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Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Cover the Truth in Your Heart

This weekend I watched an amazing vocal team at my church rock it out at our Christmas eve service. 
Here they are at Mountain Lake Church!
They sounded so seamless, so in tune, so passionate.  I wasn't singing this weekend, but was wishing I was.  As I listened, It reminded me of singing the tight harmonies in my Jordan Jazz days in college that I miss dearly, and I also felt a bit- well...replaced. 

There was a new vocalist blaring out a beautiful solo, and my heart all of the sudden felt jealousy.  I started crying and couldn't even sing along.  My thoughts started taking over, and I knew I had taken a few weeks off from singing with the vocal team, and just like that, I had been replaced by someone new.  They didn't want me anymore.  I was not as good of a vocalist as this new singer. 

And just as soon as these feelings came on, I had a very important realization.  The enemy was trying to rob my joy of celebrating my savior's birth!!!  He was trying to deter my focus and my love for my savior and onto something so egotistical and wrong. 

Something that I knew was an absolute lie. 

Did you know that Satan is the master of deception?  John 10:10a tells us that Satan comes to steal, kill and destroy.  Well, yeah- he was.  He was stealing my focus, killing my mood, and destroying my belief in the gifts God has given me. 

What a liar!!!

In that moment, I stopped.  I smiled.  And I covered up my heart and I told Satan,

I know the truth in my heart; and my heart is not up for grabs!  You will NOT steal my focus away from Jesus, who comes to give life, and give it to the full (John 10:10b).

I almost felt embarrassed sharing this story with you- especially since many people who attend my church and see me up there singing on a regular basis may read this!  But, it was too good of an opportunity; to important a lesson to share, that I just couldn't keep it to myself.  Why?  Because none of us are exempt from these types of feelings.  They are so natural to us in this world.  The difference is that we who know the truth need to make sure we realize who is lying to us, and to remember the truth we know. 

Cover the truth you know in your heart and you tell that enemy of yours that your heart is not up for grabs!!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Faith Fridays- The All of Christmas

God grant you the light in Christmas, which is faith; the warmth of Christmas, which is love; the radiance of Christmas, which is purity; the righteousness of Christmas, which is justice; the belief in Christmas, which is truth; the all of Christmas, which is Christ.
                                                                -Wilda English

Blogs across America and the abroad are typing about Christmas.  Every stereo in stores (save Macy's) is playing a Burl Ives classic.  These are all good things- moments that add joy and a spirit that is true to this season.  But I can't help but think of this baby Jesus, lying in Joseph and Mary's arms, with the whole world on His shoulders.  Does He know that He will save the world?  Do Mary and Joseph truly understand the glory of their son?  It is so fascinating and humbling that it brings tears to my eyes.  Sweet, baby- sweet crying, hungry, wet, baby Jesus.

The lowliest shepherds heard it first, that Jesus was coming.  A sign that God has sent His son for everyone- the high, the low, the lowiest, the loveable, the unloveable, the rich, the poor, the strong, the weak.  Jesus came for you.  And you.  And you.  And yes- even you. 

Are you feeling pain or hurt this Christmas?  Have you lost a loved one, or are you feeling alone this Christmas?  There is a little baby who was born so that He could die for just this burden you are feeling right now.  We celebrate His birth this week only because of the rest of his life which revealed to us that He is the savior of the world! The burden carrier of the world!  The burden carrier for your burdens that you feel right now.  Matthew 11:28 tells us If you lay your burdens at His feet, He will give you rest.  It makes sense that Christmas is such a time for peace and rest, because it is what God wants for us!

Dwell on this sweet baby; his tiny fingers and toes, his little cries for his mommy.  This sweet baby boy, born in Bethlehem.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Thursday's Creative Cap- Holiday Kids Crafts

Christmas Break is the perfect opportunity to do some really fun and easy crafts with your kids!  After all, you've got nothin' but time!  With a few inexpensive items, and stuff around the house and yard, here are some fun crafts to enjoy!

Homemade Pine cone Bird Feeder
I have great memories of doing this craft as a child.  Noah, Natalie and I did this craft last year, and again yesterday.  I used to use peanut butter, but there is thought that suet or a vegetable oil of some kind is better for the birds.  Last year we had so many feathered friends come and enjoy the feeder, so I can't wait to see them show up again this year!

Items you will need:
1 large, open pine cone
suet or coconut oil
bird seed (if you don't want to buy bird seed, try cornmeal and oats and nuts!)
string to hang up your feeder

Roll your pine cone in melted oil, or have it soft enough that you can spread it easily with a butter knife.
Roll oiled pine cone into a bowl of bird seed until it is well covered.  Wrap a long string around the pine cone, and hang in a tree or an area where you can easily see all of the birds that will be enjoying this special treat!!

