Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas!

Shopping is done. Presents are wrapped. Christmas cards finally went out on Monday. Everything's ready for the big day -- so I'm signing off until the New Year.

2008 has been an amazing year of growth for our family -- and the friends I've made through blogging have been one of the highlights. Thank y'all for taking the time to read, to comment, and to contribute to my life through your blogs. :)

While 2009 might be full of uncertainty and change for our nation, in the midst of it all, it's comforting to remember that one thing never changes: God's love for His people. Christmas is the ultimate celebration of that love -- a love that came to Earth in the form of a man and died so that we might live.

May you rest in the certainty of God's unchanging love this Christmas and throughout the New Year!

"Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever." Heb. 13:8

Putting the "Oh!" Back in H2O

Before I had kids, I was one of those annoying people who claimed caffeine had no effect on them. I would drink a cup of coffee and never notice the "burst of energy" everyone always claimed to get from that morning hit of caffeine.

Apparently, in my early years, I was the picture of well-rested, youthful exuberance.

But then, I had my first child -- the one who would wake up at 5:30 in the morning and refuse to go back to sleep.

It was during this dark period, I managed to rescue my coffeemaker from the depths of the pantry. I plugged it in and brewed myself a cup of warm, steaming goodness. And this time? You better believe I felt the difference. It was like an instant shot of energy. From that point on, I was hooked.

But lately, my coffee/caffeine consumption has gotten a wee-bit out of hand. When I took a moment to think about it, I realized caffeine was pretty much the ONLY liquid I was consuming, happily alternating between coffee and sweet tea from morning till night. (Read more at Chic Critique)

Friday, December 19, 2008

Christmas Meme

I've seen this one on a few blogs -- so, I'm gonna give it whirl...

Wrapping paper or gift bags? I'm guilty of using the gift bag if I need to wrap something in a hurry, but really, it's a lot more fun when a present is wrapped up in paper.

Real tree or artificial? Artificial all the way. Although our artificial tree does look remarkably real. I am not a houseplant kind of gal, so the whole "watering the tree" business would never happen. If we had a real tree, it would probably lose all its needles by Christmas morning.

When do you put up the tree? This year, my husband and the kids put it up super early. Usually, we do it over Thanksgiving weekend.

When do you take the tree down? Growing up, we never took the tree down before the Epiphany (Jan. 6). It had to do with some old Italian tradition of not taking the tree down until the Magi saw Jesus, which I guess was on the Epiphany. This year, I'm hoping to get it down the day after Christmas.

Do you like eggnog? No. The very word makes me throw up a little in my mouth.

Favorite gift received as a child? My roller skates. I never took them off my feet for the next two weeks. I so wanted to be Olivia Newton John in Xanadu.

Hardest person to buy for? My in-laws.

Easiest person to buy for? My kids.

Do you have a Nativity scene? Two -- one is a Fontanini set that we got for our wedding and the other is Fisher Price.

Mail or email Christmas cards? I love to mail them. Although this year, I might be emailing a few of the international ones.

Worst Christmas gift you ever received? I'm coming up blank on this one.

Favorite Christmas movie? White Christmas. The. All. Time. Best.

When do you start shopping for Christmas? I'm one of those annoying people who shops for Christmas all year long.

Have you ever recycled a Christmas present? Nope.

Favorite thing to eat at Christmas? Cookies!

Lights on the tree? Of course. They're white. Which the kids don't like. But I let them have colored lights in their rooms, because I'm not all Grinch. :)

Favorite Christmas song? O Holy Night

Travel at Christmas or stay home? We're home for Christmas and then we visit my husband's family the week after.

Can you name all of Santa's reindeer? Of course.

Open the presents Christmas Eve or Christmas morning? Christmas morning

Most annoying thing about this time of year? Shopping in stores. I did 95% of my shopping online this year. In my pajamas. With a cup of coffee in hand. LOVES me.

Favorite ornament theme or color? We do a mix -- and that's what makes me love our ornament collection all the more.

What do you want for Christmas this year? I'm finally breaking down and asking for a velour hoodie/pant set. It's going to be so comfy. I might never take it off.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Easy Gingerbread Houses

We've done gingerbread houses for three years running now, and we've had some failures and some successes. So, I present to you all I've learned on how to do this holiday tradition right.

First, DO NOT buy one of those gingerbread house kits. The house itself will be petrified and inedible. The included icing will be like mortar and the 12 colored candies they include for "decoration" will (obviously) not be enough.

Now, you can also go the route of the homemade, from-scratch gingerbread house. And while the real deal smells absolutely divine, it requires a ton of time and energy (as well as the patience of a saint). I'd prefer to save my patience for the decorating part, rather than expend it all in the baking phase. It's all about making a memory, people. And a crabby, impatient mommy doesn't say holiday cheer. Just sayin'.

