Hello friends! I know, I know… I’ve fallen off the face of the earth. Frankly, this past year I’ve had to cut WAY back on all non-essentials. And blogging just didn’t make the cut. Now that James is almost a year old I’m hoping I’ll have a little more time for writing. We’ll see.
I decided that today was the day to write a quick post to show you the Christmas ornaments I made this year as well as the card we ended up sending out. I can still blog about Christmas in January, right? Good, because I’m so pleased with both projects! I have to say that it is SO GREAT having Pinterest to turn to- both my ornaments and cards were inspired by pictures I found on Pinterest. It’s so nice to have hundreds of other’s ideas to inspire me and a place to keep them to refer back to later!
For our Christmas card I combined a couple of cute photo ideas into one card. You can see my inspiration here and here. I thought that this pose was so sweet and this was the year to do it, with a baby in the house! It also helped that JT took ownership of it and really wanted to act out the nativity. He can be pretty tricky to capture photos of right now (he loves to turn his back to the camera and give a stinky face) so I tried to get him excited about the photo shoot and let him contribute ideas and be a big helper. We also bribed the big kids with the promise of a candy cane before dinner if they cooperated- I’m not above bribery!
All we did was round up a few brown and tan and blue blankets, wrap them around the kids and set them in front of the tree before we put the ornaments on it. They really enjoyed being Mary and Joseph and seeing James as little baby Jesus. I think that part of it’s charm is it’s simplicity- it gets the idea across without actual costuming. I was thrilled that one of the cardstore.com templates included the phrase O Holy Night with a bible verse- it was the theme I was planning to use and I thought I was going to have to design it myself. Turns out they did all the work for me! (Please excuse the cellphone pics- our camera is on the fritz again and we’ve decided to make due with our phones. It’s hard to complain about not having a working camera when we both enjoy the luxury of new iPhones!)
When it came to the message on the inside of the card I went around and around about what I wanted to say. I try to be real and don’t want people to think that our kids are always sweet and “holy”- we took 40 some pictures and only got the one that I was happy with! Plus I was taking advantage of an awesome deal from cardstore.com- by having them send the cards directly, each card cost less than the price of the stamp, but it also meant that I wouldn’t be hand writing any messages on them this year. So I ended up using one of our funnier outtakes and writing a short message about how most of our pictures weren’t picture perfect.
I am really pleased with how they came out. What do you think?
For my ornaments this year, I had been pinning every idea that I liked for months and months. Nothing really spoke to me until I saw this ornament in late October- I knew instantly that it was the one! I ended up using 4 different fabrics that I had on hand and a variety of trims- no two are alike. Unfortunately, I seem to have given away all of the ornaments with green fabric! I didn’t realize it until I went to take pictures and discovered all of ours are white! (When I make ornaments I always keep one for Chris and I and one for each of the kids. When they grow up and move out each kid will have a nice little collection of ornaments for their new home. I also make one for each of my nephews for the same reason.)
I found the little trees and the salt shakers online and then used fabric and beads and trim I already had. I tried filling them with regular table salt first, but it didn’t have enough sparkle, so I ended up using a mixture of half table salt and half epsom salt. I think they turned out darling!
I ended up making a second batch of ornaments this year. My group of girlfriends loves to celebrate with sprinkles and when I saw this idea I knew I had to make it happen! When I ordered the trees I also ordered a package of clear glass ball ornaments. I already had a big jar of sprinkles, so all I had to do was fill them up, hot glue the tops and tie them with a cute length of ribbon!
I was glad that I made these this year, because the gifts I ordered for the kids’ teachers didn’t come in time. I ended up making four more sprinkle ornaments at the last minute and tucking each one in a pair of Christmas socks for a cute little teacher gift. Of course the gifts I ordered came the next day… so I’m keeping them in reserve for the next time I need a teacher gift!
So there you have roundup of my December creativity. I hope it inspires you!
We make small plans: God multiplies and magnifies and the truly incredible happens! He is not limited by our imaginations! When we started talking about going to Juarez several months ago, we were basically inviting ourselves to tag along with one other family so we could cook a meal. Now, less than 2 weeks before we leave, we are expecting 5 families to make this journey with us- for a total of 10 adults and 18 children, ranging in age from 6 months (yes, another baby even younger than James is coming!) up to 17! The momentum that we are gaining (no blog title pun intented!) is nothing short of miraculous.
