Pages

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

New Look

Yes, you are at the right place. I've just been messing around with all these fun (FREE!) templates I found. No messing with html code--I don't even know what that is or means or how to mess with it. I just find something I like, copy and paste. VOILA! If you want to freshen up your look click on the button at the top left of my blog. However, it only works for bloggers on blogspot. So I now have a lovely new look for these winter months--or whenever the mood strikes me. ;o)

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Goal Setting for the New Year

The end of the year always gets my "wheels a'turning." With all the talk of New Years' resolutions one can't help but ponder . . .


"What have I accomplished this year?"
"Have I matured?"
"Am I better at *fill-in-the-blank* than I was a year ago?"

And hopefully, for the most part, we all can give positive answers. But sometimes, it's also a time for some brutal honesty. I remember the end of 2005, the first year I actually made a concerted effort at some self-evaluation. I was pretty disappointed in myself. I realized I didn't seem any different than a year ago. I was coasting. There is a saying out there that goes
"If you aim for nothing, you are bound to hit it." That pretty much sums it up, eh? ;oP That was the first year I sat down and wrote up some goals for myself, spiritual goals, physical goals, projects I wanted to get done, and also goals for the kids.--how's my parenting, what do I need to improve on? I picked a word for the year "JOY." I think God knew I was serious about growing. Two months later I found out I had a brain tumor.

What does that have to do with goal setting, you ask? Well, growing, particularly the spiritual kind has a whole lot to do with the trials we persevere through. How easy it would have been to work on joy if my life was perfect--if Josh made millions of dollars, my kids were perfectly well-behaved, my house was my dream home and never messy. Who couldn't be joyful under those circumstances, right? It was a lot harder with a brain tumor. Growing comes about through struggle, discipline (you know, those FUN words that we all love so much). And so with seriousness I contemplate this last year and the new one quickly approaching.

Where am I at? I do see a different person than I saw three years ago. The process has been tedious. I fail quite miserably on a daily, ahem, hourly basis. And yet I anticipate the new year. I'm considering my "word" for this year, 2006 was JOY, 2007 was FAITHFULNESS, 2008 was STEADFASTNESS, 2009 . . . I'm looking over my routines (or lack thereof) and deciding what is working, and what is not. I'm making a plan. But I'm going to be honest--I love planning. I love brainstorming new ideas. I love writing up schedules, chore charts. I love the sales on organizing supplies that stores have in January. I love a new calendar or planner. It makes me a bit giddy. It is always the "making it happen" that I struggle with. Because let's face it, "making it happen" brings us back to that favorite word again--DISCIPLINE. Discipline is not fun. I'm good at making excuses for myself.

"I have four kids, I can't . . ."
"I deserve . . ."
"That's just too much work right now, some day . . ."
You know, stuff like that. I read somewhere that most often we spend too much time LISTENING to ourselves and not enough TELLING ourselves what to do. That would be my problem. (I mean, who out there really wants to get out of their cozy bed an hour earlier to exercise.)

And so I look to the new year. I wonder what lies ahead. I'm making new goals and adding to old ones, and hoping Lord-willing that one year from now there will be growth, maturity, and a general heading-in-the-right-direction.
Teach us to number our days,
That we may gain a heart of wisdom.
Psalm 90:12

Sunday, December 28, 2008

December Miscellany

As December wraps up I have a few odd and end pictures to share--just little glimpses into the Cooley household during the month of December. Enjoy! ;o) "Reindeer Rides"
Poor Marissa was the unfortunate reindeer, Isabella did push from behind, but I caught her hitching a ride on the back a few times too. Around and around they went while both the boys proclaimed "Ho, ho, ho Merry Christmas!"
"Candy Cane Milk"
This is good stuff--trust me.


