Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Christmas Season 2013

Hold onto your hats! Following is the whirlwind that was December . . .

The first Sunday after Thanksgiving (Dec. 1st), we attended church with Brandon's brother, Damon, and his family along with Brandon's brother Brent (and his girl, Camille), another brother, Trenton, and his family as well as Brandon's parents (everyone but us and Damon's family were in town from L.A. for Thanksgiving) to attend Damon and Angie's new baby's blessing. Elizabeth and Liv in the pews before the meeting began:
The whole crew after:
The proud parents:
The Instagram version of the event: 
(Seriously, Istagram has kind of taken over blogging for me lately--it's just so quick and easy!)

We have a new tradition during the winter months of making Japanese curry on the first Sunday of the month. The first Sunday is "fast Sunday" for LDS people, and we typically fast two meals or about 24 hours. (Same difference for most people.) We fast from after dinner on Saturday night to dinner on Sunday night, and most people, including us, like to have a meal they can really enjoy after fasting for two meals. For us, that's Japanese curry:
(Elizabeth only fasts one meal, and Rachael none, just in case you are wondering if you should call DCFS.)
We started watching our favorite Christmas movies, from Elf and Muppets Christmas Carol . . .  
to the classic Santa Claus is Coming to Town and Polar Express:
I did a ridiculous amount of work related to house projects during the month of December. The first week was kind of monopolized by painters coming to paint Will's and the little girls' rooms: 
I found this painting company through and I would definitely use them again. They were so great! Del Cutting Edge Painting is the name, and they were nice enough to let the little girls do a teeny bit of painting just for fun. No, I have no "after" pictures, but here's the work in progress:
That first week of December I also had the last of the contractors at the house getting our master closet ready for a stackable washer/dryer (plumbers, dry wall guys, electricians, ventilation people, then the actual moving of the washer/dryer unit) with the goal of (eventually) turning our previous off-the-kitchen/back door laundry room into a "proper" mud room. I'll admit I kind of miss having a laundry room in that space now that it's gone (so convenient when you're already in the kitchen working), but you will see why it had to be done. Where else would all the boots, coats, and backpacks go after school? Right inside the back door in plain sight, that's where! So, for now, they are thrown all over the floor of our old, and now empty, laundry room:
I also spent an inordinate amount of time haggling with people contacting me through KSL Classifieds (Utah's Craigslist) for all the furniture (and other things) I was selling. I spent way, way, way too much time in the middle of an already busy month texting and meeting with people who wanted to come see and measure, etc. before finally getting it all sold and our garage empty again. (Unfortunately, we blocked the snowblower in with all our old furniture and didn't get it moved out until AFTER the big snow storm . . .) Why was I doing all of this during an already busy time? Because it needed to be done anyway (furniture to fit the house we've been in for 18 months now), so we used hosting people for the holidays as an excuse to finally just buckle down and do it. (I wish I could say the process is more fun for me, but it really just feels like one more overwhelming thing.) And of course, we wanted to get a mudroom space before the winter months hit for all the wet boots, etc. Would it have made more sense to do all of this back in the summer months? Yes, but I'm a procrastinator who doesn't like to work too far ahead, so I created lots of extra stress for myself during the holiday period. These are ridiculous, first-world-problems to whine about-- home improvement projects and selling old furniture because you got new furniture?--but even good stress is stress. And with Brandon gone the entire month of December (everyone wants to meet their deductibles in December as well as get their surgeries done so they can recuperate over the break, so work is an absolute hurricane for him), you can imagine how much I enjoyed this little day at the salon getting my hair done. I love hair day. Especially the soda fountain and the free York peppermint patties:
(No more whining about first world problems, only fun stuff from here on out.)