So, how do you decorate a gingerbread house so that fun is had by all? Well, to borrow a phrase from Sandra Lee, you do the "semi-homemade" version.

This year, we used graham crackers to build two small gingerbread houses. It was super easy. Check out this quick tutorial:

The best part about it is that each child gets a house. So, there's no arguing about the decorating scheme. That is holiday bliss, my friends. (Btw, I also like to use some icing to secure the house to some foil-covered cardboard. Nothing ruins the holiday mood faster than a smashed gingerbread house that when zinging off the table onto the floor.)

I'm including my recipe for royal icing, because the right icing makes all the difference. This recipe makes enough for two graham cracker houses and will stay soft if you seal it in a ziploc bag. When you're ready to pipe on the icing, just make a small cut to remove a corner of the bag.

Royal Icing

2 egg whites
1 pound sifted powdered sugar
1 tsp. lemon juice
2 tsp. glycerin (you can get this at the drugstore)

Beat whites until frothy. Add sugar, 1 T. at a time. Add lemon juice and glycerin. If the icing begins to harden, add a small amount of hot water. Pour into a ziploc bag and seal. Cut corner of bag when ready to decorate.

There you have it. The Gingerbread House tradition, done with minimal fuss.

Now, for more tips that will make your life (and holidays) easier, go visit Works for Me Wednesday!

The Final Verdict

Thank y'all so much for your help with my fashion crisis the other day. Here's what I ended up wearing to the par-tay last night -- it was the overall favorite, by a landslide:

It was super-comfy and very festive. I'm also going to count this outfit for Jane's Christmas Challenge: Wear an Outfit Inspired by a Song. My song "inspiration" was Back in Black, because I always seem to wear black every year for the Christmas party. :) But, hey. It works for me.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Halls -- They are Decked

It's time for BooMama's Christmas Tour of Homes!

Come on in and make yourself at home -- let me show you around and share some of my favorite Christmas decorations this year.

When you the walk through the front door, this is the view into our great room.

(By the way, lest you think I have some kind of avant garde decorating sense, that crazy swatch of fabric hanging on the window is a "mock up" for my window mistreatment that is still a work in progress.)

Here is a close-up view of our tree. We've had it up since the middle of November, but (I'm embarrassed to say) it took BooMama's Home Tour to finally motivate me to put the angel on top:

Do you hear the music in the background? I'm playing one of my most favorite Christmas CDs:

It's such a jaunty set of tunes. I love it.

These are the Christmas elves that I inherited from my grandmother.

I know some of them look a little strange, but they mean a lot to me. As a little girl, I remember being fascinated by them.

Oh! I almost forgot to introduce you to Cherry. He's our "Elf on the Shelf." He arrives at our house each year on Dec. 1 and flies back each night to the North Pole to report to Santa on behavior at the Life with Three house. Each morning, we find him in a new hiding spot. The kids think he is just the best.

Here is our Christmas Countdown Calendar, which was made for us by a family friend. We hang an ornament on the tree for each day in December.

And, finally, a favorite sign, which hangs prominently above the door in the kitchen.

Before you leave, be sure and try a piece of this crockpot candy. I discovered it last year over at Brin's blog. It will blow your socks off -- I can't stop eating it. I've included the recipe for y'all below:

(1) 16 oz. jar unsalted peanuts

(1) 16 oz. jar salted peanuts

(1) 12 oz. bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips

(1) 12 oz. bag of milk chocolate chips

(2) 12 oz. bags of peanut butter chips

(2) 1 lb. packages White Almond Bark (or Vanilla Candy Coating), broken in pieces

Layer ingredients, in order listed, into (4-quart or larger) crockpot. Cover and turn the crockpot on low for two hours. After two hours, stir to combine. Replace lid and cook for an additional 30 minutes. Check to see if almond bark is melted and, if so, stir and spoon mixture onto wax paper. (I like to decorate it with sprinkles.) Allow to harden for about an hour. Gym membership not included. :)

Merry Christmas and Happy Home Touring!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

What to Wear? Advice Needed!

Alright. I need some help. My husband's "work" Christmas party is coming up on Monday night. After following Jane for a few months, and buying a slew of Christmas gifts, I really don't want to spend more money on a dressy Christmas outfit that (truth is) will get worn once a year.

So, in the spirit of seasonal thriftiness, I went "shopping" in my closet and came up with three options for Monday night's par-tay. I'm looking for a little input from everyone. Help me decide which one.

Now before you go checking out the pictures, I do have to put in a few disclaimers. First of all, I didn't do my makeup. Secondly, it's been raining cats and dogs here for two days. So, that should explain the hair. I promise, it will look much better come Monday night. M'kay?

