What I’m Thankful For

What I'm Thankful For 2016

In the last few weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, one of my most popular posts has been What I’m Thankful For which I posted last year just before Thanksgiving.  I’ve been surprised to see it move up my charts and is currently the 5th most popular post on my blog!  People must really want to know what I’m thankful for! *wink*

On Monday of this week, I posted an introduction to a series I’m participating in with Little Dove and other bloggers about #SimplifyingTheSeason.  The main purpose of this series is a reminder to refocus and simplify the holidays  It’s so easy to become immersed in all the activities going on that it’s equally as easy to forget the reason we celebrate in the first place.  I’m definitely not perfect at this and I have to remind myself regularly to just stop and take a step back.

And that’s why I like sharing what I’m thankful for.  To remind myself of all the good there is in my life, so I can look back on it during hard times and remember.  You’ll probably find some of the same things on this list that were on the list last year, but hey, I’m still grateful for them so they’re on the list again!

–I am grateful for my loving Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ.  “Oh, it is wonderful that He should care for me, enough to die for me. Oh, it is wonderful, wonderful to me.” (I Stand All Amazed, Hymns, 1985, no.193)

–I am thankful for my family, both immediate and extended.  Some of my most cherished relationships are with the members of my family.  They are there for me to lean on, to talk to, to cry with and to rejoice with.

–I am so thankful for my husband.  He is a rock.  He is supportive and loving and patient.  When I told him a little over a year ago that I wanted to start a blog, he was right there with me.  When I need help with the kids because we’ve had a rough day, he jumps in and makes us laugh.  He is a wonderful father to our children and someone they are proud to look up to, as am I.

–I am thankful for my children.  They love me on the best of days and the worst of days.  They teach me patience and kindness.  My kids are the best of friends and it makes my heart want to burst sometimes when I look at them.

–I am grateful for my friends, both those I’ve met in person and those who have become my friends through blogging and I’ve never actually met.  They have been there when I needed a shoulder to cry on, a word of encouragement or to jump for joy with me.  I treasure them and keep them close to my heart.

–I am thankful for my body and my ability to get up out of bed in the morning, go to dance class, play with my kids on the floor or chase them outside.

–I am so grateful for my freedom and for those who fight to protect it and the freedom of others.

–Lastly, I am thankful for YOU!  The last year has been crazy and fun and hard and amazing and you’ve been there with me.  Thank you for coming to my little part of the internet and reading my posts and leaving me comments.  It means so much to me.

I hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving and that you get to spend it with those you love.

Simplifying the Season

At the beginning of this month, we had a lesson at church about the trio of holidays–Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years–and talked at length about how they are each related to each other and why celebrating them together can actually enhance our enjoyment of the holiday season.  I hadn’t really thought about it in this way before but haven’t been able to get it out of my head.

Thanksgiving sets things up for us with our focus on gratitude and being thankful for what we’ve been blessed with in our lives.  I wrote a post about this at the beginning of the month just a couple of days before we had the lesson in church.  Someone made a comment during our lesson that when we show gratitude to God for our blessings, we receive a fullness of the blessing that we wouldn’t receive otherwise.  I think showing gratitude really grounds us.  As a family, we work together and rely on each other to grow and learn.  Last year, we started a couple of traditions that I really love and helps us get into an attitude of gratitude. 

After Thanksgiving comes Christmas.  I love that we have just been through a season of gratitude and that carries us into Christmas and a celebration of the birth of Christ.  We have a handful of traditions surrounding this holiday that I love and really help set the tone for the month of December.  Helping our children understand the reason for the season is one of our main focuses during the holiday.  We do our best to simplify our activities so we don’t become overwhelmed to the point that the magic and spirit of Christmas is lost.

Then comes the New Year when many of us make goals and promises to ourselves that we will try to improve in some way.  It is both a literal and symbolic chance for new beginnings.  We’ve just finished seasons of thanksgiving and celebrating Christ and I am often filled with feelings of hope and desire to do better.  I’ve found that it is often the simple changes I make in my life that make the biggest difference.

