Tuesday, December 30, 2008

I love these

Aren't they beautiful?

The Last Christmas Post

The decorations are slowly coming down. Hopefully by the end of the week I will have everything packed away for next year. I just wanted to record a few spots in our home from 2008.

This candy-cane tree by the front door is also where we hang our Christmas story advent during the month of December. Each day has a little book containing a portion of the story of the birth of Christ. It is one of the kids favorite traditions in December.

I love receiving Christmas cards and have them stored in two places this year, both in our family room. Most are on this board (that is completely covered) that I found at a yard sale one year.

The rest are tucked into this old shutter from New Hampshire which leans against the wall next to the Santa tree.

We hope you all had a very Merry Christmas!

If you love Jane Austin . . . .

If you love Jane Austin, you will adore Cranford. Bryan and I spent the last two nights watching all five episodes and I am telling you to run, not walk, your fingers over to the computer and buy the series. It is that good.

Based on several books and short stories by Elizabeth Gaskell, the production is superb, the cast is simply amazing and the script writer did a fabulous job of weaving all of the story lines into a cohesive whole.

I laughed, I gasped out loud, I wept - wept, not cried and most of all, I loved every minute of it.

Trust me. You will want to own this one.

Christmas Morning 2008

We had a late start on Christmas morning, but once the kids came downstairs, the calm was over!
Santa does not wrap gifts at our house, so each child has their own little pile of presents to open. This year, Santa brought a lot of used books from Half-price bookstore (coincidentally, one of mommy's favorite places to shop!). Each child also received a pair of shoes and a DVD.

After playing with their Santa gifts, the kids open their stockings. This year a very kind elf friend of Santa filled the kids stockings with little toys and trinkets and candy. They all loved the silly string the very best! There is always a special coin in the toe of each Christmas stocking - this year it was a gold dollar coin - not to be mistaken with the chocolate gold coins!

We have a tradition of sitting in the family room in front of the fire with Christmas music playing in the background while we open gifts. We all come down in our pajamas with bed hair and sleepy eyes - thus the lack of photos of the parents! The children take turns running into the living room for a gift which they then open in front of everyone. Mommy has a rule that the paper has to be picked up before the next gift is open, and Bryan writes down who the gifts were from for thank-you notes.

Favorite gifts this year:

Sophie - a "fur-real" kitty from her cousin Gregory. She calls her "cutie". It purrs and slurps.

Calvin - Tom and Jerry Blast off to Mars DVD, Wall-E DVD.

Max - Diary of a Wimpy Kid from cousin Haley and a box of Tic Tacs from his Dad. This is one of my favorite Christmas moments. Max is reading his new book while opening another gift. He could not tear himself away and had the book read before we were finished with the gifts.

Bryan - new running pants from G&G Johnson
Stacey - Cranford DVD from Bryan

We almost made it through Christmas without any electronics. But, then we went over to Susan's house and Gregory gave Max a Pokemon game thing which then became his favorite gift. Then, the day after Christmas, my evil sister and the kids new favorite aunt, Koo's package arrived. She sent these big remote control cars - one for each child. I do not like her right now.

After the gifts were opened, I went into the kitchen and made an egg/sausage casserole for breakfast. As soon as it was in the oven, I went to bed! After a nice nap, I got up and Bryan headed off for a nap. Calvin's Christmas Eve antics had completely wiped us out.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Christmas Eve and one sick kid

After returning home from Christmas Eve dinner, still stuffed to the gills, we all changed into Christmas pajamas (no new ones this year - the olds ones still fit fine) and read the Christmas story. We sang some songs and each of the kids opened one gift before being ushered off to bed. After checking to make sure if Santa needed any help, and maybe watching a movie together, Bryan and I headed off to bed.

*stop reading now if you are eating or have a weak stomach.

Sometime during the night, little Calvin became ill (not sick, ill from too much chocolate cake) and threw up all over his bed. Bryan gave him a shower while I changed the sheets and cleaned the carpet in his room and the trail into our room. Bryan threw the sheets into the washer. After his shower, Calvin wanted to sleep with us so I laid a couple of towels in the center of the bed and snuggled up with him. I don't know how much time passed. I am completely worthless in the middle of the night. Calvin woke up again and threw up all over our bed - and cleverly managed to miss the towels. Another shower, another bed stripped and remade, more fresh pajamas and we fell into bed again exhausted hoping we had seen the last of the evil chocolate cake.

