Melted SnowmenAfter all the hoopla yesterday involved with celebrating the 4th of July, riding home in the car with the windows down was the perfect way to end it all. It was a perfect 75 degrees and breezy, traffic was practically non-existent, and I thought about how much I’m going to miss all this warmness when winter comes again lol!

Granted, there is something fun about having snow at Christmas, and in order for snow to happen it must be cold. But, I’m just not missing it right now. Nonetheless, I’m attempting to get into the spirit of Christmas in July, but it don’t come easy for this warm-weather loving girl. If you, on the other hand, are participating, I’ve got a very fun idea for a picnic treat!

Aren’t they adorable, these melted snowmen? These would be great little buddies to your s’mores around the campfire and will help you use up all the marshmallows that are left. Combine those fluffy spheres with a plain sugar cookie and some icing and you’ll definitely put a smile on a bunch of faces. Promise.

While I am not wishing for cold weather today, this is one snowy treat I can sign on for. How about you?

Photo credit

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July 4th partyIt’s set to be a lovely day here in Minneapolis, a perfect day really for celebrating our nation’s independence. The sun’ll be out, the temperature will climb to a comfortable 80 degrees, and you can bet there will be no lack of partying going on later tonight. It’s always so much fun when July 4th falls on a Friday. It means we won’t have to put on an extra pot of coffee for the next morning just to get ourselves to work.

Peppermint Ice CreamWith the heat increasing in most parts of our country, ice cream is always a favorite treat. One of our absolute favorite flavors around the holidays….okay, let’s be real, absolutely any day, week or month of the year….is peppermint ice cream. And, what do ya know, it is both very holiday-ish and July 4th, all wrapped into one.

Mint Chocolate Ice Cream

Now, we’ve never been too successful at finding our brand in the store in the summer, but that hasn’t stopped us from enjoying the flavor of candy canes in the off season. I turn to none other than the Pioneer Woman for a homemade peppermint ice cream recipe! And, if you are more of a mint chocolate kind of ice cream eater, she’s got you covered there too. You can find both recipes here.

Here’s wishing you all a blessed time with family and friends today, celebrating our freedom!

Photo Credit:  Picnic, Ice Cream

 

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Lady LibertyHere in the states we are, of course, getting ready to celebrate Independence Day. Summer here in Minnesota seems to have finally arrived, albeit a much cooler version than we’re used to. Some of my southern friends are always shocked when they hear me say that it got into the 90′s, even low 100′s, as if in Minnesota we are in a perpetual winter. Hahahaaa, well, many of us here wonder sometimes if the thermometer will revive again, but it always does even if it’s a bit lazy like this year.

Snowball Water BalloonsI’m intrigued by this idea of celebrating Christmas in July. Apparently some people miss the snow and cold (clearly they live some place that doesn’t get much!), and when it’s really hot outside, celebrating Christmas brings relief.

While I don’t think I’ll be looking for any relief from the warm weather anytime soon, I have to admit that throwing a Christmas in July party is a pretty interesting idea, and could be lots of fun. Think picnic, badminton, and “snowball” fights. :)

Hallmark gets in on the action too. What started out as a way to promote their new ornaments turned into a movie marathon that families around the world look forward to! Truth is, Christmas in July is pretty much a marketers dream come true. :)

So, if you are in the states, however you celebrate the 4th of July tomorrow, go ahead and add a little Christmas to it. Throw a Santa hat over the back of the chair, decorate a tree with the red, white and blue, and if you want to take it to the limits, plan a gift exchange. If you hail from another land, you can get in on the action too since Christmas in July goes clear to the middle of the month.

Merry Christmas in July!

Photo Credit:  Lady Liberty, Water Balloons

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Christmas Stories | Pranking Pastors

by CSweeney on June 28, 2014

in Christmas

prank-your-kidsHaving raised three beautiful but rambunctious sons, I know that the repertoire of pranks that dwell in a young boys heart are without limit and always in motion! And we had our own share of high school pranks, which when compared with some of the pranks that teens play now seem quite mild.