This holiday season, I’m teaming up with Justine from Little Dove and other talented bloggers to introduce the Simplifying the Season series.  The series will go from 11/21 to 12/26.  Each week there will be a post on Little Dove in this series: The Great Christmas Round Up (11/29), Focus on Family (12/5), Focus on Traditions (12/12), Focus on the Savior (12/19) and #SimplifyingTheSeason Link-Up Party (12/26).

If you’d like to participate in this series, it’s as simple as sharing how you are going to refocus and simply.  As Justine says on her blog:

“Share it on your blog, share it on your social media, just share it!  Maybe you have some tips about how to stay calm with holiday guests, maybe you have a family tradition you want to share that helps you focus on family time, whatever it is I want to know how it helps you with simplifying the season!  This should not be something that adds yet another thing to your holidays, just something to help you enhance them, helps to refocus them on what truly matters to you and your family this season.”

Be sure to use the hashtag #SimplifyingTheSeason and then link-up the week after Christmas.  Justine will be picking her favorite posts that she feels best exemplify the spirit of simplifying this holiday season to send a special gift to!

I encourage each of you to simplify and refocus during this season.  One of my favorite decorations I put up this time of year says “Simplify Christmas, Celebrate Christ”.  I truly believe that if we put even just a little bit of time and effort into doing this, we will be filled with the Christmas spirit.  Our burdens will feel lighter.  We will feel a stronger desire to help and serve others.  I love the magical feeling that accompanies this time of year and wish it could last all year round.

What are your favorite ways to simplify during the holidays?

Pumpkin Cake

Step aside pumpkin pie!  Pumpkin cake is taking your spot at Thanksgiving this year!

I am not even kidding when I say I have been waiting all year to share this recipe with you!  Pumpkin cake has been a family favorite of ours for years.  We actually stopped making pumpkin pie and make this instead every year for Thanksgiving!  Yes, it is that good.

Last year when I shared my pumpkin gingersnap recipe with you, I mentioned how my mom loves pumpkin any time of year.  She is no respecter of seasons when it comes to pumpkin!  I generally only make it in the fall, but if you happen to get a craving for this dessert in the middle of the summer, then you wouldn’t be the first! *wink*

There are three steps to this recipe, but all of them are easy.  Below are the ingredients you’ll need to make this delicious dessert.

Step aside pumpkin pie!  Pumpkin cake is taking your spot at Thanksgiving this year!

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

In a small bowl, measure 1 cup of the dry cake mix, 1/4 c. melted butter, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and allspice.  Mix together until combined.  Set aside.

Step aside pumpkin pie!  Pumpkin cake is taking your spot at Thanksgiving this year!

In a medium bowl, mix remaining cake mix, 1 egg and 1/2 c. melted butter. 

Step aside pumpkin pie!  Pumpkin cake is taking your spot at Thanksgiving this year!

Drop by large spoonfuls into the bottom of a 9×13 pan and press into an even layer.  (I recommend lining it with tin foil and spraying with cooking spray.)

Step aside pumpkin pie!  Pumpkin cake is taking your spot at Thanksgiving this year!

I rinsed out the medium bowl I used for the bottom layer and then beat together the pumpkin, salt, 2 eggs, vanilla, brown sugar, sugar, evaporated milk and milk.  You can do this by hand or with a mixer, but because it is liquidy, it tends to splatter a little bit.  Pour over the bottom layer.

Step aside pumpkin pie!  Pumpkin cake is taking your spot at Thanksgiving this year!

Sprinkle the spiced mixture over the pumpkin layer using your hands.  You don’t want it to be fine crumbs or large chunks–somewhere in between.

Step aside pumpkin pie!  Pumpkin cake is taking your spot at Thanksgiving this year!

Step aside pumpkin pie!  Pumpkin cake is taking your spot at Thanksgiving this year!

Bake at 350 degrees F for 1 hour and 5 minutes.  Remove from the oven and let it cool completely before serving.  We like it with whipped cream on top but vanilla ice cream is really yummy too!

Step aside pumpkin pie!  Pumpkin cake is taking your spot at Thanksgiving this year!

So let’s break this deliciousness down:

Step aside pumpkin pie!  Pumpkin cake is taking your spot at Thanksgiving this year!

