Monday, December 15, 2014

Wreaths Across America

Arlington National Cemetary during the 2014 laying of the wreaths
with the Air Force Memorial in the background. 
My father served in the Air Force for 26 years, so I thought it was fitting.
I know I've mentioned before that my father is buried in Arlington National Cemetary.  I miss him tremendously, but especially at the holidays.  This was he and my mother's favorite time of year.  She would decorate and he would cook.  No matter where we were in the world, we had a Christmas.  No matter how little money we had, we had a Christmas.  It was always about Jesus and family.

In keeping with that, we've been decorating the house and DH is coming home to meet family this year.  I find myself visiting my father's grave and being thankful for the upkeep and annual wreaths and flags faithfully placed on his gravesite.  It's comforting to me that he's still getting a little Christmas down here while I parties with the birthday boy up there.

My mother has not gotten to decorate in the past few years, something I'd like to change, the way she used to - partially because she was grieving and partially due to the amount of work it takes.  This year, my sister and I participated in Wreaths Across America and helped lay wreaths not just for our father but many others who faithfully served.  It's reminded me that I need to do more for not only those who have passed on, but the ones left behind with us as well.  Here are some other pics I took at the cemetary.  I'm sure there will be snazzy professional ones that come out later, but here you go.

First Christmas in our new house!

We have been busy!  Getting ready for the holidays has taken us by surprise but we have been working really hard to get it together.  Here are the results.  The new house is MUCH bigger than our previous homes so even though we're not fully unpacked, I had to be creative.  Forgive the poor cell phone photography, but I wanted to share.  The outside pics will come soon, we have a little more to finish there. 

Are you decorating?

We have also been taking care of Christmas presents.  Those stockings by the fireplace are now mostly full!  I am super excited and hope the kids are as well.  We'll be celebrating on Saturday since they will spend the holidays with their mother and DH and I will be in New Orleans!

I will try to take close ups of some of the vignettes later and show the details.  I have raided the dollar section and discount bins over the years and have finally been able to show off some of the pieces all together.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Recipes for Holiday Success!

It's so tempting this time of year to disregard everything and just enjoy all the season's offerings.  There are so many yummy temptations available to us all.  We tell ourselves: Just one of everything is ok, right?  Uh.. no... because there is SO much that one of everything becomes 20 different tastings of food you would probably only have once every other month at any other time of the year.  You could choose to indulge but the problem is if you do that - you'll spend the next year trying to undo a few weeks of indulgence.  It's just not worth the laziness or lack of self-discipline.

So, here are some recipes that can be really great for the season when you're entertaining or just making family meals more fun!  I will say up front, some of these involve processed protein powder.  I'm not a fan of using this regularly unless your diet requires it and in that case, I am an advocate of the plant based varieties.  Do your research and you can find some protein powders that aren't mixed with all the manipulated additives.  Non-GMO is your friend but that label alone isn't enough.  OK, off that soapbox and on to the yummy!

Sweet Potato Protein Pancakes  (single serving size)

1 medium sweet potato
1 level scoop of protein powder (chocolate or vanilla)
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon OR pumpkin pie spice mix
1/2 cup egg whites
(Optional) 1/4 cup fresh orange juice

Bake the sweet potato in the microwave (wrapped in saran) for about 6-8 minutes until the center is soft.  You can either peel the skin or put the whole thing in the food processor and eat the skin mixed in... which is very good for you!  If you use the food processor, you can mix in the other ingredients there so you don't dirty another dish.  Allow the potato to cool for a couple minutes, add a splash (about half) of the orange juice.  Pulse then add the egg, spices and protein.   Pulse until smooth.  Some people also like to add nuts but beware that will add fat to the dish as well.  Only use the remaining orange juice if the batter thickens up too much.  The citrus really livens the potato.

You should get about 4 pancakes from this batter - which is one serving.  In total, it's about 180 calories for the entire serving, .5 grams of fat (unless you add nuts), 24g of carbs but only 7 of those is sugar, and 20 grams of protein!  That's enough fiber, energy and flavor to start your morning right. 

I've doubled the recipe but never tried doing it for much more than that at a time.  I find that if you boil a bunch of potatoes you can mix the batter in batches and make enough for the whole family. We usually put ours with eggs and some form of breakfast meat, so everyone will eat only a couple pancakes.  This does not include the teenagers who will happily eat as many as we let them...

Speaking of eggs, you can add greek yogurt and / or a scoop of plain (unflavored) or vanilla protein powder to eggs.  With enough cheese (beware the fat!) and spices, you won't taste the protein but you'll get a huge boost to your daily intake.  It also stretches the eggs (or egg whites) to feed more people which can be a big plus for feeding a large family.  I find that if you want to add this in (or pureed vegetables so the kids won't notice), it's best to make the eggs an omelette or a hash.  Layering the flavors helps hide some of the healthy stuff.

For snacks (or even dessert) you can make your own mousse (tell the kids it's pudding). 
Peanut Butter Chocolate Mousse

1 single serving of fat-free vanilla greek yogurt
4 tablespoons PB2 Powdered Peanut Butter with Chocolate

Stir them together.  The more powder you add, the thicker the mousse.  You can even freeze it to make a soft ice cream.

