10/28/14

Pumpkin Spice Caramel Popcorn

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In the late fall of 2008 I was a newlywed, and as the holidays approached I was determined to find some new recipes to try for Christmas - recipes that could be "mine" and would become a tradition for our then family of two.   That was when I found a caramel fudge recipe that has become the bane of my fudge-making existence.

The first time I made it, it was a success.  It was the perfect texture, the perfect taste, and we loved it!  I was excited that I found such  cool recipe.

Every time I have attempted to make it since then, it has been a colossal failure.  It usually ends up being a plate of sticky goo that never sets.  I have made it so many times, and I cannot for the life of me figure out what I am doing wrong!  I don't even want to know how much sugar, milk, and corn syrup I have wasted trying to replicate that first plate of caramel-y goodness.


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However, I think I have finally figured out a way to use my plates of sticky goo!  The other day I was in the mood for some caramel popcorn, the kind that is a little more chewy, less crunchy.  After a little experiment, I stumbled upon a yummy concoction!

This recipe for Pumpkin Pie Spice Popcorn uses that caramel fudge recipe with some adjustments.  And despite my caramel fudge always turning out spectacularly wrong, this popcorn turned out great!





Pumpkin Pie Spice Popcorn

1 bag of popcorn, popped (either plain or buttered is fine)
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 whole milk
1/8 cup (ie. 1/2 stick) margarine, melted
1 tbsp. light corn syrup

For the pumpkin spice mixture:

1/4 cup sugar 
1/4 brown sugar
1 tsp. pumpkin pie spice

1.  Pop the bag of popcorn in a microwave, then pour into a greased bowl or dish.  Set aside.

2. Mix together the ingredients for the pumpkin spice mixture.  Set aside.

2. Brown 1/2 cup of the sugar in a saucepan.  (If you don't know how to brown sugar - just let it sit on the heat until it melts.  Make sure it doesn't burn.)

3. Slowly add in the milk.  The sugar will sizzle and harden into a lump ( I haven't figured out a way to avoid this). Don't freak out.  Just keep stirring while the caramel cooks to encourage it to dissolve.

4.  Add the margarine, 1 cup of the sugar, and corn syrup.  Heat over medium high heat until mixture gets to soft ball stage.  (The soft ball stage is when you put a little of the mixture into cold water, and it solidifies to the point where you could form a soft ball with it if you wanted to.)

5.  Remove from heat and beat mixture until cool.  Add three tablespoons of the pumpkin spice mixture to the caramel mixture and mix well.

6.  Pour caramel mixture over the popcorn and mix to coat the popcorn.  Sprinkle the remaining pumpkin spice mixture over the popcorn.


Pumpkinpiecaramelpopcorn

And that is it!  This popcorn has a great, fall-ish taste to it.  It would be perfect to much on while reading a book to your kiddos.  Or you could bring the popcorn along as a snack for some of your favorite fall activities (corn maze, anyone?).

What are some of your favorite fall snacks?


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Speaking of fall activities, I am also on the Tommy Nelson blog today talking about some ways to use fall fun to talk to your kiddos about the Lord.  I'd love for you to stop over there and say "hi"!  I'm also happy to say that Tommy Nelson is giving one of you a copy of "It Will Be Okay" by Lysa Terkeurst, which I reviewed earlier this month - it's an adorable kids' book, and perfect for fall.  Enter below!


10/24/14

Clyde At Six Months

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My youngest baby turned a half year old!  I'm still in denial.

(To see all the cute pictures of my boy, you can request to follow my photo blog by clicking the button to the right and filling out the form).

Clyde is just growing and getting more cute every day.  This month Clyde learned to sit up by himself!  He is not super-stable yet, but he did sit up for a good minute by himself on October 8th.  He is so into his toys lately, and I just love the fascinated look on his face when he is playing.  It's so cute!

Sleep is not the best right now - he usually wakes up at 1:00 AM and 5:00 AM.  I just remember going through rough patches from 4-8 months with Wyatt and Gwen, so I'm just dealing with it.  This is really a relatively short period of time, and I know by the time he is a year he'll be sleeping through the night, so I guess I'm just not worrying about it as much as I did with the other two.

