Daily Affirmation

The best things in life are free.
The second best are very expensive.
- Coco Chanel

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Christmas Celebrations and the 2011 Wrap Up

Holy cats - I feel like I've been under water for weeks!  Christmas was one event after another - mostly involving L and I feeding people.  It's what we like to do, but the planning, the shopping, the cooking and serving - the plain old time on your feet! - just takes it out of you.
This year Christmas Eve was a throwback to a few years ago,where my whole family all gathered together - only this time it was at our house.  Our house is small, to put it mildly, and that's why, in recent years, we've split off from everyone else, as we had children and their young families here for the holidays and that was a big enough crowd to deal with.  Plus, we wanted to concentrate on the children and grandchildren we don't get to see very often.  This year was different because we had no out of town family here, so we felt we could handle the remaining bunch.  Again, my house doesn't have the space for a sit down dinner for 20, so it was open house style.  Everyone arrived when they were able to within a loose time frame, and everyone brought a holiday sweet or snack to share with everyone.  L and I cooked up a big pot of beef chili (no beans!), and had cheese and sour cream to garnish.  A crock pot brewing spiced pear cider and a couple of large trays of cookies completed our offering.  I was so surprised - the chili just DISAPPEARED!  For some reason, I never thought that everyone would go for it, and I never imagined that people would go back for more!  So yay - it was a hit!  The cookies were also popular - except for the peanut butter ones dipped in chocolate and crushed peanuts.  Hmmmm... I'll have to rethink those, I guess.  The surprise hit was the plate of key lime coconut bars.  And they were absolutely delicious, but they didn't come out of the pan very neat and pretty, so I had my doubts.  Even my diet conscious brother Chris couldn't stay away from them - now THAT is a compliment!
About an hour into it almost everyone had arrived, and the party got going.  I think one of the things I enjoyed most was seeing Scott and Ashley and my nieces and nephews visiting and having fun.  I'm sorry to say that I didn't get photos of everyone, but I managed to snap these few:
Nephew John and Scott deep in conversation

Nephew John, Scott (who can never resist making a face), 
Ashley and nephew Tom (texting on his phone)

My niece Margot (so happy to be home from BYU for the holidays!)

Niece Margot (center) Sister in law Jill (right) and Jill's mother Shirley (left)

So typical, I never got one shot of my other brother Brent and his family, my Aunt Margie, or one of my parents, or any of L - although he's usually hiding in the kitchen behind the scenes.  I get so busy making sure everyone is comfortable, or just visiting that I forget to get the camera out.  This is where I wish Katie could come to every family gathering to document them with her photography.  She does it so well, and so naturally.  *sigh*  Massachusetts is so far away...
When the party finally broke up about 9:30, I suddenly realized that I'd never made any hot chocolate the way I'd planned to.  GAH - I guess I'm going to have to start writing the menus down so I remember.  I'd gotten a gallon of milk and Williams Sonoma Salted Caramel Chocolate and was really looking forward to it.  L and I have had a couple of cups since, but the two of us will never plow through a gallon of milk.  (We don't really drink milk otherwise...)  But L and I were able to sit down together in the cozy living room, enjoying the low lights, and reflecting on the meaning of Christmas and the desire to be more present in the lives of our nieces of nephews.  They are a special bunch of young adults - some with little ones of their own - and I know from experience that sometimes good parents are just not enough.  Good aunts and uncles can be a powerful positive influence in the lives of family members.  So maybe that is one of my New Year's resolutions.  Oh yes - and L opened up his surprise gift: a little Christmas house to go along with his newly purchased train set.  Here is a little snippet of the fun:

Christmas Day dawned as a beautiful morning and resulting day.  We headed to church for an hour, met Scott and Ashley there, and then came back for a light lunch of panini sandwiches, salad, and leftover treats.  I don't know about you, but by the time Christmas Day comes, I'm tired of cooking so we always make the meal that day very simple.  Plus, we always have drop in company, so it's nice to have something quick and easy to fix for whoever comes by.  Luckily, we had enough cookies to serve an army, plus cheese and crackers, and a myriad of other treats to choose from.
Before Scott and Ashley left to have some of the remaining day to themselves, I was able to snap these two pictures of them:

*dabbing away tears*  Such a beautiful couple!  It was so fun to have them here to share the holiday and fun times with.  They are both a real joy to us.

