Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas Wishes

Well, we're off to celebrate Christmas with my family in NE PA, after a wonderful weekend of celebrating with The Boss's parents. We have several "Christmases" lined up, exchanging gifts in stages with different segments of our big and happy family. So, I am off to pack the suitcases and the car. We wish all of you the merriest, most blessed Christmas celebration ever!

Merry Christmas


Happy Birthday,

King Jesus!

From “The Gang’s All Here!”

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Holiday Traditions

We have a favorite family tradition. It started with a newlywed who couldn't get herself together enough to plan a meal and plan to shop for a tree on the same day. It has since become our most talked-about, most anticipated, most treasured tradition for the whole Gang. It is the tradition of decorating our family Christmas tree.

Over the years, The Boss has added the element of hiking into the woods to chop down our own tree. Most of the time now, I am home wrapping presents, or out shopping for him. I don't enjoy the trek into the woods. In fact, I actually prefer buying our tree from a local stand that donates its profits to a local charity. For example, the Boy Scouts used to have a great sight right around the corner from our first apartment (there on Simpson St. - you West Shore gals know where I'm talkin' about!) and we always tried to give a little extra toward the charity they were supporting. Anyway . . .

Once the perfect spruce has stood in the garage for enough time to allow the bugs and spiders to shrivel up and die after being sprayed liberally with bug killer, we bring it in and crank up the Christmas music. This year it was Josh Groban's Noel, over and over, with a little James Taylor and Steven Curtis Chapman thrown in for good measure. The Boss strings all the lights, in his meticulous manner, followed by our heavy wooden beads on string. These beads came from our former landlord's beaded seat cover for his car and I re-purposed them because we were broke and I really don't like tinsel or icicles - just not folk-art-y enough for me! We added some red beads that I found on clearance after Christmas and VOILA! A very rustic garland. Finally, once the beads are all nestled on the heaviest boughs, we open the boxes and the reminisces begin. Each of our many ornaments has a story, a memory and a connection - I'm sure your ornaments are no different.

My favorite ornaments are the ones that Tiny Boppa carved for the kids once he retired. Each one represents that child's "it" thing for that year and it is so fun to hear the stories and the "remember when's" that the ornaments evoke. We have Sesame Street faces, Jimmy Neutron characters, Strawberry Shortcake characters, a darling black bear (from the time that LadyBug got up early with Boppa to see a black bear cub rummaging through Boppa's garden), Boppa's truck (when BBE was fascinated with all things "truck!"), and so many more. They are better than a photo album in some ways.

Sometime toward the end of the decorating, I place an order to the nearest Chinese restaurant. When The Boss returns with the food, we shut off all the lights in the house, save the tree. And we have a Chinese-food picnic in front of our tree. Sometimes we just listen to carols while we chow down. Sometimes we watch a beloved Christmas movie. But every time, we laugh, I cry, and we re-connect. It is quite possibly my most favorite day of the whole year - no phone calls, no company, no other family but us. And the beauty of our tree, glowing right in the middle of it all.

*Update: I am so grateful to all of you who weighed in on the great photo debate. I think I'll take the suggestions of a couple of you and include both of the scenes for the letter. And thanks, Thrills, I never thought of framing the fun one for the house - I was too myopically focused on getting this letter planned and concluded!

Monday, December 17, 2007

What do YOU think?

The Boss mentioned the other day that he actually liked this picture for our family/adoption update letter. I am partial to it because it was a sweet, spontaneous moment with the kids - but I thought including the whole family might make for a more complete picture (pun intended!) as we share our heart for the adoption with our friends and family from around the country. So, I'm taking an informal poll . . . The spontaneous one of just the kids (above) or the more traditional group shot of the whole Gang (below)?? Let me know what YOU think!

Friday, December 14, 2007

Favorites Friday

I love Christmas music. I start listening to it on Thanksgiving Day. And truth be told, I'd start it sooner if (ahem!) some people in my house didn't object so strenuously. (You know who you are!) I love the classics, I love the funny new stuff, I love country, I love jazzy, I love swing. I have quite the collection of Christmas music and try to expand the collection every year. So today, I'm sharing with you my favorite Christmas albums - in my own particular order. I can't pick a most favorite. I could hardly narrow it to five, but I thought listing all of my Christmas music (cd's and tapes!) would be utterly boring for all of you. Here you go . . .