We are still nursing a couple times a day, and we use formula the rest of the time.  I'm probably going to hang on to nursing as long as I can this time around - Clyde might be my last baby, and I am just not ready to let go yet, even though my supply is dwindling.  One of my favorite things is the way he scratches at my collar bone while he nurses - it doesn't hurt.  He does it when he's sleepy, and it's so sweet.

We have not started solids yet, but we probably will in the next week or so.  He is starting to be interested in what everyone else is eating, so I think he's ready.  Is it weird that I am not though?  I just feel like he should still be my itty bitty baby, and starting solids makes him seem like an older baby.

He has such a happy personality - everywhere we go I get comments about how happy he is!  He smiles very easily, even when he is crying, which is pretty funny.  I say that it always seems like he is either upset or happy, with no real in between, but that is not as true as it used to be - he is becoming more content to be by himself too.  His new thing is sticking his tongue out while he smiles, and I think it is so funny!

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My Sweet Boy,

I can't believe you are already six months old!  You are closer to being one year old than you are to being brand new.  I love watching you grow, and your personality development is so exciting, but I wish I could just freeze time.  You are growing too fast.  I love your happy smiles, and the way you jabber to yourself while you play.  I love how you snuggle in and just relax in my arms when you are eating while you "knead" my collar bone with your cute little fingers.  I think it is so funny how you can be crying, but you still smile when you see me.  You are such a happy boy, and I hope you never lose that!  You bring so much extra joy into our lives, and we are so lucky to have you, Baby Clyde!  I love you so much.

Love,

Your Mama

10/22/14

Supporting Adoption (Even If You Don't Adopt)

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When I was 18, I spent a summer as a counselor at a local Christian camp.  I could probably write a whole different post with stories of that experience, but there is one conversation I remember vividly.

I had thought I was done with being a counselor for the summer, since I had to prepare for starting hygiene college in a few weeks, but I had this feeling that I should go back just one more week.  I ended up being a co-counselor with a girl named Lindsey - and it was a good thing I went back that week, because Lindsey came down with an awful sickness and spent most of the week in bed, so I was able to take over counselor duties for our girls.  On the last night of the week, Lindsey was feeling better.  As the girls slept in our teepee (we all slept in teepees - it is a really cool camp), Lindsey and I stayed up late talking.  In the darkness, Lindsey asked me "If you could do one thing before you die, what would it be?"

And without really thinking about it or knowing what I would say, the words just came out.  I whispered back, "I would like to adopt a child."  Through those weeks of spending so much time with these girls, I realized I could indeed love a child who was not biologically mine.

Ever since then I have had an internal passion for adoption - but it is hard to put it into words most times, because it is clear that our family is not being called to adopt a child.  At least not right now.

However, over the years I have realized that even though we are not in a place where we can adopt a child ourselves, that doesn't mean that I can't still support adoption.  The truth is that if you believe in Jesus, you are called to care for orphans.  That may look differently for different families, but we are all supposed to do it.

There are a few ways to support adoption even when you don't adopt a child yourself, and I listed a few ideas below.
Adoption

1. Be excited for those who are adopting.  You have to realize that this is a big deal for families that choose to follow God's call by adopting a child.  This is a brand-new member of their family that is being added!  It's just as big a deal as if they announced they were pregnant.  People often spend more time wondering why they are adopting, or thinking "I could never do that", than being excited about their friend's new child.  That is a pity.  I think a little excitement can go a long way in encouraging the hearts of those who are adopting.  If you want to go all out, consider throwing them a baby/new child shower!

2.  Donate money or hold a fundraiser for a friend who is adopting.  Obviously donating directly is a huge blessing to friends who might be adopting!  Adoption is extremely expensive, and helping financially is a really practical way to get involved.  If you are comfortable, ask your friend if you can contribute to their adoption fund.  There are also many ways to hold a fundraiser if you are organized enough to do it.  I have had friends who did some "spring cleaning" and held a garage sale, then donated all the money they earned to their friend's adoption.  Online auctions for donated items, or giveaways where donations earn entries are also good options.

