That Whole Advent Book Thing? It FLOPPED.

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By far, the most popular post on my site (in ten and a half years’ worth of writing!) is my list of Jesus-Centered books to use as a countdown to Christmas during Advent. We started this activity in 2012, when Libbie was a new 4-year-old and David turned 2 during Advent.

It has worked, faithfully, for our family every year. The kids got excited about unwrapping a book. They cuddled with us, sat, and for the most part, listened to the story. Even when Joshua was a baby (he was born in March 2013), we all enjoyed the tradition.


I have accumulated SO MANY Christmas books that now I have to choose 25 to wrap. I was definitely scrounging and thrift-store searching that first year! I probably have an extra 20 books (many of the ones that are more “Santa Christmasy”) that I put in a basket under the tree to be enjoyed any time.

This year, I cheerfully wrapped all the books I needed and set the pile in my bedroom. Before December even began, Joshua (3, nearing 4) took a few to his room and unwrapped them. I tried to convince a three-year-old who argues with me about every little thing that these were not presents for right now. I re-wrapped some books.

We started on a good note. Sure, David (who turned 6 on December 20) didn’t want to sit still and was often doing a wiggle dance and singing during the book reading. Or maybe Libbie (8) was in the bath or still doing homework. Or maybe Joshua went to bed and we did it without him.

We had several late nights where we just tossed the kids in bed when we got home. We had nights where we just forgot to open the book. We’ve gotten out of our real bedtime routine with everyone; we’ve always put the kids all to bed at the same time, but with Joshua not napping he’s often ready to go down for the night at 7. Oh, and we had a six-week-old baby when December began. So there was that, too! Many nights I was nursing, dealing with a fussy infant, or just in flat-out zombie mode.

This tradition – the one I was sure was going to be our thing, that my kids would want to pass on to their kids – felt like a total flop this year. 

I truly love to read to my kids. But reading to one child who asks incessant questions, one who is pretty much running laps around the living room, and one who may or may not be sitting on my head, while I also try to keep an eye on baby sister and oh gracious, now they are fighting because someone touched someone else PLEASE JUST GO TO BED RIGHT THIS SECOND.

So um, yeah. Now you know my feelings about that! Having four kids seems to be a new world I was not really expecting.

They read to themselves. I read to them individually as I can. But the whole pile on the couch and all of us read together thing? It just isn’t working right now.

Tonight, I took a deep breath. I told the older three they could color or play quietly while I read. And from my chair, while holding Hannah, I read them the prologue and first chapter of Begin, the first Growly Bear book that I have heard great things about as a read-aloud. And you know what? They did color. Joshua only talked once. Libbie moved closer to me so she could actually hear the story (and made me a note that said “Your the best mommy ever”) (I can forgive her your/you’re error because BEST MOMMY).

Things flop. We learn. Next year, who knows what the case will be? And even if they’re running laps around the room, at least I’m speaking Scripture to them through those Jesus-centered books, right? God’s Word will not return empty. Something will stick in their brains.

And next year, they’ll be 9, 7, 4, and 1. And things will be totally different. And I will wrap those dang books again and see what happens. 

Advent: Hope

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Advent wreath

It’s been a rough week in Chattanooga.

The bus wreck that killed six children has made national news. This accident happened not far from my own children’s school, in the school district where they also ride buses. My fearful daughter is having a difficult time grasping that tomorrow she will have to ride a bus again. Our community is grieving over what seems to be a senseless, preventable tragedy. I have personal connections to two of the girls who died, through friends and acquaintances.


And it just feels like the endcap on a rough year.

In January, I got pregnant. I’m certainly not unhappy about that – I never was, because I truly wanted a fourth child – but it was unplanned and surprising. And expensive, given our high-deductible insurance. It’s been a huge change for our family.

In April, we thought we were going to move to another apartment this summer. When that fell through, it was extremely upsetting for me. We were hoping to have a little extra space for our expanding family (and hard floors for our messy kids), and we had to go back to square one on fitting six people into this apartment. Again, it’s fine – but it was a road bump in the year.

And as we surged through these and other sad events, there was this crazy election. I don’t consider myself to be a very political person, but this election was enough to get me to cast a ballot. The results were, to me, somewhat baffling. I’ve cried. I’ve been perplexed. I’ve been scared for the future of our country and what I thought it was and what, apparently, it really is. (I certainly do not wish to have any political discussions here. So please don’t argue with me about politics, because that isn’t the point.)

