Ain’t Nobody Got Time for Advent!

We’ve all been doing it.  Pouring over Pinterest hour after hour prepping ourselves for this very month(ish) of holiday wonderment.

We’re all putting our Elves on our Shelves next to glazed donut cheerios.
We’ve all seen three million different ways to decorate cone forms as tabletop christmas trees.
Everybody and their mother’s got the family initial in an evergreen wreath on their front door.

But move over, burlap stocking DIY.  There’s one showstopper we’ve ALL got on our list.  That my friend, is the glorious DIY Advent Calendar!  Remember when those things were just fancy packages for candy and trinkets?  Oh Pinterest!  You laugh at such an antiquated notion!  Now instead of treats, each pocket is supposed to be filled with holiday themed activities.  24 of them for each December day before Christmas.

If you’re like me, at first you lit up at the idea of packing every magical December day with a fresh new memory for the spouse and children you love so dearly!  Hot cocoa and popcorn and Charlie Brown Christmas one night.  Tickets to “The Nutcracker” the next!  Holiday light viewing another night!!  A Christmas tree slumber party the next?!!!

Then reality sets in.  You don’t even know how you’re going to get your Christmas shopping in, let alone make time for the graham cracker snowman craft you’ve had pinned on your “Kiddos” board for the last three months.  Not to mention, like, the boring normal life stuff.  Work, laundry, exercise…  Oddly, the stuff that makes you busy and behind schedule in September is still there in December, no matter how much holiday magic you’d rather cram in instead.

So, call me a realist.  I know I can’t actually do everything I pin.  But at the same time, I now have this amazing Advent Calendar ready to hang, and nothing to put inside it!  (Giving my kids chocolate for breakfast every morning just doesn’t thrill me.  What can I say?)

Today, however, I had an epiphany.  My house isn’t ready to decorate yet.  I forgot to get out my Elf on a Shelf yesterday.  We’ve yet to officially ENTER the holiday season at this house, and frankly, the to-do list, albeit most enjoyable, can be a bit overwhelming when I think about my other responsibilities.  Exactly what all is even on my holiday to-do list?

Hm…  Well, for sure I’ll want to

  1. Put up the tree
  2. Light the tree
  3. Decorate the tree
  4. Take pictures of the kids next to the tree
  5. Hang the stockings
  6. Put out our nativity
  7. Read Elf on a shelf
  8. Make something pretty for my dining table.
  9. Decorate our windows.
  10. Wrap gifts
  11. Buy or make cards
  12. Sign and send cards
  13. Christmas baking

    AND THEN there’s the scheduled Christmas activities through various groups we’re involved in…

  14. Christmas Kids (and Parents) Night Out
  15. Christmas Groove Concert
  16. Pre-K Christmas Program
  17. Church Christmas Pageant
  18. Oh!  And Church Christmas Pageant Dress Rehearsal!
  19. School Christmas Party
  20. Work Christmas Party (Which for us, happens to be kid friendly!  Yay!)
  21. Christmas Eve Church services

    Hm… Well, those are interesting numbers.  At some point, we’d probably also like to

  22. Go for a drive to look at lights.
  23. Watch a Christmas movie with the kids
  24. Read a Christmas story book
  25. Make a craft or present with the kids
  26. Play in the snow
  27. Volunteer or donate to a worthy cause
  28. OR stay in our pajamas all day…

What do you know! There’s nothing on this list that my three year old (or even 1 year old) can’t participate in on some level!  And that’s way more than 24 items… all of which we’re intending to do ANYWAY!  Advent activity countdown, or no!

So, get smart people!  You CAN have it all… okay maybe not it all, but if you approach the classical Pinteresty advent activity thing as an organizational tool, rather than just another way to overextend yourself this holiday, it can actually REMOVE holiday stress from your month rather than compound it!

Sure, it’s a simple notion, just write everything on slips of paper and stick it in your advent countdown device thingy of choice.  Sync it with your calendar, and keep a few simple substitutes on hand in case you need to switch out a big plan for a simpler plan one day  (Heck!  Maybe that’s where the candy comes in!).  But then your Christmas to-do list is organized, broken down day by day, and done in a slow and steady way that involves your kids!  What could be better?

