Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas!

Our annual Christmas newsletter--if you've been reading my blog, you already know all this, but it's fun to look back :)

Dear Family and Friends,

Lately God has been prompting me (Scarlet) to give thanks in every circumstance, as a matter of faith. It takes discipline to condition oneself to react, in every situation, with praise and thanksgiving, but the practice of praise yields unimaginable blessings. This year has been filled, for us, with many opportunities to praise God through our challenges and in our victories.

Sawblock & Scarlet
AKD is 12 and in 7th grade. He’s played soccer in the past, but this fall he played travel soccer for the first time, and he loved it. The level of skill is so much higher than in the recreational league he had been playing in, both on the part of the players and the coaches, and AKD’s team made it to the state tournament, where they placed 2nd in their division.  AKD is anticipating playing again in the longer spring/summer season.  AKD is also active in Boy Scouts, becoming a patrol leader in October.
AKD's soccer team after a muddy victory
AKD enjoys people-powered sports, continuing to gain skill as a whitewater kayaker. He also started off-road cycling more this year, working on building an ever-evolving network of trails on our property, and he intends to start snowboarding as well.  AKD is a terrific problem solver—he’s a great thinker and a hard worker, and he’s becoming more independent and self-confident as the years progress.

MC is 9 and in 4th grade. He played tackle football for the first time this fall, and l o v e d it! He was pretty good at it, too--his stubbornness (aka tenacity) is a great asset on the field.  MC is also progressing in karate—it’s hard for him to look at what someone else, like his karate instructor, is doing and mimic it, so it’s been slow going, but MC works hard, and we’re proud of how his balance, strength, and flexibility have improved. MC is active in Cub Scouts, and placed in the top 10 in this year’s Pinewood Derby race. MC also participated in his school’s production of Sleeping Beauty in March.
MC hanging out in the river
We’ve known for a long time that MC has sensory differences—his senses feed him corrupted information and/or there’s a disconnect between the input from his senses and his reaction, leading to inappropriate or exaggerated responses. This fall, we had MC tested, and found that he meets the criteria for an educational diagnosis of autism. As a result, MC’s educational team has recommended a plan to develop MC’s strengths and support him in his areas of struggle moving forward. MC is a sweet, affectionate boy who in an excellent hugger and loves being active and all things football.

Roger is 5 and in his 2nd year of preschool. As is often the case with youngest children, he is a handful and a half—an amazing daredevil who knows what he wants and is surprisingly sophisticated (for his age) in the ways he goes about getting it. He loves jumping and climbing and pretty much doing the sort of death-defying feats that will shave years off a mama’s life. His new catch-phrase is, “I got this,” as in, I can do this—I don’t need any help :)

Roger riding his 2-wheeler
He also loves cars, trucks, and trains, and snuggling with his stuffed animals and his mama.  Roger rode his bike without training wheels for the first time in 2012, and got to go along with the rest of the boys to the BWCAW for the first time as well. I love Roger’s contagious enthusiasm for life.

Sawblock kayaking at Wausau whitewater park.
Sawblock continues to work as an engineering consultant and Scarlet is still in her dream job as a stay-at-home mom.

Some highlights of our year include an ice fishing trip in January, a spring break trip to Wisconsin Dells and to visit Sawblock’s sister and her family, a weekend canoe camping trip in May, a family trip to Madeline Island in Lake Superior and the boys’ annual trip to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in July, a trip to Colorado to visit Scarlet’s brother and his family in August, raising monarch caterpillars and our summer fun to-do list, various Cub Scout and Boy Scout camp-outs, service projects, and other activities, and family camping trips.

Boys in the BWCAW
We said goodbye to Sawblock’s Grandma when she passed away in August at the age of 89. She and her husband had been married for 68 years. What a testament to faith and love this pillar of her family was. She is sorely missed.

The Bluefield family
As you can see, this year has been filled with joy and hope for our family. We look back on this year in praise, with thankful hearts, and we wish the same for you and your loved ones through this Christmas season and in the new year.

With love,
Sawblock, Scarlet, AKD, MC & Roger

Friday, December 21, 2012

The other day I opened my washing machine to find destruction.  It was a massacre: complete carnage.  I had washed my middle child's pillow pet (which he absolutely adores and sleeps with every night--thank you Aunt Chip and Uncle Bbil), and when I opened the lid, his guts were everywhere. 

And I do mean everywhere. Days later we're still finding bits of stuffing in our washer and dryer. I am absolutely flabbergasted at how much stuffing came out and how fluffy he still was in spite of the stuffing-loss. 

What a brave doggy.  He's still smiling despite his harrowing trip through the wash.

I gallantly gathered as much stuffing as I could and gently shoved it back inside his battered carcass, along with a bit extra from my stash.  A few stitches later, and he was as good as new--maybe even better than new.  He only bears a slight scar from his experience--I, however, will be haunted forever.

12 Treats: The Rest of the Cookies

Alright, my friends.  You guessed it: I ran out of time, and not all of these treats are going to happen.  Now you may be thinking to yourself, Scarlet, whatchu talkin' 'bout?  You've got plenty of time to make a few more Christmas treats.  I mean, it's only Friday.

Well, the in-laws have arrived, and you should see the amount of sugar and fat they brought with them.  Crazy, man.  No way am I bringing more sweets into this over-populated world.  That would be completely irresponsible.

