Advent and going back to basics.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year, and we are packing up everything we own and moving right smack dab in the middle of it!  Christmas is my absolute favorite holiday and, despite the craziness associated with moving a family of seven and downsizing, no less, I just couldn’t let it keep us from celebrating it as normally as possible.  Not only will it make the transition easier for our kids, but it will be the beginning of many years of beautiful memories in our new home, Lord willing.   I have been determined to preserve the traditions that are meaningful and get the tree(s) up in our new house even before we move in.  So the Christmas stuff may or may not have been moved into our house ahead of my clothes!

Priorities:)

In the controlled chaos of packing/moving/homeschooling and all the busy of our normal life with five athletic and extremely social kids I had to take a good look at Christmas this year and narrow things down…a lot.

I tend to be a “bandwagon celebrationist.”  (Yes, I just made that up.)  Whenever the latest book, devotional, or idea for celebrating a holiday in a meaningful, Christ-honoring way comes across my newsfeed I’m all, “Yeah!  I need that!  THAT is the key!  THAT will make our Christmases unforgettable!  I must add that to the 6 devotionals, 7 trees and fourteen advent wreaths we already have!”  (Kidding…about the wreaths, anyway.)

I’m always looking for the next great idea and then Christmas comes…

The half-read devotionals lay stacked on the side table.  Candles failed to be lit all of last week.  And, shoot, I was going to make that newest recipe for the holidays and the ingredients sit, untouched, because I ran out of time.  It’s too much.  And in the middle of my great intentions sits a festering seed of frustration and failure.  Jesus loses his place, once again, because I crowded him out with all of this “busy work.”

As I have packed and pared down our lives for this move, it has been eye opening.  First of all, I had way too much stuff.  It’s embarrassing.  Second, the determination to keep Christmas and be able to enjoy the season in the first days of life in our new home has made me realize that there are a few things of real value to our hearts, but many more that are not.

I have filled up a lot of giveaway and throwaway bags and it has been so freeing.

I got rid of the old, dusty wreaths and garlands.  All the ornaments that were, to be honest, ugly.  Even the stuff my kids made over the years, so many things that I couldn’t even remember who made them or when.  I chucked them in a bag and didn’t look back, only keeping the special ones that brought a smile to my face and warm fuzzies to my heart.

Kind of like Marie Kondo, without talking to my stuff.

Why do I make occasions like Christmas so complicated?  Why do I feel the need to fill this already beautiful season with experiences and create Pinterest-worthy memories?  Why are the holidays so exhaustingly busy?

Because we forget why we are celebrating in the first place.  And…we forget exactly who we are celebrating.

Jesus is not complicated, friends.  Everything about him is beautifully simple.  His birth, his life, his ministry, his death.  It was all very straightforward.  No frills.  He had a message and he taught it.  He had a mission and he completed it.  He knew why he was here and he let nothing distract him or deter him from it.  Jesus is not complicated, but he is beautiful.

And that is the key, if you ask me.  Creating beauty as we walk out the season of Advent can be so simple and meaningful.  In fact, I believe we can create beauty without opening a single devotional book or suffering guiding our kids through a single craft-making session.  Just this morning, as I was contemplating the words I am writing now, I asked my twelve year old daughter what she remembers most about Christmas as she has grown up.  What has been meaningful, and what has she thought was a waste of time?

Her answer surprised me.

She listed two meaningful traditions among the many we have upheld:  Watching Christmas movies together and putting twinkle lights all through the house.

The wastes of time in her eyes?  “Prettying up the tree.  Really, Mom, I just love the star on top and the ornaments.  It doesn’t need all that other stuff.”  This, from my artsiest and most creative child.   Do you know how much time I spent last year arranging and fluffing two different colors of extra-wide, sparkly ribbon on our big tree until it look just right?  She just cared about the star and the ornaments.

This is so profound to me.  We need less, friends.  Less gifts and more time spent talking about the meaning behind all of our celebrations.  Less hustling and bustling and more time to rest, to be restored and remember our First Love.  Less trying to fulfill our kids’ every wish and more attention on the longing fulfilled when the Son of God emerged from Mary’s womb in a stable surrounded by the lowliest of creatures and visited by the forgotten of society.