Nonetheless, at the time we had to come up with creative ways of dealing with toilet paper all over the yard, and phone calls asking if our refrigerator was running. So annoying at the time, but so funny now. Ah perspective!

Today’s Christmas story tells a tale of one such innocent prank, with the assistance of none other than the pastor of the local church!

Pastor Tony is walking down the street on Christmas eve when he notices Larry, a small boy, trying to ring the doorbell of a house across the street.  However, Larry is very small and the doorbell is too high for him to reach.

After watching the boy’s efforts for some time, Pastor Tony moves closer to Larry’s position. He steps smartly across the street, walks up behind the little fellow and, placing his hand kindly on the child’s shoulder, leans over and gives the doorbell a solid ring.

Crouching down to Larry’s level, Pastor Tony smiles benevolently and asks, ‘And now what, my little man?’

To which Larry replies with a beaming grin,

‘Now we run!’

Photo and story courtesy

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Christmas Stories | Going For A Ride

by CSweeney on June 27, 2014

in Christmas

little red wagonThe infamous little red wagon has stirred up more stories than nearly any other childhood toy. And, it’s not just a toy, or even considered a toy by a child. It is more a tool, their primary mode of transporting goods.

Depending on the gender of the child, the items carried in the red wagon will vary, anything from a harvest of applies or a pile of rocks to captured creatures to a little brother or sister.

Today’s Christmas story reveals the heart of a child, so tender and playful. It goes like this:

It was the day after Christmas at St. Peter and St. Paul’s church in Borden, Kent, England. Father John, the vicar, was looking at the nativity scene outside when he noticed the baby Jesus was missing from the figures.

Immediately, Father John’s thoughts turned to calling in the local policeman but as he was about to do so, he saw little Nathan with a red wagon, and in the wagon was the figure of the little infant, Jesus.

Father John approached Nathan and asked him, ‘Well, Nathan, where did you get the little infant?’

Nathan looked up, smiled and replied, ‘I took him from the church.’

‘And why did you take him?’

With a sheepish grin, Nathan said, ‘Well, Father John, about a week before Christmas I prayed to Lord Jesus. I told him if he would bring me a red wagon for Christmas, I would give him a ride around the block in it.’

A little boy just keeping his promise. :)

Credits:  Story source, red wagon

 

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bedtime storiesReading bedtime stories is a favorite, universal tradition. And, if your kids are anything like mine, they definitely have their favorites. I could read one of those favored stories every night for a month, and they’d never grow tired of it! There is something about hearing a familiar story that calms their little hearts and gives them permission to drop off to sleep.

Apparently there are a few rather well known Christmas stories that have circulated, and have become very helpful in helping the kids settle down, especially on the nights leading up to Christmas! Their little bodies just have the hardest time giving it up for another day, hahahaa! I thought it’d be fun to share a few of these stories with you over the next few posts.

Today’s story comes from England, and is entitled The Missing Five Pound Note. It goes like this:

Chippenham George worked for the Post Office and his job was to process all the mail that had illegible addresses.  One day just before Christmas, a letter landed on his desk simply addressed in shaky handwriting: ‘To God’.  With no other clue on the envelope, George opened the letter and read:

Dear God,

I am an 93 year old widow living on the State pension.  Yesterday someone stole my purse.  It had £100 in it, which was all the money I had in the world and no pension due until after Christmas.  Next week is Christmas and I had invited two of my friends over for Christmas lunch.  Without that money, I have nothing to buy food with.  I have no family to turn to, and you are my only hope.  God; can you please help me?

Chippenham George was really touched, and being kind hearted, he put a copy of the letter up on the staff notice board at the main Fareham sorting office where he worked.  The letter touched the other postmen and they all dug into their pockets and had a whip round.  Between them they raised £95.  [$170 USD] Using an officially franked Post Office envelope, they sent the cash on to the old lady, and for the rest of the day, all the workers felt a warm glow thinking of the nice thing they had done.

