out on being the “dinner master” each and every day. But for me, National Men Make Dinner Day is just an opportunity to celebrate how often (and how well!) my husband makes dinner for his family!

You see, my hubby is an incredible cook. He is creative (way more than I am), eclectic (because our family loves tons of different foods), knowledgable (the main thing that I am not), and basically a kitchen magician. Even if we haven’t been to the grocery store all week, and all we have are things we don’t use often, he’s able to create a delicious, and typically healthy, meal for us. I’m thankful that he is a sweet sharer of his gifts.

So if you’re asking your man who isn’t normally the cook to provide dinner for you, or for your family, don’t forget to ask nicely. You could help plan it out, or pick up the ingredients. Maybe even offer to open that bottle of wine to get it started! In our experience, wine makes the creativity flow more easily and makes the preparation and cooking process more fun. It’s so nice to be in the kitchen together!

Healthy After-School Snacks

If your kids are like mine, they come home from school HUNGRY. I’ve been working a lot on packing healthy lunches for them, and consequently on providing healthy snacks for when they get home. If you’re out of ideas, here are a few oldies (but goodies!) and a few new ideas for you to try with your kids.

1. Variations on “ants on a log”. I bet we can all remember having a celery stalk with peanut butter and raisins, but you can also halve a thick carrot and add the toppings the same way! Try a different kind of nut butter (or sun butter) for a new flavor, add honey if your sweetie likes sweets, and if your kids don’t like raisins, try Craisins for a similar effect with a tart pop!

2. Peanut butter on anything. Speaking of that wonderful creation: peanut butter. It goes with anything. Apples, bananas, carrots, celery, on lots of different kinds of bread (try tortillas, pita, or naan), rice cakes, or just on a spoon. My friend’s mom used to make “fruit pizza”, which was pizza crust or pita, with a layer of peanut butter and honey (or caramel for a treat), with bites of fruit, nuts, and granola sprinkled on top. It was a major win, especially if you need a snack that’s multiple servings.

3. Tortilla sushi. You can take a tortilla and put a thin layer of mayo or mustard, deli meat, lettuce, and cheese, roll it tightly, and slice it into “sushi bites”. It transforms a “boring” wrap into a fun snack! As you can imagine, peanut butter and jelly (I buy Polaner’s Fruit Spread that’s sweetened with only fruit juice) works just as well! Or, if your kids are like mine, picking up a California roll for some REAL sushi is a hit, too!

4. Chips and salsa or guac. With this one, the fresher the better. Grab some avocados from Costco or Trader Joe’s, add tomatoes, some onion, lime juice, salt and pepper, and you’ve got yourself a pleasing and healthy guacamole for an easy snack. Lots of grocery stores have Wholly Guacamole if you aren’t a cook, or some fresh-made salsa in their deli section. We like black bean and corn salsa for its protein, too, easily whipped up with tomato, onion, lime juice, red wine vinegar, salt and pepper. Try a new salsa on your kids!

5. Protein bites. These no-bake treats are so easy! I came across my favorite recipe on Pinterest, but a quick search for “protein balls” or “energy bites” will reveal hundreds of ideas in a second. My usual ingredients include dry oats, peanut butter, chocolate chips, ground flaxseed, honey, Craisins, and vanilla. There are so many flavors out there to try, and they’re all pretty easy!

6. Healthy muffins. I have discovered a food blog that’s quite literally changed my life. BrenDid.com has tons of different healthy muffin recipes and I haven’t made one yet that my kids haven’t devoured. Almost all her muffin recipes are sugar free, oil free, and gluten free! Everything from pumpkin muffins to chocolate peanut butter muffins, even the plain oatmeal muffins (with any type of add-in you can think of) are a hit with my kids. We eat them for breakfast, or I send them in their lunches, or we snack on them. They’re whipped up in the blender and totally yummy!

7. Hummus. Easy to eat on veggies, chips, or pita, hummus is a versatile and delicious snack. If you’ve never tried your hand at making hummus, there are very few ingredients and all you do is toss them in your blender! I recommend trying a new hummus recipe (just get on Pinterest, y’all!) and even let your kids help you make it! (If your family usually likes Greek or Mediterranean food, try making some tzatziki, too!)

8. Apple cheddar toast. This may sound crazy, but one of the most delightful snacks is cheddar cheese melted on toast, with a (still cold) Granny Smith apple sliced on top. Savory and sweet, hot and cold, crunchy and melted cheese? Those are three winning combinations, not to mention healthy!

I hope I gave you a few new ideas for healthy snacks (or even lunches) to please the hungry brood at your house. What other suggestions do you have for healthy snacks?