Thursday, December 30, 2010

New Year's Resolutions

I'm not sure how many of you make resolutions each year. The older I get, the more people seem to become jaded with the concept, however, I find comfort in the never-changing tradition of finding stuff to change. As we say good-bye to one decade and barrel into the next, it seems appropriate to honor the transition with a new set of resolutions. I often make many resolutions. This is partly because I believe there is much that can/should be changed, but also because if I fail to follow through on a handful, those that I stay true to will bring some solace. 

Here we go...

1. Simplify. Stop laughing. I'm serious. Most of you who read this blog don't just know me, but know me well. Yes, I'm known for having particularly complex expectations, some even call it being "high-maintenance." This year, however, I'm going to work on that. This year in particularly has left me, well, tired. Unfortunately, I feel like I have little to show for this exhaustion, and the reason, in my opinion, is because I'm running to keep up with all the "stuff" in my life. This year, I will simplify. I'll start with my house--getting rid of un-needed items and donating them. Then, I'll move on to my time. I'll be saying, "Adios" to activities that I don't feel called to. 

2. Get back to basics. A few posts ago I wrote about ancient paths. Jeremiah 6:16 has been my focus in the past couple of weeks: 
This is what the LORD says:
   “Stand at the crossroads and look;
   ask for the ancient paths,
ask where the good way is, and walk in it,
   and you will find rest for your souls.
I believe it's time to get back to basics, remember what's important, and make those things priorities. Time in prayer, fellowship with family and friends, creating a home for young family, these things will be my focus.

3. Cultivate the fruits of the Spirit. 
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Galatians 5:22-23
I hate to be super conservative-cheesy, yet I know these are characteristics that I want to have but do not. In fact, in many ways, I am the exact OPPOSITE of all these things. The woman, wife, daughter, sister, aunt, friend, and teacher I want to be IS these things, thus, I need to get to work.

4. Focus on frugality. Don't get me wrong, I L-O-V-E, LOVE, LOVE, LOVE nice things and still plan on making them a part of my daily life, but for the past 28 years, I've lived basically buying what I want when I want. Michael and I want to have a decent savings before we start a family, so if I want to be a mother before I'm 60, we need to start being a tad more frugal. I really don't mean cheap, but I do mean intentional. To begin with, I'm planning out our menu one month at a time, breaking down grocery list into each week, and only buying what we need for those meals. Good-bye ordering out just because I can't think of what to make. Good-bye spending $100 at the grocery store without a real plan for a meal. 

5. Document life. After waiting so long to have a good camera, it's time to really start documenting life. I'm confident that once Finn gets here I'll have an even greater desire to do so!

6. Authentic living. I've spent much of my life giving lip service to what I "believe," yet I often allow my convictions to get lost in a sea of consumerism, television, and the day to day. This year, I want to live out what is important, the first step? These resolutions. 

I'm ready for you 2011; I'll take you one day at a time.

A new blog!

Many of you know that I've been recently overcome with the desire to create and homemake. This desire has fueled my obsession with blogs relating to such things. The more time I've spent on said blogs, the more I thought...I could do this. I SHOULD DO THIS! So I am. I don't know if it will go anywhere. I might only have the same followers as I do here, and if that's the case, God bless you twelve, but I might also get more. I might finally find the outlet I've been looking for. Well see how it goes. In the mean time, check out my Domestic Diversions!

Monday, December 27, 2010

A kid on Christmas!

I don't know if it's possible to truly explain what a wonderful Christmas we had! This year Christmas felt different to me. For the first time in YEARS I was counting down the days, anxiously waiting for December 25th. In many ways, it was like I was a kid again. There was this one present I REALLY wanted, but I wasn't sure if I would get it; and I had a gift that I couldn't WAIT to give! Those things along with the fact that it was a White Christmas and there's a baby on the way--my nephew, Finn (don't you love the name?--if you're friends with my sister-in-law, realize it's not FBO yet), will be here in about a month--made this year so special!

The days leading up to Christmas were jam-packed with holiday festivities. I spent most of the day of the 23rd baking cookies for the #2 men in my life. I had made Michael his peanut butter balls earlier this month, and now it was time to make cookies that my dad and brother would love. Awhile back, Randy mentioned that he missed Frango mint cookies. 

