Saturday, December 16, 2017

When the C A L M hits...

The other day, I was listening to the radio and a commercial interrupted the music.  The man was talking in a frantic, pushy, yell, trying to convince me, the listener, to come in and HURRY and BUY before things were all GONE!!  I felt the height of stress and panic in that moment even though I had no interest in what the man was selling.  It almost took my breath away and I realized that most of the calm we lose during this time of year, comes from outside sources, where someone is trying to force us to do, buy, be or give.  It's exhausting isn't it?  Then again, sometimes our lack of calm comes from our own minds, because we want things to feel a certain way and they simply don't.

After that jarring commercial, I spent time heaping my grocery cart with everything I could think of that we might need between now and Christmas, and I fought my way down packed aisles of people with crabby looks on their faces because they were all trying to do the exact same thing.  The checkout clerk didn't speak to me, probably because of her own stress level, and a woman walked down the middle of the parking lot, slowly looking for her car, totally oblivious to my desire to escape as I slowly drove behind her, waiting for her to pick a side.  Needless to say, it was a day with the opposite of peace and calm at every turn.

But then I walked in the door, carted my bags in, and slowly began to sort and unload, making sense of all the items. Once that task was completed, I had a soft moment. I know that's a strange term, but let me explain...  I was standing in the kitchen, gently tucking some sparkly ornaments around the edges of a creamy white, potted poinsettia when I realized unexpectedly, that I was enjoying myself in that very moment.  There was nothing but quiet around me, the house was clean and the Christmas lights were on.  I had a new nail polish color waiting for me to try, a magazine that had arrived in the mailbox and The Crown, season two to look forward to.  I felt peace and calm settle over me, and I felt like God whispered to me something dear and important.  I felt like He said, "Dear heart, you actually won't feel like it's Christmas this year... it simply won't "feel" the way you have felt in years past, because it's not the same anymore with your earthly daddy gone, and that's okay...but I'll give you peace and rest if you only notice the moments."  And I whispered my thanks to Him later, as I stood in the living room, pressing play on the fireplace DVD in another pocket of calm.  I promised Him I would begin to look for the moments to come...

That evening, we gathered as a family and watched Faulty Towers on Netflix.  People were on phones and doing their own thing, but they were also paying attention enough to laugh at the antics of John Cleese, so instead of being annoyed by their half-attention as I am often wont to do, I chose to soak in the peace of that calm and sweet moment.  I had a few more moments of peace through my entire day, that had a God-whisper reminder all over them... the glow of soft candles on the table, coffee with some of my dearest friends and baby snuggles, the delicious dinner we tucked in to, the coffee my husband had waiting for me this morning as I woke... so many things to focus on if I only have eyes to see them.

Sometimes you have to create your own calm and we spoke about that for the past six blog posts... and then sometimes it simply hits and you only need to see and savor it.   I'm not sure if it FEELS like Christmas to you this year or not.  Maybe it doesn't and it almost feels like you're trying to fit a square peg into a round hole, in desperation to change the feeling into one where you're left with joy and tingles of anticipation.  But as that seldom works, perhaps we simply don't... perhaps we let it not feel anything but what it does feel like, and we let that other stuff go, in trust that it's okay when it doesn't feel the same it's always felt.  Perhaps God has something different... or a different type of peace and calm waiting for you.  It may be in small moments that are nice, and they may even happen in between some hard moments.  But in all of our moments, let's be thankful and observant for what God has for us.  I believe if we do this, He will richly bless us with pearls of calm in which to string together in our souls.  

Here's to a Christmas filled with C A L M moments, 

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Keeping the weekend C A L M

Happy Sunday evening dear ones.  I wanted to thank you for each of your very sweet responses to the Calm Christmas series I just completed.  I want to sit down and respond to each of your comments at some point this week!  You are such a wonderful bunch.  We are coming off a very calm weekend around here where we kept things low key but festive and we actually stayed in our jammies all day long yesterday (except for the boy who had to work) and had football on, and did some baking.  It was just what I needed. There is something to be said for scheduling "non-leaving" days into the month of December!  I love those seldom-seen days.  I think my soul breathes especially deeply on those days.  I hope you're working to keep things calm on your end as well.  

We are hosting a small birthday celebration this evening and I came up with a fun and festive drink to serve.  I mentioned that I was planning to keep my hostess offerings very simple this season and that champagne was one of those stand-by options.  I wanted to fancy it up a bit for this party, so I created a simple syrup recipe with juices and sweetener to go along with it.  I thought you might enjoy having this treat in your holiday arsenal, since it turned out so well.

All I did was mix 1/4 cup orange juice (I squeezed mine freshly and strained it but any would work), plus 1/4 cup cranberry juice (no sugar) and 1/4 cup sweetener of choice. (I used swerve in mine for a lower carb option.) I also added some orange peel and star anise for a spicy kick, heated it until the sweetener was dissolved and chilled it.

When you're ready to serve this, add a tbsp. into the bottom of each flute, top with champagne and a curled orange peel garnish. It's a very pretty and simple drink.

I wanted to also share these two photos of our baking day because it was quite the sweet (heh, heh...) scene.  We only made gingerbread cookies (some in the form of little houses for the edge of a cocoa cup- the cutter was found on Amazon some time ago), monster cookies and fudge.  Ava is giving small goody bags away to a dozen of her friends and was such a wonderful help in the entire day. I can't imagine how I did a baking day without her sweet help before.  Gosh it's good to have a teenager daughter!!

Wishing you a sweetly calm week ahead... 

Friday, December 8, 2017

Hosting for a CALM CHRISTMAS

Today I am wrapping up this series I've been writing, on creating a Calm Christmas for yourself and those you love and as I said a the top of my previous post, my deepest wish is that all of us, myself included, can streamline our holidays just a touch in various ways, and out of that intentionality, open-handedly offer something different to our loved ones. The world offers chaos and pressure to do, buy, get, make, be and attain.  We can offer calm.  We can offer quiet and peace.  We can offer a heart, a home and yourself in a way that sooths and beckons a gentle welcome out of the fray. We can be used to bless and we can do it without feeling the pressure of "one more thing" on the listI have a few simple ideas for hosting to share today, and all are inexpensive and under-done in a world where over-done is the norm.