I did manage to get one of the remaining treats made before the invasion: marshmallow star cookies.  These things are wicked delicious: salty, sweet, crunchy, chewy.  In a word, yum.  Click here for the recipe.

I have actually never seen a "white star," as called for in the recipe (must be a regional thing?), so I just use white candy melts--you could also use white almond bark.

And click here for my favorite sugar cookie recipe, which, I have a feeling, we'll be making on January 1.

Which brings us to Little Cookies.  Little Cookies are little sandwich cookies with sprinkles on top.  And when I say little, I mean about an inch in diameter...with so much filling, they're about an inch high, as well.  I don't know if Little Cookies are Hubby's favorite Christmas treat, or if he just needs to have them because he doesn't get them any other time of year, but you can believe Hubby's not going to let me off the hook on this one.  He will need to have Little Cookies or it won't feel like Christmas to him.  And I love him, so I'm happy to oblige.  Just as long as he's in the kitchen, too.  These things are a major pain in the patooty to make.

And with that ringing endorsement, the recipe:

Mix together 1 c. butter, 1/3 c. sweetened condensed milk (one can contains about 2/3 c.), 2 c. flour, and 1/2 t. salt.
Chill until firm, at least an hour. Roll (1/4" thick?) and cut in small circles--we use the top of a "sprinkles" bottle, about 1" diameter. Cover half of the circles with small round decors (these are the tops)--the rest leave plain (these are the bottoms).

Bake at 325*F for 10 minutes, and allow to cool completely before filling (ask Hubby why I added the cooling instruction).

For the filling, mix together 1/2 c. softened butter, 2 c. powdered sugar, and 2 egg yolks (save the whites for an omelet--yum!).  Hubby is extra generous with the filling, so we usually double, or at least one and a half, the amount of filling.

So there you have it: the not-quite 12 treats of Christmas :)
(click here to read all the 12 treats posts)

  • Santa's Snicker's Surprises
  • Rolo Cookies**
  • Oreo Truffles
  • Peppermint Oreo Truffles**
  • Turtle Cheesecake Truffles**
  • Buckeyes**
  • Little Cookies -- coming within the next few days
  • Marshmallow Star Cookies
  • Snickerdoodles
  • Chocolate dipped pretzel rods
  • (Christmas tree cake pops)
  • Sugar cookies--specifically trees -- maybe January...
  • Thursday, December 20, 2012

    12 Treats of Christmas: other dipped yummies

    Oh good, you're back for more dipped goodies.  To see all of my 12 Treats of Christmas posts, click here.

    This week I made peppermint oreo truffles and dipped pretzel rods.  You may remember that Christmas tree cake pops were also on the list and would qualify for this category, however, quite frankly, I'm a little tired of dipping things at this point, so the cake pops have been shelved for now (I've got all the ingredients ready to go, though, including baked cakes in the freezer, so I might just get them in before Christmas.  Or not).

    Remind me, next year, to include more actual cookies on my Christmas goodies list.

    Anyway, I made peppermint oreo truffles, and my friends, they are so good!  Almost better than regular oreo truffles, and that's really saying something, considering I don't like white chocolate.

    So here's the recipe:
    • Mix together 3 1/2 c. oreo cookie crumbs, 8 oz cream cheese, and 1 tsp peppermint extract.  Optional: add a crushed candy cane or two.
    • Chill for 10-20 minutes to make it easier to work with.
    • Form into 1 inch balls and place on a wax paper or parchment lined tray.
    • Chill for an hour or so, until firm.
    • Melt about 12 oz of white chocolate.  I used white almond bark, and the consistency toward the end was getting a bit lumpy, so if I do this again (and I think I will), I will use baker's premium white chocolate baking squares.  You could also use semi-sweet or milk chocolate.
    • Using 2 forks, gently place each ball in melted chocolate and turn to cover.  Use a fork to scoop out the ball, letting excess chocolate drip back into the bowl, and place the truffle on a wax paper/parchment lined tray.
    • Sprinkle with crushed candy cane pieces.


    And dipped pretzel rods.  I chose to dip mine in white almond bark, but you can use whatever you'd like, almond bark, white, semi-sweet, or milk chocolate, candy melts, candi-kwik--whatever you can melt that tastes good and will harden again.

    • So just melt whatever you're melting, and dip the pretzel rods in it. 
    • Use a spoon to coat about 2/3 to 3/4 of the pretzel, leaving just enough uncoated at one end for a handle. 
    • While the coating is still wet, sprinkle with decorations: sprinkles, decors, colored sugar, edible glitter, crushed candy canes, cookie crumbs--anything you can think of really. 
    • You could also drizzle with a contrasting melted substance. 
    • I have even (and this is so yummy), dipped pretzel rods in peanut butter, then in semi-sweet chocolate. 

    Dipped pretzel rods are so easy you can definitely have a lot of fun with lots of different variations.

    Up next: Hubby's Christmas favorites

    The Twelve Treats:
  • Santa's Snicker's Surprises
  • Rolo Cookies**
  • Oreo Truffles
  • Peppermint Oreo Truffles**
  • Turtle Cheesecake Truffles**
  • Buckeyes**
  • Little Cookies
  • Marshmallow Star Cookies
  • Snickerdoodles
  • Chocolate dipped pretzel rods
  • (Christmas tree cake pops)
  • Sugar cookies--specifically trees

  • Wednesday, December 19, 2012

    10 Things: Slacking Off

    In some ways, this is the perfect time of year to undertake this mission to get rid of 10 things every day.  Around here it's a good idea to clear out some of the possessions we no longer need, to make room for all of the new Christmas treasures that will be gifted to our household very soon.  Finally, I am able to tell by the empty spaces that something has been going on here--that all my effort has not been in vain.  It feels so good to be starting the new year with a clean(er) slate. 

