I love Christmas. I love the season, the food, the decorations, the wonderfully awful ABCFamily holiday movies … it’s my favorite time of year.
I’ve been meaning to make an Advent calendar of fun Christmas activities for my kids for a few years now. This is probably the first year they’d really appreciate it, so I sat down and tried to figure out how to make some reasonably cute Advent tags / cards / whatever that I could print and punch out with my handy-dandy puncher thing.
I totally failed at getting them placed on the page so they’d work with my puncher thing, but at least I think they’re cute.
I’m adding them here in case anyone else would like to use them or have ideas for Advent activities. I pulled some from various lists to make my own — adding in Sinterklaas, leaving out snow activities, things like that. (I am determined to start Sinterklaas this year with the kids.) There are 35 in case I change my mind or need to swap out some ideas.
I wanted to buy these clip art designs for Jude’s first birthday party stuff anyway, so this gave me a good reason to take the Black Friday sale at MyClipArtStore.com. I love digital clip art … makes me feel like I can actually be graphically creative!
Anyway … the graphic elements are from Linda Murray and MyClipArtStore.com, but the rest was me. Click on the image to get to the bigger file … it should be an 8.5 inch by 11 inch JPG you can save to your computer, print and try to work with your own punchy-thing.
If you’ve known me for any length of time, you probably know that I sometimes struggle with working outside of the home.
My big dream was to be a stay-at-home mom.
I wanted to be a doctor, but didn’t really strive for pre-med studies and med school because I didn’t want to prioritize school/residency over family timing. I wanted a family early, I wanted several kids, and I wanted to stay home with them. I admired the women I knew who did the pre-med and doctor path. I was probably a little relieved to not pursue it because I’m kind of lazy and the idea of cadaver-cutting squicked me out.
Ha, ha – the joke was on me. Will and I didn’t get married until a month after my 29th birthday. Seth was born two months before my 31st birthday. I would have had PLENTY of time to get through med school before my first baby’s arrival. God had other plans and timing.
Those plans – obviously – did NOT include being a stay-at-home mom. For whatever reason, I’m the primary income for our family. Will was home most of the time with Seth and then Nora while he did his home inspection training and then started his business. My mom has been Jude’s primary daytime caregiver.
So occasionally I wallow around — you know, as you do — in the what might have beens. What would it have been like to be a doctor? What if I’d pursued a career I actually wanted? What if I could have been a stay-at-home mom?
That’s not really very healthy, you know?
And sometimes I think, “I’d give ANYTHING to be at home with the kids … ” and start to wallow some more.
(Hint: not healthy either.)
I’m trying to get out of some mental bad habits, and this is one of them. Because I WOULDN’T give anything.
I wouldn’t give up the dreams my husband has been able to pursue.
I wouldn’t give up having my mother live down here with us.
I wouldn’t give up the support we’re able to give to missionaries and other people around the world.
I wouldn’t give up the career that has been so obviously God-given, since I have tried over and over to leave it and yet it still remains constant.
I wouldn’t give up the world I’ve found with this career – a world of incredible teammates, working for an amazing organization, and parts of myself that I didn’t know existed.
I wouldn’t give up the friends I’ve gained through this job.
I wouldn’t give up the advice and counsel I can give to my husband (and others) as they go after their dreams, because of what I’ve learned in this serendipitous career.
I wouldn’t give up the time my babies have had with their daddy, learning French and being immersed in daddy love and learning to be fearless (something they wouldn’t have learned with me).
There are lots of things that are great about this. And I get to relish the time at home when I get it.
There are two verses that have meant a lot to me while I’ve struggled with this idea of contentment. If you’re not interested, it won’t hurt my feelings if you stop reading here. If you are, I hope they come to mind some day when they can help you, too:
“Wait for the LORD; Be strong and let your heart take courage; yes, wait for the LORD.”
Psalm 27:14 (NAS)
“God has made everything fit beautifully in its appropriate time, but he has also placed ignorance in the human heart so that people cannot discover what God has ordained, from the beginning to the end of their lives.”
Ecclesiastes 3:11 (NET)
I also love the NIV translation of this verse: “He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.”
Don’t worry … I’m not going to ruin my reputation as Less Than Perfect Homemaker over here. I wouldn’t want to shatter any illusions!
Oh sure, I’m going to share my homemade yogurt recipe. You know, the one that gives you delicious yogurt in the crock pot and you pay $4 for a half gallon of organic milk and get four times the amount of organic yogurt in those little tubes? Or something like that. I’m bored with the math piece of it.
All I know is: my kids like yogurt. I like them to have yogurt. I like them to have yogurt without lots of additives. This is WAY cheaper than buying it.
Beautiful staged shot of the finished product with some delicious homemade pumpkin granola. Mmmm.