I'm going to make an opinionated claim here, based on things I've observed, hosting events for the past twenty years.  Ready for it?  I believe that hosting is most stressful the more choices are offered.  Let me explain by using just one example with beverages, though this extends to much of hosting stress.  Let's say your guest arrive and you ask them, "Can I get you something to drink?"  They likely respond by asking what you have, and you may begin listing off seven or eight choices.  Calm stealer right there and here's why.  Give someone more than three choices and then multiply that by each person you're hosting and whatchout... you're in the kitchen mixing and pouring and missing out for the next fifteen minutes or more.  You need to streamline that thing down and make life easy on yourself.  I like to have water, an obvious choice out, in an available self-serve sitting, and offer two choices besides, tops.  I like to do this even if the choices are out for self service.  It's like developing a signature style.  You invite friends, and serve one or two signature cocktails based on the season.  Perhaps you have a signature cookie you tend to bake each holiday and that becomes a no-brainer item that people can anticipate enjoying at your home.  Or you have a signature dinner you tend to serve each time you have guest because it's no fail, which means no stress.  Amen to that. Giving your own self fewer choices, often diminishes your own stress when hosting!  KISS- keep it simple, sweetheart.

This season I am offering two signature drinks which is also more cost effective than stocking an entire bar for the masses and their beverage whims.  I think part of hosting stress can be the feeling like you're not in control of the setting, but it calms right down when you regain control by taking it back and making it work for you in all of the ways you can control.  (Obviously, there are a tremendous amount of moments you aren't able to wrap up tightly like you'd prefer and you can refer back to the beginning of this Calm Christmas series where we talked specifically about that.) (If you're wondering what my two signature drinks are, one is champagne because it's fun to offer, goes with virtually everything and most people enjoy a festive glass.  The other is a shot of spiced rum in a stevia sweetened cream soda for no carbs. It's been a big hit to everyone who has tried it.)

I'm also sharing these very sweet drink stirrers that I created in moments, by simply hot gluing tiny bottle brush trees to the tops of trimmed skewers.  They make the perfect, festive topper to a party beverage.

I am offering two signature cookies throughout this month, and that's pretty much all I'm planning to bake. (Monster cookies and gingerbread cookies- which I'll be sharing the recipe for soon.  Both gluten free.)  They are no-fail, favorite recipes and I enjoy making them each year.  I'll freeze some and have them on hand all month long.  That's an instant calm as well.  Having things on hand.  Thinking ahead just a little, to stock a pantry with nibbles for a cheese tray and a cookie platter helps make the season calm.

This is a new hosting tip for calm, but it's come to me after having a large number of introverts in my life and finally figuring out what helps them deal with the large gatherings.  Creating a simple, yet separate conversation space to offer for anyone who wants to escape during gatherings is really calming and I've noticed, appreciated.  Sometimes even I need to escape for a moment! Adrain and I recently rearranged our office and pulled in the wonderful chairs we had on the front porch.  They needed a fresh coat of paint and some fabric recovered so we did that and were able to create this lovely little nook in the front of our home.  It's been used for many escapes so far!

There are obvious tips I've shared many times, such as thoughtfully stocking tables, drawers or cupboards with the items you'll use for that season or event but again, keeping choices limited is so helpful... think about extending this idea to choosing your table linens, glassware or that sort of thing.  Fewer choices can simplify life and can greatly add to a calm Christmas when it comes to hosting. I've so enjoyed sharing this series with you and pray it helps you in creating the calm Christmas we all desire. 

May we all remember the Reason for this Season and let that calm wash over us.  
Here's to a C A L M    C H R I S T M A S! 

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Gift giving for a CALM CHRISTMAS

We are nearly finished with the Calm Christmas  series.  I will be sharing about hosting for a calm Christmas next.  My deepest wish is that all of us, myself included, can streamline our holidays, in various ways, and out of that intentionality, open-handedly offer something different to our loved ones. The world offers chaos and pressure to do, buy, get, make, be and attain.  We can offer calm.  We can offer quiet and peace.  We can offer a heart, a home and yourself in a way that sooths and beckons a gentle welcome out of the fray. We can be used to bless and we can do it without feeling the pressure of "one more thing" on the listI have just a few simple ideas for gift-giving to share today, and all are inexpensive and under-done in a world where over-done is the norm.

When it comes to gift-giving, my head wants to explode.  I would imagine that I'm like most people, who truly enjoy loving on others by giving them ALL something their heart can delight in... but my budget often wants to give them a happy meal toy instead.  Knowwhatimean? Or perhaps you go the other way and can't think of the perfect thing to give, so you feel tremendous pressure. Perhaps you overspend to please, or perhaps you don't exchange at all because everyone has everything they already need and your item will simply get returned anyway.  Regardless, gift giving is meant to bless but it often doesn't, either for the giver or the receiver.  Obviously I don't know the people you are gifting, but I'd love to share a few solutions that have worked very well when it comes to gift exchanges, in my past, from exchanging with extended family, to close friends.  The key in all of them, have been communicating very honestly about what we could or could not commit to, on the front end.  I can't stress that enough.

For exchanges with friends, a favorite things exchange is often fun, provided the group is smallish.  It's easy to set a five dollar per person limit and purchase several of the same, favorite item to offer each one.  I'm doing this with my bible study group and thought I would share so you can get the idea.  There are five of us in the group so each person brings four of their favorites to give each of the other people.  I love the Anthropologie initial mugs but they were slightly over the allotted budget.  I found a Target knock-off and was able to grab one for each of my friends.  I created a sweet little tag and that was that.

Baking in pretty packaging is always a fun idea and stretches if you have many to hand out... and don't be afraid of packing up store-bought treats.  It's not like it's a contest.  Trader Joe's has awesome treats this time of year and by buying several boxes and then breaking them up for combined goodie trays it's like a mini treat collection that anyone might enjoy.