Christmas came and went.  A few days later, another letter simply addressed to ‘God’ landed in the Sorting Office.  Many of the postmen gathered around while George opened the letter.  It read,

Dear God,Christmas Stories

How can I ever thank you enough for what you did for me? Because of your generosity, I was able to provide a lovely luncheon for my friends.  We had a very nice day, and I told my friends of your wonderful gift – in fact we haven’t gotten over it and even Father John, our parish priest, is beside himself with joy.  By the way, there was £5 [$10 USD] missing.  I think it must have been those thieving fellows at the Post Office.

George could not help musing on Oscar Wilde’s quote:  ’A good deed never goes unpunished’

Credits:  Bedtime Stories, Photo and story courtesy

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christmas exerciseYesterday I talked about my meeting with my health coach a little, and shared some insights about how to stay the course of healthy habits over the holidays. Now, having said that, I recognize that it’s much easier said than done. There are a lot of additional to-do’s we are squeezing into our schedules in a few short weeks, and so it would seem that something has to give. So often it’s our exercise program or specific diet we’ve decided on. But, what if you didn’t have to give that up, and yet could still fully participate in all the fun of the holidays?

I submit to you that we can! Here are a few great options for quick workouts that keep that momentum going and actually get you out ahead of the crowd come January:

  1. Yoga. Get some stretching and mind focus work done in just 8 short minutes! The trick with this one will be finding a spot for it, but the “what to do” part is easy. Just download this app and you’ll be downward dogging it all the way to New Year’s.
  2. HIIT. High Intensity Interval Training workouts are considered the gold standard for not only raising metabolism and burning fat, but for being super fast. Here’s another link for you for a 7 minute workout that comes complete with what exercises to do and for how long. You’ll be sweating, but that’s how you know it’s good. :)
  3. CrossFit. Another version of HIIT, but with so many variation you just have to check it out. I was introduced to Tabata workouts which are basically HIIT in reverse. Usually with HIIT you go hard for 30 seconds, then easy for 90 seconds and repeat. With Tabata, you shorten the time of your workout by going hard for 20 seconds, easy for 10, and complete anywhere from 2 to 8 sets depending on your fitness level. Using just your body weight or typical cardio equipment like an elliptical or bike, this workout will have you in and out in no time.

So, really, there’s no excuse is there? Get those workouts in even in December! You will be so glad you did, not just in January when everyone else is resolving to lose their holiday weight, but also during the holiday…you’ll have energy and stamina to spare!

Photo credit:  Santas exercising,

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health coachThe plan today was to finish up our series on Christmas Traditions in other parts of the world. However, I had a meeting this morning with Melissa, my health coach, and now my mind and heart are reeling from our talk . . . so much so that I’m having a hard time thinking about anything else! I do love switching things up around here, so here we are, discussing staying lean at Christmas!

Melissa and I were talking specifically about my journey and what is next on our long list of things to work on, and maybe sometime I’ll share some specifics about that. But for today, this whole process I’m in got me thinking too about the holidays and weight gain and the aftermath of all that. For a couple years now I have been a part of a Facebook group whose goal is to maintain our healthy habits throughout the holidays without deprivation. Say what?

snowmenIt seems almost impossible what with all the extra sugary treats, rich foods, parties to go to, cookie exchanges, etc. to emerge none worse for the wear.  And, even tho some studies show that we, on average, gain only about 1 pound over the Christmas holiday, so often momentum that was hard won prior to the holidays is lost, and that takes much longer to recover.  I’m going to share with you some of the things I have learned, both through that group and from my health coach that can help to avert that crisis.

We_Can_Do_It!

Keep that momentum going while still enjoying the most wonderful time of the year! Here’s how:

