December 31, 2013

thirteen fill-in-the-blanks for 2013

Since it is New Year's Eve and all, this is always a good time to reflect on the past year. I also think this is a great opportunity to begin our fill-in-the-blanks. 

We really love the idea of creating a community through our little blog, and I thought this would be a fun, lighthearted way to get to know our readers a bit better. So, please copy the following into the "comments" section and fill in the blanks. I look forward to reading all your responses!

a place you went:

the best thing you ate: 

a book you read:

something you celebrated:

the outfit that was your uniform: 

a movie you saw (in the theater):

most memorable gift you were given: 

a restaurant you went to: 

favorite purchase you made:

a performance you went to (or participated in):

a home decor project you completed:

the album you couldn't stop listening to:

a new experience:

I completed one to get us started:

a place you went: didn't do a lot of traveling this year, but did go camping up at Lake Merwin

the best thing you ate: Lane made this tomato curry soup that I am obsessed with, but these rosemary cookies are a close second!

a book you read: My Life in France by Julia Child (love her!)

something you celebrated: six years of marriage to my favorite man 

the outfit that was your uniform: jeans + plaid shirts... I'm totally in a rut! (resolution?)

a movie you saw (in the theater): the second Hobbit movie (also the only movie I saw in a theater this year)

most memorable gift you were given: My dad framed a picture he took in Venice and gave it to us for Christmas. He was a professional photographer for most of his life, so it is really beautiful and special.

a new restaurant you went to: Les Caves in Corvallis. It is excellent. We would be in there weekly if we lived there!

favorite purchase you made: I'm not a big spender, but I did just buy an amazing pair of brown leather boots at a thrift shop for super cheap

a performance you went to (or participated in): saw Leagues in concert with some good friends

a home decor project you completed: the basement is finally painted!

the album you couldn't stop listening to: Mutual Friends by BOY

a new experience: Eleanor came into our lives at the tail end of last year, so being a mommy of two has been a wonderful all-new adventure!

Thank you for reading and Happy New Year's Eve!

December 30, 2013

rosemary walnut maple shortbread cookies

The idea for this recipe popped into my head when I tossed a bag of walnuts onto the counter and they landed next to a glass full of fresh rosemary sprigs my mother-in-law had just brought to me.

I wish the rosemary sprigs had actually come from my garden, but, alas, I have killed every rosemary plant I have ever bought or been gifted.

When we moved into this neighborhood I hoped that someone may have a huge rosemary bush sitting conveniently near the sidewalk in their front yard so that I could casually stroll by, scissors poised, and swipe a few handfuls for use in various savory and sweet dishes.

Sadly, the only rosemary bush (which is ginormous*, by the way) is in the middle of the traffic circle I drive around to enter our hood. I imagine that it soaks up quite a bit of exhaust, so I haven't snagged any rosemary from that bush. However, I have considered uprooting part of the plant and attempting a transfer into my own yard. I don't know if this would work, but it may have to be done at night so the neighbors don't notice. But I'm pretty sure digging out plants from the middle of the traffic circle in the dark would put me into the "crazy" category.

Wow. And now that you know the ridiculous extent of my rosemary woes and fantasies, here is the cookie recipe already...

Rosemary Walnut Maple Shortbread Cookies
makes about 20

1 cup butter (2 sticks)
1/2 cup maple syrup (or white sugar**)
2 cups flour
1/4 tsp salt
1 tbsp fresh rosemary, chopped
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped into small pieces

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Cream together the butter and syrup (or sugar).
In a separate bowl, combine the four, salt, and rosemary.
Mix the dry ingredients into the wet until well combined. Mix in the nuts.
Drop the dough by heaping tablespoon onto a un-greased cookie sheet. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, until the cookies are just becoming golden brown around the edges. Let cool on a rack before eating with a hot cup of tea.


*Did you know "ginormous" is a legit word? Me either, until I googled it when spell check didn't red-squiggly underline it.

**Using maple syrup created a more chewy cookie, whereas the sugar caused the cookie to be crunchier. Also, the cookies made with maple syrup spread out slightly more while baking.

Another additional note: the rosemary begins very subtly, but actually becomes more flavorful after the cookies have been stored for a couple days. I prefer them with a strong flavor, so about three days after baking is ideal to me.