Here are the choices:

Option 1:

This is my standard holiday uniform. I'm pretty sure I wore it to the party last year. But, I love the beaded sweater and the velvet pants are super-comfy. I could wear it with or without the shawl.

Option 2:

The next two options feature a LBD that I have had in the closet for years and I think I've worn all of two times. (Lori, do you remember when I bought it with you?) In this option (yikes my hair!), I've topped the dress with an embellished black sweater. The sweater once belonged to my grandmother (it was my great-grandmother who added the sequins and all), so I guess this is kind of "vintage" inspired, if you will.

Option 3:

I'm pretty sure I've worn this blouse to a Christmas party before, as well. But, this time I've just layered it over the dress. Maybe with the right accessories (suggestions???) it would work. (Although, I'm not too sure about the Elvira sleeves.)

So there you have it. Three choices. Which one do you like best? Please, I'm all ears. Help a girlfriend out. :)

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Last-Minute Gift Ideas

What? Not done with your Christmas shopping yet?

You should be roasting chestnuts over an open fire by now, not racking your brain to come up with gifts for the hard-to-shop for people on your list.

Well, not to worry. I think I might be able to offer some gift guidance. Give me a few minutes and, I promise, we’ll have you kicking up your feet and sipping eggnog in no time. (read more at Chic Critique)

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Happy Feet

Check out my latest purchase from Tar-Jay.

Oh, I know it's the season of giving. But, I just happened to find myself with a $25 Target gift card. And, while I could have used it to buy Christmas presents for others, I'm obviously not that selfless. I know. I'm shameful.

And I was a little skeptical. I mean at $14.99 I was hardly expecting much.


These are now the most comfortable shoes in my closet. They feel like slippers. Like two little slices of heaven for my tired tootsies. They make my feet oh-so-happy -- and chic, to boot!

Stylish relief for my barking dogs. All at a bargain price.

Just one more reason why I love Target.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Because I like to weigh in on the serious issues...

I had every intention of clearing out my Bloglines reader Sunday night (which is now over 1000 posts -- I'm a little behind, in case you haven't noticed.) But, turns out Sunday night was a huge T.V. night.

First, on The Girls Next Door, we had the arrival of "the twins." I had to check that out -- I mean after Hef's breakup with Holly, I had to see who's b00bs arms he would turn to for comfort.

Then, we had the season finale of the Pickup Artist 2. You remember, with supa-star woman magnet, Mystery. Let me ask you something. If you saw this guy approach you at a bar, would you stick around and fall for his lines?

I just find him creepy. And, honestly, if guys want tips on what women find attractive, I have two words for them: Edward Cullen.

While flipping through channels, I also noticed Britney Spears' tell-all documentary, For the Record was on too. All of these shows were on at the same time, and I was forced to make a decision. Which one to watch? In the end, I went with my girl Brit. Because I needed to know what in the world has been going through her head for the last couple of years.

I've been rooting for Britney from the beginning. When she finally kicked K-Fed to the curb, I found myself breathing a sigh of relief. Finally, girlfriend could get her life back on track.

Then, I watched in horror as a trainwreck unfolded before my very eyes.

Partying (sans panties) with Paris.
Shaving her head.
Her horrific VMA appearance.

With each new episode, I grew more and more depressed. So much talent. So young. Throwing her life away. At one point I was convinced her story wouldn't have a happy ending.

But, with a little familial, medical and court-appointed guidance, Brit seems to slowly be pulling her life back together. For this documentary, she sits down with good ol' Martin Bashir to answer the "tough" questions and take us through several days of her life.

A life that she describes as "old and boring." (She tells Rolling Stone Magazine that she turns in around 9:30 each night and never goes out.) Well, as another article pointed out, "old and boring" is a heck of a lot better than "young and insane."

Honestly, I felt bad for Britney. She turns 27 today, yet she looks 10 years older than that. Her youthful beauty and exuberance are gone. It didn't appear she had any true friends. All she has are her kids and her career. She lives her life under a microscope of camera lenses. And while some will, no doubt, criticize her for not offering up real explanations for her walk off the deep end, what I found most revealing was just how empty she looks. You can see the pain behind her eyes. And the part that really broke my heart was when she said it herself, "I'm so sad."

I hope Britney eventually comes to the realization that the key to happiness is going to require more than an early bedtime and lackluster social life. She won't find contentment in a "comeback," another shopping spree or increased record sales.

As they say, sometimes life has a way of putting us on our backs to force us to look up.

Hopefully, that realization will come in time. The sooner the better.

In the meantime, I hope she sticks with the 9:30 bedtime and the whole "old and boring" routine.

Because for the first time in years, she finally seems kind of normal.

What do you think of Britney? Love her? Hate her? Pity her? Let me know in the comments -- I'm curious. :)