Christmas at the Barn

Well, friends, Christmas has officially arrived at our barn!  Last week, Mardi and I were busy laying peel and stick vinyl flooring in our barn’s “hangout” room.  Probably not the best time of year to begin a DIY project, but we really wanted to put a tree up at the barn this year, so it was good motivation to get the job done.  And the flooring goes in so quick and easy…even Mardi and I can do it on our own.  It made such a difference in the room, too.  Now it is so much more warm and cozy feeling, which is awesome when you are doing chores in the winter!

Once we got the flooring done, we headed out to pick out a tree…at Wal-Mart.  Ugh, I know, I know.  A real one would have been so much more appropriate for a barn, but then it wouldn’t have had the beautiful fake snow on it!  We also grabbed a couple of super cheap ornaments that fit the barn theme perfectly.  Now we just needed to decorate!

Mardi made those yummy sugar cookie bars that we all love, and I brought some other (store-bought) goodies over, and we had ourselves a little tree-trimming cocoa party!  We even let the kids help decorate the tree!  Wasn’t that nice?  I thought so.  Okay, so I did move a few ornaments when they weren’t looking, but shh…don’t tell.

Christmas at the Barn

hot cocoa bar in the barn

We had a great time decorating and eating and sipping our cocoa.  And it was fun watching the horses and barn cats watching us through the window.  I said I kind of felt like we were the animals behind glass at the zoo and the animals were looking in at us humans.  All that was missing was a sleigh ride…but we are working on that, so maybe next year!

Christmas at the Barn

I hope you enjoyed this little tour of our barn decked out for Christmas.   And if you have your own little cocoa party, don’t forget to make these sugar cookie bars!  They are the perfect way to send your kids into a sugar induced frenzy! Trust me, I know from experience. That room got a little small with six of our seven kids plus our parents inside.  I’m thinking of one kid in particular that almost made this mama lose her cool.  Hey, who am I fooling?  I did lose my cool…but only once or twice!

Anybody else’s kid get super hyper (with or without sugar cookie bars) from about Thanksgiving til Christmas?  Let me know so I know I’m not alone…please…anyone…??

TLB’s Gift Guide For Older Boys

It’s officially Christmas time, friends!  I can blare my Christmas music unashamedly (I’ve already been listening to it for a solid month!)  The tree is trimmed, the mistletoe hung (not really…it just sounded good), and my shopping list is getting smaller.  I hate how fast this season flies by.  I just want to savor each and every day, enjoying the lights and decorations, the scents of candles and cookies, cozy fires and Christmas movies, and picking out that perfect gift for someone I love.

Do you have your shopping done early or are you a last-minute shopper?  Well, if you aren’t already finished (I’m definitely not!), Mardi and I have brainstormed some of our favorite ideas for kids in case you need a little help.  So for all of you needing to buy a gift for a boy…probably aged 10 and up, you’ll want to check out these ideas.  After all, we have three teenage boys between us, so we do know a thing or two about what they like!

All of our kids love these packable hammocks.  They can set them up themselves between any two trees with the adjustable straps.  It makes the perfect place to read or listen to music, and they can stack them up with friends.

If they have a hammock, then they definitely need this cool blow-up solar lantern.  It changes colors, is small and packable, and even charges devices.  Hang it on a backpack while hiking so that it charges during the day, and then enjoy the light at night from your tent or hammock.

Last year I got this cool chair for Kimball’s room and he loves it.  It works great for playing video games and hanging out, but my favorite part is that it unfolds and lays flat.  When one of his buddies sleep over, they have a place to sleep.  Well worth the money!

Here’s a fun game that just about any kid that likes being outside will enjoy.  Our boys haven’t got this yet, but it is definitely something Santa might bring!

Every kid knows Yeti stuff is cool.  Get them a Yeti water bottle to take along on outdoor adventures or sporting events, and you’ll score major cool points.

And this last idea is probably the best deal of the bunch.  A portable Bluetooth speaker that is waterproof and floats…perfect for taking along on hikes, kayak rides, or just hanging out at the beach or in a hammock.  It has great reviews on the sound quality and is way cheap right now.  I just put a couple in my cart!

So there you have it!  I hope this post gave you a couple of good ideas for those boys in your life.  The best part about most of these ideas is that they get your kid off the video game and outdoors.  Sounds like a win in my book!