Q-tip snowflakes
I like this craft because it can be as simple or ornate as you can imagine, so it is great for a variety of age ranges. 

Items you will need:
construction paper
glitter- optional

Have fun cutting q-tips in half, in quarters, or leave them whole to make all sorts of unique snowflakes!  Glue them with a glue stick onto construction paper. use glitter to finish off the tips, or make swirls around the construction paper.

Snowman Craft
Snowmen just make you smile. 

You will need:
tongue depressors
black paint or markers
decals, paper, buttons to decorate the brim
googly eyes
paper for nose
construction paper

lay 6 tongue depressors down in a row and paint the top quarter black.  glue them down onto construction paper.  Lay a 7th painted depressor across horizontally and a little scroogy to make the brim and glue it in place.  Wrap ribbon around the brim and decorate as much as you would like.  Draw on the face with marker, paper, and googly eyes. 
You could have them write out the lyrics to frosty the snowman, or have fun singing the song while you decorate your snowman.

Candy Cane Letters
I was bumming around the inter webs looking for more cute ideas, and I stumbled upon  They have a ton of cute ideas, and I loved these cute little letters!  Perfect for kids who are just learning as great practice over break!  It will also encourage those little fine motor muscles to stay strong over break!  Turn these letters into ornaments, or hang with clothes pins to spell words!
candy cane christmas ornament gift tag craft

Items you will need:
red and white pipe cleaners

twist pipe cleaners around to make a candy cane look, and bend and twist into shapes of any letters you choose.  hang with ribbon or clothes pins!

I hope you enjoy some crafty time with your kids or friends this Christmas and New Years'!  Live it up now, and give your child some great memories!


Wednesday, December 21, 2011

We Read Wednesday's- Top 10 Holiday Favorites

Reading to my kids is one of the best times of the day!  I love it because it can turn an upside down mood rightside up (for them and for me!), turn a ho hum day into a new adventure to explore, or teach new vocabulary words and ideas.  At Christmastime, there are a few favorites that stand out to me that I recommend for ample Christmas reading fun, and a beautiful display for any coffee table at this festive time of year.  I hope that you check these books out at the library, or find them at your local bookstore!

*A quick fun fact: I was glancing at Barnes and Noble's website to get some good photos to share with you of some of my favorites and saw that the oldest published Children's Christmas book they carry is An ABC Christmas by Amy Houts. I regret to say there was no photo available, but it was written in 1900!

A Cup of Christmas Tea
By Tom Hegg

Bah! Humbug?
By Lorna Balian

Snowmen at Night
By Caralyn Buehner

By Cheryl Campbell

The Polar Express [With Cardboard Ornament][]
By Chris Van Allsburg

The Night before Christmas
By Clement Clarke Moore
By Jan Pienkowski
Gets the award for the most unique illustrations!

Merry Christmas, Strega Nona
Tomie dePaola

For the older kids...

For elementary kids (or anyone for that matter) I lohuuuuv this book and remember reading it before going to sleep in my grandmothers closet.  I could. not. put. it. down.

                                                  The Best Christmas Pageant Ever
                                                          by Barbara Robinson

Cover art of classic Christmas story The Gift of the Magi Christmas picture book edition
By O. Henry

Happy Reading, and the Happiest of Christmases to you and yours!!


Monday, December 19, 2011

Mama Mondays- Because We Can

Have you ever walked past someone and thought, "wow, I really like her (insert clothing item or facial feature here), but didn't tell her?

Have you ever been in a conversation and wanted to tell the person how much they mean to you, but didn't tell them?

Have you ever had a thought to do something kind for a neighbor, but decided to justify why you couldn't or shouldn't?

So have I. 

After blogging so much about love, and being in the season of loving and caring for others, I have really been dwelling on something specific.  Doing kind things and saying kind things that I am thinking about others: because I can.  Because I can.  Because I shouldn't hold something back out of embarassment, or fear of how the other person will react.  After all, I am only responsible for what I say and how I say it, right?  And chances are, we stop short of expressing kindness when really it would start a chain of livingkindness that extends far beyond your moment of putting yourself out there by expressing your love for someone. 