"Felt Gingerbread Houses"
Instead of baking gingerbread we cut the tops off of cardboard milk cartons, covered them in felt and decorated with felt cut-outs, pom-poms, and sequins. I was amused at Marissa and her need for symmetry and Isabella's more "free-spirited" approach--a little bit of this, a little bit of that. Idea courtesy of my Family Fun magazine.
This handsome little man in his "suit"

"Rolled Butter Cookies"
These are a tradition in our home each Christmas. However I was really dragging my feet on decorating them. Usually I make a huge batch of butter cream frosting, divvy it up into bowls, tint it with food coloring gel and then the girls and I spend several hours decorating. I kept putting it off. Finally I gave the girls the left-over frosting from the cake and all the sprinkles I owned and said "Go at it." I think that is how we will do it from now on. It was much simpler and the girls enjoyed it more. I can easily see the boys getting in on this next year too.
As I review our month I think next year we need more time off from school. Last year I had managed our schedule to take nearly the whole month of December off. With how busy the month always gets--extra orchestra rehearsals, extra crafts to do with the kids, someone (or 4!!!) getting sick, etc.--I just want more time to enjoy everything around me and not be rushing around or cancelling an activity or craft because I do not have the time. So that's my mental note to self--longer Christmas break next year. Which is one of the joys of homeschooling--I can do just that.;o)

How We Celebrated

Christmas morning started out with a birthday party for Jesus. I think we began this tradition the Christmas Marissa was 2 years old and able to comprehend a bit about what was going on around her. We had a special breakfast together--"Breakfast Casserole," which is a tasty egg and hash brown dish with cheese and lil' smokies, "Cranberry Slush Punch," and a birthday cake for Jesus, "Peppermint Cake with White Chocolate Frosting." We sung "Happy Birthday" and blew out some candles. What better occasion to have cake for breakfast, right? ;o) And everything was made a day or two ahead of time so that Mommy could enjoy the morning also. Nobody enjoys a Christmas martyr. ;o)We then opened our presents. We had already opened presents with my parents and Josh's parents. It's nice having things spaced a bit. It gives the kids a chance to enjoy each item individually, rather than loose something in the shuffle. I'm always on the lookout for "good" toys. I love classic items, especially wooden toys. Unfortunately, those can be kind of pricey too. One of my favorite catalogues right now is http://magiccabin.com/. I could seriously buy up their whole store. In the end we had a mixture--items that will be used over and over, and a few that will probably be broken by the end of the week. ;o) The first present that is opened each year is our annual "Christmas Book." Each year (beginning the year Josh and I were engaged!) I have purchased a new children's picture book that focuses on the true meaning of Christmas. It has been fun to watch our collection grow over the years--we're at ten books now! These books are packed away at the end of December, and then brought out again when we decorate next year. It has become a special tradition for our family.

A few of the things the kids received:
Here is Emmett and his new cell. He still prefers ours, but this has been a good diversion.

Isabella and her doll (whom she named Rianna). I've loved the "American Girl" dolls since I was a girl. This is Tar.get's version. It's probably not as well made, but on sale for $20 or mail order for $110--what are you going to pick? ;o) She is thrilled. She also got a horse from G&G Cooley for the doll to ride. And I have my work cut out for me in doll clothes making--which should prove to be a fun venture. Marissa is now thinking perhaps she needs one too. ;o)
This is an art caddy Marissa received from us, along with crayon, oil pastels, markers, etc. We can never have enough things to draw with. She is excited to have the crayons sorted by color group making it easier to pick *just* the right shade.
"Connectagons"--Jackson received from my parents. Jackson has enjoyed making "spider webs" and "monsters." They have been fun for the whole family (even Emmett, although he mainly likes to throw them).


The rest of the day was pretty laid back. The girls and I went to visit my sister Lynsi and brand-new baby Drew at the hospital. We then had a delicious meal at Josh's parents' home. As the afternoon wore on, we wore out. ;o) After a light supper, the kids were in bed at --seven o'clock--and we didn't hear a peep! I attempted to clean up a bit, and we then had a quiet evening to ourselves as CHRISTMAS '08 came to a close.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

The Best Kind of Present

My new nephew . . .Andrew Justin Morten
"Drew"
Big sister Lexi and Drew

Big sister Ava and Drew

A perfect and precious arrival just in time for Christmas

Beautiful mama, beautiful baby
Welcome Drew!!!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Blessed Christmas Wishes!


