Saturday, November 24, 2012

Confessions of a terrible gift-giver

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It's the season of giving--spirits are high and people enjoy splurging on loved ones.

My spirits are high, too, but the thought of buying gifts for people makes me squeamish. Seriously. My palms start to sweat and that little constant coil in my gut starts winding a little tighter and I'm just not quite feeling well.

It's not that I don't like giving gifts, because I do. I love showing people that I love them. I'm just not the world's best gift-giver. There are two kinds of gift-givers in the world: those who are naturals and those of us who have to work at it. I'm clearly the latter. Once in a while I feel like I've hit the jackpot and found the perfect item, but most of the time, I feel like I'm playing it safe, selling out for a gift card, which is unoriginal but a sure win, instead of finding something unique and thoughtful. Unique gifts can sometimes backfire, so I just don't take the chance.

And I feel like it takes me forever to think of the perfect gift, which is hard for this productivity-addict; to me, those hours spent thinking and searching for the perfect gift could be better spent doing a million other things--again, not because I don't care about other people, but because gift-giving is so dang hard for me.

I also come from a brood of highly practical people. In fact, Phil says I'm the third practical person he knows, behind my mom and dad. So, I grew up in a family where we made lists for each other for Christmas. And we'd give and get what was on our list because that's what we said we wanted and that made us happy. No wasted gifts. No wasted time returning gifts we really didn't want. No re-gifting gifts we hated but couldn't return. But there were rarely any surprises. And there's a part of me that loves surprises--both giving and getting. It just takes so. much. work. So I'm working on it.

Last excuse explanation: it's really hard to hit the jackpot with a gift for someone you don't see or talk to every day, like my family. I see them regularly, but I miss those moments when my mom sees something on TV or in a magazine and tells me she really likes it and I tuck it away for Christmastime. I'm only there for the quick weekend, and it's hard to gather the essence of a person in a weekend. Maybe I need to get to know my family better. That's not true, though. I know them really well. I just don't know what to buy for them. It's a blind spot.

So, there you have it. I'm a terrible gift-giver. Not in the I'm-going-to-knit-you-an-ugly-sweater-for-Christmas way, but in the I'm-going-to-play-it-safe-and-buy-you-a-gift-card way. If you're on the receiving end of my gifts this year, know that I'm trying, but that I'd also appreciate a list of things you really, really want. Because at the end of the day, I just want you to be happy and to know that you're loved.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

The big ONE

Well, folks, we made it. One whole year with our sweet Moo. Celebration was definitely in order--for all of us. It's a miracle any time we're given another year, but the first year especially. We're all kinds of grateful.

His actual birthday was on Friday, and Phil was able to be home most of the day, so we gave him his gift, a plastic Radio Flyer red wagon and pulled him around the driveway for a while. We even let him take his best stuffed friend Raffe on a wagon ride with him--a treat since Raffe usually stays in the crib. Based on this picture, I'd say he was a fan.

Then we headed to one of our favorite parks to slide, swing, play on the car-on-a-spring, and attempt a family self-portrait.

Did I mention this boy loves his daddy? Because he does.

We had his party on Saturday, and I prayed for good weather because we were having 30 people at a park and the rain plan was my house, which is a little too cozy for 30 people.

Side note: I used to make fun of people who had huge birthday parties for their one-year-olds, who wouldn't know the difference anyway. Chalk it up to one more instance where I eat my words about parenting. On top of having big families on both sides, we also wanted a few close friends to be there too; we wanted the "village" that helped us this past year to also get to celebrate with us.

Back to the weather, which was absolutely perfect--sunny, a little crisp, but not enough to even need a jacket. And no one else was having a birthday there that day, so we had the place to ourselves. Moo spent most of his time playing with trucks in the grass (no big surprise there). Despite his skeptical face in this picture, he really was having fun!

But he did stop to eat his birthday cupcake (big fan--thanks, Mimi!) 

And, of course open gifts. Here's one of his favorites:

I have lots of sentimental, I-can't-believe-it's-been-a-year-already kinds of thoughts, but for now, I'll leave you with one last picture from this morning. I love every single bit of it--especially the bed head. Like father, like son; those boys love them some cars.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

'Tis the season to be baking

It's been a while since my last recipe post, and since my baby is turning ONE tomorrow and I'll be all kinds of sentimental, I figured now was a good time to share some non-sentimental but totally delicious fall recipes. I've got you covered--breakfast, snack, and dinner. You're on your own for lunch.

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Pumpkin Banana Muffins. Pumpkin and banana are a surprisingly delicious duo, and these were delicious for breakfast or snacks. Since they're made with whole wheat flour and only a 1/2 cup of brown sugar for the whole dozen muffins, I'd say they're pretty darn healthy. That being said, I did feel like they were lacking in flavor, so if you don't ant to slather on butter like I did,  you could add a little sugar, agave nectar, dried fruit, or dark chocolate to the mix. Perfect fall treat.

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French Chicken Stew. Not sure what makes this "French," but I have my American friend Allison to thank for this one. It's perfect for a fall night and is a nice twist on chicken vegetable soup. I omitted the tapioca because I didn't have any on hand and I honestly had no idea what it was outside of tapioca pudding, which I'm pretty sure I've never had. I also used the Alfredo instead of the marinara. The flavor is unique, flavorful, and comforting. Definitely a keeper.

