Happy Holidays!

Merry Christmas from our crew to yours!

We were supposed to be in California celebrating Christmas with my family, visiting friends, and eating my favorite bagel sandwich in the entire world... 

Instead, we'll be cozied up on our couch watching holiday baking shows while a puff pastry-wrapped brie warms in the oven. (There are worse ways to spend the holiday.)

 Above is the best shot from our at-home family photoshoot, but this is my true favorite: 

This is exactly who Charlie is. And it just feels very in keeping with the trend of the year... you know, a little cheeky.

I'll be taking a break from posting until the New Year. Hope you're taking care of yourself this week. And connecting with loved ones in person or via technology. 

Happy Holidays!
Allison, Josh, and Charlie

Sock It To Me

In the nearly four months Charlie has lived with us, we've learned a few things about him:

1) He has full-blown FOMO and can't stand for either of us to be behind a closed door. Heaven forbid we're both in another room--he takes personal offense to being left out.

2) He doesn't need to taste what we're eating, but he must smell it. He will settle for smelling our breath after we've taken a bite but he refuses to lay down until he knows how our meal, snack, or coffee smells.

3) He has a deep, deep love for Josh's socks. Not tearing them up or hiding them, but he can find them anywhere and would carry a pair (always two) around in his mouth all day if we'd let him.

A few weeks ago, while we were getting ready for bed, Charlie snuck into the closet. Usually, he'll make his way back out after a few seconds with a sock in his mouth and look at us knowingly, waiting for us to take it away.

But this night, we didn't see him come back out. We waited a minute or two, as we brushed our teeth, but still no sign of Charlie.

So, we headed to the closet to investigate. And we found this...

He'd nestled into the laundry basket and nodded off. He was startled when we poked our heads in and started laughing.

Then he found himself a little snack!

So proud of himself.

When we didn't make him get out, he saw an opportunity. He slowly tossed out one sock, then another, and climbed out to pick them up... I'm assuming he thought he'd bring his new toys to bed.

We've since been working on teaching him to bring the socks to the laundry basket. We figure, if he knows how to get them out, he should be able to put them in. Fingers crossed!

Our 2020 Christmas Tree

Christmas came a little earlier than normal in our house this year. Like so many others, we just needed the extra joy.

We talked through some options given that we have an extremely curious little puppy who eats everything he finds on the floor and tends to jump without warning. We'd landed on getting a small tree and letting it dominate the kitchen table, essentially rendering our dining corner a Christmas display and choosing to eat every meal at the coffee table for the next month.

Typically, I'm on board with waiting until the day after Thanksgiving--let the turkey have its day. We're also typically a real tree household. I want to go to the tree lot, tie it precariously to the roof of the car (which the poor employee had so much trouble with last year), and clumsily drag it from the car to the house. I even enjoy cleaning up pine needles for weeks and weeks.

But then, after my Papa died, it just felt like I needed something other than pie to lift my spirits. And a small, tabletop tree wasn't going to cut it. So we found a massive fake tree on sale at Target (50% off? Yes please!) and decided to pull the trigger.

But, this year, I'm very much okay with the plastic tree if it means more time with the sparkly twinkle lights and memory-filled ornaments.  

You can find us here, snuggled next to our tree, until mid-January if I have anything to say about it! ;) 

Top 5 Thursday: Sneaky Veggie-Packed Recipes

When you're married to someone who eats like a teenager--or are, yourself, that person--it's a special treat to find a dessert that is not only delicious but also provides one of your daily servings of vegetables.

If you're looking for something to add to your holiday menu--or just enjoy on a Tuesday--without adding a ton of prep (or calories)--here are five tried-and-true recipes for incredible desserts with a few added nutrients.

A friend of ours gave us a pound of beets from her garden. I was thrilled when I found this amazing Heartbeet Chocolate Cake recipe and it was just as tasty as it looked.

These Paleo Double Chocolate Pumpkin Muffins (shown above) have been made at least once a month around here. They came in handy during Whole 30 and made for a fun surprise at the end of a dinner with a friend on a specific diet. 

