Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Christmas Craftiness

Usually, I'm happy if I can make it through a day of work, work out, get dinner on the table, and keep the house relatively clean. But when it's break time, I'm all about the projects. Crafts, projects, whatever you want to call them... I'm all over it. I have a few days off and suddenly I'm making trips to Hobby Lobby at least once a day and doing things that involve paint, hot glue guns, ribbon, and the occasional iron. This Christmas break has been no exception. I've been working away, and I have six craft projects to show you! All of them are quick, easy, and fun. (Or at least I think so!)

Project #1: Wedding Plate for Julia

We were not able to spend Christmas this year with Julia and her fiance Darrell, but I wanted to send her a fun gift for Christmas to also celebrate her wedding. I loved having a wedding plate in our kitchen (until three years ago when Brent broke it, but that's a story for another day!) I went to the Mad Potter in Houston with my friend from church and painted this wedding plate for Julia to put in her new kitchen.

Project #2: Christmas Card Tree

I've gotten a ton of ideas from fellow bloggers. One of my best friends from college, Tiffany, gave me this idea and I finally stole it. She makes the cutest little Christmas card tree to display her cards each year. We usually put ours on the fridge, but it was looking a little cluttered this year, so I decided to try the tree. I had the branches from Wendy's baby shower blessing branch, so I re-purposed them, and I love the effect! It looks great in this un-used space in our dining room.

Project #3: Screen with Fabric

A long time ago, my mom gave me a cute wooden screen with picture frames. I loved having it in my room in Dallas. It's been sitting in our empty room for years now, waiting to go someday in a baby room. Well today I got tired of waiting for a baby room, so I fixed it up Katie style to go in our living room. I am obsessed with the result. I picked out some cute fabric at Hobby Lobby and taped it in the picture frames! It is a foolproof project. When I look at this part of my living room now, I kind of catch my breath because I love it so much!!

Here's a close up of some of the fabrics.
Project #4: Banner for Julia's Wedding Shower

Since my sister is getting married in March, we are having a wedding shower for her in February, and I got a little excited about making some things for the shower. I got the idea for this banner from my friend Mindy's adorable baby shower banner here. I copied it with our shower colors, and I totally love the final product! The letters have this pretty Martha Stewart gold glitter outlining them. It's kind of hard to see in the picture, so you'll just have to take my word for it.

Project #5: Blessing Branch for Julia's Shower
As mentioned before, Tiffany gave me the idea of a "blessing branch" that I have since used at my sister-in-law's baby shower. In February, we're going to use it at Julia's wedding shower, so I made these cute little cards for people to write blessings to hang on the tree.
Project #6: Twine Garland
I took down the Christmas decorations, but I still wanted a little something for the mantel. I had these twine balls sitting in a bowl, but I decided to string them up on a gauzy ribbon and make a shabby-chic twine garland. I'm in love.


Thursday, December 23, 2010

Anthem For Christmas

Today I was driving along, listening to KSBJ Christmas music on the radio, and I heard the beginning of this Michael W. Smith song "Anthem for Christmas". I thought, "I love this song!", and I turned it up loud. It has a beautiful instrumental beginning and is really a great song.

But as I drove down I-10 to check on my friend's cat today, I heard it with fresh ears. The words sank right into my soul, and it literally took my breath away. Tears started streaming down my face involuntarily as I felt the most immense gratitude to God for sending Jesus to Earth as a baby and our savior. Of course I know the Christmas story, and I have heard it countless times in countless ways, but something about this particular song today overwhelmed me. It was like understanding Christmas anew. Now... it will come as no surprise to you that I'm a total sucker for an old-school Michael W. Smith ballad, but I think there's something special about this one. If you need a reminder of how glorious and loving and amazing our God is, take a look and listen to this.

In the space of the beginning
Was the living word of light.
When this word was clearly spoken
All that came to be was right.

All creation had a language
Words to say what must be said.
All day long the heavens whispered
Signing words in scarlet red.

