Twelve Days of Christmas Carols

It’s always fascinating to me when we dive into the lives of the people who wrote the hymns and carols we sing each Sunday in church.  Many of them led remarkable lives and continue to teach us through the faith they upheld and the music they shared.

Benjamin Russel Hanby was born in 1833 in Rushville, Ohio.  His father was a conductor on the Underground Railroad (of which many believe Benjamin Hanby played a part), helping slaves escape to freedom in Canada.

In his somewhat short life, he graduated from college, became a United Brethren minister, started a singing school, and worked as editor for a publishing company (hymnary.org).

He died before he turned 40 in 1867 (the year of Canada’s birth as a nation).  In that time period, he wrote over 500 songs and hymns!  What’s incredible to me is that he wrote both this amazing carol above and the Christmas ditty, Up On the Housetop.  It seems extremely incongruous.

This hymn is well-loved because it takes us through the entire life of Christ, missing only His imminent return one day.  What a great hymn to teach children, giving them both doctrine and Biblical history at the same time.

As we embark on a new year, let’s work to keep our focus on the Gospel and on Christ’s work here on earth, every single day.

One Pan Fall Casserole

I rarely share recipes on my blog, because, quite frankly, I hate to cook.  Like seriously hate to cook.  I have a couple friends that I joke around with sometimes about having our own little commune.   I would teach everybody’s children, one mom would do all the cooking, and the other would do all the cleaning, hah.  Seriously, that sounds more amazing to me than anything.

HOWEVER

Cooking is a necessity when you’re a wife/mom and sometimes you hit the jackpot.   Now, one friend who tasted this recipe ended up adding some of her own dressing to it to spice it up – but I liked it totally as is.   I had seen a similar recipe on Pinterest but since I rarely follow a recipe to a T (read: never have the same ingredients so I substitute what I think will work) this really became my own recipe.  I drive people crazy when I tell them “I found this amazing recipe but I didn’t have this so I used this, and I didn’t have this, so I used this,…” You get the idea.  And I rarely have all the ingredients for something because I’m a terrible cook and never buy things that cooks/chefs would have normally have on hand.

I love the idea of one pan for making a meal (although, I have to admit, I boiled my chicken first, so that would make two pans/pots) as I also hate doing dishes, hah.  I found aluminum throw-away pans at Costco for super cheap (cheaper than the dollar store) and they’re great for making meals in, especially if you double the recipe and put half in the freezer.    And this can be a super cheap recipe if you use vegetables that are on sale (or on the clearance rack at your grocery store).

I made one for our meal and one for the freezer the night I made this.  And it made enough for about 6 servings (for those with somewhat large families).   My kids eat very little at supper but my husband took a good portion for his lunch and I shared another container with a friend and her husband for lunch…so it stretched pretty far.

One Pan Fall Casserole

Ingredients:

4-6 Chicken breasts (thawed; or boiled if frozen)

1-2 large sweet potatoes OR 4-6 medium white potatoes – the more potatoes you add the larger the cassarole will be

2 small peppers (or 1 large)

2 carrots, chopped in circles

1 onion

1/2 squash (I actually used 1/4 of a squash in each pan I made as I only had half a squash in my fridge – it was plenty)

3 small apples (or as much as you want for added sweetness)

!/2 cup of cranberries (option for added sweetness)

1 Tbsp Italian seasoning

3 cloves of garlic

1/4 cup oil

Apple cider vinegar

Uncooked bacon

 

Directions:

  1. Boil chicken in water with 2 TBSP of apple cider vinegar (gives the chicken a nice flavour) for about 10 minutes.   Combine 2 TBSP of oil with a splash or two of apple cider vinegar, the Italian seasoning, and garlic.  Place chicken in a plastic bag and pour oil mixture over chicken, rubbing it in.   Let sit while you do the rest.
  2. Chop veggies and place in a pan.   I have written in the vegetables that I used because those are what I had in my fridge, but you could sub in any veggies that are in season in your area (ie, green beans, peas, corn, brussel sprouts, etc).    Add the apples, diced, with skin on (or you can choose to peel but it’s a little more work and who needs that?)
  3. Pour remaining oil over vegetables and stir to coat (this is so the veggies don’t stick and burn while they are roasting).
  4. Place chicken breasts on top of vegetables (alternatively, you could cut the chicken into cubes and mix right into the casserole if you only have so much chicken to work with – this can make it stretch farther).
  5. Sprinkle with uncooked, chopped bacon
  6. Bake at 450 for 30 minutes (or until vegetables/potatoes are soft when poked with a fork).

