How we spent our Chubby Vegan Christmas

Prepare for a photo bomb of all sorts.

It's Christmastime yo. And we've got my brother, sister-in-law and their three kids under our roof. So as much as I care about my virtual family, we've got to soak up all the brother-sister-cousin-niece-nephew-aunt-uncle time as we can! So rather than bore you with the details of our Christmas, let me just use a few words and a couple collages to share our holiday with you!

This was the first year Pearyn was super into the whole "elf on the shelf" phenomenon. Only, the real elf on the shelf creeps me out a little. And was packed in away in one of a gazillion boxes. So we opted for the cute and cuddly version that our kids could touch. They got into oodles of trouble; like mixing some cookies in my new mixer, trying to make a fruit smoothie and playing with the television. Speaking of trouble, Brae wanted to basically climb up the Christmas tree 24/7, so that made for an incredibly eventful holiday season.

In addition to elf on the shelf and decorating our tree we got Brae's first Christmas ornament, made some yummy holiday-themed treats and made cookies for Santa. I soaked up some gorgeous winter weather (what can I say, I was born a snow bunny) and Ry read Twas the Night Before Christmas for our fifth Christmas in a row now (his favorite tradition).

Before we turned in we made sure to leave some cookies out for Santa, carrots for the reindeer, in addition to some oats with "sparkles" to sprinkle in the yard so they could find their way. The kids woke up and opened their stockings first, while Chubby Vegan Dad made the annual tofu Christmas wreath and we waited for my parents to come over and open gifts with the kids. Pear was pretty pumped about the make-up she got in her stocking (play stuff) and probably won't have a career as a make-up artist in her future, judging by her ability to put on lip stick.

Pear was pretty excited about her art studio desk we got her and started doodling almost instantly. (Thank Heavens we had the sense to put it all together the night before). As for Braeburn and his first Christmas, he was most excited about the tofu wreath, the bows and a few of his Batman cars.

Chubby Vegan Dad spoiled me rotten by getting me my new baby (a professional Kitchenaid mixer I swore up and down I'd never use, but have actually become obsessed with), while he got a home beer brewing kit. Some of the girls and I got together and bought all of our hubbies the same beer kit with different recipes. Now the men can have a brewing day and we can gab and play with the babies.

The biggest blessing this Christmas has been having my family under one roof for an entire week. It's been difficult from time to time because my almost-one-year-old niece is a bit under the weather, but it's more than worth it to get to spend time with everyone. Watching the kids play together makes me long for a bigger family, closer family or some mystical universe where Colorado and Ohio aren't thousands of miles apart.

I hope your Christmas was as blessed and delightful as ours!

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Why I think you NEED to check out Need brand

WARNING: You're about to expose yourself to unadulterated, unedited, mom-of-two, likes to eat vegan ice cream and cookies, only runs a few miles a week, chubby vegan stomach. Also, having children does something weird to your belly button. I swear. It like makes it the black hole or something.

Last month I got approached by someone from Need brand. Not sure what that is? Me either. So I googled it, naturally.

Turns out Tia and Tamara (yes, the awesome chics from the beloved 90s sitcom Sister, Sister), have hopped on the natural, crunchy parenting bandwagon. In fact, Tia has become a full-blown vegan, what, what! 

They created Need brand for mommies out there looking for personal items that are good for them, good for baby and good to the animals (aka cruelty-free). What's not to feel good about?

Right now they have two products out, Milky and Stretchy. Milky is a simple herbal tea supplement designed to help lactating mothers increase their supply. And Stretchy is an all natural, organic moisturizing cream aimed to take those pesky stretch marks away (cute and adequate name, right?).

I was lucky enough to review Stretchy (I haven't figured out yet if it's because I'm a mom or because I'm a chubby mom, I kid, I kid!), which after housing two children, going from an A-cup to a C-cup when I was 13, then a D-cup to a triple-letter bra size after having two children and just having my big ole' giant, boxy hips to begin with, well, it's safe to say I could use a could stretch mark cream .

Sure, I've tried them before. From lotiony butters to herbal concoctions it's safe to say my body has been slathered - unsuccessfully - with all the different "formulas" on the market. So when I decided to try this "moisturizer," I was more than skeptical.

But I've got some good news for ya'll. Now, did Stretchy take away all my marks, give me flawless skin and make me look 20 and toned again (haha, jokes on you, I wasn't toned when I was 20!)? No, not exactly. 

But after six weeks of use at bedtime, my stomach stretch marks that were still purply-pink after delivering my daughter almost FOUR years ago, have definitely blended into more of a flesh tone. This is quite the accomplishment for a little ole' lotion if you ask me. Are they still there? Yes. But can you see them as drastically as you could before? Heck no. That's a victory to me, you know, just in case I shed my feathers and decide to sport that string bikini this summer! 

