Ringing in the New You

The New Year is almost upon us. Are you ready for it?

I am.

2014 was a good year; I have no complaints. But I love a fresh start and  a blank slate to fill up with new exciting things. New Year’s is easily one of my favorite holidays.

Not only do I get to see extended family that I only see a couple of times a year, but I get to take stock of the past year and look forward to what I can do differently to make the next one better- or EVEN better.

I don’t make massive New Year’s resolution lists. I learned as a teenager that that doesn’t really work. Instead I try to think of a few broad goals, then narrow those down with some markers to keep myself on track.

A long list of super specific goals doesn’t work, but a short list of far too broad goals doesn’t work either. Research tells us that our brains respond better and we form habits easier when goals are specific, so you have to find a middle ground between the broad and minute.

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I recently learned of a book and blog called Mini-Habits.

I haven’t checked it out too much so I won’t endorse just yet but I thought the idea was interesting. The author explains that before Mini-Habits he was having trouble exercising consistently. He told himself one day that he would do just one push-up, but that quickly turned into a set of push-ups. He said it was then he realized that setting very small, impossible-to-fail goals motivates us to get them done and gives us a confidence boost when we do. Then, we often go above and beyond that tiny goal, which means more confidence and more getting things done. I thought about that for a while and decided he had a point. I remember telling myself the other day that I had to clean out the fridge. The leftovers were lurking and stressing me out. I told myself I would just dump all the food and soak the dishes, but not scrub them clean, dry them and put them away just yet. To my surprise I not only dumped the leftovers and rinsed them clean but proceeded to load them and all the rest of the dishes up and wash a whole load.

Point being, there might be something to this theory that could possibly help with your New Year’s resolutions.

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So what kind of goals are you setting for yourself? Right now, I have three broad goals that I’m working on narrowing down:

1. Live more naturally and healthfully

2. Become more spiritually disciplined

3. Use time more wisely

That last one will definitely include making a cleaning schedule of sorts to keep up on those less-frequent chores that I seldom get around to doing (dusting, vacuuming, cleaning the oven, etc., as opposed to dishes, laundry and de-cluttering which are always there reminding me, nay, forcing me, to get it done) The second will definitely include doing some sort of devotion with prayer time every day. I have no excuse for not doing this already. As for the first one, Luke and I are really focusing on avoiding preservatives, GMOs, unnatural ingredients and chemicals. On top of that, we’re trying to eat less empty calories and consume more vitamins, antioxidants, lean protein and healthy fats. As for exercise, I haven’t even started planning that, seeing as the pregnancy makes things a little tricky. After the baby’s here and the initial exhaustion wears off we plan on, well, planning, I guess.

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Enough rambling! I’d like to hear from you, and I ‘d like to leave you with some fun things. New Year’s isn’t all about making major life changes; it’s also about parties and good times. Here are a few blog posts and things to help you ring in the New Year.

1. Get Pretty

Line your inner rim with gold for subtle sparkle.

with this Buzzfeed list

2. You need killer hair with that pretty face

gorgeous-new-year's-eve-hairstyle-ideas_05

Love this list (especially that bun) from Top Inspired

3. Guys, I haven’t forgotten you

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Proper Kid Problems

4. Party time

ClaasyClutter.net

5. Food

buffalo chicken bites 1

How To This and That

6. Crafts

19 Quick And Easy New Year's Eve Crafts For Kids

How to This and That

7. Resolutions Apps

Sworkit

hongkiat.com

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That should get you started on your best year yet.

Seriously, let me know what you’re thinking. We could all use tips and advice so if you have any, please share.

I have a few fun tutorials coming up so stay tuned (especially if “more diy” is one of your resolutions).

Love always,

Tara

P.S. Please enjoy this lovely duet about New Year’s Eve by the loveable Zooey Deschanel and Joseph Gordon Levitt

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The Holiday Wall

Friends, I am afraid my promised gift wrap post will not make it in time to actually be useful. I do so appreciate all the likes, comments and visits from you this past week. I was feeling a little discouraged the end of last week and you people cheered me up.

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Have you hit the Holiday Wall yet?

We have only two days to go but some of us have been prepping since August and Christmas can be exhausting.

Christmas and the surrounding holidays can often be the very opposite of what they’re supposed to be. Instead of being merry and bright, it’s hectic and stressful. As much as I love Christmas, it isn’t usually hard for me to look past all that and see all the lovely things about it, but this season has about done me in. From unexpected bills (we have an insanely tall, mostly dead maple in our backyard pulling up at the roots and threatening to topple onto the house with the next windy day that has to go, and soon) to close family members in the ER (I kid you not, my brother and mother have collectively been in the ER three times in the last week and a half) this Christmas has been anything but jolly. Luke (my dear husband) hit the Holiday Wall almost as soon as Christmas music flooded the airwaves, but I held out. Then I had an emotional breakdown yesterday morning over a bad hair day and realized (along with being 7 1/2 months pregnant) that I was slamming into the Holiday Wall myself.

