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Project: Advent Ornaments

Growing up, my Nana would always purchase Advent Calendars for me and my siblings.  Every year it became a bigger complication of what kind to get: ‘Well Brice is too young for chocolates but Brooke and Bailey want chocolate’, ‘The piece of paper ones are boring’, ‘But we want candy!!’ Finally, my Nana just gave up and stopped buying them as to avoid this RIDICULOUS commentary between all the grandkids.  This year, I was reminiscing on our old Advent Calendars, and I started thinking about how insane we were to be so picky.  We were taking something that should have been pulling us into The Word and turning it into a bicker-fest, which is totally the opposite of what should have been occurring.  I was pondering this right about when I was pulling out my ornaments and preparing to decorate my Christmas tree, and I had a sort of epiphany.  Why not make the advent calendar related to decorating the tree, and why not make myself go into The Word every day of the advent season?

I’m sort of minimalistic when it comes to decorating my tree.  I don’t like too many lights or ornaments or garland because I truly like to see that there’s a tree in my room.  I don’t have huge flashy ornaments, most are actually just plain plastic, chalkboard or wooden (minus a couple mickey mouse ornaments).  I actually really like to buy the little decoration pieces from Michael’s and turn those into ornaments.  Very plain, but to the point.  This season is ALL about the birth of our King.  As I was pulling out these plain brown paper ornaments, I started to think, well what if I used these and wrote numbers on the front and bible verses on the back?  The whole process took a few days to come together, but I ended up with my perfect Advent Calendar.  The best part was, it was super cheap ($7 for 25 paper ornaments and twine), so I could change it year after year to include different bible verses.  PERFECT!!

Then I had a friend over for dinner, and after telling her my bright idea, she says, “Well, what are you going to do with them after the day is over?  Leave them on the tree?”  And this brought up a new series of questions… It would look weird to leave these up with numbers, but the tree would be SUPER bare if I took them all off…  And here we have epiphany #2!  We’ll just replace them with other ornaments!  So I went off back to the store and bought 25 more ‘decoration’ pieces and some red and green spray paint.  I made them into colored ornaments and put them in a decorative box next to our stockings.  This way, each day I take one advent ornament off, I can replace the plain brown ornament with a pretty colored ornament!

In the same way as we prepare ourselves for the birth of Jesus, we are slowly removing the ugly essence of the world prior to our Kings birth, and replacing it with the glorious revelation that we will live forever in paradise because of him.  I love absolutely every part of my ‘Advent Calendar’ this year.  I am in the word every single night, and usually just opening my Bible leads me to reading more than those two or three sentences.  Of course, I read them all out loud to Cooper every night because he should be aware of what is happening too (Lord help me when I have human children).  Usually he just stares at me and flops his head from side to side, but I tell myself he knows what’s going on and is really listening.  I’m sure I am not the first person to think this idea up, but I was so excited I was able to make it happen in a low-cost, maximum result kind of way.  I had to share for anybody else out there looking for a better alternative to the paper or candy advent calendars!!

Maple Cream Sweet Potato Soup

Now that it is FINALLY getting cold here in Houston, I was dying for some good soup this past weekend.  As I was not sick, I felt like trying something different than the normal potato soup/chicken and dumpling/gumbo fix, and I was so excited to happen upon this AMAZING recipe from halfbakedharvest.com.  I have tried a few of her recipes so far and have yet to be dissapointed!!   I did have a little fun trying to make it “pretty” with the cream, and I wound up making it kinda look like Mrs. Doubtfire…  Nonetheless, the soup was amazingly sweet and spicy and perfect for a cold night!!  The little cinnamon sugar twists were also pretty wonderful.  Since I’m not a big fan of thyme, I replaced that with sage in my soup, and it still tasted great!  Other than that I followed this recipe to a T!

Find it Here!

Homemade Cannolis

I MADE CANNOLIS, AND NOBODY DIED!!!!!!!

To put it lightly, I was very excited with my most recent “baking” attempt.  (Even though technically these are fried, I’m telling myself they are a baked good because we all know I suck at baking.)  So tricky thing, you HAVE to have Cannoli molds.  I do not know how it would be possible without them.  They work pretty great though and are for sure worth the $10.  Living in Houston area, you don’t really come across many cannolis for sale.  As a family who has visited the north east a few times, we love cannolis.  So I decided to take the situation into my own hands, and bring the cannolis to us!  For the first time making them, I just used a simple traditional ricotta recipe for the filling and topped it off with chocolate chips.  Next time, I might be a little more adventurous.  However, the traditional ricotta recipe was incredibly delicious, and even my SUPER picky little brother loved them.  I found this recipe on the food network website and followed it pretty precisely.