Now, the results. Don't say you weren't warned. (These photos have not been edited in any way and reflect the results after six weeks of once-a-day use. The crappy tattoos also have not been edited in any way and reflect the poor decisions of my early twenties. Hey, I love em, what the hell). 

I can't vouch for what happens if you use it all through pregnancy, but I can say I was pleasantly surprised when I looked at the before and after photos of my stomach. 

And if that's not enough to convince you to give the product a try, let me just tell you it smells DELIGHTFUL. Anytime I put it on my daughter would be following me through the house asking me why I smelled so good. I actually purchased some for myself in my stocking stuffer this year because I like the way it softens all of my skin, not just my silly ole' stretch marks. If you don't believe me, you can cruise over to the Needs site and read the kick-butt reviews there, too.

The downside to this fragrant awesomeness? It's price tag certainly leaves room to be desired, at $17.99 it's definitely on the higher range of moisturizing products. But it's cruelty-free. And I felt like I was pampering myself. And it smelled SO good, did I mention that?

The Needs brand will be expanding it's offerings this year, so stay-tuned to find out what else they have in store (literally!). 

Semi-femi Chubby Vegan Mom side note:

Now, before you go and get all "those stretch marks are your tiger stripes, you earned em,' be proud of em'" on me, let me shed a little light on my feelings about this. Am I ashamed of my stretch marks? Absolutely not. 

I don't mind my baby marks, but sometimes, the other ones dotting my body take me back to a place I'd rather not go. Being 13, changing for gym class, being covered in these stupid marks because my boobs got big too fast or because my hips expanded, it was embarrassing. Especially when half of your friends were waif-like and didn't have one on them. So there's nothing wrong with having them, but there's also nothing wrong with wanting to not have them if you don't have to. 

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Have your Christmas wreath and eat it too

With Pearyn just five months shy of turning four, she's ridiculously into doing any and every thing mommy and daddy are doing.

It doesn't matter if we're shoveling the driveway, changing her brother's diaper or scrubbing the kitchen floor with a toothbrush (we totally don't do that), she absolutely has to be involved.

Since her brain is like a little sponge and she absorbs everything she's learning right now, we've decided to start including her in as much as we can if we can make it a learning experience. So for the last month while we packed boxes and put together new furniture, she's been helping her daddy tighten screws, measure lengths and make sure pictures are level.

And because we're in the throes of Christmas and the super awesome baked goods it brings along with it, she's been my little sous chef when it comes to all things breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert. Luckily for her we're elbow deep in dough, sugar and chocolate.

Today I decided to take something easy on. I wanted a dessert that would be simple to veganize, easy for Pearyn to contribute to and super Christmasy (yep, that's a word, just made it up).

Enter the cornflake, mashmallowey Christmas wreath. If you've had a rice crispy treat, chances are you've experienced one of these little circles of joy. They're cute and green and you use little cinnamon candies to add some red accents to the wreaths.

These were a hit with Pear Bear, they were quick to make, the vegan marshmallows worked perfectly in place and after sitting for about a half hour they were totally sticky-fied.

Vegan Christmas wreaths of Heaven
(Makes 28 two-inch wreaths)
Five cups cornflake cereal
1 bag vegan marshmallows (I use Dandies, they're available at our health food store, the big ones worked fine!)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup vegan white chocolate chips (just for some flavor)
4-5 drops green food coloring (we buy a locally made brand at the health food store)
1/3 cup vegan butter (we use Earth Balance!)
Optional: Red, vegan cinnamon-flavored candies

In a large pot, melt the butter on medium heat. Add the marshmallows (I cut them into fourths with kitchen sheers to make sure they'd melt easily), stirring until they melt into a buttery, creamy fluff.

Add food coloring and vanilla extract. When it's all smooth, stir in the cornflakes. Add the vegan white chocolate chips in the last minute and stir together.

Spread a piece of parchment paper out on a flat surface and using a spoon or just your hands (keep a bowl of water nearby or you'll get sticky!), make two-inch circles. Top with red, vegan candies. Let them sit for at least 30 minutes before taste testing. Keep them in an air-tight container for the next three days!

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This holiday season, let's agree to disagree

I don't know what happened to me, folks. One minute I was rolling my eyes at a Facebook comment and the next I was raging against the machine. OK, not really, but I did allow myself to get a little worked up over something someone I don't even know said. (Got to love internet and it's ability to make us all sound like rambling, psychotic, know-it-alls!)

When it comes to face-to-face interaction, if there's a particular topic I feel strongly about, you're going to hear it (that is, if you do something to evoke me). I'm not one of those individuals that hops up on my soap box and preaches to others about how wrong they are. Because truthfully, that's the big problem with a lot of passionate people. We feel so damn strongly about something that we only see it as a black-or-white issue. When in reality, very few things in this world are black or white.

