LITTLE THINGS THIS WEEK.

1. this santa garland…img_4921and the little boy who shouts ‘santa! santa!’ every time he sees it.

2. these chunky crayons…img_5026for being easy to wipe of tables, chairs, but not quite so easily off of walls. {i swear, you look away for ten seconds and that’s all it takes!}

3. this tiny salad dressing jar…img_5146because it makes salads at lunch a whole lot cuter.

4. this christmas card…img_4935for being delayed and then suddenly, unexpectedly ready for pick up!

5. these enchiladas and jar of beer…img_4897for being just the thing to soothe my soul.

in other news:

only five more days until i have two whole weeks off with my loves. there’s a mile long list of things to do before mike’s parents arrive next sunday, so we’re going to try to cross somethings off this weekend. a holiday party with friends on saturday, and then the christmas village at our church on sunday is going to make for a busy little weekend. i’m going to fit in some baking of cranberry bread, some granola bars for the week, some serious boy snuggles and we are going to clean, clean, clean the house from top to bottom. it’s going to be a good one, you guys.

THE VERY BEST GRANOLA RECIPE.

img_4633On school days, our morning are, in an understatement, hectic. As much as I try to prepare at night for the next day, there’s only so much you can do. Diaper changes, bottles, long snuggles, teeth brushing, throwing things into lunchboxes, turning on the crockpot, not to mention getting ready myself. These are the days though. I live for those morning snuggles before school, at the cost of eating breakfast myself. With the gift of forethought this weekend, I made my very favorite granola, cooking it low and slow this past Saturday in the oven while the boys took turns napping and pulling every toy off the shelves in the playroom. I’ve gotten in the habit of tucking a little jar of granola with yogurt into my lunchbox to eat when I get to school in that blissful half hour before students arrive at the library for my first class. 

Mornings are tinged at this time of year (in south florida!) with a cool breeze and it’s just the best time of year to make granola. I’m sure it’s an even better time for it in the cold and wintry north. Let’s be honest, who wants to leave their oven on for an hour during any other time of year? I’ve tried many recipes for granola over the years, and this is the one scrawled on an index card, but nearly memorized. It’s adapted from Alton Brown, and it’s just my favorite. This isn’t just any granola, but a hearty and satisfying mix that’s not too sweet (the failing of most granola), a little bit salty with a nice crunch that pairs perfectly with a bit of plain greek yogurt. It is, of course, highly adaptable. Choose your favorite dried fruit, variety of nut, extra mix ins. 

img_4635

Granola
adapted from Alton Brown

What you need:

– 3 cups oats
– 1 cup mixed nuts, chopped (this mix is my favorite from aldi)
– 3/4 cup shredded coconut, sweet or regular
– 1 tsp salt
– 1/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp brown sugar
– 1/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp maple syrup
– 1/4 cup neutral oil (I use canola)
– 1 cup dried fruit (this is my favorite)

What to do: 

+ Preheat oven to 250 degrees.

+ Mix oats, nuts, coconut, salt, and brown sugar in a large oven-safe dutch oven, or baking dish.

+ In a small bowl, stir together syrup and oil.

+ Pour oil and sugar over oat mixture and stir to combine.

+ Cook for 1 hour and 15 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes.

+ Let cool, then mix in dried fruit.

+ Store at room temperature in an airtight container for up to a week.

+ Enjoy over yogurt or milk!

img_4638

Do you eat breakfast? I’ve gone through phases this year of breakfasting and not, and I’m in a decidedly breakfasting phase.

BEN STANDS.

img_4677img_4676This past weekend, as if it was no big thing at all, Ben grabbed hold of the side of the toy chest and stood himself up on his own! He’s been inching himself toward it for the past month, practicing his downward dog, and staying up on his own two legs when we stand him up. At 9 1/2 months, he’s not even close to letting go, nor to taking steps, and that’s a-okay with us. Charlie took his first steps at 10 months and was running by 12 months. I will definitely take as long as I can get with my little roly-poly pumpkin pie crawling around like the baby he is. 

THE HOLIDAYS: A TREE ADVENT CALENDAR.