Speaking of pumpkin... these Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies, while not healthy (really by any stretch of the imagination) but they're worth every bite.

I don't love zucchini on its own. I really want to... I like the flavor, but more often than not, it's the texture gives me the gags. However, surrounded by a handful of other flavors... I typically really enjoy it. So, I was very excited to find these next two recipes:

Zucchini Banana Blueberry Muffins

Chocolate Chunk Almond Butter Zucchini Bread (my mouth is watering just typing that)

Easy DIY Keepsake Gift: Handwritten Life Stories

For Christmas 2012, I made About Me Journals for my maternal grandparents. While they were nothing fancy--just 1/2-sheet spiral-bound books with construction paper covers (we have a limit of $5 per person)--they have since become my most prized possessions.

The first page was a note from me, asking them to spend the next year answering the questions at the top of each page and give this book to me as my 2013 Christmas gift. 

At the top of each subsequent page, there was a question. The rest of the page was blank for their response.

That's it. It took about an hour to put together.

On Christmas morning 2013, I opened both books from my grandparents, each full of memories (mostly handwritten, a few typed for lack of space) with the request that the book would be kept private--what was written in there was written for me, and no one else (much to the jealousy of my aunts and cousins.)

Privately, a few days later, they each asked to have the books back for a little while to add stories and details that they had recently remembered and wanted to include. I happily returned them, knowing I'd want as many memories as they would want to share.

In 2014, on the morning my Grandma passed away, this book and a pen were sitting on her bedside table. I quickly scooped it up and put it in my purse. 

Over the following week, as I read through her answers --and wept, of course--I was even more thankful for the time she had put into writing her life stories for me...appreciating this heirloom all the more in her passing. 

{taken in my poorly-lit room as I read through the journal the week after her passing}

In 2016, I hunted through the pages for specific words and used her handwriting to get a tattoo in her honor.

As a matter of fact, a few of us used her handwriting to get memorializing tattoos:

My Grandpa passed away a few weeks ago--just before Thanksgiving. After several phone calls with family members, (grieving from afar, in the midst of a pandemic, is no easy feat) I took out the book of his life stories and attempted to read a few through my tear-filled eyes. 

Though he'd gifted the family with three bound volumes of musings and stories from his life over the last few years, this is the only one in his handwriting. It's unedited and imperfect and one of a kind. 

These two books are priceless. They're filled with stories that are not often told--the memories typically unprompted around the dinner table. 

Because I'm so thankful to have these books, I thought I'd encourage you to create these for your loved ones. 

While I'm sure you could purchase a pre-printed book like this, there was something special about being able to personalize the questions to each recipient. For example, each of my grandparents lost a sibling. Since these deaths happened at different stages in their lives, that question was included at a different spot in the book.

Here's a list of questions to get you started.
NOTE: The majority of the questions were written on the front of the page, leaving the back open for extra space to answer. Some questions were given two pages. Again, don't be afraid to customize the questions (and/or the order of questions) for each recipient.

  • My note to you (I filled this in) || Your note to me (dated the following year)

  • What is your earliest childhood memory? 

  • Describe your childhood in three sentences. 

  • List your parents & grandparents full names, places & dates of birth. 

  • What one or two stories do you remember most from your childhood?

  • Tell me about the neighborhood you grew up in?

  • What did your parents do for work?

  • Describe each of your parents in one word.

  • What song(s) will always remind you of your parents/childhood?

  • What was your favorite thing to do with your parent(s)?

  • Describe a typical family dinner. What did you eat? What did you talk about around the table?

  • What were your favorite foods growing up? Did your mom/dad typically cook or did you typically go out to eat?

  • Tell me the name of your Elementary, Middle, and High Schools. Where were they located?

  • Who was/were your best friend(s)?

  • What was your favorite subject? 

  • What is your favorite book(s)?

  • What was your favorite after school activity? 

  • What did you want to be when you "grew up"?

  • Who was/were your favorite teacher(s)?

  • Do you remember the first family vacation you took? How old were you? Where did you go?

  • What was your first job? How did you get it? When and why did you leave it?

  • What was the best job you ever had? What made it so great?