Doing stocking stuffers, rather than big gifts can be really fun both with your own family, as well as with other extended family or friends. This works well with those who have everything, as do the following two ideas.

Books swaps.  Everyone brings a wrapped copy of their favorite book, and then play it like a white elephant where each person grabs a gift from the pile, opens and can steal from one another, etc.

Experiences rather than gifts, such as a sport outing, a performance or concert or simply a day out together having a meal, taking a walk, seeing a movie together, enjoying lights and such.  A planned game night with friends is always fun in lieu of gift exchanges as well.  For New Year's Eve, we purchased a murder mystery game on Amazon and our teenagers parceled out the parts to several of their friends.  We will be hosting a small gathering, coming in costume and in character and playing that during the course of the evening.  It's a fun idea and so much better than sitting around.
Also giving something live... a little rosemary tree in a sweet container, a potted plant or paper whites that have been forced in a container are nice gift ideas that most people can appreciate.  They work well for hostesses, teachers or last minute gift exchanges too.  I forced a paper white bulb in a small mason jar by adding a few pebbles at the bottom, placing the bulb on top and watering until just touching the base of the bulb.  It took me just a moment to create and I was able to make several of them at once and give them away for blooming mid-December.  Add a sweet topping or tag and you've got an easy and inexpensive gift. (If you don't like the scent of paper whites, you could do this with an amaryllis bulb or hyacinths too, but the cost would increase.)

In closing, I'd like to simply say that standing strong and setting your boundaries and limits will only enhance your calm in the long run.  It's easy to get swept away by people pleasing or not speaking up in large family gatherings when this topic arises but if you take the time for self care here, you'll be better for it through the season and you won't be nearly as frantic with shopping demands.  Pretty sure we could all welcome that!
Here's to a C A L M    C H R I S T M A S! 

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Home care for a CALM CHRISTMAS

Home is an extension of ourselves. We offer that extension to those we love, those we are welcoming in, and those we want to bless.  It's definitely a big piece of our hearts this time of year, but can also be one of the biggest pieces of our stress. (Think hosting, cleaning, cooking, pleasing, gathering family we seldom see and trying to make or keep everyone happy the entire time.) A great way to diminish the stress and chaos is by keeping things simple as we deck our halls.  It's home care...   

I have one Christmas décor bin.  One.  It's a big, clear bin and it's full but it's all I've got.  Each year I buy fresh greens and toss old or broken things that won't make it another year, and don't tend to buy much to replace those items unless I really love it. There is something calm about an empty wall space.  An empty coffee table.  An empty side table. I mean, imagine that you have those spaces open, and friends or family come over.  They have a place to put up their feet and rest... or set a drink down and savor time, or feel rested because not every surface has clutter on it for their eyes to evaluate. Avoiding the temptation to deck every hall or every flat surface creates décor that is both calm and simple.

We hear the word "simplicity" or " "going simple with decorating,"  a lot. This time of year the word simple is bandied around quite a bit but seldom actually seen...  Simplicity is to calm, what overdone is to chaos.  They go hand in hand. Even this season I started out with what felt simple at first, and then found myself pulling one item off here, or there over the next several days.  (In years past, I have been known to undecorated half the house in mid-December because I couldn't take all of the extra in the 1500 sq feet my family of four lives in. I tried to learn from that feeling and start simpler from the onset.  I can always add more if something feels too overdone.)  This year, I purchased a 25 foot live cedar garland from Costco and  used pieces of it all through our home.  I hung a length of it over the office chalk board calendar, a length of it went over our bed headboard as well as on the mantle, and I used small cedar clippings to create bundles that hang from our French doors.  I prefer fresh and natural as opposed to something I need to store each season and the scent is lovely too.  After decorating my own home, I took a moment and jotted down the questions I ask myself as I go.  I suddenly realized that this is how home care works for me.  It felt appropriate to include  this checklist of questions to ask as we decorate and open our homes this season, with the goal of creating a calm Christmas for ourselves and anyone else we plan to welcome inside.

Questions to ask yourself for Home Care, in creating a Calm Christmas:

1) Are there too many pillows? Not enough? Throw blankets, nice textures?
2) Is there too much furniture competing with the addition of the tree and potential extra guests?
3) Are the walls cluttered? (Do I need to remove a few hangings temporarily?)
4) Are there any empty flat surfaces in this home at all or does every flat surface have filler on it?
5) Is my home speaking softly or screaming loudly? (Think: Lighting, sounds, smells, colors)
6) Did I remove everyday décor items when I added holiday items or did I cram the holiday items next to what was already on display? (If I added to what I already had, why not remove a few of the every day items for the month and showcase the holiday items instead?)
7) Is there room on the table for food or has a centerpiece taken over? (Tip: Placing a centerpiece on a tray makes for really quick mobility if a game breaks out and more space is needed.)
8) Have I created spaces where I can easily pull festive party items out of drawers or cupboards for simple yet easy gatherings?  This includes a few stand-by snacks.  A simple array of cold cuts, nice cheese wedges and nuts go great with a bottle of wine, or a tray of cookies work nicely for an impromptu cocoa bar.
9) Have I overdone the "useless" décor in spaces where useful décor is important? (Think kitchens and cocoa bars and such.)
10) If someone came into my home, would they be overwhelmed or rested by the simplicity?

I hope you enjoyed this segment on creating a calm Christmas by caring for our homes.  As always, I love your feedback in comments! 

Here's to a C A L M   C H R I S T M A S

Monday, December 4, 2017

Self care for a CALM CHRISTMAS

So far in this Calm Christmas series, we have talked about being flexible, seeking God as your refuge rather than false escapes that let you down with delayed consequences, and heart care (creating a restful spot to go to God each morning and give Him your heart)... Today, I would like to turn it inward a bit and talk about some practical ways we can give ourselves care so that our approach with others, no matter how they are behaving, can be calm.  I always think of this topic as putting the oxygen mask on yourself first, so you can help those around you.

