Saturday, December 31, 2011

How-To Create Goals for the New Year

   So far, we've established that, in most cases, in order for New Year's Resolutions to be successful, there needs to be two things present:  clear goals & accountability.  For example, if you want to run a half marathon, you find and sign up for the race you want to run, and then you go get a training partner who will meet you on those gray, bleak days when you'd rather not leave the house, and who may even run the race with you.  It's a win-win.  You have someone encouraging you and holding you accountable, and in return, there is a great relationship being built through shared experience.
   So, how do we think through our goals for the New Year?  For some, all goals are physical, for others, professional.  That's not a bad thing, but it may leave us incredibly unbalanced as the year unfolds.  Instead, let's look at different areas of our lives and see how we could move forward and grow in a way that promotes a healthy, balanced lifestyle.  
   The first thing I do is come up with a phrase or word for the year.  This is my blanket that covers all of the resolutions.  No matter what goal I'm striving for, this concept should be present in each.  For example, my last year's phrase was "living boldly with grace."  As I traveled by myself to Costa Rica with my four kids, launched my blog, & began a new health program, this was the undercurrent beneath each.  It is helpful to cast a bigger vision of what we want our year to be about.  My sister, who has a fabulous stamped jewelry company called As You Wish Design, even did a necklace with this year's motto.  I love it!
   The next thing I do is come up with a goal in the following areas.  For me this approach has given some balance as I move into a new year, and it has proven to be a manageable number of goals.  When we get too many going, it is very hard to finish them or even remember what they are!
1. Physical - This one is pretty self-explanatory.  Hitting the top 10 New Year's resolution list every year is.... you guessed it, to lose weight & get fitter.  If you are in this category, decide on a specific plan and find a weight loss coach or trainer with whom you weigh in once a week.  Have them test your body fat, so even if the scale doesn't change, you can measure progress.  As you think about physical health, don't limit the analysis to diet and exercise.  I would encourage you to look at other aspects as well:  sleep, sugar intake, vitamins, stress, and the amount of quiet or "down time" in a day.
2. Spiritual - Neglecting this area can take big tolls on the well being of our soul, and yet it is often the one most ignored.  There is now extensive research pointing to the fact that religious people are happier and less stressed than non-religious.  Regardless of where you are on the spectrum of this journey, creating a goal that allows space in your life for something bigger than yourself will pay great dividends in your sense of peace, your relationships with others, and most importantly, your relationship with God. Some examples in this area could include:  going to church on a regular basis, spending 15-30 minutes in the morning reading a devotional and praying, memorizing scripture, or committing to listening to podcasts or other spiritual teaching to and from work.
3. Relational - Each one of us has multiple important relationships that we are juggling at any given time.  This area could sweep over us like a tidal wave and bury us if we let it.  Sometimes it seems daunting to invest in and improve all of the relationships in our lives.  My encouragement would be to pick one or two and create specific ways you will improve those.  For example, if you choose your spouse, you could commit to having couch time every night for 10-15 minutes while the kids clean up from dinner.  Or, you could schedule dates for the next few months - sitter, location and all.  Another example would be a boss or employee.  You could commit to saying one positive thing to that person a day for the next month.  This literally only takes seconds of your time, but could have a huge impact on how you interact with and think about that person.  Most of the time in relationships, it is the little things that add up to make the biggest impact.
4. Professional - Many people spend the majority of their weekly life at work, but sometimes don't take the time to evaluate how their work life is going, and where they are headed professionally.  Make a list of 3 things that are going well, and resolve to keep those present, and list 3 things that could be improved in your personal work-a-day world.  Break down how you will improve those areas.  For example, maybe you find that you aren't able to return calls in a timely manner.  Commit to returning calls for the first half hour of your work day.  Or maybe your profession is a stay-at-home mom but you feel that your hours get squandered away by chores and little tasks that take too much time.  It may be time to create a more productive schedule.
5. Educational - I am a firm believer that when we are growing and learning, we are better.  It feels good and empowering to learn a new skill or explore a field of interest.  Sometimes this means improving in an area where we have a few skills already, but haven't taken the time to really become proficient.  To me, this is like the sprinkles on a cupcake.  Some of the other areas of our lives are more foundational, but this adds fun and spice.

