Chocolate-covered peanut butter and marshmallow cream cookies

This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. and its advertiser. All opinions are mine alone. #HolidayRITZ #CollectiveBias

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Homemade peanut butter patties and s'more cookies

Growing up, my family didn’t do much baking. Like, ever. But around Christmas, my mom would gather enough mojo to make two things: no-bake chocolate oatmeal balls and chocolate-dipped peanut butter RITZ Crackers cookies. They were the Christmas treats, and one or the other (occasionally both) would often appear on the kitchen counter sometime in December.

Fast-forward a few years and you have me today–a woman with a bit of an aversion to baking. I love cookies and pies and such as much as the next girl, but the mess of getting there is daunting. So normally, I avoid it. Normally.

But Christmas… well, I have a hard time making it all the way through December without baking something. The chill in the air, the music, the good will, the feeling of being tucked up inside all cozy and comfy–it’s not complete without something sweet to nibble on. So I break out the mixing bowls and measuring cups and get going on cookies and treats.

One of my favorites is–you guessed it–those chocolate-dipped cookies my mom used to make. Only I’ve added my own twist on them these days. Instead of just the usual peanut butter-filled ones (which you better believe I still make), I also now make a version with marshmallow cream in the middle. Because doesn’t a s’mores cookie sound like a brilliant idea? It is, trust me. 

The best part about these cookies is how ridiculously easy they are. And how few dishes they make. In fact, there’s very little measuring or mixing involved at all–it’s about as simple as making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. That is, if you cover your PB&Js with chocolate. Plus, the ingredients are all readily available–you don’t have to run all over town hitting up specialty stores to find what you need. I got everything at Walmart, easy peasy.

Ingredients

  • One box of RITZ Crackers
  • Jar of peanut butter
  • Jar of marshmallow cream
  • Chocolate of your choice (You can either use fancy prepackaged melting chocolates that you stick in the microwave, or you can melt your chocolate in a pot on the stove, which is what I did.)

Spread either peanut butter or marshmallow cream on a cracker, then top with a second cracker to make a sandwich. (I aim for about 1/8 inch thickness for my filler, but you can play around with this to get just the right ratio of filling to cracker to chocolate.)

RITZ cracker s'more cookies

When all your sandwiches are ready, melt your chocolate completely over low heat until creamy. (Stir in a splash of milk if you need it to be creamier.) Dip sandwiches in melted chocolate (use tongs). Lay on wax paper so the chocolate can cool and harden. Then, enjoy!

The peanut butter ones end up tasting like a homemade peanut butter patty, and the marshmallow cream ones are a spin on s’mores. SO GOOD. If I’m feeling fancy, I sprinkle the cookies with extra toppings before they cool–sprinkles, crushed peanuts, crushed toffee, graham cracker crumbles, mini dark chocolate chips, etc. That step is a good way to get little kids involved, too, without adding too much extra mess. The extra touch on top makes the cookies look so gourmet–they’d look awful pretty wrapped up as a hostess gift!

Homemade peanut butter patties

I’ll be serving these cookies at our annual Christmas party this weekend (though I’m totally keeping my fingers crossed for leftovers). I also think Santa might appreciate us leaving him a few of these on Christmas Eve–something a little different than simple chocolate chip or sugar cookies (though we’ll have plenty of those in this house, too, believe me).

What are your favorite Christmas treats?

P.S. Want more yummy RITZ Crackers recipes for your holiday gathering? Visit the recipe hub and get tons of great ideas!

Look for this display in stores to buy your RITZ crackers.
Look for this display in stores to buy your RITZ Crackers.
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Growing our Christmas book collection

Christmas books for kidsYou know that idea that circulates on Pinterest every Christmas where you wrap up a Christmas book for each night of advent, then have your kid unwrap and read as you go? I love that idea. As a kid, I would have been thrilled to unwrap a “present” every night. And as a parent, I like that it makes reading seem special and exciting.

But…

I do not have 25 Christmas books in my collection. And I’d be willing to bet that getting them from the library would somehow end with a pile of library fines. (I’m the queen of library fines. Oops.) So for now, that prettily wrapped pile of books is just a nice thought. But I’m working on it. I pick up a couple of new books every year, so our little holiday library is slowly growing. I’m currently on the lookout for a really nicely illustrated copy of The Night Before Christmas (hook me up with a link if you know of one!), and I also snagged a copy of How the Grinch Stole Christmas earlier this fall. #Winning.