And now, on this first Sunday of Advent, we are confronted with hope.

Advent wreath
source: rosalynlouise

I stared at the candles on our Advent wreath tonight. That one lone candle, burning, its friends unlit, waiting. We hope and we wait for the joy, peace, and love. And we wait for Christ.

There’s been a lot of waiting for me in 2016, between the election and a pregnancy and the pushing back of some dreams. Not all of it brought joy. But I think of the surge of emotions after Hannah was finally born, all 8 pounds and 5 ounces of baby, finally freed from my body and her own little person. Pure joy, bright like fire. All the hope fulfilled, as we saw her perfect form and tiny fingers and toes and everything doing what it was supposed to do.

I’m trying, desperately, to lean into hope right now in Advent. It’s not an easy parenting season for us; our kids are all reacting to the new baby in their own way. It’s a time of being needed in four places at once, of stuffing Hannah into her carseat again, of going to the grocery AGAIN. It’s waiting to see how we will adjust to life with four kids. It’s also much nursing, cuddling, loving, reading books, and relying on God’s strength instead of my weakness.

Hope refuses to buckle and instead believes we will find that new normal. It sees the promise of children grown to responsible adults instead of every speck on the carpet. It fills my heart and lets me lean into the everyday joys.

In Advent, I’m saying yes more. Because in Christ, God said yes to us in every possible way. The fulfillment of all hope.

 

Old-Fashioned Sugar Cookies

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Old-Fashioned Sugar Cookies

I grew up using the 70s version of the Betty Crocker Big Red Cookbook quite a bit. We didn’t have a lot of cookbooks, other than some church collaborations. In fact, my mom doesn’t even usually cook from recipes. But she got that big red binder for her wedding, I think, and when it was time to bake sugar cookies to decorate, she always opened it up.

Once I got married, I had my own Big Red Cookbook, but it was the newer, 2001 version. All I could remember was that my mom’s sugar cookie recipe came from the big binder and had cream of tartar in it, but none of the recipes in there seemed to match. A few years into our marriage, we found the same version of Big Red that my mom had in a used bookstore and grabbed it up. Still, the sugar cookie recipe didn’t call for cream of tartar. I was so confused.


Then – aha! There are TWO sugar cookie recipes in the older cookbook. Mom’s recipe is the Deluxe Sugar Cookies. I don’t know what makes them deluxe, but to me no other sugar cookie tastes just right. These are soft but the bottoms are sturdy; the taste has that almost tart flavor of a snickerdoodle due to the cream of tartar.

I was so glad to find this recipe again. I am no great decorator of cookies, but I took a cue from Betty there, too: she suggests letting an Andes mint melt on the top of a hot cookie and then spreading it around the top for “frosting.” Bingo! They don’t look awesome, but they taste delicious. And thanks to it being 2015 instead of 1976, we have Andes creme de menthe chips to make this even easier.

Andes Mint "Frosting" on Sugar Cookies

So just in case you don’t have your own classic cookie recipe for the season, this one makes a perfect cookie for decorating and snacking, with or without frosting.

Old-Fashioned Sugar Cookies

Yield: 40-60 cookies, depending on size of cutters

Old-Fashioned Sugar Cookies

Ingredients

  • 1 c. butter, softened
  • 1 1/2 c. powdered sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1/2 tsp. almond extract
  • 1 egg
  • 2 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. cream of tartar

Instructions

With a mixer, cream together powdered sugar, butter, vanilla, almond extract, and egg until uniform. Stir in flour, baking soda, and cream of tartar until you have a smooth dough. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2-3 hours.

Preheat oven to 375F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats.

Let dough rest at room temperature for about 10 minutes, then roll out on a clean, floured surface to about 1/2 an inch. (Thin, but not too thin.) Cut out with cookie cutters and transfer to lined cookie sheet.

Bake 7-9 minutes, until cookies are golden around the edges. Let cool for a minute, then transfer to wire racks to cool before decorating.

http://www.jessieweaver.net/2015/12/old-fashioned-sugar-cookies/

Do you have a go-to Christmas cookie recipe?