    On the other hand, it seems slightly ridiculous to be discarding a paltry 10 items a day when it seems like at least twice that enters our home every day.  Granted, most of it's food, which we need and will use relatively quickly, but some of it is not.  Some of it is permanent stuff for which I need to find permanent homes.

    This is also an extremely busy time of year, for everyone (oh, by the way, did I mention that, less than 2 months after finally giving up our guest bedroom (click here, here and here) partly because I couldn't justify keeping it in the face of other needs when it's used around 10 days per year, we are needing a guest bedroom?  Because we have two sets of guests coming and staying for a total of 9 days.  Yeah.  Because that's how these things work), and you know we've been sick (click here, here, and here) around here.

    So...I've been slacking off.  There have been many days that have ended with no purging; there have been entire weeks where I haven't gotten rid of one.single.thing.  (OK, maybe week instead of weeks).  Shocking, I know.  

    But you know what?  It's OK.  It's OK that I have slacked off these past few weeks.  I have worked through some major issues surrounding possessions, and I've grown much during these few months.  I made this commitment to myself, not to bury myself in one more obligation, but to free my spirit from being weighed down by clutter--I've obeyed the spirit of the law in this rule I set for myself, if not the letter of the law.  The moment it became oppressive to follow through on my 10 things commitment, I gave myself the grace to realize that, this, too, is something that I can release.  It's outlived its usefulness, I don't need it anymore. 

    This is not to say that I'm done getting rid of things--not at all--there's still a lot of work to be done.  It's just that I don't need to put a number on it anymore.

    Happy de-cluttering, everyone!

    Click here to see all of the 10 Things posts.

    Tuesday, December 18, 2012

    Tuesday's Tip: Homemade Dishwasher Detergent

    I am about to tell you something that may shock you: I buy my dishwasher detergent online.
    Yup, you read that right: I buy my dishwasher detergent online.  Why?  Because
    1. it's cheaper and
    2. I can sit here in my pjs and order it and
    3. I don't have to go to the store (I hate shopping) and
    4. I get a package!  Hooray for packages, even when they contain dish detergent.
    All terrific reasons, right?  Yes, I think so, too.  The only problem is Amazon recently changed the way they do subscribe and save (which is how I save an extra 5%).  Now they only send out shipments once a month, and for my primary account the date they chose was the 26th.  I was planning ahead, but...decided I needed to order more on the 27th, thinking it would arrive within a week or so.  Ooops.  For my other account the date is the 16th.  I thought I could make it til the 16th, but was content to handwash for a couple of days if we ran out before the shipment arrived.

    It was Thursday morning, and my dish detergent had shipped on Monday.  I used the last of the detergent on Tuesday, and the dishwasher was full of dirty dishes, so I did what any reasonable person would do in that situation.  I googled "homemade dishwasher detergent."  Just as I thought, there are tons of variations out there, and one of them even contained items that I already had on hand. 

    What?  You think a reasonable person would run out and buy some at the store?  Pffft.

    I was planning to use this recipe from TipNut (click for this and 15 other variations):

    1 cup Baking Soda
    1 cup Borax
    • Blend thoroughly and store in a plastic container, use approximately 2 TBS per load.
    • Use vinegar in the rinse compartment as a rinse agent to help prevent residue.
    • Try adding 2-3 drops essential oil.
    Do y'all not have Borax yet?  You should get some.  It's in the laundry detergent aisle for about $3, and not only can you clean with it, but you can also make slime and beautiful ornaments with it.  Totally something every household should have.

    Anyway, I figured it didn't have to really work all that well, because there have been times when our detergent dispenser doesn't even open, which means there's no detergent in there at all, and the dishes still come out clean, but I still wanted to try it.

    You may have picked up on the "I was planning" up there.  Apparently, my husband is not a mind reader, and apparently the both of us do not have great minds that think alike, because he decided he needed to run the dishwasher that morning (and thank you, Hubby, for taking care of household chores like this--I really do appreciate it).

    And not having any actual dishwasher detergent to use, he decided to use dishwashing liquid.  Which brings me to today's tip:

    Do not use dishwashing liquid (especially the ultra concentrated kind) in your dishwasher!

    Oh, you thought the tip was going to be the recipe.  No.

    Just so you know, I do have Hubby's permission to share this photo and blog about his goof.  When he came in to tell me that (I was right and) the dishwasher was overflowing with suds, I asked him if he would please do something about it before he left for work.  A few minutes later he came back and told me he did something--he took a picture so I can blog about it.  Now that's the man I love!  Totally typical--I love that he can laugh about his mistakes :)

    Well, at least the floor is clean!  (Our dishes, too, after a couple of extra rinses)  And yes, as you might suspect, given the ironic nature of the universe, my dishwasher detergent arrived later that day.

    Monday, December 17, 2012

    My heart aches this morning.  I have been silent on the matter of the horrific happenings Friday in Newtown, Connecticut because I know any words I could say would fall terribly short.  My heart aches for those children, for those families, for that school, for that community, for the perpetrator, for all of us. So inconceivably sad.