  • When was your first date? Where did you take him/her?

  • When do you remember laughing the hardest with your family?

  • When/how did you feel most loved by your family?

  • How did your childhood shape you as a parent?

  • What is the best thing your parents taught you? (OR: What is the strongest lesson you learned from your parents?)

  • What was it like to lose your brother? How did you handle your grief?

  • Describe the first time you met Grandma/Grandpa.

  • When did you know you were in love?

  • How did you propose? Who was the first person you told?

  • When and where were you married? How big was the wedding?

  • What advice would you give a newlywed?

  • Where did you go on your honeymoon?

  • How long after your wedding did you become a parent?

  • What were your thoughts about becoming a mother/father? Fears? Excitement? Nerves?

  • What was the best parenting advice you received?

  • Did you plan to have __ (number of) children? How many kids did you want to have? How did you choose their names?

  • What advice would you give a new parent?

  • Tell me about the births of your children.

  • How did having children change your marriage?

  • What has been the happiest time/part/stage of being a parent?

  • What has been the most difficult time/part/stage of being a parent?

  • Would you have done anything differently as a husband/wife and/or father/mother?

  • How did you come to be a (profession)? 

  • What was/is your favorite family tradition?

  • What are the most memorable family vacation stories?

  • Describe the day you found out you were going to be a grandparent.

  • Where were you on the day I was born? 

  • Tell me something funny my parents did that day.

  • What has been the best part of being a grandparent?

  • What has been the most difficult part?

  • Who are your "oldest" friends? How have you remained friends for so long?

  • What was it like to lose your parents? How did you handle your grief?

  • Did it feel different to lose your mother or father? Was it difficult to help your children grieve a grandparent while grieving yourself?

  • What would you consider to be your greatest accomplishments?

  • List your top ten favorite books.

  • List your ten favorite songs (or albums or artists) of all time.

  • List five people you would consider (or have considered) to be your heroes and why.

  • Have you ever broken a bone? If so, how did you do it?

  • What three world events have had the most impact on your life and why?

  • Do you think kids have it "better" or "worse" today than when you were a kid?

  • List ten things you are grateful for.

  • What are three things you want people to remember about you?

  • What is your all-time favorite joke?

  • What would you consider to be the most important lesson you've learned in life?

  • How has faith/God shaped you?

  • List your top ten favorite movies.

  • Why do you love to read?

  • If you could give me one piece of advice, what would it be?

  • If you were to travel anywhere, where would you go?

  • What's the best vacation you've ever taken?

  • How would you like to spend your retirement years?

  • What's your favorite thing about yourself?

  • What's your favorite thing about our family?

  • What's your favorite thing about me?

  • What did I miss?? Any other stories you think I ought to know?

Plus a handful of other questions you could add or substitute.

Josh and I are talking about creating one for his grandmother this Christmas. To make sure her memories, her quirks and preferences and favorite jokes live on.

Someday, I hope to have a little library of Family Life Stories. They are irreplaceable prized possessions that can be treasured and handed down for generations. What a great way to fill a bookshelf!

Our Children's Book Club Reading List

A few years ago, I joined a book club. Actually, a second book club since I was already a member of another with a handful of my coworkers.

But this one was my idea and was also, hands-down, the best book club I've ever been a part of. 

It was a Children's Book Club. And the members were: me, my best friend, and her three boys. (Well, two... the third was just there for the snacks.)

We agreed to read a chapter of the chosen book each weeknight and discuss it over snacks on Saturday afternoon. (This was a considerable commitment on the part of their mom and dad given that neither of the boys were reading chapter books on their own just yet.)

We started with Children's books I already owned two copies of... which, let me tell you, as a literature major with a deep love of good cover art, there were plenty to choose from. From there, we moved to books I'd loved as a kid. I figured, if I fondly remembered bits and pieces of the plot nearly thirty years later, they were likely to get lost in the stories, too.

It was so fun to see these familiar stories come to life through their recounting. 

They'd talk over each other--getting louder and faster as they went--to catch me up on the plot and tell me what they think might happen next. 