Here is a worksheet to get you going.  Dream big, have fun, and make 2012 one of the best yet!

Friday, December 30, 2011

New Year's Goals: Who's Watching You?

     Everyone loves a fresh start; a new, crisp blank page on which we can write our future.  Beginning a new year gives us that chance.  Celebrating what was behind, or closing the door, we look hope-full toward what lies ahead.  Sometimes, though, we don't know where to start and how to actually accomplish those things we've set out to do.  
     If we are going to be successful in these New Year's goals, of course we need to name what they are, but the most important component hands down is ACCOUNTABILITY.  This is what actually will keep us moving forward when it gets hard.  This is what will inspire us to finish what we've begun.  This is what we need to fight the inevitable laziness that creeps in 4-6 weeks into our new program.  It can be as simple as choosing a work out partner who will meet at the gym in the early morning hours, or signing up for a class so that there has been a commitment made to that area of growth.  Sometimes it means gathering a small group of like-minded people who are working toward the same purpose, or putting dates on the calendar with your spouse.  Whatever the method, there needs to be another PERSON on the other end of the agreement.  I realize there are exceptions to the rule, and that sometimes people meet their goals on their own, but for most of us, our own selves only motivate for so long.  We require someone outside of us to spur us on and hold our feet to the fire to get it done!  
     Over the next few days I will give a couple of examples of how this plays out in my life, and how I create my New Year's Resolutions.  For now, begin dreaming about what 2012 will look like for you and who could possibly join you on the journey.... 
See you tomorrow!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Christmas Meal: Meat Perfected

Many people choose a special cut of meat for Christmas dinner.  I highly recommend a meat thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the cut to make sure it doesn't overcook.  If the meat isn't cooked well, all of that money spent on buying the nicer cut is wasted.  Here are the recommended temperatures for various meats:
Rare-                120-125 degrees
Medium Rare-  130-135 degrees
Medium-           140-145 degrees
Medium-Well-  150-155 degrees
Well-Done-       160 degrees and above
Rare-                135 degrees
Medium Rare-  140-150 degrees
Medium-           160 degrees
Well-Done-       165 degrees and above
Chicken-           165-175 degrees
Turkey-             165-175 degrees
Pork:       150 degrees and above
After the meat is cooked, here is an easy way to dress up the main course!  Cut a few lemons and pomegranates in half and place cut side down in a pan over medium heat.  Cook until slightly browned on the edges.  Lay the meat on a bed of lettuce or parsley then arrange the fruit around it.  

Beautiful and festive!!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Fruit Loop Necklaces & Bracelets

This is one of my kids' all time favorite food crafts.  Everyone can do it, and likes doing it, from age 5-13 in my house.  It's a 2 ingredient no-brainer:  licorice strings and fruit loops.  String on and tie the ends off. Great for a fun Christmas time activity.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Christmas Morning Creme Brûlée French Toast

     There was a time I was getting up at the crack of dawn (after being up late stuffing stockings and such) to fix monkey bread and other fun holiday morning deliciousness -- what in the world was I thinking??  Running myself ragged is NOT my idea of a meaningful Christmas day.  Enter... make ahead breakfast dishes!  It revolutionized the morning for me.  
    This fabulous, caramel goodness is indeed made ahead of time, making it a perfect Christmas morning treat for the family!  You can even freeze it and de-thaw if you really want to avoid the last minute rush.  
Cut french bread into cubes and place in a dish (use wheat or white).  Wisk the eggs in a dish with the milk, half -n- half, vanilla, salt, sugar, and liqueur.  Boil the other caramel mixture on the stove.
 Pour the egg mixture over the bread.
 Top the entire stack with the caramel mixture.  Let sit at least 8 hours or overnight.  
 Bake at 350 degrees for 45 min. covered.  Uncover and bake 15 more minutes.  
Creme Brûlée French Toast
3/4 cup butter
1 1/2 cup firmly packed butter
3 tablespoons corn syrup
1 loaf french bread, sliced 1-inch thick with each piece sliced in half diagonally
1 tsp. vanilla
6 eggs
2 cups half and half
2 cups milk
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon Grand Marnier (optional)
powdered sugar for dusting