Yesterday I was down baking 5 batches of scone orders and could hear Jeremy upstairs with the kids doing laundry.  I thought to myself, I love him, and I am lucky to be married to a man who would help me with laundry and the kids.  Then I thought to myself, why would I keep this to myself?  I need to share that with him to encourage him and make him feel special!  So I called up to him, and said, "Jeremy- I love you!!!"  He was a little surprised because it was out of nowhere.  He called back and said, "I love you, too!"  And then a minute later he said, "Did you say, I love you?"  Haha.  I said, "Yes, I was just thinking it and wanted to tell you!"  You could tell it meant so much to him to have a little random act of love sent his way, just because.  Because I could! 

When we know what love is, we have a unique ability and obligation to share it!  Even if we feel embarassed or nervous- we can truly make someone's day, and strengthen our relationships when we choose not to keep the love in our heart- but to let it go and add a little happiness to someone's day.  You could turn it from this:

to this:

Who will you love today, just because you can?  I would love to hear your "because I can" stories.  Please share!


Friday, December 16, 2011

And The Winner IS.......

Terry B!!!!

I am so excited to announce that Ms. Terry B. has one an autographed, harcover copy of Bearful Bear and His New Moves!  Hip hip hooray!  Terry, please send me an email at to send me your mailing address.  Also, let me know the name of the person to whom you would like me to address my autograph note! 

Thanks to all of you who shared the link to my new Children's book.  This was so much fun, and I truly appreciate your support!  Remember to ask your local bookstores to carry Bearful when you stop by!  Also, if you want to get a first edition copy, make sure to order here!  It will  be up on Amazon, Barnes and Noble's website, on Nook, Kindle, etc. all within a few weeks, too! 
Merry Christmas to all of you!  I hope you give the gift of reading to someone on your list this Christmas!

Happy reading!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

We-Read Wednesday's- Celebration Giveaway!

As many of you know, my new children's picture book, Bearful Bear and His New Moves, is now available!  To celebrate this special occasion, I have decided to host a little giveaway challenge!  The winner will receive a free, autographed hardcover copy of Bearful!  Here's the deal:

If you would like to enter the giveaway, simply "share" this link with your facebook/twitter friends:

Buy Bearful Bear and His New Moves Here.  (If you go to this link, there is a share option)

AND follow my blog.  Leave me a message in this post telling me you have done so and you will be entered to win.  I will ship the book to you, or if you want to give it as a gift, I will mail it to the address of your choice! 

Some of you fabulous cuties out there have already shared the link and/or followed my blog.  Thank you so much!  You have no idea how much your support means to me in getting the book out of my "circle."  If you've already followed my blog and shared the link, just leave me a message and I will be sure to add you to the giveaway. 

I can't wait to share this special book with you!  And, since you are so special to ME, here is a little sneak peak inside Bearful....

Happy Reading,

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Tuesday's Real Food Recipe- Anna's Soaked Whole Wheat Bread

Today's real food recipe is brought to you by moi.  I have sold countless loaves of this delicious whole wheat bread!  The only thing that warms my heart more than sharing a loaf with someone that I made is to actually share the recipe, so your family can enjoy the most healthful bread at the best cost.  Bread may seem a little intimidating, and believe me, my first loaf turned out something like this:

Good flavor.  Too flat.  Poor Jeremy "enjoyed" many a flat sandwich our first year of marriage!  And he always said, "Good job, honey!"  What a sweetheart.  Now looking back he says, "You sure have improved your breadmaking skills, babe."  haha.  I was so concerned with the bread drying out during the second rise that I was putting a damp towel over the loaf.  Well, a damp towel is too heavy to put over rising bread.  Duh.  During the second rise, you don't even have to cover the bread, however if you want to, you can use a paper towel or dry, light kitchen towel.

I know what you are thinking, "Anna, who has time to make bread?  I can barely keep up with the store bought variety!"  Bread does take a little time, but you know what?  I am actually making bread right now- and as you can tell, i'm typing my blog post for the day so I am not even in the kitchen!  There is a little hands- on time, however most of breadmaking is waiting time, so you can be doing other things around the house, playing with kids, even running errands during the first rise!  I would say that I am actually doing something hands-on for about 15 minutes out of the 3-5 hour process. 

Two things to consider when making your own bread.  The grain you use, and deciding to sprout or soak your grain, making it a two-day bread (more info can be found on the benefits of sprouting in my blog titled 'Tuesday's Real Food Recipe- Baked Oatmeal'). 

I mill my own grain with a food mill that looks like this:

as you can see, it attaches right to my Kitchen Aid.  Milling your own grain is really not as scary or wierd as you might think.  I use either hard red grain spring wheat:

or hard white winter wheat:

Both have enough gluten to make a great loaf of bread.  You can also mix in spelt, flax seeds, and many other grains.  Milled grain is slightly courser than storebought flours, but work beautifully in this recipe.  Here is my recipe for soaked, Honey whole wheat bread!