Katie sent us some pictures of their family's first Christmas in New England.  Mia got the little doggy she was hoping for:

Apparently, you can take it for a walk (with a remote control leash!) as well as fix it's hair, tail and ears with various barrettes and clips.  Oh what fun for a little girl!
Mia also enjoyed a new scooter, and Hayden a new little bike that is (almost) her size:

And Katie was able to snap this stunning one of Hayden just playing in her room:

Now, the Denver camp is still undocumented, but I understand that Ronna received a new camera for Christmas, so I'm sure those pictures will start coming in any day now.  I did talk to Lexi and Matthew on Christmas morning and Lexi chattered happily about everything that Santa had brought her.  Matthew is only three, and he was having trouble finding the words to describe his riches, but Mema understood.  Maybe next year we will be able to spend Christmas with one of these precious families, as it was very hard to be so far away this year.  Something to start dreaming about...
L and I made history and saw 2 movies in the same week.  On Monday we went to see War Horse.  It's a gorgeous movie, with a beautiful score.  And if you love horses like I do, it also had some magnificent horses in it.  You have to let your imagination flow, as it's less realistic than it is sort of Black Beauty-ish - you know, where the horse takes on almost human characteristics.  But I don't mind things like that and I enjoyed it very much.  The war scenes are horrific - maybe not for teeny tiny kids, but certainly fine for anyone a little older.  But war IS horrific, and it portrayed it accurately.
The second movie was the Sherlock Holmes one.  4 THUMBS UP!!  (Both L's and mine)  This was a treat from start to finish.  It moves fast and small children may not understand the story line but it's a movie the whole family can go to.  You'll love it.
And that wraps up the Christmas report from our camp.  It was busy, complete with good food and many laughs.  Oh - AND my nephew Arron got engaged to sweet Ashley!  So we had our bit of special family congratulations as well.  I hope you are all well and happy, and that your celebrations were similarly joyous.  It was good to have that hour of church in the middle of the festivities to remind us of the reason we give gifts, love our fellow man a little more than usual, and strive to keep our families close.  I hope you were all able to find that same silent night and holy moment within your own family celebrations.

2011 has been a roller coaster ride for me and my family.  A year of stress and angst, as well as a year of triumphs,  two beautiful new family members (adult and infant), and dedications to greater joy and better living.  I could not love my family more than I do.  They are my life and my greatest joy.  And I'm doubly blessed to have my greatest friend and partner at my side to weather each storm and celebrate each joyful event with me.  Side by side, hand in hand.  Here's wishing us all a beautiful 2012, full of many joys, few sorrows, and the strength to live well with love, grace, humility, and charity.  Here's to us all, and our limitless possibilities.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Visions of Sugarplums

I just have 4 things to say:

1. Oatmeal toffee cookies - 5 dozen
2. Cranberry Noels - 5 dozen
3. Molasses Cookies - 5 dozen
4. Peanut Butter Cookies dipped in chocolate and chopped peanuts - 2 dozen

All done.  All baked.  This has been my life for the past 3 days.  Today Ashley came over and helped me bake and we had a good time.  I couldn't have done it without her, actually.  AND - we even got in a little lunch at Knowlwood's.  The food was ok, the company was stellar.
Two more batches of cookies to go: Jam Thumbprints and Key Lime Coconut Bars.

Gifts all wrapped and under the tree with the exception of two: One should be UPS delivered on Thursday (thank goodness for online tracking!) and the second one I am picking up tomorrow.  It is a surprise for L.  A real surprise and it's going to be fun to give it to him.  I will share with pictures tomorrow.  I had to buy it on the sly and trick him - I love it when I can do that!

I hear that the Denver grandkiddies, Lexi and Matthew, are wound up tight anticipating Christmas.  I can't wait to talk to them on Christmas Day and hear all about Santa's visit.  Skylee is still oblivious to the whole thing...
The Massachusetts girlies, Mia and Hayden, are feeling the strain of the anticipation and stimulation all around them and had a tough day today.  I think their mother had an even tougher one.  I will have to Face Time them tomorrow and see if I can give them a little love.  I've been so wrapped up in my own business I've rather neglected them.
But for now, a warm bed, soft jammies and sleep beckon.  It's been a long, long baking day combined with work.  (I hate going back and forth between real life and work...)  I hope you're all starting to wrap up your Christmas labors and have been able to enjoy some of the pleasures of the season.  And now, goodnight all!

Friday, December 16, 2011

A Girl and Her Bike (Oh What Fun It Is To Ride...)

