Tuesday, December 31, 2013

This little light of mine

I read a question recently I found quite compelling:

If you woke up tomorrow with only what you were thankful for today, what would your life look like? 

As we wrap up the year, I am thankful for many things. Perhaps one of the greatest aspects of this year happened during this month of December with our son. He is lucky. He is surrounded by love, opportunity, options. We also strive to surround him with leadership, discipline, choices, creativity and the ability to use his voice and weigh in on some decisions. 

Every year since he was two, we do some kind of service project. They grow every year and because he is 6 now, this year could introduce a broader level of interactive service projects. We want him to understand how fortunate he is and the importance of giving back, doing something, having empathy and being involved. He embraced it quite well this year. Believe me, at age 2 it was a little more of a struggle. 

Me: Hey, lets buy a bunch of toys and give them away to kids in need.
Him: Lets buy toys and keep them. 

As he has gotten older, I have added one or two additional projects. This year he helped me make the list and we are two away from full completion (which we will do today.) In all of the activities, he took a big role in communicating the message of sharing with others. My absolute favorite part is the day he took his acoustic guitar in to a Senior Center/ Assisted Living Facility. He played rock and roll acoustic versions of Christmas songs to a crowd of seniors. He was happy, they were happy and we were tremendously happy.

Who can predict what our son will remember from his childhood when he is an adult. Maybe it will be his teams, his trips or birthday parties with friends. I do hope it will include my awesome ability to make pancakes into numerous different shapes and faces. More importantly, hopefully he remembers all of these actions and activities he did every year to reiterate the importance of giving. We look forward to a new list next year and hopefully it becomes instilled in his own pace and plan on how to build his life. For that, I will be truly thankful too. 

Happiest of New Years to you all. 

JennyMac


A few pics from our Kindness Projects:






 









Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Time to cry....

My favorite dog, Nixon, got a bee stung once. After the bee stung her, it continued to zoom around her poor ever-increasing in size face as I pulled out my kung fu moves and yelled at that SOB like I was a prison guard. Nixon's face was so distorted, she looked like a float in the Macy's parade. The road to recovery was well paved with baby benadryl for her and a long sip of Cabernet for me. This slight injury had me sick to the gills because my job was to keep her out of harms way. (The time she ate her own ____, well, that's all on her and another story for another day.) I loved her beyond what I ever thought capable for a human to love something covered in fur.

Dog-stories of all kinds impact me but this perhaps holds the gold star. A few minutes that will make you laugh and cry. Well, mostly cry but crying releases toxins so don't be afraid.


Why does it matter? Annually, over 100,000 animals in the US are abused. Approximately every 11 seconds, an animal is put down in a US Animal Shelter. A puppy is not a Christmas present to be loved in December and ignored in July. It takes a special kind of person to advocate for the furry population and it takes a heart of gold AND steel to participate in animal rescue. Could anyone? Yes but I would cry so much and so often, my actual 'help' would be watered down and fall onto the shoulders of others. This holiday season if you are looking for ways to help, you can donate to Hope for Paws, the group behind this rescue and rehab. If you want an additional location to donate, a friend from college works with this organization in Wisconsin: Northstar WI Dog Rescue and Advocacy. 

You can also save a dog from a puppy mill at Milldog Rescue.

MiniMac and I are going tomorrow night to take dog toys to a local shelter in Atlanta. You can call a shelter nearby and ask for specifics and if you can also donate food, treats, etc.

Santa's sleigh might be pulled by eight reindeer but Nixon looked like a deer, had the energy of eight toddlers and could pull that sleigh alone. On behalf of my favorite dog in the world (and I had other boxers but yes, she was my favorite) do something to help another dog in the world. Santa will like you more. Here is a photo from when she was a puppy. If you Dr. Doolittle, The Dog Whisperer or otherwise versed in 'what is that dog trying to tell me', let me help. See this picture? Her expression isn't really saying "How much longer 'til Santa?" it is actually asking, "What in the F---- is the matter with you, Mom? Seriously. Fake pose picture? Deer toy with bells on it I am scolded for trying to eat? REALLY? Someone, help me."






Saturday, December 7, 2013

You have to make something for Santa, right? Sugar Cookie Bars!

I have previously elaborated on the pillowy deliciousness of Lofthouse Sugar cookies.  If you have children or ever stop by the grocery bakery, you have seen these. They are super soft sugar cookies with a heap of frosting and sprinkles on top.  I have become quite good at turning my back on them but let's be honest. They are incredible.

Lofthouse guards the recipe as if the most treasured recipe on earth. Many recipes claim to come close and outside of the one my Mom recently sent me I have yet to test, the other 18 recipes I have tried do not even come close.

Until now.

Not only are these sugar cookie bars super light and scrumptious, you cut down on all the time involved in rolling, rolling, cutting, cutting, and rolling, rolling again. I have been baking all week for the bake sale at MiniMac's school this weekend and thought I would make these as well. In a word: YUM. From my kitchen to yours, enjoy every bite.