There aren't many other holiday seasons in life where there are as many constant demands on us, day and night, like there are at Christmastime. We are bombarded with so much even before Thanksgiving happens, that we often let self care slide a bit.  Those are things we typically carve out time to do such as taking time to care for our physical bodies. This could include taking time to work out, eat right, care for our hair, nightly flossing, nail care, waxing, shaving our legs and even wearing old, ugly pajamas with holes in them.  It's personal and could obviously include many other things but you get the idea.  It's so easy to get out of our routines or worse yet, skip things that we need more or extra of, during the winter months, because we're so busy and exhausted.  (For example, I know that my skin is particularly dry this month and one way I stop and pamper myself for just a few minutes each week, is a daily in-shower lotion application immediately after the shower water stops.   I've found it to be a time saver and I need more multi tasking products like that in my life.  Taking time to properly remove the dirt and grime from our teeth and skin each night can be easily skipped after a late night, but it's so good for us to value our bodies enough that we carve out a few moments for extra, good care.  I like to purchase one skin treat for myself with all of the holiday specials, such as a new eye cream or something along those lines and it helps motivate me to be diligent. I also coat my eyelashes with Vaseline each night because of the extra make up I can wear for parties and such.  Just a tiny pampering action.)

This one seems really obvious, but diet can suffer big time during the holidays (as most of us know.)  It's so easy to eat the wrong things or too much of them.  Or inhale something quick, standing at the counter before having to dash out to the next event.  I'm making it a priority to plan ahead as much as I can, prep snacks and meals we can make easily and hydrate like crazy.  I love to pull out our water bottles and give them all a good sanitizing scrub and then make myself use them non-stop.  I never even run errands with out my water!  I heard a trick the other day that I've yet to try but it sounds promising.  You put eight rubber bands on your water bottle in the am, and take one off each time you empty the contents and refill. It's always going to come down to "being intentional" but during the holidays that can feel like such a burden with everything else we are being intentional about...It's easy to feel like we have to let some things slide for survival sake.  During the weeks of my dad's hospice care and planning the memorial service I was getting sick and took extremely good care of myself food/hydration-wise.  Afterward, I was so glad I had made that a priority.  I tried to think of it as a treat for myself.  We all have to eat anyway, but you can choose something quick and healthy or something quick and unhealthy.  There are options for everything so it's simply a choice we make and does not have to feel burdensome unless we develop the mindset that it is.  Does that make sense?

Of course, self care goes beyond diet and simply finding time for a fresh manicure or nightly skin care... it can also reach into removing stressors off our plates that we don't even pay attention to.  One that immediately comes to mind is the inbox.  Often with purchases and life, we end up on many email lists.  I like to spend time occasionally backtracking though my trash and unsubscribing from everything! It is the most freeing feeling.  Normally I get in the habit of simply deleting things but actually unsubscribing is followed by the most enjoyable inbox quiet and calm. It honestly doesn't take that long.  In fact, most of the things I am suggesting doing for yourself don't take very long but the benefits are long-lasting.

I also think mental health can be calmed by sitting down with a latte and having a planning meeting with oneself.  I do this regularly and it doesn't have to take hours.  I get all of the calendars together, make certain they are each updated exactly the same and plan additional items that need to be penciled in.  I love to cancel a few of the things that aren't actually urgent or important at this time as well.  It invokes a calm in my calendar and can be done in minutes.  (I also don't make a list of things that I'll probably do anyway, like find a night to play a game, or "sip cocoa" with my family.  Now, I have nothing against the fun, moms that are being creative in this department... I simply know that whenever I tried to list more onto my plate, I end the month much crankier. That's just me.  Just something to think about if you're feeling pressure to make a fun, big list of activities for your people.  The activities can still happen... you just don't have to plan them out and adhere to a possibly guilt-inducing list.)

I've promoted this for years in many blog posts so many of you are probably rolling your eyes, but... creating a calm bedroom is so huge which is why I am sharing photos of our festive master bedroom in this post. I always treat myself to a brief cleaning spree, (again, this can take half hour tops so don't feel overwhelmed) where I dust with a nice smelling cleaner like Mrs. Meyer's orange clove and toss out clutter. (We don't tend to keep much clutter in our bedroom, so this doesn't take me long because of that life habit. I realize that isn't everyone's story but don't beat yourself up if you have two hours (or more) of work to do in your bedroom in order to create calm.  Simply pull yourself up by your bootstraps, grab a trash bag and get er done.  You'll be glad you did and if it's the only clutter free space in your home during December at least you've got an oasis to enjoy now, you know?)  I like to quickly tidy drawers and closets, (okay this one can take a while so just close the doors if it will be a long project and you don't have time.) freshen linens, clear under bed areas and bedside drawers, restock depleted or tatty looking towels in the master bath and add some fresh and seasonal elements for that bit of romantic sparkle.  I think candles that smell lovely and twinkle lights are never out of place in a master bedroom.  I've pulled cozy throws and quilts into our master, and moved art work around for a fresh feel.  It can feel like the calmest of havens or the most stressful storage space in your home, depending on how you treat it but it's where you spend almost half your life and half your holiday time, attempting to refresh and restore so it's probably worth a small time investment, yes?
Self care can often be found in preparedness.  My very favorite, practical way to prepare for a calm Christmas is the gift wrap preparing.  Firstly, I wrap each gift as I go.  I wrap them as they arrive or as I purchase them.  That way I keep calm because I know I haven't got a mountain of gifts waiting to be dealt with at some point.  Don't procrastinate on this.  If that's not your style, one fun way to get them done is to have a wrapping party with girlfriends where you all watch a holiday movie and wrap your presents together.  I did this one year and it was a blast.  It also helps to to gather all of your wrapping supplies and gift toppings together in one easy to grab tote. I get mine ready each November as I like to have all of my shopping done before December hits. (To me, that is self-care!)  I find my heart calming as I'm not always frantically hunting for the scissors or tape.

