Thursday, December 30, 2010

christmas mash-up

I apologize ahead of time for the randomness of this post. It's been a while, and I'm not sure I remember what I'm doing here...

I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas! I, for one, spent mine snuggling with my man. I was a vision in stretch pants and hair stuck to the side of my face. He's one lucky, lucky guy. At one point, I felt sorry for him. But it's a holiday tradition of mine to wake up Christmas morning and not look in the mirror all day. And not even he could motivate me to break that tradition.

I did bake him some cinnamon rolls to make up for my dark circles, and it seemed to help.

To class it up, I served them up on paper plates. Who wants to do dishes on Christmas?!

Since we don't have little ones yet, we decided that we needed to stop and really appreciate the fact that this would be one of the very few Christmases we will ever have "just us." People with kiddos may want to skip down a couple paragraphs. We slept late, baked in our pjs and ate sugary delights while watching the only Christmas movie we could find - "Love Actually." Then, we played some Mario Kart. But I don't want to damage the vision you have of our romantic Christmas morning. So forget about the video games. We did take a short break from snuggling and Skyped with my family in California. Skype is a miracle, by the way, and God's gift to people like me who end up half way across the country from their mommas. We exchanged gifts with my family and they got to see our faces and squeals of delight, even from 1,200 miles away. Brilliant.

This was the first time EVER for us to spend Christmas morning on our own, and it was perfect. We can't wait until we're woken up by the squeaks and squeals from little voices while their kneecaps massage our spleens, but ours was a great day.

Ok, parents, you can join me now.

And I have a question for all of you, parents or not. What is your favorite (or maybe you could give me a Top 3 List) Christmas tradition with your spouse and/or family? I want to have some really sweet traditions before and after we have a brood of our own, and I'd like your help.

We have one tradition so far: making sweet treats for about 7 homes in our neighborhood. I'd love to do more than that, but well, I'm not a very good cook, and I can only handle two batches of cookies at a time. Fortunately, this year, I had the help of my 14-yr-old neighbor. She sacrificed two nights of her Christmas vacation to help me bake and decorate the gift boxes. What a champ, right?

And the goodies were goooood.

One tradition that we started this year, and that I want to continue with my family, is spending Christmas Eve serving in the community. R and I were invited to a church in South Dallas to serve a Christmas Eve meal and it was such a great experience. It wasn't an easy one for a lot of reasons, but it was a Christmas Eve I won't forget. People from all over the 'Hood came for a hot, delicious meal, followed by small gifts of socks, gloves and cookies. Many people seemed hopeful in their circumstances. Others were discouraged. Many asked me to pray that they could find a job and a home. Many of those were women toting small children behind them.

One person I can't get out of my head is one I didn't speak to at all. I'm not sure he could have gotten coherent words out anyway, though. Toward the end of the day, a guy, maybe 22, came staggering out of the meal room to where we were handing out the gifts. His drink was poured down the front of his shirt and he was either completely wasted or high as a kite. He mumbled a few things, ran into everyone and then wandered back out on the streets.

What I couldn't stop thinking about as he staggered out the door was that this man, this kid, really, is someone's son. Someone, somewhere, didn't know where their kid was on Christmas Eve. Years ago, he was a child who wanted to crawl up in mom or dad's lap and hear that he is loved. Last week, he was a man living on the street and doing what he could to stay out of his right mind.

I can't help but wonder about his story and what brought him to this point in his life. Did he move to Dallas alone and get involved with the wrong people? Did he lose his job and give up? Did his parents kick him out after his addictions got out of control? Was he abused and taught destructive behaviors? Did he lack a father figure? Does anyone know or care where he is? Have they given up on him?

I don't know his story, but I caught a glimpse into his life, and I can't imagine watching my child walk that road. My first reaction was not compassion. He spilled his drink on me, too. But as I watched him stagger away, I couldn't help but see that he is simply lost. He isn't only an addict or only a belligerent drunk. He is also someone's child. Maybe someone's father or uncle. And he's lost right now. I hope his story will be starkly different in the future. While it comes naturally to do so, I shouldn't define him by what he is right now. His story has led up to this moment and there is a reason for his behavior that I don't understand. All I can do is be part of a positive moment in what is probably one of the darkest times in his life.

Going out into the community and getting a strong dose of reality during a time that I would much rather get completely engrossed in my (relatively) functional family is something I don't ever want to stop doing. For some people, Christmas is just another day without a home or food or security. For many, if not most people, it is a day wrought with the perceived shame of not being able to give their children what they want or need. Our circumstances allowed me and my family to have a great Christmas surrounded by people who love us. I don't ever want to forget that I have been incredibly and overwhelmingly blessed in this life. And I don't ever want to forget that Christmas represents a supreme sacrifice in the release of a Son into a broken world.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

tan and white and orange all over

I have this weird thing. It's something I like to call Restless Life Syndrome. Yes, it is similar to Restless Leg Syndrome, an uncontrollable urge to move your legs - which I also happen to have, and which is currently flaring up at the very mention of it. Restless Life Syndrome is not a result of dissatisfaction or discontent with my life. It is simply a manifestation of my uncontrollable need for change. Like, all the time. I love change. It freaks me out, but I love it. So, about once a month, I need to change something in my life. Sometimes, it's my hair or wardrobe. Most times, it's my hobbies and my home decor. Which means I'm almost always in the middle of a project. And I'm almost always in over my head.