Sugar Cookie Bars:


Ingredients:
Cookies:

  • 2-1/2 cups bread flour (or all-purpose flour is fine)
  • 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1-1/2 Tbsp. sour cream
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
Frosting:
  • 1/4 cup butter, softened 
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/8 cup half and half (or milk and you can add a bit more if needed.)
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • Pinch of salt
  • Several drops of food coloring (optional)
  • You can also get creative here. I have used almond powder, white chocolate powder, lemon etc instead of vanilla. I have also used ginger and honey when making this frosting. 
Directions:
  1. COOKIES: Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit and grease a 9x13 inch baking dish.
  2. In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. (The longer you beat it, the fluffier your cookies will be.)
  4. Add egg and combine well.
  5. Add sour cream and vanilla and mix until completely blended.
  6. Slowly add the flour mixture and stir until well combined.
  7. Gently press the batter into the greased baking dish and spread out with hands. (If you butter your hands, this will help with the stickiness.)
  8. Bake 17-20 minutes, or until edges become lightly golden.
  9. Set aside to cool completely.
  10. FROSTING: In a medium bowl, cream together butter, powdered sugar, and half and half until light and fluffy.
  11. Stir in vanilla and salt, combine well.
  12. Add food coloring until desired color.*
  13. Frost your cooled cookie bars evenly.
  14. MiniMac wanted to add some sprinkles to our version.
  15. Cut into squares. 
  16. Try not to eat every single one yourself. PS: You might as well just cut the normal size square and eat it. We are not fooling anyone by cutting only small pieces but eating 20 of them          *I reserved some of the icing before coloring so I could do peppermint inspired swirls of goodness as shown above.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The Price of Doing Goodness

Last year, we spent one full day in December with MiniMac doing acts of service and kindness. We filled the backseat of my car with toys for a shelter (all of which were toys he picked out.) We bought gift cards at Starbucks and passed them out to people in line. We took dozens of cookies to fire stations, banks, and a Christmas tree farm. We even stopped by to visit some workers at a hand carwash to have one of them talk to my son about crunk. (We might skip that stop this year.) I have a long list of wishes for our son. One of them is that when he is an adult he will remember the constant iteration that being philanthropic and charitable is not only easy, it is a necessity.

We started December 1 with a reminder  that acts of service and kindness are easy. My Mom is in town for the Thanksgiving holiday and we went to Starbucks on Saturday. After our purchase, I give my credit card to MiniMac and tell him to pay for the beverage of the person at the front of the order line as a way of saying Happy Holidays. He went to her, told her he would like to pay for her coffee and she gave him the biggest smile. He then handed her my credit card and turned and walked back to me and Grammy. Whoops. We need to clarify the logistics but the positive take away was: him smiling, her smiling and the guy behind the counter smiling. The price of doing goodness? $3.19.

When we exited, I asked Mini if he remembered why we do nice things for strangers. Answer I was hoping for: So they in turn will do something nice for someone else. His answer: So they will do something nice right back to me. Well, good option but we can expand on that a bit.  We are currently working on our list for acts of service for the remainder of the month.

For the past several years, I have posted a blog at the beginning of every December called 31 Days of Goodness which are compilations of opportunities to give time, money or heart to worthwhile organizations. For a great overview you can find each list:

31 Days of Goodness December 2009
31 Days of Goodness December 2010
31 Days of Goodness December 2011
31 Days of Goodness December 2012

This year, I am going to highlight a few at a time.

For my Mom and all others that love horses: Save a Forgotten Equine (SAFE). This group vows to make a difference in the lives of at-risk equines. I didn't realize the number of equines at risk until the blizzard in South Dakota earlier this year. As a horse owner, this is a critical issue to my Mom and I am happy to pass it along.

As I have shared on Memorial Day and Veteran's Day, there are many willing to go and do what I am not willing to go and do to protect our country and all of our freedoms. For those who come home altered and broken, there is an organization called Wounded Warrior whose vision is to foster the most successful, well-adjusted generation of wounded service members in our nation's history.

In Disney a few weeks ago, Mini and I briefly spoke to a Make-A-Wish child. Nothing will snap your perspective back in to shape more quickly than seeing a family, filled with true wonder and amazement as their terminally ill child embraces all of the magical aspects of Disney. What I did not realize is there is an adult version of this program granting wishes to terminally ill adults called The Dream Foundation. 

One of the teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary, Kaitlin Roig-DeBellis, who saved her class from the tragic events last December started an organization teaching children compassion through the classroom. Classes4Classes engages teachers and students to pay it forward by supporting classes in need. When a class receives a gift, they find a classroom to donate to going forward.

December is only made better by sharing it with a 6 year old. It is a wonderful time of year to see things differently but also realize that with every impression we make on our son about charity, empathy, service and honor, we are shaping his life and his potential as a future leader. It is hard work but so incredibly worth it.