I fight a lot. There's something combative in my nature, I call it charming, my husband calls it high maintenance. But one of the things he always compliments is my ability to see the other side. In fact, when it comes to the way I see things, it's all pretty much gray to me. Even taxes, I know there's a set percentage and everything, but I really feel like there should be some wiggle room there.

Maybe it's my fear of being wrong, maybe it's my subconscious telling me to agree to disagree or else I'll murder someone, whatever it is, I fully admit that passion doesn't always correlate with accuracy. Just because I really, really think and believe in something, doesn't make it right. Especially not to everyone else.

This holiday season, maybe we can stop calling each other stupid just because we don't believe the same thing. And while most of us are smarter than to come out and simply tell someone "they're stupid," maybe we can stop inferring it, stop snickering at the people who think differently than us, stop believing the world will spin off it's axis just because another person doesn't agree with us.

Am I a little bit on the hippie side? Probably. (I mean not just anatomically, but the way I live my life). I'm vegan (gasp, shock, awe!), I like cloth diapers, I worry about global warming, our children don't get flu vaccines (or a handful of others for that matter), I make my own baby food and I'm a tiny bit of a feminist. (More gasp, shock and awe I'm sure).

But just because I think we shouldn't eat, use, abuse or bother sentient beings, doesn't mean I'm right. Do I fully believe a vegan lifestyle is the right decision for MY family? Yes, yes I do. Does that mean I think every person not adopting one is an asshole? Yes, yes I do. NO. I'm really just kidding. I realize there are numerous families that don't see anything wrong with drinking milk from cows, with slaughtering pigs for bacon, and honestly, I can't blame them. Some people don't view animals in the same light I see them; that doesn't make me right or them wrong, it makes us different. And thank Heavens for our differences because what would we have to complain about if we all thought the same way.

We choose to vaccinate on a delayed and alternative schedule. I've talked about this in detail before, but the gist is this: we did our research, we looked at both sides, we talked to our children's physician and in conjunction with him we came up with something we were all confident and comfortable with. Does this mean you can treat me like my children are the next plague? NO. No, you don't have the right to. You have the right to respect my decision as a parent and the thought and research I put into that conclusion.

 I have several friends who never received a vaccination and guess what, none of them have carried small pox. This isn't to say it can't happen, it's just to display a point. When you choose to vaccinate you do so at the risk of suffering possible adverse side effects, anywhere from a simple rash to death. While you can't 100-percent guarantee someone they won't have a reaction, you also can't 100-percent guarantee an unvaccinated child will undoubtedly contract and spread every terrible disease and illness. When it comes to parenting, hell, life in general, we weigh the options, assess the risks and play the odds.

I could bore you with the studies showing connections between the hormones and steroids being pumped into our meat and dairy that have been linked to cancers, to young girls going through puberty MUCH earlier, not to mention our increased heart disease rate. But I don't. Because I would like to believe that you know these things. And that when you decide what food you're putting in your bodies (just like we decide what food or vaccination we're putting in ours), I'd like to think that you've researched it, understand the risks and are playing the odds you believe will be in your family's favor.

And while we're on the topic of making people feel stupid, I'd like to extend that thought process out to professions as well. Guess what? Being a nurse, a doctor, a surgeon, doesn't make you smarter or better than me. Does it mean you have more experience and knowledge in medicines, chemistry and heart surgery? Yes. Does it mean you're better or smarter than me in every other way? No.

I dedicated my college degree to English, to the study of language and literature, but just because I can diagram a sentence doesn't mean I'm queen of the world. Hell, just because I went to college doesn't mean I'm better than the man or woman working behind the counter at a grocery store who chose not to. They could probably tell me a lot more about customer service than I know. Intelligence has  to do with the field you're judging someone on. Several of my nursing friends have utterly atrocious spelling and grammar. Do I giggle behind their backs and talk about how stupid they are because they can't spell "weird" the right way? No. I acknowledge that their specialty is NOT grammar and therefore, they aren't stupid because they can't tell me the difference between first, second and third person.

So this holiday season, maybe we could all be just a little bit nicer to everyone else. We all have something we're passionate about. We all have something we love and believe in. But just because someone doesn't share our love, passion and beliefs doesn't make them wrong, and telling them they're stupid, doesn't make US any more right.

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Vegan stuffed peppers for dummies (in casserole form)

Have you ever made stuffed peppers?

They're amazing, aren't they? While I've never followed a "strict" stuffed pepper recipe, I've always stuck to the basic components of it: peppers (tops off, ribbed and seeds removed), some sort of ground "meat," some form of liquid tomato, onions and rice.

And while they're always delicious (regardless of what ingredients I end up tossing together), the peppers themselves are kind of drama queens. It's not like you just cut the tops off and throw some stuff in them, oh no, you've got to take things out, put things in, cook them just the right amount of time so they're done but not mushy.