Thankfully (and I’m going to go on a bit of a spiritual rant now) we have a God who takes care of us when we aren’t doing a very good job of it ourselves.

Luke received unexpected Christmas bonuses from both of his jobs, I was able to pick up some extra work, and Luke’s parents have generously offered to help with the payment on the tree removal. My family is home and recuperating and Christmas is only two days away. I feel 50 lbs lighter.

I wonder sometimes though if we’d have this kind of attitude and continue to praise God if things didn’t work themselves out so nicely. It’s easy to look on the bright side and be thankful when God takes away our burdens. But if God has another plan, if He knows we need to carry a burden for a little longer, whatever the reason, isn’t He still that same loving God? He’s still doing what’s best for us, even if it doesn’t feel like it.

So today I wanted to take a turn at encouraging YOU. I know lots of people feel overwhelmed and stressed this time of year. Please know that even if your prayers are seeming to go unanswered that God’s timing is perfect and He works all things out for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28 ya’ll).

I haven’t done a post like this before and I hope it doesn’t scare you away. I know most people look at blogs like these for fun, pretty posts with lots of clickable things but this was weighing on me and I wanted to share it with you. And there are more fun, pretty, click-y things to come! Stay with me. And please let me know what you think and if there’s anything I can pray about for you.

I hope we all can remember that Christmas is more than buying absurd amounts of presents, waiting in line at Macy’s, and cooking an elaborate enough meal to possibly impress your mother-in-law. Take some time to pray today and tell God all the things that are burdening you. Even if they don’t untangle by the end of the prayer, you will feel better, I promise.

Stay tuned for more, reader, I have lots in store!

Love always,

-Tara

P.S. As a token of my appreciation, please follow this link to my Pin Boards, which have all sorts of fun, pretty, click-y things

Last Minute Christmas Gifts

Christmas is less than a week away and I’m still buying/making gifts.

I’ve found all sorts of tutorials and lists of ideas for you so you can hopefully fit in those last minute gifts before Christmas Eve.

Luckily for me, we don’t celebrate Christmas with my dad’s side of the family until New Year’s Eve, so I get a whole extra week for those guys.

Alright, let’s get started:

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1. First up, something pretty; diy rings

10 DIY rings!  Oh the lovely things: 60 DIY Accessories- Last Minute Gifts For Fashionistas

From Oh the Lovely Things

2. Next, remember these washi tape tea lights?

Washi Tea Lights t www.thebensonstreet.com

From The Benson Street

3. For the kids

From Little Crunchy Mama with super simple instructions and only 2 ingredients

(scroll down a bit once on her page)

4. For him

This huge list of fun diy gifts

From Everything Etsy

5. Not feeling Do-it-Yourself-y? Any of the gadgets from this list will thrill him:

From Imgur

(I got my husband this “grenade”)

6. How about your neighbor or mail person?

Free Printable Holiday Gift Tags

Here are 101 ideas from The Dating Divas

7. Everyone loves food

Double Chocolate Dipped Peanut Butter Stuffed Pretzels

From Baker By Nature

No-bake chocolate chip cookie dough truffles made with no eggs

From I Heart Naptime

(Planning on making some of these myself. And yes, they’re egg-free)

Sour Cream Cookies

Old-Fashioned Sour Cream Cookies Recipe #BringtheCOOKIES

From Java Cupcake via In Katrina’s Kitchen.

(My sister’s getting these; she’s obsessed)

Check out my Pin Board for more delicious recipes.

8. One more (or 75) for the kiddos:

75+ INEXPENSIVE Handmade Gifts for Kids - so many great tutorials for great gift ideas! { lilluna.com }

From Lil’ Luna

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Hopefully that will get you started. Have any great tutorials or ideas to share?

Link us up in the comments. I’d love to hear from you or check out your blog.

Until then, happy gifting.

-Tara

P.S. Next week I’m sharing pretty gift wrap ideas and inspiration so stay tuned.

Last Minute Christmas Bucket List

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Christmas is in 10 days. How did this happen?!

We’ve been talking a lot about Advent and making the most of this season. Today I’m going to share my Advent activity list. Hopefully you (and I!) can squeeze a few of these in and make the season a little more wonderful.

