good morning!

It's the day after Christmas and my heart is full to the brim with good things.  Our Christmas was beyond lovely, relaxed and wonderful and we leave it behind with much anticipation towards the new year. :)  We couldn't have asked for a better day...maybe more time off for Doug but we are also very thankful for his job.

I have so many great and exciting plans for this new year we are approaching...things I can't wait to share with you but first....

Today marks the day of one of my favorite parts of Christmas...packing up all the Christmas decorations and cleaning my house from top to bottom!  It has me wondering...when do you reclaim your house post Christmas?  Will you have your house back by the end of the day or will it look the same come Valentines?

Hope your heart is full and light! :)  
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Looking in the right direction...

With Christmas, as with, well, almost any day of the year for a lot of women, comes some sort of basic instinct type of competition.  Not for all women, but for many, they find themselves in the trenches of of hard core mommy comparison.  A joy stealing, confidence robbing sort of sport that leaves them feeling insecure and not good enough. 

I speak from experience here. 

Exactly a year ago today you would have found me in the same position.  Trying my best but not feeling nearly adequate.  Looking from peer to peer to see all the ways that I did not measure up.  It left me in a cold ugly place.  I am surrounded by amazing women...both friends and family.  At times my meager "stay at home mom" existence seemed puny in comparison. 

2011 was a bastard of a winter.  It came with cold temperatures and tough lessons.  Lots of digging out of decay and ugly from my soul and tilling of ground for new planting.  I hated it.  But I love it and almost long for it now.  I have never felt closer to the Lord than I did last winter.  I felt Him.  I heard Him.  I KNEW He was near.  It was a true beautiful mess.  I am grateful for it.  It left me as a person and a mom better equipped to look up and down and no longer to the left and the right.  I left comparison alone and cold in the winter of 2011.

I clung to the verse "First take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye. Matthew 7:5".  I got to work removing planks.  And trees and twigs and at times, what felt like log cabins.  And you know what?  If you concentrate on that...you will never have time to inspect anothers speck.  You won't have time to look to the left or the right at your peers. 

Imagine two identical cars.  Two cars that came off of the production line within moments of each other.  Identical in every way.  Give one to a 75 year old lady who goes to church twice a week and to the market once.  Give the other to a 16 year old.  Enough said.  Two identical cars.  Two separate and very different lives they will lead.  You would never compare the two cars after five years or ten.  You wouldn't expect them to be the same as each other any longer.  You can do the same with any two things...dogs, sisters, houses and even twins will live totally different lives from each other.  Wouldn't it seem foolish to expect the same results at the end of each life? 

Why, oh why, are we drawn to comparison? 

I dare say, it is because we are looking in the wrong direction.  The left and right direction.  The "what's my friend doing that is better than me" direction.  Even the "what I am I doing "BETTER" than so and so direction".  Each equally damaging.  I challenge you to knock it off. 

Look down.  See your children.  Are they happy?  Are the joyful?  Do they laugh and have fun?  Are they energetic and full of imagination?  Do others enjoy their company?  Are their teachers and peers saying good things about them?  Are they learning to love the Lord?  Are they full of tenderness and compassion for others?  Do they see you and your husband loving the Lord and each other?  Focusing on theses things will bring more peace than looking to the right and left will. 

Look up.  Find your saviors face in your mind.  Are you trying to please him?  Are you seeking his will for your family?  Is he number one or a number on a list?  Are you in the word or in the world?  Are you praying to him?  Are you praying for your family and kids?  Would you be happy to recount your actions to him?  Does what is in your heart bring him joy?  Are you doing what will make him proud or what will make people like you more?  Focus on these things to truly find joy in all things. 

It's always been my nature to get things done as soon as possible.  I would very nearly start the class project in college as soon as I read the syllabus.  Come the end of the semester I was done and relaxed while many of my friends were crazed with stress.  It never went over well with friends that I was done and they were not.  But more often than not, we would both come out with the same grade.  I didn't do things better, just DIFFERENTLY.  Different is OK.  Different does not make others less or more...nor does it make YOU less or more.  It's the comparison of the differences that brought and brings conflict and hurt.  Comparison steals Joy.   

Embrace what makes you different from other mothers.  No one has YOUR kids or YOUR husband or YOUR job or YOUR life.  It's OK that your kids childhood will be different than your best friends kids or your worst enemies.  In the end...

Do what you feel in your heart to be right - for you'll be criticized anyway. You'll be damned if you do, and damned if you don't. Eleanor Roosevelt.  