Did I miss anything on my list?  What are some of your absolute HAVE-TOs during the holidays?

 

Categories: Activities, children, Christmas, DIY | 1 Comment

The New Star of Thanksgiving Dinner!

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So your menu is planned and you’re all set for Thanksgiving dinner. The family is all going to be there and everyone is going to gain 10 lbs on Thursday. Tis the season to forget about calories, and enjoy the rich, starchy, creamy and fat-filled deliciousness that will grace the table as we remember to be thankful for all we have. AND NOT ONE OF YOU SHOULD FEEL BAD ABOUT THAT!! You can’t skimp on Thanksgiving foods. Go big or go home.

Everyone raves about the turkey, and the stuffing/dressing rocks your socks off. Mashed potatoes/gravy? That dish alone accounts for over half the weight of your Chinet plate as you pile it high. Some families, like mine, go nuts over the homemade noodles. (My mom is bringing my great aunt Jeannette’s famous noodle recipe to our dinner this year, and I couldn’t be more thrilled!) And I know some of you crazies out there are excited to get your hands on a huge helping of sweet potato casserole! (Not my bag, but more power to ya.) And the battle continues over which is better: homemade cranberry sauce, or sliced up disks of the gelatinous canned variety. (My vote is for the disks!)

And one dish that will likely appear on your table, but tends to take a backseat to the other more prominent features of Thanksgiving dinner, is the lowly GREEN BEAN CASSEROLE. No one ever says that’s their favorite holiday food, they just don’t. And yet, there is an unspoken obligation to include it on the menu. Well, my friends- this is the year that changes. I’m going to give you my personal secret recipe for green bean casserole, and I guarantee it will change the way you and your family feel about the oft overlooked sad dish. This takes it to a new level and skyrockets the forgotten delicacy to a family fave. AND, if you are attending Thanksgiving dinner at someone else’s home and looking for the perfect dish to bring and share, I’m telling you, this is the thing to take. It’s super simple, but will make you the hero of the day.

Here’s what you need: a square pyrex dish or other casserole dish
3 cans green beans (drained)
2 cans cheddar cheese soup (I use Campbell’s)
1 packet onion soup mix
2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
3 oz french fried onions

Here’s what you do: Preheat the oven to 350. In your casserole dish, mix green beans, cheddar cheese soup, onion soup mix, and 1 1/2 cups of the shredded cheese. Mix until combined. Sprinkle remaining cheese on top and then top with the french fried onions. Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Remove foil and bake 5 more minutes.

IT’S THAT EASY! And you have my personal guarantee it will be well-received. It is my humble opinion that this is hands-down the greatest green bean casserole, ever. Try it this year and tell me if you don’t agree.

Have a happy Thanksgiving and enjoy your friends and family. Take time to consider all that you have with a grateful heart. What a fantastic holiday!
*Don’t forget that the last episode of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition will be on ABC next Monday night. It’s the Thanksgiving Special and it features one of my best friends from college. Grab your kleenexes and don’t miss this excellent show!

What is your favorite Thanksgiving dish, and are you willing to share your recipe in the comments section? Some smartypants out there are still trying to plan their menus, help a girl out!!

Categories: Food | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Yummy Chicken Curry

Bectoria here. I love eating a variety of different foods from all over the world. At the same time, unfortunately, I am not a huge fan of eating out. When I do, the quality of the food I eat is literally put in the hands of others. To remedy this conundrum, I often try to replicate flavors at home. Doing so often provides its own unique set of problems. One being that I sometimes can’t find good recipes, often making the effort to replicate a flavor very time consuming. Also, and equally as frustrating, the final product is often inconsistent. When discussing this with a dear cousin, she suggested creating my own recipes by measuring out everything I put into a dish. (Oh! You mean, like, what real cooks do? Why didn’t I think of that!) To prevent this task from becoming too tedious she offered to come over and help. Naturally I jumped at the chance and last night we took on chicken curry.

