Grace, Giving, & Gratitude

The last two weeks have been a whirlwind of holiday festivities, semester exams, Christmas decorations, cookie baking, and all of the other day-to-day to do’s. I’ve been hard pressed for time and found most of my blogging time being reallocated to hiding Liam’s elf nightly or spending my little bits of downtime with my nose buried in a book.

With Christmas less than twelve days away, I found my heart and head eager to share my sentiments with others, and so I’m finally putting pen to paper for the first blog post in almost a week.

Grace

Grace is defined as the freely given, unmerited favor, and love of God. Nothing more clearly articulates his love than the gift of his only son to save us from our sins. In the hustle and bustle that comes with preparing for the holiday season, it is easy to get wrapped up in the shopping and gift giving. While these are aspects of the holiday that allow us to connect and show our love for others, we also must find pause in our busy lives to recognize the true reason for the season.

It isn’t always easy to find opportunities to reflect on the miraculous story of Christmas  of how a humble man took a woman’s hand in marriage knowing she was carrying a son that was not his all because an angel affirmed his role in God’s plan. And at the center of this beautiful story, a baby was born on a cold, winter night underneath a blanket of stars with an incredibly full life of fellowship and faith ahead of him. In these last few days leading up to Christmas, let us open our hearts to the infinite beauty and grace of God.

In my daily life, I try to find grace in the simplicity of all God created- a breathtaking sunset, a fragrant rose, or a blanket of fresh snow. Miraculous things can happen when we least expect them to. Awestruck by its beauty, I was amazed to wake up to a backyard full of snow last Friday. To see Liam giddy with excitement about getting to frolic in the snow. Watching my high school students play with childlike abandonment as they waged war against one another in a snowball fight of epic proportions on our quad.

Grace truly is in the little things we often are too busy to notice. These simple gifts of grace and beauty show us God’s love each and every day if we allow ourselves to slow down enough to take it all in.

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Giving

A tenet of Christmas is gift giving. This act of love comes in many forms. Oftentimes we equate gift giving with lavish gifts perfectly wrapped and topped with a bright, red bow.  Sometimes, however, small acts of kindness prove to be just as special and can be far more sincere and touching.

For my coworkers this Christmas, fresh baked cookies, surprise Starbucks lattes, and unexpected kolaches during semester exams brought smiles and joy to many of their faces. For my son, giving my time to hide his elf every night is a small way I’ve brought surprise, wonder, and joy to his mornings. Brightening someone’s day with a sincere smile, an extra large tip, or a genuine hello can move mountains for the people who are on the receiving end of these simple gestures of kindness. Sharing quality time with the special people in our lives is another opportunity to give to the ones we love. This week, we let Liam stay up a little later than normal, so I could push him around in the jogging stroller on one of my evening runs to take in the Christmas lights in our neighborhood. He enjoyed seeing the fun decorations, but more importantly I loved the chance to give him these little moment to relish in.

 

Gratitude

An attitude of gratitude is especially important. Taking stock of the infinite blessings we have, offering thanks, and appreciation for the gifts of family, friends, health, and prosperity.

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I am truly grateful for a loving husband who makes me smile, challenges me to be my best, and makes me laugh in the most unexpected ways. I’m far from the perfect spouse or mother, but I’m grateful for the opportunity to share my life with my Papa Bear and Baby Bears. My sweet boys, you light up my life. I carry your smiles, the sound of your giggles, and the happiness you radiate with me wherever I go. Being a Mama Bear, brings me so much joy. Marriage and motherhood bring with it their own unique set of challenges, but the memories and milestones far outweigh the difficulties.

Christmas is a season of faith, joy, and new beginnings. It’s an opportunity for us to grow in God’s grace, give to those in need, and offer gratitude for the blessings we have in our lives. Wishing each and every one of you a blessed Christmas full of light, love, and holiday joy!

Elf on the Shelf Shenanigans

Shortly after Thanksgiving, the Elf on the Shelf shenanigans begin at our house. I don’t know if I have more fun finding unique and creative ways to showcase Willie the Elf or if Liam does scouring the house every morning in search of his elf’s most recent hiding place.

I know staging your child’s elf may not be something everyone enjoys doing, but many do it because it’s an obligatory part of their family Christmas traditions. For the Mama Bears who find it more of a chore than a joy to hide their child’s elf, I thought I’d post a few of this year’s best hiding places so you could catalog them away and implement them in your house in the next few weeks leading up to Christmas.

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Willie blended in nicely with one of my favorite kitchen staples, cherry tomatoes. This hiding place proved to be incredibly difficult for Liam to find. He was unable to find him in the morning before we headed out the door for school and work. Later that evening though, I asked him to help me with dinner by grabbing some tomatoes. He was so very surprised to see who was hiding inside.

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Friday morning Liam woke up to fresh snow outside. As many of you know, this is truly a rarity in South Texas. He enjoyed building a snowman, having a snowball fight, and eating snow. This morning to piggyback on the merriment, Willie had his own snowball fight in the guest room with Liam’s Christmas stuffed animals.