Honey Whole Wheat Bread
yields 1 2lb loaf.  It is easily doubled
By Anna Everhart

Day 1:
Mill 3 Cups of Grain (you need about 3 3/4 cups of flour, but 1 cup grain yields about 1 1/2 cup flour)
measure out 3.5 cups flour and put in mixer (or on counter if mixing by hand)
add 1.5 cups water, 1/2 tsp. salt and 1/4 cup milled flax seeds (optional).  Mix until encorporated (you will knead on day 2).  Cover and let it sit 12-24 hours at room temperature.

Day 2:
Add 3 Tbsp. honey
1 tbps good quality oil such as EVOO or Organic coconut oil
2 tsp. active dry yeast

Knead for 8 minutes in kitchen aid or by hand on the counter. Add a little more flour if it is too sticky to work with.  kneading looks like this:
 smoosh it forward, then pull it back towards yourself, make a quarter turn, and repeat.

This is a great step to get the kids involved.  Noah, my 4 year old, has been making bread with me for the past 2 years.  He watches the grain mill, and helps me knead the dough (which is a great way to build his little fine motor muscles!).

Put kneaded dough into a lightly oiled bowl and let rise for a good two hours.  Soaked bread takes longer to rise because it isn't warm.  If you speed through this step, you will NOT get a fully risen loaf by the end and will be disapointed.  Depending on how cold your house is, this could take even 3 hours.  It won't hurt the dough to leave it out a little too long, so I am always generous with this first rise. 

Once the dough has doubled in volume, punch it down, roll it out flat with your hands or a rolling pin, and roll it up tightly to reduce large air holes.  It will look like this:

place it in your oiled bread pan (I prefer baking stones) and let it rise again for 30-45 minutes, until it has doubled in volume again.  It should be rounded up higher than the loaf pan, like this:

You can also bake this bread as a free standing round loaf on a baking stone.  Place in a 400 degree preheated oven and bake for about 30-35 minutes.  Let cool for a few minutes in the pan and then remove and cool completely on a baking rack (i usually cover with a kitchen towel and let cool overnight.  It is very tempting to eat the bread out of the oven, and if you will eat it quickly, or are making it for breakfast, etc. this is fine.  But, it will stay fresher and have a better crumb, and it will be easier to slice if you let it cool completely before slicing. 

*For an artisan style loaf, I suggest only using 1 lb of dough if doing a round "boule" style.  Otherwise, you could make two boules, or make a more rectangular shaped loaf if you want 2 lbs.  Once the dough has done it's first rise, put the dough on a heavily floured (course flour or corn meal work best) pan or cutting board and slash the top of the dough with a floured serrated knife in any pattern you choose.  Let a baking stone preheat on the bottom rack in the oven for the last 20 minutes of rise time at 400 degrees.  When your loaf has risen, slide it quickly into the oven directly onto the preheated stone (the course flour will let it slide easily onto the hot stone and not interfere with the rise).   Spray about 3-5 mists of water from a spray bottle when you put the bread in the oven to create steam.  The steam makes a wonderfully brown, crusty loaf!  After 5 minutes, open the oven quickly and spray mists of water again.  You can also pour about 1 cup of hot water into a broiler tray at the beginning of baking if you have one instead of misting.  Bake for about 45 minutes.  It will look like this:

Breadmaking is an art, but it really is attainable for anyone who enjoys being in the kitchen!  Whether you bake bread once a year, or every week like me, I hope it brings a little joy to your life.  If you have any questions, or need help troubleshooting a problem, please feel free to ask!  I love helping other baker's out!  Also, here are a few great sources for breadmaking that have helped me tweak my skills!

Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day by Jeff Hertzberf and Zoe Francios
video by Sarah Pope on preparing grains and legumes
Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon

Happy Baking,

Monday, December 12, 2011

Bearful Bear is available for Purchase!!!

Praise the Lord, and Pass the Peanut Butter, Bearful Bear and His New Moves is now officially available for purchase!!! 

Buy it Now!

*may not arrive by Christmas Day (but oh so very close!!)

I am so thrilled to make this announcement, and I hope that this adorable little story captures the joy and excitement of childhood for your children and grandchildren like it has for my Noah and Natalie, who over the past few days, cannot get enough of Bearful!  I can't help but want to snuggle with Bearful over a cup of cocoa, or play a game of hopscotch with him on a sunny day.  He's such a good friend, and delights me every time I see him.  This labor of love is truly a dream come true for me, and is surely to be one of many!  Thank you for being a part of my little world and for your great support!