 

If you didn’t want to make a huge pan of this, I could also see it over rice – also making it stretch farther.  Or if you made a big pan, you could serve up to 10 people with this casserole by putting rice under it.   I’m all about stretching a meal.   My rule of thumb is to keep my meat servings to about $5 per meal, which I know doesn’t sound like much.  Sometimes it’s more but not very often.  When I make a roast (costs about $10-$13 at the local meat store we buy from) we always have some for lunches the next day.  I serve a family of 4 (two of whom are children who don’t eat much).   When the kids are older and eating more I will, obviously, have to adjust this number accordingly.

I did make this in two pans and put one in my freezer.  I kept the chicken off and will do that part of it when I pull the pan out of the freezer.  I’m a freak about meat and food poisoning so I didn’t like the idea of half cooking the chicken and then re-freezing (which is a huge no-no in my house).   I suppose you could cook this in its entirety and then freeze but, since I made this on a church night, I didn’t have time to cook the second one before we had to leave.

The only thing I regret is not taking a picture.  So I’ll update this post next time I make it and post a picture of the meal.  Or you can do a search for similar meals on google and see what they “look” like.

My husband loved this meal and even my kids gave it a thumbs up (which is huge in my house).   If you try it, let me know what you think, or if you would tweak anything. =)

 

Blue Sun – Book Review

Blue Sun by [Abrey, Tracy]

A week or so ago I mentioned Blue Sun on my Facebook page.  I hope you guys took advantage of it’s price (free at the time) – although from what I’ve seen on Amazon this book is still a really good price as e-books go (especially for one of good quality).

Genny Hazard is experiencing twinges of bitterness as her plane touches down on the Isle of Man in the British Isles.  Uprooted from her home in the States at the beginning of her senior year of highschool, she still can’t help but be impressed that her dad is working on alternative energy for the isle.

However, from the moment her plane lands, Genny finds herself enshrouded in a mystery that includes stalkers with a disturbing red tattoo, a mysterious castle that no one can get to, and mythology that makes her question her scientific beliefs.

I’ll admit I was extremely skeptical about the book as I started reading.  And, in all honesty, the only reason I picked it up was because it was free last weekend – and I knew the author.  If I hadn’t known Ms. Abrey I would probably not have started reading it at all.  Fantasy is not really my genre when it comes to books, but with this one I have to admit that I was pleasantly surprised.   I only had a few moments of “Really???”  I find folklore fascinating but I don’t dive into the world of fairies as reality.   However, I thought Ms. Abrey did an amazing job of weaving the two together without creating an unrealistic world.

Minus the “flying humanoid” and the “blue glow” mystery (I can’t give away that part), I found the book very believable on a whole and I like reality.   The essence of the book is fantasy, though, and you will find that it is really based on that.

One thing that I really liked was how Tracy Abrey wove the Bible into it without making it weird.  I honestly wondered how she could mix the two, Bible and mythology, but I think she did an amazing job of weaving the two together without causing you to question her theology.   My mom (originally from Ireland) always cautioned me about pagan folklore and it’s Satanic origins so I was expecting to feel a little awkward about that, but I found that Ms. Abrey really stayed away from that aspect, even though, at times, I thought she was heading that direction.   I think that’s one of the things that really made me want to keep reading.  I was trying to find fault with what she had written so I could feel justified in not having read it over a year ago when Ms. Abrey first contacted me about it.  I know, that’s terrible!

This book was a really great read and would be a good option for those looking for good books for their older teens (it is published as young adult fiction).

About the Author:

IMG_0989

Tracy Abrey has been passionate about writing since stating in her second grade  “school days” book that when she grew up she wanted to write books. Earning a BA in English literature and French from Houston Baptist University and having taught high school English as she pursued her MA in English literature at DePaul University, her childhood passion has morphed into an adult career focused on young adult urban fantasy. Tracy has lived in Canada, France, and England and currently resides in the US with her husband and two children.

On a personal note: Ms. Abrey used to babysit me when I was a young girl and our families attended the same church.  One of my favorite memories of her is of her taking my name and putting it into a song (that belongs to the ’80’s, trust me) and coming up with Manda Panda.  That nickname has stuck with me since she started it so many years ago and it never fails to make me think of her every time someone calls me that.