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Willie borrowed one of Atticus’s bath toys for a little fishing fun in a decorative pot in our dining room.

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Baby toys have proven to be ideal props for staging Liam. For this one, I made a chain of teething rings and hung them from the drape rod.

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A bag of Oreos doubles as a prop and as an easy go-to dessert. Liam loved finding his name spelled out in them and was even more surprised that Willie made the icing red just like his clothes.

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During the off season, Willie moonlights as an extra for Cirque de Soleil.

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Willie pulled the drapes together to make a relaxing hammock. He enjoyed a day of sunbathing while Liam was away at school.

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Sometimes Willie leaves notes for Liam that talk about something special Liam did during the day. These notes are a labor of love on my part because I write them with my non-dominant hand. For not being a leftie, I think I fare pretty well.

To the other Mama Bears hiding elves this Christmas, let your inner child out and get creative. Seeing your child’s eyes light up when they discover their elf’s new hiding place makes it a labor of love well worth the effort!

Equal Parts Effort & Love

This weekend, I spent a significant amount of time in the kitchen with the boys underfoot baking. This is truly one of my favorite pastimes, especially around the holidays. I love sharing my baked goods with my coworkers and spreading some Christmas cheer.

Baking a perfect cookie is equal parts effort and love. I also believe that allowing the butter to sit out on the counter for several hours before baking helps create the perfect formula for soft, fluffy cookies.

Below I’ve included the recipe for the three types of cookies I baked this weekend. The method for all three is the same. In a large mixing bowl start by creaming the butter and sugar together. Then add the remaining wet ingredients and stir until blended. Then add the dry ingredients and mix carefully. Use a tablespoon to place on the cookie sheet, spacing them evenly apart. Bake in the oven adjusting the timing plus or minus a few minutes depending on your oven. Cool on a baking rack and enjoy!

Peanut Butter Cookies

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Ingredients:

  • 2 sticks of butter
  • 1 c granulated sugar
  • 1 c brown sugar, packed
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 c peanut butter
  • 3 c flour
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • pinch of salt

Bake at 375 degrees for 10 minutes.

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Iced Pumpkin Cookies

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Ingredients:

  • 1/2 c butter
  • 1 1/2 granulated sugar
  • 1 cup canned pumpkin puree
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 1/2 c flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Icing glaze:

  • 2 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 tablespoon melted butter
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3 tablespoons milk

Bake at 350 degree for 15 to 20 minutes.

To make the glaze, melt the butter in the microwave. Add the confectioners’ sugar and vanilla and stir carefully. Then slowly add up to 3 tablespoons of milk to reach the desired consistency for icing. Drizzle across the top of each cookie with a spoon after the cookies have cooled.

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Chocolate Oatmeal Chip Cookies

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Ingredients:

  • 2 sticks of butter
  • 1/2 c granulated sugar
  • 1 1/4 c brown sugar, packed
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 2 tbs milk
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 3/4 c flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 1/2 c oats
  • 2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips

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Bake at 375 degrees for 9 to 10 minutes.

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Blue Skies & Afternoon Adventures

Fall weather has been idyllic this year. Gorgeous blue skies dusted with wispy clouds provide the perfect backdrop to picturesque outdoor adventures. Long walks to the playground, balancing acts at Turtle Lane, hide and seek in the hedge maze, and monkeying around on bars all have been some of our favorite things after school and on the weekends.

For those of you who live outside of Texas, this might seem unheard of this time of year. The mornings typically start off on the cooler side but by lunchtime the temperatures usually level out in the mid 70s. Because of how hot and humid south Texas is 3/4 of the year, this time of year always proves to be a welcome change.

My little bears and I cannot get enough of these conditions. These last few weeks have proven to be even more enjoyable because of the recent addition of the Radio Flyer tricycle, a first birthday gift for Atticus. The tricycle has a built in stand on the back for Liam so afternoon walks are even more enjoyable because I can transport both boys throughout the neighborhood with ease.

These afternoon strolls through the neighborhood as of late have proven to be wonderful opportunities for Mama Bear-son bonding. I’m grateful for both the beautiful weather conditions and more importantly the opportunity to spend cherished time with Liam and Atticus. I find myself continuously circling back to the little things that make life simply beautiful!

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

Slowly but surely, it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas in our house. I don’t feel rushed, ashamed, or the slightest bit off schedule seeing as tomorrow marks the first day of December. I’m less shocked this year than in previous years that people in my neighborhood started putting up this lights this year just a few days shy of Halloween, but that seems to be par for the course these days.

As much as I love Christmas and all of the joy, spirit, and merriment that comes along with it, I also truly enjoy Thanksgiving and everything that it symbolizes. For me, the carols, Christmas lights, and decorations can all wait until at least the week of Thanksgiving if not until I’ve feasted on turkey, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie.

The outdoor lights are up and certain areas of the house are in full blow Christmas decor, but our tree stands beautifully lit without ornaments. We’ll get there this weekend and will enjoy singing along to Christmas carols as we adorn it with our collection of yours, mine, and ours ornaments.