    18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 19 For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.

    22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

    26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.

    28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

    Romans 8:18-30

    Thursday, December 13, 2012

    12 Treats of Christmas: sweet stuff, rolled into balls and dipped in chocolate

    So this category, sweet stuff rolled into balls and dipped in chocolate, contains oreo truffles, turtle cheesecake truffles, and buckeyes.  I figured, if I could just maintain my sanity while doing it, it would be best to make all of these in the same day, since they're all dipped in the same stuff.  That way, I could melt the stuff just once, and be done with it.  Less waste that way, too.  So that's what I did.

    And you know how I mentioned it would be a good idea to do them all in the same day if I could maintain my sanity?  It's that sanity clause that determined I would be making these on kid swap day, which just happened to be last Friday.  Because that meant I had no children underfoot for a whole 5 1/2 hours.

    That's right, my friends.  I am so excited that my friend J agreed to swap kids with me again this school year, albeit on a reduced schedule.  Camp Scarlet is back!

    OK, so here are your basic sweet-stuff-rolled-into-balls-and-dipped-in-chocolate instructions:

    Buckeyes, oreo truffles, turtle cheesecake truffles
    1. Mix together some sweet stuff (see below for the specific sweet stuff I used in my recipes).
    2. Roll the mixed-together sweet stuff into balls.
    3. Chill the balls until firm (I use my axillary refrigeration unit, aka the garage, for this)
    4. Melt some chocolate--I like Baker's Semi-Sweet baking chocolate squares.  I use a double boiler (actually my smallest glass bowl over my smallest sauce pan) to keep the chocolate melted. 
    5. Dip the chilled balls in the chocolate (I use a fork to set the ball in the chocolate and gently roll it around until covered, then I lift it out with the fork, letting the excess chocolate drip back into the bowl), and place on a wax paper lined something (like a baking sheet or cutting board).  If you want to sprinkle something on top, now is the time to do it, while the chocolate is still wet.

    And that's it--pretty simple, right?

    The Recipes

    Click here for Oreo Truffles

    Click here for Turtle Cheesecake Truffles (I used graham cracker crumbs instead of nilla wafers)

    Buckeyes (from my mom-in-law)
    Mix together 1/2 c. melted margarine or butter and 2 c. creamy peanut butter, then add 1 lb powdered sugar.  Optional: add 3 c. rice krispies cereal
    Form into 1 inch balls, and chill until firm.
    Dip in melted chocolate.
     Up next: things dipped in white chocolate, almond bark, or candy melts. 
  • Santa's Snicker's Surprises
  • Rolo Cookies**
  • Oreo Truffles
  • Peppermint Oreo Truffles**
  • Turtle Cheesecake Truffles**
  • Buckeyes**
  • Little Cookies
  • Marshmallow Star Cookies
  • Snickerdoodles
  • Chocolate dipped pretzel rods
  • Christmas tree cake pops
  • Sugar cookies--specifically trees
  • Wednesday, December 12, 2012

    More Practice

    When last we met, I had been given some excellent practice at leading with praise.  We had gone through 2 separate days of 2 separate children being violently sick at all hours of the night and day (and the accompanying mommy-exhaustion due to temporarily parenting solo during that time) and experienced laundry of record breaking proportions.  And through it all, I was not bemoaning my situation, but leading with praise.

    To me, the idea of leading with praise is about discovering God's presence in every situation, reminding myself that God is bigger than my circumstances, and God is in control.

    Well!  So you know about the sick kids on Monday and Wednesday of last week.  On Friday, I noticed that our downstairs toilet was clogged, so I dutifully set at it with the plunger.  The water would go down, but the toilet never made that satisfying gurgling sound that lets me know the clog had been cleared.  To make it short and sweet stinky, it turns out our sewage pump had gone out, and the utility room was filling with sewage with every stroke of the plunger.  Yuck.

    On Sunday, we got about 12 inches of snow (yay!), but remembered, too late, that the tractor (with which we plow) was not in the garage, but in the shed, about 200 feet away.  Downhill.  Through 12+ inches of snow.

    On Monday, our snow blower broke in the attempt to rescue the tractor.

    On Tuesday (yesterday!), whatever virus had afflicted my children last week laid siege to my body.  Ug.  Yes, I'm feeling better.  Thanks for asking.

    So it's been a lot of little things going wrong in the past 2 weeks.  And a lot of practice at leading with praise: reminding myself that these little blips in life are nothing compared to eternity.

    Here's what I learned.  It's easy to lead with praise when something little goes wrong.  Well, it's not easy as in it's second nature for me to look beyond my circumstances to the God of the universe being in control, but easy in the sense that once I tell myself that my first reaction should be praise, it just starts flowing.  It becomes a little more difficult, however, when more and more little things keep going wrong.  And I imagine that in some circumstances, circumstances that, praise God, I have never experienced, it would be close to impossible to lead with praise.

    But, my friends, even then, even when you can't find one single thing to be thankful for, you can be thankful for these:

    Thank you, God, that You are present, even in this situation.
    Thank you, God, that You can and will redeem even this situation--that You will use it according to Your good purposes.

    That, my friends, is truth.
    And we know that in all things
    God works for the good of those who love him,
    who have been called according to his purpose.
    Romans 8:28

    Monday, December 10, 2012

    10 Things: Conquering Paper Clutter

    I'm not going to lie: paper is the bane of my existence.  I used to have a handle on it, but now that I've got three kids in school bringing home paper of some sort every day (despite the district's initiative to reduce paper waste), it's out of control.  So much paper comes in to our house every day.

