Holidays

Warm Apple and Butternut Squash Salad with Sugared Pecans

This salad, while sounding very fancy and healthy, is my middle-of-the-road answer to those cravings. It is loaded with good-for-you fats and antioxidants, but also has a bit of that naughty sweetness to keep you coming back for more. 

Ritual

The holidays have come and gone. If you are well organized the decorations are down and you MIGHT **MIGHT** even have Valentine’s Day decorations up. (If you are like me you will MEAN to make/hang these for the next few weeks and then wake up on Valentine’s day and realize you never did get around to it). I think that often times it is easy to pack the traditions up with the tinkle lights and sparkle. We act as those traditions are for big occasions and special events. And yet, I think so many of us crave for more. Perhaps “tradition” is too strong of a word for the day to day life. Maybe “ritual” is better. I didn’t make any big resolutions this year, but one thing I am trying to create more of for my girls is routine, ritual, rhythm. I life that ebbs and flows with the days and the seasons. It doesn’t have to be anything big, and it definitely will get thrown out the window if it induces stress or guilt. But, I think, when done right, having those things that we can count on, that we anticipate give us the frame work that allows us to grow and bloom.

Our first ritual has started out small, without meaning to we have incorporated after school hot chocolate into our daily rhythm. It gives both my girls something to look forward to when the older one gets off from school. It gives me time to listen to their day and look through their folders. It gives everyone a few moments to transition from “day” to “evening”.

I encourage you this month, the month of “love” to find a ritual that speaks to your heart. Maybe you light a candle each morning, maybe you speak a prayer over your child while they sleep, maybe you commit to finding ten minutes each day to make a cup of tea, of coffee, or hot chocolate and drink it’s while it’s still hot.

Enjoy the Season

“You are going to miss this.”

As young moms we hear variations on this phrase. Over and over and over. If you are anything like me, you find yourself thinking, “Yeah, right.” I am sure there are things I will miss about this stage, but there are many things that I won’t. I am pretty sure I won’t miss constant comfort nursing, waking multiple times a night to take care of someone else and cleaning up endless messes that I didn’t make.

But as the Holidays approach, I find myself thinking about those in my life who have lost loved ones this year. For the first time ever, perhaps, I am hearing the heart behind those words.

Some day when my child is hurting either physically or emotionally, and there is NOTHING I can do to take that pain away, I will miss how simple it used to be to comfort my nursing baby.

Some day when I am up all night worrying about a teenager who isn’t home yet, I will miss being woken up by little girls scared of monsters under the bed.

Some day when my kids are gone and the house is just a little too silent, I will miss the chaos that comes from being surrounded by my family.

Nothing lasts forever and, as my father often reminds me, “This is just a season.”

This too will pass, this is just for a time, and it will be followed by another season and another. Neither better nor worse than the before or after. Just simply a season. It’s a balancing act, not wishing our life away looking toward the next season. Not living in the past unable to let go of the season before. Simply enjoying the here and now for what it is and what we will take away from it.

Enjoy this season, there are things, there are people, you will miss.

So here is to embracing this Holiday season. Here is to making memories, telling stories about the seasons before, looking forward to the seasons to come.

Thriving on a Low-Budget Christmas

Christmas stockings

Happy December, Readers! Too often this month can become a frantic checklist of holiday planning, last minute shopping (or crafting), readying the house for guests, packing for travel, stressful eating and general busyness. Let's be honest, that is not a recipe for a calm and happy parent. This month we asked our writers to share some of their holiday plans, their reflections on the past year and their thoughts and goals for 2013. As 2012 closes, we are so thankful for the wonderful things that have happened at The Motherhood Collective over the past months. We wish you all a very happy and fulfilling end to your year. ~TMC-- This has been a rather challenging year for our family financially and as Christmas neared, I realized with sadness that we would not be able to spend virtually any money on gifts. We’re not a particularly materialistic family, but there is joy in watching others open your gifts and seeing how happy you’ve made them. Fortunately, the children were the least of my concern as the oldest is just 2 and the youngest only 6 months, too young to correlate Christmas with gift giving. However, we had hoped to watch Osias, our 2 year old, open something from us. He is, after all, old enough to at least open the presents and get excited about them. So this year we have decided to re-define “Re-Gifting”.