Finally.  Saying no, being honest, voicing concerns and being practical with others about what will or wont work can be the biggest form of self care there is. It's hard to have a voice when you know your voice with disappoint another.  After reading the comments on Instagram the other day when I asked what stressed people out, this was the common theme- Some were stressing about gatherings that were hard for littles, some were trying to balance obligations and events they didn't want to attend, finances they lacked, some were stressing because they were being asked to donate and give and some simply put too much important on their own expectations of what they were able to give and do.  In all of these, there is (yes really) an opportunity to evaluate and bow out. (If you haven't checked out "The Best Yes" by Lysa TerKeurst you might want to grab it from the library now.) If it's not going to work, voice it.  If it's too expensive and you simply need to stop doing a gift exchange, voice it.  If an event wont work for your kids, suggest an alternative.  If you don't want to go but it's expected, be honest and say that you're really in need of some down time so you can be your best for your immediate family.  I've done all of the above and I am an absolute people pleaser to the you CAN learn to say no and just let some of that stuff go while you stick to your guns and make people mad.  If they truly love you they will get used to your newfound backbone or boundaries over time. Have a sweet heart, be polite, gracious and respectful but be honest and stand up for yourself and your family.  You won't regret that in the long run.

How do you best care for your self in this season?  Feel welcome to add your voice to comments in this precious community so others can benefit from your wisdom and encouragement for a
C A L M   C H R I S T M A S. 

"I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world." John 16:33

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Heart care for a CALM CHRISTMAS

Thank you for joining me in this Creating a Calm Christmas series.  I'm loving how it's personally making me focus as I write, and I am hopeful that you will leave each post uplifted, inspired or encouraged.  Today, I'm talking about heart care, which is a bit of a continuation from my previous post.  I feel like it's really important to camp here just a bit longer before we talk about how not to over decorate, recipes, and such... it all begins in our hearts and how we approach the season.  This is something most of us know, regardless of our religious beliefs. Daily, spending time to reset our minds on things that are positive and uplifting can't help but spin our moods the correct direction as well.

It's really easy to get lost in the Christmas chaos around us, which is the opposite of creating a calm Christmas for ourselves and our loved ones!  Parties and events can cause us to be out later, thus interrupting our nightly routine, sleep patterns and rest.  That in turn, can affect our mornings and cause more rush and hurry that carries into the days.  It often starts all over again and we limp into January, exhausted and very "over the holidays." But what if we resisted the urge to get those extra winks, and instead set our alarms daily, for some heart care.  For me, that means digging into a daily devotional or readings centered around what Christmas means to me.  This year, I'll be doing the She Reads Truth Advent study which begins on Sunday. I've always enjoyed it and my bible study group is joining together so we can hold one another accountable.  That is a huge key for me.  I can't do much alone but give me a few friends, and I'm on board to the end.

I asked the question today on Instagram, what stresses everyone out the most.  It was overwhelming to read the variety of responses and I'm going to dig a bit into some of those in our next post. I would give anything for solutions to dole out like candy to everyone.  We will definitely touch on several of them as we work through this series.  However, the first place to begin for every single thing that spins us around, causes us stress, anxiety or frustration during the month of December, is exactly where we are today.  Our hearts and who we offer it to each morning.  Do we offer our hearts to the stress that the day ahead of us is greedily reaching out for?  Do we offer it to the false refuges we seek after for escape or relief?  Or... Do we offer our hearts as an offering, each and every morning, asking God to give us His words, His thoughts, His responses, His wisdom, His grace, His kindness and His purpose?

This totters on décor and home care, but I'm find that creating a restful space for morning time with God is so important, that I'm sharing it here as a broad solution to much (all?) of what ails us.  Each morning I get up before my kiddos and sit in my special chair.  It was a present from my husband two years ago and I curl up with my furry blanket, my feet up on the coffee table and my coffee.  Sometimes I light a candle or two. Then I can focus.  Often, I put a fireplace DVD on and just savor that time. Setting the atmosphere actually matters, and coaxes us to sit and rest. My chair also faces away from the kitchen so if there are dishes or people making breakfast I don't need to view those distractions.  It has been working really well for me and if you haven't taken time to create a calm space to bring God your heart each morning, you might consider gathering your favorite pillows, throw blankets, pens, journals and scented candles.. or whatever speaks cozy to your soul.  Just make an intentionally welcoming spot and see how that motivates you to use it in the wee hours before the Christmas jingles begin rolling in your head and crowding into your thoughts.  That alone could be the precursor to the calm in your holidays.

"Above all else, guard your heart,
for everything you do flows from it." 
Proverbs 4:23

I wouldn't begin with this topic if I didn't know that it could make a huge impact in having a C A L M   C H R I S T M A S.  We can either limp through this holiday or we can sail through it gracefully with a sweet, tender,flexible and peaceful heart. But one way or another, this month will pass before we know it. 

*Also a note about the fireplace DVD.  We don't have a fireplace in this home sadly, but this is such a great alternative and people always comment on how nice it is. It even makes crackling sounds like a real fire. (We got ours one year at the grocery store but I know you could find one easily with Google.)  I often put Pandora very quietly on my phone so that I'm not tempted to check notifications and such if I'm in the mood for music while I read.  The station I enjoy this time of year is the Hereford Cathedral Choir (Holiday). It's soft and not a huge distraction if you want some soothing holiday music.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017


Well here we are dear friends.  Kicking off another short series.  Today, we begin talking about how to create a calm Christmas.  Honestly, I can't begin this series without speaking about some things I ran into at Thanksgiving, because they could easily happen for any holiday setting and without the proper heart tools it can't be any kind of calm.  It seems appropriate to begin this series here. I went into Thanksgiving with a very clear plan. (Red flag number one, yes?) I did not want even one surprise because I'm still deeply grieving my Daddy being gone and I didn't "need" anything surprising. Reflecting back, I can safely say that I dealt with just as many surprises as I normally do, and I've realized, that's just life.  The more people you have involved in a holiday event, the more unexpected surprises you're likely to field. Surprises are such a part of hosting any event.  Some aren't bad at all and some simply require an adaptable hostess.  I've learned that the bad surprises usually become hysterical stories one day, so it's good to think on that in the moment as well.  (Also, some surprises can turn into the best memories.  I didn't expect our entire family to be out in the driveway at dusk, taking turns riding a wooden go-cart down the street, laughing hysterically and cheering each other on wildly. But we did, and I'll probably never forget my mom taking a turn and my brother recording it for posterity.)