Happy Shopping!  And if you have any great gift ideas, please share!

Megan

Cultivating a Thankful Heart

Do you every get caught up in negative thinking?  Like, before you know it, everything that comes out of your mouth is negative, everyone seems against you, every little thing goes wrong, and your attitude just stinks?  Funny how it all snowballs, right?  Well, actually, it really isn’t.  And it’s not a coincidence either.  I can speak from personal experience, because I am definitely guilty of letting the negativity germ infect me.  But, did you notice the key word in the previous sentence?  Letting.  Yep, letting.  So often we don’t think we have a choice.  We think of ourselves as victims of circumstance.  It’s not our fault that we are in a foul mood.

That’s the scary part…it happens so fast, and before you know it, we are victims.  Victims at home, at work, on the road, in our minds.  We don’t realize that so much of our attitude depends on what we choose to focus on, what we choose to listen to, and who we choose to surround ourselves with.  I know this, but I so often lose sight of it and end up getting infected by that negative germ again.  It’s just so much easier for some reason.  And misery loves company, doesn’t it?  So we sow our seeds of discontent and we complain and commiserate and we infect others as well.  It’s just a vicious cycle, and one that I’m pretty sure satan loves to use against us.

Mardi and I were cleaning stalls the other day and talking about this very thing.  (You’d be amazed how many of the world’s problems we’ve solved while picking up horse poop.)  How easy it is to focus on the negative and to think we are victims.  How so much of what we let in to our minds affects how we think and what we project outward to others.  And to be honest, it is pretty easy these days.  Just turn on the TV, and you will hear about one tragedy after another.  So how can we not feel depressed or sorry for ourselves?  After all, we can’t control everything that happens to us.  However, here are six things we can control that can help us have a more thankful heart and positive attitude.

**We pray… we pray that God will grant us wisdom and discernment.  That God would convict our hearts where needed, and that he would forgive us for our self-pity.

James 3:17

**We are realistic…we remember that we live in a fallen world.  Things will never be perfect here on earth.  People will hurt us and disappoint us, jobs will not always live up to our expectations, our health will deteriorate, and so on.  This is how it is.  We cannot expect Heaven in a sin-filled world.  

**We listen to good counsel…sometimes we need to hear someone else’s perspective on things.

**We worship…we remember all that God is.  We focus on how big He is compared to all of our problems, and we just honor Him for loving us and for being in control.

**We count our blessings…especially the greatest blessing of all, Jesus.  If nothing ever goes our way here on Earth, we still know that we have the promise of Eternity with our Savior. Soooo much easier said than done, but so very true nonetheless.  

**We do what we can to be a light in the darkness…we try to sow seeds of joy and infect others with love.  It’s pretty hard to feel down and out when you surround yourselves with grateful, humble, positive people filled with God’s love.  Now, I know that isn’t always easy, but we can walk away from gossip or negativity or whatever is contributing to a negative way of thinking.  And the more that we do that, the more joy we have to share with others.

 

Now for the disclaimer…do I always do these things?  No.  Do I still feel sorry for myself sometimes?  Yes.  Am I guilty of infecting others with negativity or contributing to their negative way of thinking?  Yes, unfortunately.  But, thanks be to God, each day is a new day.  His mercies are new every morning.  And in this season of Thanksgiving, I just want to give thanks to our Father for being in control, for forgiving me when I fail, and for helping me to spread a little love.  Because I know my sinful self is not capable of it without His divine intervention in my life.

Wishing you all a very blessed and happy Thanksgiving!

Megan

 

Honoring Veterans Every Day

Veteran’s Day is truly a day to be celebrated.  Megan and I are patriots, hence our name Two Liberty Belles.  We are so thankful to veterans for the freedoms that we’ve been given.  It is because of those brave men and women, because of their sacrifice, that we enjoy those freedoms today.  Veterans have been around since the birth of our country.  In 1776, it was Captain Nathan Hale, a 21 year old soldier who was captured and hanged by the British, that said, ” I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.”  That is a common attitude among veterans, and we are all the more blessed by it.