For the kids: Avia, our 6 month old, will not be receiving anything from us this year. Fortunately for us, she wouldn’t know one way or another anyway and I feel confident she’ll forgive us when she’s older and finds out her stocking was empty this year. For Osias, we’re using an old trick. About a month before Christmas, we packed away a bunch of fun toys that he loves and we’ll fill his stocking with them. I can’t wait to watch him pull each thing out of his stocking and see that adorable look of excitement (and recognition) at finding toys he hasn’t played with in so long! Whatever won’t fit in his stocking will be wrapped and placed under the tree (okay, on the floor since we’re skipping the tree this year).

For our parents and siblings: I love Pinterest, don’t you? I stumbled upon a DIY pin that instructed you how to make…well, let’s just say it’s a simple but useful gender neutral item that I can easily afford the material for (just in case any of our family are reading this, let’s keep it a surprise). So, for almost no money and just a few hours of my time, we are able to give to our parents and siblings as well this year. Aren’t homemade gifts often the best kind? I sure hope so for their sakes!

For each other: The idea for the kids, in addition to an article I read in an old December issue of Real Simple magazine (Susan Dominus. “Honey, guess what I got you for Christmas?” Real Simple December 2009: 254-255.), helped pave the way for what my husband and I would be doing for each other for Christmas. This year, in place of gifts, we’ve decided to write each other “Gift Certificates” for tasks that we know each other would appreciate. Doing chores, give a massage, etc. How nice is it to think, “I’d love to get out of cooking dinner tonight” and then realize that you have a gift certificate for that very thing! In addition to the gift certificates, we will also be stuffing each other’s stockings with items already in our home. Sounds lame, right? Actually it has been quite the fun and exciting experience to wander our house and come across little lost or forgotten items that I know he enjoys, or would make him laugh, or even bring back a fond memory. We happen to move frequently (especially in the past few years) and so much of our belongings have remained in boxes that we keep storing away. Let me tell you, that has been a gold mine for gifts! So far, I have found the little black jewelry box from Zales that I gave him his 2nd wedding ring in (he lost his first in a waterfall of all places), a mini Maglite that has been missing for-ev-er, his old broken Blackberry that got lost in the move and still has all his photos on it, and some pictures I found of us from high school! Ha! I also plan to throw a piece of fruit in there along with one of my homemade sweet potato biscuits that he loves (wrapped of course). I feel confident that his stocking will be filled to the brim with thoughtfully selected gifts that will bring him laughter, gratitude, warm memories, and more. And all at no cost to our faltering budget.

To tell you the truth, I am really excited about how we will be spending (or not) Christmas this year! I expect these gifts to be just as fun if not more than in previous years! Who says you have to break the bank for Christmas?

Celebrating the Holidays with Preschool Age Kids

Happy December, Readers! Too often this month can become a frantic checklist of holiday planning, last minute shopping (or crafting), readying the house for guests, packing for travel, stressful eating and general busyness. Let's be honest, that is not a recipe for a calm and happy parent. This month we asked our writers to share some of their holiday plans, their reflections on the past year and their thoughts and goals for 2013. As 2012 closes, we are so thankful for the wonderful things that have happened at The Motherhood Collective over the past months. We wish you all a very happy and fulfilling end to your year. ~TMC-- I love the holidays. I always have. However, as a mother it definitely presents an interesting challenge.

When my girls were in the infant/toddler phase of life, I had to figure out how to work naps and feedings around crazy travel schedules and countless parties. Even nursing habits had to get creative when we drove the four hours up to my parents’ house for Thanksgiving when my oldest was just three weeks old.

Now that my girls are in the preschool age group, those challenges are a thing of the past. However, as they grow older I am presented with new challenges during the holidays. Things like, how do I help them focus on what really matters rather than the crazy dash for “more” and self-focus that can overwhelm the best of us this time of year? While I am still learning how to help develop their little characters, I have found a few things that have helped both them (and us) focus on what really matters.

Advent Calendar Experiences, over stuff. This is something that is so important to my husband and me. We want our children to value people, relationships and experiences over simply, more stuff. One of the ways we have incorporated this value into our Christmas celebrations is by using an Advent calendar. You can find these all over the place or simply make your own. While some families use this to give a little gift each day, we focuse on daily experiences. Each day has a slip of paper with a special activity to do that day. While these are often holiday activities we would do anyway (decorate cookies, drive around looking at lights, have dinner with the grandparents), using the Advent calendar makes them into something special and has really helped us to celebrate the small moments in life.