My Favorite Christmas Albums
  • Newest: Josh Groban's Noel. Just got it as an early present from my cousins and the duets are the icing on the already amazing cake of this man's talent. An amazing cd.
  • Oldest: The Nutcracker and Classical Christmas. I have a couple different versions (tapes when we were newlyweds and later cd's). I love them for the peaceful and elegant atmosphere they set and the great memories they evoke of the early years of our Christmas celebrations.
  • Trendiest: American Idol's The Great Holiday Classics. It's a fun, spiffed up version of the classics featuring the voices of some of their most talented kids from a few seasons past.
  • Steven Curtis Chapman: He's got his own category because I have three of his Christmas albums and they just keep getting better. The latest one features one of his adopted daughters and her sweet voice cuts right to my heart every time I hear it.
  • Instrumental: Chris Rice's The Living Room Sessions, Christmas. When this is playing softly in the background of our family festivities, I feel a peaceful hush and a reverence in my home. I love all of this guy's music, but I could listen to this one all day long.
I left out so many! I just looked at my storage case and even I am surprised at how many I have. (All neatly arranged in alphabetical order for quick and easy access!) So, do you have a favorite Christmas album? Do you have a little-known gem that you would like to share with us? Have you found a new one this year that we might love? Leave a comment and share your favorites here!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

More Holiday Pics

Warning! Not a normal post today - I've got two little sickies in the house, so I have to re-evaluate my ever-lengthening "To Do" list. The school district has a random 1/2 day and we were going to jet right out all together and finish shopping for Daddy, get birthday pics done for Dr. Doolittle, and knock a couple other holiday errands off the list. Now, Shaggy will have to babysit LadyBug and maybe Baby Blue Eyes while Dr. D and I condense our time out. This virus is single-handedly wiping out all my lovely, meticulously planned "To Do" lists one day at a time. I am far too ambitious with my lists anyway, but now I'm feeling as if covert operations have been set in play to chip away at my carefully constructed days just to "see what will happen!"

It started on Sunday, when I kept BBE home from church. We spent the whole day hanging around and relaxing. Silly me. I thought I had all week to "get it all done!" Monday, he was still sick so I cleaned, finished some baking and completed a book that's been sitting too long unfinished. Yesterday it didn't get to me too much. He was just so sad and pathetic that I was happy to keep him home and bundled up with Christmas movies running all day. I decorated the rest of the house with one hand and chatted with my dear friend, Amy, with the phone in the other hand. Today? Another sick kid and now I'm just ticked! There's an ice storm moving in tomorrow and I can't just keep baking every time I'm housebound. The sugar high alone is enough to drive me to distraction. (The kids', not mine!)

Here's a shot of the Gang - back when we were all healthy and well. (tee hee, it's not that bad, honest.) We're thinking of using it for a family/adoption update letter in the beginning of the new year. Provided we have some update to share at that point . . . which I'm fairly sure we won't! There's not much to share while you are waiting and waiting. That's another "to do" that's been moved from this month's list to next.

Enjoy the picture. I'm looking at it in shock - can those grown up little faces really be my kids? It's bittersweet. They are gorgeous, wonderful, kind kids but they are all growing up way too quickly for my liking! How do I stop the madness of it?! I know I'm being melodramatic - but I haven't had my coffee yet, so please forgive my insanity. And my broken, disjointed post - the cabin fever must be getting to me . . . . .

Off to revamp that list. And to find something soft to feed to tender little throats. See, I'm not really all about my lists . . . . I'm not :)

Monday, December 10, 2007

Holiday Preparations In Full Swing

Here are a few pics from the weekend. We baked. The Boss and the Gang got a tree out in the woods. Then He decked out the front of the house. We all had a great time! There were Irish Gingersnaps, Peppermint Snowballs, Oreo Truffles, Coconut Macaroons, Butter Pecan Turtle bars, and mini cheesecakes. Beef stew simmered in the laundry room and Cracked Wheat bread whirred in the bread machine.