This past week I was at the grocery store picking out some carrots and I started drooling over the peppers. What can I say, sometimes I get weird hankerings. I contemplated making stuffed peppers for about three seconds before I decided they were way too much work, especially if it was just going to be myself, my husband and our two kids eating them. There's no need to impress them with the presentation.

And then I was inspired by a dumbed down cabbage roll recipe I did a few years back and decided it was time to make this happen. This takes hardly any effort at all (if you really want to skimp on time just grab some frozen diced up veggies and you'll really be set) but it tastes JUST like the tedious stuffed peppers you used to make.

You're welcome.

Vegan stuffed pepper casserole
(serves 8)
3 medium green peppers, diced (you can do 4 if you really like peppers, or use red, yellow or orange if you want to get really crazy!)
1 large sweet onion, diced
2 cups cooked lentils (just follow your lentil instructions)
3 tomatoes, diced
1 15-ounce can tomato sauce
2 TBS vegan Worcestershire sauce
2 tsp black pepper
2 tsp salt
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp basil
2 TBS minced garlic
1 cup cooked brown rice
1 cup vegan cheese (optional, we used Daiya Mozz because we had that on hand)

Cook your lentils and brown rice. (Just follow the instructions on their packaging). Preheat your oven to 385 degrees. In a large bowl, mix together your cooked lentils, brown rice, black pepper, salt, thyme, basil and garlic. Add vegan Worcestershire sauce and tomato sauce. Stir in diced onion, peppers and tomatoes. In a greased, large casserole dish (9X12 or whatever), pour stuffed pepper mixture. Top with vegan cheese if desired. Bake for 20 minutes, or until cheese starts to melt and brown a little.

Serve with your favorite salad, veggie or garlic bread! Contemplate never stuffing a pepper again!

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This crazy tragic, sometimes almost magic, awful beautiful life

I can't even fathom how it's already December 8. I swear I was just making our Thanksgiving Day microwaved feast yesterday! (I kid, I kid, none of our dishes touched the microwave, however, only one of them was homemade)!

Speaking of our Thanksgiving Day feast, I have to give mad props to Trader Joes. It's been six years since I first had any form of fake "turkey" roast and this one, unlike my first one, did not disappoint. At all. The texture was tender, not rubbery or chewy, and while the gravy it came with was just a wee bit bland, we added a touch of salt and all was right in the world again. We also had some stuffing, cauliflower "mashed" potatoes and peanut butter pie. Not bad if you consider we closed on our very first home the day before and had movers at our house 8 a.m. on Black Friday. 

Did I mention we're now homeowners? (Oh yeah, probably 497 times in the last two weeks, my bad). We've never been homeowners. We've always rented. So while the responsibility of something like a roof collapsing is scary, it's way more fun knowing we can do whatever the heck we want to this house. Pear wants orange walls in her bedroom, no more worrying about covering up the paint a year from now when we inevitably move again. We found a home in our price range in the city we were really, really trying to get into. It's got a top notch school system, access to the highway for my husband and is nestled in a neighborhood where property values have remained incredibly steady despite the less-than-stellar real estate market. 

It's a sweet little ranch with three bedrooms, two-and-a-half baths, two fireplaces, a new kitchen and a completely finished basement, complete with an office and guest area for overnight family and a giant rec room for the babies to run around in. The outside has a bunch or trees, animal feeders and a pond with a little streaming fountain. We basically have no intention of ever moving out. EVER. 

And if moving hasn't made us busy bees, I had my yearly company work meeting to attend this past week. It's basically a three-day excursion where the entire company tries to cram a whole year's worth of "us" time in because we're all virtual. It's an utterly amazing event and the places we get to go are beautiful. This year we traveled to Tucson, Ariz., and while the temperatures were a little bit chilly, nothing else was. 

The resort we stayed at was welcoming and between a jeep trip to the mountains and a tour through the biosphere, we got to take in things we normally never would. Not to mention a team-building exercise where we put together 12 bikes to donate to the Boys and Girls Club of Tucson and a ping pong tournament after dinner on Thursday.

I've said it before and I'll probably say it a million times more: I work for an absolutely phenomenal company. 

I should probably also mention that it literally takes a village to raise a child, or, in our case, it takes a grandma, an aunt, a cousin and a very patient and loving husband (I mean, he did help make them and all). 

Without the help of my family and the support of my husband, these little business trips wouldn't be possible. 

So now that I've returned to our snow-covered home, it's time to get back into blogging and start some serious unpacking. I mean we've got the basics covered, but I've got a dining room to jazz up so we can hop on the family dinner train. 

And I haven't even started to contemplate our cookie assortment for operation show everyone vegan cookies are delicious and keep this tradition going with Pearyn. What cookies are on your must-make list this year?

I hope your family is enjoying the season and squeezing in as much of the holiday spirit and family time as your sanity can stand!

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