Giving, over getting. Another thing we try to do with our children is focus on the act of giving, rather than getting. While we do help our children make a list of what they want to get for Christmas, we also help them making shopping lists. We ask them who they want to buy gifts for and help them think through what they want to buy each person. We help them purchase, make, or bake gifts for special people in their lives and talk about how much fun it will be to GIVE the gifts. When we open gifts, it’s about whose turn it is to give out their gifts rather than whose turn it is to open one. This is something my parents started with me as a child, and to this day, I love this part of Christmas. There is nothing like watching as someone opens a gift you have carefully selected for them. Because of this we open gifts one by one and make sure a sincere thank you is said before moving on to the next one.

As an adult, my favorite parts of Christmas are being with family and celebrating small moments. I sincerely hope to instill these in my children and would love to hear what YOU all are doing with your little ones to help them grasp these concepts.

Tutorials for Toddler Gifting

Busy at the sewing machineMy winter project list is growing every day as I think about Christmas gifts!  I just finished making a very simple queen sized quilt for our bed because we needed something warmer this winter (tutorial can be found here: http://bloomandblossom.blogspot.com/2010/10/raw-edge-layer-cake-quilt-tutorial.html ).  I had this crazy notion that I should tackle a project this huge.  Though making a large quilt has been on my bucket list for a while, I think it’s one that I should have saved for, I don’t know, another decade.  Finishing it was one of those huge sigh moments, with "Glad that’s over with!” ringing through the house.  My number one project for the new year—don’t be a project super woman.  Let this be a warning to the wise. Still, I can’t resist making things a few small things for my son this holiday!  *nervous laugh*  Here are some ideas that, should you choose this mission, can be easily accomplished during nap times and late night coffee binges.   I don’t know that I will get all of them done, and I’m sure my sewing machine will need a good oiling if I do, but they are easy enough I can work on them throughout the year.  They are grouped from easiest to hardest, and the first four don’t require a sewing machine, so don’t shy away non-seamstresses!

  1.  A “People Who Love (child’s name)” book — My friend gave me this idea and it’s as simple as printing pictures of close friends and family then arranging them in a book or photo album.  My son says about 20 words, 8 of which are names of family and friends.  For some reason, he is obsessed with naming people!  I figured he would love a book where he can pretty much “read” every page.  I might even have a note written by each family member, or something like “Grandma loves Gabriel” written next to the photo.  Something to be treasured, and if I may, much cheaper than the recordable Hallmark books (although those are adorable).
  2. A Sensory Stocking — Gabriel has loved little sensory activities, so we will be filling his stocking with fun items found mostly at the dollar store!  Homemade play dough (tutorials: http://www.familycorner.com/family/kids/crafts/edible_play_dough.shtml ), more colored rice and pasta (because we just can’t get enough of it!  This tutorial can be used for pasta as well: http://www.doseofhappy.com/blog/2011/11/07/how-to-make-colored-rice/ ), fuzzy pom poms, water beads, mini kitchen gadgets for helping mommy, washable paint, light sticks (for fun glow-in-the-dark baths time), and whatever else tickles my “fancy.”
  3. A Drop Box — This is one I’ve already made for him and it is still a huge hit!  He loves dropping things into the box, opening it to retrieve them, then starting all over again.  Tutorial: http://playathomemom3.blogspot.com/search/label/Drop%20Box
  4. A Light Table — These are so fun for kids, and have a tons of uses.  Play at Home Mom (http://playathomemom3.blogspot.com/) has awesome ideas for using one!  There are a million tutorials on them, but some are quite pricey.  Here’s my favorite so far and one I can easily put together in an afternoon: http://www.teachpreschool.org/2012/01/guest-post-a-homemade-light-table-for-preschool/
  5. A Spy Bag — This will be great for a plane ride, and it is easy enough to make for other little friends too!  Tutorial: http://seweasylemonsqueezy.blogspot.com/2012/03/i-spy-bags.html
  6. A Quiet Book — This is the one that may not get finished until after Christmas but one that I know is worth it!  I remember having one when I was little.  Children love all the little activities on each page, and there are so many creative mamas out there!  Seriously, google “Quiet Book Tutorials,” and be overwhelmed.  The Quiet Book Blog will help get you started: http://quietbook.blogspot.com/.

Whew!  That’s “all.”  We’re excited to try a homemade Christmas this year!  What ideas do you have for your little ones?