I'm pretty sure my husband adores my Restless Life Syndrome. Or maybe he hates it. I don't know. In more than a few (thousand) instances, I have ditched the tried-and-true and picked up a new 'thing' all willy nilly. Like painting, which is not so much a hobby as it is an artistic beat down for someone like me. Our house is littered with terrible paintings that, if they weren't mounted on my wall, you would probably assume a toddler had created. Or like Yoga, which, I think you may have gathered by now, did NOT work out. In any case, I tend to have a large and wildly-varying array of hobbies that have been explored to death until I completely lose interest in actually practicing them long-term. It's kind of my M.O. It's not something I'm proud of. It's something I've accepted.

Am I the ONLY one who does this? Please, someone tell me you're like me... It would really help me convince my husband I'm not from Crazy Town.

So, true to form, and because I haven't had enough to do... I decided to paint an accent wall in my living room. That was IT. But then I painted three walls. Then I changed the curtains. Then I painted my bathroom. (I'm almost ashamed to admit that I'm now painting it again because I don't like the first color.) Then I painted the other bathroom. Then I redecorated them both. And now I'm exhausted, but also kind of feeling like my kitchen doesn't really "go" with the rest of the house now... Living in my world is difficult some days, even for me.

But, more importantly, what do you think?!


and after!

Bathroom before...

and after!

the other bathroom before...

and after!

This is my husband. He's great. And patient. Especially when my hair-brained decorating idea leads us to find an enormous hole in our wall after peeling back the original bathroom mirror. 

And he has these really great, broad shoulders. See?

I love his face, too. His patient, long-suffering face.

Monday, December 6, 2010

mississippi mud... fail

The reason I don't usually post recipes on my blog is because I don't really... oh, how do you say it?... cook. However, family events like Thanksgiving have a certain tradition. Namely, food. So, I decided to make a Mississippi Mud Cake, for two reasons. 1, because I like to spell "Mississippi," and 2, because the recipe called for a bag of marshmallows. I'm. In.

I decided to do my baking the evening before Thanksgiving - which is a holiday miracle all by itself. I don't cook, so I certainly don't cook in advance. But here I was in all my Betty Crocker glory slaving over a mixing bowl.

And then disaster struck.

Actually, disaster didn't strike as much as I ruined everything. I stopped reading the instructions, like I was some prodigy that would only be hindered by the inferior process of the editors of Southern Living, where I got the recipe. I used the wrong pan to bake the cake, which led to an under-cooked cake and over-cooked marshmallows. The only solution that didn't involved throwing the entire pan into the trash was to scrape the mallows off the top of the cake and shove it back in the oven.

And then we had to eat the marshmallows. Waste not is what I always say.

In my moments of panic about the cake, one thing led to another and I carmelized the sugar and royally mangled my made-from-scratch frosting.

At this point (it was getting heart-breakingly close to midnight), my sweet husband innocently offered to pick up a store-bought dessert on our way to Thanksgiving in the morning, you know, to ease my stress. I very calmly said, "No, sweetie. I think I'd like to give this one more shot." Or maybe I was throwing eye-daggers at him like they were ninja stars. I can't remember. In any case, I sent him to Walmart to get me new ingredients to make the frosting for a second time. My utter failure only made me more determined. And cranky. There may have been a few tears at this point.

Fortunately for my man, my second attempt was a success and, in the end, we had a pretty decent Mississippi Mud Cake to present to the Thanksgiving gods (read: his grandmother, whose street name may actually be Betty Crocker). The only downside was that I may have been dosing off at the table after my baking kept us up into the wee hours of the morning.

Next year, I'm going with cupcakes. Store-bought cupcakes.

Mississippi Mud Cake Recipe (from Southern Living)
Makes 15 servings - Prep: 15 min. - Bake: 40 min.

1 cup chopped pecans
1 cup butter
1 (4-oz.) semisweet chocolate baking bar, chopped
2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 (10.5-ounce) bag miniature marshmallows
Chocolate frosting

1. Place pecans in a single layer on a baking sheet.
2. Bake at 350 for 8 to 10 minutes or until toasted.
3. Microwave 1 cup butter and semisweet chocolate in a large microwave-safe glass bowl at HIGH 1 minute or until melted and smooth, stirring every 30 seconds.
4. Whisk sugar and next 5 ingredients into chocolate mixture. Pour batter into a greased 15x10x1-inch jelly-roll pan.
5. Bake at 350 for 20 minutes. Remove from oven, and sprinkle evenly with miniature marshmallows; bake 8 to 10 more minutes or until golden brown. Drizzle warm cake with Chocolate Frosting (recipe below), and sprinkle evenly with toasted pecans.