Mama Monday's- Ruminators Reversed

To ruminate means "to mull something over: to think carefully and at length about something" (Encarta world dictionary, 2009).

It also is perhaps more commonly associated with animals who chew their own cud. 

Huh, not a pretty picture of something I want to do each and every day!  This month in Real Simple Magazine, I read an article all about ruminators, and the destructive tendencies they tend to have, like overprocessing situations with a negative slant that leads to a downward spiral of thinking.  It is separate from, however similar to depression.  I was almost embarassed to admit to myself, but I believe that I am a ruminator- however in recovery.  (Just FYI- I am not a licensed counselor, so I don't condone self-diagnosing, but it sure sounds familiar!) 

Yikes!  I was shocked at how much it sounded like my mindset over the past 5 years.  I used to call my best friends Lindsey and Angela and go over, rehash, and then go over again and again the struggles I was going through in my life.  I would call my mom or sister and rehash the same things again- and then to my poor husband, Jeremy, who listened so sweetly and offered such encouragement!  Then I would rehash in my mind, in my journal, and then call Lindsey and Angela again.  I would pray to God about them, and journal some more.  I blamed my behaviors of rehashing on being a verbal processor, but after reading this article, it really sounded like my ruminating habit was just made more obvious by verbal processing.  I know that my friendship isn't the only contributing factors to my friends career choices, but I find it a (funny) coincidence that both Lindsey and Angela got their masters degree in counseling over the past 3 years!  Ha...glad I could help you add counseling hours, ladies! 

All kidding aside, I truly realized that this was an issue in my life, before ever hearing about the idea of ruminating as a "problem."  I realized I lacked thankfullness and positivity that were two of my greatest strengths throughout my life.  I almost felt like I wasn't myself, but couldn't really find my way out.  It was really hard, and to my credit, there were so many changes and struggles over the past 5 years that it makes sense to have had a low in an otherwise happy life. 

BUT, I don't want to be a cow!!  Oh no, no, no....I want to be something more like this:

Yes, that is more me, shall we say (ha, and it is me).  And, you know what I realized?  Choosing to be thankful, each morning- and I mean, each and every morning, first thing when I woke up, really helped.  I realized I had been stewing over everything that had gone wrong in my life, why my life wasn't fair, and my frustrations with God that despite me being faithful, I didn't feel like He was being faithful in the ways I thought He should be. and you know what?  It had gotten me nowhere! 

Have you every had those realizations?  Mind you, it took me several years to realize this in my own life, but let's not stew over that!  Let's just be thankful that we make those realizations, and that we have our journey to look back on and know we have been refined into a better likeness. 

I can't end this post and not mention how blessed I am that my friends stuck with me and helped me process!  Many would have told me to "get over it" and to stop bothering them, so let's raise a glass them!

Here are two question to leave you with before we part:
1. what are you ruminating about?
2. Are you willing to choose thankfulness instead? 

That daily choice could help you break free from a negative mental cycle, and help you live a more fulfilling life of hope, peace and joy!


Friday, December 9, 2011

Faith Friday's- Love People- It's Free!

The last time I checked, there were two biggies that God wanted us to remember.  Love God, love people.  It's that simple!  Yup- check it out:

Matthew 22:37-40 says, Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[a] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b] 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Does the law (10 commandments) help us to know what sin is?  Yes!  But since Christ came, we aren't subjected to the law (see Romans 7), which makes me wonder why we spend so much time judging, hating, ignoring, yelling at, and blaming people around us? 

This may be a Sunday school answer, but I have to remind myself this- God never gave me the job to judge anyone.  I can notice their choices, and I can make my own choices based on my beliefs, but God never gave me the job of judging others or making people feel less than because of their beliefs.  What he did ask me to do was to love: love Him, love others. 

What would happen if we truly loved everyone regardless of belief, age, race, gender, status, etc.?  What would happen if we loved those who disagreed with us?  What would happen if we loved strangers who we come in contact with in little ways throughout the day?  Our neighbors?  Our family?  Our in-laws? 

I am convinced the world would be transformed, renewed, refreshed!  It could happen today!  It isn't something that we have to wait for!  We all know the old hymn- "let there be peace on Earth, and let it begin with me."  Well, it really can begin with us by choosing love.  By choosing to see beyond our own perspective- beyond our own situation and problems. 