Here’s what we came up with…

Chicken Curry (yeild: 4 servings)

Ingredients:

2 Chicken Breasts

8 oz. broth

1 – 13.5 oz can Coconut Milk

1 tsp Turmeric

1 tsp Garlic Powder

½ tsp Cumin

½ tsp Saffron

½ tsp Salt

1 Tbsp Curry Powder

2 Tbsp Brown Sugar

Vegetables of Choice

Method:

Brown Chicken Breasts in a large saucepan on both sides, removing while still a bit pink in the middle

Set chicken aside to rest

Add broth to the saucepan

When broth is heated through whisk in other ingredients

Add vegetables of choice

Slice chicken and add back to the sauce

The recipe is complete when the chicken is completely cooked through

Add the curry to saffron rice or couscous and enjoy!

Categories: DIY, Food | Tags: | Leave a comment

Picking Up The Pieces of Chick-Fil-A-Gate

DISCLAIMER: THE CONTENTS OF THIS POST REPRESENT MY THOUGHTS/OPINIONS AND NOT NECESSARILY THE THOUGHTS/OPINIONS OF THE OTHER WRITERS OF THIS BLOG.

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To this point, I don’t believe I have ever directly referenced the fact that I am a Christian. This is not because I am trying to hide it or am embarrassed by it, but because that is not the point of this blog. While my faith is the filter for every aspect of my life, this blog is a homemaking blog, and my aim is to provide food for thought, advice, and embarrassing anecdotes from my life as a wife, mother and homemaker. While many of our readers are followers of Christ as well, there are readers of this blog who do not put themselves in that category, and they need to read about the ridiculous messes my kids get themselves into and my advice on what gear should outfit their kitchen as much as the next guy. It’s my belief that bringing every post back to my faith convictions will lead to 4smartypants only reaching people in the same camp, and there are plenty of those blogs out there already. (Not to discredit any such blogs, but that simply is not the purpose of THIS blog.)

That being said, it is with much fear and trepidation that I put this post out there on the interwebs. I am greatly saddened by the events of August 1st. As I watched my newsfeed yesterday, my heart grew heavier and heavier. I am trying ever so hard to choose my words very carefully with regard to this situation, because there are so many people whom I love dearly who fall on each side of Chick-Fil-A-Gate, and I don’t want anyONE of them to feel attacked or degraded by my feelings about it.

The sweet 19 year old kid who lives next door to us is an aspiring musician. He is not just aspiring, the guy’s got chops. This kid is good. He has played some of his recent recordings for us and they are really impressive. (As a stay-at-home mom, I rarely get to use my hard-earned bachelor degree, so I’m going to tout my credentials at this juncture and point out that my opinion is a professional opinion, as I have a degree in music. That felt good to say, thanks for letting me get that out.) In fact, a record company is currently working with him and I believe that before too long, everyone will be hearing his music on the radio. And I’ll have my autographed copy and be able to say, “That guy was our neighbor!” You will likely be jealous of my brush with fame. He is a really sweet kid and he adores his younger brother. He is very good to his momma, who is a hard-working single mom trying to finish nursing school while working 3 jobs. It’s taken about a year to learn this much about him and to get to the point that he feels comfortable coming over to our house. I believe this is because my husband is a church planter (if you don’t know what that means, he is a pastor who is working to begin new churches) and the kid next door is gay. Right off the bat we were at a disadvantage in trying to get to know our neighbor, because the interactions he’s had with christians to this point have lead him to the conclusion that living next door to a pastor is a hostile environment for him.

The thing is, he is a REAL PERSON. In the last few days as I’ve observed the Facebook traffic regarding Dan Cathy’s statement and the recoil from officials in a couple of big cities and the outpouring of support from the christian community, I’ve had a lot of thoughts/reactions/feelings. I’ve composed status updates, only to hit “share” and then delete the post 2 minutes later in hopes the fewest number of people possible saw it before I removed it from the feed. I’ve written heated comments on other peoples’ posts, only to hit “cancel” before going through with my protest to their musings. But I have wondered at every point, “How aware are my fellow christians that their reaction is affecting REAL PEOPLE?”