On Friday night we gathered with a house full of people for an information meeting about our upcoming trip to Arbol de Vida. The Schrimps are a couple with whom Chris works at Cherry Hills, they have lived at Arbol de Vida and continue to faithfully serve the orphanage from Colorado. They will be heading up this little adventure, and they were able to give us more specifics regarding the mission and purpose of Arbol de Vida, our safety risks while in the Juarez area, travel to and from Mexico, and the needs at the orphanage. We were also able to meet all of the families who will be joining us and to brainstorm about the difference we can make together. We’ve had so many great questions in response to our first letter I thought I’d put as much information as possible into one place for you.
The goal of Arbol de Vida is to provide a safe, family environment to youth who would otherwise be on the streets where they would surely turn to the gangs and/or to prostitution just to survive. Because these boys and girls receive an education, learn job skills, and learn about Jesus, there is hope for the future of Juarez. These youth are life in a town that is desperate for revival. Arbol de Vida is literally fostering the future of Mexico. Unlike many orphanages that cut off services when the child turns 18, Arbol de Vida is committed to the long term success of it’s charges. They provide a safe home for as long as it’s needed, they continue to provide training and support into adulthood, and they serve as a resource when life outside of their walls gets complicated.
In regard to safety, we will not be using the main border crossing into Juarez, but a small crossing well outside of town. The compound where we are headed is less than 7 minutes across the US/Mexico border. We will not be taking our kids into the city of Juarez- and in fact I doubt if any of us will go into town at all. If we do have needs that arise, it is safer and easier to cross back into El Paso, Texas to get what we need. The property that the orphanage is on is protected by armed guards who are loyal to the children of the orphanage and to anyone who is coming to serve them. Despite all of the well deserved bad press that Juarez gets, the orphanage is much safer and is apart from the main areas of danger. The town knows and respects the people who run Arbol de Vida and the gangs and drug cartels have left them alone (and in some cases support them!). We have been told that they have only ever had one problem- years ago some looters came in and stole and damaged some property and roughed up one of the workers- and that actually served to increase the protective nature of the surrounding community and the guards. We will be sleeping in the dorms, Chris and JT will be in the boy’s wing in their own bedroom, and I will have Kate and James with me in a private room in the girl’s wing. We will have access to clean, safe water- for drinking and bathing. The orphanage has it’s own aquifer well and reverse osmosis filtering system.
We have made one change to our itinerary- we decided to leave on Friday (Nov 16) to get a head start on the drive. We would like to meet up with all of the other families and cross into Mexico together on Saturday afternoon well before dark sets in. We decided that it is unrealistic to attempt the entire 11 hour drive on Saturday since we are expecting stops at least every three hours to feed James and to keep the kids from revolting. This means we will require an extra night in a hotel and does add to our expenses, but it seems like a more feasible itinerary.
Regardless of all that, we feel strongly that there is no place safer than where God has called us. We are trying to be as smart as possible in our planning, but we also have to trust that since God has put it on our hearts to go that He will protect us as He sees fit. Truly, I am more concerned with the logistics of the drive and time at the orphanage with three small children than our safety due to violence.
As to what we’ll be doing while we’re at Arbol de Vida, it turns out they have plenty for us to do! Because of the unrest in Juarez over the past 5 years, most of the U.S. support to the orphanage has dried up. People have stopped coming to serve, people have stopped sending money, and the youth there feel forgotten and abandoned. We hope to change that- by spending a few days with them and showing them that they are not forgotten and that they are important to us! We are planning to provide a big festive meal for them, repair some damage to their buildings, provide sporting equipment, and do some craft projects with them (we’re thinking we will make no-sew bags, duct tape wallets and purses, and hair accessories). We also will be bringing some specific items that they have requested- bras and underclothes, church clothes, toiletries and hygiene items, new bedding, etc. I believe that they deserve better than our cast offs, more than a check sent from afar. They deserve for someone to spend time with them, to look into their eyes and to show them that they are valuable. That they are beautiful. That their life is worth something. That they can make a difference in their community.
If you have already sent us money to help cover our expenses, THANK YOU! As of today our family’s budgeted travel expenses are completely paid for ($800!). As a group, we are hoping that we will raise enough money to purchase ALL of the supplies and goods that we have on our wish list. Our group goal is to raise $1500 for the building supplies and I estimate that we need an additional $2000 for the rest of our purchases. Specifically, we want to pay the orphanage for all of the food and expenses related to our group’s stay, buy food for a turkey dinner, paint, building, and roofing supplies, toiletries, undergarments and hygiene items for the girls, dress clothes for the boys, bedding, supplies to make crafts, and sports equipment. If you have considered making a contribution toward our trip, there is still time and we would love your support! We would also love to know if you have decided to partner with Arbol de Vida directly, it would mean so much to us to know that because of our trip you have decided to support their work.