It's raining, and I'm trying to figure out where it came from.  Not that I'm complaining, mind you - the forecast was for Santa Ana winds.  The kind of winds that dry you completely out, make your yard and patio a mess, blow dust in your house, and cause your husband to have sinus infections.  Oh wait - maybe that's just me.  But I hate wind - I always have.  The rain came as a pleasant surprise.
I went out this afternoon and rode my bike.  To properly appreciate this, you'd have to understand that I live on the top of kind of a hill, surrounded by many other hills.  It's all populated (in other words, I don't live a atop a hill at the end of a lonely dirt road) - but in order to get anywhere you have to go up and down hills. Normally, to get to the bike trail that is fairly flat I've gone with L or a friend, hauling the bikes in a truck, but a monkey wrench has been thrown in that until the days get a bit longer.  So it's up to me, and I'm not the greatest self starter when it comes to exercise.  The idea of motorists watching me chug up a long hill in the lowest gear possible is not a pretty one.  But I reminded myself that my aches and pains all but disappear when I exercise regularly.  Powerful motivation.
So off I went, and it wasn't bad.  I set the alarm on my phone for 40 minutes, and was pleasantly surprised when it went off.  I went up hills that made me cry when I first started riding.  Not that they are easy now, but they're possible to conquer without feeling sick to my stomach if/when I ever get to the top.  Some were still hard, some had gotten surprisingly easy.  Yay me.
Dogs barked.  I hate it when dogs bark at me.  But I kept at it, even though the air was chilly.  It didn't feel chilly when I got done.  When I got home I retrieved the mail and I had to read the Christmas card that was there outside, because I was too over heated to sit inside.  I worked hard for 40 minutes and worked up quite a glow!  I tried to imagine myself looking fierce and svelte as I pedalled around the 'hood, but I had to laugh: how fierce can a 50+ girl look while riding an aqua bike equipped with a Cape Cod basket?  The best I could probably manage was cute, but I'll take it.
Back home I jumped in the shower.  The sun was still shining.  It was weak, but it was shining.  When I got out, it was raining.  I like rain, but I worry about L making his way home on the freeways.  Yesterday on one of the busiest freeways, a tanker truck blew up under a bridge.  Luckily, no one was killed, but that segment of freeway is not passable today.  So everyone piles onto other freeways and the commute is an even bigger nightmare than usual.  It took L TWO HOURS to get home last night.  So I wait tonight, hearing the rain, and I worry until I hear him drive into the garage.
I hope all of your Christmas and holiday plans are on target.  My daughter in law Ashley is coming over Monday to help me bake cookies.  It's crazy how much I'm looking forward to that.  I wish I could have all of my girls here for a big baking day, but I'm so grateful and happy that Ashley is here.  Next year she might not be. (She and Scott have plans.  Big plans.  They involve Texas.)  And so I'm trying to savor every minute I can, while I can.
Oooh - this is off topic, but last night L and I walked into a Home Goods store - do you have those where you live?  They are part of the TJ Maxx and Marshalls chain.  Anyway, they have some crazy good stuff!  We walked out with the most beautiful lamp for our bedroom and all of the lamps were only $29.99!!! I'm a fan.  If you have one by you, and you haven't been, you really must go.  It's my Christmas gift to you.  You're welcome.
Lastly, I totally stole this picture off of my friend's Facebook page, but I loved it so much, and I don't think she'll mind.  It depicted exactly where I'm trying to keep my thoughts these days.  Maybe you've already seen it, and I think there's a figurine of the same thing?

Silent Night, holy night
All is calm, all is bright...

Peaceful days and dreams to all of you.  Keep your wits about you, and be sure to take in and enjoy all of the truly important things.  Family.  Friends.  Be kind.  Make beautiful memories.  And let the silly bothersome things go.

PS: L just drove in.  All is calm, all is bright.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Surviving on Peanut Butter

It's been awhile since we've been grocery shopping - for ourselves rather than for a party, anyway.  There is nothing in our refrigerator other than the odd flotsam and jetsam and a small box of coconut shrimp.  Tonight is the night we must shop.  Why?  Because I'm sitting here eating peanut butter with a spoon.  I've been reduced to a college student and their lack of available food.  And yet it tastes so good!
I've just wound up my work day and I'm heading off downstairs to bake a batch of cookies.  Which I must not eat because... because... because I make them for others, that's why.  The second I start to think of them as mine is the second I eat them all.  And that won't do at all, my dear blogging friends.  Must resist the cookies.
On a lighter note, L texted me to say he was bringing home more Christmas Peppermint JoJos.  Oh, and some food too.  Things are looking up!  (He texted that we would eat like kings tonight!  To which I replied that I just need to eat like a princess, thank you.) You may wonder why he does the grocery shopping, and I sit here hungry, eating peanut butter from a spoon?  Basically because he likes to grocery shop, (and I don't) and I want it to come out of his bank account (and not mine).  So I wait for him to come home and go with me, or he does it on his own.  But let there be a problem that needs to be dealt with over the phone (insurance snafus, etc.) and I am ALL OVER IT.  L doesn't like to deal with anyone on the phone, especially if it may involve being on hold, so that's where I hold up my end of the bargain.  That, and laundry day.
Cookie baking time, so off I go.  I believe it will be ginger cookies today.  Quick and easy.  But I haven't forgotten you, my friends.  I can't believe that my friend Larainy didn't already pick up on this and post some of these, but for once I've beaten her to the punch.  These came off of a website called Awkward Family Photos.  And they are.  Very awkward, I mean.  So in the spirit of Christmas, I offer you my 2 favorites.  And you're soooo welcome.  I'm a giver like that.

This was titled "Bad Santa" - what on earth has Kris been up to?  Best not to ask...

Nothing says Christmas like this family portrait, eh?
I know.  There are no words.  
But if I hadn't gone blind, I would want to kick that smile right off of dad's face.

I need a double scoop of peanut butter after that last one.

Monday, December 12, 2011

12 Happy Things

Things That Make Me Happy (other than the obvious things like husband, children and grandchildren)

1.  Boots.  When you wear boots, no one can see that your right ankle is chronically swollen.  Or that you're wearing an ankle brace.  Plus, they're supportive!

2. Internet shopping.  Seriously - do you know how much time I've saved shopping at home, rather than trudging to the mall?  A lot, that's how much.  And so much free shipping!

3. Riding my bike.  L and I rode 10 miles yesterday.  I was tired, but it makes me feel so good.  Makes all my aches go away.

4. Going downstairs for a bottle of water, or lunch, or whatever, and seeing the lights on the Christmas tree twinkling.  That corner always looks so plain for awhile after the Christmas tree gets put away.  For now, the room has such razzle dazzle that turns dreamy when all of the other lights are turned off.

5. The lights strung over the front door and across the porch.  Now you can see our beautiful wreath at night.  I was wishing on Saturday morning that we had some lights there, and when I came home from my hair appointment, L had strung them all up as a surprise.  I love that man.

6. Christmas music 24/7 on Pandora.  I've created my own little station and I'm loving it.  It ranges from Michael Buble to Glee to Peter, Paul and Mary.  For one whole month I never get tired of listening to it.

7. Christmas cards in the mail.  Now, mind you, I don't send any - but I just love to get them.  It really cheers me up to see them in the mailbox.  Maybe I will send them next year.

8. Seeing presents under the tree.  There aren't very many, and they are not for me (except one from Tim and Autumn that is for both L and me) but it makes me excited to look at them.  And I get even more excited when something else arrives from the Internet that I can wrap and put under there.  See #2.

9. Thinking about the week after Christmas - a whole week that I don't have to work!  I don't get paid either, but we won't think about that.  A whole week that I don't have to work!  So far, L and I have planned a movie day for December 26th, and my mom and I have a day planned for December 28th.  It will be a good week.

10. See's Candy.  Soon it will be time for the annual trip to See's and our yearly box of chocolates.  Maybe we'll share it on Christmas Day, maybe we won't.  Half the fun is getting it out every night and having a piece. Or two.

11. My red flannel Christmas pajama pants.  Katie made them for me last year, and they are so warm and cozy.  She made L a pair too!  Here we are relaxing in them.  Don't mind the Halloween socks.

This year I am hosting Christmas Eve for my family at our house.  I'm gathering thoughts and ideas of what I want to do.  Our house is very small and so there's no room for a sit down dinner for so many people.  We're making it a sort of Open House - people can arrive when they can and leave when they need to.  Everyone will bring something and I will make a big pot of chili with all the fixings (sour cream, cheese, green onions, and anything else I can think of) so we'll have something hearty to eat.   It won't be fancy, but it will be fun.  And we'll have Carmel Apple Cider.  Mmmmmm....
What are your Christmas Eve traditions?  Where will you be - home?  Visiting family?

It's a good time of year, but a busy time.  I feel like I'm in a good place, though.  I've been able to get the shopping done, the church Christmas dinner is behind me (thank goodness!), and so now I can just enjoy the season.  That means a lot.  I'm usually crazy up until the last minute, and it's all gone before I can take a breath and enjoy.  I hope you're all able to take some time to look around, take in some Christmas spirit, hug your family, kiss that special person under some mistletoe.  Sing some carols, read the Christmas story (the REAL one!) and follow it up with The Night Before Christmas.  Or the Nightmare Before Christmas - whatever your taste.  Look up into the starry night, imagine each one of us doing the special things we love to do this time of year, and send up a quick prayer of thanks and gratitude that we're all able to share in this special time together - each in our own way.  All of you, my blogging friends, are like another sparkly gift under my tree, and I feel so fortunate to have received each one.  So I guess that makes #12 of Things That Make Me Happy.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Decking the Halls and Other Fa-La-La

I've been sitting here trying to remember why in the world I haven't had time in the last week to write anything, or even to keep up with what you've been writing.  And I've come to the conclusion that I just can't remember.  I can recall feeling slightly panicky - you know, like when thoughts wake you up at night and you can't settle back down again.  I've had ideas... such ideas!  Ideas for gifts, ideas for Christmas Eve, ideas for... well you name it, and I've had the thought at 2am.  
This past weekend one of my good friends celebrated her 60th birthday.  60!!!  One of my friends!!!  Her son invited about 50 friends to meet for dinner as a surprise for her.  And it was a surprise - I've never seen anyone more excited and wired to see her party guests.  Sandy is one of those rare ones who, once she makes a friend of you, it's for life.  She always keeps in touch, and is always concerned with how you're doing.  She's one in a million.  So there we all were, eating Armenian food (Sandy is Armenian) with kids running around and having a great time together.  And Sandy in the middle of all of it enjoying the heck out of herself.  I had L snap a quick picture with his phone.  If she is 60, then yes, please.  That's her ONE grand daughter on her lap - Ella.  The other 4 (and one on the way) are all rowdy boys.  Sandy loves them all, but Ella is her rose.

That has been the only social thing we've attended so far.  We have our church Christmas dinner this Saturday.  Different people are hosting groups at their home, and I'm helping a friend who has the big space to host several couples, but hates to cook.  L and I have a teensy house but like to cook, so it all works out.  But the menu has been stewing in my mind for the last week and wakes me up at night.  I'll be glad when it's over.
L and I decked the halls this past Saturday and Sunday.  It actually went up faster than I thought it would, and I finally finally found the box out in the garage that had my Hummel figurines in it.  They're not Christmas per se, but this year it was like Christmas to find them and bring them out.  I nestled them for now in amongst the greenery on the mantle.  I've always loved them because they remind me of my kids when they were small and chubby cheeked.  They've been hidden out in the garage for about 18 years, so it's high time I found them and brought them in.  They're so lovely and old fashioned and sweet.

The first thing I did, though was put up the small tree in the kitchen.  This is the tree where I hang all of the old decorations from when my kids were small.  All of the decorations made at school, all of the ones received when they were babies, all handmade ones, all of the ones from Grandma over the years.  And it's topped with the "Naughty Naked Angel" - this is Scott's ornament and I suppose I'll have to give it to him one of these years.

Next, I set out the Advent Calendar box that we'd bought in the after Christmas sales last year.  I still need to find some special things to put in the drawers, but it will come in time.  No little ones to open the drawers this year anyway.

Next, out came the Grinch ornament (L's), the Rudolph ornament (mine) and the little bakery shop and snowy trees, for our little Christmas tableau. They all sit next to a wooden plate that I painted many years ago on a credenza in the living room.

Now the tree.  L strung the lights.  We'd toyed with getting a pre-lit one this year, but decided that this tree could go at least one more year.  And really - he puts so many lights on, it always looks beautiful.
First we put on the purple glass bulbs that have snowflakes etched into them.

Next come the gold bulbs, followed by some smaller ones, followed by lots of sparkly garlands and gold netting.

The purple bulbs take on a special glow once everything else is added on.  The lights make everything twinkle and shine.

Last, because we won't have any small children here for Christmas, and because most of our gifts are being shipped to family far and wide, we decided to set up L's toy train around the tree.

The tree is beautiful when the lights are off.  The room takes on a magical mood that makes me remember Christmases as a child, laying under the tree, basking in the glow of the lights.

I got some new pictures of Mia and Hayden that made me wish for Christmas in Massachusetts.  How I wish I could see Hayden wondering what Santa Claus is all about.

I wish I could see Mia throwing Buddy - their Elf on the Shelf - a cautious look to make sure he doesn't report any naughtiness back to the North Pole.  

The joy of the season is infectious.  As over whelmed as I feel, I still get that tingly little bit of excitement in my toes just thinking about special times with family and friends.  But the best times of all are when we view Christmas, with all of it's seasonal wonders and spiritual awe, through the eyes of a child.

Joy To The World...

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