3. Pray for those you know who are adopting.  Pray that the process would go smoothly, for financial provision, that their wait would be short, and that the Lord would prepare them and their child for the moment they are matched.  Then pray for final legal details to go through without a hitch!

4. Find an organization to support.  If you don't know anyone personally who is adopting, you can still support adoption by finding an organization that supports adoption and supporting them.  I am a Focus On The Family fan, so I would point you there first.  I know you can call 1-800-A-FAMILY and ask to specifically donate to help children in foster care find a permanent family - you can even become a regular donor for that specific cause if you would like!  Or find an adoption agency near you and see if there is a way you can donate or help.


As Christians, adoption should be important to us, because God adopted us as His sons and daughters!  Jesus died on the cross to pay for our sins, and as a result we are called His children.  He is a Father to the fatherless - adoption is the heart of our Heavenly Father, and it should be in our hearts too.  I so admire those who follow God's example and adopt those children who are in desperate need of a family - what a beautiful picture of what God has done for us.

I hope you find a way to support adoption, and that these ideas help! If any of you have any more ideas or resources, I'd love it if you would share below!


Note: If you would like to help a wonderful family with their adoption, please check out this amazing giveaway on Natalie's blog, She Builds Her Home!  Some of you may remember Natalie from her last blog, Extraordinary Love.  I started reading Natalie's blog several years ago, and I am so excited and proud of her and her family for answering the Lord's call to "care for orphans . . . in their distress" (James 1:27).  So for a chance to donate to place a child with this wonderful family, and for a chance to win some great prizes, check out her giveaway here!

10/21/14

My Daring Girl (And A Perfect Book For Her)

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Have I mentioned that Gwen is over 21 months old now?  I can't believe she is approaching her second birthday already!  It feels like she was just born.

I have an update post on Miss Gwen coming soon, but one unique aspect to her personality is just how spunky and daring she can be.  Derek and I joke with each other that she has no proper sense of danger.  And while she can occasionally come close to giving me a heart attack, I also love that she is willing to take risks - and as she grows, I want to teach her to channel that risk-taking into the most important areas, like taking risks for Jesus, in order to further God's kingdom!

Because of this aspect of Gwen's personality, I think the Brave Girls Bible Stories book will be perfect for her as she grows older!  It's a new Bible storybook by Tommy Nelson geared toward girls who are 4-12 (it seems like a wide range, but I think there are different aspects that would appeal to different age groups).

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The book begins with introducing the five modern-day "Brave Girls" - Hope, Glory, Honor, Gracie, and Faith.  Each Brave Girl has a different interest and personality, so girls reading this book will be able to identify with at least one of these characters!  There is also a fun quiz in the back of the book to tell your daughter which Brave Girl she is most like.  I took it for fun, and I'm a mix between Glory and Honor.  I'm guessing Gwen will be a mix between Hope (the tomboy), and Glory (the one who loves beautiful things)!

Through the rest of the book the Brave Girls take turns talking about different stories of women in the Bible - how they were brave and how God used them to do great things for Him!  Even though this book is geared more toward older girls, I have been reading a story to Gwen each night anyway, and we have been enjoying it.  Gwen loves her "pink Bible", and the colorful pictures are fun for her to look at, even if she can't quite understand the stories yet.  I think this will be a favorite for her as she grows!  I am excited to see the other Brave Girl resources that Tommy Nelson will publish in the future too.

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If you have a toddler or school-aged girl, I definitely recommend checking out this book!  I know I would have loved it when I was a girl, and I am excited for Gwen because I know she will love it as she gets bigger.

For more info, you can check out this letter from the Tommy Nelson Team to girl moms, or check out a preview of the Brave Girls Bible Stories book here.  Or watch this cute video!



Note:  I received a copy of the Brave Girls Bible Stories book for free from Tommy Nelson in exchange for this review.  This is my honest opinion.