Although we didn’t stay in touch as much as we would have liked, our families still managed to maintain a thread of contact, visiting with them in the States and even attending Ms Abrey’s wedding.  Facebook made that thread a little thicker and I have enjoyed seeing her progress as she wrote this book and the sequel.

In relation to this book, Tracy told me, “It was important to me in the creation of this series to provide a clean, but still riveting story for teens (and adults!) who deserve an exciting read that isn’t inundated with sex and swearing.”   THAT, to me, is a great thing for ALL books.  I definitely look forward to reading more from her in the future and can’t wait to start Book 2 in the Blue Sun Series (Dark Waters)

You can check out Ms Abrey’s website at:  tracyabrey.com

Find her books on Amazon.com – For Americans

 Amazon.ca  – For Canadian

Something for the Littles – Apron Sewing

This year for Christmas I decided to do some sewing for the Littles.   They both love to help me in the kitchen and having a cute apron would just add to the fun factor of that.  I still remember the aprons that my mom made for us when we were kids helping her.  I loved putting on my apron and playing “cook” – even when my mom was still in charge of the kitchen.

Aprons used to be an integral part of a women’s dress each day, keeping her clothes clean while she worked around the house.  While many women do still wear them, it almost seems to be a fad that has fallen by the way-side.  On my own part, even though I sewed myself one last year (and plan on making more) I often forget to put it on and have ruined so many shirts because of it.  There’s a reason we wear aprons!

 Something for the Littles

Found on Walmart.ca

Little Miss’s big gift for Christmas this year was a little kitchen set.  Both the Littles love playing with toy kitchens and I had been wanting to get her one for a while but it had never worked out before.  I didn’t want a huge thing, as I hate toys taking over our house, so I was pretty pleased when I was able to pick up this little kitchen (in different colours) pretty cheap before Christmas, along with some food items and dishes.  But, I knew I wanted to add an apron to the present (even just for helping mom in the real kitchen).

I scoured Pinterest for many days before diving into making an apron.  Having a pretty good background in sewing now I had a general idea of how to put it together, but I wanted it to have cuteness factor as well (she’s a girl…let’s face it, they love cuteness).  I didn’t see exactly what I wanted, but I got the general idea of how to make it and decided to put my own spin on it.

This is the finished product:

Something For the Littles - Apron Sewing #QuietWorkings

I had seen some women’s aprons that had the gathered top part and decided I wanted to do that with Little Miss’s.  The only problem was, I wasn’t sure how wide to make it to give the proper gathers.  I made double the width of her chest, but I almost feel like it could have had a couple more inches for a  more gathered look.

Apron Sewing #QuietWorkings

The main part of the apron I made in an oval shape and had actually planned on adding lace to the edge, but forgot to put it in when I sewed the front and back together.  One of those grrr moments – and I wasn’t taking it apart to actually do it once the whole thing was sewn!

I attached two long straps to the top part of the apron and added velcro to the ends and to the sides of the apron, that way the straps could loosen as she grew.

Kitchen Sewing: What I Disliked:
  1. The top part could have been more gathered than it was, and maybe a bit wider (the apron may be too small by next year and not really grow with her like I had originally planned)
  2. The bottom oval should have been wider for more coverage.  I feel like it’s “okay”, not “amazing” – but I know I’m way more critical of my own creations than others are.
What I Loved:
  1. It’s girly =)   Even without the lace on the edging.  I love the pink materials, and there is some gathering at the top that just lends a “cuteness” factor to it.
  2. It’s reversible – somewhat.  I understand the construction of it a bit more now and can’t wait to make another one that will be reversible.  I used two different fabrics on this one and I loved the idea of it being reversible – the only reason I say this one is “somewhat” reversible is because I only did the gathers at the top on one side, so if you turn it around it has a weird bunch to it that it may not have if both sides are gathered.  It would still work but might just look “funny”.

The other neat piece that finished off this ensemble was a chef’s hat.  And seriously, Little Miss loves this part of it.  She is only 2, so she struggles with getting it on, but overall, it’s awesome!

Again, I scoured Pinterest for ideas on this one.  I saw a great website with a cute-looking one, but it didn’t have a tutorial, so I had to keep looking.  I found this great tutorial from Ikat Bag on How to Make an Adjustable Chefs Hat.  It was really easy to follow.  The only issues I had was getting the hat to gather.  Traditionally, I have done a large basting stitch and then pulled one thread to make the gathers.  Unfortunately, when I tried that my thread got stuck and ended up breaking on me.  Then I tried using elastic thread.  That did not work, either.  To be honest, I think the tension on my machine was having issues.  Finally, I put the tension as tight as it would go and put the hat back through the machine and ended up getting it to gather enough that I could get the band onto it, and just added a few more tucks as I sewed the band on…and it worked.   I love having the velcro on it to make it adjustable.  If she has friends over they can wear it, etc.