Silent night, Holy night
All is calm, all is bright
Round yon Virgin Mother and Child
Holy Infant so tender and mild
Sleep in Heavenly peace
Sleep in Heavenly peace


Silent night, Holy night
Shepherds quake at the sight
Glories stream from Heaven afar
Heavenly hosts sing Hallelujah
Christ, the Savior is born
Christ, the Savior is born


Silent night, Holy night
Son of God, love’s pure light
Radiant beams from thy Holy face
With the dawn of redeeming grace
Jesus, Lord, at thy birth
Jesus, Lord, at thy birth

Monday, December 22, 2008

Glad Tidings of . . .

As the days of December have briskly marched on, I've been busy trying to finish a myriad of projects--my favorite being the above wooden sign. I have a Christmas cookbook entitled "Comfort & Joy" and I decided I would like a sign proclaiming those sentiments for the season. It's not perfect--I'm not the steadiest of painters when it comes to painting those letters--but I'm pleased with the results.
Next in the line-up, Jackson's new tractor blanket. When he was born a dear friend made him a fleece St. Louis Cardinals blanket (much to Josh's delight!) and he has slept with it ever since. The blanket has held up pretty well, but it is getting kind of small for my growing boy. He loves to feel the fringe while he sleeps. We'll see if he accepts the new one. ;o)
These are some felt cookies I made for my first grade group of "Girls of Grace" at church. I slid a sliver hook through the stitching so they could be Christmas ornaments--or the hook can be removed and the cookie used as a refreshment at the next (pretend!) tea party. They were a lot of fun to make. I am discovering there is a whole world of felt food out there--donuts, cake slices--I can't wait to try something else. This stocking is another Aun.t Pat.ty's Attic "knock-off." I needed something to hang on this shelf for Christmas, and this was perfect (and also pretty simple to copy). ;o)
And last but not least, a joint venture between Josh and I--a new bookshelf. I wanted something for our dining room/schooling area, a place for a seasonal display of books, crafts, nature, etc. So, I drew up my idea for Josh, and he built this for my Christmas present. Admittedly, I am not the master furniture designer, nor is he the master furniture builder . . . There may be a few extra holes that needed filling, and sanding . . . ;o) It isn't quite finished yet. I am planning on painting it a dark sage/olive shade of green to match the shelf that hangs above it on the wall. I am really excited to have this display area. I see the kids going for books more now that they can see the covers (instead of digging through my crate). And it satisfies the inner librarian I think I have lurking inside of me . . . ;o)
I still have a few small projects in the works, a dolly dress for Isabella and ornaments for all the kids. My project list is always way too long this time of year--there are just so many wonderful ideas out there. And of course, so little time. ;o)