In all honesty, I have no qualms with the statement made by Mr. Cathy. I do believe in the right to free speech. And in his defense, he was ASKED what he thought. He was put on the spot, and he gave his honest answer. The thing that is breaking my heart over the issue is the solidarity with which christians rose up to defend him in response to the call for a boycott. It was like believers didn’t even need to think twice about taking their stand. I am a big fan of standing up for what you believe in, but I am also a big fan of thinking twice, especially when there is enough time to do so before acting. And there was. There were several days between to call to observe Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day and the day in question. But that time seemed to only garner more and more support from the christian community, rather than cause christians to stop and count the cost.

The problem I face is that I KNOW so many of these people who proudly made their stand yesterday, and I know their hearts. They are good, wonderful people, whom I have loved for years. They are people who have been good, and kind and generous to me and my family. I know that when they spent 3 hours waiting for a chicken sandwich in the heat yesterday, it was because they felt they were either A: defending Dan Cathy’s constitutional right to freedom of speech, or B: defending family values in America. I sincerely don’t question their motives. But I am COMPELLED to say something. (At this point in the blog post, if you are not a christian, you may want to skip ahead. This is directed at those readers who share my faith and are bound by the same convictions.) Where do we get the notion that we are entitled to a government that supports our beliefs? What has given us the idea that whether or not the people of our nation AGREE with what we hold true, they should be forcibly bound to uphold our values? How on earth is THAT biblical? And what’s more, if we were truly concerned with defending “family values,” we would be FIGHTING TOOTH AND NAIL anything and anyone that advocates DIVORCE, because that is a force that is doing FAR MORE to destroy family values than gay marriage. Where is the solidarity on that front?! I’ll tell you where it is, it’s nowhere, because each of us has loved ones (or ourselves, even) who have faced that ugly giant, and we’d rather pretend that we’ve forgotten divorce is wrong that to confront it. If you believe that God defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman, then how does the American government recognizing marriages between 2 men or 2 women affect you? It doesn’t!! If God defines something, you have no reason to feel threatened by anyone else’s definition of it. As far as you’re concerned it’s just a formality that allows certain legal rights to 2 people. We were never promised that the laws of our country would reflect our spiritual convictions. Why do you feel so entitled to that? We were actually told to expect things to be difficult for us, but we throw whiny fits everytime everyone doesn’t want to do things our way.

The biggest problem that comes from this mess is this: we are out of line. Yes, freedom of speech is our RIGHT. No, Dan Cathy was not in the wrong. But we overstepped our boundary when we made it about defending him. Because in doing so we flip-flopped the order of importance. If we believe what the bible says, then we know we are here for a purpose. There is a reason for our existence, WE HAVE A MISSION and it is love. There is no tiny bit of the love of Christ that was shown to the world yesterday as a result of our actions. Instead, we showed a group of hurting, dejected children of God that “You were right, christians are more concerned with their rights than with loving you.” You know how the saying goes, “They will know we are christians by our incessant demand for our rights.” I remember one guy from the bible who found himself being horribly mistreated and sentenced to his death unjustly, and not once did he say, “That’s not fair! What about my rights?! You can’t do this to me!” Because he LOVED more than he cared about his rights.

Yesterday, christians all across America chose to stand for their rights above pursuing their mission. And the message was received loud and clear. When we put rights above mission, our mission fails. And defending our rights isn’t even close to why we’re here. Priorities, people. I’m all for defending our rights as long as it doesn’t compromise our mission. And now we are left with an even longer road to travel if we hope to even have the chance to show the love of Christ to those hurt by our “stand” yesterday.

And now I can’t enjoy a Spicy Chicken Sandwich at Chick-Fil-A at least until the dust settles for fear one of my gay friends will think I’m making a statement to them by doing so. What about me? What about my rights to a freaking awesome chicken sandwich? Thanks a lot.

So I gather that a lot of people went to bed last night, proud of their contribution. And while I know in my heart that they are wonderful people who love Jesus, I am now left to clean up their mess. There’s a REAL PERSON next door whom I hope will still talk to us and not assume that the pastor living next to him is in the same camp as the hoards who chose defending rights over loving people yesterday.