This year, I shared, about the five kernels. We have loved this part of Thanksgiving in years past and I don't know why but I didn't even consider that people wouldn't want to share deeply in this mixed group.  It was a combination of two sides of our family, plus some people that truly didn't know one another. It never occurred to me that some of us would be feeling super emotional with out my Dad there as well, so keeping away from emotion was going to be key in getting though the day. Why in the heck didn't I think about all of that while I was planning?  I have no idea.  My bad entirely.  Anyway, I read the story, nobody shared anything, and there was zero depth. Not really how I had pictured it.  All that to say... you can't go into ANY holiday and expect to bless others and be blessed, if you aren't flexible with what you thought it would be like.

FLEXIBLE.  I hate that word.  It totally doesn't go with my finely planned er... plans. Ha!

I think the moral of this story is that one can plan and plan and plan, but it's going to unfold however it's going to unfold.  You can't have a calm Christmas if you're gripping your plans and visions in clenched hands.  And sometimes, you have to draw and redraw boundaries for yourself so that if you simply can't handle not having a plan, you've cultivated a setting in which your plans can actually work out with the appreciation and cooperation you've been hoping for.  (Note, this option isn't one to chose regularly because it doesn't normally pan out.) (But you can try.) (As long as you're flexible.) (Ha!)

Through all of this, I've been learning that the only way to be gracious as a hostess, is to spend time with God, who is the author of grace.  I heard a beautiful analogy this weekend in church.  The pastor shared that when we are in a desert place (or a land with maximum holiday stress?) and feel that we can't go on any longer... we often hold our hand over our eyes, look into the distance over the scorching waves of sand, and see what looks like refuge. We see palm fronds waving gently and the promise of refreshing water... The problem comes, when we seek refuge in temporary things... and as we dive into those things, we realize they are a false refuge (think over indulging in anything for relief and the consequences of that).  Those things we turn to for relief other than God, are simply a mirage. We dive headlong into that false relief and end up with a mouthful of sand, no relief, and an aching heart that wants to quit.  However, when we seek God as our refuge He is always an Oasis. Sure and true, He offers cool water to our parched souls and shades us under His provisions and plans.

Don't you love that visual?  Holidays will always bring an element of the unexpected but it's Who we turn to that helps us handle it calmly.  

Here's to a C A L M   C H R I S T M A S

Monday, November 27, 2017

Kicking off a new series

Happy Cyber Monday dear ones!

I'm busy cleaning the house, after our holiday hosting weekend today, but I am popping on quickly to share a new series I'll be blogging about all December long!  I just planned out some posts that have been put on my heart this month... about creating a Calm Christmas. I decorated the house for Christmas on Friday, as I always do.  It was relaxing and enjoyable and took me half the day, even with only one Christmas décor bin!  I was bone tired afterward, and the thing I spent most of the day's energy doing, was working to keep things simple and fresh.  It was work... it's so easy to over do everything this time of year-  Plan-making, eating, decorating, celebrating, shopping, spending, etc.  I posted a simple image on Instagram and the response to it was sweet.  I think we are all craving "under-done" in this season.  Social media feeds can feel overwhelming with their overdone push.

Someone just announced 29 days until Christmas and I could feel my breath speeding up.  I'm not sure if you're like me, but it seems there simply isn't enough time to get it all done.  Or perhaps you feel stressed out by people suggesting all of the FUN THINGS one should make lists to do each day on Christmas break, such as "see the lights" and "sip cocoa." (Or maybe that's just me?)  I'll tell you, those things make me feel so behind the game before I even start and I'm learning a thing or two about making plans.  I'm making a ton fewer of them the older I get because 1) they tend to naturally happen anyway, and when they naturally happen, they tend to be a lot more fun than when I insist everyone piles in and goes and "does" and "aren't we all having FUN yet?!"  (Know what I mean?) 2) Having older kiddos means they have plans too, and we can't all have constant plans, or else we're all constantly tired and cranky.

So.  I'll be blogging for my own self as I coax my way through this coming season.  I plan to hit the following categories.  Heart care, Self care, Other care, Home care and Hospitality (I've got a few new thoughts after, oh man.) Some simple gift ideas and thoughts, preparedness, some fun hosting tips that are working well for me, a New Year's Eve party idea, and a few other items like my favorite gingerbread cookie recipe.

I hope you'll stick around this month and contribute to the community in comments.  As always I love chatting with you and value all of your encouragement, ideas and feedback.  

Here's to a C A L M   C H R I S T M A S. 

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Five Kernels.

I'm wrapping up this thanksgiving hosting series today, and I hope you have enjoyed it. I wanted to end by sharing this tradition my family has.  Five kernels of corn are placed onto each plate before the meal, and once everyone is seated, I read the story below, aloud.  We then go around the table afterward, sharing about something that we had struggled with or found difficult over the past year, but how God had been faithful to us.  It's so much more meaningful than everyone saying what they are thankful for, before digging in, and I hope it speaks to you as it does to me..  I assembled the story, after gathering information and bits and pieces of many versions of this story all over the internet, from the past couple years so it's worded how I want it to be, for my family gathering.  Take it and tweak it or use it as is. 

Happy Thanksgiving and blessings to you and yours, 

Do you remember the old story about how Squanto the Indian, and his Massasoit tribe helped the Pilgrims grow and gather food in order to survive, in 1620? They worked very hard to begin a new life in the new land, because they knew they could be free to worship God the way they chose. 