Saturday, December 20, 2008

A Tribute to my Granny

I have only one living grandparent left, my mom's mom "Granny," half-way across the country in western Massachusetts. Growing up in a farming family with three other siblings it was never easy for my parents to travel that distance for a visit. Between her flights out to Nebraska and our driving back to Massachusetts we may have (at the most) averaged a visit a year, however, it was probably less than that. In spite of the infrequency of getting to see her face to face, many of my fondest memories of Christmas involve her. Each year in early December a big brown package would arrive via the UPS man at our home. Visits from the UPS were rare and always exciting. We knew it was the long-awaited package from Granny. This box was always full of goodies. We would excitedly pull out the loaves of stollen she had baked for us, Mom would whisk away the presents to be opened at a later date, and my favorite part--the yearly handmade ornament would be discovered.
Each year it was always something different and always in a variety of craft forms--sometimes cross-stitched or something done on plastic canvas, an angel made out of a variety of pasta noodles, or something ceramic, there was always something new, and always one done for each of us. The majority of our Christmas tree was handmade ornaments, added to yearly by Granny. It wasn't just ornaments she made either--each of us had an original stocking made by her hands. My sister and I had similar ones done in needlepoint, mine was red with a little girl on it, hers light blue and proclaiming "Noel." My brother Jared had a simpler stocking because that was the year Grandpa got sick and she didn't have the time for fancy work. And my youngest brother Lukas had a dazzling one with a snowman and lots of sequins that we all admired. These all hung in a row, pinned into the woodwork between the living room and dining room.
When I got married my mom let me pick a few of my favorite ornaments for my tree. These are the ornaments that yearly tug at my heart. They link me back to childhood and back to her. They inspire me to create special memories for my own children. When I think of her I always recall busy hands. She never visited without some project she was working on. Cross-stitching, knitting, crocheting, plastic canvas--she was always working on something. And I was always at her side watching. And I get it. I think of the verse from Proverbs 31 " . . .She works with her hands in delight . . ." I have been blessed many times by the work of her hands--a beautiful cross-stitched picture for my wedding, a crocheted blanket when my first baby was born, and so many, many other items, too numerous to list. I understand her need to be making and creating. I understand the joy in finishing something for someone else. I understand how "right" it feels to have something forming in your hands. It is truly a delight. I am so thankful for her and the example she has been to me. I am thankful for the creative legacy she has left me, a legacy I hope to pass on to my own girls. So, Granny, if you get a chance to read this, thank you for the special memories, they are treasured in my heart always. Merry Christmas.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Today Jackson . . .

~Was the first one up at 6:40
~Was in dire need of breakfast-pronto!
~And some orange juice
~Insisted upon cracking the eggs while I made pancakes
~Ate his pancakes peacefully
~Dumped a mixture of a full bottle of onion powder and what remained of the chocolate sprinkles (see post below) on the kitchen floor
~Drove trains through aforementioned substance while I showered in blissful ignorance
~Dumped a container full of nail/staple/metal pointy object miscellany on the carpet
~Used jumbo wooden puzzle pieces as cymbals
~Encouraged Emmett to join in
~Got himself a mid-morning snack of baby carrots and ranch dressing
~Dumped milk on the floor while trying to get himself a drink
~Followed me around sobbing for reasons I can no longer recall
~"Cheers-ed" his milk with Marissa's at lunch--too hard--milk everywhere
~Used a screw driver to pop berries off the garland on the Christmas tree
~Got the baby bathtub out of storage and wedged himself inside with his blanket because he was tired
~Ran around in circles with his siblings while they ALL screamed in delight
~Was fallen on by Marissa who had climbed the door frame (and subsequently lost grip)
~Claims Marissa broke his leg
~Accomplished all of this before 11:30 a.m.


So, anyone up for a playdate? At your house? ;o) Josh is done with work at 2:30 today. I may plead for the rest of the day off . . .

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Munchkin Mayhem

When Mommy is upstairs on the computer and little boys are downstairs in the kitchen . . . Yum--eggnog anyone? (Thank goodness that was nearly empty!)
Chocolate sprinkles?


A right tasty snack!


Saturday, December 13, 2008

Peppermint Play-dough Fun

I cooked up some play-dough for the kids last week--adding some peppermint extract and green food coloring to make it festive. It made the whole house smell wonderful. And since we were all fighting colds (me included), it also proved to be therapeautic, as in "Ahhhh, I can breathe!" ;o)



My Jackson boy LOVES his play dough. He probably plays with it no less than 10 times a day and it will keep his attention sometimes up to an hour. He makes snowmen, buries his trains, makes roads and mountains for the trains . . . The list could go on and on. I love having an activity that he enjoys so much!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

You Must Chai This . . .


Anyone who knows me well will affirm that I have a slight obsession with CHAI (even my deodorant is Secret's "Vanilla Chai"). I worked in the cafe' at Barnes and Noble one summer, and got introduced to this lovely drink. And now that Wal-mart carries "Oregon Chai" concentrate, I can get my fix daily (except for those sad, sad days when I am out) and without too much harm to my grocery budget. Oh, and in case you are wondering, mixing the concentrate with whole milk instead of skim is soooo much better. But moving on . . .