There was lots of coffee, carols in the background and a sweet little baby girl in the middle of it all, getting her first experience at family female bonding. I'm unofficially known as the "sap" of the family, so it's probably no surprise to some of you that I was full of tender emotions and happy feelings most of the day. And the happiest feeling of all: The Boss and the Gang got totally muddy and gross while out chopping down the tree and I didn't have to be muddy too! :) I will post pics of our gorgeous tree once we get it in and decorated. Right now, it's in the garage steeping in bug spray!

Here's some shots of the lovely nativity scene that friends of ours sell every year on e-bay. It's a little "family" business that spreads the Good News in a beautiful and tasteful manner. Buying any yard ornamentation is a huge deal for me, as I fall in the "Less Is More" camp of Christmas yard decor. We live up the street from perhaps the tackiest, gaudiest, most horrific yard display ever imaginable. No theme, no rhyme or reason, no taste. You get the idea. Actually, get that idea and multiply it by 100 times of tackiness. Then that's the real idea. And until this spring, there was a "(In-) famous" family around the other side of our neighborhood that had a HUGE, EYE-POPPING, "Christmas in Vegas" type display complete with their own radio station. They moved. To Colorado. Far away. But if I look carefully on a clear night, I bet I can still see the light show. Since we moved here, I'm perhaps even more extreme in my "Less Is More" camp-out. You can understand why. Anyway . . . . this one won me over with its simplicity. If you like it, drop me a comment and I'll put ya in touch with my friends.

Finally, here is the wreath that has been with us since the last Christmas in our first home. I "splurged" one year after the holidays and bought two wreaths and some old-fashioned plaid ribbon and silk florals and created matching Christmas wreaths. I was so excited about them that I could hardly wait to hang them - the day after the following Thanksgiving! And I'm so pleased with the way they've held up over the years - 8 years! I love the spotlight on the big one, and I am just OCD enough to really love that my front and side doors match. Sad . . . I know! ;)

So, there you have it - we are in full holiday mode now. Except for the shopping. I still haven't really done the shopping. I will, I will, just as soon as I can stop baking and just as soon as Baby Blue Eyes gets over this nasty cold. Which better be soon. Only 15 days left till Christmas Day! Wooooo Hoooooo! Merry Christmas, all!

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Favorites Friday

I tried all day yesterday to get to this - but I never sat down to relax or regroup until 10 p.m. - with a mug of hot soup and a blanket. At which time I promptly fell asleep next to The Boss on the couch. The last thing I remember was being profoundly upset that I couldn't get the last dregs of soup out of my oddly shaped mug. So anyway, here's my list, better late than never, in honor of some of my favorite women. My Li'l Sis, Li'l Sis-in-Law, Cousin BFF, and Li'l Cousin are all joining me here in about 2 hours for a day of Christmas baking. It's a loosely held tradition that we try to schedule in as many years as we can manage it, and one I look forward to with great joy. There will be coffee, laughing, chatting, sneaking bites, and good old-fashioned female bonding while we bake. And of course, Christmas music. Lots and lots of Christmas music weaving its way through all the day.

My Favorite Christmas Cookies
  • German Christmas Cookie Cut-outs: a brown sugar-based cookie that I got from Stacey G years and years ago - it's become our favorite tradition and favorite treat, reserved only for the holidays! The mess involved with four little Gang members and The Boss all frosting them requires a day set aside just for these cookies alone to take center stage!
  • Coconut Macaroons - my Grandma's recipe. Just making them chokes me up and brings a flood of happy memories of holiday dinners with a big, noisy, crazy Irish clan.
  • Pecan Turtle Bars - a completely decadent, buttery, sugary confection from my friend Amy. I only trust myself to make these in December. If I let me make them other times, I would be as big as the Galapagos Turtles!
  • Mom's Italian Wedding Cakes - also known as snowballs, these little buttery treats melt in your mouth with their nutty goodness.
  • Candy Cane Cookies - by far the most labor intensive, I don't make them every year. But they are so festive with their red and white twisted dough and hooked shape. I fondly remember the gal who shared the recipe with Mom years ago and the kind interest she took in me. I felt like she was my first "grown up friend," even though I was an awkward little 5th grader.
There you have it! If you want any of these recipes, please leave a comment or email me. I love to share my faves :) Happy Saturday to you all and Happy Baking Day to me and my gals . . .