Needless to say, when Max and Sophie woke up on Christmas morning at 7:00am, we were completely unresponsive. I sent them to their rooms to read with strict warnings about going downstairs. They were pretty patient as Calvin slept until 9:00am. So, in all of the Christmas morning photos, Calvin is the only one not in Christmas pajamas. They were all in the wash.

Ho, ho, hurl.


I read an article about this woman and her blog in our local paper. If you need a good cry or just some wonderful perspective on how blessed we are to be experiencing this life, click over to her blog. Make sure you have a box of tissues and some time on your hands.

“From such people I have learned a new definition of the word ‘joy.’ I had thought joy to be rather synonymous with happiness, but it seems now to be far less vulnerable than happiness. Joy seems to be a part of an unconditional will to live, not holding back because life may not meet our preferences and expectations. Joy seems to be a function of the willingness to accept the whole, and to show up to meet with whatever is there. It has a kind of invincibility that attachment to any particular outcome would deny us. Rather than the warrior who fights toward a specific outcome and therefore is haunted by the specter of failure and disappointment, it is the lover drunk with the opportunity to love despite the possibility of love, the player for Surrendering our lives to God gives us the freedom to experience real joy whom playing has become more important than winning or losing.

“The willingness to win or lose moves us out of an adversarial relationship to life and into a powerful kind of openness. From such a position, we can make a greater commitment to life. Not only pleasant life, or comfortable life, or our idea of life, but all life. Joy seems more closely related to aliveness than to happiness.”

Friday, December 26, 2008

Last Minute Wish List

This is the wish list Max handed to me two days before Christmas. You need to click on it to fully enjoy its uniqueness - make sure you zoom in on #1. I am happy to report that he received #4, #5 and #10. He almost got #11, but Santa accidentally left a candy cane dipped in white chocolate in his stocking - oops. I am also happy to report that #4 was one of his top two favorite gifts - the other favorite being two Diary of a Wimpy kid books from cousin Haley.

We love Max and all his little quirks.

Christmas Eve Dinner

For the second year in the row, we have enjoyed Christmas Eve dinner with our dear friends, the Mazellas and the Quicks. Lori hosted dinner in her beautiful home - quite an undertaking as we had 7 adults and 12 children!

Lori likes to say that she cannot cook, but she is completely wrong. She and Thomas made Cornish game hens stuffed with wild rice and mushrooms, molasses, sherry glazed carrots, stuffed clams and a gorgeous antipasti platter. Yum! Every single thing was not only delicious, but just beautiful as well!

I brought the sweet potato rolls and the massive cake and Susan brought over two salads (including one with my favorite manchego cheese) and cupcakes for the kids. There was a lot of food and we did our best to eat as much as humanly possible.

We had a lovely dinner, the kids all got along and played together well with lots of running and chasing as they worked off their dinners. After cutting the massive cake, the adults crashed on the couches and wished we were in pajamas so we could just drift off to sleep.

I am truly, truly grateful for the amazing women in my life - my friends. I am blessed to be surrounded be women who I admire, who inspire me, uplift me and listen to me when I need a listening ear. I would like to thank them for touching my life in such a positive way. Thank you for being wonderful friends!

And Merry Christmas to all of you who visit this blog and share in our story. We wish you the very best this holiday season!

Christmas Eve

On Christmas Eve we woke up late . . .

. . . played a game of Cacassone and two rounds of Ten Days in Europe . . .

. . . made sweet potato rolls (Sophie and Calvin helped) . . .

. . . did a lot of dishes . . .

. . . wore Santa hats and Christmas themed aprons . . .

. . . and I made this. Here is my review if anyone wants to know. This is the cake featured on the cover of Bon Appetite in December. Susan brought the magazine over to my house and I decided I had to make it for Christmas Eve this year. If you read the recipe, you will discover that there is an insane amount of chocolate in the cake. I do not really care for peppermint in my cakes, so I substituted orange extract for the peppermint.

The cake is delicious! I under baked the cakes a bit and the layers were really moist and chocolaty. The bittersweet ganache is about the richest thing I have ever made and it does not take 1/2 hour to bring it to room temperature - more like three hours. I became impatient and microwaved it a bit and it was perfect. The white chocolate cream filling is insanely delicious! I would definitely use it in other cakes. The outer frosting is - well, a disaster. It needs to be cooked about twice as long as the recipe calls for and even after beating the life out of it, the frosting had the consistency of marshmallow cream. It tastes really good, but I wanted to scoop it into a mug of hot cocoa and not on my cake! As it was, the frosting coated the cake in a shiny white glaze and then puddled at the bottom of the cake stand.