Seriously, guys, I would not lead you astray!  Make this for Thanksgiving or your next holiday party and everyone will be asking for the recipe.

Pumpkin Cake
serves 20

Ingredients:

  • 1 box yellow cake mix
  • 1/4 c. butter, melted
  • 1 Tbsp. cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp. cloves
  • 1/8 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1/8 tsp. allspice
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 c. butter, melted
  • 2 c. pumpkin
  • 1/8 tsp. salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1/2 c. brown sugar
  • 1/2 c. sugar
  • 1/2 c. evaporated milk
  • 1/2 c. milk

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. In a small bowl, mix 1 cup dry yellow cake mix with 1/4 c. melted butter, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and allspice.  Set aside.
  3. In a medium bowl, mix remaining cake mix, 1 egg and 1/2 c. melted butter.  Press into bottom of a 9×13 pan.  (I recommend lining it with tin foil and spraying with cooking spray.)
  4. Beat together pumpkin, salt, 2 eggs, vanilla, brown sugar, sugar, evaporated milk and milk.
  5. Pour over pan mixture.
  6. Sprinkle spiced cake mix from step 2 over the top.
  7. Bake at 350 degrees F for 1 hour and 5 minutes.
  8. Let cool before serving.
  9. Serve with whipped cream.

Top 10 Posts of 2015

Top 10 Posts of 2015

Sunshine and Munchkins has been up and running for almost three months now and it’s been so much fun for me!  Lots of hard work and time, but I’ve loved being able to share my posts with you and hear from you as well.  As we begin a new year, I thought it would be fun to show you what my top 10 posts were for 2015!

Top 10 Posts of 2015

10. My FAVORITE Roll and Cut Cookies–The title says it all, but these really are my favorite cookies to make when using a cookie cutter.  They keep their shape, taste yummy and are so easy to make!  Be sure to save this recipe and use it for any holiday or event you want to decorate cookies for.  (Which is pretty much all of them, right?)

Top 10 Posts of 2015

9. 25 Easy Neighbor Gifts–Neighbor gifts aren’t just for the holidays.  They are great to drop by any time of year, for any reason.

Top 10 Posts of 2015

8. Traditions I’m Starting This Christmas–My family LOVED the traditions we started last year!  I’m excited to add some new ones this year.

Top 10 Posts of 2015

7. DIY No-Sew Burlap Table Runner with Tassels–Burlap is so versatile and this no-sew table runner has been part of my holiday decor for the last 3 months because it’s so darn cute.  Definitely one of my favorite and easiest projects I’ve ever done.

Top 10 Posts of 2015

6. Traditions I’m Starting This Thanksgiving–If you didn’t get a chance to see our Thankful Tree and Book of Thanks we did for Thanksgiving last year, be sure and check it out.  My family loved doing both of them and we will be continuing the traditions for years to come.

Top 10 Posts of 2015

5. Gift Guide: Men–So many of my friends and family have told me they struggle with coming up with gift ideas for the men in their life, so I compiled a HUGE list!  This is a great list for birthdays, Christmas, anniversary and Father’s Day.

Top 10 Posts of 2015

4. Gift Guide: Parents and Grandparents–Just like men can be hard to buy for, parents and grandparents are too because in many cases, they can just go out and purchase anything they might want or need.  Check out this list for a bunch of great ideas for birthdays, Christmas, anniversary and Mother’s Day/ Father’s Day.

Top 10 Posts of 2015

3. 23 Free Thanksgiving Coloring Pages and Activities–Lots of waiting goes on during Thanksgiving break and Thanksgiving Day.  Why not print off some coloring and activity pages to keep your kids hands busy while the food cooks (and maybe yours too!)?  Pin it now and print it out in November.  (Or October if you’re Canadian.)

Top 10 Posts of 2015

2. 6 Simple Ways to “Halloween-ify” Your Home–Besides including a cute, free printable for you, I also give 5 more easy ways you can decorate your home for Halloween without spending a lot of money.

