Saturday, November 23, 2013

Christmas Memories

Our first Christmas as parents - 2008

I love Christmas!  It truly is the most wonderful time of the year!  In our home, the Christmas tunes are turned on beginning November 1st and we enjoy them for two solid months.  My husband always says it's a little early, but I know he secretly enjoys it. :)  I loved Christmas as a kid, and feel so blessed to have kids of my own now to make memories with.  My kids (who are now 5, 3, and 2 months)  have already started getting excited talking about the special things we did together last year.  Well, the two oldest have been talking about it and the two month old will get to experience her very first Christmas this time around.  I wanted to remember what we've done in the past and think of some new ideas for this year.  Here are some of our favorites in no particular order...

1.  Go to Lowe's and buy a tree.  

We like to make a day of it and spend some time decorating the house as well.  The kids love putting ornaments on the tree, but it usually turns into Grant putting lights on (because he can reach to the top and I don't like to), and me rearranging the ornaments once the kids are asleep.  Cool story... The train around the bottom of the tree (pictured below) came from the side of the road in our neighborhood.  In June of last year I saw a box in front of someone's house that said "free toys", so I stopped and looked through it and came away with this treasure!

2013 Christmas Tree

2.  Make a felt Christmas tree.  I made this a couple of years ago after seeing it on Pinterest, and we reuse it every year.  Command strips work great for attaching it to the wall and easy removal.  By doing this craft, I learned that felt sticks to felt. :)

My babies have changed a lot in a year!

3.  Make a gingerbread house.  I always get the kits and the kids love eating the ingredients more than making the house, but that's okay.  This one is a hard one for me since it makes a terrible mess, but this year I think I'll put a dollar store tablecloth under it and throw it away when we're finished.  I also have to tell my perfectionist self to let them decorate it however they want every year, but I'm not always successful.

4.  Watch Frosty The Snowman and make a "Frosty" snack.  Ingredients include powdered doughnuts, chocolate chips, jelly beans, and fruit roll-ups.  Place three doughnuts on a skewer and decorate snowman.  Use toothpicks dipped in melted chocolate chips for eyes and mouth.  We could also go get a frosty at Wendy's.

5.  Bake together.  My kids love to help me cook!  A couple of our favorite things to make this time of year are chocolate chip oatmeal cookies and toffee.

6.  Watch The Grinch and make Grinch floats.  Just mix Sprite and lime sherbert.  This year I think we'll also make Grinch kabobs.

7.  Teach the kids the words to classic Christmas carols.  Grant can play them on the guitar or I can play them on our new piano.

8.  Make paper snowflakes.  We did this for the first time last year and the kids enjoyed it more than I had imagined.

9.  Read Christmas books.

10. Let the kids sleep in the same room on Christmas Eve.  My siblings and I did this growing up and I have fond memories of staying up late and talking and running down the hallway together on Christmas morning to see what Santa had brought us.

11.  Make a nativity scene centerpiece out of food.

12.  Watch The Polar Express and have tickets ready for a surprise trip.  This was my favorite memory from last year!  I think this movie is a little odd, but my kids really like it.  Last year I printed these tickets and laminated them (so Conductor Grant could punch holes in them) and after watching the movie we got the kids ready for bed as usual and when they were already in bed we had them check under their pillows for the hidden tickets.  They couldn't believe they had "real" Polar Express train tickets under their pillows.  We had them board our own version of the Polar Express (minivan) in their pajamas (after having their tickets punched, of course) and drove them around to see Christmas lights.  They thought it was the coolest thing ever!  Weston checked under his pillow for another ticket for the next month. :)

13.  Fill a shoebox for Operation Christmas Child.  We went as a family this year to buy presents for a child in another country who would otherwise not get anything.  It was a good opportunity to talk to the kids about being grateful and giving.

14.  Take the kids to buy Christmas presents with their own money.  They can buy each other gifts at the Dollar Tree with some of the money they've been saving in their piggy banks.