So, my Bet.ter Homes and Gar.den magazine came with a recipe for "Chai Spice Girls." Anything with chai in the title catches my attention, so I decided to them a chai. (Okay I'm done with the play on words now . . ) The verdict--they are very, very good. If you like shortbread (and you like chai) you just can't go wrong. The spice flavor is mild (compared to some gingerbread recipes) and is the perfect compliment to a nice, hot cup of tea. The downside--the dough was tricky to work with. If you have made shortbread you know what I mean--it was quite crumbly. When you are attempting to roll dough and cut out shapes that is not a good thing. After I had removed the dough from the fridge and saw this hard, dry-looking mess I was kind of doubting it would amount to anything. (And I was quite annoyed with myself because I had doubled the recipe and used a grand total of SIX sticks of butter . . .) However, it all ended well, in cookie bliss. So, I am sharing the recipe below for anyone interested--it's a keeper. ;o)

Chai Spice Girls (or Boys)

2 spiced chai-flavor tea bags
3 cups of all-purpose flour
2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
1 1/2 cups butter softened
1 cup sugar
2 egg yolks
2 TBSP molasses

1.Remove tea bag contents (3 tsp); discard bags. In medium bowl combine tea, flour, and pumpkin pie spice; set aside. (Now, I used 3 tsp. of McCormick "chai spice blend" I believe I found at Wal-mart).
2. In large mixing bowl beat butter for 30 seconds. Add sugar; beat until light and fluffy. Beat in egg yolk and molasses. Beat in as much of the flour mixture as you can; stir in remaining flour. Divide dough in half. Cover and refrigerate for 3 hours or until easy to handle
3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease cookie sheets. On lightly floured surface roll half the dough at a time to 1/4 inch thickness. Cut with cookie cutters.
4.Bake 12 minutes or until edges are lightly browned. Cool on cookie sheets for 2 minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool completely. Decorate with a piped on powdered sugar icing or leave plain. Makes around 2 dozen (depending upon the size of your cookie cutter). Store in an airtight container for 3 days or in your freezer for 3 months.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Making me smile . . .

Reading under the table . . .
Reading by the light of the Christmas tree . . .


Seeing my kids sit amidst a pile of books--LOVE IT! Whenever we return from the library with a new crate of books it's Christmas morning all over again. Now Josh, the non-reader, doesn't quite understand my thrill, but pictures like these truly warm my heart. ;o)

Christmas Corners


My primitive styled stockings--I had seen something like it at Au.nt Patty's At.tic a few years back and tried to recreate it for myself. Josh/my stockings match and then the kids alternate, green/red on top in a variety of "homespun" fabrics. Each name is stitched on using a backstitch. And since we lack a fireplace my shutter screen makes a good backdrop for the line-up.

The cabinets in the kitchen--when we got our tree there were extra branches to saw off at the bottom to give me enough greenery to go around the tops of all the cabinets. It really helped fill out the grapevine and red berry garland.

Just some randomness, more fir tree greenery in the container, a feather tree with rusty gingerbread men, and a candle.

Another new design of mine--I had made a wool appliqued sign for fall and wanted another one to put in the same spot for winter. Now, what to do for spring . . .?

Our Christmas tree this year--we found a beautiful frazier fir at Me.nard's. We had planned on doing the whole tree farm thing, but the tree farm we went to had only pitiful looking scotch pine's--and for more than we paid for this one. So Me.nard's it was. The red berry garland and grapevine balls are something new I am trying (and loving) this year. I love the homespun/nature look. I do need more garland, but I think I'm done for this year (I'll be watching those after X-mas sales at Hob.by Lob.by . . .)
I still have a few things I'm hoping to make this year, my current project is a wood sign I'm painting proclaiming "Comfort & Joy". I'm hoping to get around to making some more "grungy" candy canes, but time does have a way of getting away from me. ;o) And, here's a confession . . . I'm not done shopping for gifts and I have not wrapped ONE SINGLE THING. Well, the whole wrapping thing I really am not worried about. When there are lots of birthday-obsessed children in your home it really is quite futile to put anything under your tree until the very second you hope to have it opened. So I'm in no rush. ;o)