Traveling with a 10 month old: I have a plan

baby in car seat

This time last year, my husband and I were making the final preparations for the arrival of our sweet girl, meaning holiday traveling was non-existent. Getting his very pregnant wife through a 30 minute drive to his parents' house for Thanksgiving was a piece of cake and since our little one's due date was the day after Christmas, the family came to us. This year we are coming face-to-face with the terrors of holiday traveling while adding a 10 month old into the mix.  Let's just say its impending arrival has this mama shaking in her house slippers. Did I mention the majority of our family lives a minimum of 7 hours away. Exciting, right!?

Don't get me wrong, we've made big (and successful) trips since our daughter was born with little to no problems. Vacations to the beach, visiting the grandparents, visiting the GREAT grandparents, the usual, all happened with little, to no, fuss. I even managed to get my daughter and two very smelly, very hyperactive Boston Terriers from Georgia to Virginia BY MYSELF without losing my sanity...AND we are a cloth diapering/exclusively-nursing family so add another two hurdles to our highway marathons and you could say we are pretty experienced travelers. But there is something about the added stress of traveling during the holidays that has me a bit nervous. Especially because the little girl that used to love car rides and would basically sleep for an entire trip is much more active and not a huge fan of the confined space her car seat provides. Did I also mention my 10 month old has already started walking. Yes, sitting still is no longer a part of her vocabulary. PLUS, since my husband and I have the biggest vehicle, we'll be hauling more than just ourselves, but his parents and brother as well, and although we may want to, we can't forget about the dogs. So when I say space will be more than limited, it's quite the understatement. But I have a plan, sectioned off into 5 main steps I'm taking to make our 7-hour journey a little less daunting.

  1. Ditch the cloth. GASP, shame on me. My husband and I initially decided to cloth diaper as a way to save money. End of story. As most cloth diapering moms can attest, once we started using them we started to see the appeal of how environmentally friendly they are and how much healthier they seem for our little one. So needless to say this part of the plan was originally met with substantial reluctance from yours truly, but given the fact that our vacation will be spent in an old farmhouse filled to the brim with people and a washing machine about as old as the land it sits on, it's just the easier choice. I'm sure many die-hard cloth diaperers would call me out saying that, "you don't decide to cloth diaper because it's an 'easy' option", so I'll rephrase and say it's the most efficient choice for our given circumstances. Not to mention the amount of space those suckers take up. Instead of the human-sized duffle bag filled with covers, liners, detergent, and wet/dry bags, we'll be able to save space with a pack of diapers.
  2. Snacks, snacks, snacks. Thankfully one of the perks of having a squirmy 10 month old is that she loves finger food. Gerber puffs and Cheerios are like catnip and it never seems to matter if she's actually hungry, she just loves feeding herself. I'm making sure I am locked and loaded with plenty of soft or easily mushed snacks for the ride. I've also recently discovered the brilliant invention that is the puree pouch. Why didn't I think of these things?  My daughter loves them out of the car, and she'll love that she gets them in the car.
  3. Set Pandora to 'Kid Mode'. My husband comes from a family of artists. Music, theater, dance, and even clowning has been a part of his life since before he actually had a life. So when it comes to normal vacations, we always have some kind of entertainment flowing through the speakers. Generally it's a combination of our favorite tunes and stand-up comedy acts but now that one of our primary concerns will be to keep Miss Priss satisfied for a 7 hour stretch, the entertainment is getting an upgrade. I'm talking Sesame Street, Raffi, Yo Gabba Gabba, and all the other kid-mesmerizing groups out there. We are fully prepared to transform our Ford Flex into a lean mean sing-a-long machine.
  4. Reading material. I am so thrilled that my daughter loves books as much as I do. She'll normally go for a book over one of her toys and she gets so proud of herself as she flips the pages. This is traveling gold, folks. I plan on filling the space we saved with opting for disposable diapers with tons and tons of books. Ok, not tons, but plenty. All of her old favorites, the ones that make noise (Lord, help us) and even a few new books she hasn't seen to spark her interest if and when she gets tired of the old stuff.
  5. Warm and snugglies. My daughter is one big snuggler, so if she can't snuggle with us while she's in her carseat, I'm going to need something to help fill the void. My secret weapon to keeping my little one calm in the car: all matter of warm and snuggly things. Her favorite stuffed animals are a given, since she'll need those to help feel comfortable in a different crib. But I'm bringing out the big artillery with our warmest quilts and blankets. I find these to be essential, especially for winter travel. I always ditch the bigger coats once she gets in the car seat, to make sure the belts are as close to her body as possible, keeping her safe. Thick, warm blankets are the perfect way to keep her warm down in the seat without risking safety. They're also a great way to provide comfort and attempt to simulate the warmth of my husband and my bodies during snuggle time.