And the #1 most popular post in 2015…

Top 10 Posts of 2015

1. Awesome Non-Candy Alternatives for Halloween–I was so excited that so many people liked this post!  As much fun as candy is on Halloween, I think that providing non-candy alternatives is a great option.  One person told me that they were specifically thanked by a family for providing something different than candy for their children.  I love hearing stories like that.  But don’t limit yourself to Halloween with this post.  Valentine’s Day is coming up and you could use many of these same suggestions for your children to give out to their friends.

Thank you so much to everyone who has read, commented, shared, liked and pinned my posts!  It means a lot.  I’m excited for 2016 and what it will bring!

What types of posts would you like to see more of this year?

Splitting Time Between Family During the Holidays

Splitting Time Between Family During the Holidays--great tips on how to balance holiday time with family

The first Christmas my husband and I celebrated after getting married was probably my least favorite.  And it had nothing to do with him!  It had to do with the fact that we tried to split our day between five different places.  By the time we made it to our last stop of the day, we were tired and cranky.  We did our best to muster up the last bit of energy we had, but I’m sure everyone (including us) could tell that our hearts just weren’t in it.  On our way home that night, we vowed that we were never going to allow ourselves to do another Christmas like the one we’d just had.

My husband and I are in a somewhat unique situation in that our families and most of our siblings are all in the same state.  In addition to this, my parents are divorced which means we have three sets of parents.  While we love having so much family nearby, we don’t like it as much during the holidays because it always seems like someone doesn’t get visited or an event can’t be attended.  We’ve experienced a lot of frustration and guilt over the years as we have tried to make everyone happy, to the exclusion of ourselves.

Since that first Christmas almost seven years ago, we’ve gone through a lot of trial and error when it comes to planning how to spend our time during the holidays.  We don’t have it all figured out, but maybe you can learn from our experience and go on to enjoy the holidays a little more fully.

Splitting Time Between Family During the Holidays--great tips on how to balance holiday time with family

You can’t please everyone  This is a hard one for many people, including myself.  I love the holidays and I love spending time with family.  But there is no way to do everything everyone wants you to do every year.  That’s what my husband and I did our first Christmas and it wasn’t enjoyable for anyone.  We hated having to leave family after being with them for such a short time.  We hated having to reject their pleas to stay for “just 10 more minutes”.  And we hated knowing that we were going to have to go through the same thing at the next place we were headed.  We finally learned that no matter how well we tried to schedule our time to fit as much in as possible, someone was always going to be unhappy.  SO now we have to take a look at each major holiday and ask ourselves: “What is best for our family?”  It changes a little from year to year depending on who’s in town, the kids’ nap time, etc.  But we found that if we took care of our family first, everything else was easier to schedule because we already had our basic schedule in place.  This change didn’t happen quickly and it’s taken some time to implement, but compared to our first Christmas, everything runs much more smoothly and I think that everyone is happier because they know what to expect.

Establish fluid traditions  You’ve heard the saying that goes something along the lines of  “celebrating Christmas all year long and not just at Christmastime”.  The idea of course being that we can have the feeling that surrounds Christmas all the time.  I think that this applies to holiday traditions (and other traditions) as well.  We can do different activities throughout the holidays that doing have to happen right on or around Christmas Day (or Thanksgiving or whatever holiday you are celebrating).  By spreading them out, I think it just adds to the excitement and joy of the season.  Holidays are so busy and if the only time you do certain things are during the holidays, it’s possible that doing those activities might lend to more anxiety or frustration rather than the happiness of the event because it’s squished in between everything else you have going on.  (Which leads me to my next point…)

Splitting Time Between Family During the Holidays--great tips on how to balance holiday time with family

Be flexible and willing to compromise  Since having kids, I’ve learned to be more flexible with my time.  I still like planning and schedules and routines, but they aren’t as set in stone as I used to insist on.  Since being married, I’ve learned that true compromise, where both of us are happy with the final decision, is equally important.  Back to my husband and I on our first Christmas: we both wanted to see our families on Christmas, so the “compromise” we made was that we’d spend time with my family during the first half of the day and his family during the second half of the day.  This sounded great in theory, but in practice, we didn’t even make it over to his parent’s house until 8pm that night.  The next year, we spent a little less time with my family and more time with his.  Gradually, we’ve been able to work out a system that my husband and I agree on.  It changes a little from year to year, of course, but the holidays are actually enjoyed instead of dreaded or something to get through.