December 27, 2013

the great christmas take-down of 2013

If your Christmas was anything like mine, it made its way to the far reaches of your home- seemingly erupting in every nook and cranny. And if you are like me, you looooooove Christmas and all the decor it brings, but when it's over you are more than relieved to take it all down.

Last night I decided to de-Christmas our home after the kids went to bed. I also decided to reorganize the four gigantic boxes of holiday paraphernalia that we have accumulated.

In my organizational fantasies I have large, well-labeled, stack-able plastic boxes, perhaps with compartments or more well-labeled boxes within them. Truthfully, I actually just have some big cardboard boxes that are falling apart.

In order to keep organized and to keep things from breaking I had to get creative with the resources left to me (aka the recycling bin and wrapping paper still strewn all over the floor). I want to share just a few tips, but really I am hoping that I can gain some tips also. So, here are a few of my decor packing ideas that you may want to utilize:

Pack ornaments in beer boxes. The little compartments are perfect for breakable ornaments and you can load lighter, more durable ornaments on top. The little tins and sturdy boxes everyone gave you cookies and candies in are also great for ornaments.

Wrap strings of lights around toy boxes. James' duplos set and new art supplies came in just the right size boxes to wrap lights around. This way, they will be all ready to unwind and string up next year.

Wrap fragile decorations in used tissue paper and wrapping paper. I don't know a lot of people who still receive the newspaper, and I usually don't have packing peanuts lying around. What I do have the day after Christmas is loads and loads of crumpled wrapping paper. Perfect for wrapping the fragile ornaments.

I would love to hear your holiday put-away ideas!

December 21, 2013

the inconvenience of christmas

Yes, this is yet another introspective Christmas post. Brace yourselves.

I have (obviously) been thinking a lot about all that goes into Christmas. And, if we were all quite honest with ourselves, we would have to admit that this holiday is extremely inconvenient.

In the midst of getting stuck in traffic, absurdly long lines at Costco, thinking of gifts to buy, putting up a bunch of ribbon and lights and an entire tree in our homes only to take it all down a month later- we begin to lose sight of why we are putting all this effort in and going to such great lengths. Can't we just bake a cake on the 25th, sing "Happy birthday Jesus" and be done with it?

Let's look at how convenient it was for Mary: She got married, and then an angel came to her and explained that she would have a painless birth of a non-colicky baby boy in an elegant suite at the Heathman, with multitude of medical professionals surrounding her... right?

Oh, wait, let's look at what really happened.

First of all, Mary wasn't married. It may be more acceptable in our culture, but in those days we know that this was a little more than an inconvenience. This was something that society ridiculed Mary and her husband-to-be for, and I'm sure it didn't end when she had the baby.

So then, let's look at the birth and the time leading up. Ladies who have been pregnant, we all know what we want to do at 9+ months: we want to lie on the couch until the labor begins. Would we want to be traveling long distances on the back of a donkey? I think not. And what about the labor and delivery? How about in a barn, surrounded by animals? I am so surprised by how many of James' Christmas books say that Mary and Joseph found a "warm, clean stable". I actually had to go check my Bible. Nothing about "warm" or "clean" in there. Truthfully, I doubt the inn-keeper, in the madness of people coming from all over and needing places to stay, thought to go turn on the space heater and throw in some clean hay just in case someone were to give birth in his barn that night.

The circumstances surrounding Jesus' birth were exceptionally inconvenient for his parents. They had to travel, the delivery took place in a pile of hay surrounded by livestock, and then some men who had been sleeping out in the fields wandered in, saying they had been told to come check out the newborn baby. How frustrating and annoying for Mary and Joseph, right? God tells them that they are going to have a baby and then He seemingly makes it as difficult as possible on them. And what does Mary do?

"But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart." 
Luke 2:19

Do you suppose Mary began to put the pieces together? The Lamb of God was born in a stable, where sheep are kept. The Lamb of God was visited by shepherds.

These inconveniences all had a purpose: to bring a Savior into the world and to reveal His identity as the Lamb.