The harvest of 1621 was abundant for the Pilgrims.  William Bradord, their governor, had declared a day of thanksgiving for all.  He invited the local Indian chief and was quite surprised when ninety other Indian friends came with him! They all celebrated this first harvest together, with three days of feasting, games and prayers. 

Soon after, a new ship arrived from England, with even more hungry Pilgrims, seeking a new life.  Sadly, they suffered a very severe winter, and many people died from sickness and not enough food to eat.  By the following spring, all of the Pilgrims were starving.  To make matters worse, the harvest in that second year was a tragic failure.  By the springtime of 1623, they were each only allowed to eat five kernels of corn per day so that they would have enough to last until more food could be grown.  But it wasn’t so easy because they suffered drought that whole spring and summer and all of their crops were dried up.  Hungry and desperate, they turned to God in prayer because they knew He was their only hope.  They fasted and prayed for eight hours straight, asking Him to help them.  The next morning, it is said that a gentle rain began to fall on their fields and it continued for nearly two weeks, saving all of their crops. 

That November, they once again gathered to celebrate Thanksgiving but the first course of their meal was a little different.  Each person had an empty plate sitting in front of them, with only five kernels of corn on it.  They did this to remind themselves of the difficulty through which God had sustained them, and that they owed Him their very lives.  Each Pilgrim got to stand and share how God had been faithful to them in difficulty, that previous year.

When a year has been particularly hard, in our workplace, school, life, finances, relationships and circumstances, what then?  Do we still give thanks for God’s faithful love and care? Whether we’re struggling through lean times or enjoying His abundance, we can always trust God’s strength to see us through.

(“I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything.  I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little.  For I can do everything with the help of Christ who gives me the strength I need.” Philippians 4:12-13)

Monday, November 20, 2017

Creating a floral arrangement for Thanksgiving

Glad to see you back here as we wind down this Thanksgiving hosting series.  I've been savoring the preparations and though I tend to enjoy the whole process, I'm down to my favorite part.  The centerpiece part!  I decided on flowers for my table this year.  I find flower arranging to be one of the most restful and enjoyable hobbies, and I believe anyone can create something beautiful with flowers. 

Now, a word on floral centerpieces.  It's important to take into account the size of the table, and the type of gathering you're hosting.  There are flowers that can be considered formal (think roses) and others that are a bit more casual (think, dahlias and mums).  Once you've assessed your type of gathering, the colors of flowers you'd prefer and what is in season, you might want to consider a few other things. Firstly, will the food service be tableside or buffet style? (If tableside, you'll want to make sure there is room around the arrangement) Height, amount or arrangements needed and what type of vessel best represents those specific types of flowers.  Keep in mind that if your arrangement is too tall it may drive people crazy while they are trying to visit across the table.  You don't want your beautiful work to get shuffled to a side table somewhere!  (I actually kept sitting on the chair and looking over the top of mine as I created, to double check that nothing was too high!) On the other hand, if flower arrangements aren't big enough they make little impact and you may want to create a few smaller arrangements, rather than one large one.

After thinking through all of the above, I decided on something long and low.  We will be going with buffet style food service which means I don't have to worry about keeping plenty of room on the table for food items.  Because my table is quite long, at nine feet, I've chosen my vessel which is also a long, narrow bowl. (It's actually our everyday fruit bowl which goes to show that your flowers can be displayed in nearly anything you want them to be in.)

I've gathered together all of my flowers, greenery, and tools. For this arrangement, I purchased Eucalyptus leaves, peach roses, peach carnations, kale flowers, and used dried oak leaves and antlers as accents. (I recommend sharp clippers or scissors, and wet floral foam.)  I will be showing you (mostly) step by step, how I createed this arrangement, so you can make one as well if you like.

Tips on Flower Arranging (from a non-expert)
*After floral foam is completely wet and placed into vessel, begin placing stems.  Once a stem is in the foam, do not try to re-arrange it. If you must move it, take it completely out, and place it in a new hole in the foam.  

*Create a sort of structure for your flowers, by placing your branches or greenery in first.  Once you have the bones of the arrangement, it's much easier to begin placing flowers and accents.  Think outside the box when it comes to making it unique.  I've added some antlers from our collection and it adds a nice fall touch.

*Make sure to turn your arrangement as you build and add flowers, so that you're not flower-heavy on one side. (Unless it will be against a wall, then go for a flower-heavy side!) 

*You won't want any leaves sitting directly in water or in the floral foam so strip the base of the stems of any leaves before you insert them into the foam or vase to prevent them from rotting.

*If you use kale, here's a great tip to make them into full "flowers" like I have done.  Gently start at the outside, peeling each leaf back just slightly until it resembles an open flower.  Simple. (Mine were sold in the floral department of my grocery store, in a two pack.)

*Consider your own backyard.  You may find greenery, dried leaves, berries and such there. 

*Lastly, don't get caught up in perfection.  You can create a wild arrangement or you can keep it symmetrical but it's your art so make this part as unique as you are and enjoy the process.  

It turned out really beautifully and just as I imagined it and I hope you're inspired to create something lovely for your own table.  I'll be adding some copper wire lights on Thanksgiving for a little twinkle. 

Now, I'm turning my thoughts toward the people who will be sitting around this arrangement in just a couple of days and I hope this series has inspired you to do likewise as you prepare.  Details are important but also not really all that important, as we remember those we are preparing the details for.  Tomorrow I'll be ending this series, by sharing our table and how we make it meaningful while sitting around the table.  

Happy Hosting, XOXO, 

Friday, November 17, 2017

Low-carb, simple, crowd-pleasing side dish for Thanksgiving

Hi dear friends. Are you enjoying this Thanksgiving series?  It's been pretty quiet in the comment section lately, and that's often how we bloggers are able to gauge if a series is helpful or interesting. Thank you to everyone who has taken a moment to comment or share!  I really value your feedback and would love to hear from you all! 