15. Act out the Christmas story.  When we read the Jesus Storybook Bible to the kids in the evenings they always want to act out the story afterwards. Advent Bible reading plan

16.  Attend the Christmas Eve service at church.  Thirty minutes of singing about the birth of Jesus and hearing dad read the story from the Bible.  Looking forward to the day when the kids are old enough to hold candles when we sing Silent Night for the closing song.  We almost burned the church down last year!

17.  Go to Hobby Lobby and pick out an ornament.  Everyone gets to pick their very own each year.

18.  Make reindeer pancakes and watch Rudolph.

19.  Watch Home Alone, Elf, White Christmas, and Miracle on 34th Street.

20.  Jesse Tree.  This will be our third year to have a Jesse Tree, but I'm excited about this year because I know the kids will understand more.  I bought  a small $2 tree at Goodwill a few years back that we hang our ornaments on.  I found a good kid version and ornaments to print and laminate here.

21.  Get a picture with Santa.  If you live in a town with a Bass Pro Shop they do them for free! 

22.  Sing Happy Birthday to Jesus Christmas morning before eating our special Christmas breakfast.  I usually make a sausage and egg casserole and cream cheese danish.  We light a candle and sing the Happy Birthday song.

23.  Take a picture of the kids in front of the tree.  Christmas pajamas are the best!

24.  Go to Nonna and Papaw's church to see the Singing Christmas Tree.  

25.  Take Alivia to see The Nutcracker.  Someone recently told me about the Ballet Arts here in Jackson and how they perform this every year.

26.  Visit extended families.  Grant and I are so blessed to come from families with parents who have been married to each other for 30+ years.  We each have three siblings and as they have gotten married and had children we enjoy so much getting to spend time with them!  We also have grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins - some of which we only get to see at Christmas.  I'm so thankful my kids get to be around some of their great grandparents.

*At this point we obviously don't have a problem with incorporating Santa into our Christmas festivities.  Grant and I had fun with the Santa tradition in our families growing up and want to continue the fun with our own children.  As for Jesus being the reason for the season - we celebrate the birth of Christ at Christmas and all throughout the year.  

Friday, November 22, 2013

White Chicken and Cheese Lasagne

I recently tried this lasagne recipe from Tasty Kitchen and it was better than expected.  My kids don't normally like lasagne, but they loved this and even ate the spinach.  It didn't take too terribly long to make and I plan to add it to my list of regulars.

9 whole lasagne noodles (not oven-ready)
1/2 cup butter
1 cup frozen, chopped onion
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
2 cups chicken broth
1 1/2 cups milk
4 cups shredded Mozzarella cheese
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 tsp dried Basil
1 tsp dried Oregano
1/2 tsp pepper
2 cups Ricotta cheese
2 cups cooked, cubed chicken
10 oz frozen, chopped spinach (thawed and drained)

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2.  Cook lasagne noodles according to package instructions.  Drain and rinse with cold water. Don't let these sit out too long because they will stick together.
3.  Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat.  Cook the onion and garlic in butter until tender.  Stir in flour and salt.  Simmer until bubbly.
4.  Mix in the broth and milk, and boil, stirring constantly for 1 minute.  Stir in 2 cups Mozzarella and 1/2 cup Parmesan.  Season with basil, oregano, and pepper.  Remove from heat and set aside.
5.  Spread 1/3 of the sauce mixture on the bottom of a 9 x 13 baking dish.  Layer with 1/3 noodles, and all of the Ricotta and chicken.  Arrange 1/3 of the noodles over the chicken and layer with 1/4 of the sauce mixture, the spinach, and the remaining 2 cups of Mozzarella and 1/2 cup Parmesan
6.  Arrange remaining noodles over cheese and spread remaining sauce evenly over noodles.  Sprinkle with parsley.
7.  Bake for 35-40 minutes in preheated oven.  Let stand for 5 minutes before cutting and serving.