Some have failed to understand it
So God spoke his final word.
On a silent night in Judah's hills
A baby's cry was heard.

"Glory!" sang the angel chorus
"Glory!" echoed back the night.
Love has come to walk among us
Christ the Lord is born this night!

All creation sing his praises!
Earth and heaven praise his name!
All who live come join the chorus
Find the words his love proclaim.

The entire story of the world is encapsulated in this song, and it centers around Christmas. In the beginning was God, and he made the world perfectly. People brought sin into the world and ignored God even though all creation pointed to Him and heaven whispered day and night. God's people turned away from him in disbelief over and over again. I'm studying Exodus right now, and it is so amazing to read about the Israelites who were just like us. God protected them and provided for them and met with them and STILL they did not believe and grumbled against God, wanting to do things their own way. Even though people did not understand God's love, he loved us anyway. The words written in "scarlet" were the prophecies throughout history that Jesus was coming - that we needed a savior - that history would be made perfect through the birth of our Lord. But people still did not understand and still turned away.

The part of the song that really makes me cry is: "So God spoke his final word." ...And it wasn't a word of condemnation, but a word of love. God's final word was sending his own son to Earth as a man to save us. What a precious, beautiful, miraculous thing - I can hardly wrap my mind around it. There's another fantastic Christmas song by Joy Williams called "Here with Us". One of the lyrics is: "It's still a mystery to me that the hands of God could be so small. How tiny fingers reaching in the night were the very hands that measured the sky." Praise God for that mystery! Praise God for coming to walk among us in our messy, complicated world to save an ungrateful people. This should fill us with a peace and gratitude that never escapes our minds.

How I wish I could have seen the angels singing "Glory!" around the baby Jesus. How I want my whole life to be spent praising his name - joining the angel chorus and finding words to proclaim his love. I know my heart is full of love and gratitude for our savior on this Christmas Eve's Eve. If you need a reminder of what God has done for us, download "Anthem for Christmas" or listen below. Disregard the cheesy snow & rainbow picture. Turn it up, close your eyes, and praise God. He is good.


Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Christmas Happenings

Christmas Break is upon us, and I am FREE from school and work. Grad school finals have been finished, consulting work submitted, grades (pretty much) done, presents bought... ultimate relaxation is about to set in. In the last week, we've had tons of fun get-togethers to share with you. We are so blessed with family and friends. It's hard to believe that just a year ago, Brent & I had an Aggie Christmas party in our neighborhood. That get-together turned into a monthly couples supper club, and we just celebrated our one year anniversary! We are so lucky to have such wonderful friends right here in our neighborhood. We truly love the time we spend together. The girls are going to be starting a Bible study together in January, so I'm super excited to spend even more time with them. Last Sunday we had our Christmas supper club complete with tacky sweater contest and white elephant gift exchange. We had a great time.

Here are the girls: Cassie, me, Brenda, Diana, and Erin.
Diana and Chance were the big winners of the tacky Christmas sweater contest. That "Believe" sweater is legit. The hats danced and sang Christmas songs.
Brent & I in front of Cassie's beautiful tree
Last weekend, my parents came to visit from Dallas. We are having Christmas apart this year, so they decided to come on down and celebrate a little early. My mom and I spent the entire afternoon making cookies.
Here's my cute mom filling our (homemade!) pastry shells with (homemade!) chocolate ganache.
Our final creations
We had a Christmas dinner of pork tenderloin, spiced sweet potatoes, roasted asparagus, salad, and cookies!
Brent served as the guest chef as he whipped up his soon-to-be-famous bacon wrapped venison tenderloin!
The tree had quite a few presents for four people! We had fun unwrapping a little early.
Yesterday, we had our first annual Norwood girls Christmas luncheon. Vicky was so sweet to take Wendy & me to lunch at the Galleria and then to do a little shopping. Here is little Luke - we had to take a pic to commemorate his first lunch at Neiman's. We tried to get him to hold the bread, but he would have none of that.
Lunch at Neiman's is apparently quite exhausting. He was saving his energy for shopping.
I'm so blessed to have a wonderful mother-in-law, sister-in-law, and nephew. Good times!
What have you been up to this week?


Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Christmas Traditions Old and New

We are currently in a stage of life where we are "in between" traditions. We don't still celebrate the Christmases of our childhoods, but we don't yet have our own kids and traditions. It's kind of a cool time because Christmas can be anything we want it to be. I am excited about making our own traditions while building off traditions we already have.
Every Christmas as I get a little older, I think a little more about how we can really honor Christ at Christmas and reject the world's notion of Christmas. I went on a small rant about that last year here. This year, one of our couple friends from church have two small children - a baby and toddler. They posted on Facebook about two somewhat radical decisions they are making for their family's Christmases.

The first decision is that they were not going to do "Santa" with their kids. All Christmas gifts will be from "Mom and Dad". There will be no pictures with Santa or leaving cookies out on Christmas Eve. At first, I bristled at this idea - No Santa?! But then Brent and I started talking about it, and it began to make more sense - even GOOD sense. Think about it - our culture has focused a HUGE amount of attention at Christmas on a made up, fake, magical being who represents materialism. On the other hand, Jesus is a real, miraculous SAVIOR of the world. It begs the question: Why is Santa more appealing than Jesus and how have we let this happen? Santa, as harmless and jolly as he may seem, has succeeded in almost completely distracting America from JESUS - the whole point of Christmas and life, for that matter. Of course their kids are going to hear about Santa from friends, TV, the mall, books, songs, even Christian radio! So I guess they will have to explain the Santa phenomenon to the kids at some point, but just de-emphasize it.

The second decision they made is to only give their kids three gifts each Christmas. Their rationale is that the wise men only gave Jesus three gifts. This is also intriguing to me. Let's just say giving gifts is NOT my love language. I've never really understood the whole gift thing, which I know is heresy to some people... so sorry. I think the last present Brent & I gave each other was at our wedding. But I do like the idea of giving gifts with restraint. I know there's a fine line of legalism here, and I'm not sure that three gifts is the magic number, but I kind of like it. I'm sure that will be an uphill battle with their kids as they get older and realize that other kids get 30+ presents for Christmas. But I have to say that I applaud them for it. It's things like this that distinguish Christians from the rest of our culture. Because if we just go along with the cultural Christmas like everyone else... how are we different? How are we in this world but not of it? Food for thought. I'm eager to hear your opinions. Discuss amongst yourselves and in the comment section :-)

Anyway... their story has made me pause and think about what traditions I want for my family this year and in the years to come. Here are some we currently enjoy and some we'd like to start in the future.

Decorating the tree the day after Thanksgiving
It's hard enough for me to wait until then! I love coming home from Thanksgiving, getting down all the decorations, and going to town. I want to enjoy my tree and decorations as long as I possibly can! I take down the tree on January 2nd. I also love to have at least one night where I just sit in silence, drink something warm, and stare at the tree. Here is our tree this year and some of our favorite ornaments! The glitter and yarn creation is an ornament I made in preschool.

Serving Together
I grew up serving at nursing homes every Christmas. Middle school through college, you could find my friends and I singing at nursing homes in December. Now, I bring my seventh graders to the nursing home at Christmas to sing. Warms my heart! (You can read more here.) I hope that we raise our children connecting Christmas and service and that we can find a service project that our family loves and make that our tradition.
Watching Christmas Vacation
This has absolutely no connection to Christ except that I think God wants us to laugh sometimes. Every year, Brent and I MUST watch Christmas Vacation at least once. It NEVER gets old. Favorite lines:
"Surprised, Eddie? If I woke up tomorrow with my head sewn to the carpet, I wouldn't be more surprised."
"Grace? oooh... she passed away thirty years ago." "No. They want you to say GRACE. The BLE-SS-ING." "Oh. I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America."
Reading "Mr. Edwards Meets Santa Claus"
This is one of my quirky personal traditions. My mom always had this Norman Rockwell Christmas book out on the coffee table at Christmas. The book has an excerpt from one of the "Little House on the Prairie" books I loved as a kid: Farmer Boy. The chapter is called "Mr. Edwards Meets Santa Claus" and it is just the sweetest, simplest, most wonderful Christmas story ever.