So there you have it moms and pops, my 'sure-fire' plan to a successful holiday travel experience. Here's hoping they work and our family can get there and back with our sanity intact. At least most of it.

Share your own sanity-maintaining tips for vacation travel in the comments below. What has worked for you? What was a dismal failure?

Oh what joy it is to ride in a screaming baby mobile!

Are You Mom Enough?

Last month our writers shared some of their holiday traditions and plans for the upcoming season. In November, we continue our conversation about holidays. How do we juggle visitors, travel with small children, eat well amidst all that delicious food and most importantly, take time to just BREATHE? This time of year can very quickly become stressful, so we hope our writers' words this month will give you a few moments to slow down, think about how you're spending your energy and encourage you during this busy, but wonderful time of year. ~TMC  We all remember the Time Magazine article with this title that was discussing the “freakishness” of attachment parenting trends.  Well, I’m here to ask, “Are you mom enough?”  My question pertains to something totally different, though.  I want to know if you are mom enough to know when you need to take a break.

I find it very difficult to admit when I am in need of a break.  I feel like I go, go, go until burn-out is too quickly approaching.  I’m talking about all forms of burn-out, not just parenting burn-out.  This is a great fault of mine.  I think this is probably a commonly dormant trait for females that gets ignited sometime between conception and birth.

It is very easy to overextend ourselves in the less busy times of the year, but even more so in the holiday season.  With the holidays just around the corner, I highly recommend getting a plan in motion so that burn-out is less likely.

If your baby is 6 months or under, this is probably not the year to invite your 60-member family to your house to demonstrate your Martha Stewart-like cooking skills for Thanksgiving day.  This may be the year to opt out of your family's Black Friday 2am rat race tradition and choose the more peaceful Cyber Monday for Christmas shopping.  While these may be exaggerations, planning this year to be a more peaceful holiday season so that burn-out does not occur may be just what the doctor ordered for you and your family.

So ask yourself this, “Am I mom enough to take care of ME, so that I can take care of my family?”  Plan a little peaceful time during the peaceful season.  Take a walk by yourself.  Enjoy a chapter in a book, or even a whole book.  Drink a latte.  Go on a weekend getaway.

This is supposed to be the time of year that you cuddle everyone a little closer, create life-long memories, start establishing traditions and enjoy your family.  Taking that break and refusing to allow burn-out will only make that time even more precious.

Recipe of the Week - Sweet Potato Casserole

My favorite part of Thanksgiving is the Sweet Potato Casserole. Those of you who attended the Café a few weeks ago know why. It’s sweet yet salty, creamy yet crunchy. I eat the leftovers for breakfast, lunch and dinner all weekend long if I’m lucky enough to have any leftovers. This year I’ll probably get smart and do what I did for the Café – double the recipe and prepare my own little bowl just in case! Sweet Potato Casserole Sweet Potato Casserole 3 cups sweet potato, drained ½ cup sugar ½ tsp salt 2 eggs 1 stick of butter ½ cup milk 1 tsp vanilla ¼ tsp cinnamon

Topping ½ cup sugar 1/3 cup flour 1 stick butter Optional – pecans and/or walnuts

Mix all together. Put in casserole dish. Cover with topping. Bake at 350 for 35-45 minutes uncovered.

**The most important thing to remember about this recipe is that you can (and should) cut the butter and sugar in half and you will not taste a difference.  I’ve also used raw sugar instead of cane and I always use whole wheat (white) flour. Enjoy!