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , | 27 Comments

So Good For You, You Can Eat Two!

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We’re all watching our weight. My family and I have been eating like hippies for some time, now. We’re so granola. But have you noticed how scary it is to read labels? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve looked at the Nutrition Facts label on something healthy I’ve been eating and feeding to my family for months only to find out that it wasn’t really any better for us than a Big Mac and large fries. So disappointing. Seemingly healthy food can be very deceiving. 😦 Just when I’m patting myself on the back for having made such a healthy choice, reading the label often throws a wet blanket on my enthusiasm. Not sure what I mean? Ever read the label on the whole wheat bread you buy? How about the tortilla chips you chose over the Sour Cream and Onion Lays? I stood in the grocery aisle comparing the nutritional information between regular saltine crackers and whole wheat saltines of the same brand. One would assume the whole wheat version would be an improvement in terms of health. And one would be wrong. They had IDENTICAL nutrition info. How about Wheat Thins? Sorry, just a lot of processed carbs- you might as well eat Doritos.
But, it’s a learning process, and we are weeding our way through the confusion and are determined to make good choices.

One thing I’ve realized is that pre-packaged store-bought foods that seem like a healthy alternative rarely are. I gave up on my go-to lunch item: MorningStar Spicy Black Bean Veggie Burgers. Although the stats they tout regarding the calorie and fat difference between their burgers and the average beef burger are true, I had to sign off on eating and feeding my family ingredients that shouldn’t really be classified as “food.” Ever notice “hydrolyzed vegetable protein” on an ingredient list? Well, it’s in a lot of things, and you need to know what it is. Hydrolyzed vegetable protein (HVP) is soy, wheat, or corn that has been boiled in HYDROCHLORIC ACID and then neutralized using SODIUM HYDROXIDE. Yum. A similar process provides us with another ingredient in MorningStar black bean burgers: autolyzed yeast extract. And what meal wouldn’t be complete without a dose of textured vegetable protein (the main ingredient, which is actually filler, attained by another unnatural process), xanthan gum, disodium inosinate and artificial flavors?
After giving up pink slim or anything containing it for my family (mechanically separated chicken, if you’re unfamiliar, please Google it) months ago, I have determined to also give up hydrolyzed vegetable protein, which is the pink slime of the vegetarian world.

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You may not be as concerned about such things, and that’s ok. But regardless of your stance on chemically processed and concentrated vegetable protein, I have a recipe that will please meat eaters, vegetarians and vegans. It’s super easy and you can whip it up in minutes. My Spicy Black Bean Burgers are a winner. Filling, fresh, made from whole foods, and low-cal/low-fat, to boot!
Give these a try and tell me you don’t love them. Challenge extended.

“Me, personally? I loved them! I could eat them everyday for 2 days.”
-Caleb

Rinse and drain 1 can of black beans, put in medium bowl. Dice 1/4 red onion, 2 green onions, 1/4 bell pepper, 1 fistful cilantro leaves and add to bowl. Add 1/4 cup old fashioned oats, and 1/2 tsp all seasonings shown, or according to your taste. (I make mine pretty salty, so add less than 1/2 tsp each if salty ain’t your thang.) If you don’t have one of these seasonings, pretend it isn’t on the list, it won’t hurt to omit something. Mash with a fork and form into 5 patties. Cook for 2-3 minutes per side in a non-stick skillet on med/high heat, no need for added oil. Dress a whole grain bun (I used Brownberry SELECT Wheat Sandwich Rolls)with cilantro leaves and red onion, (avocado slices or guacamole would be fantastic, too, but my avocados weren’t ripe!)

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I like to eat 1 (or 2!) and freeze the other 3 between layers of wax paper in a ziplock to use for a quick lunch for the next couple of days. They are DELICIOUS! Nothing hydrolyzed, autolyzed or “textured” in these. Ready in minutes, no food processor required. You’ll be hooked. Full of flavor and super-healthy. My nutrition facts include the bun, by the way!
Let me know what you think! Happy cooking….

Categories: Food | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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