Panic at Christmas

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It appears I took an unintentional blogging break here. We hosted Thanksgiving this year – my parents came into town, and my sister and her husband spent a lot of time here, too. (They live in Chattanooga.) It was so nice not to have to travel for a holiday! We still had lots of late nights and crazy family time, but being at home helps the kids readjust easier.

I’ve also been battling a sickness that keeps coming back, which may account for my lack of writing and the vast amount of Jane the Virgin episodes I’ve watched in the last two weeks. Thankfully I felt mostly better over Thanksgiving, but then it seemed to come back with a vengeance. Argh. I am not sick very much, and it’s frustrating not to feel well when there is so much to be done.

1121740_christmas_gifts_2


But, see, I think the real reason I haven’t written is because I want to write about Christmas. And this year Christmas seems to have me a little panicky.

It’s not that I’m worried about making it magical, or buying the right gifts, or the fact that my kids will probably ask me why we don’t have Santa gifts or an Elf on the Shelf (again).

It’s just that it seems like IT WAS JUST CHRISTMAS.

Seriously. Where did the year go? How can it be Christmas again when I so vividly remember last year’s celebration? Wasn’t it just summer?

And then I get into the MY KIDS ARE GROWING SO FAST AND SOON JOSHUA WILL BE THREE AND THEN HE WILL BE 18 WAHHHHHHH!!!!

I wasn’t even sure I would want to do the Christmas things this year at all, because it seems like I just took down the tree. I have, of course. I’ve put them up, the big tree and the stockings and nativity and wreath and all the things that will fit in our little apartment. And I’m listening to Christmas music, even though it’s been in the 60s outside and it feels wrong.

I still don’t feel it.

But what I do feel is Christ. I actually made an Advent wreath for us this year, and on Sunday we lit the first candle of Hope and sang “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” I shared in my Sunday School class about the traditional Hope passages of Scriptures, those being taught in liturgical churches around the world on the first Sunday of Advent. We talked about acknowledging pain, and how that is a part of hope. We wait, and waiting is not easy, but in it we hope.

I don’t have any great proclamation about how my heart has changed. I am still feeling panicky about the kids getting older and the years going quickly. I am still not feeling especially Christmasy. But I am also convinced that Christ is with me in this “wait” – these years that may seem both long and fleeting. And, like Brené Brown says, what gets me through is leaning in to the good, sweet moments. Breathing and not rushing and holding them when they want to hug and cuddle.

I look at our tree and remember the Light of the World, and how much He deserves to be honored, every Christmas, every moment.

Christmas tree

Homemade Gingerbread Latte with Essential Oils {No Espresso Machine!}

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gingerbreadlatte

I am totally not a Pumpkin Spice Latte girl. Sorry, people. I don’t think pumpkin and coffee go together. (Even though we all know now that the famed PSL doesn’t actually have pumpkin in it … just a lot of sugar.) The Gingerbread Latte is something I can get behind, though. I love the rich spice of a good gingerbread or molasses cookie. And when Starbucks starts parading the winter drinks vs. the fall ones, I will go in for a Gingerbread Latte or two.

I have a few reservations about it, though: 1. How stupid expensive Starbucks drinks are. and 2. How much sugar those drinks have in them.


At home, you can control the sweetness of your drink, use the kind of milk you want, and have a beautiful latte for under a buck.

A few years ago, I did try to make a Gingerbread coffee creamer using actual spices, but I did not enjoy drinking all the spices in the dregs of my drink. Using essential oils gives you the beautiful flavors of the spices in a strong dose, so you only need a tiny amount of each!

Plus you can use your oils in a bunch of other ways, too! In this drink I use Cinnamon Bark, Clove, and Ginger oils, which together can be put in a diffuser for a heavenly, holiday-type scent. Clove oil is known for helping in dental care; cinnamon bark oil promotes a healthy immune system; and ginger oil can soothe and balance digestive discomfort. So on top of making a delicious latte, these oils are definitely multipurpose. (Used with education, of course. Cinnamon Bark is one of the “hottest” oil and should always be diluted 1 part essential oil to 4 parts carrier oil.)

So here’s how to make a delicious Gingerbread Latte at home with no special equipment.

Homemade Gingerbread Latte with Essential Oils

The molasses mixture makes enough syrup for 12 lattes. For each latte, you will need 4 ounces of strong coffee and 8 ounces of milk.