Liam’s elf, Willie, returned a few days ago so the excitement of waking up every morning to search high and low throughout the house has him awakening and getting dressed much quicker than normal. I truly wish there was a way to keep this momentum going all year, but I don’t think I would be creative enough to find 365 unique hiding places for Willie in the house.

This evening after dinner and bath time, I thought I’d commemorate the holiday season with a cute picture of the boys in their matching elf pajamas in front of our ornamentless tree. My attempts at cooing, making monkey noises, and jingling a reindeer donning a bell all proved to be epic fails.

But like the priceless picture taken over Thanksgiving break with Santa, a picture truly is worth a thousand words. Undoubtedly these two pictures candidly capture the realness of both moments and are sure to keep us laughing about both occasions for years to come. Here’s to many more memorable holiday moments this season and in the future.

 

Quality Time Away from our Little Bears

After Thanksgiving, Sean and I retreated to Fredericksburg for our first weekend getaway since Atticus was born. Leaving him behind proved to be bittersweet for me as I’ve never been away from him overnight. However, our quiet trip to the Hill Country was everything we both needed and more. This quaint town offered beautiful weather, fun wineries, and great food.

My weekend away proved to be incredibly eye opening for me. In this last year, I have “mommed” so hard that I rarely if ever left myself much time for “adulting”. As a new mom, the learning curve was steep and like all things I take on, I met this challenge with unwavering faith, unconditional love, and the can-do spirit of a Mama Bear. While all of this was noble and well-intentioned, I failed to recognize how my moments as an adult slipped through the cracks.

Now a year later, I’m truly grateful for the opportunity to getaway with Sean. It was such a breath of fresh air to stay up late talking about life, sleeping in, and taking our mini vacation as it came- with no expectations other than spending quality time together. I’ve vulnerably admitted before that being a wife is not always the easiest thing for me; not because I don’t love my husband with all of my heart but because finding the balance in all of it can be overwhelming. Sometimes by default, he gets the short end of the stick because everything else in my day took more out of me then I have left to give him at the end of the day.

Fredericksburg provided an amazing backdrop to a perfectly spent long weekend with my husband. I am truly grateful and blessed for the moments we shared and the fun we had together climbing Enchanted Rock, indulging in delectable sage and butternut gnocchi, sipping cocktails and people watching, and being chauffeured from winery to winery in a cheesy stretch limo. The best of life truly comes in the little things!

With a Grateful Heart

On Friday, the boys and I drove down to the Valley for a long weekend with my parents. The main purpose of our trip was to participate in the Mega Memorial 5K in Harlingen, a memorial run for a dear friend and former training partner, Meg Jorn. For a woman who dedicated most of her life to distance running, it was a touching tribute to a life tragically cut short. Family, friends, former competitors, and training partners all rallied together for a 5K race in her honor.

Race participants released purple balloons in her honor and her best friend, Dayna, read a beautiful poem and released twenty-six monarch butterflies into the clear blue sky. Moving speeches by both her husband and Dayna brought all of us to tears as we celebrated the incredible life she lived and how she had such a profound impact on her family, friends, and community.

Meg lived a “mega” life. She pushed herself professionally and athletically inspiring so many along the way. Her spirit will live on for years to come, but it does not make her loss any easier to bear. A quote on her Facebook page truly sheds light on the kind of life Meg tackled with gusto and strength, “Life is precious…..let us try not to waste it!”

Meg lived by an exceptional mantra. Life truly is an incredibly precious gift. The threads that make up the tapestry of our lives give us so much to be grateful for. In life, we never know how much time we have with the ones we love. Living each day to the fullest surrounded by the ones we love is such an amazing blessing.

Coming home this weekend allowed me the opportunity to bid adieu to a woman who taught me so much as we shared the road and miles and miles of words of encouragement, laughter, and joy sharing something we both loved- the pursuit of athleticism achieved through training and achieving PR’s. It also reminded me how important the little things truly are. Happiness is seeing your grandparents light up when they see their great-grandsons, catching up with your godmother and clinking glasses as we sip on prosecco, and witnessing the powerful love a big brother shares with his baby brother through a simple kiss and a hug.

My mother made an incredible Thanksgiving spread for us while we were home this weekend. Savory, comforting, and truly delectable, she put all of her love into the preparation and presentation. My mom is my rock, and a woman I derive so much strength and inspiration from. Who I am today is a tribute to the amazing things she has done for me all of my life to help me grow. I am truly grateful for the love, kindness, and grace she encourages me with daily, and I don’t know where I would be without her unconditional love and friendship.

Thanksgiving offers us an opportunity to pause and reflect on the profound blessings God has graced us with. Our health, happiness, family, friends, and all of the other infinitely beautiful blessings we call our own. Wishing you and yours a wonderful Thanksgiving filled with delicious food and family and friends around your table. Even after tomorrow, let us remember that we have the opportunity to start each and every day with a grateful heart!