Lightly butter a 9x13 inch baking dish and set aside.  Melt the butter and brown sugar with the corn syrup in a small saucepan over medium heat;  stir until smooth and bubbly.  Pour the mixture into a prepared dish.  Arrange the bread slices on top in two overlapping rows.  In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, half -n- half, milk, vanilla, sugar, salt and liqueur until well combined;  pour evenly over the bread.  Cover with foil and chill for at least 8 hours or overnight.  Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.  Bake until set in the center, about 45 minutes.  Uncover the dish and bake an additional 15 minutes until golden brown.  Dust with powdered sugar and serve with sauce from the dish.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Setting a Beautiful Holiday Table

There is something special about transforming our normal eating area into a sparkling wonder of Christmas candlelight!  And it's easier than you think.  I set our table for the entire season, and sometimes I even leave the good china plates out just for fun and we eat on them during family nights all season long.  After all, if we don't USE them, what is the point of having them???  
There are many ways to decorate a Christmas table -- here is how I do it!
 Step 1:  Begin with a table runner and a centerpiece.  Here I used an oversized glass jar and filled it with fake "snow" and various ornaments that vary in size, color, and texture.
 Step 2:  Add candlesticks.  I like these crystal ones that I found in the TJ Max clearance section after Christmas.  They were $5.00 each and they sparkle and shine!  They don't need to match.  In fact, it makes it more interesting if they don't.  Be sure to vary height.  
 Step 3:  Add something low in between the candlesticks.  Here I used star tea light holders that I found at Pier 1.  Again, shop the after-Christmas sales and there will be plenty!  Again, the more candlelight the better....
 Step 4:  Sprinkle in "jewels."  Here I used star shaped glitter ornaments, both large and small.  I also used those clear jewels that you can find in packs at any craft store, and some gold and silver balls.  

 Step 5:  Add some height with two tall items, like these silver trees, or you could use spires.  I saw the cutest chocolate tree idea on Martha's website.  Those would be cute for an edible option.  My kids would LOVE that! 
 Step 6: This step is just a little somethin' extra.  I like adding a focal point that hangs from the chandelier or ceiling.  Here I used a glitter spired star.  I hang it with fishing line so it looks like it is suspended in mid-air.
 Step 7:  Add chargers to the place settings.  These are beaded around the sides, and I alternate between gold and silver since I like to use both metals at my holiday table.  Leaving the table "set" like this makes it look so welcoming -- like it is ready to be used for a big family meal at any moment!

Step 8:  Add napkins that sit on top of the chargers with some fun napkin rings.  You can also put your china there if you are going to leave it out.  I use two kinds of holiday napkins, one that is gold on the silver plates, and one that is a white/silver/gold on the gold plates.  

That's it!  Set the holiday table -- it will serve as one of the most festive parts of your house during this blessed season.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

If I had to Live my Life Over: be inspired by Erma Bombeck

     If I had to live my life over, I would have talked less and listened more. I would have invited friends over to dinner even if the carpet was stained and the sofa faded. I would have eaten the popcorn in the 'good' living room and worried much less about the dirt when someone wanted to light a fire in the fireplace. I would have taken the time to listen to my grandfather ramble about his youth. I would never have insisted the car windows be rolled up on a summer day because my hair had just been teased and sprayed. I would have burned the pink candle sculpted like a rose before it melted in storage. I would have sat on the lawn with my children and not worried about grass stains. I would have cried and laughed less while watching television - and more while watching life. I would have shared more of the responsibility carried by my husband. I would have gone to bed when I was sick instead of pretending the earth would go into a holding pattern if I weren't there for the day. I would never have bought anything just because it was practical, wouldn't show soil or was guaranteed to last a lifetime. Instead of wishing away nine months of pregnancy, I'd have cherished every moment and realized that the wonderment growing inside me was the only chance in life to assist God in a miracle. When my kids kissed me impetuously, I would never have said, "Later. Now go get washed up for dinner." There would have been more "I love you's".. More "I'm sorrys" ... But mostly, given another shot at life, I would seize every minute... look at it and really see it ... live it...and never give it back.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