They'd share with such excitement about their favorite parts--moments of silliness, danger, or triumph. 

They'd laugh as the other recounted the line that made them both giggle. 

When we could, we'd watch the movie version of the book we'd just finished before starting the next book. (As evidenced in the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory candy-fest above.)

It was the highlight of my week--every week.

Here is the Children's Book Club Reading List:

1. The Cricket in Times Square (Because it's been one of my favorites since I did a book report on it in early elementary school.)

2. Charlotte's Web

3. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory 

4. Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator (not my favorite, but kinda fun to find out what happens after the elevator shoots out of the roof.)

5. Fantastic Mr. Fox (We sat on the couch together and read nearly all of this in a single sitting. They were hooked!)

6. James and the Giant Peach (I had forgotten how much abuse James suffers at the start of this book. In hindsight, I may have skipped it for that reason. This was also why we didn't read Matilda--there's just so much physical and verbal abuse.)

7. Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing

8. Stuart Little

9. Freckle Juice

10. Superfudge (I wish I had video of the boys giggling about this one. I knew the crazy little brother's antics would make them laugh!)

At this point, they started reading so fast I couldn't keep up! Once the oldest learned to read, he'd read chapter after chapter aloud to his brothers before bed each night. They were finishing entire books in a single week!

Here we are, a few years later, and they're currently reading through the Harry Potter series... which makes my heart proud to bursting. I'd honestly consider having kids just to experience the magic (no pun intended) of their first experience of Hogwarts... and their first viewing of Home Alone. 

If we were to pick up the book club again, I'd like to incorporate books with characters of different races and cultures, plus characters with disabilities or limb differences. (If they'd been a little bit older the first go-round, we would have read Wonder together and talked about inclusivity, bravery, and compassion.) Maybe once the screen fatigue from online school fades away, we'll try a long-distance book club.

How about you... What's the first book you remember loving as a kid? What's one Children's book you would recommend to kids just finding their love of reading? 

Top 5 Thursday: Puppy Purchases

It's been a few months since we brought Charlie home and I think we're finally figuring out this puppy thing! We've got a little bit of a routine, he's feeling more comfortable with us, and we're all (finally) sleeping through the night. Honestly, I have no idea what it feels like to have a newborn--or a toddler going through sleep regression--but I've experienced a small glimpse of the sleep deprivation, and, let me tell you, it's not a good look on me.

Here are the five best things we've found for Charlie. In case you find yourself with a ribbon-wrapped puppy under your Christmas tree! 

1. This baby gate. I compared prices and reviews on a few dozen puppy gates and playpens before finally buying this baby gate. It was cheaper, the reviews said it was sturdier, and it was available for pick-up at my local Target. Now, on nice days, we can put up the gate in our front door and Charlie will lay there for hours. I believe that's what Michael Scott would call a win-win-win

2. His "Buddy" The Triceratops. Tell me this little napping duo is not one of the cutest things you've seen in a long time. I dare you. Okay, maybe second to these pals

3. No one gets more attention--and is worth every penny--more than this Bunny tug-o-war. Charlie can't get enough. 

4. I know, I know. I never imagined myself owning dog clothing, but I couldn't help it. And, while we thought he might hate his pajamas and try to tear them off, he actually really loves them. 

We bought this tent with the hope of taking it camping--or at least to hotels/Airbnbs to help him sleep at night, but his separation anxiety got the better of him one night and he punched his way through one of the screen doors...so now it's an afternoon nap tent. 

5. BUT, the real purpose of this photo is to show you that little red Kong Toy which can be filled with treats and is the easiest way to lure him into his crate when it's time for us to leave.

We're definitely still figuring out this whole puppy ownership thing, so if you have recommendations on toys or treats or travel equipment, let me know!

Who's The Best TV Couple?



The other morning, over breakfast, I asked Josh who he considered to be the best TV couple.

He thought about it for a minute and then said, "Probably The Winslows." 

I laughed because it felt so out-of-the-blue to name the parents from Family Matters, having not seen an episode in years, but he went on to explain that he liked the way Carl and Harriet Winslow interacted. He said, "They felt like a couple that fought together, not against each other."