    Let me show you how I'm slowly digging out from under.

    It starts with this in-box in our newly reorganized laundry room.

    This is the entry through which we all enter and exit the house every day, so naturally, every horizontal space becomes a holding ground for whatever we bring in with us.  If anyone brings any paper into the house, including the mail, it goes in this in-box until someone (that would be me) has time to sort it.  I should add that if I am the one who brings the mail in, it is sorted right away, the junk going immediately into the recycling bin.  The idea is to keep junk papers from even entering the house.

    Next, each member of the family has a mailbox in the laundry room.

    This way, everyone can see immediately when they enter the house whether they have new mail.  In the 6th mailbox, I keep stamps, return address labels, checks to be cashed, and a pad of scratch paper.  The clip on the front holds outgoing mail.

    Now that we've dealt with the mail, we needed to figure out what to do with all of the papers that made it through our first line of defence.  The bills and statements, school projects that we want to save, permission slips or other school announcements, goodness there's a lot still to organize.

    Meet my kitchen counter file box.

    I resisted this idea for a loooong time because I hated to add one more thing to my kitchen counters (I even store the toaster away in a cupboard and we use it every day), but I finally realized that by corralling all the piles of paper into one central spot I was actually reducing clutter.

    The box has a file folder for each member of the family, and each holds something different.  MC's holds his homework, AKD's has his workbook for confirmation, mine currently holds...nothing!  I just cleaned it out the other day.  Basically, whatever paper that person wants to hold on to goes in the folder. 

    I want to emphasize the importance of each person having his or her own folder. This has been such a time and angst saver for me, as the chief organizer, because when I come across a piece of paper that does not belong to me, and I don't know where to put it, I can just put it in the owner's folder and let him deal with it.

    I also have folders for the categories of papers I was finding myself saving in piles all over the kitchen: bills to pay/calls to make, schedules, which contains school and sports schedules, Scout schedules, any schedule that we may want to consult, recipes to try, restaurant coupons, and weekly ads.  Our weekly menu plan is clipped to the front.  Your file box will most likely have different folders based on your family's needs.

    So you're probably wondering what happens to all of our financial stuff: the receipts, the bank statements, bills that are paid automatically, and quarterly investment reports.  Those I place in a filing cabinet next to my desk as they come in.  Once a week (well, I try for once a week), I deal with all of those things, entering the information into our financial tracking program, shredding what doesn't need to be kept, and filing the rest in the big filing cabinet in the basement.

    In the filing cabinet next to my desk I also have folders for vacation plans, groupons, coupons, rebates, health records, and a folder for each boy's school.  All of these folders could be kept in our kitchen file box, but I feel like they work better next to the computer.

    The idea here is, if you don't have a place for a piece of paper, but you don't want to get rid of it, make a place for it.  And not a pile on the counter, either :)  You've heard the saying, "a place for everything, and everything in its place?"  That's really the key to conquering any sort of clutter

    We're still looking for a solution to the newspaper (even though we only get one paper a week) and magazine issue (which I am planning to curb by not signing up for anymore free magazine subscriptions).

    We've begun to make a positive change in the area of paper clutter, and we're steadily, through the process of getting rid of 10 things every day, working toward the goal of a place for everything and everything in its place.  I hope that perhaps I have inspired you to do the same.  Feel free to leave a comment to let me know how it's going.

    Click here to see all of the 10 Things posts.

    Thursday, December 6, 2012

    12 Treats of Christmas: Best of Both Worlds

    Hmmm...on second thought, maybe these particular cookies, the candy-filled cookies, should have been the finale in this series.  I mean, really, it's the best of both cookies and candy, rolled up together in one big nugget of goodness.  Mmmm...

    But in case you hadn't noticed, we had a bit of a...shall we the treat-making department this week, so I decided to go with my favorites (my reward for slopping around in still-warm body fluids for 3 days), and since we didn't have all the ingredients to make the truffles (and I haven't been able to leave the house, basically, for three days), I went with what I had, which is these delicious recipes:

    Rolo cookies

    I won't bore you with a recipe, because there are so many different variations out there.  Basically, you take cookie dough, and you wrap it around a rolo, and then you bake it.  I've seen folks use sugar cookie dough, chocolate chip cookie dough (<--- that would be delish), brownie cookie dough, peanut butter cookie dough, and what we used, which was snickerdoodle cookie dough.

    Just stuff a rolo into ~1 T of dough, then roll it into a ball. 
    Bake at 325ish for 14 or so minutes.
    Why snickerdoodles, you ask?  Well, because, in case you hadn't noticed, there are less than 4 weeks left until Christmas.  And we've got 12 treats to make.  And that means (I'll do the math for you) we need to make 3 treats a week.  Now, Christmas isn't really a hard deadline for us.  I mean, it's just us, no visitors to impress (and by impress I mean trick them into thinking that our house is clean and our children are obedient and I'm efficient and on-top-of-it enough to single-handedly get 12 different kinds of Christmas treats made in less than a month).  But I don't want to let you all down.  'Cause I know you're counting on me.

    So snickerdoodles, because I thought I would bake two cookies with one batter or something like that (for those of you who still don't get it, snickerdoodles are on the list too).  We used this recipe from Betty Crocker.  Nothing special.  Do yourself a favor and let these cool for about 5 minutes on the baking sheet, then transfer them to wax paper to cool completely (in other words, skip the cooling rack).

