Friday, December 31, 2010


This morning, as I woke up for the last time in 2010, I looked out on the sun-filtered morning landscape and felt a wave of thankfulness wash over me. What a good year we've had. What a bounty of blessings we have to be thankful for. Sure, there were sad and bitter times mixed in with the sweet, but just like salt in a recipe, they have only served to make the joyful times even more pronounced.

Now, in savoring the last few hours of a good- yet all too short- year, my thoughts can't help but wander to the promise of the New Year. The changes and blessings, comings and goings, and joys and sorrows will all be greeted with open arms, and our little family will be all the stronger for it. However, we will not loose sight of our past, our lessons learned, and our roots that make us strong. As you make your way through the tail end of this dying year, may the words of the poem by Robert Burns ring out the old and in the new:

Auld Lang Syne
Should Old Acquaintance be forgot,
and never thought upon;
The flames of Love extinguished,
and fully past and gone:
Is thy sweet Heart now grown so cold,
that loving Breast of thine;
That thou canst never once reflect
on Old long syne.
On Old long syne my Jo, in Old long syne, That thou canst never once reflect, on Old long syne.
My Heart is ravisht with delight,
when thee I think upon;
All Grief and Sorrow takes the flight,
and speedily is gone;
The bright resemblance of thy Face,
so fills this, Heart of mine;
That Force nor Fate can me displease,
for Old long syne.
Since thoughts of thee doth banish grief,
when from thee I am gone;
will not thy presence yield relief,
to this sad Heart of mine:
Why doth thy presence me defeat,
with excellence divine?
Especially when I reflect
on Old long syne.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Christmas 2010

"The best of all gifts around any Christmas tree: 
the presence of a happy family all wrapped up in each other." ~Unknown

Thanksgiving is still my favorite holiday, but Christmas is a very close second, and this years' marathon 4-family Christmas celebration tried its best to be a worthy rival. Oh my, did it come close! This year, our Christmas schedule looked something like this:

12/23: pack up and drive down to Mimmy and Pappy's house for dinner, a night together, 
and a mock Christmas morning on Christmas Eve
12/24: load up and migrate to Nanny and Granddaddy's for Christmas Eve services and
the family church, followed by a night together at Nanny's and a Christmas morning extravaganza
12/25: pack up and head home for a quiet night with the remaining family still in town at our place
and a Chinese-themed Christmas dinner
12/26: pack up and head down to Aunt Karen and Uncle Larry's for another Christmas dinner
and a fourth round of wonderful, blissful wrapping paper destruction.

Whew! Though it kinda felt like we were on the ground running the whole Christmas weekend, it was a wonderful way to spend the holidays. It was also a beautiful thing to see the wonders of the season through a two-year-old's eyes... 

Audrey says hi to Leeloo after settling at Mimmy's house

Christmas Eve morning at Mimmy's

Opening presents with Uncle Nate

Surrounded by Christmas treasures

Christmas dress and Christmas wonders

Carroll Family shot after hanging stockings at Nanny's

Grammy and Gramps

Daddy and Mama... and Little Brother

Nanny and Granddaddy

Hung with care

Christmas morning wonders

Togetherness and giving

Christmas morning Skype with Aunt KK in Beaumont

Christmas aftermath

Back at home with a Christmas treasure

Chinese Christmas dinner

Hope your holidays were merry and bright, and also that the spirit, treasures, and love of the season carry you through winter and in to spring!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A Pause

This year, we have been off-and-on with the winter-like temperatures, almost every-other-day. It was kinda sucking the rhythm out of our holiday preparations until I realized that it was a blessing in disguise... I could almost hear and feel the most anticipated holiday of the year whooshing by, and in my effort to keep up with it, I almost missed some of the best parts. It was almost like Mother Nature was dropping hints to slow down, re-prioritize, and take in a little more than what was being put in. It's amazing how much more time it can seem like you have if you slow down and take some of your already-budgeted moments and spend them being still. Happy Holidays.

Visiting Aunt KK

Beaumont, our second family road trip. A 4.5/5 hour drive south, south, south, into humidity, tall tall trees, and about a 15-degree temperature difference from home. Also, where Aunt KK lives. We ventured down to spend some time with beloved Aunt KK the weekend before Christmas. We needed to soak up some quality time since she would be staying home through the holidays, and we're glad we did, because the time we spent in Beaumont ended up being a great time, indeed.

Stretching our legs in Katy's backyard

Playing in the hallway

Ordering lunch at a local cafe 

Helping Aunt KK decorate her Christmas tree

Savoring some quiet time with Daddy

Playing in the "Beautiful Leaps"

Opening presents on our un-official Christmas morning

Enjoying some late afternoon sunshine

Sticker-iffic pedicures in the grass

Chasing Aunt KK around the trees

Going down the slide all by herself

Being with Aunt KK at Aunt KK's Church

Beaumont was a beautiful side-step from the seasonal hustle and bustle that had settled in our home, and though the short visit came and went in a blur, we were able to jump back in to our holiday preparations once home feeling recharged and much loved. Our family is such a blessing.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Salt Dough Ornaments

In keeping with the vow to insert a few more homemade moments into our season, I decided to venture in to salt dough ornaments. I can remember many a chilly afternoon with my mom and little brother, industriously stamping out shapes in soft homemade salt dough, impatiently waiting for them to dry out in the oven, then painting with abandon many a candy cane, snowman, star, and mysterious yet meaningful blob.