Today I am sharing a family favorite with you.  A Cauliflower Bacon Gratin recipe.  It's so yum.  I have made it every Thanksgiving for at least the last five years, perhaps even longer.  I have spied people who are self proclaimed cauliflower haters going back for seconds and even requesting the recipe.  That's just good press. 

I like an easy recipe and this doesn't get any easier in my opinion because you basically mix it in the pan with the exception of one small  bowl to mix the cream and cheese in. I always double the recipe so I am giving you the doubled version which serves twelve because don't even make this if you aren't going to double it. It will disappear far to quickly otherwise!  And it's low carb if you're into that sort of thing.

Cauliflower Bacon Gratin
3 bags frozen cauliflower florets
2 cups heavy cream
2 cups grated parmesan cheese
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup real bacon pieces
1 cup crunchy topping (we use crushed pork rinds to keep it low carb) (you can also use breadcrumbs or crushed crackers)
2 tbsp. butter, cut into small pieces

Butter a 9x13 baking dish and preheat oven to 400.
Add the cauliflower to the dish.
In a small bowl mix the cream, salt and pepper and parmesan.  Pour over the top of cauliflower and lightly toss to coat.
Sprinkle with bacon pieces and crushed pork rinds (or other crunchy topping) and dot with butter pieces.  Cover with foil, and bake 30 min, the remove foil and bake an additional 10-15 min.  Serve immediately.

Straight out of the oven it's all bubbly and crunchy on top and everyone fights for the first scoop.

**As a bonus recipe I wanted to share another long-time favorite appetizer for those hungry thanksgiving guests in your house...   I discovered the best stuffed mushroom recipe from a five star chef who shared his crazy simple recipe, twenty years ago.  I happened to work with his wife and she convinced him to share.  There isn't even a recipe and I'm sorry I don't have a photo because I haven't made it just yet but I'll  be sharing these with my guests on the actual day of Thanksgiving.

All it is... (are you ready?) mushrooms cleaned and stems gently pulled out... then simply spread or pipe room-temperature, Herbed Boursin cheese into the mushroom cavity. (I get mine at Costco but most grocery stores carry it.)  Place mushrooms into baking dish and bake at 350, for 15-20 minutes until cheese is browning and mushrooms are tender.  Time varies depending on size of mushrooms.  Serve warm.  They go fast as well. Simple.

Happy Hosting, XOXO, 

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Making Thanksgiving fun for kids/ the kids table

Hello, and welcome to this short Thanksgiving series.  I've been sharing all of the things that make hosting Thanksgiving an enjoyable and somewhat effortless event in our world.  I've been hosting Thanksgiving for years now, and I've done it with no kids, babies, tiny tots, little kiddos, as well as our current stage, teenagers.  I've always tried to make an effort to create little events or special moments for the kids, as they can get easily overlooked in large gatherings. 

My top tips for creating a welcoming space for kids during Thanksgiving are: 

Embrace the chaos.  It gets loud with littles running around your feet, needing things, laughing, being tossed in the air by uncles and such. There in the chaos, is where the memories are often made. It'll be nice and quiet later, when everyone is gone or in bed, so simply welcoming it in, for that short time is helpful.

Plan a special place for kids, if there is a separate table for them.  Printable placemats, (I am using these ones here) a new box of crayons, a special sparkling drink or a treat often help dinner stay relatively uninterrupted. 

Now that my own kids are older, I find myself thinking back about what was helpful to me when they were little. Seating the parents near to their children seems rather obvious but it's a great tip if you'll be planning seating arrangements.  Making sure they have seating at the end of the table to hop up and down as needed is always appreciated.

Using paper plates and disposable items at the kid's table is a great idea, so nothing special gets broken, and also, so parents can relax and not worry about Grandma's china in the hands of a fork smacking toddler. I do like the kid's table to reflect similarities to the adults table so they feel special, and included.

Storing a pre-set-up kids table in another, out of the way room while everyone is gathering and visiting before the meal is great, as it helps with traffic flow. Once dinner is nearly ready, it's easy enough to transfer the table to where it needs to be.  (In years past, I've set up the card table in the center of the room, and people were having to walk around it for two hours before the meal.  I'm smarter now. Ha!)

Planning a few activities for the kids after the meal is often really important, as the adults usually still want to relax and enjoy more social time together.  In years past, we have encouraged everyone with kids to pick up a gingerbread house kit, and after the table has been cleared, the kids are gathered and get to put candies on their houses (or just sit and eat them.) It's a fun way to make some memories with nephews, nieces, and your own kids.  In fact, this year Ava and I are both going to decorate one, as are my sister in laws and their kids.  Everyone seems to want in on this, and it helps to have that incentive for kids who are getting bored or squirrely pre-meal.

Another really fun thing we have often done after the meal, is assemble homeless gift bags.  Everyone is encouraged to bring a minimum of ten, of various items (small toothpastes, water bottles, granola bars, band-aids, socks, batteries, etc.) and then we set each pile of items all around the cleared table, everyone gets a ziplock bag, and we walk in a circle around the table, filling our bags with items.  Once done, each family is able to bring several bags in their car during the holidays, and when we see a homeless person beside the road, we have something useful and thoughtful to offer them.  Kids always get into this activity and even love handing them out.  It's a really tangible way to explain being thankful and sharing our blessings with others.

Those are my favorite tips for hosting a Thanksgiving meal with children.  One thing I'm still working out this year, is the teenager dynamic.  Our event grew unexpectedly and I've run out of space- table top, chairs and such.  I really want my teens at the adult's table, as it feels important that they are included, but they may have their own special place at the kitchen island this year to make it work. I'm learning quite a lot about hosting when it doesn't go as planned or anticipated in my head.  Just when I thought I had that locked down, I got some lessons on being gracious.  I suppose one can never be done learning what true hospitality looks like.  It's far different than being "the perfect hostess," (something nobody has time and space for.) and far more like being generous and kind, welcoming and accommodating.  I'd love to hear any ideas you have on this or hosting kiddos, so be sure to leave a comment. 

Happy Hosting, XOXO,