Saturday, December 21, 2013

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

This Year's Simple Mantel: Evergreen, White, and Silver

This is our sixth Christmas in our home in Visalia. Many of our decorations remain the same each year––there's something wonderful about tradition. But I like to change up a few things, just to keep it fresh. The mantel was my focus this Christmas season, kept simple with a real piece of driftwood,  evergreen (truly...it's fake) garland, shiny deer and candles, and white touches. Oh and of course silver bells.




Come along, she says. 
Stockings aren't hung yet. I'm waiting until Christmas Eve this year! That's a new one for me.

To complete the look, we added two lighted white deer to the backyard, which I can see from the window next to the mantel. (These we won at an auction this weekend supporting overseas missions. Great items for a great cause!)
Aren't they sweet? I love deer, although I understand they can be quite a nuisance to those who actually find them in their backyards.

What about you? Did you make any changes to your Christmas decorating this year? Or do you find warm comfort in keeping it the same?
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Thursday, December 12, 2013

Frosted!

While our hope for snow has passed, our frozen mornings have been quite beautiful. So I braved the cold, bundled up, and grabbed my camera to snap a few photos.
English Daisy
Nandina 'Heavenly Bamboo'
Nandina 'Firepower'
Pansies...or maybe Violas (never can keep them straight)
Sea Pink 
Violets
Snap Dragon
How have you enjoyed our frosted mornings?
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Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Calla's in Love

Calla loves the Christmas tree. She believes whole-heartedly it's put up for her every year, as some sort of giant cat toy. And it's hard to blame her: shiny trinkets, balls, and birds dangle from tree branches! If I were a cat, I would have a difficult time ignoring such a thing, too.
 She got distracted by a bird flying outside the window.
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Thursday, December 5, 2013

Advent

Willow Nativity Set
A couple of months ago, I received an small Advent devotional in the mail called "The Story of God with Us." (Free, I might add. Anyone else get this? Pretty neat.) I tucked it away and pulled it out this past weekend, but had yet to sit and read through the Scriptures until this morning.

It has not been an easy couple of weeks. Oh, there have been wonderful moments, top of the list being time with my family, especially Chels and Roger who won't be here for Christmas. But my heart has been heavy. The heart of our entire community has been heavy.

So this morning, when I finally heard the words of truth this season reminding me that God sent His son to save us––save us from sin, from darkness, from pain, from evil––and give us abundant light-filled life instead, I was overwhelmed with the goodness and glory of God. Praise God for loving us and saving us!

I was reminded, as well, that when I am weighed down because of the brokenness in the world, I am not helpless, as I often feel. I can pray.

Here are the first week's readings. Each one of us (whether we recognize it or not) is desperate for this life-giving truth.

December 1st: God with Us (Isaiah 11:1-5, Isaiah 7:14; Luke 3:32; Matthew 1:18-23)
December 2nd: Take Refuge in Him (Psalm 2:7-12; Matthew 3:17)
December 3rd: A Covenant for the People (Isaiah 42:1-7; Matthew 12:18-21; Luke 2:32)
December 4th: The Holy One of Israel, Your Savior (Isaiah 43:1-13; Acts 4:12)
December 5th: A Light for the Gentiles (Isaiah 49:1-7; Luke 2:29-32, Acts 13:47)
December 6th: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:2-7; Luke 1:32-33)
December 7th: The Lord Has Comforted His People (Isaiah 52:7-15; Luke 4:14-15; Revelation 1:5)

Do you have any specials ways you celebrate the Advent season? I'd love to hear them.
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Monday, December 2, 2013

December, you're here soon!

This whole Thanksgiving-on-Thursday and then December-on-Sunday thing is nuts. Anyone else feeling like they're in a fog? One second I was chowing down on turkey, and the next I was hanging stockings! What happened to that nice week where we recover from our turkey comas?

Even though December has come quickly, I'm glad it's here. I'm ready for our Advent season, ready for a time to turn our attention to Christ and His coming, ready for His light to shine even brighter. (And yes, secondarily, I'm ready for Christmas baking and stocking hanging, too.)

As this new season comes and we're still full from Thanksgiving, I'm full of gratitude. I'm so thankful for my husband, my family, my friends, my church, and of course, Christ. I'm thankful for warm homes, for bright lights, and for sweet rest. The weekend before Thanksgiving, Robby and I got to get away for a few days in San Diego, and it was lovely. It's hard to believe this is what the weather is like in San Diego just a week before December:
Hope you are all finding ways to cherish this Advent season! It always comes...and leaves...too quickly.
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Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Hello, friends!

This is a post about me. No recipes, no projects, no book reviews. Just a plain ol' "this is what I've been up to lately" type of thing. I hope you're okay with that.