Here are the layers with the bittersweet ganache and the white chocolate cream fillings. At this point, I should have put a dowel in the cake to help keep it from falling over - it's really tall and slippery.

And here it is with the mashmallow cream icing.

And here it is cut. It was a huge hit - really, really rich and gorgeous. Susan had made cupcakes for the kids, but they all wanted cake instead, so we polished this whole thing off! Would I make it again? Not anytime soon. It is definitely a special occasion cake!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Sugar Overload - Christmas Cookies

Saturday and Sunday were spent baking and consuming Christmas cookies. This Christmas I needed to simplify my life, so I only made a dozen plates for the neighbors instead of the fifty or so plates I usually make for all of our church friends. Besides not having the capability to deal with more stress this year, I was also cooking alone. Usually I made cookies with Koo or Greg and neither one could be here this year. So, sorry church friends - I have actually had people calling to see if I am mad at them because they did not get cookies this year. If you want to brave the cold, I have some leftovers at my house and you are welcome to stop by - but hurry, the kids are eating them as fast as they can!

The kids were my helpers this year - kind of. Max helped by putting cookies on the plates . . .

. . . and Sophie did too.

This is the finished plate with a tag I created on the computer. It was -9 when I sent Max around to the neighbors to deliver their plates!

Here is the lineup this year. The peanut butter fudge is my mom's recipe and we make it every year. It is Max's favorite treat. Next to the fudge are the Ginger Spice Cookies. This was a new recipe I tried this year and here are my suggestions. Under-bake these cookies. I found they were very flat and too crispy if they were cooked according to the directions. Also, my food processor did not chop up the candied ginger fine enough, and I did not like the big chunks. So - not my favorite recipe and it is getting the boot next year.

These little lovelies are Lemon Fennel Pretzel Cookies. I love these! They are not too sweet and are just perfect to eat with a mug of hot cocoa or herbal tea. I will up the lemon zest and maybe even the fennel just a bit when I make them again. The dough is super easy to handle and they are fun to twist into the pretzel shape.

The Scandinavian Almond Bars are another Christmas tradition. We make these every year and they are my favorite Christmas cookie. This year, Calvin helped me brush on the milk though I had to keep telling him - no puddles!!

We also made the Fudgy Bon Bons again (lard balls). This year, I filled them with a chocolate mint kiss and they are so good! Very rich and very pretty with the drizzle of white chocolate on top.

I took a bite out of one so you could see the green in the mint kiss.

The last cookie is a simple macaroon with a blob of bittersweet chocolate on top. I have had a sugar headache for three days straight.

I made the cookie in monochromatic brown/tan tones to match our Christmas cards this year - just kidding!

Christmas Traditions

Every year right after Thanksgiving, we pull out the Christmas decorations. In one of the many, many bins, I store the Christmas books. We have been collecting Christmas books for years - most have been gifts or bought in the January Christmas clearance sections. Because they are stashed away for 11 months of the year, during the month of December, the kids devour them.

We are holed up at home today avoiding the cold outdoors, and the kids have been alternating between reading, legos, dancing to Christmas music, eating peanut butter fudge and playing payday. It feels like we have all settled in for a long winters nap.

Views from my window - the back window

It did not snow on Sunday. Church was not canceled though my sister Koo had her church canceled for the second week in a row. Bunch of pansies up there in Oregon. Here in Minnesota, instead of snowing, the temperature dropped below zero and has stubbornly stayed there, and the wind picked up and is blowing the snow all over the place. I've decided shoveling is an exercise in futility and I am giving it up for Lent. If you are planning on stopping by my house, you might want to wear snow boots.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Winter Snowfall

It snowed all day today. Now it has stopped and the wind has picked up and is blowing the snow into drifts against the windows. I am hoping for another foot overnight - I'd like to be snowed in tomorrow.

Cookie photos and recipes tomorrow - pray for snow!

Crafty Christmas Kids

Friday afternoon, we hunkered down in the house refusing to set foot outside into the snow and cold. Instead, we pulled out the Christmas crafts and made ornaments and a mitten wreath.