I don’t recall doing an advent calendar growing up, but we (catholics) always had a little visual countdown with our advent wreath at dinner time. Every week leading up to Christmas, a new candle on the wreath is lit signifying Christmas day (and sweet baby Jesus) growing closer. Lighting (and blowing out) the candles was an event. Dad always lit them, but who would get to be the one to blow out the candle at the end of dinner? I begged for it every night. The glow of those purple and rose colored candles in the middle of the table added to the magic of the month. My parents light their candles every December to this day, and it’s a tradition that I want to continue with my family, but this year, fire is just something I can’t commit to yet with our tiny ones at the table

For now, opening little boxes topped with trees and filled with a small strip of paper with a holiday activity is such a sweet evening ritual to look forward to. It really makes the countdown to Christmas an event, and puts that whole “good cheer” and “merriment” of the season right in our midst. Within each box, I wrote a little Christmas activity to do on that day. I make sure to put all of our favorite Christmas movies and treats in the boxes. Some (especially weeknight activities) are easy, some more involved with a bit of planning. 

In a year or two, when the boys get a little bit bigger, I’ll start subbing in more activities for the good of others (Donate toys! Volunteer! Buy a gift for a family in need! Send homemade Christmas cards to a nursing home! Bake cookies for the homeless shelter! Etc. etc. etc.) and more outings as our kids age (Go to the Nutcracker! Drive around to see the Christmas lights! Go ice skating!). But for now, we’ll settle for a watch of The Grinch on the couch before bed, or a night of wearing Christmas hats with Christmas tunes tinkling in the background. 

In the rush of coming off of travel and Thanksgiving being so late this year, I didn’t even put our Advent calendar out until the 5th. But the 5th was just as good a day to start as the 1st, or even the 10th. 

I made our advent calendar last year, and love it just as much this year. I got everything from Michael’s when they were having a 60% off sale (as they are this week!) and the only other supply I needed was a sharpie and a hot glue gun, which I had at home. 

I used this set of 21 bottle brush trees from Lemax. To fill in for the other 3 boxes, I used this set of pinecones and a little bag of silver bells. Berries would be nice too. Make sure to set your trees out in the order that you’ll glue them to the boxes to make sure the heights are appealing to the eye. Try to vary the heights a little. 

The boxes are small kraft paper boxes from the jewelry section at Michael’s. These are very similar. I wrote the numbers on the outside with a thin Sharpie and then simply hot glued the trees, pinecones and bells to the tops. Inside, tuck your activity and set up on a long table, or windowsill for little hands to open when the day arrives! In the spirit of full disclosure, Charlie did pull a bell off of a box today, but it’s nothing that can’t be fixed with another dab of hot glue.  

To store, I have a sturdy little cardboard box that I tuck them into at the end of each season, and you could even tuck them away after the day passes, but I kind of like looking at them all lined up the whole month. They are a decoration as much as they are a calendar! 

No doubt, the holiday wants and needs of your family are different than my own, but here are 24 ideas that I tucked into my own Advent calendar this year. The dates may shift, activities may pop up unannounced and some may not even happen (Naps! Meals! Work! Foul moods!), but that’s the beauty of the holidays, isn’t it? 

1 – Set up the advent calendar, and fill with all our favorites!
2 – Choose Christmas books from the library!
3 – Watch The Grinch – the original, very Dr. Seuss-y version, of course.
4 – Put up the nativity.
5 – Put out shoes for St. Nicholas Day.
6 – Go out to get our tree & decorate!
7 – Our town’s Christmas tree lighting.
8 – Outdoor lights go up!
9 – Christmas hats & Christmas tunes blasting
10 – Make Peppermint Bark.
11 – Watch White Christmas!
12 – Visit our church’s Christmas Village.
13 – Make a tree shaped pizza!
14 – Bake Christmas sugar cookies!
15 – Watch Elf!
16 – Hot chocolate with peppermint schnapps and one million marshmallows.
17 – A seasonal coffee treat from Starbucks.
18 – Make salt dough handprint ornaments.
19 – Charlie’s holiday performance at school! (There is nothing on this list that I’m looking forward to more than this.
20 – Homemade egg nog with a little splash of something to warm our bellies.
21 – Wear red and green!
22 – Make a batch of wassail for the Metrokas’ arrival!
23 – Wrap presents with Christmas movies on!
24 – Appetizer night at home and mass, of course.

Can’t even believe that we only have two weeks to go!