Wrap presents

Decorate the house

DIY Christmas pallet sign

Watch a Christmas special

Make hot cocoa and popcorn

Learn Christmas songs on guitar

Eat caramel corn and do a puzzle

Drive around and look at lights

Make Christmas card holder

Take a walk In the snow

Indoor s’mores

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As you can see I haven’t made much leeway with it yet. I made a prettier copy that maybe you want to save and print:

Advent List

There are lots of other activities that I left off that’d be especially great for kids (i.e., sledding!)

Never heard of Indoor S’mores? You are missing out. I love to make “gourmet” s’mores and add all kinds of different chocolate-y toppings, like replacing the chocolate bar with a Reese’s Cup or dunking the thing in melted chocolate (seriously making myself hungry right now).

It’s really simple, especially if you have a toaster oven.

Line your toaster oven rack or a baking sheet in foil

Lay down a graham cracker square for each person

Top with a marshmallow (you can also add chocolate now if you like it really melt-y)

Broil carefully for just a minute or so (keep an eye on those suckers!)

OR

Toast on high for a couple of minutes keeping an eye on the marshmallows

Quickly add the chocolate/peanut butter cup/Carmello bar/what-have-you

Allow to melt and add top graham cracker

That’s it. You’re five minutes away from delicious s’mores, no camp fire required.

If you’re having a holiday party or family gathering, have a s’mores bar with lots of toppings. Here are my suggestions (graham crackers and marshmallows go without saying):

Sprinkles

Peanut butter

Chocolate Jimmies

Regular size Reese’s Cups

Andes Mints or mint chocolate chips

Thinly sliced strawberries, bananas or kiwis

Candy melts or baking chocolate (for drizzling/dipping)

Chocolate coins for a Christmas twist on the regular chocolate

Redi Wip

Mini Crunch Bars

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Here’s a fun menu I found to give you some ideas for mixing up your s’mores ingredients

You could have a competition for who can create the tastiest gourmet s’more!

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Have any more suggestions for me?

What other Advent activities do you and yours do every year?

Are you going to a Christmas Eve service?

Let me know in the comments.

Check back later this week for some last minute gift ideas!

Until then, Love always,

-Tara

Even More Advent

So how is your St. Lucia’s Day going? Did you get up early and make a breakfast feast? Are you having a big brunch?

Luke and I chose to sleep in a bit, then made breakfast burritos and THIS delicious cranberry orange bread, only I replaced all the orange ingredients with lemon and doubled the glaze 🙂

Cranberry Orange Pound Cake from chef-in-training.com ...This Pound Cake is so moist and is perfect for the winter and holiday season!

Maybe not a traditional St. Lucia’s Day breakfast but it was yummy.

I’m going to keep this short today as we have a busy day planned, but I wanted to check in and ask about your holiday and talk a bit more about Advent.

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Let’s start with the Advent wreath and candles. I mentioned in my previous post on Advent that there are five candles (4 surrounding the fifth in the middle) and that each one represents something. You light one each Sunday in the four weeks leading up to Christmas, and the fifth one on Christmas Eve. Here’s a list of what each Advent candle represents:

Candle 1: (Sun Nov 30) Hope

Candle 2: (Sun Dec 7) Love

Candle 3: (Sun Dec 14) Joy

Candle 4: (Sun Dec 21) Peace

Candle 5: (Christmas Eve) The Christ Candle

Each candle represents a virtue that Christ brings to our lives, and finally Christ coming as a light to our dark world. We look ahead as well to Christ’s Second Coming in the days ahead. If your church doesn’t do this, or if you’d like to reinforce the idea with your family at home, I encourage you to buy a simple, small greenery wreath, four tapered candles and one pillar candle and make your own Advent wreath. I suggest having a Sunday dinner with your family, reading the appropriate verses, and lighting the candles each week. You can then pray a prayer based around that week’s candle and finally enjoy a meal with your family.

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This is a great way to forget the busyness of the holidays and spend some quality time with your loved ones. HERE is a link describing the colors of candles  to use (scroll to the ‘What you need’ section) and the verses to read each week (this one had a verse for every day, which is a great idea, or you could just read the ones listed for Sundays).

This website has a lot of other tips and ideas for celebrating Advent with your family. And remember, it’s not too late! You can catch up this weekend and finish the last two candles on their appropriate days.

You could also use this cute coloring page or one similar to help your kids remember what each candle represents.

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I’d love to hear from you about how your Advent celebrations are going. Let me know in the comments and photos are always encouraged.

Check back Monday and later next week for a Last Minute Christmas Bucket List and Last Minute Gift Ideas. Until then, Happy Advent!