Oddly enough I chose Coach and Tami Taylor (Friday Night Lights) for a similar reason: it's clear they're always on the same team.


What do you think? Who would you say is the best TV couple?

Searching For the Magic Words: Round 4


You may already know by now that my husband, the youth pastor, is a semi-picky eater. Well, that's not entirely true... he'll eat just about anything, it's just that his list of go-to meals is short and resembles that of a 4th Grade boy. So, shortly after we were married, as I tired of mac and cheese and suggestions of pizza, I started looking for recipes with the magic words, "My kids loved it!" sure that someone else's children had about the same palate as my in-his-mid-thirties spouse. 

And, honestly, I was right. He's loved nearly everything I've found. So much so that we've been able to start venturing out and trying recipes without those magic words!

Here are five of our new favorites:

These Pretzel Crusted Chicken Fingers were a huge hit--especially topped with Hot HoneyI have to say, they don't reheat super well, so you should probably just eat the entire batch on the first night.

And, while you don't have to eat the whole batch of this on night one, you may want to because this Green Chili Chicken Soup (shown above) is amazing. The tiniest dollop of sour cream added the perfect amount of creaminess. 

We were on a little bit of a soup kick a few weeks back--well, I was, since I'm the primary menu maker around here. But we've already made this Chicken Orzo soup (recipe buried in the top few paragraphs) again, twice! (The orzo soaks up the chicken stock more than I expected, so be sure to have plenty on-hand.)

This Broccoli Cheddar Chicken and Rice Casserole was so cozy and filling without being overly heavy. Even though we had it just last week, I'll make it again this week since we have a cold front coming in. (Bonus: it reheated deliciously!)

You already know how much I love British TV, specifically The Great British Baking Show, so when I saw Nadiya's Time to Eat on Netflix, I watched the entire season and earmarked recipes I wanted to try. We started with this Chicken Shawarma, which was so easy and so good, though remarkably spicy. Next time, I think I'd use 1/4 of the cayenne and 1/2 of the cinnamon.)

For our other go-to recipes, click here: my husband eats like a teenager

Top 5 Thursday: DIY Gift Ideas

My side of the family has a strict $5 per person limit on Christmas gifts. (you can read more about our family tradition here) This works out well since that's about all a youth pastor salary covers anyway. Year after year, I've begun to run out of ideas, so nowadays, I'm always on the hunt for simple or beautiful crafts and recipes.

Here's a little round-up of some inexpensive tutorials for gifts you could make in plenty of time for this holiday season!

Adorable tea towels

Personalized wooden kitchen utensils

Bacon and caramelized onion jam? Yes, please! We'll be cooking up a big batch of this for some coworkers--and, of course, saving a jar for ourselves! 

Another easy batch bake: Caramel Apple Butter

If you're feeling more adventurous, try this Cordless Drill Storage and Charging Station

Whether you choose to make these or something else, let me know! I'd love to see your handiwork!

In Loving Memory

My Papa (my maternal grandfather) died unexpectedly the week before Thanksgiving.

For the last few years--really since his wife, my Grandma, whom we called 'Bum' passed--any time I had multiple missed calls or texts from my mom, I braced myself for exactly this news. He was in great health, so there was no reason to think that call was coming soon, but I knew he wouldn't live forever--even if I kinda hoped he would.

He was my very favorite. The best, best, best. I was his first grandchild--the only granddaughter until I was a Senior in high school--so for years I was the "Favorite Granddaughter" and then, once Sunny was born and Thea after that, they became "Favorite Granddaughter" too. 

At my high school graduation with Bum and Papa and his parents, my great-grandparents, Nana and Grandpa

{all three granddaughters stuffed on to a small couch to be near Pops}

Five daughters and eight grandchildren and, somehow, each was his favorite. We all have special memories of time spent with Bum and Papa. And, from the last few years, time spent with just Papa.

Like the afternoon he took me and Logan to the driving range--and then to golf nine holes. (They waited so patiently, as I tried my best to get anywhere near the green... even while playing 'best ball.')