So as we battle the parking lot of the mall, and plug in all the twinkle lights again, and stay up late making cookie dough and wrapping gifts, may we look to it not as an inconvenience, but may we treasure this time in our hearts- the time to celebrate the Savior's birth and to reveal His identity as the Lamb to the world around us.

Happy five days 'til Christmas!

December 20, 2013

ten things I do to make my kids' christmas magical

Christmas is huge for me.

It always has been. I love the smells, the sounds, the sights, the joy, the hustle, the bustle. Growing up I always knew two things about my adult life: I wanted kids and I wanted my kids to love Christmas as much as I do.

Christmas in itself does not need to be made more special or more magical. It is already of extreme significance because we are celebrating the birth of Jesus.

I want my kids to get that.

I want them to feel the relevance and joy of the celebration. I want them to realize that it is about our Savior's birth, and that He was born for them. I want the festivities to center around Jesus, but be for my kids. This means a little laying down of my own desires (isn't all of parenthood laying down of our own desires?)- the desires for an elegantly decorated tree, money to buy fabulous gifts for everyone I know, beautifully wrapped packages, gourmet dinner parties- these all must be surrendered in order to show my children that the season of celebration includes them.

Here are a few things that I believe make Christmas a little more magical for them:

1. let them deck the halls There is no perfect, themed Christmas decor around here. Colors abound, ornaments are primarily shoved into one main section on the tree, a countless amount of small cloth stockings are daily scattered across the floor by Eleanor... But it is all worth it to hear James proudly declare to me: "I decorated our whole house for Christmas!"

top photo: a lego airplane was added to the mantel display
bottom photo: James' understated, yet tasteful, holiday table centerpiece

2. display their Christmas crafts around the house James' snowflakes are on the windows, his finger-print light strand on the wall, homemade ornaments on the tree, and his graham cracker house displayed atop the fridge so that he can't eat it.

3. cultivate thankful hearts The best way for me to do this is like everything else: model it for them. So I express my gratitude for what I have, and I do not harp on what I would like. (The truth of the matter is that I really do have all I could want or need.) I protect their hearts from consumerism by not putting an emphasis on the gifts. I have an idea of what James may want, but he doesn't write lists and we don't talk about all the gifts he will receive on Christmas day. Instead, we talk about how fun it will be to see our family and spend time together celebrating Jesus' birth. When he does receive gifts, we write thank-you cards and talk about how special the gifts are, and how grateful we are for the people who gave them to us.

4. set the mood I try to think of all the senses: Christmas music playing, bells on door handles, pine scented candles, fire in the fireplace, twinkle lights... James likes to plug the lights in for me, and he always requests Christmas music. (We also have a special Christmas dance party mix for when we needs upbeat music for doing "crazy moves".)
As always, the most important mood to set is my own. If I am cheerful and excited, they will be as well.

5. help them give This certainly goes hand-in-hand with #3. James has a gift to give to Eleanor and he helped me wrap the presents to give to his cousins. We made ornaments for neighbors and went around the neighborhood spreading Christmas cheer. I try to make giving fun for him, and I stress the importance of sharing the abundance of what we have with those less fortunate.

6. decorate their bedroom It doesn't have to be fancy. James has his cloth Advent calendar hanging on the wall, paper snowflakes on the window, and a ribbon hanging up that he helped me tape Christmas cards onto. It is simple, but festive.

7. activity Advent calendar It may seem a little overwhelming at first, but it actually helps me to have something special planned for each day.

8. involve them in the hustle and bustle (but don't burn them out) Christmas is not a season to get everything done without the kids so that Christmas day will be Norman Rockwell-picture perfect. It is a time to engage with my children and spend special time with the family. So I take them to the post office, have James help me wrap gifts, set him on the counter to help me cook... The busyness is part of the fun, unless it burns out the kids. If they seemed overwhelmed or get sick, we don't just continue to run errands and meet up for play dates anyway. Instead, we stick close to home, we adjust our schedule, and we rest as much as possible.

9. go walkin' in a winter wonderland Outdoor time is so important to me. It becomes even more important when it looks like Christmas may have thrown up in my home and I need a little natural simplicity. Also very important when beautiful, wintry weather hits. We had snow early this year and it actually stuck due to unusually low temperatures. It took me 45 minutes to get the kids ready to go outside. We stayed out for fifteen minutes. But the memories were made and the house felt even cozier once we were back in and dry.

10. tell the story of the first Christmas We do this each morning over breakfast (this is our usual Bible story time). I started to act it out with little wooden figurines that used to belong to Lane and his brother when they were kids. We have several story books of the first Christmas, but James' favorite has become a pop-up version which will most likely not survive this season without some maple-syrup fingerprints.
I do this because I want them to have context. I want them to know why we are sending out cards, giving gifts, decorating a tree we put inside our house, eating way more sugar than usual: because Jesus was born, and He was born for them.

What are some ways you make your kids' holiday magical? What were ways your parents used to make it a special time of year? I would love to hear!

Merry magical Christmas time!

"For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace." Isaiah 9:6 

December 18, 2013

happy birthday katie

(the most recent, though probably not the best, picture of us (and Eleanor), taken in July at Katie's shower)

Happy, happy birthday, my dear Canadian bestie! 

May God bless you in your 28th year! I love you!

Your Bloggin' Bestie,

PS and happy 1 month to our little blog. I think it is pretty great thus far!

December 17, 2013

five gifts for the hostess

From Cup to Cup's 2013 Holiday Gift Guide: We believe that gift-giving should be done out of joy and excitement for the holiday season, and out of love for the recipient of our gifts, rather than the obligatory consumerism that so often plagues this time of year. It is our genuine hope that this guide will be helpful in finding just the right present to bestow upon the special people in your life. 

Growing up, my family was always invited to the most splendid Christmas Eve open house. The hosts were were caterers and vintners, meaning this party was completely centered around the kitchen. I looked forward to the warmth of their home, the incredible food, and conversations with people each year... and I secretly wished a cute boy would kiss me under the mistletoe!

Now that I'm a real grown-up (28 tomorrow- hello!) I am longing for the days that I can host a real Christmas open house, booze, hors d'oeurves, mistletoe and all, that no one really needs an invitation to because it is always on. For now, since we practically live in a shoebox, I'll have to content myself with hosting small gatherings and attending other people's parties.

So we don't all come empty-handed to these holiday functions we are all bound to attend at some point, I've put together a round-up of hostess gifts that I think any gal would love to receive.

Aveda Hand Relief, $22.50, for the very softest hands. It feels like velvet!

2014 Calendar Dishtowel, $36, because it's pretty and practical.

Handmade felt mistletoe, $21, because it's prettier than the real thing, and who doesn't love getting kissed?

Tiny triangle earrings, $12, to adorn her ears with geometry.

An ash wood cutting board, $20-$56, because how cool is that?

go make someone happy (and order quickly because it's almost Christmas!), Katie

December 16, 2013

food processor granola bars

It all started as a way for James to use the Christmas cookie cutters.

He has been carrying them around the house, trying to use them on everything I cook for dinner- it was all I could do to keep him away from the pizza dough.

Being not quite ready to break out the butter and sugar and make cookies, I searched for an alternative food that he could sink his tree, bell, and stocking-shaped cutters into. We often make granola bars that are so crumbly that we turn them into granola, but I thought that they would perhaps fulfill his cookie cutter needs.

Sadly, the cookie cutters could not cut through the bars. But in the process I made the ultimate trifecta of granola bars: easy, delicious, and they actually stick together.

The first batch we made fit into an 8" circumference pan. They were delicious, but only lasted one day. The second time I doubled the recipe. Only problem was that the food processor was too full so the coconut oil did not get evenly distributed. Since the oil works as the binder, this resulted in a slightly more crumbly bar. I would suggest melting the oil before adding it so that it will be evenly distributed and sufficiently hold the ingredients together.

These bars are very versatile: you can wrap them up and pack them for a quick snack, or crumble them easily over some yogurt and eat them like granola.

Food Processor Granola Bars

1 cup walnuts
1 cup almonds
3 cups oats (gluten free if you are avoiding gluten)
1/2 cup flaxseed meal
1 tsp coarse salt
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
large dash of other spices you may want: ginger, cardamom, cloves, allspice
1/4 cup all natural peanut butter
2/3 cup coconut oil (melted, see note above)
1/2 cup maple syrup
2 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup dried cranberries

Grease two round 8" circumference pans, or one 9 x 13" pan with cooking spray or coconut oil. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Combine nuts, oats, flaxseed meal, salt, and spices in a large food processor. Pulse about ten times, or until all nuts are broken up. Add the peanut butter, melted oil, syrup, and vanilla. Process until well combined.
Add the cranberries and pulse until they are mixed in well.