Chocolate Frosting
1/2 cup butter
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa
1/3 cup milk
1 (16-oz.) package powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Stir together first 3 ingredients in a medium saucepan over medium heat until butter is melted. Cook, stirring constantly, 2 minutes or until slightly thickened; remove from heat. Beat in powdered sugar and vanilla at medium-high speed with an electric mixer until smooth.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

10 gifts that give and give and give

I have a confession. You are free to judge me as you will. Here it is: I hate decorating for Christmas. Cringe. Or for any holiday or season, for that matter. Shame. I don't have a good reason for this. Part of it is probably because I am firmly anti-trinket. I don't like doodads, baubles or knicknacks.

I really hope we can still be friends.

That said, you will not see a blog post here documenting the transformation of my home into a winter wonderland. I actually very much enjoy seeing those posts on other blogs and love to see the wintry bliss that my friends and family have been gifted to create. I just didn't get that gene. While you won't find nutcrackers and Santas and nativity scenes in my home, I am absolutely a lover of the holiday season. I adore Christmas music and the smell of pine and cookies and fudge and giving gifts and reading the Christmas story. Love it all. So, during the holidays, I bake, shop and buy pine-scented candles. I don't decorate.

Ok, now that I got that off my chest... I have a gift for you. This Christmas season, I have made it my mission to make the gifts I give something that has meaning beyond the item or day. In my search for gifts that keep on giving, I've put together a list of causes that I think will both steal the show at your Secret Santa exchange and may also change the lives of others next door or around the world. Some you've heard of and others you probably haven't, but their stores are full of treasures from shoes to jewelry to livestock!

If you have other ideas that I've missed in my extensive (not really) research, please respond in the comments section so we can all reap the benefits!

1. TOMS Shoes
We've all heard of TOMS Shoes. For that reason, I almost didn't include it on my list, but it's just such a great cause! And every new style they create is cuter than the last. TOMS Shoes was started in 2006 when founder Blake Mycoskie met children in Argentina and saw a major need for shoes to protect their little feet. He created TOMS, which matches every pair of shoes purchased with a pair of new shoes given to children in need all over the world.

2. Falling Whistles
This is a cause that has me all shook up. I can't tell their story better than they can, so please take a minute (literally) to watch this video explaining this organization dedicated to advocating for child soldiers in the Congo. Then buy a whistle to protest the cruelty, and 100% of profits will go toward rehabilitating child soldiers.

3. Heifer International
If you and your family would prefer to pass on exchanging gifts, but still want to keep the spirit of giving, Heifer International is a great organization that gives families all over the world a chance to become self-sufficient. They give gifts of livestock (funded by donations from viewers like you...) and training to families in an effort to teach them how to generate income and food with the animals they are given. They are then asked to give one of the animal's offspring to another family in need. You can purchase a heifer, a goat, a flock of chicks or a water buffalo (really.), to name a few.

4. Shop the Rainforest
If saving the planet is your thing, then I have a super easy way to do something NOW. The sponsors of this organization donate money for every click generated on the website's homepage. Just go to the link above and click on the 'Click here to give - It's FREE' button. I just clicked and was told that I have just saved 11.4 sq. ft. of rainforest habitat for wildlife. Bam. If you want to do more, you can purchase jewelry, apparel, accessories and more in the site's store. Some of these items are made by people from places like Haiti and Darfur who are trying to earn a living and break the cycle of poverty.

5. Dancing Deer Baking Co.
Maybe eating sweets is your thing. It is most certainly MY thing. Or perhaps you get your jollies by giving sweets (to people like me?). The Dancing Deer Baking Co. uses all-natural ingredients to bake their tasty made-from-scratch treats. And they deliver said baked goods To. Your. House. As if that weren't enough - they have created The Sweet Home Project aimed at helping battle homelessness through scholarships for those struggling in poverty. They donate 35% of the retail price of goods in their Sweet Home goodies and gifts line to The Sweet Home Project year-round.

6. (Product)RED
This is another one of those that we have probably all heard of, but that I want to tell you about anyway! (RED) partners with huge brands like Gap and Converse and creates some really sweet products that you can shop through on their website. Up to 50% of the profits on these products are given to the Global Fund to support HIV and AIDS programs in Africa.

7. World of Good
If you're looking for some Fair Trade and super cute gifts, you MUST check out this site, which is a partner of eBay. A lot of the products are made by local artisans around the world and your purchases help them make a living and get out of poverty.

Shop with and 20% of your purchase is donated back to the non-profit, school, or private foundation of your choice. They have all kinds of products, from jewelry to home decor.

9. Starfish Project
The Starfish Project is aimed at providing income, education and support to women who have come out of exploitation and abuse. The jewelry listed on the website is hand-crafted by the women in Starfish Project's shelter, who are paid a salary that keeps them off the streets and in healthy community. 100% of the profits on the items go toward supporting the women. This jewelry is really funky and cool, and a lot of it is $20 or less!

10. Apparent Project
The Apparent Project is another jewelry-making project that supports local artisans in Haiti working to beat poverty that is obviously abundant in the still-recovering country. Most use recycled paper, cardboard and beads to create really unique necklaces and bracelets. Right now, you can host jewelry parties to sell the jewelry on behalf of the artisans. Their online store is coming soon!

I hope this makes your Christmas shopping more fun and rewarding this year, friends. I can't wait to hear about your fun buys!