We definitely appreciate and need your prayers. Of course, please pray for our safety. We are facing long hours on the highway, border crossings, and the risks of Juarez. Pray for good health for each member of our family. Please pray for unity among those of us serving together. Pray for the Spirit of the Living God to fall on Juarez- not just while we are there, but that revival would occur and that the community would be renewed. Please pray for the boys and girls who live at Arbol de Vida. Pray that they would reject the lies that they aren’t valuable, that life on the streets is the best they can hope for, that it’s time for them to strike out on their own. Pray that they will be encouraged by our visit and that they will continue to have hope for the future. Pray that our children would have soft hearts and develop a love for serving others. Please pray that us parents would have extra patience and wisdom as we are facing extra stresses there. Please pray as we continue to prepare for our trip, that the essentials will not be forgotten and that the details will fall into place. I’m sure that you can think of many other blessings to pray over us, and I encourage you to do so. I would love to know if you are committed to praying over our trip- please let me know!
I understand that we will have some cell phone coverage and internet access while we are in Mexico. I am hoping to keep my blog and Facebook updated while we are there so that you can know how to pray and what we are accomplishing along the way.
If you would like to support us financially, you can mail a check directly to us-
Melody or Chris Benschoter
2285 Wynterbrook Dr
Highlands Ranch, CO 80126
If you want to learn more about Arbol de Vida or would like to support them directly you can access their facebook page at www.facebook.com/TreeofLifeJuarez or their website at www.treeoflifejuarez.org.
Thank you for your love and support! I have loved hearing your reactions and responses this past week!
When Chris and I got married we set some short and long term goals for our family. One of our short term goals was to serve on a mission trip together before we had children. Sadly, we didn’t meet that goal- in the busyness of life it is something that got pushed off time and again. As JT and Kate are growing old enough to understand and follow our example as Christ followers, it has become more and more important to us to live out the gospel intentionally with and before our children. Our desire is to love our neighbors both near and far and to serve widows and orphans the best that we can as a family.
A few months ago Chris was chatting with a coworker about Arbol de Vida, the orphanage that he works with in Juarez, Mexico and that our church happens to support. During the conversation it was mentioned that last year the children had oatmeal for dinner on Thanksgiving. It’s like a lightbulb went on and we saw a need that we could meet. Why not provide Thanksgiving to these children? Why not bring our family down and serve it to them ourselves?
Chris and I have decided to answer God’s call to take our family on an adventure in serving Him over the week of Thanksgiving this year. On November 17 we will be joining the Schrimp family, the Babb family, and possibly two more families in driving 11 hours south to Juarez, Mexico to serve the children and staff at Arbol de Vida. We will be returning on Thanksgiving day, hopefully in time to celebrate with family at home.
We are excited for an opportunity to expose JT, Kate, and James to another culture, to be the hands and feet of Jesus to others, to love some children who can use extra love, to help meet practical needs at the orphanage, to show our children how God gives to us so that we can give to others, and to provide a turkey dinner with all the trimmings to the residents of Arbol de Vida. (Thank goodness I cooked Thanksgiving by myself for the first time last year! God knew what was in store for us this year!)
We are nervous about spending 22 hours+ with our three (very young!) kids in the car (especially since James is still breast feeding every 3 hours!), border crossings and travel in another country, safety on the road and in a town known for violence and drug wars, spending 4 nights in a dormitory (no naps = cranky kids!), exposing our children to the older children of the orphanage (most of the orphans are middle and high school aged), and living and sharing the gospel when we have so much to learn ourselves.
How can you support us on this adventure? First and foremost we need your prayers. We know that all things are possible with God and that prayer is a powerful agent of change. We will face many challenges during this adventure and will need an extra measure of wisdom and grace and patience as we face the unknown. Second, we would appreciate your financial support. We will require gas for the round trip drive, a hotel stay for one night, and groceries, toiletries, and goodies (all of which must be purchased in Mexico) for the children of Arbol de Vida. We would like to lavish the kids and staff with love and practical goods while we are there. If you feel called to support us, whether through prayer or gifts of money please let us know before November 10.
Thank you for your love and support-
Chris, Melody, JT, Kate, and James Benschoter
I mentioned previously that I struggle with low carb side dishes. Unfortunately, when it comes to vegetables I don’t typically venture very far beyond frozen corn and peas (although I did develop weird cravings for asparagus during my pregnancy with JT and I still love it!). So, we’re trying to explore new frontiers and I’m trying to be a little more creative with using vegetables in my cooking. I’ve been perusing the www for inspiration and pinning like a madwoman to my South Beach board on Pinterest. I decided to make a yummy balsamic glazed salmon for dinner tonight from my South Beach 30 minute cookbook (one of my go to cookbooks) and literally came up with a brand new veggie/bean side dish on the spot. For someone who doesn’t usually create new recipes out of thin air I was pretty impressed! Chris said that both the salmon and the spinach with black beans were winners. Culinary victory!