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Not What I Promised You!

I'm not done decorating yet. Who am I kidding?! I haven't even started yet! So I'll post promised pics of the extravaganza soon . . . And I really do want to share with you some stuff I'm brewing over in my heart and mind from my Pastor Brother-In-Law's most recent sermon, but I'm way too frazzled and pressed for time right now to logically process it for you. So I'll post that one soon too. Instead, I found this meme while I was wasting time last night after the kids went to bed (I should have been sleeping, to prep for the frazzled rushed pace I've had to keep today!). It looked kinda fun, so if you try it out, let me know to read your version. Enjoy and I'll see ya around for Favorites Friday . . . . Christmas themed for sure!

A Christmas Meme About Me!

  1. Wrapping paper or gift bags? I like a combination of both!
  2. Real tree or artificial? Whenever possible, REAL – really tall, really fat and really fresh.
  3. When do you put up the tree? Usually by the 10th of December.
  4. When do you take the tree down? Sometime in the first week of January.
  5. Do you like eggnog? LOVE it!
  6. Favorite gift received as a child? A hardback copy of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women.
  7. Do you have a nativity scene? Yes, a couple.
  8. Hardest person to buy for? My in-laws – they buy themselves the good ideas before I can shop for them.
  9. Easiest person to buy for? My kids and my nieces.
  10. Worst Christmas gift you ever received? mmmm, I'll plead the 5th on this one.
  11. Mail or email Christmas cards? When I do them? Mail.
  12. Favorite Christmas Movie? The remake of Miracle on 34th Street and A Charlie Brown Christmas.
  13. When do you start shopping for Christmas? Usually in September, done by November. This year? Not even one gift purchased yet! AAAAAACK.
  14. Have you ever recycled a Christmas present? Yes, a long time ago when we were poor newlyweds with too many of one certain wedding gift!
  15. Favorite thing to eat at Christmas? Yes!
  16. Clear lights or colored on the tree? Tiny white lights.
  17. Favorite Christmas song? TRUTH’s version of A King Is Born; The Royal Guardsmen’s Snoopy and Red Baron Christmas song, anything by Amy Grant – particularly her 1st Christmas album.
  18. Travel at Christmas or stay home? We alternate between my folks and The Boss’s folks but we try to do Christmas Eve and Christmas morning at home first.
  19. Can you name all of Santa's reindeer? Ummmm? Yes, of course I can!
  20. Angel on the tree top or a star? A beautiful white angel that my sister made for me the Christmas before I got married. She wanted me to have a meaningful topper for my first Christmas the next year. I love it!
  21. Open the presents Christmas Eve or morning? Christmas morning. Period.
  22. Most annoying thing about this time of year? The pace, the traffic, the grouchy people who want to be PC, the grouchy people who despise those who are PC.
  23. What I love most about Christmas? Baking, lots of company, spending time with my family, Christmas music all day long.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Soup's On!

Here's a new family favorite from the Gang's house. I made it last week, modifying it from a recipe that used broccoli and cauliflower that Li'l Sis made for a recent family birthday dinner. My little Gang members don't all love cauliflower, and the original soup was a bit too heavy and creamy for my preference (DELISH for special occasions, but not for regular weeknight dinners), so I played around a bit. I think you will like it. Dr. Doolittle had 4 bowls and called "dibs" on the left-overs, and even The Boss had seconds. (His mid-life crisis has come in the form of a boycott of all veggies green!) It was especially yummy paired with some hearty whole grain rolls I had in the freezer for just such an occasion.