10/17/14

Jesus Is Better | Hebrews 1-2

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(I originally took this photo for The Peony Project's Instagram feed.) 

I have decided to do an in-depth study of the book of Hebrews - to read why, check out my first post in this series!

I think the main thing that I have learned so far is that if you don't understand the Hebrew culture and traditions, you are not going to understand Hebrews.  Which totally makes sense since this is a letter to Hebrew Christians.  I thought I knew a decent amount about Judaism, but there are so many subtleties in the Hebrew traditions, and knowing those subtleties goes a long way in understanding where the writer of Hebrews is coming from.

The main point of chapter one is that Jesus is better than Moses and the angels.

As a modern day Christian I was thinking "Well, of course He is!  Why are we reading about this?"

I learned that this was not actually a given for the early Hebrew Christians.

The Hebrew Christians that are addressed in this letter came out of the Old Covenant of sacrifices to cover their sins.  In the Old Covenant, the High Priest would sacrifice a bull to atone for the sins of the people, as well as his own sins, and he had to do this year after year.  This was a system passed down through Moses, and it was given to Moses by God, through angels.

But then God became a man (Jesus) and brought about a New Covenant that changed everything.  The Hebrews weren't sure how much of the Old Covenant they should keep.  They didn't understand the sufficiency of the New Covenant that Jesus brought through sacrificing Himself for our sins.

The writer of Hebrews was trying to show them that this New Covenant was fully sufficient and superior to the Old Covenant.  It replaced the Old Covenant, because it was better.  In order to show them that the new was better than the old, he needed to show them that Jesus is better than Moses, and the angels who they believe passed the Old Covenant to Moses.

I think my favorite aspect of chapters one and two is that the writer shows with Old Testament scriptures why Jesus is better than Moses and Angels - it's such a smart way to do it since the Old Testament scriptures obviously carried a lot of weight for the Hebrews.

The author of Hebrews goes over so many ideas through the scriptures he quotes.  Jesus has inherited a more excellent name than angels because He is called Son. He made the worlds.  All things are made by Him and for Him.  All things will be put in subjection under Jesus.

And then after all that, Hebrews reminds us that even though Jesus is so much better than everyone and everything, He is not ashamed to call us brethren.  We are His children.

As His children, He holds us in His hand, and through his death and resurrection He releases His children from bondage to sin.

As His brethren, He was made like us in all things.  He was tempted like we are.  And He can aid us because He overcame those temptations and lived a sinless life.

He doesn't give aid to angels, but He does give aid to us.  He became a perfect sacrifice for our sins, and we are His children when we believe in Him.

What a beautiful thing to belong to Jesus.

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In addition to studying Hebrews, I have decided to try to memorize it as well.

I'm not sure why, but I recently picked up a book that has been sitting in my shelf for years, called His Word In My Heart by Janet Pope.  It is all about memorizing Scripture.

I used to memorize chapters of the Bible as a girl, but I haven't memorized any new verses in years.  This book really made me want to start memorizing Bible verses again - if you need some motivation, I definitely recommend it.  The whole thing was very timely, because I started reading this book right as I started studying Hebrews - so it only seemed natural to start my memorization with Hebrews.

Ever since I decided to memorize Hebrews, I've been hearing about the importance of Scripture memorization everywhere, so I think it's just a confirmation that this is a good thing to focus on right now.  I've also realized how much more I get out of Bible study when I memorize the verses that I'm studying!  It makes a big difference to me in remembering the context, and I understand the subtleties of each verse so much better when I can remember all the verses around it.  That is especially useful when studying book that is as complex as Hebrews.

So all that to say, my goal is to memorize a chapter a week.  I've got the first two chapters of Hebrews down.  I'm falling a little behind in my memorization schedule, but I'm working on chapters three and four now to try to catch up.

I recorded a vlog of me saying Hebrews 1-2 from memory, because knowing I have to record myself saying the verses is good motivation!  Here it is - I'm reciting from the NKJV if you want to follow along, though I know I mixed up a couple of the words in this video.


