Christmas Traditions: Oh, The Food

Monday, December 21, 2015

Let's be real here: the holidays = food, and so today I am writing about a couple of sweet treats that my family always eats during the month of December.  My favorite thing to make during the holidays are these raspberry almond shortbread cookies. The recipe is from Bryan's mom and the cookies are divine. I get asked for the recipe wherever I take kidding! They aren't hard at all....kind of fool-proof, actually--a must-try, I say!

We also do a lot of the standard fudge, glass candy, and puppy chow, but I think that's pretty normal, yes? Either way, not good for my waistline, but SO good for my soul.  ;) (Calories don't count in December anyway....duh.)

I also love good food with sentimental meaning. My Nanny has always made tea cakes (kind of like these) that my family eats by the freezer bag-full (literally, she keeps them in freezer bags) and she and my Grandmommy also make my great-grandmother's famous chocolate pie recipe (similar one from PW, here). These are recipes that are so comforting to me and bring such good memories of playing dominos and Wahoo and laughing with my crazy family around the table late at night. I never knew my great-grandmother Isca, but my dad always says that her cooking was legendary, that when you went to her house you were guaranteed to get a homemade treat and a frozen Dr. Pepper, and that at every church potluck she would bring a chocolate pie and let him have the first slice. (Talk about sweet.)

What treats and desserts are staples in your family? As always, I would love to know. :)

Christmas is this week! We leave tomorrow and I'm praying my family is healthy by then--Parker came down with a bad fever and congestion over the weekend. Poor babe. This December has unfortunately been the month of sick for us.

Christmas Traditions and Stovetop Potpourri

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Isn't it interesting that at this time of year, favorite traditions take on a whole new league? They are amped up, held high, savored, and protected. I love that about Christmas and the holidays. It is one reason why I look forward to it all so much throughout the year. I get all nostalgic just thinking about how we've always done something as simple as easting at a certain restaurant on a certain night. I'm a nerd.

I thought I'd share  a few of my favorite holiday traditions over the next couple of posts--some that are new-ish and some that I have known my whole life.

Let's start with one that is relatively new: Stovetop Potpourri

It is, hands down, my favorite handmade gift to give out to teachers and neighbors. I found the recipe maybe five years ago on Pinterest (somewhere....can't find the original one anymore). My mother-in-law is hooked now as well and we make this every year for Christmas events, gifts, and for our own personal use. No mixing, no messes, and no washing dishes. And, unlike baking holiday treats, no weight gain on my part, so you!

Here is the recipe:

-1/2 cup cranberries
-Orange, quartered
-2-3 cinnamon sticks
-1 T whole cloves

Put all ingredients in a small saucepan. Fill with water. Put on the smallest burner, on the lowest setting. Refill water as needed to keep your house smelling like Christmas.

And! And I thought it would be fun to share the printable we used this year. I use a 3" scallop punch to cut out the tags on white cardstock. The link for the printable is right HERE. Guys. Please try this! You may just love it.


The other two traditions that I thought would be fun to share today are Christmas movies and the biggie: Christmas music. (I'm one of those who starts listening in October. Shhhhhh.)

Our family's favorite movies...

-Muppets Christmas Carol (my favorite version, still)
-The Santa Claus
-The Grinch
-Miracle on 34th Street (the newer one)
-A Christmas Story
-The Polar Express (Parker's all-time fave....are you surprised? We are watching it as I type.)
-Home Alone 1 and 2
-It's a Wonderful Life (my dad's favorite)
-Also, Love Actually and The Holiday....but I never thought of those as real Christmas movies? Am I weird? Must be the no mention of Santa thing. I watch them all year long.

As for the music....well. Good grief. I could go on for a year about this, but for your sake, I will just list what is absolutely necessary (maybe).

My childhood memories of Christmas largely consist of driving to and from Texas listening to the Alabama, Trisha Yearwood, Reba, Vince Gill, and Amy Grant Christmas cassette tapes. I can still tell you when each tape needs to be flipped. My dad hates country music so I'm surprised he allowed so much of this. (It may have been me and my sisters serious attempts to sound the the pros coming from the back seat. We meant business.)