Jesus deserves our very best, but best does not mean busy work that will be forgotten next year.  It means sincere, heartfelt adoration of our King.  It means offering ourselves fully and slowing down long enough to let His still, small voice speak into our spirits.  That is what we will remember, and that is what our children will look back on fondly.  Simple beauty.  Candlelight and snuggles in front of a fire.  Words of life spoken in the quiet.  And laughter.  Always we must make time to laugh because following God is JOY.

Advent is about the waiting, the longing for the Promise.  In creating simple beauty we can find that place and be truly transformed as we recognize, anew, the incredible gift of God’s son.

Belgian Waffles. Real ones.

We interrupt your weekend preparations with a recipe sure to make your mouth water, you pants tighter, and your family rise up and call you blessed!

Belgian Waffles, just like the ones found on a food truck in the Market of Stockel in Brussels, Belgium.  Our family took a trip to Belgium a few years ago and these, my friends, were some of the most delicious things I have ever put in my mouth.  After we arrived home I had to recreate them.   I perused countless recipe sites and blogs, finally finding one that was close and tweaking it until I achieved perfection.  Even our friends who lived in Belgium, when they came home for a visit, tried them and pronounced them “spot on!”

They have become a staple of our holiday celebrations.  We enjoy them on Thanksgiving morning, Christmas Eve, New Year’s and even Easter.  They are tres delicieux!

So, without further adieu, I give you the REAL Belgian Waffle.  (Do not be fooled by the IHOP, frozen or other versions.  They are not even CLOSE!)

Stockel Belgian Waffles

Ingredients:
1 (.25 ounce) package active dry yeast
1 1/2 tablespoons white sugar
3/4 cup lukewarm milk
3 eggs
1 cup melted butter
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups pearl sugar (such as Lars’ Own-you can order it from Amazon.  This is the MOST IMPORTANT INGREDIENT!)

Directions:
Sprinkle the yeast and white sugar over warm milk in a small bowl. The milk should be no more than 100 degrees F (40 degrees C).  Let stand for 15 minutes until the yeast softens and begins to form a creamy foam.
Whisk the eggs, melted butter, and vanilla extract into the yeast mixture until evenly blended; set aside. Stir together the flour and salt in a separate large bowl, and make a well in the center. Pour the egg mixture into the well, then stir in the flour mixture until a soft dough forms. Cover with a light cloth and let rise in a warm place (80 to 95 degrees F (27 to 35 degrees C)) until doubled in volume, about 30 minutes. Gently mix in the pearl sugar.

Then (DO NOT skip this step.  It is the secret to the hot, doughy center and crispy outer layer!) roll the dough into baseball sized portions and place them on a cookie sheet lined with foil.  You will have between 8-12 dough balls depending on how big you make them.

Do you see the little pearl sugar chunks?  I’m telling you, they are about to turn into golden nuggets of bliss!

Refrigerate at least two hours, overnight if possible.

 

When you are ready to cook these lovelies…
Preheat a waffle iron according to manufacturer’s instructions.
Place a ball of dough on the preheated waffle iron. Cook waffles until golden and crisp, about 2 minutes.

 

I mean LOOK at this.  Caramelized sugar sizzling around the edges, perfectly crispy crust with a soft, not-quite-done cookie dough texture.  Mmmm…

Repeat with the remaining dough balls. As you cook subsequent waffles, the sugar will begin to caramelize and the last waffle will be even more tasty than the first.  But don’t tell your kids.

 

 

I can hardly wait.  

 

Pretend you are being selfless and going last out of loving sacrifice for your hungry tribe.  It is worth the wait, I promise!

Allow the waffles to cool for 2 to 3 minutes before serving.  You can top them with fruit, whipped cream, etc. but, honestly, mine have never lasted long enough to be topped with anything!  They just go straight to our bellies!

Please refrain from licking the screen.

 

Try it for yourself and tell me what you think!  Bon appetite!