10 Ways to Reclaim the Christmas Season

Stressed. Busy. Broke. Hurried. Behind. On edge.  If any of these describe you during the month of December, it may be time for a new approach!  Here are a few helpful hints to turn a joy-less season to the joy-FULL.
1. Ask your family what traditions they look forward to and value the most, then put those on the calendar.  We often put time and energy into doing those things that "we've always done," even if no one really likes to do them! Put the most important traditions down on a piece of paper, and schedule when they will happen if at all possible, then if there is time to do some other things, great -- if not, you've at least experienced the ones that mean the most.
2. Consider simplifying gift-giving.  Some ideas include making homemade gifts (see my blog entry from last year), buying one bigger item that encourages a skill, identifying a need, a want, and a surprise for each child and sticking with those as the 3 gifts (just like the Wise Men), or giving an experience, like a trip to a dude ranch, or a cooking class with a local chef.  I also love those organizations, like Heifer International, that orchestrate the purchase of an animal to give to a struggling family in another country in someone's name.
*Make a list of "gifts to buy or make" and prepare in advance.  Half of the stress we feel is mental because we procrastinate and then panic about getting everything done.
3. Get the Christmas card out early!  My sister does her card before Thanksgiving and she gets the best 1/2 off deals and one of the biggest stresses of the holiday season is crossed off her list before December even begins.  This is a biggie.... do what you need to do to get this done early!  Then have the kids help stuff the envelopes and put the stamps on.
4. Think ahead and buy decorations and gifts in the off-season.  Creating a Christmas home is a part of that "magical feeling" of this time of year, but buying decor can break the bank quickly.  Hit the 50% off sales, or better yet, the 75% off after Dec.25.  You get screaming deals and it is so rewarding when you get everything out the next year, knowing you paid a fraction of the price.  I do this with hand soaps, serving dishes, and other gifts I can give to neighbors, teachers, etc.
Buying gifts throughout the year helps with budgeting also.  I have designated one cupboard in my house as gift storage.  When I see a gift that I know is perfect for someone, or an item at a great price, I buy it then and keep it until Christmas or a birthday.
5. Wrap as you go.  Saving all of the wrapping until the few days before Christmas is exhausting and usually ends up happening late at night (which means no sleep).  I set up a small 4 ft. table in our bedroom during the holidays.  When I buy a gift, I wrap it and put it in one of my labeled bags.   I have a bag designated for each child (for stocking stuffers and gifts), a bag for extended family gifts, friend gifts, and a bag for teacher/neighbor gifts.
6. Find ways to give back and spread the spirit of Christmas.  We often pack shoe boxes for Operation Christmas Child, deliver meals, carol at elderly homes, help local families anonymously, and give a special gift and letter to our Compassion children.  It is so important to reach out to others--this is what the Christmas JOY is about!!
7. Bake throughout the season and freeze.  Cookies freeze beautifully, both in dough form, and in cooked form.  Bake something special each week and freeze what you don't need.  I make my dough and roll it into individual cookies.  I then place them on cookie sheets, freeze until firm, and store in a ziplock.  When ready to cook, I take them out, place them on a cookie sheet, and bake.  Storing dough in a full size ball is another way to freeze.  Make the dough ahead of time, wrap tightly with plastic wrap, then freeze.  When ready to use, de-thaw and proceed according to directions.  The already cooked goods should be thawed unwrapped, or taken out of the bag (NOT wrapped in plastic -- this holds wet moisture in).
8. Prepare meals in advance.  If you do nothing else this time of year, pick a day to do some serious cooking for the freezer with a friend or two, and get some meals ready that you can pull out when you are short on time.  I have a full description of how to do this here.
9. Plan Advent a week before December.  One of the most significant things that we do at our house is our Advent wreath.  This is where we talk about what advent really means and the spiritual implications of Jesus' birth.  There are often activities and supplies that I need to prepare in advance.  If this is done early, the advent tradition is sure to be a central part of our season.
10.  Keep a collection of Christmas books, that only come out this time of year, under the tree in a bucket.  Grab a couple per night and read aloud under the twinkling of the lights.  This will become a favorite tradition for your kids.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Easy hor d' oeuvres for the Holidays: Part 1