Audrey only being two (plus a little), I decided to make the ornaments ahead and have her participate in just the painting. I would love for this to be something we do frequently during the giving seasons ahead, and something that she in turn will look back on with fondness... perhaps remembering the activity and fun with her little brother, too, soon!

I used a very simple recipe- 2 parts flour, 1 part salt, 1 part water- but I improvised a little by subbing the water with strong coffee. The coffee made the dough a slightly warmer, slightly more antiqued color, and it smelled pretty good, too! Then, after using our favorite cookie cutters to cut out the ornaments and using a straw to poke holes in them for yarn later, I baked them in a 250 degree oven for about an hour. After they cooled completely, my Little Artist took over, and we both couldn't be happier with the results.

Now all I need to do is give them a good coating of spray sealant, string them on warm strips of fuzzy wool yarn, and find them homes on family Christmas trees! Beautiful.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Holiday Blues

The holidays are a strange time. There is much anticipation for our most favorite time of year... beginning for many in spring and in summer, thoughts start drifting to the colder months, when family, friends, and food come in to the spotlight, and plans start being dreamed up. The magic, though far off, seems almost tangible while planning in air-conditioned spaces and through baking heat waves. It sometimes feels like it will never be wintertime again!

However, somewhere around Thanksgiving- for many- a shadow falls over the merrymaking. Something slowly starts sucking joy and energy out of the process, leaving people feeling blue. I can even feel it sometimes, when you step back from all the traditions and holiday routine and wonder, 'What's missing?' A Charlie Brown moment, if you will.

I try to reflect on this feeling whenever it comes up. As cliche as it is, I think it might have something to do with the pressure and expectation that comes from the commercialism of the holidays. How could you not feel a little bummed believing that everyone expects something cutting-edge, expensive, and completely unique every year? Why wouldn't a feeling of powerlessness and of time slipping away start intruding into the homemaking, nesting, and celebrating of the season?

Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday for that very reason. It embodies everything I love about holidays, without the commercial pressures that come along with, say, Christmas. You get the family togetherness, the festive feeling in the air, the celebration of the beauty of the changing season, and yet... no gift lists. Eureka.

I had an epiphany this year. Why was Thanksgiving really my favorite holiday? For me, it is the simple celebration of things being made and shared with the ones you love. A time when homemade goodness is the staple and the expectation. A quiet moment shared by giving of yourself and the labor of your hands (well, mostly... I'm not trying to say Thanksgiving is completely immune to the commercial).

This thought process brought me to a simple conclusion: for me, a homemade Christmas may be the best way to truly savor the all-too-fleeting holiday season. In years past and for not-too-distant generations, this was the expectation, and the time leading up to that magical morning was a time of festive celebration, not harried running about, spending and sacrificing and worrying. Though it would be a slow transition, wouldn't it be great to be able to move back to a time when every day of the winter season is savored with activity and attention to projects of love to be shared at the holiday gatherings, instead of focusing on things?

I will probably never be one to completely throw off the influence of the commercialized Christmas machine, but as my children grow older and grasp more fully the meaning of the season, I will instill in them something greater than wish lists and wannas. I will make the holidays something magical and special that won't end with a big letdown on December 26th, and maybe with that effort, I will make this time even more special and meaningful for myself.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Perfect Sugar Cookies

I always get so many compliments on my sugar cookies, and so many requests for the recipe. I must admit, it is the perfect sugar cookie recipe. I've never had a better one. It's just not fair for me to keep it all to myself! So here it is... adapted from a Food Network Kitchen recipe, with my own tweaks and changes... enjoy!

The BEST Sugar Cookies
3 C unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 C (2 sticks) softened salted butter
1 1/2 C (scant) white sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp almond extract
3-4 TBS buttermilk
Sprinkles or icing for decorating
Parchment paper*

Preheat oven to 375F. In a small bowl, sift together dry ingredients and set aside. In a larger bowl, cream butter and sugar, than add egg and extracts. Gradually add dry ingredients to the wet ingredients in about 3 batches. Add enough buttermilk to make the dough moist and soft, but not wet. Chill for about 20 minutes to make rolling out easier (or just roll rounded teaspoons of dough between hands and place directly on parchment-covered baking pan for round cookies). Decorate with sprinkles or colored sugar as desired and bake for 8-10 minutes or until just slightly brown around edges (for a crispy sugar cookie, roll dough thin and bake until golden brown all over). Let cookies sit for about 2 minutes before moving them to a cooling rack or clean counter top. Enjoy!

*I highly recommend using parchment paper in your holiday baking if you don't already. It is a wonderful way to keep cookies perfectly shaped and unstuck from any baking tray. It also makes cleanup a snap, and you don't have to grease or 'Pam' anything to prevent sticking!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Focusing on the Home

At the first opportunity after Thanksgiving, I rush up to our spare closet and start pulling out boxes and bins... I spend all summer planning and crafting, and by the time those post-Thanksgiving days roll around, I can't further resist digging out our Christmas decorations and decking our halls! This year, our usual decorations have been enhanced by a few homemade extras, and we are enjoying the slightly more homemade feel to our usuals.

Audrey and Daddy enjoy a morning fire and some dry cereal

Homemade stockings hung with care

The first Christmas cookies of the season

This year, we chose to have a family party to kick off the Christmas-ness of the year. We did a gingerbread house building contest, some carols, a chili cook off, and we concluded the night by putting the ornaments up on our tree.

Gingerbread pieces ready to be assembled

Busy decorators

The winning team, mid-construction

A bit of a mess, but all in good fun

Rory inspects the 4 surviving and still standing houses at the end of the evening