Friday, December 20, 2013

These Are A Few of My Favorite Things...

Snow is on the ground, the air is cold, and Christmas trees peek from the windows of every neighborhood house. This is a magical time of year, no matter what you celebrate, when being cozy, admiring twinkling lights, and indulging in hot drinks and sweets is all that's on the agenda. Before we leave for Athens on Christmas Day, we have a few social engagements, some family fun, and a couple more presents to wrap. This weekend is all about checking the last few things off your list, enjoying your loved ones, and staying warm by the fire. Here are a few of my favorite holiday things...


Monday, December 16, 2013

Holiday Gift Guide: Charities of Choice

My sister in law Emily gave me the great idea to do a gift guide for nonprofits and charities this holiday season. Working for a nonprofit, I have the pleasure of seeing acts of generosity every day, and no time is as sweet as the holidays. It inspires me to support causes I believe in and reminds me to give back all year long. My favorite thing about philanthropy and charitable giving is that every dollar really makes a difference, and these days, you can see exactly where your donation will go and how it will have an impact on the group you choose. Donations in someone's name are a thoughtful gift, especially if you have a friend who's crazy about cats, reading, clean drinking water in developing countries, etc - there's a nonprofit for that.

 Leukemia and Lymphoma Society - I have many friends who have raised money through marathons for LLS, and loved ones who have benefited from the ground breaking research being done there. LLS supports every part of the patient experience and creates thousands of volunteer opportunities.

Local hospitals - I am totally biased as I work for a hospital, but with bias comes information. Give locally and know that every cent of your donation will go to the program or service that took care of your grandpa, baby niece, or best friend. Depending on where you live, your hospital might be doing research and medical trials of its own, or requires funding to keep special and imperative programs afloat. - I was blessed with a great education and lots of resources at school, but my mom taught in low income schools for years and had to provide basic necessities for her students. allows teachers to post projects and materials, and gives donors the power to select their favorites and follow the process until the students have what they need.

Heifer International - Is there anything more fun than giving someone a sheep or chicken for Christmas? I don't think so! Not only is it a cool gift, but it provides so many resources to the area receiving the animal (or other basic needs). It means that they're able to build up their own economy, provide food, clothing, and shelter, and sustain themselves for years to come.

Watsi - Crowdfunding is pretty hip at the moment, and while others were funding their concert tour or next novel, Watsi was creating a ground breaking opportunity to bring health care to developing nations. For as little as $5, you can support individuals in their specific medical needs. Watsi has funded over 800 patients in a few short years.

Humane Society - Taken care of ill, neglected, and abused animals is especially important when the temperatures drop around the country. The Humane Society provides lots of options for support - donations, volunteering, and adoption. 

International Rescue Committee - Biased again (as one of my best friends works for IRC in Africa), but I have learned through her how incredible their programs are. IRC helps to rebuild communities following crises, and provides support and resources on the road to safety. In Boise, a wonderful nonprofit supporting refugees is Create Common Good, which works with refugees to teach them how to grow, farm, sell, and cook their own food, creating jobs and healthy communities.

ACLU - For me, civil and equal rights are at the top of my priority list. ACLU works to preserve the rights and liberties for all Americans. A few other rights non profits that I follow are The Trevor Project, Lambda Legal, and HRC.

Do you have a favorite charity that I should add to the list? Happy gift giving!


Friday, December 6, 2013

Our Holiday Card!

I have to admit - next to actually getting married, sending our first holiday card was high on my list of accomplishments for this year. With teachers for parents, I always got to see stacks of cards, and I would sift through them, checking out the adorable kids and golden retrievers, so excited to send one of my own someday. We've started to receive a bunch of cards over the past few years from friends and family, and I love putting them up to admire throughout the season. 

I knew I wanted to wait to send our first card until we were married and were officially a little family. We used Tiny Prints after having such a great experience with Wedding Paper Divas for our wedding invitations. I love how they turned out and I can't wait to mail them all over the country this weekend! It goes without saying that this year has been the best yet, and we are so blessed to have been able to celebrate our love with so many of our favorite people. This card just sums up how we feel - Happy Everything to you and yours!

Did you do a holiday card? I would love to see!


Monday, December 2, 2013

Pumpkin Cheesecake

Happy Monday after Thanksgiving! Mondays are already hard, so this one is definitely providing some additional challenges after four days off. I'm still dreaming of pajamas and leftovers, especially this pumpkin cheesecake. It was the first cheesecake I've ever made and I was a little intimidated before I got started, but it turned out to be fairly easy! It's a time consuming recipe, but the end result is so delicious and perfect for fall. Creamy and fluffy with a hint of spice, this might become a Thanksgiving staple. Hope you had a wonderful holiday!

Recipe, adapted from Betty Crocker:
(Makes 12+ servings)

2 cups graham cracker crumbs (recipe called for 1 3/4 cups for a 9-inch springform pan)
1/2 butter, melted
2 tablespoons granulated sugar

1/4 cup flour (I used almond flour)
1 15-ounce can pumpkin puree
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
3 8-ounce packages light cream cheese, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
4 eggs

1/2 pint whipping cream
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 teaspoons granulated sugar 

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease a 9 or 10 inch springform pan (I used a 10-inch pan so I added an extra 1/4 cup graham cracker crumbs). Mix together graham cracker crumbs, butter, and sugar. Press into bottom of pan. Bake for 8-10 minutes. When done baking, let cool for 5 minutes and then continue cooling in refrigerator until it has returned to room temperature.
Meanwhile, in a small bowl, mix pumpkin, flour, and spices. In a large bowl, whip cream cheese until smooth. Slowly beat in sugar, and then beat in eggs, one at a time. Add in pumpkin mixture and lightly mix until fully combined. Don't overbeat the mixture.
When the crust is cool enough, pour cheesecake on top. Bake for 1 hour and 20 minutes or until sides are set and middle jiggles slightly. Turn off oven, open oven door at least 4 inches, and continue baking for 30 minutes. Remove from oven and place on wire rack for 30 minutes. Refrigerate for at least 6 hours or overnight.
Whip cream with spices, vanilla, and sugar. Run knife around cheesecake and carefully remove the side of the springform pan. Spread whipped cream over a completely cooled cheesecake.