    Mmm.  I was not disappointed.  Totally yum.
    Santa's Snickers Surprises.

    These are my all-time favorite Christmas cookie.  Seriously, so good.  In fact, I took these to a cookie exchange, and we had to bring extras for tasting, and then I was talking to someone who didn't know it was I who had brought them, and she was trying to convince me not to take any so there'd be more for her.  Because she liked them so much.

    This recipe, I will bore you with.  'Cause it's yum.

    Here's what you need:
    • 1 c. butter or margarine, softened
    • 1 c. creamy peanut butter
    • 1 c. light brown sugar
    • 1 c. granulated sugar
    • 2 eggs
    • 1 t vanilla
    • 3 1/2 c all purpose flour (sifted)
    • 1 t baking soda
    • 1/2 t salt
    • 1 pkg (13 oz) snickers brand miniatures (I used fun size because that's what was on sale after Halloween.  I cut each of them in half so they'd be the right size, and no I didn't eat half, use half)

    Here's what you do:
    1. Combine the butter, peanut butter, and sugars using a mixer on low to medium speed until fluffy.
    2. Slowly add eggs and vanilla until thoroughly combined.  Then mix in flour, salt and baking soda.
    3. Cover and chill 2 to 3 hours.
    4. Unwrap the miniatures.
    5. Remove dough from refrigerator. Divide into 1 T pieces and flatten.
    6. Place a snickers brand miniature in the center of each piece of dough.
    7. Form the dough into a ball around each miniature.
    8. Place on a greased cookie sheet and bake at 300*F for 10-12 minutes.
    9. Let cookies cool on baking sheet for a few minutes, then transfer to wax paper to cool completely (again, do yourself a favor and skip the cooling rack).
    **Holiday hint (I never do this): Spruce up Santa's surprise with powdered sugar and drizzle melted Dove brand chocolates over the top of each cookie.

    Recipe says it makes 2 dozen, but I always use up all the snickers (about 3 dozen) and usually have some leftover dough that becomes peanut butter cookies.
    So, here's what we've got left to make:
    • Santa's Snicker's Surprises
    • Rolo Cookies**
    • Oreo Truffles
    • Peppermint Oreo Truffles**
    • Turtle Cheesecake Truffles**
    • Buckeyes**
    • Little Cookies
    • Marshmallow Star Cookies
    • Snickerdoodles
    • Chocolate dipped pretzel rods
    • Christmas tree cake pops
    • Sugar cookies--specifically trees
    Up next: sweet things, rolled into balls, and dipped in chocolate (if I can ever make it to the grocery store, that is!) 

    Oh, Hubby's going to be so excited when he hears there are snickerdoodles waiting for him at home!

    Wednesday, December 5, 2012

    Record Breaking

    We interrupt today's regularly scheduled blog post to bring you this breaking news:

    A plague has fallen upon the Bluefield household, with children succumbing left and right.  It looks like a battlefield in here.  I can only pray that I stand unafflicted until reinforcements can arrive.

    Y'all!  Bubby was vomiting every 10 minutes through the night last night, from about 12:30 a.m. on.  I can say with confidence that this was the first time ever in my life that I have actually cried out to God for mercy.  And I've given birth 3 times, my friends.   Could be the influence of this book (which, by the way, is perfect Advent reading) that I am currently rereading.

    And God is merciful.  Let me tell you how he cares for his children.  I honestly didn't know how I was going to be able to leave Bubby to walk AKD to the bus stop this morning, and it is dark out there at 6:23 a.m. (no streetlights, remember)--despite his almost-teen-ness I did not want him to go alone.  Miraculously, Bubby threw up right at 6:16 a.m., so I knew I had least 10 minutes to get AKD to the bus and back to the house.  I hated leaving Bubby, but I knew he'd be fine until I returned.  And he was.  And then he threw up at 6:30.

    That was God in the timing, my friends.

    We now return you to the regularly scheduled blog post.

    As a result of the extra dirty laundry due to MC's illness on Monday (he doesn't have that great of aim--just better than the last time), I broke my all-time record of most loads of laundry washed and dried in a day. 
    Here's how MC spent most of Monday. 
    Poor guy was feeling so bad he didn't even want to play his iPod.
    Broke it?  More like blew it out of the water. 

    My previous record was 9 loads.  Monday?  I did 13. 

    That's a lot of laundry.  And an accomplishment of note.  Have I mentioned I'm thankful for our washer and dryer?  And that our well is extra deep?

    Now folding it and putting it away?  That's another story entirely...
    Less than half of the laundry I washed yesterday.  Well, at least it's clean, right?
    Your turn: what's your all time record for most loads of laundry washed and dried in a day? 

    UPDATE: ohmygosh, y'all!  God did it again.  Bubby threw up right before I needed to head out to the bus stop with MC.  Who would have ever dreamed that I would see vomit, or at least the timing of it, as a blessing!

    Now, off to start the 2 or 3 loads of vomit-laden laundry for today.  This is the third day in a row that I'm washing my sheets, blankets, and mattress pad!

    Tuesday, December 4, 2012

    Lead with Praise

    MC was sick, violently sick, through the night Sunday and continuing into Monday.  He's home sick from school today, too.  How will I respond?