Hor d'ouvres can sometimes be the last thing we consider when we are preparing for the big holiday meals.  Here are a couple of easy ideas:
Arrange crackers, rolled meats, and block cheeses on a platter.  Behind:  Layer pickled asparagus, pepperocinis, kalmata olives, and mozzarella balls.  
Nestle red grapes in between chocolate dipped strawberries and specialty cheeses.  The cheeses on this tray are:  Cougar Gold, Parmesan, and Brie.   This tray goes well with a quality bottle of wine.  
My favorite way to dip strawberries, carameled apples, etc. is with this deep dipping bowl.  It's called Back to Basics Microwave Gourmet Apple Dipper.  Simply put the chocolate in the microwave, melt according to directions, and dip!  

Saturday, November 12, 2011

A Heart Like Katie (an anecdote to a critical spirit)

   I just spent a couple of days with my best friend from childhood.  Let me introduce you...or actually, let Ben, her son, have the honor....
This is Katie.  
We met in 3rd grade when another girl from our class stole her Hello Kitty tape -- a hot commodity.  I stepped in to rescue the tape, and it was history from there.  Our lives have paralleled each other ever since.  We stayed close all throughout school, despite different friends.  We were headed to different colleges, both to play our various sports, but in the 11th hour Katie was persuaded by the University of Puget Sound coach to come run for them instead. There was more than running at stake in this decision. God intended for us to walk those years side by side.  We met our husbands on campus, and after college married within two weeks of each other (she delayed their honeymoon to be in our wedding).  We now both have three boys and can share the unique journey of raising sons.  She is is a GIFT to me, always has been.  But I am not alone in seeing the value of this woman.  From the time we were little, she was the one EVERYONE loved, and I mean EVERYONE.  She has a way about her that makes people feel simply cared about -- for who they are -- ACCEPTED.  She is kindness lived out -- driving a friend with cancer to her appointments, befriending sisters of her sons' friends, speaking gently to her boys and showing them they are valuable, offering coaching and friendship to fellow runners, holding out hope to people by sharing her faith, teaching children at her church's women's Bible study, unifying her extended family with intentional effort, and showing her husband respect and gratitude.  Though she has many qualities that I admire, there is one that stands out from the rest.  For 32 years I have reflected on this quality in my friend, and now as an adult, I think I have it named:  the lack of a critical spirit.  
     Katie has me thinking about the effects of this trait in our lives.  Take a look at webster's definition of criticism:
Criticism:  the expression of disapproval of someone or something based on perceived faults or mistakes.
     When I read this, I cringe.  This is the polar opposite of how I want others to feel around me.  Of course people can't feel comfortable around those with critical spirits -- there is only fault and disapproval to be found, and who wants to be seen for their faults instead of their strengths?  Not me!  And yet, how often am I guilty of this?  How often do I find myself thinking the negative about someone instead of the positive?  If I'm honest, probably more often than I'd like to admit.  Thankfully, God has been turning this soil in my life for some time now.
     Notice in the definition it doesn't say "true" faults, it says, "perceived" faults.  This means that it is a subjective viewpoint.  It starts with how we are seeing others in our own minds' eye.  This is an area I have been working to re-train for the last 5 years.  There has been a KEY concept that I read in a Peacemaker's Ministry resource that has changed how I think about people.  
The concept is this:  Always assume the best about others.
Another way to put it -- give people the benefit of the doubt.  When we are tempted to think negatively, train the mind to stop that thought, and turn it around.  This simple exercise alone will revolutionize how we see and treat others.  For example, when you are slighted by a friend, instead of telling yourself how self absorbed and thoughtless she is, train your mind to say, "she must be struggling with something right now.  It probably has nothing to do with me.  What can I do to show her some extra care?"  Or when your spouse forgets to do something that is really important think, "He is really preoccupied with work.  This does not show a weakness in his character.  I can take care of this for our family or help him do it so that it gets done."  Or how about when you are offended by someone close to you?  What about saying, "I know she probably didn't mean to offend me.  Prov. 19:11 says that it is to my honor to overlook an offense.  I am going to choose to overlook this right now."  See what I mean??  What happens when we start to do this?  UNITY DEVELOPS.  There is more peace in relationships, more servanthood, and Christ is glorified.  Relationships will flourish when this kind of thinking is the rule rather than the exception- with friends, spouses, children, family.  Don't we all want that?  Isn't the journey so much better when we are living out a life of love?