What You’ll Need
Cannoli Shells:
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus for dusting
2 tbsp granulated sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
2 tbsp cold, unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 lg egg yolk
1/2 cup dry Marsala or white wine
Vegetable Oil, for frying
Filling:
2 1/2 cups ricotta
3/4 cup confectioners’ sugar, plus for dusting
1/2 tsp finely grated orange zest
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Mini Chocolate Chips (optional)

How to Do it
For the cannoli shells:
Pulse the flour, granulated sugar, cinnamon and salt together in a food processor or mixer.  Add the butter and pulse until thoroughly combined.  Add the egg yolk and Marsala and process until the dough forms a ball.  Turn the dough out onto a piece of plastic wrap and flatten into a disk.  Refrigerate for 10 minutes.
Fill a large, wide pot with 2 inches of oil and heat over medium-high heat to 350 degrees F.
Meanwhile, lightly flour a work surface and roll the dough out into a thin circle, about 1/8-inch thick.  Cut out as many circles as possible.  Size should be large enough to wrap around the cannoli mold and overlap at the ends.  Gather scraps, re-roll, and cut out more circles.
Line a baking sheet with paper towels.  Wrap a circle of dough around a cannoli tube.  Lightly moisten an edge with water and pres the edges together very firmly to seal.  The main goal when making these is to make sure the cannolis do not pop open/come apart.  Repeat with as many cannoli tubes as you have.  Fry the tubes with the dough, turning once, until the shells are golden brown all over (4-5 minutes).  Carefully remove the tubes from the oil and slip off the cannoli shells onto the paper towels.  Let the tubes cool slightly, then repeat until all of the dough is fried, keeping the oil at 350 degrees F.  Cool the shells completely.
For the filling:
Mix the ricotta, confectioners’ sugar, orange zest and vanilla together in a bowl until smooth.  Fill a pastry bag (or ziploc bag) with the filling.  Hold a cannoli shell in one hand; with the other, insert the bag tip into the center of the shell and pipe out the filling.  Turn the shell around and fill the other side.  Repeat with the remaining shells and filling.  Arrange on a platter and dust with confectioners’ sugar.  Serve filled shells immediately.  You can store unfilled shells in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 4 days and fill when ready to serve.

I ordered some of the mini cannoli molds, so that’s why mine all look so tiny!  I thought they were pretty cute though.  I have pictures below!  If you try out the recipe let me know how it works for you in the comments!!!

It’s December!!!

‘It’s the most wonderful time of the year.’

It is DECEMBER!!!!  Also known as my absolute favorite month… Christmas is coming so so fast, and November went by in the blink of an eye!  November really was a pretty fun-filled month, and I’m anticipating December to fly by even quicker.  As far as my “accomplish list” for November went, I was able to accomplish a few things!!  Not all the things though.  The month seriously was over before I felt I could do much!  My blogging has not been as consistent here lately either… My laptop has started to slowly die on me, so I’m trying to work with what I have.  Anyways, back to the list:
     
Read at least 2 new books
              It happened!  I started re-reading the Series of Unfortunate Events in preparation for the new Netflix series, and am currently on book 6!
       Stop with all the TV   –   It didn’t happen….
      Train Cooper to stay in Place when people come to the door  –  Ummmm, still a WIP

       Read and Study 3 more books in the New Testament – It didn’t happen…
       Bake a cake that is actually edible (I’ve had about 3 EPIC fails in the last week and a half)
              After 2 more embarrassing fails, I opted to bake from boxed mixes from now on
Hang up my bedroom decor
              Done, Done & Done!!  I have 1 more thing to make for my wall!
 Convince my family to join me at church
              Done!  My mom and sister actually joined me in church, and both loved it!
Start running again  –  Since my allergies are still awful, I have been confined to indoors.

So basically, the month of December, I’m going to continue working on this list…

“Christmas time is here again…”

It is finally the month where it is acceptable to wear Christmas sweaters, randomly break out into Christmas songs (Hallelujah!), and watch ALL the Christmas movies (though I tend to do this year round).  The tree is up and fully decorated.  All the decorations are out and hung.  All the presents are wrapped and under the tree awaiting December 25.  Stockings are hung and slowly being filled.  And the ‘present’ of patience is upon us, as we await the celebration of Jesus’ birth!  It truly is the best time of the year.  So I have decided to share some of my Christmas favorites so far for this year:

adore_by_chris_tomlin
Buy it Here

My favorite Christmas CD this year is Adore by Chris Tomlin.  A worship twist on traditional Christmas Carols, but they are all pretty amazing.  

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Where are you Christmas?

download
Buddy the Elf, What’s your favorite color?

My favorite two Christmas movies of all time.  I tend to watch them year round though.

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And of course, my all time favorite Christmas Present!!!

When he answers ‘Yes.’

I have been perpetually single my entire life.  I’ve had the occasional boyfriend here or there, but nothing has ever really ‘stuck’.  My family is pretty used to me taking care of myself and not bringing anyone to family affairs.  Now, I am truly not complaining at all.  I actually work really, really well by myself (well with Cooper).  It’s just never been something in my life that I’m willing to push for.  I am not one to desperately search for a male companion.
Since graduating High School, I have had two ‘serious’ boyfriends.  I guess that’s what you’d call them.  I dated one guy in college for about three years.  I guess we were serious simply since we dated for so long.  At that point, I believe we both felt like it was just the right thing to do: Stay together and eventually get married.  We were just comfortable with each other. I prayed and prayed for guidance in the relationship, and that brought me to a brick wall with giant bolded letters on it saying “NO!”  At the time, I wasn’t just upset I was MAD. Why on earth would I waste this much time on one guy that I’m not even going to spend my life with? Of course now looking back, so much of it made sense.  I met so many different people because I dated him. Friends I have to this day are because of him. Years later when I moved to Houston one of these girls also moved to Houston, and I do not know what I would have done without her.  So in one way, God was giving me a hard, huge, No, but in so many better ways, he was saying “Just wait because you will be blessed for your obedience.” 