Put into pan(s) and firmly press down so that the mix is flat and even on top. Bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes, until browning at edges.

Let cool in pan(s) on a wire rack for an least 30 minutes before cutting into bars (not with a cookie cutter). Store in an airtight container, but if you're family loves them half as much as we do they won't last long!

Happy snacking,

December 12, 2013

a fashion question: what in the heck should i wear for date night

First and foremost, a disclaimer: I am not posting a bunch of pictures of myself, from the chin down, in various outfits because I think I'm cool.
It's quite the opposite actually: I am not in tune with fashion whatsoever. But when a date night comes along (as they do about every four months) I try to step it up a bit. And I need help.

Other disclaimers: bad lighting, bad background, bad photography (sorry, hun, I know you did the best you could with our little cannon point and shoot!)

Moving on... the date is to the OBT's Nutcracker dress rehearsal which my husband obtained (free) tickets for through work and secured grandparents to come babysit all without my knowledge, which, obviously, is getting him some major amazing husband points.

Onto the outfits:

#1. I thought this would be my favorite, and it so was not. It is comfortable and I love the necklace, but I definitely felt a little Fräulein Maria, if you know what I mean.

shirt: thrift store
necklace: thrift store
pencil skirt: Costco (woot, woot!)
flats: Born (my mom decided they weren't her style and gave them to me)
clutch: Alfani (?) Macy's sale forever ago

#2. A couple issues with this one: first, the blouse is just long enough to be tucked in, so I couldn't put my arms up at all without it becoming un-tucked. Which probably wouldn't be a problem because you don't have to reach up for anything if wearing heels makes you an amazon woman. 
Other problem is that I may break my neck if I attempt to wear the heels.

shirt: thrift store
jeans: Citizens via my mom 
(do we know each other well enough for me to admit to you that I am a jean snob? Jeans are the only thing in which I have expensive taste.)
heels: Nine West

#3. By far the most comfortable (can you tell this is a priority for me?). My mother-in-law gave me the top when I was eight months pregnant with James and I wore it all I could for the rest of my pregnancy. To say something is flattering on woman who is about to deliver a 9lb 5oz baby is saying a lot. 
Also, can we just talk about the flats for a minute? I love these shoes, but they have poinsettias on them. (Yes, as in the bright red Christmas flower.) Which makes them wearable about one month out of the year, the very month where it is way too cold to go out without wool socks on. Thus, it is very exciting for me that this outfit incorporates them.

sleeveless top: gifted (Thanks, Shir!)
three-quarter length cardigan (under the top): Target
flats: from some little shop on 23rd, purchased forever ago

So, I am serious about this, gals! I will wear whatever you vote for. Feel free to mix and match also, as I may not have put the pieces together in the way they should go. 

With much appreciation for your style help,

December 10, 2013

ten on ten: december

It's so easy, especially as a mama of a young one, to let the days blur together and get bogged down in the mundane: the diaper changes and feedings and oh no! the pacifier fell on the floor again. It has been a challenge for me to find beauty even in these moments of life, to recognize that God has engineered each day and is there in the midst of it all, and to thank him for it.

Have you read One Thousand Gifts? This book really spoke to me: the concept of eucharisteo, of letting every breath be one of praise and thanksgiving, that this might be the posture from which we live our lives. Not easy to do but so worth the effort, if we can only find a way!

My friend Rebekah who blogs at A Bit of Sunshine has a very lovely exercise accomplishing just this that has kind of blown up on the internet, which I have been meaning to join in with for about a year but kept remembering at the wrong time. Her challenge is to take a photo an hour, for ten hours, on the tenth of each month to capture the beauty in the every day (what we here at FC2C call ordinary joys). Read more about Ten on Ten here. 

I finally remembered, and had such a fun day capturing the beauty all around me! Here is my set from today:

Would you ever join in? I would love to see your photos!

xo Katie