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Two other books also found their way into our pile this year, but only one of them is actually going to stay. Ready, Set, Find Christmas is the winner of the set. It’s the story of Jesus’s birth for younger kids (I’d say 2-5 years old), and each page has a collection of items for kids to find in the illustration (there are a total of 48 items to find in the whole book). It’s like an “I Spy” sort of thing, but simplified for little ones and with a Christmas theme. I really like it–the story itself hits all the basics without being too much or too little. And the search-and-find aspect adds a little activity to reading time, which helps keep kids engaged. It also makes the book more than just another retelling of the birth of Jesus (that sounds horrible in my head, but I think you know what I mean), turning a simple board book into a worthy bookshelf addition. Another positive is that the searching actually takes a little work, so there’s no way it’ll be too easy for Little Rabbit (but it’s not too hard, either). So as I said, this one is a winner.

bearsThe other book, however, isn’t going to be long for our house. The Berenstain Bears and the Christmas Angel seemed like a good idea at first–the bears make a snow angel and get treated to a little education about the angels in the Christmas story from mom and dad. I thought it would be a unique perspective on the Christmas story and a good way to talk to kids about angels and their role in God’s kingdom. But the execution is poorly done, in my opinion. First, there’s a lot of build-up about waiting for snow and finally getting a snow day and being able to go out and play. The bears do indeed make a snow angel, then come inside to have mom and dad tell them about the angels. But that part of the story is stilted and forced–after so much momentum gained in the beginning of the book, the bare-bones “story” at the end isn’t nearly fleshed out enough. I turned the last page and was surprised to find that was the end. If I’m shooting for a collection of 25 books for advent (give or take a couple, perhaps), I don’t really want to take up a spot with a sub-par book. I won’t be keeping this one.

So this year I’ve added two keepers to our stack and ended up with one dud. The season’s not over, of course–there’s still plenty of time to shop. And I’ll probably end up grabbing a few on clearance at the end of the month when it is over. Eventually, I’d definitely like to grab copies of The Night Before Christmas, The Nutcracker, and The Polar Express. Beyond that, however, I really don’t know what I’m looking for. What are your favorite Christmas books?

 

My clean beauty products–(almost) one year later

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Earlier this year I overhauled my beauty routine, tossing most of the products I was using in the trash. I then began the process of replacing items with alternatives containing fewer chemicals and harmful ingredients. It’s a trend/niche/thing people call “clean beauty,” and it’s all about choosing products that are actually safe to use on our bodies. (For some people, there’s also a big focus on products that are vegan and/or cruelty free or specifically environmentally-friendly.)

Finding the right beauty products that meet my personal criteria–“clean” ingredients, effective performance, affordability, and accessibility–is an ongoing process. So far, I’ve “committed” to a few things while continuing to search for the perfect products in a lot of categories. Since it’s been a while, I thought I’d share what products I’m currently using.

But first, I should give you a quick rundown of what I look for when I’m shopping. There’s no standardized definition of “clean beauty,” and the term can mean different things to different people. I mentioned my criteria above: clean ingredients, effective performance, affordability, and accessibility. Here’s what I mean by that:

Clean ingredients

I want products free (or as free as possible) from chemicals that may harm my body. I try to vet ingredient lists for the nasty stuff, but I’m perhaps less strict than some–for example, I don’t balk at animal products (which people interested in vegan or cruelty-free products would). So some things I use may indeed be V & CF, but not everything is.

Effective performance

I want products that do what they’re supposed to. (Um, duh.) This means they go on easily, last without wearing off, clean well, smell nice, etc.

Affordability

It’s sortof a given that clean beauty products cost more than their drugstore counterparts. While I’ve always been rather cheap when it comes to makeup and such, I’m reforming and am now willing to pay more for better-for-me products. But that doesn’t mean price isn’t a factor. I look for products with price tags that don’t make me die inside too much.

Accessibility

Unfortunately, a lot of really great clean products are only available online or in cities that are really far away from me. If I find a product I like that’s available locally, that’s a big bonus.

What’s currently in my bathroom

John Masters Organics lavender and rosemary shampoo

This is the only shampoo I’ve tried that has ingredients I approve of AND that effectively cleans my hair. The smell is pretty earthy/herbal (think of the unique “scent” of a Whole Foods store), and the shampoo itself is brown. That doesn’t mean anything, really, but it might take some getting used to.