At Christmastime it seems only appropriate to let the joy and peace of this season flourish in our hearts, and let it transform our lives far beyond Christmas day.  We are celebrating the GOOD NEWS!  The Gospel of Jesus Christ- that because of Him, the one our world had been waiting for, we are reconciled with God.  I hope this good news resonates in your heart, and that you shout from the tallest rooftops the love you have to offer because you know the creator of love.  When you know love, it's a gift to share with everyone and it's FREE!  Who would have thought that the best gift is free.  Love wins, so love BIG! 

I would love to know what you are doing to show love to others.  Please respond to this post with ideas and ways you were able to love people throughout your day.  It will encourage everyone, including me!

Love to you,

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Thursday's Creative Cap- Recycle and Create for Christmas!

There is nothing cuter than making homemade ornaments for your Christmas tree (or mantle, in my case)!  Setting aside a Saturday to make crafts with friends or your kids brings such a joyfulness to the holidays, but watch out!  Do it once, and it might just become a tradition!  This is my families go-to phrase whenever we do something special together, because more often than not, it does become a tradition; and you know what?  We like it that way! 

You know what else I love?  Recycling.  Recycling old, worn out items and turning them into adorable crafts is better for your budget, earth friendly, and it brings out creativity on a whole new level!  I went to the worlds favorite new site, pinterest, and found some adorable Christmas ornaments and decorations using recycled everyday items. 

With a little paint and string, here is an adorable penguin ornament using burnt-out lightbulbs! 

DIY lightbulb penguin ornaments

Have a few extra old books that you never read?  Make adorable Christmas tree ornaments for the tree or decorations to stand alone on a side table or centerpiece!
Pinned Image

I loved our homemade advent calender growing up.  My brother, sister and I would take turns taking the felt ornaments out of the their "pockets" and placing the ornament on the tree on our advent calender.  We knew that Santa was always on December 24th, but it was always a surprise to find out what we would pull out of days 1-23!  This adorable advent calender is made from a paper grocery bag and Christmas cards from years past.  This would be a great craft to make after this year's set of Christmas cards come in the mail and use the advent calender next year!

Pinned Image

Have extra decorative paper around?  You could also use newspaper or sheet music for these adorable tree ornaments!
Pinned Image

Or last but not least, after you attend your "ugly sweater party" this year, recycle it by making a throw pillow! 
Pinned Image

I hope you feel a little more in the Christmas spirit, and a little more inspired to be creative today!  Thinking of how many items I have to recycle makes me realized how truly blessed I am to have above and beyond my needs. 

In the Spirit of Christmas,

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

We-Read Wednesday's- Read for FUN!

If being a   Educator has taught me anything, it's how to make each story, rhyme, song or dance jump off the page and into a magical place that captures the attention of parents and children!  You can always read through a story with nice inflection in your voice without asking questions (or jumping up and down and counting to 4) like a book is suggesting you do, and if you only have a quick 3 minutes, that is still better than nothing!  But, I encourage parents and childcare providers alike to really get into story time.  Why?  Because it's darn-tootin' fun; that's why! 
Including FUN into learning is extremely important for all ages, but especially for the 0-7 year olds, who learn primarily through play!  When we actually stand up and hop up and down, or repeat silly phrases in books and play echo games during story time, we are growing our child's language development and the movement is encouraging their little memories to remember these new words and ideas they are learning!  It is truly amazing how much play can do for the mind, body and soul. 

Let's recap, shall we?

Vocal inflection, vocal play and movement lead to FUN, which leads to connecting with your child, which leads to learning and memory.  Now that's what I call a win!  Oh, and you might find that YOU have a little extra fun yourself!  I hope you feel inspired to adding a little pep to your reading time today and everyday!


sources and further reading:
Scholastic Parents: Time To Play
American Pshychological Association- How Laughing Leads to Learning
NCAC Children Learn Through Play
Wikipedia Scaffolding

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Tuesday's Real Food Recipe- Roast Chicken and Vegetables

The Poor Chicken has been Victimized

If the sanitizing/huge poultry companies have done anything for the American public, it has made us extremely grossed out by touching raw poultry.  We have become conditioned to buy overpriced, pre-packaged chicken breasts that we can dump directly onto the grill without touching so we don't get germs on our hands or our contertops.  While keeping your kitchen clean is of utmost importance, we are missing out on a great standard recipe with loads of value for our health and our dollar.  

Many people don't buy whole chickens, let alone local, pastured chickens because of the higher price point (and it's "yucky" to have to touch).  Not to mention, there are ready-to-eat brands like Tyson or Purdue!  People are made to believe that this chicken is less expensive, but the truth is that this meat is injected with a saline solution that increases it's weight.  haha- you thought you were buying 1 lb. of meat, but you really bought .6 lbs of meat and .4 lbs of salt water.  Not to mention, all of the hormones and antibiotics they throw in for "free."  The local, free range bird is worth EVERY penny, and saves your health and pocket book in the long run.