And with that I am praying that YOU will only look up or down to get approval and to get your actions in check.  That you find joy in knowing that you are doing the best you can do.  Look down at the baby in the manger...helpless yet all the help we need...look up at the God who is preparing a place for you and have Peace this Christmas and all of 2012 and beyond.  
Love and Christmas blessings to you friends.  
I am thankful for you stopping by and sharing your time and hearts with me. :)
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Christmas times. :)

With finally being caught up on all pre-Christmas orders and Christmas gifts my creative brain has exploded into all the fun projects I have had on my pinterest boards for ages and I am having a great time pouring through them...rocks turned cute things was first on my list...
 followed by "make a glove into a bear".  :)
I've also had time to update one of my favorite items in the shop.  After Christmas you will be able to add either a name meaning or a date of birth to my ever popular name pillows. :)
And this year we had two Christmas cards made up.  Sara Luke, my all time favorite, made this one for us....
...and I bought this one from my friend Heather when she was raising money for a charity cause whose name is escaping me at the moment. :)  Both lovely and both sent out...some to some and some to others. :)
And randomly, Moses asked if he could go see "the pretend Santa" at the mall.  With him we have talked about how Santa was once a real person, who did good for others when he was alive, but how that was a long time ago, how people pretend to be him now, etc, etc.  Which of course, because of the stage that Moses is in, led to a whole conversation about how Santa died and where he is buried, etc.  So Moses prompted his asking to see this "pretend Santa" with "Remember when Santa died...well can we go see the one who pretends to be him and dress up like him?"  This is a HUGE milestone for Moses, who up until now has been deathly afraid of any adult in a costume. :)    
And here's what Porkchop has been up to...the arrival of our new Hokie nutcracker prompted a game of table top toy football...
 And the squinkies exacting revenge on our elf...
...Gulliver's travels style. :)

I hope this finds you a little relaxed...if not a lot...and enjoying some of the little things of this Christmas season. :)
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20 minute crafter-yoda peg doll

 I made these in less than 15 minutes...you CAN too...want to?  Here's how...
Here's what you need:
craft paint in light brown, yoda green and dark brown (or a brown sharpie).
Peg dolls.  I buy them from Goose Grease
a tiny bit of polyfil or cotton
a scrap of leather or stiff fabric
glue gun
Start by painting the body...everything below the neck.
Cut out some yoda ears...basically the shape of two leaves tip to tip...I used scraps of leather...but you could use card stock or a stiff fabric.
 Paint the heads and the ears green.
 Now to make his robe just add lines as the photos show using paint or a sharpie...line one...
 ...line two...
 ...and three...
 and four...
 ...five and some little details...
Here's what it looks like on a different doll.
 Add two little eyes with a black sharpie or a dot of paint. I like them low and wide. :)
Now hot glue your ears to the back of the head...low on the back. 
Here's what it looks like from behind...
Then add just the tiniest bit of wisps of hair (I used polyfil) using your glue gun.
 And you're done!
Cutest, easiest Yodas ever. :)
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custom order sunday and what i made for monday-easy caramel popcorn

Here's a double post for you...just so you know I have not given up on custom order Sundays or what I made for mondays...custom orders were still happening and treats are still being made. :)

Here's what I made for this Monday...

This is my friend lauren's caramel popcorn recipe.  This is a (very worthy) repost.  It's not too late to make this for gifts for friends and neighbors. 

 caramel popcorn
 3 bags of microwave popcorn
2 sticks butter; 
2 cups brown sugar; 
1/2 cup light corn syrup (Karo); 
1/2 tsp baking soda; 1 tsp salt; 1 tsp vanilla

pop popcorn and put it in a large roasting pan.
preheat over to 225.
melt butter on medium heat.  add karo, salt and brown sugar.
stir constantly and bring to a boil. 
then leave it untouched for 5 minutes. 
this part freaked me out the most...i was sure it would stick to the pan/burn on the bottom/etc...it did none of those things.
Remove from heat.  Add baking soda and vanilla.  Stir it up until it is all blended and caramelly.  

Once it is all well mixed together...pour it kind of evenly over your popcorn.  Don't worry if everything is not covered...it will get there. 
Put it in the oven for an hour.  Every fifteen minutes get it out and stir it up. 
When an hour is up...remove from the oven and spread out on cool cookie sheets.  Break up any large clumps.  Try to share some. :) 
And here's my favorite custom order of the week...a friend of mine asked me if I could make her daughters drawing into a 3d creation.  The result, I think, is something cute and fun that I hope her daughter will get a kick out of. :)

And here's what our elf has been up to...
 ...making a copy of his little buns...
 ...rolling with his gnomie...
 ...playing a game of scrabble...
 and playing hide and seek with the legos.
And because I can't get over it...please explain to me how we got to this young man stage on the right?