Spinach with Black Beans
1 TBS olive oil
2 cloves crushed garlic
1 can black beans (rinsed and drained)
1 handful of bacon bits (I use the large Costco bag)
several handfuls of fresh spinach
1 dash lemon juice (I get mine in a bottle!)
2 dashes cheesy garlic
Heat the olive oil in a skillet, add garlic and bacon bits and cook for 2 minutes. Add black beans, spinach, lemon and cheesy garlic. Cook until spinach is wilted and everything is warmed through, tossing several times. Serve warm.
In other news, this is what my kids are doing as I type up this recipe…
and James started solids a few weeks ago- so far he loves avocado and banana! He is so sweet. If only he’d take a bottle when I’m at work!
Chris and I decided that it’s time to start losing the baby weight. Three kids in 4 years has not been kind to either of our waistlines. Not at all. So we decided that it’s time to crack the whip and buckle down and get serious and go back on South Beach. We did the South Beach diet about 6 years ago and we both lost more than 25 pounds fairly easily. Then we moved and started having babies and slipped back into old habits and convenience foods. And said yes to chocolate. And cookies. And chocolate cookies. Now it’s time to say goodbye to all that and hello to a healthier lifestyle and way of eating. Bummer.
One of the problems we had with South Beach when we did it several years ago is that Chris would much rather have a casserole for dinner than a piece of meat with a veggie on the side, and I always feel like my plate is missing something without a carb as a side dish. Now that it’s so easy to find recipes online I’ve been looking for easy and yummy meals that will fit the bill- they meet the requirements of the South Beach diet and satisfy my casserole loving man. I stumbled upon a great blog called Kalyn’s Kitchen, which features hundreds of South Beach friendly recipes. While perusing her archives I came across this recipe for Spaghetti Squash Gratin and decided that I could add some meat to make it a main dish. Of course I didn’t have some of her ingredients and I mixed things up to suit our tastes, but we were all VERY pleased with how this turned out- even JT ate a full serving. This will be going into the regular rotation for sure. It’s a cheesy, filling, flavorful casserole that tastes much less healthy than it really is!
Spaghetti Squash, Sausage and Kale Gratin
1 spaghetti squash
cheesy garlic (or other seasoning blend)
1 bunch kale (5-6 cups chopped, you could also use other greens like spinach, collards, or chard.)
1 pound turkey sausage
1 large onion, diced (you know I always use frozen diced onion)
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
fresh ground black pepper to taste
1 T minced garlic
1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
1/2 cup reduced fat feta
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese plus more for topping
1 egg, beaten
Preheat your oven to 400º. Wash the spaghetti squash, then carefully cut it in half lengthwise. Scrape out the seeds and the gunk and discard. Line a baking sheet with foil and place the squash halves face up on the baking sheet. Rub the cut sides of your squash with olive oil, then sprinkle each side with cheesy garlic. Pour 1/2 inch of water into the pan around the bottom of the squash and roast for 45 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool, then separate into strands with a fork. (Don’t turn your oven off yet!)
Meanwhile, wash and dry your kale (a paper towel or salad spinner will work). Remove the large stems and dice or shred leaves into small pieces.
In a large fry pan, brown the turkey sausage- remove most of the grease if there is a lot in your pan. Then add chopped onion, oregano, and black pepper and saute until onion is softened- 2-3 minutes. Add minced garlic and cook 1 more minute. Add all of the kale to the pan and cook for 1-2 minutes, tossing regularly until kale is wilted to about half size.
Gently mix the shredded spaghetti squash into the meat and kale mixture. Toss in the Greek yogurt, feta, Parmesan cheese, and beaten egg. Then pour the whole thing into a 2 or 3 quart baking dish that has been sprayed with cooking oil. Sprinkle the top with more Parmesan cheese.
Bake for 30-35 minutes at 400º, or until the mixture is bubbling and browned on top. Serve hot and enjoy a creamy tasting, good for you casserole!
What are we having for dinner this week?
Sunday- gnocchi soup
Tuesday- cheesy beef stroganoff
Wednesday- lemon chicken crockpot
Thursday- pizza grilled cheese
Friday- chicken enchiladas
Saturday- grilled pork chops
We’ve been super busy lately and meals keep getting rearranged and Chris picked up some summer hours at work and blah blah blah. I have a whole blog post in my head about how we’re trying to cut back on our technology use as a family and we’re taking a sabbatical from electronic devices on Sundays and not using our devices from the time the kids wake up from naps until they go to bed in the evenings the rest of the week. But now I can’t ever get on the computer to write it so there ya go.
