In the Kitchen

I didn't get extremely ambitious this year when it came to Christmas baking and treat making.  My intentions were noble, but my nausea won out more than a few times. And because I knew I really couldn't do much about it, I was pretty ok with whatever happened, or didn't this year.  
But we did manage to do a couple of things and lucky for Ava and Carter, one snowy Wednesday night I decided it was too cold and I was too tired to get everyone to Church but I was game for making sugar cookies instead.  They were thrilled at the mention and went running for their aprons.  

**Sidenote, I probably should be making these more often. I took a little hiatus from them because they are labor intensive but my kids love them and they especially love us all working in the kitchen together. Carter told me no fewer than 5 times, "I just love helping you in the kitchen, Mom."  Gotta make that happen more often while he still loves it!
 I also don't want to forget the years of them standing on chairs to help me.  I know it won't be long before they're looking me in the eye and one day, towering over me too.
 Every time I pull the mixer out these two get slightly nervous that it's going to be loud and I guess, scary?  
 They are always pleasantly surprised once they hear how quiet it is and then easily entertained :) Also they become quickly fixated with sampling whatever we're mixing.  I can't blame them there. 
Cute little gingerbread girl...
 ...and Carter the transportation lover.  Is that apron not the cutest??  My Mom found that for him and he loves it.  Because it's not pink and girly, Travis can handle it on him too, so it's a win/win.  
 We made lots of classic Christmas cookies...
 ...and when they were finally cooled off these two wasted no time digging in!
 Here is where I confess my lame-mom status.  I didn't think to buy pre-made icing because I always make it from scratch and I like it so much better.  However, I had *just* enough energy to make cookies but none left to ice them.  I promised the kids we'd ice them the next day...buuuutttt that day never came.  I just couldn't gear myself up for the fiasco.  In an effort to appease them, I did pull out some cool whip and sprinkles, which they were delighted about.  I know, I was lame and I failed in the cute cookie department, probably also in the fun department, but oh well :) 
They forgave me! 
 We watched Christmas in Rockefeller Center while we made our cookies and as soon as the lights came on the big tree, it was a magical night for all! 
 On another night when Daddy was home, we decided to make a very kid-friendly treat together.  
Once we explained what we were doing and told them they were going to be doing the most important jobs, it got pretty serious up in here, ha! 
 We are doing something right because these two took their chocolate unwrapping to a whole new level...
...we were cracking up over the concentration!  I need to plan activities with hershey kisses more often when I need a calm night :) 
 We made these yummy melted pretzels with regular m&m's and peanut butter m&m's.
 Trav taught them how to put pretzels on their tongue...we all have roles to play in this family.
 I handled the oven duties but these three were the handy helpers who made it all happen! 
They did a great job!  Yum! 
 Maybe the best thing we've done in the kitchen this year hasn't really involved food. 
 We unpacked our Jesse Tree again this Christmas and as soon as the kids spotted it they were thrilled to get started.  We weren't sure if they'd remember doing it last year but boy were we wrong.  We love this new tradition more than any other because it has given us an opportunity to bring spiritual conversations to our table every day.  If you're wondering what a Jesse Tree is, it's basically a way to trace the birth of Christ through the major characters of the Bible from the line of Jesse.  Jesse's family tree was the line that Jesus came from and so this is really a way of doing an a daily Advent activity that helps prepare our hearts for the gift of Jesus.  
 Each day we read about a character whose story points to Christ and teaches us some important truth about who God is.  We start with an empty tree on December 1st and then with every story we hang an ornament that represents what we just learned about God. 
My Mom picked this one up for us at a Church craft bazaar and I really love it.  It's extremely basic, in fact it borders on tacky, but the ornaments are hand-made and the booklet that accompanies it was written by a Pastor's wife from my hometown.  It's super kid friendly and it is the kind of thing I hope we pass down.  It doesn't really go with my decor or style, sometimes I look at it and think maybe I should make better ornaments??  But then I think about what purpose it really serves and I love that it doesn't catch your eye for its' beauty, but it certainly tells an amazing story and for our family, it's already been extremely meaningful.  
When we started it last year, we both thought it would be years before they kids really grasped anything but we were amazed at their excitement over it and the way they begged us to do it at dinner every, single night.  They don't always sit still and listen to every word, but we read it anyway and before we let them hang their ornament we try to give them a one-liner about what that ornament stands for and teaches us about the Lord.  
We had Trav's Mom here with us last week and one night as we were reading, I went through all the ornaments that we'd already done, one by one, to see what they remembered.  To all of our amazement, Ava could tell us what every one meant (some with a little prompting) as well as a whole lot of detail about each story.  Even Carter chimed in over and over to connect the dots and tell us what the ornaments meant.  It was really something.  At 4.5 and 3 God is using this humble tree to impress important truths on their hearts.  And on mine too.  For example, last week after Ava had disobeyed repeatedly and had some consequences she was less than thrilled about, I sat with her on her floor and asked her if she remembered what the apple ornament meant on our Jesse Tree.  She was able to recount that it stood for Adam and Eve and we hung it on our tree because we learned that even when we disobey, God still loves us.  As she summarized that for me I was able to take that one little truth and remind her that even when she disobeyed Daddy and I, we still love her and always will.  And even when Daddy and I disobey God, He still loves us and promises He always will.  It was such a sweet time for the two of us and it really made me ponder the depth of that truth.  I love that this little tree is setting us up for ways to unpack the Bible with our kids! Its' stock has risen greatly in our minds!
I'm grateful for the hands that put this humble Jesse Tree together and for the hours spent writing the booklet.  I'm sure there are fancier versions out there and I know Ann Voskamp has a beautiful advent book this year too, but in these years of little ones and great big truths, it is working well for us and it's definitely the best thing we are making in our kitchen! 
This is what our tree looks tonight, like after 20 days of ornaments.
 And there's that apple, fighting for the top spot with a heart, a silver tree and a candy cane.  
How about you?  Do you have any Advent traditions or a version of the Jesse Tree that you use?
Ours isn't incredible or the best one out there but we sure love it and we're grateful my Mom picked it up for us.  It's become a treasured part of our celebrating and something we look forward to every day.  Gotta love that! 