Here's the recap: The prairie was flooded, so the children were worried that Santa would not come to their house. Their bachelor friend, Mr. Edwards, saved the day by fording the river and bringing the family presents. The children each receive a tin cup, a stick of peppermint candy, a bite-sized white-flour cake, and a shiny penny, and it is the BEST CHRISTMAS THEY HAVE EVER HAD. It makes me tear up every time. If only we were so grateful and life was so simple. I read it every single year and now make Brent listen to it too :-)

Christmas Eve Dinner and Church
This is a tradition that I want to continue but make my own. Both of our families always eat the same dinner each Christmas Eve before heading out to church. My mom's dinner is a homemade beef stew. Brent's family has beef tenderloin. I love the idea of having a tradition of what you eat on Christmas Eve. I'm still trying to figure out what I want my tradition to be, but I've heard a lot on Food Network lately about big Italian seafood dinners on Christmas Eve. Maybe something that includes this:
Pajamas on Christmas Eve
Brent and I both like to open presents on Christmas morning. However, I love the tradition of giving one gift on Christmas Eve, and I always want it to be a new pair of pajamas. So that way you have something new and cozy to sleep in and you'll look cute the next morning while opening presents. This will be so fun with kids.

Spice Crackers
My mom always makes her famous "spice crackers" at Christmas. We only get them at Christmas, so that makes them special. They are spiced, baked oyster crackers. I'm going to make them this weekend, so I'll post the recipe!
What are your traditions? I'm in the market for some, so I may steal them :-) What do you think about cultural v. counter-cultural Christmas traditions?


Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Stroganoff Faceoff: Part II

By now, you've enjoyed the delicious, full-fat version of beef stroganoff. You have, right? I know my mother-in-law made stroganoff for my father- in-law last week, and they really liked it! If you haven't, go here first. You owe it to Helen Corbitt. And yourself.

Tonight I told Brent that I was going to make the healthy version of beef stroganoff. He pleaded, "I don't care what you wrote on the blog. Can't you just make the regular version?" No, Brent. I owe it to my two blog readers. I must press on and make the healthy version for the sake of science!

So I did. I will withold my opinions until the end. Here's how it went down:

Healthy Beef Stroganoff
from Cooking Light

Combine 8 oz. low fat sour cream with 3T tomato paste and 1 t. Worcestershire sauce in a small bowl.
Saute 1 medium onion in 1 T. butter.
Cut 1-2 lb. sirloin into thin strips and toss in a Ziploc bag with 1/2 c. flour, 1 t. salt, and 1/4 t. pepper. Add floured beef to pan on high heat.
Sear beef until browned on all sides.
Add 14 oz. beef broth and 2 c. sliced mushrooms. Cover pan and simmer for 5 minutes or until mushrooms are tender.
Remove from heat and stir in sour cream mixture. I can't lie. At this point, it was VERY runny, so I added about 1/4 cup flour to help thicken it up a bit.Serve over egg noodles with parsely.

The judges (Brent & I) have filled our plates and cast our votes. Drumroll please.

The results of the stroganoff faceoff are...

Version #1 wins. Helen Corbitt rules! Fat = Flavor. No way around it.