For those of you who aren't from Chicago, or from the Hoyle household, you need to understand the importance of Frango mints. Frangos are the signature candy of what was Marshall Field's--now Macy's. (It took me YEARS to finally call the building on State St. in Chicago Macy's because it will FOREVER be Marshall Field's to me!) When we were kids, my parents would take the three of us downtown Chicago at Christmas time. We would look at the State Street windows, each decorated to depict a scene from a famous Christmas tale, and then go inside to eat under the massive Christmas tree in the Walnut Room. Looking back, this trip had to have been a headache for my parents, but to this day, some of my favorite holiday memories are from these times. (Isn't it amazing that even when I blog it takes me nine years to tell a story?!)

When Macy's took over the franchise, they kept Frango mints, but Marshall Field's famed Frango mint cookies were no where to be found. When Randy said he wished that he could have those again, a small voice, one not much different from NPH's, rang out, "Challenge accepted!" Thus the first part of the 23rd was spent making Frango mint cookies for my dear brother. The consensus was that my version of the cookies were even better than the original. They are much chewier and with my homemade label you'd think you bought them outside the Walnut Room itself!
Betty's Frango Mint Cookies--Baked especially for my brother, Randy!
Homemade dog treats for Bentley & Bruce's puppy cousins

My father's cookies were the true labor of love. I spent FIVE HOURS making these suckers! The famed recipe? Tasha Tudor's sugar cookies. (The only difference between the link recipe and the one my dad grew up with is that my grandma would not frost the cookies, instead she sprinkled a nutmeg and sugar combination over the cut outs before baking.) This recipe makes SO MUCH DOUGH! Those five hours went by in this way: knead, roll, cut,  place, sprinkle, bake, cool, repeat. Kill, me, now! I didn't count how many cookies I got from that batch, but let's say that my dad could probably eat cookies for the next six months! 
Tasha Tudor's Sugar Cookies--made for my Daddy

After my baking was done, Michael and I ordered pizza and watched A Christmas Story. It was fun to watch it from beginning to end (something that rarely happens because of TBS' 24 Hours of A Christmas Story every Christmas Eve--we usually just catch the same scenes over and over). 

Christmas Eve was a whirlwind. I packaged the Frango mint cookies and dog treats I made, organized present piles to be taken to our parents' homes, and made dip to take to my mom's after church. The busyness of the day could have distracted me from the gorgeous snow, but I've been actively trying to pay attention to God's small gifts, and I was able to delight in the peaceful snowfall this Christmas Eve. It was gorgeous! 

After church with my parents and sister, we went to my mom and dad's house for some appetizers then headed to my in-laws for a night cap. Since we started dating, Michael and I exchange gifts on Christmas Eve--why? Well, because we have to be up at 5:30 am in order to make it to his parents' house by 6:30 am! To my surprise and delight, my wonderful husband got me a new Nikon Coolpix P100! I couldn't have been more ecstatic! This camera has been the missing piece in my ability to start a crafty/domestic-y/DIY/Awesome blog...title suggestions welcome. Michael enjoyed opening his gifts too (3 Blu-Rays, a PS3 game, and two sets of Bulls tickets), but I knew he was a tad disappointed. He was hoping to get his new surround sound system for downstairs. It wasn't under the tree. :(
Christmas morning--6 am--Love the new camera!

The next morning, we headed to the Sampleses' at 6 am to open presents there. It was a great morning filled with coffee, laughter, and love. 
Santa made his annual stop at the Sampleses'. 
Nicole didn't cry this year, but unfortunately, Poppy missed his visit again! ;)

Michael got his much coveted White Sox Championship banner with some more Blu-Rays, while I got a new coffee maker, perfume, stuff for the house, and some cute slipper-boots. 
Our sweet nephew & nieces--Jake, Nicole, & Ashley--before present opening

2005--Sox win the World Series!

Around 9 am we headed to the Hoyles' for Christmas there. Santa always visits us at my mom and dad's house, and this year was no different. We got three gifts each from Santa (because that's how many Baby Jesus got) along with our stockings. Some of my favorite gifts from that morning include a Coach coin purse, picture frames, and a stable to add to my Christmas village collection. I was most excited about going to my parents' to open presents because Michael's final gift from me--his sound system--was there. It took every ounce of self-control to not tell him about it before then, but it was all worth it when he opened his gift! (We had disguised it as a gift for Courtney and left it until the end. He couldn't have been more surprised!)
Michael realizing he got his sound system!!
My favorite picture from this Christmas--Thanks, Bex!

After some good conversation and a bit more coffee, we headed home to unload gifts and let the dogs out before turning around and heading back to the in-laws for drinks and games. We were home by 8 pm or so to give the dogs their gifts (HUGE Busy Bones) and play with our new toys. All in all, it was the best Christmas in my adult memory. I am so blessed to have family who loves me and knows me so well and a husband who takes care to choose just the right gift. 
Bentley loves his Busy Bone!
Bruce loves him a bit more...half gone in 15 minutes!