Honest Beauty eyeliner

I found this locally for the first time recently–I was excited to try it, because finding eyeliner that stays on and isn’t stupid expensive has been a little bit of a struggle. It’s been a few months, and I’m happy with the way this has performed. I will be repeating my purchase when I run out.

Honest Beauty brow filler

I think my eyebrows have been my biggest struggle in all this, to tell you the truth. I first found the Logona eyebrow pencil that I loved–but it was expensive and only available online, which means shipping was tacked on to the price. So I kept looking. I definitely wanted a pencil, not a gel or a powder, and that was really hard for me to find. Apparently gels and powders are just more popular or easier to make or something. I tried a locally-available eyeliner in a taupe shade that would have been great if I wasn’t so pasty, but the color was just too dark for me. Then I found the Honest Beauty line here in town, and I went ahead and tried the brow pencil along with the eyeliner. It’s a bit harder than others I’ve tried, which I actually really appreciate–it’s not too hard, but it also doesn’t get used up as quickly. And the color happens to be perfect for me, which is a huge coup. Win here.

100% Pure powder foundation

This has good coverage and is fairly long-lasting. The color is maybe just a hair too light for me, but a little bronzer fixes that issue. I haven’t been using this product for very long so I can’t attest to how long a compact will last, but it seems to be doing fine.

100% Pure vanilla bean shower gel

Shower gel/soap is another area where I’ve done a lot of searching. This is the first one I’ve been willing to repeat, so I’m excited about that. But I don’t think I’m completely settled just yet–if I find something else that looks promising, I’m totally willing to give it a shot. I think the reason for that is that the scent just isn’t my favorite, even though vanilla-scented things are usually a sure bet for me. I’ll probably give one of the other scents from this brand a try before moving on, though, because the lather on this product is pretty stellar. This is a big deal, because a lot of natural products don’t lather well (because there’s no SLS in them, which is what makes mainstream products lather up so much… too bad it’s toxic). And a good lather makes me feel like I don’t have to use as much of the product, which makes it last longer.

Be Natural Organics Bio-active Cleansing Treatment

I came across this product in a Goodbeing Box (I’ve since stopped subscribing, but it was fun while it lasted). The sample lasted forever and I really liked the way my skin felt after using it. It also seemed to improve acne issues I had and generally made my skin look better. So I ordered myself the full-size bottle–in fact, this is the only product I sampled that I actually went on the purchase. The 6 oz. bottle costs $21–that may seem like a lot, but it lasts a LONG time, so I think it’s totally worth it.

Jane Iredale Circle/Delete concealer

This is a two-sided concealer duo. I–and basically everyone who has ever left a comment on the product page–only use one side. So, there’s quite a bit of product waste happening. But the side I do use is the most effective under-eye concealer I’ve ever used, so there’s that. And it lasted me seven or eight months, so I’ll only have to reorder once a year-ish. I’d give something else a try, if I find it one day, but for now I consider this a splurge I’m willing to go in for. (It’s $30.)

Jane Iredale Disappear concealer

This concealer is for blemishes and such, rather than under-eye circles. I will say, I wish the Circle/Delete concealer’s lighter side could be used instead of this (because buying two different concealers is a little bit of a pain), but that color is way too light. The Disappear concealer, on the other hand, is a perfect color for my skin tone, and its coverage is good. It also lasts a long time–I bought this at the same time as my first Circle/Delete in February 2016, and it’s still going strong (and I use it nearly every day). So even though it also costs $30, the price-per-use is totally doable.

Ilia liquid foundation

I like this foundation a lot–good coverage, good color, long-wearing. And it doesn’t look heavy or cake-y on my skin.  I bought this back in February or March and still have the same bottle. I don’t wear it every day, but it is the foundation I wear most often, so there’s a good amount of product in there. The only beef I have with it is that it’s an opaque bottle, I can’t tell how much product is left.

Lily Lolo eye shadow palette, laid bare

I bought this palette to try several different colors at once, as I wasn’t sure what I really wanted. I like the shadows and think the colors look good with my light complexion–though someone with a darker complexion could layer some of the darker shades for a smokey look and it’d totally work. I used up the lightest color completely, as it’s a near-exact match for my skin and is perfect for creating a more natural look. I plan on purchasing an individual pressed shadow of that color and continuing to use the darker colors from this palette until they’re gone.

