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Thursday, December 13, 2018

Random Acts of Kindness at Christmas Time

This time of year, there are so many opportunities to spread kindness and cheer. Here is a list of things you can do that will cost you little or nothing but your time.

Donate gently used toys to your local second-hand store
Send Christmas cards to soldiers
Go Caroling at a retirement center or to your neighbors
Leave kind notes on cars in a parking lot
Choose items to purchase from a Giving Tree
Leave a note and treat for your mail carrier or delivery truck driver
Take treats to the police and fire station
Donate food to a food pantry
Write gratitude letters to people you love
Volunteer to read to at a retirement home or library
Tape change to a vending machine to surprise someone with a free treat
Put your change in the Salvation Army buckets
Smile at everyone
Donate blood at or give plasma
Make a pinecone bird feeder
Paint and hide kindness rocks
Babysit for a friend so they can wrap presents
Bake cookies for your neighbors
Ask the store cashier what their favorite candy is, then buy it for them
Drive through the bank drive through and send a treat into the teller.
Sing Christmas Carols at a hospital
Make treats to share with your neighbors
Leave a dollar for someone to find in the Dollar Spot at Target or at the Dollar Store
Pay for Lunch for the person behind you in line or in the drive through
Allow someone to go ahead of you in the checkout line
Notice nice things about people and offer compliments.
Volunteer at your children's school
Make or buy a blanket to donate to the homeless shelter
Buy a cup of hot cocoa or coffee for a homeless person
Make small bereavement blankets to donate to hospitals for parents who deliver a stillborn
Write a kind letter to someone who has made a difference in your life.
Smile  to everyone you see

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Old Fashioned Stuffed Peppers

My parents and I have birthdays in the same month. One year for our birthdays, my grandma invited us over for dinner. She served the most comforting, delicious dinner. That was always the case, but I remember this particular meal being so good! This is the recipe from that dinner. Old Fashioned Stuffed Peppers are my favorite. I love the fresh flavors of green peppers and tomatoes with Italian seasonings.  I also think it is easily one of the easiest dinners to make.

You will need:
5 medium green peppers
2 cups cooked rice (2/3 cup raw)
1/2 tea. black pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon basil
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 lb. ground beef
1 can petite diced tomatoes
1 8 oz. cans tomato sauce

Cut tops of peppers off, remove seeds and wash. 

Combine brown ground beef, cooked rice, onion, salt, pepper, seasonings, tomatoes. Pile into peppers in a baking dish. Pour tomato sauce over peppers and cover tightly. Bake at 350 for 60-75 minutes, basting occasionally. Once cooked, allow to cool a bit before serving. Serve with cheese,

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Bakery Quality Chocolate Cake.

There is a VERY distinct difference between a cake made from a box and one purchased at a bakery. You know it and I know it. If given the choice between the two, most of us would choose the bakery cake every time. What if I told you that with a few small tweaks, your cake mix could taste as good or BETTER than a bakery cake? Well, friend, I have the recipe for you! 

This is my go-to recipe for birthdays, church functions, and every time cake is appropriate (and sometimes even when it's not).  I think my favorite part is that the cake mix is added with real, quality ingredients, which makes all the difference in my opinion. I also love the versatility of this recipe. Stick with me through the end of the recipe and I will share a few ways to change it up!

To make this cake you will need:
a box of chocolate cake mix
4 eggs
1/2 cup water
1 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/2 cup butter, room temperature.
1 small box INSTANT chocolate pudding mix

Preheat your oven to 350. Dump the cake mix in my mixer along with the pudding, sour cream, eggs, water, veggie oil, and butter. Pulse it until everything is moist then increase the speed until everything is whipped together--usually about 5 minutes on medium high. Pour batter into a greased and floured baking dished and bake according to cake mix box. Cake is done baking when a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Allow to cool completely before frosting.

Homemade frosting
1 stick butter
1 package powdered sugar
1/2 cup cocoa powder
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 teaspoon salt

cream together butter, sugar, vanilla, and salt. Add milk until frosting reaches the right consistency. 

Have fun with this recipe!
Keep all ingredients the same except the cake mix and pudding!
Red Velvet with Red Velvet pudding mix
Yellow Cake with Vanilla pudding mix
White Cake with White Chocolate pudding mix (with some crushed peppermint sticks! yum!)
Lemon cake with Lemon pudding mix and poppy seeds

Let me know what you come up with!