125 Calories, 1.5 g fat, 9 g sugar, 19 g protein

If you are not familiar with PB2, I recommend learning about it.  I love peanut butter and giving it up because of the fat and sugar content was making me sad.  While PB2 is more expensive than regular peanut butter, it has allowed me to have more peanut butter in stuff which is a happy thing.   You can find it at most regular grocers, Target, etc.  I just wish it came in crunchy...

On the dessert note, if you're going to make pumpkin pie or sweet potato pie, you can add about 3 scoops of your favorite vanilla protein and really add something valuable to the dish.  It will change the texture a bit (make it stiffer) but not the flavor.  It will also give you about 10 grams of protein per serving (usually 8-10 per pie) that you would not have had before. Dessert can be good for you too!

As for lunch and dinner, I'll have more recipes for other days on those but the general advice is lay off the breads and starches.  Only have one and it should be the smallest portion on the plate.  Try to include something leafy and green whenever possible. 

If you make it through the same size or smaller, then you win!  The only competition is your self-control.  Also, if you really have something you love at this time of year - don't reserve it for just December.  You are allowed to enjoy gingerbread, pumpkin, and other traditionally "fall" flavors at any time of the year.  Then when the holidays roll around, you'll be far less tempted to indulge or binge.

And let's be honest, when your plate has mashed potatoes, rice, stuffing, meat with gravy, corn pudding, smothered green beans, sweet potatoes, and more on it followed by a taste of all the desserts and washed down with a glass (or four) of alcohol, soda and eggnog - that's a binge.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Preparing for the Holidays!

Happy Thursday all!  It's been a week since Thanksgiving and hopefully you're still riding the high of all the joyous things in your life.  It's been pretty non-stop for us and I imagine the same goes for all of you.  Now, it's December and hopefully most of you have already purchased your gifts over the last year.  If you took the tips from January I gave you and stuck to your budget, you should be in good shape. 

That didn't happen?  It's ok, we're all human.  Life can complicate things and starting new purchasing habits can be a challenge.  So, here's my two cents for this month:

1.  Make a budget - RIGHT NOW - of what you can realistically spend for Christmas (or Hannukah or Kwanzaa or whatever you are going to celebrate).  Don't think about all the people you'd like to get gifts or what the kids have asked for, just look at the real numbers and the bottom line.  If the budget is literally 0, that's ok.  If it's 100 bucks, that's still ok.

2. Once you have your budget, make your list of people you MUST give gifts to this year.  Not the ones you feel obligated to gift because they get you something or your mother insisted or it's become an annual "thing".  Truly look at the people in your life that you want to give a gift.

3. Look at your calendar and between now and December 24 (that's just under 3 weeks folks) figure out how many hours you have to dedicate to preparing for the holidays.  One hour a night?  Only on the weekends?  Put it on paper (or the digital calendar).  Take into account time you need to spend cleaning and cooking for the holidays as well!

4.  Decide, based on your budget and gift list, what gifts you will make and which you will buy.  Go back to your calendar and schedule time to make the gifts (assign the gift and recipient name to that time slot).  Allot time to shop if necessary for wrapping paper, supplies, or specific gifts you plan to purchase. 

This will take you all day - I'm not kidding.  The planning takes time and if you don't apply yourself to doing it right, you'll forget something or be rushing at the last minute.  That's how people bankrupt themselves at the holidays trying to "make up" gifts at the last minute.  You still have time to take advantage of sales, time to bake or sew or knit or craft, and time to decide to gift some people after the holidays end.

WHAT?!  What was that last part?  Yeah, let's be honest.  Unless everyone is going to be with you Christmas Day, some people won't get their gifts right away.  (Some may get theirs BEFORE the holiday!)  You should take all of this into account as you plan your calendar and gifting plans. 

Now, within the next 48 hours, get to work.  Procrastination leads to wasteful time and spending.  It's easy to get overwhelmed.  It's just another day in the big scheme of things, but it's a memory making day.  Whether the memory will be relaxed and joyful or stressed and painful is completely up to you.

The holidays are NOT about how much you spend on others, how many gifts you receive (or give), and who is impressed with your decorations.  They are about acknowledging the people you love, appreciating the good things in your life, and remembering the reason we celebrate.

You'll learn that choosing to physically spend time with the people you care about will be the best gift you can give many people on your list.  A Skype session or handwritten letter will thrill those people you can't see very often.  Pictures and handmade keepsakes can be more precious to friends and family than anything you could purchase in a store.  Most people are trying to have less stuff in their lives and more life in their hearts.

So there's my advice for today.  I hope it helps.

PS:  Already been shopping and spent too much or charged your card to the max?  Find the receipts and don't be afraid to RETURN items that are unnecessary.  Even if it was on sale.  Sales happen every year, throughout the year, so it's not like you won't find another great deal if you need to one day in the future.

PPS:  Also, stop worrying about what people may say if your tree doesn't have a million gaily wrapped presents beneath it.  Your child will likely only focus on one or two key items, so why bother with the stocking stuffers and small stuff (they add up quickly!)?  If you keep the focus of the holiday on what's important, I find that everyone around you will do the same.