How's your Christmas season?  Crazy or awesome?  Peaceful or insane?
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salted caramel sauce for dummies. aka the plain english version

I have done a lot of work for you these last few days. 
A couple of weeks ago I made an AMAZING salted caramel sauce that was so good I wanted to eat it by the spoonful...I mean, lightly drizzled over ice cream.  It was AMAZING.  I immediately knew I wanted to make jars of it to give as gifts. 
So last week I made another batch.  FAIL.  Horrible, horrible fail. 
I tried again.  Fail again.  I didn't get it...It worked beautifully the first time. 
If you know me, or have been here long, you know I have very little patience for things like this...nor do I particularly care for repetition.  BUT.  The sauce was that good.  I HAD to perfect it.   I researched recipes, bought a thermometer and WORKED. IT. OUT. 
You are welcome. 
The last few times I made it, I was so sure of what I was doing that I had time to take photos.  For you.  Because you must make this.  MUST.  Ready?
You will want some little jars like these to gift it in.  One batch makes 2 1/2 to three of these depending on how full you make them.
You also need:
1 1/2 cups of sugar
1/3 cup of water
1 tablespoon of karo (light corn syrup)
1 1/4 cup of heavy cream (or heavy whipping cream)
1 tsp vanilla
2 tablespoons of salted butter
1 tsp of salt
A thermometer that goes up to 400 or so.  Vital.  This is how I worked out my kinks.  Turned out my "low heat" was too low and my "medium heat" was not medium. 
Whenever I use karo I always spray down my measuring tool...helps the karo come out easier.  Also, I always grease the threads of the karo lid and mouth...keeps the lid from sticking.
Go to the bathroom before you start.  You will want to stay close by for the whole process.  :)
Mix together the sugar, water and karo.  It will look like this.
Now here is where my version becomes different.  In my research I learned that I let it heat up TOO SLOWLY, causing my bad batches to crystallize and become a science project. 
Heat up this mixture on medium low heat.  On my stove top it is on a 3.5 (see above).
Now leave it alone.  Don't stir it at this point.  Give it a few minutes to heat up and let the sugar dissolve.  
While that is happening, get your other ingredients ready...heavy cream...
I add my vanilla to the cream to make it a little easier at pour time...
If you are making lots of batches in a row like I did today (SIX) I pre-cut all my butter into pats.
 Here's what my hot kitchen mess looks like. 
 Here's what your mixture will start to look like.  If you notice that the sugar around the edges is not dissolving, gently take a spoon and go around the edges to push it into the middle.  Slow and gentle. 
When it looks like this it's time to turn up the heat.  Notice that the mixture is clear...the middle is bubbles.  You want the sugar to be nearly dissolved. 
Turn the heat up to a little above medium heat.  On my stove this is a 6.  Every so often gently tilt the pan back and forth to stir it a bit.  (If you are doing multiple batches, this is a good time to overlap the next batch). 
At "6" this is the temperature my mixture would get to...once I saw that the temperature had plateaued, I upped it a bit...like to a 6.5.  I kept doing this until the temperature went up to the 325-350 range. 
Here it is at 321...notice the change in color...stay close by for this part...gently tilt back and forth to stir and prevent burning.  
And darker still...
This is about where you want to take it off the heat and sit it on a cool burner.  But don't turn that other burner off ...put it back down to your medium low spot, you will use it again in a moment.    
Now SLOWLY pour your creamer/vanilla mixture in.  SLOWLY.  The pour stream coming out should be smaller than a pencil width.  Pouring it slowly WHILE STIRRING THE WHOLE TIME will prevent it from completely clumping up.  You do not need to warm up the cream or anything like that.  Just pour slowly.  And stir.
It will fizz and bubble and spaz out on you. It's ok. :)
 Pour slowly while stirring.  Just remember that. :)
 Eventually you will have this (after a minute or so of stirring).
 
Add your butter and salt in now...keep stirring...
Return to the medium low heat.  Keep stirring until the mixture is completely smooth and the butter has melted. 
Usually...about the time the butter has melted, the sauce will start to simmer.  Remove from the heat and pour into jars.
I used free printable labels from Over the Moon to dress them up just a little.  Doug is taking them to work so I couldn't go crazy with cute. :)
This is what we keep our home stash in. :) We can pop the top off and microwave for a few seconds to make it nice and pourable.

My research tells me that this is good unrefrigerated for 3 months and refrigerated for six.

Now go make some.  And put it on apples.  That way it's healthy. 

Leave any questions in the comments and I will answer them there. :)
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