OUR WEEK AT A GLANCE. {DECEMBER 9-13}

img_4689Mike’s cleaning the laundry room. He cleaned the garage earlier today while I took the boys to the park, and I knew he has his eyes set on some cabinets and drawers next. He’s going through a real moment of tidying things up before his parents visit in a couple weeks. I hope it sticks because I could get used to this. I’m lounging on the couch next to the Christmas tree, The Holiday (one of my favorite Christmas movies!) on in the background while I look at the overview of our week and finish up my Christmas card order. My Sunday bedtime is quickly approaching, so let’s take a look at our week. week at a glanceHamburger pie is on the menu for tomorrow night – ground turkey, salt, pepper, ketchup (a good squeeze – maybe 1/4 cup?), 1 can each of diced tomato, green beans and corn. Mix it up, and top with creamy mashed potatoes and then cheddar cheese on top of that. One of our favorites in the winter. Taco Tuesday this week is chicken enchiladas. I’ll do the chicken just with salt and pepper in the crock pot to make it easy. Monterrey jack cheese to fill with, and I use canned enchilada sauce these busy days. Extra crock pot chicken from Tuesday’s enchiladas will be for the stir fry on Wednesday. Broccoli, onion, carrot, and pea pods with rice. I usually wing the stir fry sauce – soy sauce, garlic, a little brown sugar. Thursdays are for leftovers, and Pizza is our Friday tradition. I made granola for a better breakfast, and I have sugar cookies on the plan for Friday.

Not too many other extras this week. Mike doesn’t have any events, so we’ll have him to ourselves on nights, thank goodness, and for me it’s all just getting ourselves to Christmas break in two more weeks!! I’ve planned a couple running days and yoga. I have a few more Christmas to do’s, but our tree looks beautiful and it’s starting to feel more like the holidays around here. On Saturday we went to our town’s Christmas tree lighting – they had fireworks! It was so very exciting!

img_4725img_4609

 

THE HOLIDAYS: A PERFECT TREE.

We chose a sweet little fraser fir this morning down the road at the high school Christmas tree stand. We were the only souls there at 8:30am other than about ten high school honor society students. They were polite, helpful and happy to take pictures. 🥰

Charlie ran around the place with Mike chasing behind, while Ben and I slowly walked the aisles, on the hunt for the perfect tree. Not too tall, not too full, a little bit skinny and the best smelling we could find. She’s waiting on the porch now, while we straighten up, dig out the tree stand and have final discussions about placement. “Play room!” “No! Living room!” I have a feeling that Mike’s argument of playroom so we open present on Christmas morning right next to her will win. I can’t wait to see her all dolled up!

Do you have your tree yet? I feel like everyone but us has theirs already!

LITTLE THINGS THIS WEEK.

1. this tree-scape advent calendar…img_4327because it’s loved just as much this year as last.

2. this sheep refrigerator art…img_4391and the tiny hands who made it at school this week.

3. this collection of things found in my pocket…img_4335when self care, lunch duty, and babies collide.

4. this mason jar…img_4406and the vast expanse of water it has helped me drink this week.

5. this play nativity…img_4341for day 5 of the advent calendar, and for the full hour of entertainment it provided yesterday.

in other news:

this was one of those glorious weeks that passed by so quickly, it’s almost as if it didn’t happen at all. i keep asking myself, was there school on monday? am i sure? there was, it flew, and the week is behind us already.

this weekend, the rest of the christmas decorations are going to be pulled out of the giant chest they live in. it’s our first year in our new house, and i’m itching to decide where things should go. the christmas tree has been a discussion – the playroom, or the living room – and we haven’t quite settled on it, but one of us is going to reason their way into success.

it was a good, easy week at school. the excitement about our christmas tree in the corner, the book tree in the hallway, twinkle lights on every surface and the wrapped boxes underneath have been highlights in my chats with my students. thanksgiving memories of turkey and stuffing are far behind us. i’m reading the grinch with my kindergarten and first graders, and mike reads it nightly with charlie (‘gwinch! gwinch! ‘lou who!’) and i swear i have it memorized.

it’s the best time of year, friends, i hope you’re soaking up every little moment.

“staring down from his cave with a sour, grinchy frown at the warm lighted windows below in their town. for he knew every who down in who-ville beneath was busy now, hanging a mistletoe wreath.” –how the grinch stole christmas! by dr. seuss.