-Tara

paper pyramids :: DIY advent calendar by Julie Ree

P.S. I LOVE this Paper Pyramid Garland from Julie Ree via At Home with Kim Vallee. There is a lot of cutting and folding with this template but those pyramids look identical to these Tea Forte boxes. You could simply cover up the two sides that are printed, or turn one to the back and just cover one side! Much simpler if you’re a tea lover like me. Start stocking up now and by next Advent you’ll have plenty of boxes to make your own calendar.

P.P.S! Don’t forget to make a gift bag or basket and deliver some goodies to someone who would appreciate it in honor of St. Lucia’s Day.

Ok, that’s it, really.

St. Lucia’s Day- Gift Baskets and 10 Fun Ways to Celebrate

Yesterday we talked about who St. Lucia was and why we celebrate her. We also talked about some St. Lucia’s Day traditions and recipes.

Today I’ll be sharing even more fun ideas on how to make this Saturday more than just another Saturday.

First up, let’s talk about the most important part of this Saint’s day; giving. Similar to St. Nicholas’ Day, giving is a major part of St. Lucia’s Day. Remember how St. Lucia took baskets of food and supplies to the Christians hiding in the catacombs in ancient Rome? She wore a wreath of candles on her head to light the way so she could use both hands to carry goods. She risked her life to help those in need.

When I was a kid, each person in my family would pick one person or family they wanted to give to. We’d make our list, then get gift bags ready. We usually put in some baked goods, a small gift like a candle or a flashlight (to reinforce the theme of light) and some other treats like popcorn and fruit. Then we’d make each person/family a card and explain about the holiday. On December 13th we’d go around to each house and present them with the gift. We did this for several years and since I come from a big family we reached out to a lot of people this way. Everyone was always very surprised and seemed touched that we thought of them.

Even though this is probably the busiest time of the year for you and your family, taking time to do these things will help you to celebrate Christmas in a meaningful way and look past all the materialistic things we get so consumed with this season.

Here is a list of some things to include in your gift bag or basket:

  1. Baked goods (mini loafs made in disposable tins are perfect)
  2.  Fruit (oranges are great)
  3.  Popcorn (homemade or a few Orville Reddenbacher bags)
  4.  A candle
  5.  A flashlight and batteries
  6.  A grocery store gift card (if you know someone who would really use it)
  7.  Pretty soap bars
  8.  Candy canes
  9. A handmade card explaining the holiday and signed by your family

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So you’ve had your breakfast feast, your gift bags are prepped and ready to go later on, now what?

 Don’t let the fun stop after breakfast. There are so many activities to keep your bunch entertained until the last light on St. Lucia’s Day.

Let’s start with crafts:

1. Print and cut out these adorable Kirsten paper dolls

Go HERE then just hit ctrl+p to print. Cut out and enjoy.

2. Make St. Lucia peg dolls

Finishedlucias9

Go to Posie Gets Cozy and follow the instructions.

3. Make a paper Lucia crown or Star Boy hat

Stephanie Santa Lucia 03

You can find a tutorial from Kiddley or get creative and make your own design.

4. Decorate tealights

Buy a bag of unscented tea lights and a few rolls of pretty Washi tape at Walmart and go nuts. This is very fitting with the theme of St. Lucia’s Day and P.S. would be perfect for your gift baskets.

5.  Color a picture

You can find this one HERE or do a search to find even more.

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There’s more to do besides crafts:

6. Learn the St. Lucia song

This song is traditionally sung at the St. Lucia celebration in Sweden. Listen and see a performance HERE. Then look at the lyrics to understand the meaning of the song and maybe even sing along.

This website compares the Swedish and English lyrics side by side.

7. Learn to say Merry Christmas in Swedish and other languages

This website has more about St. Lucia and shows you how to say Merry Christmas in many languages. Have a contest to see who can remember the most.

8. Make Play Doh St. Lucia buns

Go to Making Learning Fun for a printable Play Doh mat with a St. Lucia bun template.

9. St. Lucia puzzle

Another cute idea from Making Learning Fun

10. Read a book

There are lots of books out there about St. Lucia. You can order this one from Amazon or maybe even find some at your local library. If nothing else, you could read a kid-friendly article or brief history online.

Then, if you want even more to do, make your own book with drawings and coloring pages and write the story in your own words.

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I hope this post has inspired you to celebrate St. Lucia’s Day in new and exciting ways. I can tell you from personal experience it made my childhood that much more magical. I’d love to hear from you about how you celebrate St. Lucia’s Day or how you plan to in the future. Take some photos this weekend of you and your family and let me know how your celebration goes, what your kids thought and if you tried any of these ideas.

Until then, keep checking back for more ways to add some wonder to your week.