  If you have a favorite recipe you'd like to share with our readers, please submit it here or email us at submissions@themotherhoodcollective.org

The Most Wonderful(ly busy) Time of the Year

Last month our writers shared some of their holiday traditions and plans for the upcoming season. In November, we continue our conversation about holidays. How do we juggle visitors, travel with small children, eat well amidst all that delicious food and most importantly, take time to just BREATHE? This time of year can very quickly become stressful, so we hope our writers' words this month will give you a few moments to slow down, think about how you're spending your energy and encourage you during this busy, but wonderful time of year. ~TMC  As I write this, it's a Saturday night, 9 pm, and I've just finished changing the sheets on our bed, doing a quick-clean of the bathroom and have a load of laundry in the washer. I also still have a pile of ironing next to me, dishes in the kitchen and I can see the dust glowing smugly under the lamplight of my desk. And I know that next Saturday, the dust may be gone and the ironing will be caught up (OK, that's a flat out lie. I'm pretty sure it's been there for a month)...but there will be other things to do, things I feel should have been done already. It's a constant cycle for me - for any mom I think - and a hard one to win in my mind. 

I had a mini-silent-panic-attack today, as I realized that in 2 weeks, our son is turning one and the party I've planned, while so much fun, is a lot of work. Once that is over, the holiday season is in full swing, and I'm letting myself worry about how it's going to go. Last year, I had a newborn who had just been diagnosed with some seriously awful reflux, so while we tried to enjoy the holiday season, it's all a bit of a sleepless-nights/crazy hormonal blur. This year, while I still really have no clue what I'm doing, I'm at least comfortable having a baby (most days),  but have never had one during the 'normal' holiday season. What will be the same? What will change? Will I miss parts of it from before? Mostly - how in the world am I going to actually take time to enjoy it?

Working between 25 - 30 hours a week outside of the home, one of my biggest struggles as a mom is taking time to stop and enjoy the moment. There is always something that should be done, and the ever-lingering 'mommy guilt' (that I know is not from God) likes to lurk around in the shadows, trying to steal those moments because 'this one more thing' must get done. Often it feels like I'll never not feel like I'm running to catch up.

But tonight, while doing those quotidian tasks, I was thinking: what is it I remember about holidays growing up? What do I love even now, now that I've been 'on my own' for a good number of years? I love: cramming a bunch of family around a table and giving thanks and eating way too much; watching football in our sweats and eating leftover turkey for a week; going to the Christmas tree farm every year the first weekend after Thanksgiving; celebrating Advent by lighting the candles every evening and singing; going to stores and hearing Christmas music everywhere; taking time to wrap each gift carefully and place it 'just so' under the tree; pulling out the 'partridge in a pear tree' towel for the kitchen; watching movies like You've Got Mail and White Christmas and Miracle on 34th Street; traveling and welcoming family; celebrating with friends into the wee hours to welcome the New Year.

You know what I don't remember? I don't remember if my laundry was done, or if everything was perfectly dusted, or if there were dishes piled in the sink. In fact, those dishes represented a house full of family, love and laughter. So, this year, while it may be new and a little bit different than before, those are the things I want to focus on. Things like the sound of my baby boy laughing with his daddy, things that 30 years from now, I'll still remember and cherish...while I do the ironing that most assuredly will still be there. 

 

 

Reducing the Sugar Rush During the Holiday Rush

Last month our writers shared some of their holiday traditions and plans for the upcoming season. In November, we continue our conversation about holidays. How do we juggle visitors, travel with small children, eat well amidst all that delicious food and most importantly, take time to just BREATHE? This time of year can very quickly become stressful, so we hope our writers' words this month will give you a few moments to slow down, think about how you're spending your energy and encourage you during this busy, but wonderful time of year. ~TMC Simple Sugars The newest change to our eating philosophy has been a different approach to sugars, and it’s just in time for the holidays!  A couple years ago we made a point to cut out all high-fructose corn syrup, and I highly suggest this as a great “first step” if you’re considering a healthier food intake.  I still couldn’t shake myself of good old cane sugar—you know, every girl’s first love.  Even with wanting a healthier lifestyle, I’ve still tried to hold on to two points that I think are very important with how we view food in our house.

1.  Food is meant to keep us alive. 

Shocking, I know.  I just feel like too many foodies view what they eat (and what our society eats) as something that is killing them and not sustaining them.  True, the wrong kind of food should be avoided, but…it’s still food.  Something to be thankful for, first and foremost.

2.  Food is meant to be enjoyed.

Enough of the self-martyred, suffering vegan (spoken from a vegan 3 days out of the week).  Enjoy feasting!  Especially during the holiday season.  (Stepping down from soap box…)  All that to say, I was afraid that if I cut the sugar, we would cease to employ point number 2—enjoying food.

Slowly, we have made a few changes, and I haven’t bought sugar for a few months now, and we don’t feel like we’re missing anything!