TO BAKE: CHERRY BERRY BARS

I often, especially at that hour after my students leave, but can’t yet leave school to pick up my own little loves, find myself in need of something to munch on. I’ve gone through phases of handfuls of pretzels, tupperware-d muffins, little jars of plain yogurt with granola, tins of chex mix, baggies of graham crackers, or a simple, not overly sweet cake wrapped up in a napkin and tucked in my lunch box to enjoy with a steaming mug of peppermint tea in the afternoon.

But a couple weeks ago, it was after the boys had gone to bed, and I had in my mind these date bars that are a bit of a tradition for me to bake pre-anywhere travel. It had been a long school day, I had been making lists all week of things that needed to be remembered and packed before our trip. I typically double Smitten Kitchen’s recipe to fit in my 9×9 square baking pan, and to make more of a thick breakfast bar than the single recipe makes.

As you can probably see where I’m going where this, a few things went awry in my dark of night cooking. I was doubling all the ingredients in my head (always write them down. always!). I also didn’t have exactly all of the ingredients that the recipe called for – dried cherries rather than dates, frozen fruit to make up the difference, regular granulated sugar instead of raw, ginger instead of cloves, and the use of a whole cup instead of a half measuring cup. A few changes and mistakes that led to the greatness of a crumbly but chewy, sweet but tangy, sweet but also a little salt to take the edge off, homemade granola bar. The perfect after- school, or afternoon treat to enjoy with a hot cozy drink in a mug.

Homemade Cherry-Berry Granola Bars

adapted from Smitten Kitchen

For the filling:

What you need: 

5 ounces dried cherries
1 cup frozen (or fresh) mixed berries
1/2 cup water

What to do: 

+ Combine cherries, berries and water in a small saucepan.

+ Simmer over low heat for 5 to 10 minutes until the liquid has absorbed and begun to thicken.

+ Set aside while you make the dough.

For the dough:

What you need: 

1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 cup canola oil
1/2 cups oats, quick-cooking or old-fashioned, plus another 1/4 cup for topping
3 cups flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt

What to do: 

+ Heat oven to 400 degrees. Grease sides and bottom of a 9×9 baking pan.

+ In a large mixing bowl, or in a Kitchenaid mixer, combine the sugars and oil. Add the flour, 1/2 cup of the oats, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, baking soda and salt. The mixture will be the consistency of a cookie dough.

+ Press about 3/4 of the mixture into the bottom of your baking pan. Spread your filling on top.

+ To the remaining 1/4 of the dough, add 1/4 cup of oats and mix together. Sprinkle this on top of the fruit filling and press lightly to cover.

+ Bake for 30 minutes or until light brown at the edges. Cut into squares after cooled. Store at room temperature if eating soon, refrigerator for about a week, or freezer for longer.

A THANKSGIVING SPENT IN INDIANA.

img_0306img_3967We are very thankful for time spent with our families in Indiana this year. Flying with our two little guys wasn’t any easier than I thought it would be, but it was better than it could have been. Taking them out of their routine showed us that we should probably make it more of a habit than we do now. All the missed naps, refused feedings, and early wake ups were so worth the time spent with both sides of our families.img_3981img_3832Our parents’ houses were full of laughter, food, wine and loved ones, just how I like it. img_3947 While we were home, we also had a baby shower for my brother’s wife. They’re expecting their first, a baby girl, and we couldn’t be more excited for them.img_3973img_3828

We got in all of our Thanksgiving traditions: The turkey bowl at my aunt’s house, Thanksgiving dinner at home, trivial pursuit at Uncle John and Aunt Dianne’s, and then down to Mike’s house for Ben’s (and his cousin, Harper) baptism the next day (more pictures to come for that).img_0334img_3849img_0288img_3844img_3942img_3834img_0366Honestly, I didn’t take as many pictures as I would have liked. I just didn’t ever have my phone on me! Too busy enjoying my time with everyone. That’s a good thing! img_3923It’s so hard to be far from family and only have a couple visits a year to look forward to, but I can’t say I was sad to leave the icy temperatures behind. I said to Mike when we got outside the airport, “oh my gosh, it’s so humid. It feels amazing.” Words I never thought I’d utter.img_4065Those wide open skies, red barns, bare trees, and fires in the fireplace make my heart squeeze with the homesickness of it all though. Until next time, Hoosier state! img_3793