If any of you want to join me in memorizing chapters of the Bible (whether it's from Hebrews or a different book), I'd love it if you'd post a video of yourself saying your verses - then come back here and let me know so I can check it out!

10/13/14

Fun Fall Party Ideas

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It is officially fall!  Like so many people, fall is my favorite time of year, and I just feel like it is worthy of some type of celebration.  This is the first year in two years that we haven't had some type of baby-related celebration to plan in the fall, so I was itching to do some kind of gathering.  I decided to throw a party, and the start of Autumn was a good enough reason for me!

I have a lot of fun planning our parties and figuring out how to make it cute without spending a ton of money.  I have to say, this was probably the easiest party we've had when it came to planning and decorating, because I had so many items already.  I think simple touches add a lot to a party atmosphere and help to make it memorable.

Without further ado, here are the pictures of our party.


Fallpartyinvitations

I like sending out invitations to our parties.  It makes it seem more official to me.  I don't know about you, but I am much more likely to attend a gathering if I get an invitation in the mail, as opposed to email.  That's just me.  So I almost always send out paper invites.

I made these invitations myself.  Several years ago I bought a couple boxes of plain colored cards and envelopes from Target, and that purchase has served me so well - I make so many invitations just from the cards in those boxes!  For these invitations, I created a graphic in Photoshop and had it printed up at Staples (I think it cost five dollars or so).  Then I cut it out to fit into the colored envelopes I had, and sealed the envelopes with some fun wash tape.


Easyfallpartydecorations

I kept the decorations really easy for this party.

-I bought some fake leaves from Hobby Lobby for a few dollars and hung them from the light fixtures with thread.

-I got some paper straws - they are fairly cheap and so festive!  I stuck them in a mason jar and tied some raffia around it with a scrapbook-paper leaf cutout.

-I made a leaf banner using scrapbook paper, double-sided tape, and glitter (using this glitter method).  The banner took the most time, but I did it with the kids, so it doubled as a fun craft activity!

-I lit some of my fall scented candles.

-The apples doubled as an activity for the party and a decoration.

-I made labels for the food and activities (see below) using our printer, scrapbook paper, and some of the notecards from the Target notecard box.






I've come to realize that I go a little overboard on food for my parties - but it's better to have too much than too little, right?  We called this party a "fall barbecue", so for the main meal we had burgers and brats - then I made a few other goodies.

-Pumpkin Fluff Dip.  Oh my goodness, this was so good.  We used the dip with apples and crackers, and it tasted great.  I think I am going to have to make this one again before the fall is over - the picky eater in the family, who shall remain nameless, actually ate apple slices with this dip.  It's a winner.

-Pumpkin Blondies.  I thought this recipe was really weird (no baking soda or baking powder - what?), but the bars actually turned out really well.

-Leaf chocolates.  My own experiment, using Candiquick, flavoring, and leaf-shaped candy mold.  I thought they tasted good, but I didn't have any red food coloring when I made them, so I was bummed I didn't get to make any orange leaves.  Oh well.

-Candy Corn Fudge.  I used a white chocolate fudge recipe that I have had for years, and I just split up the batch into three bowls and added food coloring.  The idea is to layer the different colors like candy corn, but I realized I should have let the layers set a bit first before mixing.  It ended up having more of a marble effect, but I think everyone still got the idea.

-Pumpkin Pie Popcorn.  Another experiment of mine, using brown sugar, coconut oil, and pumpkin pie spice.  I liked it, but the recipe could use some tweaking before I share it.



My philosophy is that if I am inviting different people to my party who don't know each other, I should have something to break the ice and keep the guests busy.  I don't want anyone to feel awkward, or as if there is nothing to do if they don't know the other guests.  So we came up with some activity ideas - here is what we did:

-Caramel Apple Station.  I hardly ever make caramel apples, so this was fun to me!  I made it easy on myself and bought caramel apple wraps, and some nuts and chocolate chips to add to the outside of the apples.  Bonus: the bowls of apples on my counters also added a nice decorative element!