    Just last week my Bible study girls and I read and discussed part 4 in Lysa Terkeurst's book, Becoming More Than a Good Bible Study Girl.  The premise of the book is that we can go through the motions of a Christian life: say all the right things, do all the right things, read the Bible, quote scripture, but still not personally experience God's presence.  We can do all the good Bible study girl things, but still long for a deeper connection between what we know in our head and our everyday reality.

    It is a fabulous book, and I highly recommend it.

    Anyway, part 4 is (becoming more than a good Bible study girl) in my struggles.  We all have them.  Jesus said in this world we will have trouble, but He has overcome the world (John 16:33).  We definitely cannot control the circumstances of many of the storms and struggles that come our way in this life, but we can control how we choose to respond.  One of Lysa's suggestions for "when [our] ugly comes out," in response to life's storms and struggles is to lead with praise.

    The idea is to find God's presence in the situation, and by doing so, remind ourselves that God is bigger than our circumstances, and God is in control.

    I wonder if all 8 or so of us who were there last Wednesday will be getting a chance to practice leading with praise before we meet again--I know for sure that 3 of us have.  What a blessing to have been given this reminder to lead with praise immediately before these storms struck in each of our lives.
    So, how will I respond?  With praise.
    • Thank you, God, that MC's aim has improved so much since the last time he was sick.
    • Thank you, God, that even though there's nothing I can do for MC to make him feel better, we live in a country with excellent, readily available medical care, so that there are things that can be done to ensure this illness is not life-threatening, as it would be in so many other places around the world.
    • Thank you, God, that Hubby has a job that provides medical insurance.
    • Thank you, God, that I don't have a job, other than being my kids' mom, so that I can easily relinquish my plans for the day to care for my sick child.
    • Thank you, God, that yesterday and today are school days for Bubby, which means I have time to rest after a restless night, and there is less time in these days that I need to be vigilant in keeping him from antagonizing his brother.
    • Thank you, God, for a washer and dryer to make quick work of the 7 loads oops, make that 8 loads, of additional laundry that have been generated as a result of this mis-adventure.
    • Thank you, God, for placing an empty laundry basket in MC's room, so I could carry his soiled linens upstairs without fear of smearing vomit all over myself.
    • Thank you, God, for carpet and upholstery cleaner, for sanitizing wipes and Lysol sanitizing spray.
    • Thank you, God, for the extra time to spend with my precious boy yesterday and today.
    • Thank you, God, for being present, even in this situation.  Thank you for the precious gift of perspective this day.

    Monday, December 3, 2012

    Ten Things: Regret

    As you are aware, I am committed to removing at least 10 things from my home every day until the end of the year.  (Click here to see all of my 10 Things posts).  For our family, the biggest obstacle to getting rid of things is the thought that we might need or want it in the future.

    You know the saying, waste not, want not?  I googled "what does waste not want not mean?"  Here are a few of the results:
    • Wise use of one's resources will keep one from poverty
    • If we don't waste what we have, we'll still have it in the future and will not lack (want) it.
    • The old proverb "waste not, want not" reminds us that if we fritter away our scarce resources, whether money, food, water, energy or anything else, those resources will run out and we will live to regret being so recklessly extravagant

    I think for both of us, my husband and me, this idea is engraved in our brains.  The idea that gratitude demands that we shouldn't waste what we have, what we've been given, and the fear that if we are wasteful no more will be forthcoming.  This idea of holding on to what you have because you might need it.  And that's not necessarily a bad thing.

    The thing is, we've gotten the idea that not wasting means not getting rid of.  Ever.  We don't have room to store everything that's ever crossed our doorstep.  So our biggest challenge in decluttering our home is to let go of this notion that by releasing clutter we are wasting resources.  We think that we can't let go of something because we will regret not having it at some unspecified time in the future.

    I am not going to lie, I have felt regret in the process of letting stuff go.  Just the other day, I wanted something that I had gotten rid of just a week or two prior, and that kind of stung.  This was something that I never wanted in the first place, a gift that didn't suit me.  I held on to that something for 4 years, never using it in all of that time, until I was finally able to let it go. 

    And then, a use for it materialized.  Ugh.  The heart-rending angst.  The "I told you you would regret this."  The, "I'm never getting rid of anything even remotely useful ever again."  The regret.

    But we can't live that way.  We can't live in fear that someday we will have regrets.  We can't live our lives that way, and we can't deal with our clutter that way, either.  It was reasonable to assume that, since I had never used this something, and in fact, never wanted it in the first place, that I could do without it.  And you know what?  I can do without it.  I'll just use something else.

    My friends, don't let fear bind you.  If fear of regret is holding you back, keep this in mind: if you really do have need of it in the future, it can be replaced.  It is only stuff.

    If that's not enough, try this: put the items you're wanting to get rid of but thinking you may need them someday in a box.  Label it with the date, and a year from now, anything that is still in the box, because you haven't used it in that time, you can release.

    Yes, my friends, it is inevitable that you will feel regret at some point, but to me the possibility of a twinge of future regret is worth the freedom I feel by not having to hold on to more and more stuff.

    Friday, November 30, 2012

    Craft of the Month -- December

    Well, my friends, the craft of the month club is coming to an end--thanks for crafting along with us :)

    For December, enjoy these three snowy crafts:

    Triangle Trees Snowy Scene

    Bubby made this at school, and I thought it was so cute and easy that I should share it with y'all.
    1. Cut 3 large isosceles (two sides the same length) triangles from green paper. 
    2. Glue to a large sheet (18 x 9") of blue construction paper.
    3. Cut small squares or rectangles from brown paper.  Glue to form trunks.
    4. Using the end of a spool of thread and white paint, make snowflakes.