Monday, December 10, 2018

Cinnamon Caramel Popcorn

Every year my angel of a Mother-in-law makes caramel popcorn balls for the family Christmas Eve Party. They are the soft, gooey, melt in your mouth caramel balls that we devour quickly while they're available and then crave for the rest of the year. I am feeling sad we won't be eating caramel balls with everyone else this year. But that won't stop me from eating them alone. Ha!

This recipe is close to hers, but I added a little twist. While living in Heber, Utah, we would frequently visit the Mrs. Calls candy factory that was nestled there in our beautiful town. We'd sample all the decadent caramels and chocolates before settling on a few to purchase and take home. My favorite is their Cinnamon Sugar caramel. Guys. It is the stuff dreams are made of. There are a few things you can't buy in The South that we totally took for granted living in Utah... and Mrs. Calls Cinnamon Sugar Caramels is one of them. 

So, Today when I whipped up this little batch of chewy caramel balls, I decided to put my love of traditional Christmas Eve caramel balls and Mrs. Calls Cinnamon Sugar Caramels together. It's a winner, friends. The smooth sweetness of caramel swirled with the warmth of cinnamon added to the crunch of freshly popped popcorn--You need this perfection in your life!

To make this treat you will need

3 bags plain popped popcorn
1/2 cup butter (I use salted)
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup light Karo syrup
1 14oz can sweetened condensed milk
1 teaspoon Vanilla
2 teaspoons cinnamon

Pop popcorn, removing any unpopped kernels. Set aside. Melt together butter, brown sugar, Karo syrup. Stir constantly & Bring to a boil. Next, add the sweetened condensed milk and cinnamon. Continue stirring. Gently bring to a gradual boil and continue cooking until caramel reaches "soft ball" stage (235 degrees). Pour caramel over popcorn and mix until well coated. Spread popcorn on a sheet of parchment paper to cool. Form into popcorn balls and wrap in plastic wrap or in baggies. 

Friday, December 7, 2018

Simplifying Christmas

Sometimes I feel like I go overboard with Christmas. I always start early in the year. Sometimes I buy way too much stuff. I just love finding good deals... but more importantly, I love watching my kids open gifts and seeing the joy in their faces. Often times, though, Christmas Eve, after the kids have gone to bed, we spend a good amount of time sorting the gifts into what we'll actually give them for Christmas and what we'll save to give as Birthday presents. I

Not this year, though.This year we are simplifying Christmas. Under the tree Christmas Morning our kids will find something they want, something they need, something to wear, something to read, and something to do (an activity to participate in). We will put a few tiny trinkets and treats in their stockings but that is all.

Earlier this season, I asked my kids to give me a list of five things in each category: Want, Need, Wear, Read, Do. After explaining the plan for this year, we told them that we'd choose one thing from each of the five categories, so to give it a lot of thought before giving the list back. They were so sweet as they considered what they'd like, talking with each other and comparing lists. In the end, everyone turned in a simple notecard with simple wishlist items. It was exactly what I had hoped for and made shopping so much easier.

I am really looking forward to watching them open gifts on Christmas morning. What is your gifting tradition?  Are you an early shopper or do you wait until the last minute? Do you bargain shop or do you splurge on hot ticket items? Are you like me and buy way too much, or are you organized with specific lists, like we did this year?

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Thursday, December 6, 2018

Through The Service of Others He Carried Me

Eleven years ago, after the devastating news that our tiny baby boy growing in my womb had passed away, I fell into a deep, dark place inside myself. I cried. A lot. For about solid 5 days I cried. I would wake in the morning, still wrapped in the fogginess of dreams-- Most often dreams of delivering a perfectly healthy baby boy--things were perfect. I would look lovingly down at my sweet tiny child and believe he was real, that he was really in my arms... then, something would snap me back to reality. I would awaken to find my arms empty and the hollow pit of grief still intact. I would again find myself unable to control my tears. I'd lie in bed and cry all day, trying to wish those sweet dreams into reality to no avail.

The grief of losing my child was overwhelming. It nagged at me relentlessly. I withdrew from friends and family... and from myself. I went into a sort of 'auto-pilot" and I hardly remember anything about the first 2 or three months after. I felt as though I had completely lost myself. I questioned whether the principles I'd had been taught my entire life were true. How could Heavenly Father allow such pain to tear his faithful daughter down??? Why would he want me to feel such pain?

I was so wrapped up in the hurt, I almost missed seeing the good that came of my little angel's short life.