Disclaimer: Most of these are horribly 80's / early 90's sounding....but I love them. Also, the YouTube videos may have weird slideshows. Sorry. :)

The Christmas Guest (still gives me chills, Reba!)
Silent Night (Reba)
On This Day (Reba)
Thistlehair The Christmas Bear (Alabama...I have a soft spot for this one)
Christmas in Dixie (Alabama)
Let There Be Peace on Earth (Vince)
Till The Season Comes Round Again (Vince)
Sweet Little Jesus Boy (Trisha Yearwood)
The Sweetest Gift (Trisha Yearwood)
Take a Walk Through Bethlehem (Trisha Yearwood)
Breath of Heaven (Amy Grant)
The Night Before Christmas (Amy Grant....the contemporary Christian Christmas anthem of 90's)

Other favorites that I won't link because it takes too much time (ha!), and also because you probably know them all:

Welcome to Our World - Chris Rice (Alright, I will link that one because I love it so much.)
Little Drummer Boy - Bing Crosby
Christmastime is Here - Sarah McLachlan, Sixpence None the Richer
Carol of the Bells - BarlowGirl, Destiny's Child
Somewhere In My Memory - Home Alone Soundtrack
Happy Xmas (War Is Over) - John Lennon, Maroon 5
Last Christmas - Taylor Swift, Wham!
O Holy Night - Nat King Cole, Leona Lewis, Celine Dion
Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy - David Bowie and Bing Crosby
Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays - N'Sync (I was 10 in 1998....I can't resist.)
Christmas Song - Dave Matthews
All I Want for Christmas Is You - Mariah Carey (Duh.)
Christmas Wrapping - The Waitresses
White Christmas - The Drifters
Mary's Boy Child / Oh My Lord - Boney M.
Feliz Navidad - Jose Feliciano (Because I find joy in annoying my husband.)

What are your favorite holiday movies and music? I'd really love to know! It is so fun to read about what others do with their families, friends, and homes during this time of year.

Have a great Wednesday! Only nine days left.

Fun Gift Wrapping and Tag Ideas

Monday, December 14, 2015

Wrapping gifts for the holidays often gets funneled into the Dreaded Tasks of Christmas for some people, but in all honestly, turning on a Christmas movie and wrapping presents is one of my all-time favorite things to do. I don't consider it stressful at all, actually; I love the repetition and the exactness of it and the creativity it involves while thinking of the person who is going to receive the gift (and really hoping they will like it).

Hopefully I am not alone in this? There are so many things at Christmastime that are "off the beam" for me (that was a Jen Hatmaker reference), and I have no problem at all letting most of them go (Elf on the Shelf was never even a thought in my mind: too much), but I do think that if you really enjoy something even at a busy time like the holidays, there is nothing wrong with pouring some time and love into it. (Gift wrap lovers, raise your hands high!)

Today I wanted to share a few fun tips on gift wrap. I'm a fan. And a bit of a hoarder. Need a pretty designer wrapping paper? Some cute scalloped tissue? A million feet of ribbon? Have no fear! Katy is here! I also have about 250 baby boy gift bags if you need them as well, but that's another story. (The story is that I had two babies and both were boys and now I have a lot of blue gift bags. ;)

My favorite thing about super-trendy things these days is that they look very homemade and thoughtful, and also--classic. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I do believe there is no better combo, style-wise.

Brown paper packages tied up with strings....

(You're welcome. May your days be filled with voice of Julie Andrews.)

Alright, so enough rambling. A few key points:

1. You only need a few patterns of paper to keep the "underneath" of your tree looking well-dressed. I would say 2-3.
2. Keep the colors and styles similar for a cohesive look, but please, for me, throw in something that contrasts, like gold or greenery (or both) for interest.
3. You know those frustrating too-small strips of wrapping paper that you've had to trim off but can't use? Yes. Well, use them as an accent band on another gift. Fold and tape. Favorite!

4. I love fresh greenery clippings as much as the next home decor lover, but let's be real: that's a pain, especially on gifts. Find a real-looking faux-greenery garland (I got mine at Jo-Ann for $7) and pick off the sprigs to tuck into the ribbon.
5. Speaking of ribbon: Use it. A lot of it. While I love good ole' curling ribbon (fun!), classic satin, linen, and grosgrain will give a much more classic and yester-year look.
6. Don't stop with ribbon! Yarn, twine, sequin/lace/pom-pom trim, and basically anything else you can string and already have works great, too.
7. Berries, pine cones, cinnamon sticks, and even feathers are you BFF's. Glue, tape, and tuck-- just use them well.

8. Don't be afraid to top your gift with something unexpected like these adorable paper roses that are so easy it's ridiculous.
9. I love a little gift on a big gift. Think cute glass ornaments or a homemade ornament from your kiddos. This can serve as the gift tag as well.
10. Speaking of gift tags, I love to cut mine to match from card stock that I already have sitting around. I'm a fan of the pennant flag and the standard price tag look. Use fun stickers or stamps to label your tags.
11. Using initials or letters as the gift tag is super cute and adds some interest.

12. I also think that using a photo for the gift tag is genius. Do you know how easy it is to print photos these days? Go through your Instagram feed, select, click order, and BOOM, they will deliver them to your door. (Also....that photo of Hayes. GOODNESS.)
13. Use wash tape as accents on your tags or to cover up obvious scotch tape on the sides of the gift.
14. None of this needs to be expensive. Buy a few things and then mix, match, and layer, layer, LAYER.

So that's what I have! I got all of my supplies at Jo-Ann and will be talking more about these babies today on KAMR at 4:00.

What are your favorite things to do when wrapping gifts? I'd love to hear!

What I'm Reading (And Want to Read)

Saturday, December 12, 2015

I am one of those people who tends to go through reading spurts, where I'll read like eight books in a month and then not pick up anything for 3 or 4 months. When I'm in a "spurt", it doesn't bode well for my mom responsibilities (oh, sandwiches for dinner again?), but it's what I tend to do when I'm overwhelmed or stressed because reading a good book is, truly, the only thing that forces my brain to chill out and not think of anything else.


So, since I have been way too busy for my own good these last few weeks, I have also been on a reading kick. And I like it. I thought I would share a few of the books I've read recently with you all today!

For The Love by Jen Hatmaker: Hmmmm yes, who hasn't read this book? It is so good. In the first chapter alone I was spastically nodding my head in agreement and read basically every paragraph to Bryan.

“People will take as much as you will give them, not because they are terrible humans, but because they only want this one slice of you. It doesn’t seem like much to them.” 

“If it isn’t also true for a poor single Christian mom in Haiti, it isn’t true.” 

“Our primary defaults are exhaustion and guilt. Meanwhile, we have beautiful lives begging to be really lived, really enjoyed, really applauded” 

“The trouble is, we have up-close access to women who excel in each individual sphere. With social media and its carefully selected messaging, we see career women killing it, craft moms slaying it, chef moms nailing it, Christian leaders working it. We register their beautiful yards, homemade green chile enchiladas, themed birthday parties, eight-week Bible study series, chore charts, ab routines, “10 Tips for a Happy Marriage,” career best practices, volunteer work, and Family Fun Night ideas. We make note of their achievements, cataloging their successes and observing their talents. Then we combine the best of everything we see, every woman we admire in every genre, and conclude: I should be all of that. It is certifiably insane.” 

“God is unveiling women around the world. He always has and continues to work through women and girls, who are half of His church. They are, like men and boys, His image bearers. They are also, like men and boys, gifted, empowered, smart, and anointed.” 

Truly,  I could just copy and past the whole book (but I will resist that, for your sake and the fact that it's probably illegal). Her views on parenting, family, being a woman, being an American Christian, all of it....I love. I also loved her "Spicy and Sweet" description of family. I come from a Spicy, Bryan comes from a Sweet, and our poor children are getting a nice little mix. ;) Actually, I think that's a good thing.

Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple: I loved the characters in this book and the way the chapters are written (a lot of the chapters are emails, letters, invoices, newsletters, that kind of thing). It's a mystery but nothing really suspenseful or scary, just interesting to read with a good storyline and some interesting people. 