A roasted chicken is my go-to meal for hosting, comfort, and stretching my grocery dollars.  Yes, the chicken itself might be $4/pound, however, it is so delicious on day 1, and then turns into a healthful, amazing chicken soup on days 2-3, and even day 4!  Talk about stretching a dollar!  For $25, you can feed a family of 4 for 3-4 nights! 

*I always brine my chickens.  If you would like to try this technique, check out my blog "How to Brine a Turkey", and use the same idea here the day or two before you plan to roast your chicken.

Roasted chicken with Vegetables.

1 3-4 pound chicken
1 lemon
olive oil (or any good quality cooking oil you have on hand)
coarse sea salt
cracked pepper (or any other herbs you like, rosemary, thyme, sage, etc)
2 lbs. potatoes
1 lb. carrots
1 onion
4-5 cloves of garlic
you can add or replace any other root veggies you might like (parsnips, cabbage, celery, etc.)

Preheat your oven to 350F.  Quarter all of your veggies, and remove the cloves of garlic from their outer layer.  Drizzle Olive oil on the bottom of your roasting pan and add the quartered vegetables and garlic cloves around the bottom of the pan. Sprinkle with salt.  Rinse chicken thoroughly and pat dry.  Place chicken breast side up on top of the vegetables.  Drizzle with olive oil and rub in coarse salt, pepper and other herbs on the outside and inside of the chicken.  cut lemon in half and place inside the chicken.  If you have twine you can tie the legs, but it isn't necessary. 

Place covered roasting pan in your preheated oven for about 45 minutes.  Up the temp to 400 F and remove lid for the remaining baking time in order to carmelize the veggies and brown the chicken.  I guage about 25 minutes per pound.  The chicken is done when the thigh is at an internal temp of 165 F degrees.

Let the bird rest for a good 10-15 minutes before carving so the juices can redistribute.  Serve the veggies and chicken with the pan juices, or make a gravy. 

Your house will smell.  Amazing.

I hope you love this yummy, real food recipe!


Monday, December 5, 2011

Happy Homecomings

If you're like me, you will probably be traveling and staying with family this holiday season.  You may be staying with in-laws, friends, or your own blood relatives; all of which could be fabulous, or put you at the edge of disaster depending on your situation! 

Staying in the same house with family for more than one night can produce some anxiety, and possibly some frustration or conflict; however I have some wise advice that will help make this season of family togetherness the best it can be.  It has to do with being the best guest.

It's so easy to fall into the trap of expectation when we're with family over the holidays.  Not only do we feel most comfortable with our own traditions or our mothers hosting techniques that we have acquired, our in-laws may not share those same traditions.  And it's sooo touchy, you know what I'm saying?  You go to your in-laws house, and there are no towels laid out, and you feel badly asking for a towel- or worse yet, you get out of the shower on the morning of day 1, and there are no towels there like you expected there would be!  Have you been there?  Now what??  These seemingly tiny subtleties of hosting can really frustrate us as they add up.  They even have the ability to build resentment or traveler's anxiety over time, taking away from the joy of the season. 

This holiday season, I suggest we start changing our expectations on our hostesses, and start trying to be the best guest we can be.  After all, we have no control over how someone else hosts our families, right?  But, we can control ourselves and how we view our stay at someone's home.  After all, even if they do things a little differently than you would, they are still graciously opening their home to you and yours for a few nights, which is a lot of stress in it's own right! 

So, think about how you can lift a hand, help with dinner, take drink requests from the other guests and help out!  Ask your hostess if she needs any help getting toiletries ready for other guests who may be arriving later than you, (get your towel at this time- hint, hint).  If you feel like they aren't appreciating your fabulous children and their energy, make sure to take trips outside to play so your parents and siblings without kids can have some quiet time of their own.  They are sure to be more appreciative of the bounding energy if it's in smaller doses. 

I truly believe when we focus more on how we can do our best in the situation, not only will we be invited back more frequently (the good news bad news??) but we find that overall, we have a better time than if we focus on our expectations and how our in-laws, friends or family failed us in some way. 

I tested my theory this past week over Thanksgiving.  We were with my family this year, (luckily my family is awesome!)  However, I always get pinned as being "too loud", which has always irritated me because I really can't help it (or so I say.)  Instead of feeling unappreciated for my gregarious nature, I decided to try to be the best guest, trying to consciously keep my voice lower.  You know what?  Just focusing on what I could do better made it the best trip home I've had since college. 