Bum and Papa sat front-and-center every Sunday as I led worship at Mariners Ocean Hills. I'd sneak in a few minutes early to give them a hug and thank them for coming, and they'd hang out a few minutes after to see if I wanted to grab a bite to eat.

Except for one Sunday, the week before this picture (below) was taken. On that weekend, I had to run to catch them rushing out of service. When I caught up and asked if they wanted to go for lunch, Papa apologized, explaining they had to go straight home... they'd started watching a new tv show and couldn't wait to see what would happen. Yep, my grandparents watched all five seasons of Breaking Bad in one week. (I've always felt the love of good TV was in my genes.) 

I remember I could hardly breathe the first weekend he walked into church alone after Bum died. For a while after that, my aunt Gina joined him. One Sunday, after church, we baked some chocolate chip cookies and watched Jeopardy. (He schooled us, by the way.)

A few years ago, Papa bought my aunt Debra a car in Southern California and needed to get it to her in San Francisco. I jumped at the chance to spend the day in the car--and the weekend in the city--with him.

One catch: the car only had a cassette player. So, before the trip, we scrolled eBay looking for tapes we'd both enjoy and could leave in the car for Debra. 

I can't explain how deeply I love the memory of driving up the freeway, belting out Elton John hits with my Papa.

We stopped for a bathroom break in Gilroy, CA. "The Garlic Capital of the World." We bought some drinks and snacks and snapped a quick picture.

Later that year, I took an extended trip to Kenya to work with my friend Sammy at Precious Kids Center. Papa and my mom took me to the airport the morning I left--and I sobbed as they dropped me off. The night I came home, (about six months later) we all met for dinner and I got to sit next to Papa and eat some banana pudding... it felt just like home.

Two years later, we took a second road trip to San Francisco--this time with my cousin Sunny and her best friend. For a few days, we drove all over town, with my SF-based cousins Thea and Sidney. We toured museums, parks, the farmer's market.

We went for Chinese food, coffee, burgers, and ice cream... as I drove his car, he repeatedly commented on how nice it was to have a chauffeur--especially in a city with such limited (and such precarious) parking. 

We also made a trip to Muir Woods! How cute is my Pops with his big walking stick?

It was a very full, very fun family weekend.

One Labor Day weekend, my aunts decided to rally the family to rent a house in Palm Springs. With four of the five aunts and five of the eight cousins, we spent most of the weekend in the pool. 

With the exception of a massive game of Yahtzee and a trip to the all-you-can-eat buffet at the local casino.

For Christmas 2018, two of my friends worked together to draw up a sketch of Papa and print it on sweatshirts for everyone. They're a tad warm for Southern California winters, but I'm wearing mine as I write this on a cold TX morning. (I think this will also be the tattoo we get in memorium.)

I miss him. And I'll keep on missing him, that's how grief works. I know that.

We spent many afternoons sitting side-by-side drinking coffee and reading books. I remember one day when he'd picked me up from the mechanic. I offered to buy us coffee while we read our books and waited for the car. After sitting in silence, reading, for about 45 minutes, he looked up at me and said, "Boy, when you asked me to sit and read with you, you really meant it! Most people say they want to, but then they can't stop talking and I don't get any reading done!" 

Unfortunately, I don't have many photos of those days--I wish I did. But I'll take a page out of Jim and Pam's book and hold tightly to the mental pictures from those afternoons feeding birds, reading books, and splitting a cookie.

From my cousin Logan's 30th Birthday. At the end of the night, Logan said, "No fair! You got the cutest picture of Papa ever!"

On my wedding day

When I think about my Bum, I'm sad she didn't live long enough to meet Josh. They really would have loved to sit and talk about everything and nothing together. 

And, while we didn't make it to a third Christmas together, I'm so, so glad he got to meet Papa. 

My Papa was the best. He was funny and thoughtful and smart and kind and I can’t believe he’s gone. 

We're hoping to have a memorial service sometime in December. For now, I'll look for small comforts-- reading books, baking (and eating) pies, and decorating our house for Christmas--as a way to cope with the loss and navigate grieving a handful of states away from my family.