Splitting Time Between Family During the Holidays--great tips on how to balance holiday time with family

Reaffirm your love to those you can’t see or spend time with  I remember the first year I wasn’t able to make it to my grandma’s annual Christmas Eve party.  I don’t remember why I couldn’t make it, but I felt horrible.  It didn’t seem like Christmas.  When I saw her the next day, I made sure to tell her again that I was sorry I couldn’t come and that I loved her.  I never realized how much holidays and the traditions surrounding them meant to me until the routine I’d grown up with was changed.  Inevitably, there will be someone you can’t see or an event you can’t attend during the holidays.  But I definitely think it softens the blow when you sincerely tell that person(s) that you love them and they are still special and important to you, even though you weren’t able to see them.

The holidays can be challenging when it comes to splitting time between family, but hopefully at least one of these suggestions will help you.

What has helped you when deciding how to split time between family during the holidays?

Happy {Day After} Thanksgiving

I hope you all had a great Thanksgiving holiday!  I know we sure did.  I loved starting new traditions this year and we will definitely be continuing them for years to come.  One thing I especially love about these new traditions is that they can be used in any situation or circumstance and they can be adapted to your own family and resources.  You don’t need money or time to share what you’re thankful for.

My daughter has really enjoyed doing her “thankful leaves” every day and she has been a great reminder to me and my husband to do ours.  It was so neat to be able to hear what/who she was thankful for.  Our thankful tree really filled up fast, even with just three people to add to it, and seeing it each day in our front room filled me with happiness.

Our Book of Thanks turned out even better than I had imagined.  Everyone there was able to take a little bit of time throughout the day and write as few or as many words as they wanted about what they were thankful for.  I really enjoyed looking through it at the end of the day and I know it will be a treasure now and in the years ahead.  As I was putting it together, I decided to include the coloring pages my son, daughter and I did at the end of everything else.  I think it will be fun to see how their coloring skills change over the years.

Did you do a Thankful Tree or Book of Thanks this year?  What was your favorite part of your Thanksgiving celebration?

What I’m Thankful For

Today, I am thankful.

I am so incredibly grateful for all that I have and I have been given so much that I want to share with you the things that I am most thankful for…

–I am thankful for my Heavenly Father and Savior, Jesus Christ.

–I am thankful for my family, both immediate and extended.  They are a great support system in good and bad times. Due to my parent’s divorce, I don’t have just two sides, but three, which gives me more people to love and who love me.

What I'm Thankful For

What I'm Thankful For

What I'm Thankful For

–I am thankful for my husband.  He is thoughtful and caring.  He is a wonderful father to our kids and they adore him.  He works hard at his job during the day and helps me at home in the evening.  He’s also been so supportive of me and encouraging when I try new things, be it craft projects or hobbies or this blog.

What I'm Thankful For

–I am thankful for my two beautiful kids.  They bring so much joy into my life and the lives they touch.  I love that they are best friends and so sweet to each other.  They teach me how to be a better person.

What I'm Thankful For

–I am thankful for my friends.  I don’t have a lot of them that I’d consider close, but those that I do have are a great treasure to me and I’m grateful for their love and support, as well as the fun times we’ve shared.  They are the friends that you can jump right back into things with even when you haven’t seen or talked to them in ages.

–I am thankful for my health.  I am a generally healthy person and I don’t get sick hardly ever, which I count as a great blessing.

–I am thankful for my home and that it is a safe place for my family–a wonderful place where they can feel loved and where we can create happy memories.

–I am thankful for hard things because I learn about about myself and my strengths and weaknesses.  I’ve learned that I can’t do it by myself and that when I ask for help, I am surrounded by family and friends who love me and lift me.

-I am also thankful to you–my readers!  As much fun as it is for me to put these posts together, it makes it so much more meaningful to me when I know you are reading them.

Happy Thanksgiving!  I hope you get to spend it with loved ones.

And remember…be thankful always, not just this time of year.  It’s so easy for the feelings of gratitude we feel during this season to be swallowed up in the excitement of Christmas.  I hope we can each carry a grateful heart with us throughout the year.