Saturday, December 29, 2012

New Year's

The last couple years, I've heard sermons and read devotionals knocking New Year's resolutions.  I personally love this time of year.  I think it's time to let New Year's resolutions off the hook and take advantage of what they offer.

All year long, I get consumed in the day-to-day.  I shift into survival mode.  I juggle schedules, remember important events, and do anything I can to keep my family moving in the right direction.

Wrapping up one year and preparing for a new one offers me the opportunity to step away from the daily grind and assess where I've been and where I'm going.

This is the time of year when I look back over the last year.  I acknowledge every hardship and feel thankful to be on the other side of most of the difficulties.  I give myself credit for any area where I've grown personally.  I see more clearly how God has been present and working with me every single day.  I reflect on all the good stuff and offer prayers of gratitude for blessings great and small.

This time of year is also the time when I suddenly realize that change is possible.  The hard stuff doesn't have to keep being hard.  Eventually babies sleep through the night, weight gets worked off, and I figure out more tricks to keep my house organized.  On New Year's Eve, I take a deep breath and allow myself to feel hope and anticipation.

My resolutions have almost always been about three things:
  1. My body (lose weight, tone up, dress better, accessorize more, etc.)
  2. My house (organize clutter, keep house cleaner, incorporate meal schedules, fix house problems, update decorations, etc.)
  3. My performance (be a gentler mom, be a more supportive wife, pray more, read my Bible more, mend relationships, etc.)
Last year, I lost 45 lbs. between January 1 and April 14 (my birthday).  I kept it off all year (okay...except for the 2-3 lbs. I put back on this month).  This year, I would like to take off that last 10 lbs. I never touched and try to generally tone things up.  This will be an interesting (and somewhat scary) process for me since losing weight last year brought up so many digestive problems that are still lingering today.

My house needs repairs, updates, cleaning, organizing, and purging.  I don't even know where to focus this year.

In terms of my performance, I know that God is still working on me and my mental battles.  I'm learning to stop the negative conversations I have with myself about things I say and do and things others say and do.  I think for now I'll keep working on learning to show grace to myself and others.

When I try to reflect on 2012, my recollection is completely overshadowed by the whole process that led to Griffin's Asperger's diagnosis.  I can't really remember other milestones right this minute.  So maybe my starting point should be to take a serious look at the last year and acknowledge other hurdles we cleared and blessings we received.  The fact that all three of my children are alive and healthy is actually enough for me.

I hope this New Year's you'll pause and take a little time to reflect on the past and gear up for a hopeful future.  There's nothing wrong with setting goals and making resolutions (in my book).  I think it takes a little processing time to close one chapter and start writing the next.  Now is a great time for that.

Here's to all the possibilities of a new year!


P.S.  Here are two great free printables if you need help with your New Year's resolutions!

Free Printable 2013 Calendars

Even though I'm totally dependent on my smart phone, I still love having a paper calendar hanging in my kitchen so I can see it and hand-write in activities and events.  Maybe someday I'll switch to using the calendar on my phone, but I've already filled in my 2013 paper calendar.

I used to use whatever calendar I got for free, usually something ugly with lots of pictures of machines from Jared's work.  Then a couple years ago I discovered that talented digital artists create cute calendars and share the files online so poor people like me can print them out.

If you're looking for a free cute calendar for the next year, I'd like to show you some of my faves.  I'm so grateful to talented people who share these for free!

*I used their calendars last year.  They're so cute!

Waterproof Paper
*This is a nice plain monthly calendar

And this is the calendar that I'm using for 2013.  It's super cute and has the colors of my kitchen: gray, yellow, and light aqua.

Happy New Year!


Friday, December 28, 2012

Nora's Turtle Birthday Party

My little Nora turned 3 on December 27.  That's right, my youngest baby is now three.  It's weird.  And it's only getting worse.

Nora wanted a "baby turtle" party for her birthday.  You may remember when she was a baby turtle for Halloween.