How Lovely are Thy Branches

We've had our halls decked for a few weeks now and I'm so glad! Knowing that I'm operating at half-strength this year I wanted to get our Christmas tree up and the other decorations too, as early as possible.  I didn't want to come home from Thanksgiving with a weeks' worth of laundry AND Christmas decorating to do too.  So, although it was early, about a week before we left, we rounded up all the bins of decorations (and by "we" I mean Travis!  I sat on the couch and told him where everything was) and began the process of changing things over for the season.  
 These two were on pins and needles the whole time, they couldn't wait to see everything again and especially to help.  Ava informed me of her "credentials" about a million times, assuring me that she was ready to do everything.  
 We had to start by re-arranging the living room to make room for the tree, because nothing about decorating for Christmas is ever easy!
 And then Trav and I began putting the pre-lit tree together and praying that all the lights would be in working order.
 After a million questions of "is it time yet??" we had the foresight to put a movie on. 
 Polar Express it was! 
 That proved to be a key decision because we soon realized that indeed two strands of lights were D.O.A. Such a bummer!!  
 Trav had to make a Target run for two new strands and I spent about 45 minutes cutting out the old strands with wire cutters, after realizing the makers of the tree had zip-tied the lights on every.single.branch.  At that point we almost declared it a "no tree Christmas" but once we got past our laziness and irritation, we made some progress.  Thankfully the kids were so mesmerized by the movie that they barely noticed.  This was the gift from God that we appreciated most! 
Finally we got er done and Christmas was not ruined afterall!
 And then the kids could not be stopped.  
They became little ornament machines...
 ...and this one has never been happier! 
 We had to provide a little direction so the tree didn't become top heavy.  They each seemed to focus on one area to try and hang ALL the ornaments they loved on the same branch :) It really was so fun to hear their running commentary on every ornament they unwrapped.  We had such a sweet night doing this together. 
 Our little trumpeter and his big sister. 
I always pack up all of the Christmas books we have every year, so they'll stay exciting and "new" each season and I also pack up the 3 or 4 nativity sets we have.  This one in particular was new to us last year and the kids just love it.  It's a little countdown Nativity for the seven days leading up to Christmas Day and it's one that our kids look forward to.  Family Life makes it and it has a great little book that comes with it too.  
 I love when they play with it, it's amazing to hear how much more of the narrative Ava remembers and understands this year.  
 After we decked the halls in the living room, these guys couldn't wait to get to their own trees in their room!  
 Ava was adamant about "doing it myself" and telling me she didn't need my help at all.  
 Carter was a little less demanding but he did love hanging his own ornaments too! 
 Carter has a fishing and western themed tree...
 ...and Ava has a candy and snowman themed tree, brought together with her 4 year old artistic vision! 
 My little decorator and her work of art.  Notice especially the bottom right of her tree, it's her favorite spot!  ha! 
 They both did a great job and it's been so fun to have their sparkling trees on every night!
 They especially love sleeping with their trees on at night and we love it too.  There is something magical and comforting about twinkling lights, particularly on a bitter, cold, Minnesota night.  
After all that work we had one last surprise in store for them.  Texie sent them new jammies for Christmas and they were so cute!  Nothing like freshly-bathed kids in clean jammies! 
We thought it would be fun to cap off our day with a little family movie night...
 Carter got the movie "Robin-Hood" for his birthday from Aunt Stacie and Uncle Jesse, which Trav and I hadn't seen since we were kids!
 It all came right back to us though....
 ...and the kids loved it.  Ava especially loved Maid Marian and the love story with Robin Hood!
Like Father...
Like son! 
Nothing says movie night like popcorn and we found a microwaveable sea salt version that we love! One of these days we might venture into the world of home-made popcorn but for now pushing one button and waiting 3 minutes is pretty convenient!
I am so thankful we did all of this early!  I came home exhausted and overwhelmed with a December to-do list after Thanksgiving and it was so very nice to have a decorated home that I didn't have to add to the list! 
It's been so bitterly cold here in Minnesota and we have enjoyed the warm glow of our tree every night.  We are so thankful for a cozy place to call home and more importantly, for the sweet little people who fill our halls with joy and laughter and noise!  And for 3 stockings hanging, reminding us of another little person who will be enjoying all of this for the first time next year.  Amazing!  

I love Christmas and everything about this time of year.  What about you?  Did you deck your halls early this year due to the late Thanksgiving?  Real tree or artificial?  Anyone else with the pre-lit woes??  Hope you are all enjoying the intentional parts of Christmas.  Black Friday and Cyber Monday meant nothing to us this year and I was pretty thankful.  It's so easy for all things commercial to creep in and I'm realizing more and more how I want to fiercely guard the things that matter and let go of all the rest.  Tree trimming, family time, nativity ponderings, Jesse tree readings, and cozy nights together...these are the things we hold dear as we remember the ultimate gift of our Savior at Christmas.  
Happy Thursday friends!  Stay warm!