With the help of an online tutorial, I figured out how to do a sock bun on Elizabeth's hair for her class play, A Christmas Carol. Much easier than I thought and oh, so pretty!
The Instagram version (I love this picture):
She was SO excited about this play (talked about it every day for WEEKS), and for a group of 4th graders? I was pretty impressed:

I took Rachael and her best buddy with me to see the play that morning before kindergarten:
The first week of December we also had not one, but TWO work parties in a row. Wednesday night was the office party at La Jolla Groves in Provo (Brandon and his partner always let the office staff choose where we go), and then Thursday night was the hospital party at the Country Club. (Doesn't that sound so snooty? Do we look like snooty people? I try hard NOT TO knowing what some people think about doctor's wives . . .)
Thanksgiving weekend is when the annual fattening process began, but the two work parties two nights in a row really accelerated the holiday weight gain in earnest: 
 The lights and fires at The Riverwoods were so Christmasy: 
The following Saturday morning I took the little girls to Breakfast with Santa at Thanksgiving Point. While there I realized this was our fourth Christmas here in Utah and couldn't believe I hadn't taken them to this event sooner! It was so much fun:

 Buddy the Elf was so legit:
So good in fact, I think Santa might have come in a close second:
Or maybe not:

And--yes!--there was face painting. Rachael, who has spent most of her childhood pretending to be either a cat, dog, cheetah, or fire ferret, is a total sucker for face painting. She is wholly transformed if you put either a costume on her or face paint. So while other children asked for snowflakes on their cheeks or something funny like a mustache (as Elizabeth did), Rachael became Rudolph: 

 They decided this was Prancer. (Or was it Dasher?)
Bunny's family left behind this beautiful pink Santa coat that my kids remembered just in time for the Christmas season, and we already had this cheap "Santa's Helper" outfit for Yuki from last year, so the kids dressed them up and they stayed that way for about a week when it was really, really cold. I couldn't resist snapping a few iphone pics of them one day when I let them out to run around and do their business. There is just something so funny about animals in clothes:
 Look at the lift on those ears!
You have to admit this is cute, right? 
While the first week of December was taken over by work parties and house projects/furniture selling, the second week was taken over by preparing for the church Christmas party that me and my little Relief Society presidency were in charge of. Even though we divided up the work and delegated quite a bit out, there was still soooooo much for each of us to do and we spent HOURS meeting in person and texting each other about details. I mean, we were feeding and entertaining about 200 people after all! We chose a "Cowboy Christmas" theme, so the table centerpieces were simple #10 cans wrapped in fabric, twine, and greenery and filled with a special cookie decorating kit to keep the kids happy. Yours truly (and my kids) put together everything in the kit beside the cookies (from Ikea) and frosting. Wet wipes in baggies, paper place mats and towels to keep things semi-clean, and a boat load of cookie toppings:
(Yes, they washed their hands first, and yes, I let them eat some.)
(That's Elizabeth's carpool buddy.)
75 of everything:
This was the final set up. Now imagine it with low lights and country Christmas music playing in the background. Not too bad for a church gym:
A closer look at our cute cookie kit:
We had enough money left over in the annual budget to have Texas Roadhouse cater the pulled pork (which came with free rolls and their amazing honey butter--yeehaw!), and then we had a chili cook off complete with funny prizes like a bottle of Pepto Bismol:
Throw in some mac-n-cheese for the kids, green salad, red & green JELLO salad (because you can't have a Mormon party without green jello . . .), and some apple pie with whipped cream for dessert, and you've got yourself a pretty good meal! Here's a pic with a full house. We were at max capacity: 
We asked someone to put together a cute photo booth out in the hallway. My adorable friend, Jan (who looks like she's one of her 6 adorable kids) had herself and her kids all dressed up for the "Cowboy Christmas" theme:
Besides a few food details and the cookie kits, I also put together the entertainment for the evening. I was behind the piano the whole time, and Brandon was the emcee (didn't think to ask Kate to take pictures for me since she was doing her physics homework at the table and complaining about being there--so 16!), so there are very few pictures worth mentioning, but I think the program turned out really great. First we had the bishop of the ward singing, "It's the Most Wonderful Fattening Time of the Year" while dressed in a big red body suit (like Santa's underclothes) while a little "elf" stuffed various food products in his suit. Next up was some trick rope and singing by sweet Carolyn. Remember the hospital party? I got talking with Carolyn there and inadvertently found out she used to sing at rodeos for NINE YEARS (sometimes while standing on top of horses!) and she also did trick rope. Are you kidding me? I've been going to church with this woman for almost 18 months now and I found this out mere days before the "Cowboy Christmas" party? If that isn't Devine Design I don't know what is. So yes, I "roped" her into the program last minute. (Sorry . . .) She had her kids do the trick rope with her which I thought was too cute: 
Beautiful singing voice:
The kids had the best seats in the house:
Then we had some Cowboy poetry by the talented Anne Sward Hansen
Next up was Santa who totally worked the crowd, handed out candy canes, and led everyone in several fun songs (I'm on the piano, so no pics which is too bad because Jeff Davis Santa was so much fun!), followed by another incredibly talented woman, Brynn Zimmer, who read a beautiful Christmas story in such a way that the kids could transition from spaztic Santa to the grand finale of the program which was them being featured in a nativity scene while singing peaceful Christmas songs. (See my little Mary down there?) 
And then we cleaned up until 9:30 while feeling relieved and happy and laughing our heads off. Jim's outfit helped:
 And we all got some nice leftovers, too, like this Texas Roadhouse roll with honey butter. Mmmmm:
The very next day was Kate's big performance of "Silent Night" and "The Holly and the Ivy" in church. She not only played beautifully, but looked gorgeous as well:
The night after that was her harp Christmas concert: 