     What happens when this doesn't exist in relationships?  Critcism comes in, takes over, and drives stakes of conflict, strife, and disharmony.  So what is at the root of a critical spirit?  This article from the Peacemaker's ministry answers that question:
        A key step in breaking free from the habit of making critical judgments is to trace them to their source and cut them off at the root. To do this you must deal with your heart. James 4:1-12 describes two of the most common sources of critical judgments. The first is selfishnessWhen others stand in the way of what we want, we strive to remove their opposition by tearing them down and diminishing their credibility and influence in any way we can (vv. 1-3).  
Pride is another source of critical judgments. Thinking that we are better than others, we set ourselves up as their judges and begin to catalog their failings and condemn their actions. As we saw earlier, when we do this we are imitating Satan by trying to play God (vv. 7, 12). Pride can also reveal itself in the inclination to believe that “I alone understand the truth about things.” I think that my beliefs, convictions, theology, and doctrines are true, and I look down on anyone who disagrees with me (cf. Gal. 5:26). Matthew 7:3-5 shows that self-righteousness is another root of critical judgments. When we have done something wrong but we do not want to admit it, one of the most natural things we do is to draw attention to and even magnify the failures of others.
Insecurity, which is a form of the fear of man, is a related root of this problem. When we lack confidence in our own beliefs and positions, and fear that they might be disproved, we often conclude that the best defense is a good offense. Therefore, we attack others’ views and judge them before they can judge us.
Jealousy can also lead to critical judgments. As we see in Genesis 37:11, Joseph’s brothers were jealous of his close relationship with God and his father, and they repeatedly interpreted his motives and actions in the worst possible way. As their jealousy grew, it culminated in their selling him into slavery.
Another cause is self-pity. On occasion, many of us find a perverse pleasure in feeling sorry for ourselves. Therefore, we tend to interpret situations in a way that hurts us the most. One of the best ways to do this is to interpret others’ actions as a form of betrayal.
Prejudice is frequently a cause of critical judgments. When we have preconceived, unfavorable opinions about others simply because of their race, religion, gender, or status in life, we will consistently seek to validate our views by interpreting their beliefs and actions negatively.
Unforgiveness can also lead us to look for the worst in others. If someone has hurt us, and we do not forgive him, we will look for ways to justify our unforgiveness. Finding more faults in the person who hurt us is a convenient way to conceal the hardness of our own heart.
Of course, the ultimate source of critical judgments is a lack of love. Where love is deficient, critical judgments will be the norm. Conversely, where love abounds, charitable judgments should abound (1 Cor. 13:4-7).
Wow.  That is a lot to take in. The full article goes into greater depth on how to identify and cure a critical spirit.
     So, what happens when there is a legitimate concern with someone?  A critical spirit is ruled out and there is a true issue at hand that needs to be addressed?  Hear this clearly:  I am a proponent of conflict resolution.  However, I have come to the conclusion, through life experience, that conflict handled carelessly will leave a trail of destruction and damage that is hard to repair.  If there is a true concern that needs to be addressed, I HIGHLY recommend that you read the foundational principles on the Peacemakers website.  Even if there are only a few of these nuggets put in your pocket, you will be better for it, and it WILL lead you in the how of conflict resolution. When we follow Biblical instruction, it works!  
     The challenge before us lies in discernment.  In what areas do we simply need to let go of a critical spirt?  Is there some serious weeding in the garden of our hearts that needs to be tended to?  
     Did I tell you Katie is a national championship runner?  She was in college, and at 40, is still competing in insanely difficult races...and winning them!  Don't you love this picture of Kate and her husband, Jeff, at the Transrockies Run in Beaver Creek, Co?  Their team name was the Caba-nators.  They pulled each other up thousands of feet of mountain to win the race. But that is not the only race she is winning.  She continues to pass on a legacy of great love and grace to those around her, and in God's economy, that counts more than any medal.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Amish Crock Pot Apple Butter