I realize this is a crazy long post, but it was a Christmas I don't ever want to forget! Merry Christmas to you all!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Ancient Paths

I recently had a status update that said I was "feeling disconnected". My dear friend, Sarah, commented that she had been "meaning to talk" to me about something like that. Uh-oh. Yes, uh-oh. Why? Well, because Sarah has the annoying, obnoxious ability been gifted with the ability to call me out on stuff that I need to handle. This...feeling something I need to handle. 

I've been off center. Sarah asked me how God and I were. Simply put, we're not. I'm not sure when it happened, but I haven't been centered in a long time. I've been overwhelmed, mostly with stuff that truly...doesn't matter. So, it's time to re-connect, to find my balance, to fulfill my daily purpose, to seek...ancient paths. 

This is what the LORD says:
   “Stand at the crossroads and look;
   ask for the ancient paths,
ask where the good way is, and walk in it,
   and you will find rest for your souls.
                    -Jeremiah 6:16

I'm not sure where these ancient paths with lead, but I know I must follow them. 

Friday, December 17, 2010

Parents of a Savior

This Christmas, thanks to Pandora, I was introduced to "Joseph's Lullaby" by Mercy Me (you may know them from their hit "I Can Only Imagine"). While there are other Christmas songs sung from the perspective of our Savior's earthly parents, this one struck me differently than others in the past.

In today's hustle and bustle of the "holiday season" (the surge of political correctness frustrates me more than I can tell you), it's easy to overlook the baby Jesus, let alone his parents. However this year, for the first time ever I started to grieve for Mary and Joseph. Maybe it's because the majority of my friends are currently "with child," or because my insides have been in knots wanting a child of my own, or because I'm nearly thirty and actually starting to feel like a grown-up, I don't know, but whatever it is, it's allowed me to ponder the reality of parenting the Son of God.

My best friend, Page, and I have literally spent HOURS discussing the inevitability of screwing up our future offspring. The prospect of how severely I will mess up my children is often the thing that keeps me childless. This season, though, thanks to the aforementioned song, I've thought about Jesus' parents, specifically Mary. In all reality, she was an unwed, teen mom with a reputation charged with raising mankind's Savior. How she got through nine--actually ten--months (thanks for the reminder, Becky)without being a hysterical mess, is beyond me. Yet, she embraced this "gift" from God with remarkable strength. Let me be clear that I believe ALL children are gifts, and yet, if I were Mary (or Joseph), it would be difficult to look past the fact that this gift, this child, my son, was being born to die. The implications of this gift would be impossible to overlook.

As I approach my 29th Christmas (remember that I had one Christmas before I turned 1!), I'm thankful not only for my Savior's birth, but also for his parents. After all, if Mary and Joseph hadn't been who they were, Jesus wouldn't have been who he was and is. And while I miss the Christmases of my childhood, I am equally as grateful to have these Christmases as an adult because the older I get the more able I am to "treasure all of these things and ponder them" in my heart.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Snow day=Play day

This morning at 5:26 am my phone rang. Usually, a call this early in the morning would be either frustrating or worrisome, today, however, I was elated for the wake up call. Although my caller ID didn't register the number, I knew who it was: our superintendent. I'd hoped for this call for hours. You see, this was our view from the car as we drove home from a Christmas party last night.

I told Mike that he should have watched the road through my phone because it actually made the blizzard conditions appear tame. The snow and wind continued through the rest of yesterday, into the night and through today. Because of the treachery, we got a snow day!

I made good use of the day by baking...all day. I tried a few new recipes, a cherry-chocolate cookie, a butter cookie a-la Martha Stewart, and a cranberry-almond biscotti from a new cookbook. 

I was pretty happy with the way the cherry-chocolate cookies turned out. One of my favorite Christmas cookie memories is making "Uncle Butch's cookies" each year. In reality, these were a coconut-Eagle Brand-cherry cookie, but because my Uncle Butch loved them so much, we referred to them as his. I saw a picture of these cookies and they reminded me so much of my uncle's cookies that I had to make them!
I did make a couple of changes to the recipe. Both of them were with the frosting, neither one of them was intentional. To begin with, I was somehow out of chocolate chips, so I used milk chocolate almond bark instead. Then, I incorrectly remembered how much cherry juice to put in the frosting. I compensated with a little powdered sugar, but will be sure to get the proportions right next time I make these. Regardless of the mistakes, they came out fudgey (sp?) and delicious!