-Candy Corn Guessing Game.  The traditional game of guessing how many candy corn pieces were in the mason jar.  Everyone wrote down their guesses, and the person with the closest guess received a prize ($5 Starbucks gift card - aren't those leaf gift cards cute?).

- Find The Pumpkins.  I bought five mini pumpkins and hid them around our house, inside and outside.  Once someone found all five pumpkins they wrote down the locations of each pumpkin and dropped their entry into a mason jar.  Then I shook up the entries and picked a winner.  I gave out another Starbucks card for a prize.  Everyone who played had fun with this game, and it definitely kept the kids busy as well!

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As I said before, I think this was one of the easiest parties we've thrown!  It all came together pretty seamlessly, and we planned ahead a bit more so we could just relax and visit when everyone arrived.  I was really happy with the way everything turned out.  A party doesn't have to be super elaborate or expensive to be festive and fun!

10/10/14

Oh Hebrews, You Puzzle Me

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Earlier this year I bought a Bible Study guide for the book of Hebrews.  I bought it because I thought it would be good for me to do a more in depth study on my own, since I usually only do studies like that in groups.

I stuck with it for several weeks, but then I kind of tapered off, for one main reason.

I don't get Hebrews.

I think I originally picked Hebrews because I like Hebrews 11 - the "faith chapter".  I had it memorized as a girl, and it is always inspiring to me, so I thought, why not study the whole book?

Which was good in theory.  But then Hebrews goes into a whole bunch of deep stuff about angels and sacrifices and Melchizedek . . . and I just didn't get it.  I'm not a newbie when it comes to Bible study either - I've been listening to sermons on this stuff since I was born, and I've read through the Bible several times.  But I found myself reading about concepts that I had never really thought through on a deeper level, and I was just confused and not getting a lot out of it.

So instead of trying harder, I just stopped.  I guess I got discouraged.  But every time I heard something about the book of Hebrews over the last few months, it niggled at my brain.

Recently I found my Bible study book stuffed under my bed.  I have been reading more theological books lately, books that make me stop and think - so when I saw my old Hebrews study guide, I decided that if I really apply myself, I can figure this book out.  It might require me to take a little more time to stop and think, but I don't want to abandon it just because it is not an easy book to read.

Not a single word in the Bible is wasted, and God put everything in there for a reason.  I know Hebrews has some deep truths that will be applicable to me.  I just get this feeling that if I dig into it, I'll find something valuable.

So over the next few weeks I'm going to buckle down and really apply myself to the book of Hebrews - and things tend to stick better when I know I have to write about it, so I will post updates here.
These are the study tools I am planning on using:

John MacArthur Study Guide - I have been listening to John MacArthur sermons for years, and I really respect and generally trust his interpretation of Scripture.  I like his study guides because he includes the complete scripture passages with commentary on the key words and phrases, plus questions for reflection.

The Mounce-Reverse Interlinear translation on Bible Gateway - I did a little search on "hermeneutics" (which basically means interpretation of Scripture), and I realized that Bible Gateway has a version of the new testament that allows you to see what each word of a passage is in the original Greek - and if you click on the words it gives you a definition, plus other places where the word is used!  It's pretty spiffy, and as someone who does NOT know biblical greek, I'm kind of excited to get my feet wet with this tool.

My good 'ole NKJV Bible - I've had it for years.  

Notecards - I have decided that I don't just want to study Hebrews - I want to commit as much of it to memory as I can.  I have been reading "His Word In My Heart" by Janet Pope, and it has really been inspiring me to memorize more Scripture, and part of my process is writing out my verses on cards - so there you go.

I'm excited to start this study!  Like I said, I have been in the habit of reading the Bible daily for years, but this is probably the first time I have chosen one book and really studied it in depth on my own.  I'm going to try to do a post every week or two about what I'm learning, so stay tuned!

Have any of you ever studied Hebrews?  Any resources you have used (I know She Reads Truth just did Hebrews, so I might look at that too)?  What resources do you use for personal Bible study?
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