I mentioned the snow storm. We had a lot of beautiful snow early in the month, as well as beautiful skies and a full moon mid-month. There is nothing quite like a full moon shining on freshly fallen snow, but I haven't figured out how to take a picture of it. Here are a few other nature pics from the month. Just iphone pics, but still pretty:

We have some gutter issues that need to be addressed, but for the time being, it's fun to see icicles form this big:
Kate was up late doing end of term homework and projects many school nights in December and missed her 7am bus more than once. I really didn't mind, though, because I was always driving her to school at the prettiest time of day:
One of her many projects this month:
Me pumping gas in my pajamas so I could get her to school on time late:
Here's that full moon:

Ya, things were just a wee bit chaotic around here while all the additional Christmas stuff was going on. This is what a typical night looked like as we attempted to do a little family scripture study and prayer before bed. (We've had a pretty bad track record as of late.)  
We did the "drive thru" Christmas lights down at Thanksgiving Point during Thanksgiving weekend, but then it was just hit or miss catching neighborhood lights when we happened to be driving around anyway. This was on the way home from piano lessons:  
Why is it so fun for kids to ride in the front seat without a seat belt on with the windows down?
I spent more time than usual (late at night) playing Christmas music on the piano just for fun. I don't do that very often. This is an arrangement that Will and I are working on. (It is this version performed by the Piano Guys. Watch it!!) Will won't be ready to do this for a couple of years, but I've told him he can't leave home until we've performed it together somewhere in public at least once: 
I tried to balance out the fat and sugar overload this month with fairly regular green smoothies for breakfast and going to a new fitness class at the church led by a mom doing it just for fun. (Holy schnikes! I haven't been able to walk right for days now! It's a good workout . . . maybe too good . . .) But even with all the spinach smoothies and workouts, I know I've still put some pounds on. Of course, our bathroom scale batteries died in the middle of December, so until I bother to change them I'm not really sure of the damage. Here's to more green smoothies for breakfast: 
I spent hours trying to finish a photo book in time for Christmas of Kate's Sweet 16 in Seattle, and I'm happy to say that I made it and it turned out great! 
You know we had to have the dogs groomed in time for Christmas. My friend told me about this hole-in-the-wall place not far from here that does THE BEST job for about half the price of everywhere else. So here's a little shout out for Happy Trails Pet Grooming:  
Many sweet people brought us various nummy treats. This is how I felt with Brandon gone so much:
Let's not forget Will's orchestra concert (no pic), and Rachael's "Sing-In"at school:

I love kindergartners:
Before afternoon kindergarten and the Sing-In, I had errands to run at Costco, so these two friends had Costco samples for lunch. That's December for you. They didn't seem to mind:
Rachael also had a class party that, ironically, I organized as the room mom but didn't attend, and there was also a Polar Express Day. Could this girl get any cuter?
Other cute and random play dates during December. PBB: Peanut Butter Banana smoothies, Pirate Booty, and Bears:
The silly carpool group:
And then--finally!--school was out and we were all FREE! Free to go see Frozen (such a great movie!) and take this pic in the parking lot with my iphone. I love it:
Brandon got the wassail going. It's been brewing in a crockpot on warm for over a week now. He just keeps remaking it:
And I made the annual Christmas breakfast casserole and cinnamon rolls in advance for once and stuck them in the freezer. I'm going to do this from now on! Makes for so much less hassle on Christmas Eve and Day. (Wrote all about how to make Christmas Day a little less stressful HERE.) Clone of a Cinnabon cinnamon roll dough:
Into the freezer you go (just like Rhodes!), and then I took them out at 2:30 am on Christmas Eve before I went to bed to thaw and start rising by breakfast time:
The Saturday before Christmas we went up to Gardner Village to see their holiday cuteness and hopefully find a few last minute Christmas presents. The girls got glitter stars on their cheeks at the doll shop (which is where Kate found her present for Elizabeth--we have the kids draw names each year):

The teen and pre-teens just ran wild:

Funny little animated elves are found around every corner during the holidays:

Again, the Instagram version of our evening:
I indulged the little girls by buying a little plate of Christmas doll cookies and teeny tiny cookie cutters so we could make "bread cookies" (cut shapes out of white bread, butter, dust with sugar & cinnamon and toast in the oven) with the dolls when we got home. Seriously so adorable:

It's cold getting out of the shower on a winter day!
Sunday was the church Christmas program which I played for, and we practiced both Saturday and Sunday mornings. (Will also played cello for one of the numbers so he came with me to both practices.) It was tough music, and a lot of it, but I think the program came off pretty well. Of course, from where I sat all I could hear were the sopranos, and I didn't have Brandon there to give me an honest opinion of how it sounded from the audience. Sadly, he was on call over the weekend, and while Saturday was a breeze, he ended up having to go into the hospital on Sunday morning to fix a teenage boy's testicle (yes, I just said that--that's common lingo around here) and then in the afternoon/evening (he got home around 8:30pm) he put a stent in a 36 weeks ripe pregnant woman (among other things). So he missed the whole Christmas Sunday program! Such is a doctor's life in December.

On Monday we did something I've been wanting to do since we moved here. We went to "Candlelight Christmas". Over the mountain and thru the town, to Salt Lake City we go (sing it!):
Is this just the cutest?

I was born in the wrong century. Truly:

There was one little house set up for writing letters to Santa. This is Rachael's letter that she dictated to me. Believe it or not, Santa found an alicorn costume on Etsy. The verdict is still out as to wether or not it has magic and can actually fly:
The old school house had traditional pioneer dancing. William was mortified (I kind of forced him to be my partner), but I had a blast:

'Cause you can never sit on Santa's lap too many times:

Replica of the very first Christmas card:
Putting her name on the Nice List:

The Naughty List:

You have to experience a live Nativity at least once each season. You just do:

Old world meets new world:

It was everything I had hoped it would be (minus the older kids' smart aleck remarks and shenanigans).

Christmas Eve Eve (that's what we call it) the little girls slept under the tree. Yet another tradition:

And then, on Christmas Eve day, I finally finished all the decorating and got cooking/baking: my mom's English trifle, a big batch of clam chowder (to go with Brandon's traditional Reynolds oyster stew we have every Christmas Eve), and two batches of buttermilk syrup (scroll to the bottom). I make the syrup according to the recipe, but then I always like to do another batch with coconut extract. Oh, my! You must try this simple and delicious recipe:

See my little helper?
Grocery shopping for last minute ingredients:
My mom's English trifle:
And I finally finished the last of the decorating before our Christmas Eve gathering with some neighborhood friends:
 Kate helped me do this old-fashioned Christmas card garland:

We made the soup and stew, they brought the appetizers:
Baked brie with butter, honey, cranberries, and nuts on top will be the death of my husband:

We ate, we sang around the piano (and cello and harp), and we played spoons while Lincoln played the guitar. I love Christmas Eve with friends and/or family:
After our friends left, we let the kids open their new jammies and put them on (Kate was starting to get sick):
Then we decided what gifts we were going to give Jesus this coming year and put them in his stocking (everyone chooses one thing that we then include in our daily family prayer for the rest of the year), and we gave one last nod to the #2 man of the season with some mint cookies from Trader Joe's and an appropriately chosen mug full of egg nog (that the dogs got into after the girls went to bed):
And then we did what every other parent does on Christmas Eve--we stayed up until 2:30am finishing the wrapping, etc. This was probably the very first year I stayed awake with Brandon the entire time. Christmas Eve is just my favorite. The peacefulness, the anticipation. It's almost (maybe even) better than Christmas morning:

(Yes, we had that doggy stocking from a long time ago so you know we just had to put some doggy treats in there!) 

And finally, Christmas morning:

First, the stockings:
Begging for the treats she can smell in there:

Then the traditional Christmas breakfast of cinnamon rolls, sausage breakfast casserole, and grapefruit:

And then on with the presents! We go around the room one by one, youngest to oldest choosing a gift for someone else. It makes the special day you've been preparing for last so much longer and everyone gets a chance to appreciate and thank people for their gifts. We love doing it this way!

Thought we'd try out the cheapest version of the Kindle to see how we like digital books:
So far, so good:
I still got them "real" books as well:
And the photo book from her birthday:
My kids are all nuts about Dr. Who:

For the little girls, it was the year of doll accessories. They even set up a little Christmas tree in their bedroom with Rachael's blankie as a skirt and their jewelry for ornaments. So sweet:

There was also Buzz, a much needed friend for Woody (Elizabeth bought Woody with her own money at Disneyland last summer):

And My Little Pony fluff for Rachael, including the Etsy alicorn costume she asked of Santa:

I think there is definitely some magic in there:
A heartfelt thank you from Elizabeth for some doll clothes Kate gave her:
It was also the year of the Razor Riprider for the little girls (and anyone else up to 160 lbs.). These caster style trikes are THE BEST and so fun to ride around in our unfinished basement:
Holiday tea from Teavana for Brandon. We kept presents on the slim side for us since all the new furniture was more than enough:
And no Christmas would be complete without an annoying toy to put together as well as a toy without batteries. Again, serious first world problems:
Last but not least, the dogs got new beds, but only Bunny seemed interested. Mostly they both just want to sit by their people or on whatever else is on the floor:

No make-up and 5 hours of sleep. Just keeping it real:
Rachael foot sandwich:
The aftermath (with a full garbage can from the garage brought in by Brandon behind the couch):
After playing with presents and eating leftover breakfast and leftover chowder and stew, the sun set on Christmas Day:
Whew! Okay, that kind of took forever, and I'm kind of exhausted all over again just looking back over this month of frenzied joy. What I realize about myself is that I am the kind of person who wants to experience it all, taste it all, do it all. I am all about enjoying the abundance during the month of Christmas, and the crazy thing is, there is more than enough goodness to go around. December is the month of abundant love, hope, magic, and goodwill that spills out over everything and everyone. It is the spirit of Christ permeating the lives of those who believe in Him trying to give good gifts of time, money, food, or talents in his name. We were blessed to have three separate organizations we could donate to through our congregation this year: children in the foster care system, inner city/low income families up in Salt Lake, and the rather indigent Goshute Indian tribe. We happily took the kids shopping for some of the kids in the foster care system, and donated several bags of gently used (in some cases new) items to give to the Goshute Indian tribe. As minuscule as these offerings are, they are one tiny way we can not only recognize and feel gratitude for our own abundance, but more importantly, recognize and feel the abundance that God shares with us through His Son. He wants us to follow him by giving gifts of love just like he did for the benefit of his children. We are his hands here on this earth. So as tired as I am as I sit here in my pajamas at 11am 3 days after Christmas, the activities of the past month were worth every bit of energy expended for the memories made, the love shared, and the service rendered. I am wise enough to know by now that these are my "good old days," so I'm going to milk them for all they are worth.

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