Ingredients

  • 1/4 c. molasses
  • 2 drops each Cinnamon Bark, Ginger, and Clove essential oils
  • 4 oz. strong brewed coffee (I use a full k-cup brewed to 4 ounces on strong with a Keurig 2.0. I prefer cinnamon-flavored coffee for this, too!)
  • 8 oz. milk in a large glass jar with a lid
  • sugar, maple syrup, or honey to taste

Instructions

First, make your gingerbread syrup. Combine molasses and essential oils in a small jar and stir.

Brew coffee and put in a large mug. Stir in one teaspoon of the molasses mixture. Add desired sweetener. (I think one teaspoon is good if you like sweet coffee.)

Shake cold milk in the jar until it is very frothy (about 30-45 seconds). Take off lid and warm milk in microwave for 1 minute 30 seconds. Add milk to mug and stir gently.

http://www.jessieweaver.net/2015/11/homemade-gingerbread-latte-with-essential-oils-no-espresso-machine/

Want to know more about essential oils? I highly recommend Young Living essential oils, which are grown and extracted with the utmost standards. You can email me at vanderbiltwife@gmail.com or leave a comment if you need some more info!

So tell me: what’s your favorite special coffee drink? Most of the year if I walk into Starbucks I will get a caramel macchiato.

Original photo via Helen ST on Flickr Creative Commons

Pistachio, Cashew, and Chocolate Toffee {Secret Recipe Club}

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Pistachio & Cashew Toffee

 

I am doing a quick fill-in for someone in Group D of Secret Recipe Club, so this is my second reveal for April. Fun! I got to explore the new-to-me blog Hapa-tite. Nicole is a (very gorgeous) twenty-something of mixed cultural heritage who loves and embraces her father’s Hawaiian culture. She lives in the DC area, and writes about a mix of recipes, bento box ideas, tea, and restaurant reviews. Nicole is also a graphic designer and has one of the most beautiful blogs I have seen!


I would love to try some of Nicole’s other recipes, like these Date Bars or Homemade Filet-o-Fish, but for today I decided to tackle Pistachio Dark Chocolate Toffee.

I’ve never actually made toffee, but this looked so delicious and I had a bag of pistachios, so it spoke to me. I didn’t realize toffee is really not that difficult to make; this whole process took me maybe half an hour. And I have a whole pan of toffee that looks like it could have come from Williams-Sonoma (without the $45 pricetag!).

This toffee would make a beautiful gift or just nice to have around for some good, teeth-sticking-together, toffee snacking.

Just a note that I used pistachios and cashews … entirely because I got tired of shelling the pistachios. So buy pre-shelled ones or don’t be as lazy as I am. I liked the cashews, but I think all pistachios would probably be best. Or you can throw whatever you want on top of this: dried cranberries, sprinkles, crushed candy cane, candied ginger … the possibilities are endless.

Pistachio, Cashew, and Chocolate Toffee

Pistachio, Cashew, and Chocolate Toffee

Adapted from Hapa-tite.

Ingredients

  • 1 c. unsalted butter (2 sticks)
  • 1 c. sugar
  • 1/4 c. water
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 8 ounces chocolate (chips or chopped) - I used about 2 oz. very dark chocolate and 6 oz. milk chocolate chips
  • 1 c. chopped nuts, preferably pistachios, or other toppings

Instructions

Have an ungreased 9x13 pan close by while you make the toffee.

In a heavy saucepan, heat butter, sugar, water, and salt over medium heat. Once butter is melted, whisk constantly until you feel like your arm will fall off and the mixture reaches 300F. It will be a medium golden brown color. When the mixture gets sort of melted-marshmallow consistency and comes away from the side of the pan as you whisk, you're getting close.

Immediately pour the toffee mixture into the 9x13 pan and spread out. Let cool.

Melt chocolate in the microwave in 30 second increments until it is about 75% melted. Then keep stirring until it's uniform. Spread gently over the toffee. Immediately top with chopped nuts or other toppings. Use the bottom of a glass measuring cup to gently press the toppings into the chocolate.

Cool in the refrigerator at least 30 minutes or at room temperature 2 hours, until the chocolate is all hardened. Break off pieces and serve. Store any extra in the fridge.

http://www.jessieweaver.net/2015/04/pistachio-cashew-and-chocolate-toffee-secret-recipe-club/

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