Here we are: aren't we cute?

I hope these thoughts encourage you this season, and the gift of giving your best self to your family may be the best gift you give to yourself, allowing you to focus on the joy of giving to others.  Happy Homecomings!


Friday, December 2, 2011

Faith Friday's- Why Not Love?

Have you ever felt like you get to deal with the worlds most difficult person?  Maybe it's at your job, or someone else you have to see on a regular basis.  You think to yourself, "If they only changed *insert anoying behavior here* about themselves, I could maybe, possibly like them."  It's so easy to accept the truth that "unfortunately, we can't pick and choose everyone we have to see or spend time with", but is this really the attitude we want to have?  If we really thought about it, seeing people we don't neccessarily enjoy being around is such an opportunity to grow in our love for others, and work on our own idiosyncracies that are probably anoying someone else just as much! 
I know, who wants to have to deal with working on themselves?  It's too much work.  It's easier to just ignore the issue, or just get through the encounters with certain individuals and hope that they'll be struck by lightning in the near future.  BUT- come on.  Think about that one person in your life (er, or two or three people), and open yourself for one moment to this: don't miss out on the opportunity to love them.  You may have this verse memorized, but dwell on this famously quoted verse for a moment:

Matthew 5:44-48- But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

More than ever, the world is screaming for Christians to actually act like Christians.  I can't think of anything that would shock the world more than if we truly loved people.  It is the greatest commandment, after all (Matthew 22:38), to love God and love others!  It sounds so simple, but it can be the hardest thing because our tendancy is to live for ourselves while also struggling to see outside of our own perspective and worldview. 

The best practical application to love someone else is summed up beautifully in this quote:

"There is nothing that makes us love a man so much as praying for him." --William Law

When I have used this approach in my own life, I have realized two things:
1. Your heart is softened towards people
2. You may find that you are more aware of your own shortcomings.  When you realize that you could do something differently, or act a different way towards the people you struggle with socially, you may find that it solves many or all of the issues! 

It's amazing when we take our eyes off how we think the other person should act, and change how we are acting, we make huge improvements in our relationships with everyone.  It's a lot to take in, and it requires some humbling, but the results are among the most rewarding!  So the next time you see *that* person, pray on this:

Proverbs 25:21 (NKJV) If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat; And if he is thirsty, give him water to drink..."

You might realize that they aren't so bad, and that in all reality, they are God's child, just like you.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Thursday's Creative Cap! Child-Proof Christmas Decorating

I have the best memories of decorating for Christmas with my parents and siblings.  We would listen to George Winston's December album while adding beautiful and sentimental ornaments, lights, garlands, special Christmas pictures that would replace our regular art on the wall, munch on homemade Christmas candy, and just enjoy one another.   It was so special to pull out my box of ornaments that I had been collecting since birth and put them on the tree in my designated section.  It's one of those memories that I think of all year long, but of course, especially at Christmastime.  Even now, I can't think of Christmas without hearing piano music, imagining the lights in my parents house, and smelling the scent of cinnamon from our homemade candy making extravaganzas. 

When I had my oldest child, Noah, we had recently moved to Georgia from the midwest, and, not only was I feeling lonely and missing family, I was sentimental just imagining sharing that special tradition of decorating with Noah, hoping that one day it would mean as much to him as it does to me.  That first Christmas with Noah we didn't have enough money to buy a Christmas tree.  At first I was disapointed, but after taking out all of the ornaments I had collected over the years, holding each one and remembering where and when I received those gifts from the people who loved me, I felt a creative urge to use what I had to display them in a new way.  I decided that a mantle didn't have to be just for swags and pinecones or candles.  I hung my favorite ornaments from the swags I had in storage, and it felt so amazing!  It looked gorgeous and the room didn't feel like it was missing a tree at all!  Here's an example for your viewing pleasure:

One thing we all know as parents is this: sometimes we need to get a little creative to apease our decorating desires while having babies and toddlers.  I originally used the mantle to decorate because we didn't have a tree, but now I do for child-proofing reasons!  Those shiny ornaments are so tempting for little hands to touch, not to mention running the risk of the tree falling down on them!  So, the tradition of mantle decorating continues.... maybe this will inspire you if you have young children, and allow you to still enjoy your favorite ornaments this Christmas. 

I was so inspired by ornament decorating, that I brought them into my tablescape and my chandelier!

Try ornaments in a glass bowl

or maybe pinecone trees with ornaments just sprinkled along a runner like this:

Here's what I do with my chandelier:
Happy Christmas decorating, child-proof or not!