Broccoli Soup

2 (10 oz.) boxes frozen, chopped broccoli – thawed slightly
1 small onion, chopped
1 ½ - 2 cups chopped carrots
1 – 2 minced cloves of garlic
2 – 3 Tbsp. olive oil
2 cans (14 oz.) fat free chicken broth
2 Tbsp. flour
2-3 Tbsp. butter
salt and pepper to taste
1 (8 oz.) block light cheddar cheese, cubed
1 (8 oz.) block light Velveeta, cubed
4 cups 1% milk
2-3 cups cooked chicken, chopped - optional
1 cup shredded cheddar – optional (reserved till end of recipe)
  • In a large soup pot, sauté the broccoli, onions, carrots, and garlic in olive oil. Once softened, reduce heat and add chicken broth.
  • Meanwhile, in saucepan, make a roux of the flour, butter and salt and pepper on medium to low heat. Slowly add milk, whisk till it is lump free and starts to thicken. Add cubed cheeses and stir frequently over low heat till cheeses melt and sauce is very thick.
  • Pour all cheese sauce into the soup pot of veggies and broth. (If adding chicken, do so now.) Mix well and allow to simmer on low at least an hour before serving. If you desire a thicker soup, add the shredded cheese about 10 minutes before serving and stir well.
Today's a great day for a thick, hearty soup: we're getting our first "real" sticking snow here - up to 1" or so in our community. Enjoy the recipe and let me know what you think when you try it!

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

100th Post

Today marks the auspicious event of my 100th post. Rather than wax eloquent on the lessons I've learned about life, love and other mysteries of the cosmos since I've begun this blogging adventure, I'm going to celebrate by sharing a pic or two of my adorable niece.

Baby Blue Eyes and I got to babysit for a couple hours yesterday while Li'l Bro took his bride out for a quiet lunch date. We cuddled, we sang, and we talked baby talk. But the most precious of it all was having her fall asleep on my chest while I rocked her and listened to BBE practice math facts. I forgot just how warm and soft and amazing it feels to sit quietly in the midst of a busy day with a little head tucked under my chin. I forgot how the presence of a baby in the home forced me to stop the craziness for a little while. How the weight of that sleeping body held me in my seat to re-focus on the eternal. As I was rocking her, I prayed for her and sang quietly to her along with the Christmas carols in the background. It was a beautiful time and I really felt the presence of the Lord while I worshiped and rocked her to sleep.

So there, I waxed nostalgic instead! Enjoy the pics and take some time today to snuggle with a little one or really listen to the Christmas music that you should have playing by now. Take that moment to slow it down and get refreshed. And Happy 100th to me :)

Monday, December 3, 2007

Didja See It? Didja?

Last night was a special night for The Boss and I: Extreme Home Makeover got to help a family by building them a beautiful new, safe, clean home AND by sending them to Philadelphia for a vacation and a consult at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP)! I was so completely touched by their story and by the hard work and dedication they both put into every day - making sure their kids get through the day, and making each day count for good memories and loving times. Although The Boss was a tad disappointed that they didn't feature more about CHOP, we were both proud to be associated with an organization that works so hard to save kids' lives, and improve the whole family's experience during times of sickness. If you didn't catch it, I encourage you to go here and click on the Stockdale family to see the full episode. It makes me incredibly grateful for a healthy family and proud of what The Boss does everyday to support the families and employees of CHOP.

One thing that I also found very interesting and very inspiring was the part that CVS played in helping out the Stockdale family. Without giving anything away that would ruin it for those who have not seen this episode, I was blown away by the generosity and the compassion that the retail pharmacy chain showed to this deserving family. In fact, I was so impressed that I emailed them last night to thank them for being so caring and responsible - their example of corporate philanthropy to this family goes a long way toward "buying" my loyalty and I told them so! I encourage you, if you were also moved by what CVS did for the Stockdales, why don't you take a minute to tell them so. It's my personal opinion that we are usually to quick to speak up when we are unhappy with service or disappointed by a corporation's policy statements. At least I know I am. So when I have the chance to give kudos to a company for something as worthwhile as this kind of generosity, I want to be faithful to do that.

Well, I have a lot brewing here - Pastor Brother In Law preached a great sermon yesterday and I just have to share it with you all this week. And The Boss and I are getting ready to put up all our holiday decor, so some pics might be in order. I can't promise it all today, but I'm working on it all. And of course, I HAVE to share some cute pics of my adorable niece - Baby Blue Eyes and I are babysitting today :) So, I'm off to cuddle with her and I'll be back soon . . . .