    Cotton Ball Snowman
    1. Gather your supplies.  You will need: background paper (we used blue construction paper), cotton balls, something for arms (we used pipe cleaners but you could also use sticks), something for a hat and scarf (I cut them out of felt, but you could use paper), something for a nose (we used pipe cleaner), something for eyes, mouth, and buttons (we used plastic gems and buttons).
    2. Trace around 3 round objects of different sizes to make a snowman head, abdomen and body, on your background paper, or you can freehand a snowman outline. It’s better for the kids to have a guideline to fill in.
    3. Pull the cotton balls so that they’re flat and are 3-4 times bigger, and glue inside the outline.
    4. Add the stick arms and nose (pipe cleaners), coal eyes, mouth and buttons, scarf, hat, and pipe.

    This is a fun activity to do while reading There Was a Cold Lady Who Swallowed Some Snow by Lucille Colandro.
    Just borrow the book from the library (or purchase on amazon) and gather your supplies, but keep them hidden.  As the cold lady swallows each item, place the craft supply that represents that item on the table.  So when she swallows some snow, put the cotton balls on the table.  Then, when all the supplies are on the table, but before the big reveal in the book, ask the kids what they could make with those supplies.  Then, finish reading the story to reveal that the Cold Lady coughed up a snowman!
     Borax Crystal Ornaments
    Follow the instructions here to make your own borax crystal ornaments using pipe cleaners and borax (which can be found in the laundry aisle).

    Use your imagination to come up with shapes--try snowflakes, stars, Christmas trees, hearts--anything you can think of.  You can add a few drops of food coloring to the borax solution to make colored ornaments.
    Borax Ornament
    Happy crafting :)

    Thursday, November 29, 2012

    The 12 Treats of Christmas

    If you read my blog regularly, you know that we don't have any family near us. Because of this I'm always a little sad when I hear about other people getting together with family to do Christmas baking.  In fact, this morning in church, our new minister to families with children was saying that in her family, they have a tradition of getting together with all of the women on her mom's side of the family on the Saturday after Thanksgiving and doing...something Christmas-y...together. This year they had 25(!) women there.  If I got together with all the women on my mom's side of the family, there would be 4 of us.  And one of us doesn't like to cook.  And we all live in different places. 

    Anyway, it's a little sad that I have no one with whom to make Christmas treats*, and it's too much for our little family to do a bunch of holiday baking all by ourselves in one day.  Here's how that would go.  AKD would be sitting on the couch reading, Hubby would be working in the garage, and Bubby and MC would be sitting at the counter fighting over who gets to add the next ingredient and who gets to stir.  We would make it through one recipe at the most, and then they'd be off wrestling on the living room floor, and little ol' me would be in the kitchen all by my lonesome, running out to the living room every now and then when I hear a particularly ominous thump.  Or screaming.  Not fun.

    So around here, we do things a little differently.  I asked everyone to name their one or two (or in my case six (but the truffles and buckeyes can all count as one, 'cause they're all just balls of stuff dipped in chocolate.  So that's only 3, right?)) favorite Christmas treats, and we'll make one or two each week, freezing them in packages of dozens or half-dozens until we want to eat them.

    Want to know what made the list?  Here you go:
    • Santa's Snicker's Surprises
    • Rolo Cookies**
    • Oreo Truffles
    • Peppermint Oreo Truffles**
    • Turtle Cheesecake Truffles**
    • Buckeyes**
    • Little Cookies
    • Marshmallow Star Cookies
    • Snickerdoodles
    • Chocolate dipped pretzel rods
    • Christmas tree cake pops
    • Sugar cookies--specifically trees
    Sound good?  Want to make them yourself?  Not to worry--I'll be sharing the recipes throughout December :)  To get a jump on your preparations, you can check out my Christmas Treats pinboard for most of the recipes.

    Your turn: What's on your must-make Christmas treat list?

    *No one with whom to bake, except my mustache-y friends--thanks for being my baking family, girls :)
    **These are recipes that are new to us.

    Wednesday, November 28, 2012

    Hunting Season

    It was the day after Thanksgiving when we started seeing the first of the carcasses riding home on top of cars and in pick-up beds--a sure sign that hunting season had begun.  Oh, I'm not talking about deer hunting season, although that was going on, too.  I'm talking about tree hunting season.  It's kind of a lame joke, but since the two hunting seasons happen around the same time, Hubby and I will always say, "they bagged one--it's a thousand pointer!" or similar nonsense when we see trees strapped to vehicle roofs.  You have to admit, tree hunting is a whole lot easier than the other kind of hunting.

    So, since everyone was doing it (and because it's our tradition), we packed up the boys to hunt for our own tree.  And this is what happened.

    We found one!  Not only is tree hunting easier, but you never get this kind of before shot with the "victim" while deer hunting...


    The boys brought some friends, and a football, along.  We had so much fun hunting and playing among the hundreds of perfect Christmas trees.

    When we exited the trailer after our hay ride, the tractor driver joked that we had half a football team.  Can you imagine if they were all ours?  I do consider them family, these friends of my boys.  Number 1, we'd need a much bigger house, but after that, I think we'd have a great time :) 
    The End
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