For Little Man I gave him a different look with the apron.  I had some really cute cowboy material and used that to make him a more boyish apron.

Apron Sewing #QuietWorkings

He loves to help me in the kitchen and this way their clothes won’t get ruined if they spill oil or anything on themselves.  His was made following a tutorial (loosely) from Patchwork Posse.  I had more than a fat quarter, so I just made my own measurements for how big I wanted it but patterned it after her tutorial.  Instead of making the back bigger than the front and having a wide edge on it, I made both sides the same size (say that 10 times fast, haha), sewed right sides together, and turned it out (don’t forget your two side ties in there and the top one).  I also added two D rings, to make the top adjustable so Little Man can get it on and off his head easier.  If I did it again, I might leave off the D-rings and just use velcro and do one long tie on one side that wraps around and velcros to the other side so that he can get in and out of it himself (he is super independent).  But overall I was pretty happy with how it turned out.  I didn’t get his hat finished in time for Christmas but it’s cut out and ready to go.

Something for the Littles - Apron Sewing #QuietWorkings

I get the impression the aprons are a hit. =)

 

Carol and the Belles – A Christmas Story Review

Have you ever read a story that resonated with you?  Where you felt you could live in that story?  A couple years ago I found a free book offer on Amazon for a book serial called Past Forward.  Are you familiar with serials?  Years ago newspapers used to print serials and every week you would get the next installment of a story.  Amazon serials work on the same premise, although authors don’t have to post weekly.  But, the author of this particular serial, Chautona Havig, works hard to keep her stories moving.  Past Forward still remains my favorite book to date and I even named my daughter after the main character.  I felt like I could have been her.

Since that first book, I have read almost all of Chautona’s books, from the Regency Files (think spy-type novel), to Aggie’s Inheritance (want to know what living with a house full of kids is like?), to the Hartfield Mysteries (you guessed it: mystery).  She also has a number of stand alone novels.  I balled through A Bird Died (a true story about her grandson).   Most of her books go on sale for $1 or FREE at some point or another and I love that she just wants readers to have good content.  She also has a good editor and I have never had an issue with spelling mistakes, grammatical errors, etc, like many other “free” books on Amazon.

Some of her books I LOVED (like Past Forward and Hearthland) and some I didn’t enjoy so much (the main character in Noble Pursuits seemed a little too perfect).   However, that being said, I really like how she creates characters with real spiritual problems.  She gives us something to think about in each book, something that challenges us in our walk with the Lord.  She uses people from every walk of life and different religious affiliations to teach us not to judge a book by it’s cover.   Her current serial, Hearthland, is bringing a number of very different characters together but I love that they worship together, talking about salvation (one of the main characters comes to know the Lord through the testimony of a couple of the other ones), and encouraging struggling Christians to turn back to the Lord.  She totally twists the “religious” stereotypes that many of us carry around and encourages us to think the way the Lord did in regards to others.

A couple months ago Chautona Havig offered some of her readers the opportunity to read her books while she was writing them, give her feedback, and write reviews at the end.  It was neat to see her process as she worked through a novel (although I am so not patient in waiting for the installments!!!!).

Carol and the Belles - A Christmas Story Review

Carol grew up in an orphanage in Romania, and Chautona shares some of the struggles that this character went through.  Michal grew up in America with a loving family.  The two meet through letters when they are 9 years old through a pen pal program.  They remain fast friends until, many years later, Carol is given the opportunity to travel to America to work with Ralph at Hearthland in the artisan store.  the two pen pals meet and many more lessons are learned as they work through misunderstandings and the true meaning of love.

You will love the play on words that Chautona has created here, as well as the lessons in chivalry, honesty, and bravery that her characters portray.

I really enjoyed this book and it’s relationship to the Hearthland series (second on my list of favorites next to Past Forward).  You will love the twists and turns this story takes and will be surprised at how it ends.  Chautona Havig truly is a gifted writer.  If you’re looking for a great Christmas read this season, I heartily recommend Carol and the Belles.

Happy Reading. =)