Fast forward three more years, and I managed to re-connect with a guy I had gone to High School with.  Perfect family, perfect guy, perfect friend group, perfect little area.  A whirlwind, long distance relationship quickly ensued.  After about 8 months in, we decided Cooper would be a great addition to our little family, but the responsibility of a dog proved to be a little much for him.  In the end a “it’s me or the dog” brought me to realize it wasn’t going to work out.  Although talks of marriage had happened,  it was a mutual feeling that it just simply wasn’t going to work.  In the midst of everything, my constant praying for guidance went a different route than previously. Instead of saying “God please show me your will and allow me to accept your plans,” it was more like “God please make this work because it’s what I want.”  And yet again, God simply said,”Not this time Brooke.”  However, the things I was blessed with from that short relationship are completely immeasurable.  It brought me Cooper, who has shown me a love I didn’t even know was possible. It brought me to re-connect with many of my old high school friends.  It even brought me a new friend, who I consider one of my absolute best friends now.  Again, God was working his own plan in the midst of my romantic implosion. He was showing me that although some roads lead to No, there are so many more Yesses along the way.

Sometimes I, we, focus on that final No way too much and oversee all the little Yesses he is also saying.  I truly trust in God’s plan for my future.  I know that once I do find my ‘Happy Ever After’, I will be shown an earthly love just like God’s heavenly love.  I believe every single ‘No’ I receive in my life will lead me to the next ‘Yes’.  Every time I bow my head, I ask God for guidance in his plan, and to allow my heart to trust in his will rather than my own.  I constantly thank God for each NO in my life, and pray that I am able to see every single YES, as small or large as it may be.  For the lord will never lead me into a place I am not supposed to be.

11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to  harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”                       Jeremiah 29:11


                                             

                                    

Thankful, Grateful, Blessed❤️

On this day of thankfulness, most people spend time reflecting on what they have been blessed with.  I think it would be nearly impossible for me to list out all of my blessings. A simple ‘Thank You Jesus‘ is the phrase constantly running through my head today.  Out of all years, I believe this year my heart is in a different place, a much better place, and I can step back and simply say ‘Wow.’ All the things I used to think I needed, I looked over SO many things I already have. I hope and pray for everyone today.  That you are able to just take a step back and say Wow. Instead of focusing on what you might want, you are able to see every single blessing in your life, and I hope you are in awe just like I have been.

To you and your family, I hope you have the most amazing Thanksgiving and start to the holiday season.  I pray for safe travels and happy times,  lots of delicious food and even more radiant laughs.

Happy Thanksgiving to all!!!

HAPPY BIRTHDAY MICKEY MOUSE

IT’S MICKEY’S BIRTHDAY!!!!

Tonight, me and Cooper will be celebrating by watching all things Mickey Mouse:  Steamboat Willie, Fantasia (next on my marathon list), Fun and Fancy Free, Mickey’s Christmas Carol… All things Mickey Mouse.

I’m thinking about making some sort of Mickey Mouse dessert item, just because I really want some chocolate (MICKEY MOUSE RICE CRISPIES).  I will most definitely be raising a glass to Mickey tonight!

I, luckily, was never the little kid that was afraid of giant costumed humans (not that I knew humans were inside the costumes).  I don’t remember most of my early Disney trips, but I do remember meeting Mickey Mouse, and getting his autograph, and being just totally amazed.  I guess in some way, since Walt Disney is no longer alive, he lives through Mickey Mouse, or at least that’s how I have always viewed it.  No, Walt wasn’t perfect, but no human actually is.  He was pretty inspirational though, and he has always inspired me to pursue my dreams.  If you look at the Disney movies, and the Disney songs, and the Disney parks, they all come back to the one theme:

“All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them.”
                                    Walt Disney

Mickey Mouse embodies this whole ideal to me!  To say “it all started with a mouse” is just completely mind-boggling.  A small tiny mouse is what started this HUGE, GIANT Corporation with hundreds of films, 11 different theme parks around the world, and a hundred different companies and studios.  One man’s faith in something so small was capable of growing to be an explosion of success and a lifetime of happiness for so many generations to come.  Today is a celebration of not only Mickey Mouse, but the birth of this incredible Company.

So Happy Birthday to the faith of yesterday, the hope in today and the courage for tomorrow!  Happy Birthday to the mouse who has always encouraged me to chase my dreams and not settle for anything less!  Happy Birthday to the Mouse that started it all!  

Happy Birthday Mickey Mouse!!