The healthier version was OK, but it was definitely not delicious. I had high hopes at first. I liked the flouring of the meat and the sauteing of the onions in butter. It was looking really good. I added the beef broth, and it thickened right up to a gravy consistency. But then I added the sour cream mixture. Epic fail. The sauce was a reddish brown due to the tomato paste. I usually love tomato paste because it adds a rich, savory flavor to most dishes. But here I didn't really like it. Though the sour cream did not curdle, it was not creamy AT ALL. If you look closely at the picture at the top of the post, you can see little white dots - that's the sour cream. It didn't mix in and thicken up, it just kind of sat there. As a result, the sauce was not nearly thick enough. The Worcestershire sauce added a nice flavor, but I have to say that I prefer the nutmeg in the original version.

Maybe I'm biased and maybe I just love creamy comfort food (who doesn't?), but I'm going to have to declare Helen Corbitt the winner of this throwdown. Brent said it best when he said of the healthy version, "Well, it's OK, but I'm not going to beg for it. But the real version... when can we have that again?"

So there you have it. Work out a little extra and eat the good stuff. Do it and don't look back!


Saturday, November 27, 2010

A Tale of Two Thanksgivings

This year, I was lucky enough to celebrate TWO Thanksgivings. Brent had to work on Friday (lucky him), so he was not able to make the 12 hour round trip trek to Ardmore, OK for my family's Thanksgiving. Since I had not seen the entire family in years, I decided to drive up to Oklahoma by myself (OK - I also brought Blazer). Then I drove back on Friday to celebrate Thanksgiving with my hubby! So here is my tale of two Thanksgivings.

(There are LOTS of pictures on this post, but let's be honest - who doesn't like pictures?!)

Thanksgiving #1: Focus on FAMILY

Thanksgiving in Ardmore is full of tradition. Each year, my grandparents make their turkey with sausage on top. I'm fully in favor of this. For appetizers, we have sausage and cold duck (a sparkling wine). Here is my Grampy, Aunt Robyn, Grammy, Mom, and Aunt Susan getting everything ready.
... And here is the feeding frenzy that followed. I mean, seriously, we are grown people. I like the blur in the left part of the picture. I'm not sure who that is, but they are NOT messing around when it comes to appetizers.
We had EVERYONE in the family there (except Brent... sad face). That was a total of 18 people!!! Thanks to my grandfather's handiwork, we all sat at the same (very long) table.
Here's a funny poster my Aunt Robyn made to commemorate the extra long table.
Me with cousins Lee and Melissa
I finally got to squeeze my little cousin-nephew Parker.
Here's my baby with my cousin's baby.
Julia squeezing said baby.
Me and my momma
There were so many people there that we did not all fit in my grandparents' house. Lots of us had to stay in a hotel. The hotel did not allow dogs, which was an issue for me. If you know me at all, you know I am a huge rule follower. But you'll be glad to know that I'll break any rule for my dog. So here is Blazer, looking confused, popping out of the duffel bag that I stuffed him in to carry him in the hotel. Yes, yes I did. Sweet little muffin.
Thanksgiving #2: Focus on FOOD

After hanging out with the fam, I made the 6 hour drive BACK to Houston to:
1) Hang out with my husband
2) Decorate for Christmas
3) Make Thanksgiving meal #2

Tonight, we finished decorating and made our own cozy little Thanksgiving dinner. It was really fun. I made some simple Thanksgiving recipes that I've been wanting to try, but never have been able to because I've never hosted a Thanksgiving. Since it was just the two of us, we made scaled down versions of Thanksgiving favorites. Here's what we ate!
Lemon & Sage Roasted Turkey Tenderloins
Find the recipe here. I used turkey tenderloins instead of a whole turkey, and I used sage instead of rosemary.
Individual Potato Gratins
Find the recipe here. I added Gruyere cheese in between layers and on top. I mean, why not?
Mushroom Dressing
Find the recipe here. I added a 1/2 cup of white wine to the dressing and a layer of grated Parmesan cheese on top.
Lemon & Sage Green Beans
Steam green beans. Toss in 1 T. leftover lemon & sage oil from turkey. Zest lemon on top.
Pumpkin Cheesecake
Find the recipe here.

So that's it, folks! Hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving, too! It's just the beginning of the most wonderful time of the year!


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