Megan and I have some veterans really close to our hearts.  Our Dad was in the Navy, my father-in-law Dave was in the Army, and Megan’s husband’s dad John (he died when Chris was young) was in the Army.  This was during the Vietnam War.  Chris’s dad John was Seventh-Day Adventist, so he was exempted from the draft.  However, he served our country as a medic, which his religion allowed.  My father-in-law and John Hanks both suffered terribly from the horrors that they witnessed.  Their lives were forever changed by the war. Back then, not much was known about PTSD, so they suffered in silence.  Sadly, Vietnam veterans did not experience the hero’s welcome that World War II veterans did, either.  We owe them all a deep debt of gratitude.

Dave Brott
John Hanks

Our paternal Great Grandpa Fazakerley (also named Frank, like our grandpa) was a career Army man. He served in both World War I and World War II.  His son Art was in the Navy (which is I think why our Dad chose the Navy).  Our maternal Grandpa, Newt Cunningham, was in the Navy too.  We have the coolest pictures of him on leave in Honolulu.  Unfortunately, we don’t have pictures of our Dad in his uniform.  Since Megan and I both wore his Navy uniform for Halloween when we were 13, that tells you how small he was.

Newt Cunningham

Nowadays, it is so hard to imagine 18 year old boys (some younger lied about their age) signing up to fight as they did during World War II.  I think we owe it to current and future generations to teach them about the sacrifices that have been made by brave men and women.  There are so many excellent books and movies that portray what veterans experienced.  The DVD series “Band of Brothers” and “The Pacific” are great.  I know I’ve mentioned these books before, but Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand and In Harm’s Way by Doug Stanton are riveting.  I just finished reading Lucky 666 by Bob Drury and Tom Clavin and I just can’t believe what soldiers went through!  The brotherhood of soldiers reminds me of the verse, “Greater love hath no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” -John 15:13

We must not forget the members of today’s military.  Let us not let them suffer in silence as the veterans of yesteryear.  I am a proud donor of The Wounded Warrior Project and I encourage everyone to think about donating.  The Wounded Warrior Project stands behind veterans and gives them support on the long road of recovery.  For just $19 a month, you can make a difference in the lives of veterans and their families.  If interested, visit www.woundedwarriorproject.org.  By the way, I’m not being paid to advertise for them!

Though Veteran’s Day has come and gone, let’s remember why we have veterans in the first place, and celebrate them everyday.

“We fight not to enslave, but to set a country free, and to make room upon the earth for honest men to live in.”

-Thomas Paine, The American Crisis, No. 4, September 12, 1777

God bless our beloved veterans and God Bless America!

Mardi

 

 

 

Fill Your Freezer Fast With Freezer Cooking

Last week Tuesday, Megan, our good friend Karla and I, spent the day freezer cooking.  If you’ve never done it before, trust me, freezer cooking rocks!  It’s an absolute life saver to have meals in the freezer, all ready to cook whenever needed….like, everyday.  As much as I love to bake, I don’t like cooking.  B-u-t, I like to eat, hence my love of freezer cooking.  It feels so satisfying to have a freezer stocked with delicious meals, especially with the holidays approaching.

freezer meals

First, we decided on the “assembly” date.  Karla suggested that we each make four meals:  one ground beef, one chicken, one pork, and one of our choice.  So between the three of us, we would each get 12 meals!  Then we searched Pinterest for freezer cooking recipes, as well as using a few that we already had.  After choosing recipes and making lists, it was time for grocery shopping.  Karla and I bought our groceries at Aldi’s and Meijer’s, while Megan only went to Meijer’s.  We kept track of our expenses so that we could square up with each other later.

The recipes that I chose to make were:  beef tips with gravy, smothered pork chops, chicken and rice with black beans, and black bean taco soup. I’ve served all of these meals to my family before, so I knew that they were “winners.”  Karla chose to make recipes in disposable tinfoil pans rather than Ziploc baggies, like Megan and I.  Her recipes were:  ravioli, enchiladas, chicken pot pie, and pork with sweet potatoes and apples. Megan decided on:  chili, one pot chicken dinner, kielbasa with peppers, and beef stew.  The beef stew is a sixsistersstuff recipe and a favorite of both of our families…..and did I mention that it is beyond easy to make?   The black bean taco soup is also a sixsistersstuff recipe.  What can I say, the six sisters really know their, ah, stuff.

freezer meal

Find the recipe for Kielbasa and Peppers here.