The first thing I did was start to use fruit purees instead of eggs when making sweets/fruit breads.  The fruit adds natural sweetness which then helps you lessen the amount of added sugar.  Here are some easy conversions:

Applesauce, Mashed Bananas, and Pumpkin Puree—work well in sweetened baked goods, just make sure the flavor would be compatible with other flavors, as the fruit will likely shine through a bit.  1 egg=1/4 cup fruit puree (one medium mashed banana will normally substitute for 2 eggs)

Prune Puree—since stronger in flavor, works well with dense desserts such as brownies.  1 egg=1/4 cup fruit puree

After sweetening with fruit, I started cutting the amount of sugar.  Stat with using ¾ of the amount called for, and then cut back to half.  If you’re having company, offer frosting or honey to be added if someone has more of a sweet tooth.  I promise, you will get used to it over time, and the more you cut out, the less often your brain will send sugar signals.

I also read this awesome article about decoding sweeteners—there are just so many out there!  http://www.puregoodness.net/nutrition/sweeteners-decoded/  We now use mostly honey, agave, and molasses for sweetening.  We keep some stevia and sucanat on hand, and we occasionally buy maple syrup.  These are all sugars, but they’re not nearly as refined as white sugar or hfcs (high fructose corn syrup) and they do not raise the glycemic level as much.

Conversions:  for honey and agave, use ¾ cup for 1 cup of sugar the recipe calls for, reduce liquids by ½ cup for every cup of honey you add, and reduce oven temp. by 25 degrees to prevent browning.  For sucanat—equal amounts as sugar.

I am a little timid about this holiday season, as this will be my first one completely dairy free, mostly corn free, as well as (six days out of the week) ovo-vegetarian (no meat or dairy products, but I still love me some eggs!).  I know…there go all my dinner invitations!  My way of coping so far when I go to parties is either eat a lot beforehand so I’m not tempted, or, better yet, always take a dish with me so I have something to enjoy with friends.  Whether or not you have allergy/dietary restrictions, I would suggest offering to bring food.  If you’re opting for a healthier holiday season, prepare a sweet dish with less sugar, or an appetizer that’s homemade, and that way you will get to enjoy the food—and have it too.

How do you cope with allergy and special diet restrictions during the holidays?

Consider Your Holidays

With the changing leaves and falling temperatures, there's no doubt that fall is here! As mothers, we always try to stay a step ahead of the chaos and this month we're taking some time to share our thoughts on holiday celebrations, family traditions and maybe some new ideas about how to enjoy the upcoming season. So grab that cup of cinnamon-spiced coffee, prop your feet up on a pumpkin and enjoy what our writers have to say this month. ~TMC  

The holidays can be such a hectic time and we as mothers shoulder much of the responsibility for decorating, baking, shopping, costume-making, hostessing, among many other things. We are goaded by commercials and sale papers to buy, buy, buy to make the perfect house and have happy children. We walk into stores and are bombarded by sales encouraging us to buy generic gifts that no one needs or just one more cute decoration we never knew we needed. We spend money we don’t have, use time we don’t have and end up feeling burnt out and unable to really enjoy and rest.

 

I would encourage you to think about all the things you tend to do for various holidays. Then think about what each of those holidays actually means to you. What you are trying to communicate to your family through all the activities you do? Does decorating make you feel invigorated and your family feel blessed? Then do it! Is it a burden to you that makes you feel overwhelmed? Then don’t feel obligated to do it or do less. Does the idea of making another Thanksgiving turkey give you a panic attack? Then ditch it and make something you enjoy making that your family enjoys eating!

Jesse Tree

 

Build in time to be with your family and friends to reflect on what each holiday really means to you. Find activities that point your children to the meaning of the holiday and encourages giving and generosity and a focus on others. Last year our family began using a Jesse tree as an advent activity. Each day for the month leading up to Christmas, we read a different Bible passage related to the coming of Christ and hung an ornament on the tree that stands for that passage. It was a great way to keep us centered on the true meaning and doing it each day provided a built in time for reflection, a moment of rest, as well as time together.

 

Simplifying your holiday activities to ones that really mean something to you and are a blessing to your family help to make the time more meaningful, reflective and restful—as it is meant to be!