Looking back and trying to remember the first few months after Andrew returned to Heaven are hard for me. I honestly cannot remember much. I do, however, remember the outpouring of service and love from dear friends and family. We had so much love and compassion showered upon us, and so much goodness passed our way. I know without a doubt that the Lord saw fit to humble me and allow me to feel the love and genuine caring of others. He wasn't trying to hurt me. He didn't want to see me stumble and fall. Now, it is clear to see that during my darkest hour, I was not alone. He was there with me. Through the service of others, He carried me. I am so grateful for the loving acts of kindness offered by others in my time of need. I feel so blessed to have had so many Christ-like friends who loved and cared about us. I have learned that a lot can be accomplished in a small act of kindness.

I remember one day in particular... I was unable to pull myself together. I heard my phone chime telling me I had a new text message. The message was from a girl I knew, but not really well. "I've been thinking about you. You'll let me know if you need anything. ANYTHING. Big hug." I was so touched by her simple act of kindness. It had made my day that day. It wasn't much... but it was enough. because of that simple text message, we have become lifelong friends.

Today, I am asking that everyone who has been inspired by Andrew's life pay it forward. Call a friend, share a talent, make cookies for your neighbor, send a text message to someone you've been thinking about. Just let the people you care about know what they mean to you. Any act of kindness will do. It doesn't need to be anything big or fancy. I know from experience a little act of service can go a long way and I have also learned that nothing heals a broken heart or grieving spirit better than offering service unto others.

It's been eleven years since we kissed our tiny, sleeping baby Andrew goodbye. It feels like an eternity has passed... but at the same time, I feel like it happened just yesterday. The wounds have begun to heal and the grief and guilt have long since been replaced with hope and joy in things to come and love for others whom I have served and for those who have served me. I still miss my baby. I think about his sweet little face every day. I look forward to seeing him, hugging him, and telling him how much he means to me. However, I am no longer painfully burdened with the loss. He gives me hope and a feeling of being fully invested in Heaven. We gave up precious time with him now, for something better... an eternity of love and family companionship together in the Celestial Kingdom. I am filled with love for my Heavely Father. I am grateful for the knowledge that we forever sealed as an eternal family.

Happy Birthday, Little Andrew. We love you.

There's a Special Angel in Heaven that is a part of me.
It is not where I wanted him, but where God meant for him to be.
He was here but for a moment, like a nighttime shooting star.
And though he is in Heaven, he isn't very far.
So I send this special message, to the Heavens up above.
Please take care of my Angel, and send him all my love

Monday, December 3, 2018

Telling Your Child The Truth about Santa

I love the magic and love the surrounds Christmas. I love giving gifts and singing carols. I always have. I love Christmas so much, I believed in Santa until I was almost 12. I remember being the only kid in my sixth-grade class who still believed and thinking they were all crazy for thinking their parents were Santa Claus. The magic and wonder of Christmas were very important to me and I just was not ready to let it go. I think I just needed to believe until I was ready to let it go. So I did. There was no traumatic experience of finding out my parents really had been Santa Claus all along. It was just a truth I came to understand.

The same went for my oldest son. He came to me one day and told me that he knew and that it was okay because he liked being part of the surprise. We talked about how Santa Claus really was a real man and that he was so loved and appreciated, that moms and dads all over the world carry on his traditions. That now he knew, he was part of a magical society of secret keepers who were charged with keeping the spirit alive. He liked this assignment and did everything he could to help his brother and sister believe.

Earlier this summer, someone else's kids spilled the beans about Santa to my younger two kids. I was pretty ticked. I had hoped to have the same wonderful conversation and easy let down with them that I had with my older. That was not my luck. They were heartbroken. It was so sad. After a bit of consoling, I told them about the magical society of secret keepers, which helped,  and they were eager to join.

I worried that Christmas would lose its sparkle and mystery now that my kids have outgrown Santa. But, truthfully, it has not! Kids are resilient and willing to help... especially when magic is involved! They have really stepped up to make sure they help other kids feel the Christmas spirit. They have been more kind and loving toward each other (now that they know Santa  MOM really IS watching!) It surprised me how willing they are to serve and love in order to keep the magic alive for those around them. It's been wonderful seeing them fully embrace the love and giving of the season, accepting that while Santa is not an actual man who comes down the chimney, but rather a tradition of generosity and love for others.

How old were you when you stopped believing in Santa Claus?

Are you in the midst of helping your kids navigate their first non-Santa Claus- believing Christmas?

Here are three cute ideas I found from other bloggers: