Saturday, December 29, 2007

Gang of Four

I received this game from a friend this year for Christmas and I want to play it all the time. Alas, it calls for three to four players and my kids are not quite sophisticated enough to play it(--at least if I want it to be fun for me.) Luckily, my Mom and brother Evan are headed our way to spend a few days and ring in the New Year. They voiced that they were ready for some laid back days after a hectic holiday season, and I can't think of a better way to hang out and relax with them then playing Gang of Four until we drop from exhaustion. I hope that the kids are ready to fend for themselves for a few days! I'm going to be busy!

Friday, December 28, 2007

Friday Fun?

One of my favorite parts of Tiger Academy (the kids' favorite parts, as well) is Science Friday. It is one of my favorites because Jared is the teacher and my participation is often not required. (Not that I don't love the other days, but it is so nice to have a break!) It is the boys' favorite because they learn cool stuff and usually go on a field trip. So far, Jared has taken them horseback riding, to see the salmon run at the local fish hatchery, to tour a print shop, and today we took a family outing to the zoo. Yes, even after what happened this week in San Francisco. (Although I did get pretty nervous when the air raid sirens went off for two minutes. It turns out that the city of Sacramento tests their air raid sirens on the last Friday of the month. Seems like someone should have told me, because I was looking for a spot to hide my babies from the tiger on the loose.)
Now this sounds like a great thing to do as a family on a Friday morning, and we told the kids last night about our plan. Jared would first give them a science lesson about kingdom-phyllum-class-order-family-genus-species and then we'd all go together. Neither of us considered checking the weather report before giving our children such exciting news.
So, we bundled up and went to the zoo in the 40 degree rain. I'm sure that if you live in upstate New York, Winnepeg, or Yekaterinburg you don't think that is cold. But we Californians are a bit wimpy about such things. In fact, by the time we got back to the car, I was convinced that my feet hadn't been that cold since I walked the streets of Yekaterinburg (look it up here) in the winter, talking to people about my church. There were about three other families in the entire zoo who were as crazy (or foolish) as we. The kids seemed to have a great time (except Bronwen, who did not enjoy herself beyond the first ten minutes, when I managed to get this picture!). The three one-year-old Sumatran tigers (brothers) thought it was pretty cold too. We found them all huddled up together trying to keep warm. It's funny how you can watch three tigers who are brothers and think that you are seeing your own three sons! Poor little tropical guys, living in such a frigid, foreign environment. Oh well, at least they have each other.
In the hour that we spent there before we headed for the warm car, we got to see our favorites: the tigers, lemurs, and penguins, plus a few others; so I guess it wasn't a total loss. Plus, we get to count today as a school day! That means that some sunny, lovely day in May when you are all huddled over homework with your kids, we'll be at the pool!

Thursday, December 27, 2007

The Power of Positive Thinking

I walked into the hall bathroom the other day to discover that Kimball had been busy with the window markers:
I guess that no one needs to teach this kid about the law of attraction!

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Our Christmas Eve in Pictures

The Prime Rib

The table setting--Kimball made our placecards

Dinner was Standing Rib Roast with Zinfandel Gravy, Potatoes with Mushrooms and Shallots, Glazed Baby Carrots, Roasted Winter Squash, Dinner Rolls, and Red Raspberry Sour Cream Jello.

Shepherds, Abiding in the Field (one scene from our nativity reenactment)

The Christmas Tree just before we went to bed.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

Merry Christmas

From our family to yours!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

O, Spritz-mas Tree!

Growing up in my family, Christmas couldn't come without 8-10 different kinds of Christmas cookies being made in the days leading up to Christmas. We would all work to make them, rolling out, icing, decorating, mixing, "spritzing" them (as we called using the cookie press). There are several recipes that are required every year, and then we always tried some new ones or some that we hadn't had in a long time.
One of the cookies that is and was an absolute must is the Spritz. We always color ours green and make trees, wreaths, and stars. We decorate them with red hots and sprinkles and colored sugar. And we eat them three at a time. (Gulp.) They're little, ok? Spritz are great because one batch makes a lot, they look so festive, and who doesn't love a butter cookie? I made a batch earlier this week when my cousin Bec and her husband were visiting for the day, and sent a tinful to the preschool Christmas party. So now I may need to make some more before Christmas!
Today is going to be spent mostly in the kitchen, baking cookies and making candy. I have turned into a candy maker in the past 8 years or so, and love to make fudge, toffee, peanut brittle, and caramel for Christmas. Come to think of it, I'd better hit the gym this morning before I start in the kitchen! See ya!
Note: You need a cookie press to make these delectable Christmas cookies. So go get one!
  • 1 1/2 cups butter at room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1/4 tsp. almond extract
  • 3 1/2 cups flour
Beat butter with an electric mixer for 30 seconds. Add sugar and baking powder and mix until well combined. Beat in egg, vanilla, and almond extract. Beat in as much flour as you can--stir remaining flour if your mixer can't take it!
Force UNCHILLED dough through a cookie press onto an ungreased cookie sheet. Decorate with colored sugars, red hots, and/or sprinkles. Bake at 375 for 8-10 minutes, until cookies are almost browning on the edges. (You'll have to bake a few batches before you know what that looks like. Sorry. The good news is that even if they are a little brown or even downright burned, these still taste great. You just can't give them away to your friends.) Keep them in a Christmasy cookie tin like we do, or in an airtight container.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

A Great Moment

We had a moment here on Monday evening that you can probably only appreciate if you love someone on the autistic spectrum. Kimball, who has Asperger's Syndrome, has difficulty standing still at all, but especially when singing, reciting, or performing in any way. He typically spins, sways, and walks around while performing, no matter how many times we might encourage him to stand still. It is a form of self stimulation that is fairly common among kids with autism.
Last night at our weekly Family Home Evening, we had the boys perform solos for us of the "hymn of the week" that we had learned over the previous week. This is a regular part of our FHE routine. Kimball always does great with remembering the words (since his memory is incredible,) but it is usually so difficult to watch him because he is moving so constantly. Last night, without even being reminded by us, he stood still, arms to his side, and sang every word of "O Come, All Ye Faithful." There were tears in my eyes by the end as I realized what he had just done. He knew it, too. He excitedly announced as we were praising his performance, "I didn't even sway or anything!" So not only was he able to stand still, but he was really self aware.
This exciting bit of progress we attribute to the many sessions he has been having in the hyperbaric oxygen chamber over the past couple of months. Up until now, the changes we have noticed have been a willingness to try new foods and an increased awareness in social situations. Last night was a powerful moment for us. I am so grateful for this sweet little boy who teaches us so much and through whom we are able to see the Lord's blessings.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Are Mormons Christians and other Questions

Having a member of my church run for president again has brought a lot of media attention to the LDS church lately. Some of the reports have been fairly accurate, and some articles have chosen to propagate misconceptions about the Church that have been around for years. I know that many of my readers share my faith, but for those who do not, I wanted to add my voice to the dialogue and answer some common questions and misconceptions about "Mormons."
  • Are Mormons Christians?--This question is asked frequently, to which we answer a resounding "Yes!" The name of our church is not "The Mormon Church," but "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints." We revere Christ as the Son of God, the Savior of mankind, and as divine. We worship Him and strive to follow His example and His teachings in our everyday lives. We believe the Bible to be the word of God, just as other Christian faiths.
  • Do we believe, as Mike Huckabee insinuated, that Jesus and Satan are brothers?--This is a common teaching from those who wish to defame Mormons and show that they are not true Christians. We believe that God the Father is the spiritual father of all creation, including Christ, Lucifer, and us. We also believe that Christ is the only begotten of the Father in the flesh, whereas Satan was not born to mortality, and we have our own mortal parents. I think it would be more accurate to say that we believe that Lucifer was a spirit child of God, who fell from Heaven, as it records in the Bible. In no way to we believe Satan and Christ to be equals or physical brothers.
  • Do we believe that people of other faiths will go to hell?--No. We believe that the afterlife is more complex than heaven and hell. "Heaven" is made up of three different degrees of glory, which can be compared to the sun, the moon, and the stars (and Paul does compare them in an epistle to the Corinthians.) God loves all of his children, and He has prepared a place for them that is glorious and wonderful. People of other faiths, even those who do not believe in Christ, will still experience immortality in a place far greater than this life. We do believe that in order to gain the highest level of eternal life and all that God offers us, we must gain access to Christ's atonement through His Church, which is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
  • Do we worship Joseph Smith?--No. We revere him as a prophet, much like Moses or Noah. We believe that through Joseph Smith, Christ restored the same church that He had established on the earth when He lived on the earth 2000 years ago. We do not believe that Joseph Smith was perfect, but we do believe that he was called of God and inspired to do His will.
  • Do we believe in the Bible--Absolutely. One thing that differentiates us from most other Christians is that we also believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God. It does not replace the Bible, but acts as "Another Testament of Jesus Christ," confirming the truths of the Bible and making many biblical doctrines clearer. It is the record of an ancient people, just as the Bible is, who were led by God out of the Holy Land and to the Americas during Old Testament times. The Book of Mormon does not contradict the Bible, and members of the Church study both as books of scripture, given by God.
  • Do Mormons believe in the Trinity?--No. We do not accept the Trinity, which is not a Biblical teaching, but is accepted by many Christians today as a result of a decision made at the council of Nicea in 325 AD. Here is an article that explains it in detail, including the origins of the Trinity doctrine. We believe that God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost are three separate and distinct beings, and that God the Father and Christ have bodies of flesh and bones--immortal, glorified bodies, but bodies nevertheless. The Bible is full of references to the body of God and Christ and also says that man was created in God's image. The article linked above includes some Biblical references to the physical body of Christ.
I could go on, but should really spend some time today on other things. If you have more questions, feel free to post a comment, or go to, which is designed to give answers to people wanting to know more. And please, if you hear something about Mormons that is negative or hard to believe, please ask someone you know who is LDS about it, or go to the website for clarification. There is much out there that is untrue and confusing about our faith.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Christmas Quiz

I got this email from my friend Jana, then I decided to copy Rebecca's idea (I'd link you to her blog, but it's private) and post it here. I'll tag a few of you at the end, so get ready to come up with your own answers. If you don't get tagged, please leave a comment answering at least one question!

Welcome to the Christmas edition of getting to know your friends! Here's what you're supposed to do, and try not to be a SCROOGE! Change all the answers so that they apply to you.

1. Wrapping paper or gift bags? I love making the wrap beautiful. I am very picky about wrapping paper and buy the gorgeous wired ribbon that they sell at Costco because it will dress up anything. I am actually guilty of adding ribbons to presents that arrive in the mail bare. I leave the gift bags to Jared!:) The rest of the year, I'm all about the gift bags!
2. Real tree or artificial? Artificial..I miss having a real tree, but I love that we can put the tree up sooner and that I don't have to vacuum under the tree every day. This year we let Kimball and Henry get a real tree for their bedroom. It has improved the smell in there dramatically!
3. When do you put up the tree? I like to put it up on the day or two after Thanksgiving. But it really goes up whenever Jared gets around to it. I sometimes let it be for a week or more with just the lights before adding the ornaments--that gives me less time that I have to re-decorate the tree with a baby around who loves to undecorate.

4. When do you take the tree down? January 1st.
5. Do you like eggnog? Yes, the low-fat variety. Unspiked, of course.
6. Favorite gift received as a child? I still remember the year that I got a Cabbage Patch Kid.
7. Do you have a nativity scene? Yes. Several. I'd love to have more.
8. Hardest person to buy for? Jared.
9. Easiest person to buy for? This year, Kimball. I have found too many things for him and probably need to make some returns.
10. Worst Christmas gift you ever received? Hmm. I like gifts. I don't think there is such a thing as a bad one (unless you are trying to make it bad.--That wasn't a dare, Jared!:)
11. Mail or email Christmas cards? Mail. I'm still working on mine, but they are going out this year before Christmas. Last year, I did a New Year's card.

12. Favorite Christmas movie? White Christmas, Holiday Inn, Meet Me in St. Louis
13. When do you start shopping for Christmas? Usually in September at the latest. This year I started in early November. I do a lot online--it's easier than navigating the stores with kids.
14. Have you ever recycled a Christmas present? You'll never know!;)

15. Favorite thing to eat at Christmas? Want a list? Homemade cookies, toffee, caramel, fudge, peanut brittle, Sees Candy, Moose Munch. Oh, I adore Moose Munch! Can you tell I have a sweet tooth? I'll spend the last four days before Christmas baking and making candy.
16. White lights or colored on the tree? White lights, but I love a tree with colored lights as well. It's cozier. Since our tree has white lights on it, we don't really have a choice.
17. Favorite Christmas song? I love Christmas carols. I hate the Christmas Shoes song because it makes me cry even though I know it's just trying to play me emotionally. I don't love "original" Christmas songs very much. I love my Mo Tab Sing Choirs of Angels CD. I also love Emmy Lou Harris' Beautiful Star of Bethlehem. And, like Jana, I like Wham's Last Christmas. Just because I was in love with George Michaels in sixth grade.

18. Travel for Christmas or stay home? We definitely like to be home for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. I like to travel to my mom's sometime during Christmastime.
19. Can you name all of Santa's reindeer? Yes.
20. Angel on the treetop or a star? I wish that I could find an angel that I loved that was in my price range. I have a star there now, but am always looking for the right angel.

21. Open the presents Christmas Eve or Christmas morning? Christmas morning. Definitely.
22. Most annoying thing about this time of year? Being overscheduled. And having to take a plate of cookies to everything!
23. What I love most about Christmas? Christmas morning, when the running around is done, the baking and cooking is done, and I'm not trying to get caught up on laundry, to find one last gift, and whatever didn't get done on the list can be forgotten. I love spending that time enjoying our family, watching my kids drink in Christmas. Jared makes a huge breakfast and the rest of the day we munch on leftovers (and candy--see question number 15.)

Tag to Mahina, Macy, and Erika. I can't wait to read your posts!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007


Remember how Samantha on Bewitched could freeze time for everyone except herself? Hiro Nakamura and Peter Petrelli on Heroes have that same ability, and I want it. I'm officially putting it on my Christmas list. Think of all the things I could accomplish if I could stop time. My laundry would all be caught up. My Christmas cards would have been done a long time ago, and the large pile of presents in my bedroom which are cleverly covered with a queen size blanket, would have been wrapped and stashed a week ago. I would be posting every day with new things to enlighten, uplift, and entertain you.

Amidst the craziness of Christmas time, the disasters in western Washington put it all into perspective. How blessed I am to have clothes that need to be washed, dried, folded and put away, instead of just hauled to the dumpster because they have been destroyed by muddy flood waters. How blessed am I to have a bedroom floor, even if it has presents that need wrapping--still. How blessed am I to have a computer, from which I can occasionally post to my blog. So many people have lost everything.
Daring Young Mom has been working to mobilize people to help. Although I have never met her, I have long enjoyed her blog. I recently discovered as well that she is a former roommate of my sister-in-law, Erika. So I believe her to be completely trustworthy. Anyway, if you are interested in seeing more about what can be done to help, check out this link. She encourages us to donate through her blog or through the Red Cross. It is really humbling to see what the people in the path of destruction are dealing with. And if you want to do something for people closer to home, look around you. I guarantee that you will find people in need, people for whom you can make a difference this Christmas.
I just hope Santa brings me what I want--super powers. Is that too much to ask?

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

I Need a Chill Pill

Would that be a Xanax? Do you think that chocolate chips will do it? Does anyone else out there get absolutely crazy like I do at the holidays? It was only a few years ago that I realized what a complete, anxiety-ridden nutcase I am when left to my own devices. Somehow, I believe that:
  • everything must be perfect in order for anyone to enjoy the holidays.
  • it is up to me to make sure that everything is perfect.
  • "perfect" means perfect. no room for error, a dirty bathroom, or a bad hair day.
  • the more people that I can convince to come to my house for the holidays, the better, even though it will send me into a frenzy trying to make everything perfect for them, too.
My darling husband pointed out a few years ago that our little family feeds on my anxiety. You've heard the phrase, "When Momma ain't happy, ain't nobody happy"? (Pardon the terrible grammar.) I realized then that in my efforts to make everything perfect so everyone would be happy and look on the holidays with fondness, I was actually making people around me miserable because my stress levels were so high. And yet, even though I now know this cerebrally, I still in my gut believe that everything must be perfect.
Every year I think of some way that I am going to reduce and simplify our holidays so that I will be less crazy. And every year I am still crazy. What's a girl to do? Don't get me wrong, I love this time of year (although it's hard to imagine why!)
Anyhow, does anyone else have Christmas-makes-me-crazy-itis? Does anyone know a good cure? I am really focusing on exercise, scripture study, and prayer, which really helps some days. But not all the time.
Picture above is of the pies that we made the for Thanksgiving. With the pies brought by guests, we had 14 pies and 1 cheesecake. Yikes!

Monday, December 3, 2007

A Big Thank You

Wow! What an ego boost. I feel so loved and supported. Who knew that the best way to fish for compliments and validation is to be insulted by someone online?:) You guys are the best. I have had so many comments and emails from you that it's really touching. The next time I'm feeling down on myself, I'm just going to go back and read all your comments.
I realize that I haven't posted a recipe in a while, especially an original recipe instead of just linking you to my fave Cooking Light or Bon Appetit recipe. Here is one of my favorite good-for- you (mostly) comfort foods. It's a recipe that I came up with a few years ago when I was on a great weight loss jag (before having a couple more babies and gaining it all back again.) I like it because most vegetable lasagnes call for a cream sauce, but this one uses lighter marinara.
Even if the people at your house think they only like meat filled lasagnes, this is worth a try. My DH loves it and he is most definitely a carnivore.

Roasted Vegetable Lasagne
  • 1 medium eggplant, sliced
  • 2 medium zucchini, sliced
  • 2 medium yellow crook neck squash, sliced
  • 1-2 large red onion or sweet onion, sliced or diced
  • 1 cup crimini mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 cup grape or cherry tomatoes
  • 1 T. fresh minced garlic
  • about 4 cups marinara sauce (I like Trader Joe's in the green can)
  • olive oil
  • kosher salt
  • 2 cups reduced fat ricotta cheese
  • 2-3 cups grated mozzarella cheese
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil, sliced in ribbons and/or fresh spinach
  • no boil lasagne or whole wheat lasagne (about 1/2 package)
Spray a large jelly roll pan with olive oil spray (or put down foil, then spray.) Place all of the vegetables and garlic on the pan. Drizzle with a few tablespoons olive oil and sprinkle with kosher salt. Toss to coat. Place in 400 degree oven for 30-40 minutes, until the vegetables are nicely browned.

In a small mixing bowl, combine the ricotta, Parmesan, egg, 1/2 cup of the mozzarella, and the basil or spinach. Mix well.

Layer the lasagne thusly: marinara, pasta, half of the vegtables, half of the cheese mixture. Repeat. On top, add another layer of pasta and marinara, then top with remaining mozzarella. Bake in 350 oven for about 40 minutes, until cheese browns. Remove from oven and let sit for 10 minutes before serving. Serve with crusty bread or breadsticks and a green salad.
  • Note: If I were serving this at someone else's house, I'd put some crushed red pepper in as well. But, since I live here, I just add a sprinkle of it to my own serving.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Nursing My Wounds

After my last post, someone anonymously left me a hurtful and critical comment. When I read it, I was so stunned and hurt that I immediately deleted it. Later, I wondered if that was censoring something in order to paint a rosier picture of myself, which was not my intent. I just somehow hoped that if I deleted it, it couldn't hurt me anymore. Alas, the words have haunted me for two days now.
I will admit that part of it is that I want everyone to like me. Shameless, but true. So the fact that someone out there doesn't like me hurts, even though I think it's perfectly reasonable that everyone out there doesn't like everyone else.
But beyond that, I keep wondering if what they said was true? Do I come across as smug? I certainly don't mean to. What I am trying to achieve through this blog is:
  • to stand up for motherhood as a divine calling
  • to support other moms (and be supported by them) who are struggling with the same things I am
  • to find the humor and the joy in the everyday events of my life
  • to share our goings on with family and friends
  • to inspire others as well as myself to be a little better
I am not trying to put myself out there as someone you all should aspire to be like, nor to say that I am the ideal mother. I don't feel remotely smug, so I was bothered by the accusation and wonder if I am poorly communicating my true feelings. And struck by the irony of the comment, so recently after posting about how hurtful words can be.
In reality, I just need to get over it and stop caring if someone out there finds me smug or irritating. I have spent too much time since that comment thinking about myself and nursing my wounds. Time to look outside of myself and to lift someone else. Enough about me.

Friday, November 30, 2007

A Work in Progress

No one needed Wednesday's post yesterday more than I. It was just a tough day from the morning on. I had been up too much in the night with sick kids and skipped the gym for the first time this week--I'm trying to get there five days a week. Kimball was wound up from the moment he got up. I tried cramming in homeschool work before I watched a friend's kid at nine a. m., even though I should know better than to push him when he's anxious and hyper like that. I was also trying to finish a project for Christmas that had a deadline of today, and mid-afternoon I had to start it over from scratch. Anyway, the kids and I were feeding on each other's negative energy and I had to stop and breathe and say a silent prayer several times throughout the day. Unfortunately, many of those times I didn't stop and look for my cool until after I'd already lost it. Oh well. Better luck today. Even though I still have lots to do on the project today and some other things thrown in, I am determined to be calm and not stress out or lose my cool with my sweet little ones. They are more important than any Christmas project. Now, if I can just remember that in the heat of the moment, the day should go just fine.
Motherhood and being the mother I want to be is most definitely a work in progress.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Sticks and Stones May Break My Bones . . .

I was touched by Coconutannie's post today, which I discovered on David's post of the day. How often, as a mother, I consider the power of my words, for good or ill, on my children. That is not to say that I never say things to my children that I regret, sometimes instantly. I think that most of us struggle to curb our tongues, particularly in times of passion.
In April of this year, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland gave an amazing talk on the subject, which I have read and reread many times since. It helps me to remember the power of words and the responsibility that I have as a mother to use my words wisely and lovingly as I rear and nurture my children. This paragraph in particular emphasizes the influence of our words on our children:
  • "We must be so careful in speaking to a child. What we say or don't say, how we say it and when is so very, very important in shaping a child's view of himself or herself. But it is even more important in shaping that child's faith in us and their faith in God. Be constructive in your comments to a child—always. Never tell them, even in whimsy, that they are fat or dumb or lazy or homely. You would never do that maliciously, but they remember and may struggle for years trying to forget—and to forgive. And try not to compare your children, even if you think you are skillful at it. You may say most positively that 'Susan is pretty and Sandra is bright,' but all Susan will remember is that she isn't bright and Sandra that she isn't pretty. Praise each child individually for what that child is, and help him or her escape our culture's obsession with comparing, competing, and never feeling we are 'enough.'"
It is my daily prayer that the Lord will help me hold my tongue and think before I speak; that I will not lash out in anger at my children, nor snap at my husband; that I will be careful of the words that I speak about others.
Thank you, CoconutAnnie, for reminding us of this important principle. It pertains to all, but is even more critical for those of us with the blessed calling and responsibility of parenthood.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Guess Who's Coming?

In our home, we neither teach about Santa, nor against him. We read plenty of books (at Christmastime) with Santa in them, but there is no talk about what Santa is going to bring our children unless it is initiated by them. They seem to pick up on the idea at school, and each have made their own choice as to what they believe Santa to be. Call us humbugs, but it's the way I was raised and it works for us. We try to focus on the Savior and on the joy that comes from buying or making gifts for each other, on keeping surprises secret, and on serving others in need. I'm not saying that your family doesn't do that if you are way into Santa, it's just our way.
Anyway, yesterday on the way home from preschool, here is the conversation between Ian and me, who is obviously too young to remember the Christmas books from last year:
  • Ian: Momma, guess who's coming to our Christmas party?
  • Me: Who?
  • Ian: Santa!
  • Me: Wow! Who's Santa?
  • Ian: I think she's a little girl who's coming to preschool with me.
  • Me: Ian, Santa's not a little girl, he's a man!
  • Ian: No she's not!
I decided to wait and let his brothers set him straight so that they would be teaching the doctrine of Santa instead of me! Otherwise, Ian will sure be confused when instead of a cute little girl, a fat, loud, man with a beard shows up at the Christmas party!

Monday, November 26, 2007

On the Lookout for Predators

In the car on Thanksgiving Day, headed home from Grammy & Papa's house, Kimball announced:
  • I see a kidnapper's truck!
  • How do you know it's a kidnapper's truck?
  • Because the sign on the back says: Stop. Watch for Kids!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Bogged Down with Life

I am sorry that I have been such a slacker blogger lately. Besides having lots to do (as you all do at this time of year,) the posts that I have knocking around in my head right now will take some real time and effort to get just right, and I want to do that. But I haven't had the time and effort to give them and therefore, I haven't been posting. In the meantime, it is fairly obvious that I have lost all my readers but two or three. I can't say I blame you. I'm going to put a Thanksgiving poll up on my site, basically just to see if anyone is still out there, so if you are still hanging in there with me, please respond to the poll.
I hope you are all reading Erin's holiday blog on Rachael Ray. At least she's posting, even if I'm not.
Tomorrow is the day I make pies, lots of pies. My sister, Alli, my sister-in-law, Erika, my mom, and I will gather together and make pies and listen to Christmas carols (Sorry, Suldog,) and relish in the together time. Here's a link to my favorite traditional pecan pie--the reason it is the best you'll ever taste is that the pecans are toasted. It makes all the difference. I'll also be making a couple of Mary Jeane's famous apple pies, but I can't post the recipe without her permission. Maybe another time.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

A Marketing Campaign Begins

Recently, my dearest sister, Alli, and her darling husband, Flint, moved to the area from LA. Flint asked me how it is that I have successfully recruited them (and our mom, who plans to retire here in 2008.) I gave him all my tips of luring them up for a visit and making everything perfect, then casually showing them a neighborhood they'd love and pointing out how inexpensive the homes are (it helps if they are currently living in a market like Los Angeles.)
Yesterday, he took this photo and emailed it to his entire family with this caption:
Come to Sacramento, it's different out here!He's got them all coming for the "perfect visit" next week, where they will be wowed by Allison's amazing cooking, charmed by a visit to Apple Hill and to Cornish Christmas, and impressed with home prices (it's a good thing they aren't coming from Kentucky instead.) And we have the most cheerful graffiti around!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Older than Dirt

Overheard this afternoon in our home:

  • Henry: Really? You mean Mom lived in olden times? (he pauses to take it in, then says, in awe,) Wow.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Three Women, One Man, and a Baby

No, it's not a new show about an alternative family. It just describes my recent trip. I had the privilege of visiting some former BYU roommates, McArthur and Neves, in Washington, D.C. this past weekend. I took Bronwen with me on her first cross-country adventure, and we left the male folk at home to fend for themselves. Here are a few highlights of our trip:
  • A short but great visit with Rebecca, my cousin, and her two little boys. I took about 15 pictures of her two year old, Brandon, and not a single one was any good. Bummer. So you won't get to see anything from that.
  • Bronwen and I alone with McArthur's car, trying to get from Alexandria, where Rebecca lives, to Reagan National Airport, where I was supposed to pick up McArthur, and Dylan (Neves' hubby). Apparently, one of the security measures in the D.C. area is that you are never really sure where you are at any given moment, nor will you reach your intended destination on the first attempt, even if you are a local! (And I thought, being raised in LA, "I'm a city girl! How hard can it be?")
  • A drive out to the northwestern part of Virginia. If it had not been raining and grey, this would have been absolutely breathtaking. It was rather lovely anyway, but I didn't get any photos of this either, much to my chagrin!
  • A shopping to trip to "Gabe's", a discount store akin to TJMaxx, but on a much larger scale. I've been hearing about Gabe's and drooling over the deals acquired for 16 years now. Now I know what I've been missing.
  • Dinner at a fabulous little tavern in Upperville, VA.
  • A visit to D.C.'s Eastern Market on Saturday morning to check out the international flea market, farmer's and fresh food market, and to enjoy a maple pecan french toast breakfast. Yum. There were many booths to explore with jewelry from all over the world, photography, textiles, and architectural remnants. We would have lingered longer if it hadn't been frigid (the weather report had predicted sunny and 50 degrees. Not once did we see those kind of temperatures.)
  • A free concert at the Kennedy Center on the Millenium Stage. In spite of it being a standing room only crowd, it was worth it to see the Kenyan children's choir and acrobats who performed there. Bronwen made some friends while crawling around the floor under Kennedy's head. This brother and sister duo were so adorable and so into her--they cried when their parents finally said it was time to go.
  • Another great dinner, this time at an Indian restaurant on Capital Hill, near McArthur's home. Since everyone else at our table had been to India multiple times, they knew the best food to order and delighted me with everything I tasted.
  • Here's a shot of our charming hostess, McArthur. She always was the photogenic one.
  • I prepped Bronwen ahead of time that she needed to be on her best behavior, as these friends have not yet made the jump into parenthood, and I did not want to be responsible for scaring them away any further. At the end of the weekend, they pronounced her a "false advertising baby," skeptical that all babies could possibly be as easy as she. Nice work, Bronwen! Our plan worked perfectly!
  • The most miraculous part of the trip was that we didn't have any delayed flights, missed flights, six hour stints on the tarmac without moving, lost baggage, or screaming on airplanes. Our flights were pretty uneventful, which is a huge improvement over the last time I paid these friends a visit with baby Henry back in 2002. That was a nightmare (not the part where we actually got to be together, shopping for Neves' wedding gown--just all the traveling parts.)
  • I left wanting more. Not only more of my friends, whom I see too little of these days, but of D. C. I spent the flight home dreaming up ways that we could move our family there for six months and explore all the city has to offer, then wander up and down that coast. Washington D.C. is a homeschooler's paradise, with all of the free educational places available to visit. Maybe we'll be able to swing it someday, somehow!
Anyway, I'm home now, and busy with laundry, Tiger Academy, laundry, preparing for Thanksgiving next week, and more laundry. Hopefully I'll be able to post again soon.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

I'm Still Here!

Thanks for being patient with me as I neglect my blog. The past week has been a whirlwind as we settled into our Tiger Academy. I am still figuring out how to make time for me to do the things that are important to me (including laundry, blogging, and reading.) We are having a great time learning together.
I've also been getting ready for a trip this weekend that I'm really looking forward to. I'll tell you all about it when I get back. In the meantime, here is something to keep you entertained and indoctrinated in the ways of organic food.

This was made a few years ago by Free Range Studios, a graphic design firm where one of my dear friends from BYU days, McArthur, is the VP. (Yes, I am obviously out to impress you with all of the cool people I know after my last post!)
Also, Tawny requested a low fat dessert recipe. Try this fabulous fancy chocolate souffle for only 152 calories on Cooking Light. Or, if you're in the mood for pumpkin, try this Pumpkin Carrot Cake recipe, also from Cooking Light. Sorry it has taken me so long, Tawny.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Friend, Mentor, Guru . . . Erin!

One of my dearest friends ever, Erin, (who has been mentioned in several past posts,) has been making a name for herself over the past few years by winning many, many recipe contests. She has been to the Pillsbury Cook-Off more than once and every time I talk to her she has just returned from another competition in a far off city.
Erin is doing a holiday entertaining blog for Rachael Ray this holiday season, and whether you love Ms. Ray or you love to hate her, you simply must frequent Erin's posts. She went live today and the first post is about her family's annual Halloween tradition, which is what inspired ours
(although we are crazy enough to invite nearly everyone we know, in addition to the random trick-or-treaters that come by). Wander over and see what she has to say.

Party Wrap-Up

So last night's party was a success. We figure that we had about 90 people come, a few less than RSVP'd, but not too shabby! We had plenty of food, although we did have Jared's parents run to the store for ketchup, then 1/2 an hour later for mustard (what can I say--I don't think straight under pressure--can you imagine how scary it would be if I actually had alcohol at my parties?)
I really realized how many people help make our annual event a success. As already mentioned, Jared's mom and dad are the ones who run to the store for everything we forgot, plus I think Dad made three trips earlier in the day between his house and ours with tables, chairs, a crockpot . . . you get the picture. Then, there was Christine, who offered to have the boys come over and play after naptime. I was sure that I'd be fine without her generous offer, but by 3:00 it sounded pretty darn good. Nancy showed up at 4:00 and said, "I've got an hour. Put me to work!" and proceeded to vacuum most of the house (I had only gotten to the family room so far) and to clean up Ian's room, which he had torn apart during his naptime. My wonderful sister, Alli, showed up about 4:30 with her arms full of decorations (which I hadn't asked her to bring but which made such a great addition to my two little decorations!) She is so good to think of the things that I don't.
We are so blessed to be surrounded by family and friends, and this annual tradition always helps us remember how wonderful that is.
Anyway, here are some pictures for you to enjoy. As you can see, Colonel Sanders attended to festivities (complete with his accent). So did my newest adorable nephew, Isaac, who came as himself.
Here are a few other party goers, enjoying their food, conversation, and other delights (like the train table, which was a hot spot!)
James was so in love, he wanted to share his Skittles with Bronwen. Thankfully, his mother intervened!
Henry felt so let down when the party was over. Here's where I found him when everyone had gone.Dad and Kimball were crashed in the living room at about the same time.
Hope you can make it out next year, dear readers!

Party Post Coming Soon

I can't wait to post pictures and a rehash of our Open House last night, however at the moment I can barely get to the computer for all the clean up that needs to be done! Not to mention that as soon as we finished family scripture study this morning at 7:30 am (which I had rolled out of bed for fifteen minutes previously,) my kids said, "OK, Mom! Time for Txxxxx Academy!" (I'm going to have to come up with a code name for our home school if I'm not going to disclose our family name on this site. In the future, I'll call us Tiger Academy, as the tigers are our chosen mascot.)
So, stay tuned. There will be pictures of our celebrity guest, adorable children, and more.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Halloween Fun

Halloween is one of my favorite holidays, but you'll rarely find me donning a costume. As I sit here, I wonder what it is that I love so much about Halloween. The fact that it falls in the autumn, my favorite time of year, is definitely a factor. I love the excitement of children as they anticipate their costumes and all the candy that they'll consume. I love pumpkins and all the fall colors. And I love our annual Halloween party.
The last year that we lived in Whittier (2002), we decided to have a Halloween open house. We invited our friends from church, work, and school, and told the neighborhood to stop by for chili on Halloween night. It was so much fun that I promptly declared it a tradition. (My family will tell you that I am famous for declaring traditions after one time. I see no problem with it, if it's something you want to do again, but I do get a lot of razzing from my brothers and husband about this habit of mine.)
However, the first couple of Halloweens after we moved north were not conducive to an open house. The first year, we moved from an apartment to a house the weekend before Halloween, and we were still unpacking. The next year, we had a less-than-a-week-old baby. But by 2005, we were ready to introduce the Halloween Open House to our friends here. We printed up invitations for the first couple of years, and invited everyone we knew to stop by during the evening's festivities for hot dogs, chili, and homemade root beer. It was a hit! The first year, we had about 60 people come. By the next year, we had more like 80. This year, I just sent out evites and hope that word of mouth will reach everyone else.
So, if you don't live close enough to come to our party, maybe you should host your own. All you need is to make a pot of chili, drag your bbq out to the front porch, brew up some rootbeer, and get ready for guests! We do ask our guests to bring a treat to share, but even the year we didn't request it, many of them brought food along anyway. If you haven't gotten out invitations, you can just invite the neighbors in when they come by with their trick-or-treaters.
Last year, our boys decided to make their bedroom into a spook alley and they have been talking about it ever since! I love that they would rather be home at our party than out trick-or-treating (they do go to a church trunk-or-treat on the weekend before,) and that we can spend the evening with friends we love and with people we want to know better.
So come to our Open House or host your own. It's a great way to catch the spirit of Halloween fun. If only I had Morgan to decorate for me!

 Halloween Chili
  • 7 lbs. good quality ground beef
  • 3 large onions, chopped
  • 8 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 red bell peppers, seeded and chopped
  • 2 green bell peppers, seeded and chopped
  • 2 yellow or orange bell peppers, seeded and chopped
  • 1/2 c. chili powder, or more to taste
  • 1 T. cumin
  • 1 T. cocoa powder
  • 3 14 oz. cans Mexican stewed tomatoes, pureed in the blender
  • 6 15 oz. cans kidney beans, drained
  • 3 15 oz. cans pinto beans, drained
  • 3 15 oz. cans black beans, drained
  • 3 15 oz. cans corn kernels, drained
  • 2 cans beef broth (you might not need all of it.)
To make this recipe, you need an enormous stock pot or two. It serves about 70 people, so cut it down if your party is smaller.
Brown the ground beef for about 5 minutes. Add onions and garlic and continue to brown 5 minutes more. Add all the peppers and continue to saute until the meat is all brown and the onions and peppers are soft. Drain off as much of the fat as you can. Add chili powder, cumin, and cocoa powder. Saute until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add tomatoes and beans and half of the beef broth. Cook for 1-2 hours, simmering on very low heat, adding beef broth as needed to keep it from burning.
Serve with sour cream, chives, onions, and cheese on the side.   (Recipe from my friend, Erin!)

(Pictures are from Halloweens past and the last one is from our trunk-or-treat last weekend. Anyone who has tried to pose four kids in costumes before letting them loose on a party will sympathize with me--this was the best shot I got out of five attempts!)

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Apple Hill Adventures

We have a place in the nearby Sierra foothills that we visit every fall. It is one of the things that our family loves about fall. We always plan to go together as a family, but most years we go three or more times. Any of our out-of-town relatives that visit in the fall always want to go there. So, in our home, Apple Hill is synonymous with autumn. We went up yesterday, as Jared's sister and her boys were in town, and the weather was perfect--plus we avoided the weekend crowds. Fun was had by all. Below is an introduction to some of our favorite spots to visit at Apple Hill, so if you don't care, just scroll down to look at the pictures and leave me a comment anyway!
Apple Hill is a group of orchards, ranches, wineries, and farms that have come together to market themselves as a tourist destination. Each place offers something slightly different, although in September and October you are sure to find many places offering pumpkin patches, corn or hay mazes, and even a petting zoo. Everywhere you go you'll find appley treats. The apple cider doughnuts at Rainbow Orchards are almost always our first stop. They don't make them until you order them, so they come out piping hot, which is good because it slows you down as you inhale them. Their apple cider is also the best because it is made on site (you can get apple cider at any of the farms, but many of them don't make it fresh on the premises.) Rainbow has a beautiful orchard that you can picnic in or wander and take pictures as we did last fall. I like to buy my apples (20 lbs at a time) here, even though they are slightly more expensive than Abel's (later) because they are nice quality, crisp apples.
We also like to visit Honey Bear Ranch, were they roast a pig outdoors everyday (my apologies to my veggie readers); the food there is wonderful--the owners used to be caterers down in the valley and moved to Camino for a lifestyle change. The kids like their watermill and koi pond; some times they have a kiddie craft table where they can make a peanut butter pinecone birdfeeder for $2 or something along those lines (since my kids are craft starved, they absolutely love that kind of thing when the opportunity comes up.) And their apples are organic!
Jared's favorite treat to have at Apple Hill is the walkin' pie at Kids Inc. It is supposedly a single serving pie although I don't think I could eat a whole one and I'm a pretty good eater if no one is watching! They have a pumpkin patch and a great hill for rolling down if you are so inclined. They also have a nature trail, though I don't recall the walk. It's been a couple of years since we we took it.
Plubell's Family Orchard is another spot we love to take the kids. I don't think we've ever eaten there, but they have a great pumpkin patch, a petting zoo, a nature walk that we enjoy, and tractors and tire swings for the kids to climb all over. (This is Gabriel, my nephew, on the swing.) They also have nice spots to picnic if you've brought your own food.
A popular spot is High Hill Ranch, although frankly I think that it's too crowded to be worth it. They do have amazing apple fritters, but as you can only eat so much in one day, there are plenty of other farms to visit. They have a stocked pond for fishing, a fudge kitchen, cider mill, and lots of other stuff, but it is always teeming with people.
Able's Apple Acres is always either our first or last stop. This is where I go if I'm in the mood for good apples that are inexpensive. They seem to run a bit smaller and a bit more picked over than Rainbow's, but that may be because they are a more popular destination. They have pumpkins but not much of a patch, pony rides, a hay maze, and a big hill for rolling down. Also some cheesey photo ops, if you're into that--which my kids are. No orchard to wander, but lots of good food including about a dozen varieties of caramel and fudge apples, some apple oatmeal cookies to die for, fudge, and of course (just like everywhere else) frozen unbaked or freshly baked apple pies. They also have several kiosks outside with various crafters and local artisans but I've never found anything at those that I even considered buying.(This photo was taken three years ago, on the last weekend before Ian was born, on our family outing to Plubell's.)
Needless to say, visiting Apple Hill every year is something our kids look forward to and I try to save some calories for weeks ahead. It definitely feels like fall there and we always come home with a big box of local apples and tummies full of things we shouldn't indulge in very often. I highly recommend it!