I didn't have time to mail invitations to our family members, so I emailed them this invitation:

I had found this free digital invitation at

I could edit two of the text fields, but I couldn't change the part that says "It's a Baby Shower!"  Luckily, my husband is a computer nerd.  He found a way to make an image I could edit on my computer, and I created the above invitation for Nora's party.  I also used the turtle background for other parts of the party.  I loved that the turtle is pink and that there's an actual BABY turtle!

I looked and looked for turtle party supplies, and I could only find some for a boy baby shower.  Nora wanted them, even though they were blue and green.  I ordered her plates from Oriental Trading when I had a code for free shipping.  They didn't have the matching napkins, so I took Nora to Walmart and let her choose napkins.  She chose Disney princesses.

Nora's favorite dinner right now is stuffed pasta shells from Schwan's.  

Since they cost $11.15 for a bag that serves 8 people, I couldn't afford to serve them at the big family party.  I decided to make some from scratch, and I'll share my recipe in a later post.  My brother hates ricotta cheese, so I also made a meat-stuffed option.  I also wanted a kid-friendly option, so I made macaroni and cheese from scratch (using little shell pasta).  All recipes will come later.

Not only are stuffed pasta shells Nora's favorite meal, but they also work with the turtle theme in a way.  I decided to call them stuffed "turtle" shells!  I used the image from the invitation and added text boxes identifying the foods.  I printed them on cardstock, cut them out, and adhered them to clothes pins with double-sided tape.

I called the green beans "turtle logs."  They became affectionately known as "turtle turds."  I also served garlic bread with the pastas and green beans.

For dessert, Nora wanted cupcakes.  I found this awesome idea from Betty Crocker to make a turtle out of cupcakes.  A batch of 24 cupcakes makes two turtles, and the guests can simply pull a cupcake away from the formation rather than having someone cut and serve a cake.

Nora wanted a purple turtle and a pink turtle.

I made a batch of yellow cake mix and baked it in 24 cupcakes liners (12 purple and 12 pink).  I arranged them on my largest cutting board.  I frosted the shell cupcakes with chocolate frosting and the head and feet cupcakes with colored vanilla frosting.  Yes, I'm ashamed to say that I used a cake mix and store-bought frosting.  I put leftover frostings in zip-top bags, snipped the corner off, and "piped" the frosting out to make the faces and the details on the shells.  I could have made them much neater and nicer looking, but this party was a lot more laid back than usual since I'm exhausted from Christmas. 

I put out a tray of store-bought chocolate turtles (with caramel and peanuts), but I forgot to take a picture of them.  We also had ice cream.

We really didn't have many decorations.  I had picked up these wooden turtles at Hobby Lobby for less than $1 each.  They were just in the middle of the kids table.

The teachers at Nora's Wednesday morning church program had given us a turtle picture that they found on an old calendar.  We put that out as a decoration.  Nora wants it hung somewhere in her room now.

Nora wore her turtle shirt that we bought on vacation in Gulf Shores, AL.  She did NOT want jeans, so we agreed on some comfy leggings.  We gave her about 9 different options for hair bows, and she chose one from my cousin in Texas.  She also briefly traded in her bow for her birthday girl crown.

Nora wanted a pinata.  Since I couldn't find a turtle pinata, we agreed on a cupcake one at Walmart.  She actually loved it, which made me happy.  It cost half as much as all the others, which also made me happy.

Since it's too cold to do the pinata outside, we simply hung it up in our garage.  The kids put on shoes (and some coats) and we had lots of fun watching them whack at it.  We start with the birthday boy/girl and then go in age order from youngest to oldest.  Nolan got a couple pieces of candy out, Layla got lots more, and Gracen finished it off by literally knocking the bottom off.

She chose her princess snow boots as appropriate footwear for doing the pinata.