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Peanut Butter Banana Chocolate Chip Granola. Also many thanks to Allison. This is the perfect snack food--full of protein and lots of good-for-you stuff that you can't taste. Don't be intimidated by the list of ingredients. You can do this. I promise.

1-2/3 cups old-fashioned oats
1/3 cup white or whole wheat flour
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup honey (tip: spray measuring cup with cooking spray first so honey doesn’t stick)
2 tbsp vegetable oil
2 ripe bananas, mashed
1/3 cup creamy peanut butter
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
2-3 cups of mix-ins (your choice): I used: 1/3 cup wheat germ, 1/3 cup flax seed, 2/3 cup sliced almonds, and 1/2 cup mini chocolate chips (would recommend a little more than this)

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  • Line a 9×13 baking pan with parchment paper or foil. Make sure to leave a few inches of paper hanging over the sides (this will help tremendously when you remove the baked bars from the pan)
  • Combine the dry ingredients: oats, flour, salt, cinnamon, dry mix-ins as desired (wheat germ, flax seed, almonds, mini chocolate chips)
  • In a separate bowl, combine wet ingredients: honey, brown sugar, oil, mashed bananas, peanut butter, vanilla extract
  • Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients, mixing well until combined
  • Pour mixture into baking dish, making sure to spread evenly throughout the pan. Press the mixture down with a spatula to make sure it is firm and packed
  • Bake for 35 – 40 minutes or until golden brown on top
  • Cool completely in pan
  • Once cool, slice into bars of desired size
  • Store in airtight container in refrigerator to retain crispiness

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Book binge

I went through a bit of a book break, my brain only able to take in smaller chunks of info like magazine articles and blog entries, but now I'm back to reading books again and I've turned into a book binger. I'm reading SIX books right now. Six. And I have a stack of ignored magazines to catch up on. What am I thinking? I'll tell you what I'm thinking. I'm thinking that all these books seem really, really good. That they're all interesting and different and that I'm not always in the mood to read the same kind of book.

Since I'm in the middle (or, let's be honest: the first chapter) of most of these books, here's a preview of the book reviews to come and a little explanation of why they're on my bedside table:

What to Expect the Second Year by Heidi Murkoff and Sharon Mazel
My baby's about to be one, so I figured I should read up on what's to come. Always find these books helpful.

Give Them Grace by Elise M. Fitzpatrick and Jessica Thompson
Had this book recommended to me by several people I respect. It's all about changing our message to our kids from "be good" to "we're all messed up and need grace from God." Love that message and need to hear it myself. Really looking forward to reading more of this.

How to Write A Lot by Paul J. Silvia
This little how-to gem is no-nonsense and practical, short and sweet. Many thanks to my writer friend, Lauren, who suggested it and let me borrow her copy. More on this book soon!

Generosity by Gordon MacDonald
Our church sent this devotional to all the members since this is our "stewardship season." It has devotions for four weeks. Phil and I have read two. But we really, really like it so far.

Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
A little late on this bandwagon, I know. This is the latest installment of what I'm calling "Phil and Cara's book they read together." Totally creative. Phil's not much of a reader, so it's always hard to find books that we both enjoy, so when he suggested this series that I had miraculously not read, I agreed. So far, so good, but it's slow going--not because of the book, but because Phil falls asleep about three pages in whenever we read in bed (my favorite reading spot). Slowly but surely.

The Terrible Speed of Mercy: A Spiritual Biography of Flannery O'Connor by Jonathan Rogers
I cannot say enough about how much I love this book (and Flannery O'Connor). Can't wait to finish it and write a review. Thanks to my friend Melissa for the suggestion!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Living generously

I'm learning about generosity.
About how I cannot be a follower of Jesus AND hold onto my stuff and my time.
About how I need to give more than just money.
How I need to give my time (my precious time),
my energy
my emotions
my thoughts
my talents
my agenda
my home
my things
my gifts.
Give them away.

"You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God" (2 Corinthians 9:11). 

Giving isn't about feeling good about myself.
It isn't about doing just enough so that God will bless me.
It isn't about feeling sorry for others or looking good to others.

It's a response to being shown the ultimate generosity.
God became flesh. For me. 
God gave of Himself and gave Himself. For me. 
THAT is generosity. 
And that's why I can be generous in every way.

Every experience in my day becomes an opportunity to be generous, to give my life away on behalf of another. And it's making me thankful. I can't explain it, but it is. 

Monday, November 5, 2012

Li'l Engineer

If I thought Moo was a bit of an engineer before, today confirmed my suspicions. In a matter of hours, the boy did the following:

While playing with my cell phone (a luxury on his part), he managed to call Phil at work all by himself. Then, while "talking" with his daddy, he texted "LOL" (I'm not making this up) to some 3-digit number that he dialed.

Then tonight when we started to watch one of his Baby Einstein videos before bed, I realized that the DVD wasn't in the player like it was earlier in the day. Apparently, in a moment when I was out of the room, the Li'l Engineer had figured out how to open the DVD player and remove the DVD.

Smarty pants.