I was talking with a friend at church the other day about the beautifully staged blog pictures … after all, any photographer knows the secret is in the cropping. So let’s rotate to the right and left of my pretty yogurt bowl.
Ah yes … spices, towels, recipes, a tea kettle, and generic Nutella shoved to the left. Cooking spray, the morning’s pancakes, tea pot, and other assorted mess to the right.
That yogurt still tastes really good, though.
One more tip for the yogurt: I use the Infantino Squeeze Station to make yogurt pouches for the kids, especially for Jude. (No product sponsoring or linking or endorsing … I just bought the Squeeze Station and use it with variable success.)
The last time I made the yogurt, I thawed and pureed some frozen berries, sprinkled a little bit of stevia in with it, and mixed some of it into the yogurt. These made pretty little yogurt pouches that Jude LOVED. (Turns out Nora likes this yogurt plain and Seth just doesn’t want it.) Pretty little yogurt pouches ready for going to daycare or in the diaper bag for lunch/snack out on the town.
Oh, and I also made a huge mess. (More non-staged photos with the iPhone!)
So if you’d like to do your yogurt in pouches, here are some things I’ve learned:
Gravity can be the easiest way to get it in the pouch. That little plunger creates some mighty suction and will pull the yogurt right back out of the pouch.
Have your next three pouches already laid out before you start removing the newly-filled three. That way you can slide them in and get the leftover draining into the new pouch.
Have the caps out before you take the pouch off the station. That big puddle is from a pouch I laid down so I could grab the caps. Yogurt is runny, and in other news: I’m a genius.
I REALLY like having one of those flexible cutting boards under the Squeeze Station. It makes clean-up a lot easier!
There you have it. The messy, non-foolproof way to make organic yogurt at home and put it in squeezy pouches. Seriously though, this made 15 pouches, 2 bowls, and one extra container that’s anywhere from 2-4 cups of yogurt.
Last Saturday I did something I’ve always wanted to really try but have been completely intimidated by: “once a month” cooking or freezer meals or mass cooking or “smell like onions the rest of the weekend” … whatever you’d like to call it.
The idea is that you spend a couple of days devoted to grocery shopping, ingredient prep, and cooking, and then you have a freezer full of meals at your fingertips. It’s certainly an appealing concept when everyone is rushing around and there’s a constant cry of “What’s for dinner?!” It would also be useful for planning purposes so that you can’t default to Pei Wei or Chick-fil-a or whatever your own personal “easy-outs” are for dinner.
I’ve been using Plan to Eat to map out what we’ll have for dinner. (That is affiliate link – I believe in them enough to share them!) I spend about 30 minutes every so often and fill up 1-2 months of dinners at a time. I leave at least one blank day every week for leftovers or Chick-fil-a (let’s be real). PTE lets you build a shopping list for the week, month, whatever.
But let’s be real again — half the time we don’t do the shopping according to the menu plan. Half the time we don’t even have what’s on the menu that night because something else has come up or we realize at 5 pm that it was a slow cooker meal day. (Oops.)
What this DOES help us with is the most annoying question of the day: “What’s for dinner?” No matter what, there’s something on the calendar. It has helped me get a little more accustomed to buying certain ingredients, so we can almost always make either that day’s meal or another meal from that week.
The once a month takes it even farther — stock the freezer full of meals, have a list of what’s available, and “shop” from the freezer to feed yourselves. It’s a great idea and really useful, but it does have its kinks to work out for each person. Some of the things I’ve learned from this first time out:
If you’re cooking with friends, do one menu per cooking location. Competing recipes really eat up the available cooking and prep space. It’s also easier to share out the shopping, prep, and cooking duties if you’re only working on one menu, in case someone needs to bow out suddenly. (Like for family illness in our group.)
Do what they say and shop, prep, and cook on different days! That is a LOT of food.
Food processor. Amen.
On this particular site we used, you can adjust the servings. I adjusted from a standard 4 servings to 6 servings. I think next time I’ll just adjust in multiples of 4. The recipes adjusted okay for portions, but not for dividing out in freezer bags, etc. I was supposed to end up with 2 meals of each recipe for 6 people. Instead, I ended up with 3 portions of meals … 2×6 = 12 and 3×4=12, and I think it didn’t quite work out as intended.
Prepare to smell like onions for days.
Read the recipe all the way through before throwing in a bag.
If you’re printing double-sided to save paper, you may want to just do one recipe per double-sided. The way I printed (from my iPad), the recipes blended together and I’m pretty sure I read instructions wrong on at least one recipe.
Put ice packs in your cooler when you’re loading up at someone else’s house … the idea of my newly combined bags of chicken sitting for hours without refrigeration freaked me out.
Clear out your freezer to have room!
It’s a pretty good system, but WOW is it a lot of food and work. We’re still reaping the benefits, though, so I’m definitely going to do it again! Just maybe not EVERY month …