For Griffin's party, I had made treat bags for each child.  I filled the bags with toys and candy and put the filled bags in the pinata.  Unfortunately, some of the bags and toys got broken during the pinata beating.  So for Nora's party, I made the kids treat bags and put toys in them and set them aside.  Then when the kids started picking up the candy after the pinata burst, I gave them each their bag so they could add their candy to their bag of toys.

I started with the same cards I had used for the food labels.  I just replaced the text with the kids' names.

Then I stuck the name cards in quart size bags.

Then Nora helped me put the toys in the bags so they would be ready for the party.

Nora was funny opening her presents.  She really didn't show much emotion or response to them at all.  Jared read her cards to her, and she started to wander away if they were too long!

It was fun to have family gathered 'round to celebrate another year of Nora's life.  I hate that her birthday is so close to Christmas, and I feel super guilty for only making her party half as detailed as Griffin's was.  I just couldn't put any more time into planning her party because of the 57,000 Christmas parties and gatherings we had to attend.  I know she doesn't care.  I just hope someday she doesn't think I'm playing favorites!  She had lots of fun playing with new toys with her cousins and wrestling her grandpa and getting hugs from everyone.  She was super cute and very happy.  That's all that really matters.


Thursday, December 20, 2012

Christmas Joy

Christmas joy has eluded me this season.

This has been the busiest December we have ever had as a family.  One week we had 6 Christmas programs for our kids alone (school and church).  The following week we had 6 Christmas parties to attend.  We sprinkled in things like a birthday party and a couple of extra school activities.  Not to mention all of the usual schedules to keep, groceries to buy, meals to make, and laundry to clean (folding is a different story).

I got swept up in all of the arriving early, finding parking, saving seats, worrying about my child's performance, remembering to take gifts and food everywhere, wearing my same old clothes to all the shindigs, and never having downtime with my family.

I'm a homebody by nature (thanks, Dad), so this December schedule just about did me in.  I just needed to spend some time at home besides sleeping and bathing.  I took a hard look at our calendar but didn't find anything I could eliminate.  I knew that if I couldn't change my circumstances then I'd have to change my attitude.  But I couldn't figure out how to do that.

I heard/read at least three devotionals about focusing on the true meaning of Christmas rather than getting caught up in the to-do's.  They did nothing for me.  I prayed.  I talked to Jared.  I asked a friend to pray for me.  But I still found myself singing "Where are you Christmas?" rather than "peace on earth, goodwill to men."

Then I gathered all that exhaustion, frustration, and bitterness and I frosted it with some guilt.  I should know better.  I understand that Christmas is all about Jesus, so I should be spreading Christmas cheer to everyone I bump into.  I should be a shining light in a dark world.  I should handle every responsibility with poise and grace.  I should already be filled with peace and joy, but instead I was barely running on fumes.

With just six days left until Christmas, somehow Christmas joy found me last night.  It wasn't a sudden turning point.  It was more like something slowly rising up from my toes until it eventually reached my head and spread a smile across my face.

When Nolan came home from school, he brought home a collection of papers he had written at school.  They were all persuasive letters.  He wrote his principal three letters, and the principal actually wrote him back.  Nolan also wrote letters to me and Jared telling us why we should let him get a snake, chameleon, or iguana.  The letters made me giggle uncontrollably.  I think that's what sparked the joy down in my toes.

Then after dinner, Nora and I delivered Christmas gifts to our two little friends who happen to be fabulous gift receivers.  I found myself literally squealing in delight as I watched these two kids enjoying the gifts I bought them.  I felt the joy rising higher.

Jared had taken the boys to a roller skating party for church.  While they were there, Jared sent me a text that said, "Direct quote from Griffin:  'This looked so much easier on Curious George!'"  I cracked up!  The joy crept up more.

Nora and I went to Hobby Lobby to pick up two quick things while Jared and the boys were gone.  I have decided that running casual errands with just Nora is one of my favorite pastimes.  She is so carefree.  She cracks me up in unexpected ways.  I love talking to her as we walk through a store.  When we left the store, we walked hand in hand through the parking lot.  Nora jumped over every crack in the pavement (there were lots) and sang a song with lyrics something like "Don't be a cracker" every time she hopped over a crack.  That was the moment that I really felt the joy rising over the muscles in my upper back where stress makes me tense.  I realized that I felt happy.  I told Nora I loved her, and another giggle leaked out. 