  1. Set your mind. Once we set our minds to accomplish something, to do something, to be something, it is often very difficult to change, good or bad! Decide ahead of time what you want, what you really want. You don’t want extra pounds in January, right? You don’t want a foggy brain or an energy sap, right? Then, adjust your plans. Decide. Then, when it comes time to make choices at the party or the family dinner or the cookie table at work, you’ll intuitively know what will and what won’t serve you best.
  2. Maintain your healthy diet and exercise regimen. Many people use the holidays as an excuse to take a holiday from how they know they should eat. The trick is turning that “shoulda” into something that you want to do. Once you find what’s right for you and your body and you don’t feel deprived, stick with it. You will enjoy Thanksgiving and Christmas far more and feel so much better about yourself. And, who knows, your good habits may just rub off.
  3. Go for a walk. After that family dinner, enlist others to go for a walk. I know I know, sometimes all you wanna do is lay on the couch. But, just a short 20  minute walk about 15 minutes after eating a large meal burns more calories, plus aids your digestion. It doesn’t even have to be a fast walk. Take a stroll in the snow or at the park or wherever you want.
  4. Choose your indulgences wisely. Some people decide ahead of time they’ll enjoy just one very decadent treat, so that means they are constantly on the lookout for what that’ll be. Once you find it, have a small piece, or even just a bite. Often that’s all our taste buds really need to feel satisfied.

I am not a health coach or a personal trainer or anything like that. I’m just a person who strives every day for good health. And, I’m wondering why it should be any different at Christmas. :)

Have a happy, healthy holiday!

Photo credit:  Tape measure, Snowmen, We Can Do It

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PolandMost, if not all, of the Christmas traditions in other cultures that we’ve explored over the last couple of weeks are grand celebrations of one kind or another. There are parties, there is singing and dancing, festivals and much merry making for all.  And, of course, in this way they are quite similar to the American way of celebrating Christmas. Lots of preparation and anticipation for both young and old, most definitely!

Today, however, we take a peek inside of a country that has a bit more of a somber note to it. In Poland, the Christmas holidays are a time to be very peaceful and to avoid the excess of anything. While feasts and parties and boisterous celebrations are going on in other parts of the world, Poland can often be found fasting, giving up their favorite food or beverage, and great effort is spent on remembering the real reason for the season.

Advent is a very busy time, tho! Lots of time is spent cleaning the house from top to bottom, washing windows and floors and carpets. It’s like spring cleaning! Everything must be clean for Christmas Day. This is common also where parties are held, but in Poland, there are no parties. It leaves one to wonder if perhaps the reason for the spic ‘n span home is to honor the Christ child himself.

Polish mealChristmas Eve day is a very important day. Traditionally it’s a day of abstaining from meat. If the Christmas tree hasn’t been put up yet, it is brought in and decked out with lights, tinsel and glass bulbs. And mistletoe! The Polish LOVE their mistletoe and love even more kissing beneath it! Overall, it’s a pretty quiet day…that is until night time.

Everyone is pretty hungry by now, and in order for their fasts to be broken, someone, anyone, must spot the first star in the night sky. You can bet the kids are out there, tummy’s growling! Once the first star has been spotted, a big meal is served and enjoyed by all. A place is often left open at the table, presumably for the Christ child.  The evening ends with attending a midnite mass.

At dawn on Christmas Day, it’s back to church for an early morning mass with special communion, a mass that honors Mary, the mother of Jesus.

Photo credit:  Flag, Table,

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summer campSummer camp was a regular thing for me as a kid growing up. The church camp I attended was about 3 1/2 hours from home, and I still remember riding in the back of the station wagon with my feet dangling out the back window, knowing that when we hit the dirt road we’d be almost there. The week ahead would include swimming, horse back riding, box hockey and of course mess hall.

There were also required services, and I remember many sweltering nights in the tent listening to the speaker. It seemed as though it would never end sometimes, and the heat and humidity made many young bodies restless. All we could think about in those moments was cooling off in the pool! It would last probably a little over an hour, but honestly it felt like 6 times that long.

church serviceThe people of Madagascar would have felt right at home. Living on an island located off the east coast of Africa, Madagascar people never experience cold or snow at Christmas. Instead, it would be more like my summer camp experience. And since Christmas is far less about gifts exchanged and more about being in church there, nobody would become restless, not even the children. Their typical Christmas service starts at 5pm and goes until well after midnite! I guess we were just a bunch of whiners, haha!

pointsettiaAnother interesting fact about Madagascar is that pointsettias, a holiday plant here in the U.S., are not these small little indoor plants that only flower at Christmas. Nope. In Madagascar, they are extremely large outdoor shrubs that flower year round! In fact the pointsettia is their national emblem!

Photo credit:  Camp, Christmas Service, Pointsettia

 

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