Bread and Wine by Shauna Niequist: I read this a few months ago, but it's worth bringing up again because it was AWESOME. I normally don't really like memoir-y books (I'm slowly changing my tune there), and I have definitely never read a cookbook just for fun (the author reads them regularly), but this was such a great read about coming together with those you love at the table. Our hearts and minds open up and a certain vulnerability lies in a good meal with good friends that you can't get anywhere else. Read it!

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah: Um. Yes. This book is amazing. I actually just read this one like two days ago, and it's one of those that I'm still thinking about constantly, and even having dreams about. It's a WWII book, so if you like historical fiction then this is basically a no-brainer. It's about two french sisters and their (heartbreaking) journey through the war (a husband leaving to fight, German soldiers coming to live with them, working with the Resistance, saving Jewish children....not to mention a hundred other things but I don't want to ruin the book). The last Kristin Hannah book I read was Firefly Lane and I have never cried harder in a book....goodness. This one is a tear-jerker as well, FYI. So good.

So....yeah! Super fun.

Here are a few that are sitting on my Kindle wishlist that I can't wait to open:

7. Bossypants by Tina Fey (I know...I should have already read this)

What are you reading these days? I LOVE getting good book recommendations! Have a great weekend. Stay healthy. (Have I mentioned that our entire house is sick? So fun.)

DIY Paper Advent Hearts

Monday, December 7, 2015

Hey guys!

The last few weeks have been full for sure, but today I wanted to stop in and share another craft that I've done on behalf of Jo-Ann from their Holiday Maker's Guide.

These sweet little Paper Advent Hearts are easy and simple and very family-friendly if you have craft-happy kiddos. I feel like Advent activities are such a big deal right now (and can be very overwhelming...thank you, Pinterest), but the true reasoning behind Advent is obviously a great one so I think a simple version like this is worth the time and effort during this busy season.

You can fill these with homemade cookies, candy, small toys, or slips of paper with activities or scripture to do or read each night. I actually love the idea of doing a different Christmas activity for Advent every night, but let's be real here.....I have two small children and do not live in la-la-perfect-land where everything goes according to plan and mom has endless amounts of joy of energy, so I think that sprinkling in a few activities along with treats and verses is about the best that is going to happen in the real world. ;)

For this craft, you will need:

  • Various colors of cardstock
  • Wax paper
  • Coordinating ribbon
  • Scissors
  • Hole punch
  • Chipboard numbers or stickers
  • Glue stick
  • Twine
  • Decorative punches
  • Sewing machine (if you would rather do this quickly)
  • Basic sewing supplies
  • Cardstock heart template (download HERE)
  • Wax paper heart template
  • Cookies, candy, small toys, lists of scripture or activities

Alright. So first, you are going to print out this heart template that is right HERE. Cut out twice as many heart templates as you want to do advent hearts. I chose to do 12, mostly because that's all I can handle and also because everyone can relate it to "The 12 Days of Christmas". I bought an adorable scrapbook paper pack with gold foil and kraft paper designs to to all of my hearts....LOVE it and super easy.

Take your hole punch and punch about 1/2" apart around two of the hearts (wrong sides together). Take your twine and loop through the holes to sew the heart together. Your goal is for it look homemade--perfectionists, beware! 

 Leave about 1/4 of it open at the end. Stuff you candy or whatever you choose in. I used M&M's, mini candy canes, and mints. If you are doing baked goods, use the printable template to cut out the smaller heart from wax paper and slip two of those in before putting in your goodies to make sure they don't get grease all over the scrapbook paper. 

Stitch the heart closed and tie a handle with the twine. Now for the fun part: embellishments! You can either paint or glue your numbers directly on your heart, or you can do like I did and add a tag to hang separately. I used a 3" scallop punch to cut out my tag for the number. I also decided to attach the activity or scripture to the outside of mine (so we get something sweet every night), so I wrote that on a little slip of black paper with a dressmaking pencil and cut it to look like a pennant. Super cute!

Attach your tags using the hold punch and threading on the ornament hook. Take your ribbon and tie a bow on the hook as well. 

Hang on your big Christmas tree for the kids to hunt for and remove each night. Wa-lah! A cute and easy Advent.

I'll be sharing this on Studio 4 today. Can't wait!

Hope you all are enjoying the Christmas season. Oh, and did I mention that we are building a house ourselves? Um. Yes. More on that later!