In search for a good spritz recipe, I stumbled upon this Martha Stewart recipe which triples for three different types of cookies. I ended up using them for a spritz cookie (below) and a cut out cookie (not pictured). Both turned out well, and I will be adding this recipe to my arsenal. My only frustration was that Martha was right. The recipe is suppose to be blended in a food processor. I thought that I could surely get the same result with my KitchenAid. No dice. I ended up putting my crumbly mess into the food processor (in small quantities because I have a small food processor) and wouldn't you know it? It turned into dough! Apparently Martha DOES know what she's talking about! 
All in all, it was a productive and domestic day. Hopefully you'll try these recipes on your own. If you do, let me know how they turn out! :)

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Confessions of a Blog-aholic

While I may still be working on posting daily to my own blog, I have become fully and completely addicted to reading others on a regular basis. I'm kind of crazy about it. It's a recent obsession. It started when I found Make-it and Love-it. While perusing through this amazing blog, I found yet ANOTHER amazing blog...MADE! The obvious theme here is design and crafting. (You can check out my current project, a gorgeous blanket for my soon-to-be here nephew!)

These blogs have taken me to dozens others that I love! I'm grateful for these blogs for several reasons. First of all, I have been craving ways to create. My insides have been aching for the opportunity to let the world see what's going on with me. Who I am, what I love, and what I can do. I've also loved finding these blogs because so many of them are done by stay-at-home-moms (SAHM-- aren't you impressed that I'm picking up the slang?!) who are doing these really great wholesome, innovative, economical, creative, and responsible things with their kids, families and lives. I don't know if I'll actually get to be a SAHM or if I'll even want to once we have kids, but right now, it's my dream...another thing that makes my insides hurt. 

So, keep an eye out for some pretty great blogs from some pretty astounding women, and maybe one day I'll be a SAHM with a rockin' blog of my own with thousands of readers. For now though, I'm happy to be doing a blanket here and a craft there and writing for the twelve of you who follow me (although I'm pretty sure only three of you read regularly). ;)

Monday, December 6, 2010

I'm dreaming of a white Christmas...

We had our first real snow of the Christmas season this past weekend. To say it was wonderful is an understatement. While I love the tingle of sunshine on my skin, the older I get the more I long for the crisp smell of winter. There is something so magical about a snowy Christmas season, and the fact that we got it the first weekend of December was an absolute thrill!

Many of my all time favorite childhood memories come from the Christmas season. When I was little, before my Aunt Lillian moved to live next door to us, she would visit over Thanksgiving. The Friday after gorging ourselves on turkey was spent preparing for "Lillian's Christmas" that Saturday. Even though Aunt Lil has been home for the past eighteen years or so, the tradition of decorating the day after Thanksgiving has remained.

I'm posting pictures from my phone. A point I want to make clear in case my amazing husband actually reads today's post. The truth is I'm getting better shots with my phone these days than with my camera. THAT is why all I want for Christmas is a fairly descent camera! (Michael, if you read this, please note the urgency!)

Our upstairs tree is pictured here. It's pretty much as themed of a tree as I will ever have. I stuck with traditional Christmas colors: red, green, silver, and gold. While I love the eclectic trees I grew up with (so much so, that our downstairs tree has multi-color lights with eclectic ornaments), I always wanted to have a tree that matched. Hello, Type-A personality!
I bought this ornament last year from Things Remembered for our first Christmas together. Not only does it have my favorite picture from our wedding in it, but it also has "For ever. For always." (the inscription in our wedding rings) with our initials inscribed on the opposite side. I love, love, love, LOVE it!
 Knowing how much of a sucker I am for anything monogrammed, my mom got this "S" ornament for us last year. It proudly sparkles at the top of our tree.
 It's a Wonderful Life is one of my all time favorite movies. In fact, if you told me I could only watch two movies for the rest of my life I would choose White Christmas and It's a Wonderful Life. The fact that "Every time a bell rings an angel gets his wings" makes each bell at Christmas a little bit more special for me. This ornament was from my parents as well. A few years ago we went as a family to the Music Box Theater in Wrigleyville to see the White Christmas and It's a Wonderful Life double feature, complete with an organist and sing-a-long. Mom found these ornaments that year and gave them to the three of us to complete the memory.
I am sure to have many more Christmas posts as the season continues. Some of the highlights for this Christmas include holiday shows, parties, and cookie baking. I can't wait to document (with my phone until I hopefully get a new camera) and share this Christmas with you!

May your days be merry and bright, and may all your Christmases be white!