Love always,

-Tara

P.S. Read yesterday’s post for even more ideas and how to make your breakfast feast.

Celebrate St. Lucia’s Day

How is your Tuesday? My Monday got away from me.

I owe you fine people a cookie recipe and while I’m at it I thought I’d get a jump on St. Lucia’s Day.

Monster Cookies Recipe

The Monster Cookie recipe can be found here from Raining Hot Coupons.

I added extra chocolate chips and Peanut Butter M&M’s to mine because duh.

If you love stay-soft, chewy, melt-y cookies I recommend plopping mounds of dough onto a parchment-covered baking sheet and not flattening them out much. Then bump down the temp to 325 and bake a little longer. They stay much softer the thicker they are (That being said, don’t get too carried away or make them gigantic- they’ll never get done in the middle).

I made mine about a tblsp-tblsp and a half, and just squished them down a tiny bit, and they took closer to ten minutes for the middle to set up. Take care not to burn the edges.

If you like crispy, crunchy cookies leave the heat and time the same and flatten them out more when you put them on the cookie sheet.

Or you could do a batch of each. Simple as that.

And now St. Lucia’s Day.

I first learned of St. Lucia’s Day from the Kirsten American Girl books. It sounded like so much fun and such a good cause that I talked my mom into starting up the tradition in our family, although we have no Swedish or Scandinavian background whatsoever.

Here’s a brief history of St. Lucia’s Day as told by WhyChristmas.com:

“Around Christmas time in Sweden, one of the biggest celebrations is St. Lucia’s Day (or St. Lucy’s Day) on December 13th. The celebration comes from stories that were told by Monks who first brought Christianity to Sweden.

St Lucia was a young Christian girl who was martyred, killed for her faith, in 304AD. The most common story told about St Lucia is that she would secretly bring food to the persecuted Christians in Rome, who lived in hiding in the catacombs under the city. She would wear candles on her head so she had both her hands free to carry things. Lucy means ‘light’ so this is a very appropriate name.

December 13th was also the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year, in the old ‘Julian’ Calendar and a pagan festival of lights in Sweden was turned into St. Lucia’s Day.

St. Lucia’s Day is now celebrated by a girl dressing in a white dress with a red sash round her waist and a crown of candles on her head. Small children use electric candles but from about 12 years old, real candles are used!”

Isn’t that an amazing story? There are so many beautiful and fun activities to try on St. Lucia’s Day.

Ways to Celebrate St. Lucia’s Day:

1. Breakfast Traditionally, the family would choose one girl to represent St. Lucia. The girl chosen would then get up early on St. Lucia’s Day and make breakfast for everyone. She would then load up a tray of  the goodies and go from room to room serving breakfast, dressed as St. Lucia. Obviously there are many ways to alter this to suit your family.

If you don’t have any girls, boys are always encouraged to dress as ‘Stjärngossar’ (star boys), or you could just have a family breakfast without anyone dressing up.

If you have multiple girls all vying to be St. Lucia, you could always have multiple Lucias, or the other girls could be ‘tärnor’ (like Lucia but without the candles). Remember you can always take turns each year.

More than likely you’ll want to help your children with the cooking and serving. And remember you can implement the use of flameless candles to decrease further risk of burns on the Holy Day (nobody needs that).

2. Dressing Up This one goes hand-in-hand with breakfast but I’ll go a little more in depth on how to dress up.

St. Lucia- You’ll need:

* a white nightgown (or cleverly draped bed sheet)

* a red sash (any long piece of red fabric can be made into a sash)

* a small greenery wreath for crown

* candles or flameless candles for crown

Star Boy- You’ll need:

* a white gown or sheet

* a felt or paper pointed white hat

* paper or felt gold stars to decorate hat

* a dowel rod for wand

* a foil or card stock star for end of wand

You can also find pre-made wands or get creative and use other materials you have.

Tärnor- You’ll need:

* a white gown just like Lucia’s

* a red sash just like Lucia’s

* a small greenery wreath or silver tinsel for crown

The costumes don’t need to be perfect and you don’t need to be a seamstress (I’ve hardly sewn a button on in my life). Let your kids help and make preparing the costume part of the fun.

3. Baking There are lots of different kinds of food normally eaten on St. Lucia’s Day. Here are a few I’ve gathered that you and your family might enjoy:

St. Lucia’s Day Kringler

St. Lucia Buns

St. Lucia’s Crown

Chokladbollar (Chocolate Balls)

Occhi di Santa Lucia

We’re just getting started on St. Lucia’s Day. One of the most important parts is delivering gifts to others. Check back later for ideas on how and what to give and other fun activities for your family on St. Lucia’s Day.

Love always,

-Tara