Marissa the Author

I would have to say for the most part, reading and writing have come to Marissa fairly easy. However, in spite of this fact, she is NOT an eager reader or writer. Her common complaint is that "It takes too long!" Even when she has to write 3 to 4 sentences I am met with "grumbliness". And this has saddened the reader/writer in me, because (of course!) we all want our children to be little extensions of ourselves . . . ;o) To my credit I have not pushed the issue. She is still required to do her schoolwork, but if all she wants to read are the Barbie and My Little Pony books she gets at the library, so be it. At least she's reading, right? And writing of stories has usually been done by her drawing the pictures and then dictating for me what she wants it to say (and then reading over my shoulder and correcting the mistakes I made . . .hmf!). ;o) That was until the day of the fuzzy purple notebook and equally fuzzy pen:
This little notebook was a gift from a friend at church, and now suddenly Marissa cannot write enough. For two days now every free moment has been WRITING, stories about pumpkins and ants, snow princesses, and candy-loving frogs, interspersed with diary antidotes, like "My brothers are crasy (crazy)." Yes, the spelling is not the greatest, and there are a lot of run on sentences going on, but I am so thrilled. Apparently it's all about the notebook. Which is a good reminder to me--in the end it's about meeting them where they are at, even if it means they do their writing in an obnoxiously furry "thing". ;o)

Friday, December 5, 2008

Breakfast Suppers

Perhaps I am strange, but sometimes, (almost weekly) I make breakfast for supper. It may be one of my favorite suppers! The kids enjoy it too, although Josh, not so much. (Which is why we reserve our special supper for a night when he will be working late). When I think back to my own childhood, my mom did this on occasion too. I remember her Swedish pancakes at night as well as omelets. Breakfast foods are pretty tasty, but truth be told, I am just not able to accomplish a full out breakfast in the morning. Last year I read Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder to the girls and found myself in shock and awe at what Almanzo's mom made for breakfast (and every other meal for that matter!). That is not happening here. (Sometimes just the fact I must feed my children three meals each day is overwhelming . . . and I like to cook!) Tonight was a more simple meal of Belgium waffles and yogurt (we're fighting off a tummy bug). Last week in honor of getting our Christmas tree set up we "picnic breakfasted" around our lit up tree--cheesy scrambled eggs, cranberry muffins, bacon, and vanilla spice eggnog. YUMMY!! I wish I could have that every night! Of course, by the time our meal was over a plate had been broken, eggnog spilt, and there were crumbs of muffins and eggs everywhere! If there is one thing motherhood has taught me, it is that making memories isn't always going to be convenient, and most often it is quite messy. I think we may have stumbled upon a new tradition. (Anytime you can work breakfast foods into a tradition it is a good day . . .). ;o)

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

A Night Off

Guess what I did tonight? After hustling through supper, baths, and violin practice with Marissa (all done by 6:30!) I LEFT!!! Josh took over the parenting duties and I made my way to Barnes & Noble where a chai awaited me as well as a stack of sewing/crafting magazines and a few crafting books--which I perused at my leisure whilst sipping my chai. What fun! I now have found a book I must add to my craft book library:

Earlier this spring I bought the author's first book entitled Sew Pretty Homestyle. And although I have yet to make anything I was very inspired--and the same goes for this Christmas version. Many of the projects would work year-round too, not just for Christmas time. So, I have something going on my Christmas wish list. HINT, HINT! I am particularly loving the pattern for an adorably simple teddy bear--I think it would make a perfect new baby gift along with a handmade blankie.

After my stint at Barnes & Noble I headed over to Michael's for some crafty supplies, mainly for the girls. We'll be painting up some gingerbread men and twisting some candy canes out of chenille stems (pipe cleaners is what we used to call them) at some point this month. Overall, a very wonderful and quiet evening. I'm so thankful that Josh makes this happen for me every so often (and does so without any begrudging-ness).

But back to real life . . . there's a LOT of laundry awaiting my attention. :o)