The photo above is from this past weekend. Robby was asked to perform a small marriage ceremony for one of his former college students. We drove out to the Central Coast on Friday morning, and I sat in Starbuck's while he married two sweet people in the presence of their families. I sat sipping coffee for nearly two hours, and it was wonderful. Just wonderful. I devoured my latest Real Simple magazine (thanks Chels!) and finished a book my friend Amanda loaned me. (A real good one...I'll share it later.) We stayed overnight, spending our time shopping a bit and visiting Avila Beach, where that photo was taken. It was beautiful and sunny but chilly and windy. I have another photo to show you just how windy it was:
I didn't know Robby was taking that photo, but I kinda like it. This may disgust you, but Robby really loves taking photos of me. I don't know why...

Last week we celebrated my mama's birthday at our house, and it was such a fun evening. We sat outside in our backyard which looked quite lovely, if I do say so myself. I made ATK's Old Fashioned Chocolate Cake and it was perfectly delicious, slathered with chocolate frosting and covered in chocolate curls. I enjoyed every single crumb on my plate.
Yes, I ate the chocolate cake. And yes, I'm still doing my diet. But I'm trying to find a balance in my life. There is no way I'll be able to pass up a slice of chocolate cake for the rest of my existence, so I eat carefully and thoughtfully most of the time and then indulge every now and then. Overall, I feel so much better, but I'm still figuring out what works.
School is going really well this year. I work three days a week at a charter school as an Independent Study teacher. I have only twelve students, and I meet with each one of them for an hour. During that time, I go over homework and assign new homework...and I share about my life and listen to them share about their lives. It's pretty neat.

On Mondays I don't work at school, but in a way, it still feels like a workday. Monday is the day Steph and I meet to work on our blog Citrus and Cream. This has turned out to be quite the job! I don't think either one of us knew what we were getting into, but we're having fun (most of the time) and learning a lot along the way. And it gives me and Steph a standing date every week, as well as incentive to have outings and parties. The photo below is from our Thanksgiving dinner. I love the red leaves creeping along the fence in the back.
On Sunday mornings and Wednesday nights, I work with our children at church preparing for our Christmas program. It's amazing--I can be absolutely drained from a busy morning or a long day of work, and yet I step in the room to teach them and I'm buzzing with energy again. Sweet funny kids can do that to you. I also get a workout doing the dance moves and hand motions, which is a plus.

Speaking of church, the craziest thing happened to me this past weekend at youth group. We were playing hide-and-go-seek in the pitch black education building (don't judge...you do what you have to do to keep kids interested!). I knew the seeker was coming and I had a terrible hiding spot in one of the rooms. Across the hallway was another room, so I darted out. At that exact moment, one of our middle school students was running full speed down the hallway, silently of course. He didn't see me. I didn't see him. He collided into me, knocking his hard head into my jaw and causing my body to fly--yes fly--through the air. I landed on my left elbow and hip and then my head smacked into the nearly-concrete floor. I blacked out! Quickly I came to but I was in major pain and the room was spinning. Someone turned on the lights and Robby ran over to me, helped me up and out of harm's way. Turned out there were no broken bones, but I am still incredibly sore.

And there you have it. I wear many hats these days, and each one of them somehow fits. I look forward to the next week of Thanksgiving break and will relish some rest and relaxation!
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Monday, November 18, 2013

Lettuce Wraps May Save Me! (Burgers with Goat Cheese, Onions, and Anaheim Peppers)

I've always been a cheeseburger and fries type of gal, emphasis on the fries. I was a little worried knowing that one of my favorite meals would have to be cut being that it is topped and bottomed with bread. I didn't know that a lettuce-wrapped burger is pretty darn close to the real thing. Once I figured that out, it is was a lettuce-wrapped frenzy over here.
These burgers were especially delicious.  And I often cook them in a pan on the stove so we don't have to pull out the barbecue, though I know nothing quite beats a grilled burger.

Lettuce-Wrapped Burgers with Goat Cheese, Onions, Tomato, and Anaheim Peppers
  1. Spice up your ground beef. I always add a good amount of spices when making patties: sea salt, black pepper, cayenne, Chipotle chili powder, and ground mustard...plus anything else I'm in the mood for. You can add an egg if you need to, but often if I'm cooking on the stove, they're fine without.
  2. When your burger is cooked, top with goat cheese to let it melt a bit.
  3. Grill your onion and pepper for a moment (not too long...keep it on the crunchy side) and add to your burger. (Technically grilled onions have quite a bit of sugar...but come on!? Who eats a burger without grilled onions?)
  4. Slice a tomato, throw it on a large bib of lettuce, and slide your burger on. Top with another piece. Enjoy!
You'll notice there are no condiments on this burger. That's a toughie for more, and sometimes I squirt a little ketchup on the side when I'm feeling weak. (The creamy goat cheese helps, too. Avocado works the same way.) But if you can avoid condiments, all the more power to you––they're packed with sugar and preservatives.