We met at my house for the assembly which worked out great for me, but not so much for Megan and Karla.  They had to tote all of their groceries and a cooler, but they were good sports.  My kitchen was a flurry of activity as we each made our own four recipes for each of us.  There was much slicing, dicing, browning hamburger, rinsing and draining beans, etc.  I cheated with the onions and bought frozen diced onions from Meijer’s….I loathe chopping onions!  We had a quick lunch break before finishing and going over our receipts.  The final cost for the 12 meals was…drumroll please…….$107 for each of us.  That’s right, $107 for 12 homemade meals!  I still can’t believe it.

Next time we make freezer meals, we said maybe we’ll prepare them at home, then meet to exchange them.  That way, we can visit more.  Then again, maybe we won’t.  We’re women, and it’s our prerogative to change our minds! Either way, it’s such an amazing feeling knowing that my freezer is stocked.  Tonight, we’re having Megan’s one pot chicken dinner.  Megan is preparing my smothered pork chops.  Megan made Karla’s enchiladas last week and said they were really tasty.  Whether you work from home or not, whether you run kids to sporting events constantly, or not, freezer meals are a lifesaver.  Instead of wondering frantically, “what am I making for dinner tonight?” ,  simply decide which freezer meal you want.  It’s generally suggested to defrost the frozen meals in the refrigerator overnight, but many times I put them in the crockpot frozen and adjust the time accordingly.  Now is the best time for freezer cooking, because everyone will only get busier with Thanksgiving and Christmas around the corner.  Happy freezer cooking!

Mardi

What is your favorite freezer cooking recipe?

 

 

Fall Fun at Crystal Mountain

fall foliage

This past weekend, we had the opportunity to go up north to our parents’ vacation home at Crystal Mountain in Thompsonville, MI.  You might have read about the resort in another post here.  We used to go up at least once every Fall, but since the kids are older and so busy with sports now, it doesn’t always happen.  Those were the days…getting to take off on the weekend with nary a thought to a child’s schedule.  Well, you’ve heard this sob story from me before, so I’ll stop now.  Anyway, four out of five of us headed up with my parents and sisters.  Chris had to work, plus he was painting our bedroom and I would never dream of slowing down progress!

Crystal Mountain Resort

Hayrides at Crystal Mountain

It really was a beautiful fall weekend.  The colors were unbelievably gorgeous and it was mostly cloudy and wet, which is perfect for lazing around in front of a toasty fire.  If it were nice and sunny, I would have felt compelled to go outside maybe and do something productive…or maybe not.  I don’t know what it is about going up north, but I turn into a slug the minute I get there.  So the rain was not a problem.  Well, not a problem until I took the girls trick-or-treating.  Crystal Mountain had all kinds of special activities planned for the weekend.  There was pumpkin carving, hayrides, a petting zoo, trick-or-treating, a spooky trail, a pumpkin seed spitting contest, and more.  The girls had a great time trick-or-treating in their costumes (Fynn just loves any excuse to wear a costume) at the lodge, the adventure center, and other stopping points.  I had to follow a map, which I confess was a little tricky, but we managed to find all the candy and didn’t get too wet.

fall fun at Crystal Mountain Resort

fall fun at Crystal Mountain Resort

fall fun at Crystal Mountain Resort

But best of all, the wifi wasn’t working, which was great because my girls played games, did puzzles, colored, and even got a little bored.  And I felt like Super Mom because I not only brought them trick-or-treating, but I also did puzzles and brought them to the pool.  Now notice I said “brought” them to the pool.  I sat and watched since my children are fully capable of swimming alone now, praise Jesus.  So maybe I’m not exactly super mom after all, but hey, they were happy and I was happy.  Win-win situation.  Mardi wasn’t quite so lucky…she got to hang out in the exercise room with the boys who wanted to work out.  They needed parental supervision, so she walked on the treadmill while they lifted weights.  Maybe she should get the super mom/aunt award.  As you can see, our standards are pretty low either way.

I have to apologize for this boring post that pretty much offers you, dear reader, nothing.  So please accept my apologies for rambling, but do consider a trip to Crystal Mountain one of these days.  And if Crystal Mountain isn’t in your plans, just spend a day depriving your kids of wifi and enjoy some time together.  Novel idea, I know.

Megan

How do you love to spend a free Saturday afternoon?