Holiday Traditions: Books Provided, Just Add Hot Chocolate and Cozy Blanket

With the changing leaves and falling temperatures, there's no doubt that fall is here! As mothers, we always try to stay a step ahead of the chaos and this month we're taking some time to share our thoughts on holiday celebrations, family traditions and maybe some new ideas about how to enjoy the upcoming season. So grab that cup of cinnamon-spiced coffee, prop your feet up on a pumpkin and enjoy what our writers have to say this month. ~TMC I love this time of year.  November and December are two of my favorite months.  Cold enough to snuggle up, but not the bitter cold of January and February.  Lots of family time.  Mounting excitement from our three-year-old.  Holiday parties with friends.

It all catches up with me in January and I spend that entire month recovering, but that's something I'll worry about then.

In our house, books are a part of our daily lives, but I also have seasonal books that only come out at certain times of the year.  I keep a box of books in our living room that are rotated about once a month, and as certain holidays come up, I pull the corresponding books out of hiding and we read them during that season.  Once the season is over, those books go away for another year.  Today, I thought I'd share some of our favorite books for the upcoming season.

Fall/Halloween:

If you have not yet discovered Tad Hills and his Duck and Goose books (available in both board book and hardcover format), you're in for a treat.  These adorable friends are well-loved in our house, and my preschooler can recite Duck and Goose Find A Pumpkin by heart.  Following the theme of "it's always in the last place you look", Duck and Goose search all over for the perfect pumpkin.  Except, of course, the one place they're most likely to find one.  Once you meet these two, you're going to want to run out and gather every book you can get your hands on.

You might already be familiar with the Five Little Pumpkins poem, but I particularly like this version, illustrated by Dan Yaccarino.  Available in board book format, the illustrations show ghosts, and jack-o-lanterns, and witches, but in a manner that is almost cute, and not scary to little ones.   This is another book that my preschooler can recite.  She particularly likes the ghostly "Woooooo" of the wind and enthusiastically clapping her hands together while yelling, "And OUT went the lights!".  Because, after all, a good book MUST contain shouting.

Thanksgiving:

For a fun twist on a classical story, try I Know An Old Lady Who Swallowed A Pie by Alison Jackson, illustrated by Judy Schachner.  This elderly relative travels to Thanksgiving dinner with her pie contribution.  But she's so ravenous that the pie is gone before she even reaches the house.  So then she needs cider to wash it down.  And then a roll.  And then...well, you know how the story goes.  This version is truly giggle-inducing.

This next book might not be appropriate for the preschool set, but add it to your collection as a classic for future years.  Molly's Pilgrim is not a new book, in fact it was first published in 1983.  Based on author Barbara Cohen's real family history, this is the tale of Molly, a Jewish, Russian immigrant who struggles to participate in the Thanksgiving discussions of her third grade classroom.  When the class is given the assignment of creating a pilgrim, Molly goes to her mother for help, but her mother's interpretation just embarrasses Molly even more.  This story goes beyond Thanksgiving to discuss bullying, confidence, and acceptance.

Christmas/Hannukah:

There are so many Christmas books out there, it's just about impossible to select one. The one I want to share is one that you may not be familiar with, but is one of the most moving, beautifully illustrated picture books for the Christmas season that I think I've ever read.  Angela and the Baby Jesus, written by Frank McCourt of Angela's Ashes fame, and illustrated by the award-winning Loren Long, revisits McCourt's mother, Angela, this time as a child.  The young Angela is distressed by the thought of the baby Jesus, resting in the village church's nativity, freezing in the winter night.  So she steals him (of course!), and takes him home to warm and care for him.  What follows is a story of family ties, faith, and Christmas forgiveness.  Simultaneously touching and humorous (and did I mention amazingly illustrated?), you will find yourself reading this book even when the children are not around.

For Hanukkah, one of my favorite books is The Miracle Jar: A Hanukkah Story by Audrey Penn (author of The Kissing Hand), illustrated by Lea Lyon.  This is the story of a poor family busily preparing for the arrival of Hanukkah.  When Mother shares her concern that there may not be enough oil to last through eight days of cooking, the children's spirits are dampened.  As the days go by, Father recalls the story of the miracle of the oil and the family watches their own oil disappear bit by bit, wondering if it will last to the final day.  While this is a story celebrating the Hanukkah holiday, it also has a universal theme of love and perseverance.

These books only scratch the surface.  My own collection for each season grows each year as I rediscover old classics and fall in love with new ones that I want my children to experience.  Please share your favorites! And enjoy the chance the colder weather offers to cuddle up on the couch.  Even if it only lasts for a few seconds.