Pacifica Stellar Gaze mascara

I’m still using this, and I will continue to buy it. It goes on well without clumping, looks nice, and lasts all day. (I initially had a problem with flaking back in the spring, but I think it was just a bad batch or something because I haven’t had an issue since.) At $14.99, it’s also more affordable than other options I’ve looked at.

Schmidt’s bergamot and lime deodorant stick

This deodorant is one of two that I tried. Toms deodorant didn’t do a good job of preventing odor at all, so I switched to Schmidt’s (which comes highly recommended by many bloggers). I like it well enough–good odor protection and I haven’t had a problem with constant excessive wetness or anything. I have noticed, though, that the oils in this product stain some of my clothing. I haven’t detected a pattern to indicate what about certain fabrics makes it stain or anything like that, so I’m not really sure what I’m going to do about it. If I find myself with time on my hands sometime, I may do some research and see if I can find another kind to try. Until then, this does the job.

Pacifica blush

I’ve written about this before–it’s decent. It could be longer-lasting, but it’s good enough for me.

Mineral Fusion setting powder

I bought this way back near “the beginning” at Fresh Thyme, and it’s lasted a long time. It works well for me, and I’ll probably repeat my purchase when it’s gone.

Mineral Fusion bronzer

Same story as above, except that there’s a ton of product left so this will end up lasting a ridiculously long time. #Winning

Jojoba oil

Jojoba oil is very similar to the oil your skin naturally produces, so it makes a good moisturizer–I use it in the morning before I put my makeup on. I also use it to remove my makeup at night. (You could also use an oil like coconut oil, but I’ve heard other people say it tends to clog pores.)

Rose hip oil

Rose hip oil is supposed to be really good for preventing wrinkles, so I use it as a moisturizer at night before bed.

Cornstarch

I use cornstarch instead of dry shampoo. Yup, just plain cornstarch. I have pretty light hair, so I can get away with it, but if you have darker hair you could add cinnamon or cocoa powder to the mix so it matches your coloring better. Another option is arrowroot powder, which can be purchased at a natural foods store. I use cornstarch simply because I already had some and, in general, it’s easily accessible.


Ok, there it is! If you have any questions (or product recommendations), leave ’em in the comments!

Ruthie & Judah

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This October was supposed to be a time of celebration for our family. C turned 29. We went on a family vacation to the mountains–one of our favorite places. And we planned to finally tell our friends that we were expecting a baby, our second child. But that last one never happened.

On October 24, an ultrasound technician showed us a screen with twins–but no heartbeats. And on October 26, I miscarried those precious babies.

Instead of celebration, these last few weeks have been full of tears. I cried while I miscarried. I cried when we buried them. I cried every time I realized all over again that two of my children are gone. There are no words that adequately describe what it’s like to have two little ones die before you’ve even had the chance to meet them, but there are more than enough tears.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve come to this space more than once and tried to find words for this. There were none. But I couldn’t let this experience go by without saying something–not because I feel obligated to share every last part of my life on the internet, but because I can’t stand the thought of people not knowing that my babies–my Judah Caleb and Ruthie Grace–were here. That they existed, and that they were so very loved.

But I still can’t find the words. The truth is, I don’t want to relive my miscarriage in any way. Not yet. Maybe never. I haven’t even written about it in my journal in any sort of detail. There’s too much pain there.

So what could I possibly say?

What comes to mind isn’t about them, exactly. It’s more about what I’ve experienced in the last few weeks because of them. Their loss created a chasm of emptiness, but that space made room for God to do good things.

Most prominent in my mind is a moment from the day we buried them–November 3. It was near the end of the funeral mass, celebrated by our parish priest and family friend. I sat in the front pew and watched this priest cry as he prayed over my children. Not a single, polite tear that was easily wiped away–tears of real grief. For a moment, my own sorrow was reflected back at me. And I was so incredibly grateful that someone else felt the loss of my babies, too. When I looked back on it later, I realized how clearly that moment conveyed the love of Jesus to me. Even though he knows the eternal reality better than I do, he used that moment to wrap me in his arms and hurt with me over my loss in this lifetime.

Since that day, there have been a hundred moments when I could feel Jesus near me, holding my heart. He’s been there through the love of my husband and through people who send texts at just the right time or gifts with just the right message. And sometimes I like to think that Ruthie and Judah are there in those moments. That maybe they saw my tears and ran to get Jesus so he could hold mommy.

My babies are not here, and that hurts more than I can say. But I love them. And I am so grateful that they existed and that they are mine. They’re showing me that even in this, God is good.