     Apple butter takes me right back to Lancaster, Pennsylvania Amish country where I first sampled this thick, spice infused goodness.  The laundry, hung out to dry, flapping in the wind next to rows and rows of corn filled my window that morning.  A black buggy driven by a stately man dressed in all black with the Amish style beard waved as he rode by.  I couldn't help but feel that I had stepped back into time, and I pretended that I was Amish -- for like 5 minutes.  For those 5 minutes, I really thought I'd try to fall in love with an Amish man and join this simpler, peaceful way of life.  Anyway, now you know that I am completely fascinated by the Amish, and if I had to join any group, it would probably be them.... because they make amazing apple this one.  I just changed it a bit for the good ol' crock pot!
     The one thing I don't like about traditional apple butter recipes, is that you have to use your hard-earned homemade applesauce to make it, and it cooks down to nothing.  THIS recipe is made from the apples directly, so there isn't that extra step of turning it into applesauce before cooking.  
STEP 1:  Peel, core, and slice the apples.
 STEP 2:  Place the apples in the crock pot and mix in seasonings and sugar.  Cover and cook for 8-10 hours.
 STEP 3:  The apples should have turned in to apple butter by the end of the cooking time.  I like mine smooth, so I puree the mixture with an immersion blender.

 STEP 4:  Adjust any seasonings or the sweetness and ladle into jars.

 STEP 5:  I like to can my jars in a water bath, but they can also be frozen at this point and kept in the freezer if you don't want to can.  
 STEP 6:  Enjoy!

6 lbs. mixed variety apples, peeled, cored, and sliced
1 3/4 cups apple cider
2  cups sugar
2 1/2  cups brown sugar
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1/2 tsp. salt
1  tablespoon cinnamon
3/4 tsp. ground cloves
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
Place all ingredients in the crock pot and mix well.  Cook on the high setting for 2 hours, stirring periodically. Turn the crock to low and cook 7-8 more hours.  Puree with an immersion blender if desired for a smoother consistency.  

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Kids Fall Keepsake Craft

I just did these darling fall trees with my kids and my son's 3rd grade class. They make a great fall keepsake for years to come!  
You will need:
*4 different colors of paint (I used brown, gold, burnt orange, mocha, and black to deepen the brown)
*14x17 sheets of drawing paper (Strathmore's medium Drawing Paper is what I used)
*5 Foam paint brushes
*5 plastic bowls for the paint
*Water & rags
STEP 1:  Paint the forearm of your child in brown and have them make the tree trunk.  I did not do this with the class, as it was too messy, but at home it was doable.  In class, I just had them paint the tree trunks (narrower at the top, thicker at the bottom)
 Step 2:  Rinse the brown paint off of the arm, and paint a hand in a color.  Direct them to pull straight up off of the paper so it doesn't smear.  Have them do 2-3 handprints per color.  
 Step 3:  While the child still has that color paint on their hands, have him make fingerprint leaves at the bottom of the paper around the trunk, or falling off of the tree.  
 Step 4:  Repeat with the other colors of paint.

 Each one turned out unique and different, and that is what makes them special!  
Happy fall crafting!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

A Kid Favorite: Ravioli Lasagna

 I came up with this dish on a whim and my kids are crazy about it.  It's SO easy!  I made a couple of pans and froze them.  I stock up on aluminum tins at the Dollar Store and use them for freezing my extra meals.  

 1 jar tomato sauce.  
A quick tip:  Liven up jarred sauce by sauteing some olive oil and garlic in a saucepan.  Add oregano and basil to the pan until fragrant, then add the sauce and simmer.  Ummmm... hello garlic!  Can you tell I love it??
 Cook the ravioli as directed.  Place a cup of tomato sauce in the bottom of the pan, then arrange a single layer of ravioli over it.  Top with a layer of shredded cheese.  Repeat the layers of tomato sauce, ravioli, and cheddar cheese.  I like to use a couple of different kinds of ravioli.  
 For the top layer, spread a layer of pesto sauce and top with parmesan cheese.  
 Cover with foil, and bake at 350 degrees for 30 min..  Remove the foil and let the cheese brown on top.  Serve and watch it disappear!
1-2 jars tomato sauce - -depending on how saucy your family likes it
2 packages ravioli
1/2 block cheddar cheese (or around 3 cups)
1 jar pesto
3/4 c. parmesan cheese