Anyone else a lettuce-wrap nut? Tell me all about it!
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Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Almost Pizza {Flax & Almond Meal Pizza Dough}

I've been doing this no-sugar, no-grain thing for over a month now, and here is the secret when cooking or baking: Do not expect anything you make to taste like what you're used to.

I'm serious. Going to make homemade ice cream sweetened with stevia? Plan on whipping up some almond meal pancakes? How about creating coconut flour tortillas? Go for it! Keep a smile on your face, knowing that you are moving toward a healthier, happier version of yourself. But don't think for one second that these creations will taste like what you're used to. Nothing can imitate what happens to refined flour and sugar when baked.
That being said, I recently made grain-free pizza dough. You all know how I love pizza. I spent months perfecting my pizza dough recipe and a huge part of Robby and me returning to New York two years ago was to eat New York pizza every day and night for a week straight.

This does not taste like New York pizza. Not even close. And it does not taste like my homemade barbecued pizza I love so. But it does remind me of pizza, and as far as no-grain foods go, this is a good one! The crust serves as a nice foundation for mounds of toppings, and the absolute best part is this crust is as healthy as a handful of nuts and seeds. Which means you can skip on over for seconds or thirds without a worry in the world. Well, at least without a worry in the sugar and grain world.

Ingredients
1/2 cup + 1/8 cup ground flax
1/2 cup almond meal/flour
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon Italian spices (or 1/2 basil and 1/2 oregano)
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons ground chia seed mixed with 2 tablespoons water (let sit 5 minutes)
1 egg
4 1/2 teaspoons olive oil
1/4 cup water

Directions
Mix the flax, almond meal, salt, spices, and baking powder together. Mix the egg and chia seed/water together. Pour the egg mixture into the dry mixture, add the olive oil and water, and mix well. Let sit for five minutes, then mix again.

Pour the dough onto a silicone baking mat and smooth into a thin circle using the back of a silicone spatula. Bake at 425 degrees F for 15 minutes.
Take out, add tomato sauce, cheese, and toppings (the key is to have a lot!), and put back in the oven for 10 minutes or so, taking care not to let it burn at all. Once out, top with fresh basil and cracked pepper. Slice and serve!
If you try it, do tell me what you think of it!
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Monday, November 4, 2013

Little Red & Her Big Rad Wolf

This year, we continued the tradition of helping at our church for our Halloween alternative event. As usual, I assisted my parents in the kitchen, and Robby ran the sound. It was a lot of fun! I always love seeing the cute costumes, visiting with friends, and sneaking a few pieces of candy.

For once, I planned ahead and worked on our costumes before October 31st. (Usually I'm throwing together a costume half an hour before heading to school!) I made my cape (I'm going to try to share a tutorial so you can make one, too! I'm assuming you need a cape.) and Robby's mask. Both were pretty simple, although I always learn from my mistakes along the way. The only problem was that when we weren't together, people weren't totally sure who we were. They all thought Robby was the fox from "What Does the Fox Say?" I think they were disappointed that he didn't know the dance.

Now that Halloween is over, it is officially Thanksgiving time! Yay!
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Saturday, October 26, 2013

It's Okay to Gawk! (5 Sites You Need to Know About!)

Meet the Gawker family: Foodgawker, Dwellinggawker, Craftgawker, Weddinggawker, and Stylegawker.

I know the names look ridiculous lined up like that, but hear me out. These sites are pretty fantastic.

I'd say they're very much like Pinterest, except you aren't doing the pinning. A team of people who love good photography and reliable sources curate photographs to give us the best of what's out there. While I'll always love Pinterest for giving us a simple way to organize and share our favorites (and giving my NavBar a break), Pinterest can let me down in a couple ways:
  • First, it is so disappointing when I click on a pin that takes me nowhere...or worse, to a dumb Flickr account.
  • Second, because Pinterest is basically limited to what pinners pin, the search feature isn't always so helpful. 
These sites ensure the photographs come from an actual post from a blogger, and both a search feature and category feature help you refine what you're looking for. You can create an account and have favorites, or you can simply find what's beautiful and inspiring and pin it! 

Below is a tiny glimpse of what each offers. 

1. Foodgawker: Food of all kinds, as well as cooking techniques and how-to's from food bloggers

2. Dwellinggawker: Living and work space inspiration from design and architecture bloggers

3. Craftgawker: Handmade arts and crafts from craft bloggers

4. Weddinggawker: Inspirational styles and ideas from wedding photographers/bloggers

5. Stylegawker: DIY fashion, beauty, and style projects from fashion and style bloggers

Had you heard of these sites before? What do you think?
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