The rest of my night was spent on my feet in the kitchen.  I had to make caramel apple pies in jars for Jared's dad and grandma (for their Christmas gifts).  The whole process takes a solid two hours (or more).  It's a bit exhausting at the end of the day, but I tried to enjoy it as much as possible.  I used my phone to stream Christmas music from our local Christian radio station.  I had heard all the songs already this season, but somehow the combination of spending time baking, working on gifts, and humming along created a perfect path for that joy to find its way to my face.

With the kids nestled in bed and Jared at the grocery store gathering supplies for all of this weekend's festivities, I had enough personal space and quiet time to find a little hope, an appreciation for traditions, and a sense of accomplishment.

And the joy finally found me.


Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Homemade Chocolate Covered Cherries

Last year one of my neighbors told me about her family tradition of making homemade chocolate-covered cherries.  She explained the whole process to me and then copied her recipe for me.

Her recipe was written long ago by a family member who has since passed away.  I so appreciate the nostalgia of seeing a hand-written family recipe.

I'm sure you can't quite read it from the picture, so I'll interpret for you.

  • Large jar Maraschino cherries
  • 2 lbs. confectioner's sugar
  • 1 can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 stick butter
  • Chocolate for coating
Last year I had to buy several small jars of cherries.  This year I lucked out and found this giant jar:

These cherries are already pitted and have the stems removed.  I pulled the cherries out of the jar and laid them on several layers of paper towels in a pan.

Then I put the pan in the fridge so the cherries could simultaneously drain and chill.

Then I melted a stick of butter in a large bowl.

Then I added the sweetened condensed milk and the powdered sugar.

Then I made a curly-headed little girl very happy by letting her stir.

Then I wrapped the mixture in clear plastic wrap and put it in the fridge to chill.

The next day I pulled out the chilled cherries and filling.

I took a portion of filling (maybe 1-2 teaspoons?) and flattened it in my (very clean) palm.

Then I placed a cherry in the center.

Then I wrapped the filling around the cherry and rolled it into a nice ball with the cherry safely tucked inside.

Then I repeated the process 85 times.

The covered cherries were placed on wax paper, and they went back in the fridge to chill some more.

After I covered 86 cherries, I still had some of the white filling stuff left over.

I didn't want to just throw it away, so I got an idea.

I added 3 drops (yes, exactly 3 drops) of Creme de Menthe (mint flavoring) to the filling.  I just kneaded it in.

I formed the minty white filling into little discs and chilled them.

Once everything was chilled, I melted my chocolate.  I really like this chocolate (I found it at Hobby Lobby and used my 40% off coupon):

Last year I bought the dark chocolate, which is probably a better pairing with the sweet cherries and sweet filling, but this year I decided to try the milk chocolate.  I like how smoothly this chocolate melts.  I put some chocolate in a glass measuring cup and microwaved it 30 seconds at a time (stirring after each 30-second interval) until it was melted through.

Then I worked in batches so the covered cherries would stay chilled.  One at a time, I dipped a covered cherry into the chocolate, let the excess chocolate drip off, and placed the chocolate-covered cherry onto a pan lined with wax paper.

They went back into the fridge so the chocolate could harden.

Once the chocolate was set, I tried to break/cut off the extra chocolate that pooled under the cherries and made sorta chocolate feet.  That worked for some, but for others I ended up breaking off more chocolate than I wanted to.

So I decided not to care about having perfectly round finished treats.

One coat of chocolate almost never seals the cherries sufficiently.  You have to inspect every single covered cherry for cracks or holes where the filling and cherry juice will leak out.

Last year I touched up each individual crack and flaw to make sure each treat was completely sealed.  This year I decided just to double dip each cherry.  I used up all the chocolate with this method, and the final covered cherries are very oddly shaped, but I think they're sealed.

I also dipped the mint discs in chocolate, but apparently I forgot to take a picture of those.

Then the chocolate treats went into plastic containers.  The mints are ready to eat right away.  The chocolate-covered cherries have to sit for a couple weeks before they're finally ready to eat.  In the meantime, the juice that's still in the cherries mixes with that white filling to create a soft, creamy, oozy center.  Totally worth the wait!


Monday, December 17, 2012


Diagnosis.  This word has taken on many meanings in our home.

In May of this year, the word diagnosis became a term referring to a possibility in the future.  It carried the weight of both hope and dread.  Both clarity and confusion.  Could it be?  Will it be?  A specifically named diagnosis might answer some questions, but we knew it would lead to some difficult decisions as well as new questions.

Over the summer, the word diagnosis referred to a process we were painfully going through in order to end at some destination with a name.  Unending paperwork, interviews, analyzing every little thing.  "Diagnosis" became more of a grueling diagnostic process.

In the fall, diagnosis became synonymous with a specific day, a long-awaited meeting.  We couldn't bring ourselves to say the name of the facility where this meeting would take place.  So we simply talked about the day we would be going for the diagnosis.  A looming day.  An anticipated and dreaded day.

That day we thought would never actually happen came to fruition on September 11, 2012.  That is such a historically significant date.  I remember "the first" September 11, the day that terrorism and homeland security became household discussions.  But this year, my thoughts were not reflecting on the day my college classes were cancelled and I waited something like six hours at a Red Cross to give blood.  This year, my thoughts were simply weighing every comment, glance, facial expression.  I waited to hear the final word, and I assumed it would be no diagnosis at all.

But there was a diagnosis given that day.

And it took us a whole month to even be able to say the words to each other.  So in the meantime, we just used the word "diagnosis."  We thought we'd never utter the words to anyone, but as time passed and we processed this new diagnosis 24 hours a day, we eventually decided to tell our families about all of it:  the questions about a diagnosis, the diagnostic process, and the final heavy words of an actual diagnosis.

I've kept part of my life tucked away in an invisible folder labeled "Diagnosis" ever since May.  It's a private folder.  Confidential.  For my eyes only.  But then I struggled at times with trying to write about other things when my mind and heart were consumed with the contents of my private folder.  I desperately needed prayer but didn't want to share why or be vague and mysterious.  I needed grace and understanding from others, but how could I expect that when I wasn't willing to share what we've been going through.

So, I think it's time.  It's time to exchange the symbolic word diagnosis for the real words.  They're hard to say.  They're even hard to type.  But here we go.

My son Griffin has Asperger's Syndrome.

To learn more about Asperger's, an Autism Spectrum Disorder, click here or here.

Now that I've taken the plunge to reveal my secret Diagnosis file, I am free to occasionally write about how this affects my family and my life as a mom.  I think I'd rather walk the scary path of honesty than take one more step hiding it.


Friday, December 14, 2012

Christmas Printables

The internet is FULL of free Christmas printables.  You can print your own wall art, wrapping paper, gift tags, and greeting cards.  You can search the internet for hours to find all sorts of great stuff.  I want to share a few of my favorites with you.

A set of some of my favorite gift tags at Martha Stewart
Click here for the full pdf

Another gorgeous set of gift tags at Blush Printables
(Look around the site, too.  It makes me swoon!)

Christmas Note Pages at Trillustrations

Christmas Note Paper at Trillustrations

The Legend of the Candy Cane at Happy Home Fairy

Elf Printable at Bonjour! Blog

15 Free Christmas Printables at I {heart} Naptime

A roundup of free printables at Skip To My Lou

Another roundup of free Christmas printables at Skip To My Lou

And one more great roundup at Skip To My Lou

So there you have it.  Why pay for generic gift tags (and other such items) when you can print these adorable ones for free?