Chris’ mom used to make homemade pizza for the family when he was growing up and it’s become a family favorite around our house too. Sometimes we grill it and sometimes we bake it. I like it both ways- doing individual pizzas on the grill is a bit more labor intensive, but tastes fabulous. The other night we were having 50 MPH winds so we baked it. As we were preparing the dough my first inspiration struck- what if we coated the crust with our favorite cheesy garlic? Um, yum! We decided to double the recipe so we’d have lots of leftovers (I love cold pizza too!), but we were running low on toppings after we made the first three. And that’s when the moment of pure genius occurred. Dessert pizza. Cause that’s how we roll.
dough (makes two pizzas)-
2 packets of dry yeast
2 cups very warm water
2 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
4 TBS olive oil
5 cups (a little more or less as needed) flour
olive oil and garlic cheese sprinkle (or other seasonings- dry ranch mix would be awesome)
Dissolve yeast in very warm water, add sugar and oil. Place into Kitchen Aid with 2 cups of flour and salt. Mix with dough hook, adding remaining flour slowly. Let dough rest 5 minutes.
toppings- (pick and choose your favorites! These are some of ours-)
pizza sauce or Alfredo sauce
shredded cooked chicken
Italian Blend or Mozzarella cheese
Preheat oven to 425º. Divide dough in half- shape and stretch dough to fit two pans (we use a baking sheet with a Silpat). Lightly coat dough with oil and then sprinkle with cheesy garlic- flip dough and coat second side. Top with sauce and toppings. Bake for 15-20 minutes, rotating cookie sheets half way through.
Grill it! This tutorial changed the way I make my pizza. It is SO GOOD! Plus I love having personal pizzas for everyone with their favorite toppings.
Preheat your grill to medium/hot. Gather all of your toppings right near the grill. You need to be prepared to work fast and having a helper is ideal. Divide your dough into 4 or 5 individual pizzas. Use your hands to shape the first two or three crusts and liberally coat each one with olive oil. (Now, we have had a lot of trouble with our dough sinking into the grill, making it impossible to flip- we started using a piece of foil under the first side and are much happier with the results. I don’t know if our technique is bad or what, but this way just works better for us. Do as you will.) Place each crust on the grill and close the lid. When it’s puffy and ready to flip generously coat the top with olive oil. Flip your crusts (we remove the foil at this point) and quickly load it up with your favorite toppings without burning your fingers! Close your lid again and remove from the grill as soon as your cheese starts to melt and the bottom is firm (the second side goes much quicker than the first- don’t let it burn!). The Our Best Bites tutorial is much better than mine- I recommend reading it before trying this method at home!
dough for one pizza
Take one pizza worth of dough and shape it for your crust. Coat your dough with melted butter and then a generous amount of cinnamon and sugar on the top and bottom. Bake at 425º for 15-20 minutes. Immediately spread with peanut butter and drizzle with chocolate. Die and go to heaven. You’re welcome.
What are we having for dinner this week?
Sunday- cheesy beef stroganoff
Monday- we’ll grill something!
Tuesday- sausage crescent rolls
Wednesday- chicken enchiladas
Friday- spinach artichoke bites (I’ll add chicken)
I was given the opportunity to participate in another awesome DaySpring review- and of course I said yes! I received this beautiful “Lord Bless This Home” plaque which looks perfect next to my front door. It is such a nice way to greet people who come to my house with a statement of faith.
I think that the silver text helps balance out the street numbers and light fixture on the other side of the door.
Doesn’t that look nice? I love it!
Here’s a close up!
(We used special masonry screws rather than the ones that came with the plaque- the originals come in a matching silver tone. I snapped this picture before I took a sharpie to those screws- don’t worry I fixed it!)
I am so thankful that the Lord has blessed me. With a wonderful husband, three healthy children, an abundance of riches. I need to always remember that the Lord blesses me so that I can share those blessings with others. Hopefully this sign will be a reminder of my many blessings and that I can and should pass them on.
Are you interested in picking up one of their Lord Bless This Home signs? They are part of this month’s (in)spired deals and they are on sale!
Legal disclaimerese- I was given this product to review by (in)courage by Dayspring at no cost to me. The opinions expressed in this review are strictly my own!
What are we having for dinner this week?
Tuesday- orange beef
Wednesday- crescent roll quiche
Thursday- freezer find!
Friday- cheesy beef stroganoff
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