Christmas 2010 Recap

Caramels: cut and wrapped. Pajamas for Deacon, Aubrie and Ysa: sewn. Spiced almonds: roasted and bagged. Sock monkey for Kayden: done. Princess dresses: just waiting to be twirled in. Menus made and groceries purchased. Gifts wrapped and ribbons tied. Everything done and everyone home that can be. Following tradition (mine) I am tired but not worn out - happy in fact with all the preparation for the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ.

Several days after the fact, I am taking out the memories of this Christmas just past. It was a good Christmas. Full of love and warmth and togetherness. The little ones were sweet and good, their anticipation just right - not fever pitched but happy. We enjoyed the traditions that have been part of our Christmas celebrations since the beginning of our family and added a new one. The gifts that we shared were each just exactly right. Tears were shed but we shed them together and even that felt good.

But the best, the most critical, part of Christmas this year? The absolute knowledge that I love and am loved. That we were together.  That there is comfort in 'family' - and that family includes more than relatives. And that because Christ was born we will all live again - together forever. I am so grateful for that.


Comfort....and Joy

Christmas Eve 2010. As I say my bedtime prayers I ask for a blessing of comfort and immediately there flashes into my mind an image of our family - my children, my husband, my grandchildren. Each of us carrying a canning jar containing a lighted tea-light as we walk single file through the dusky cemetery toward the grave of Mike and Merin to remember them this first Christmas. Suddenly I know that Heavenly Father is aware and that these people I love so much are the comfort I need. It isn't the answer I expected or sought but it is a beautiful answer.

Sunday morning when Jonathon and I gather the candles and jars, the two candles in the beautiful glass box Thomas bought for the 'remembering' are still burning. For some reason, this delights me.


Pumpkin Soup

Mmmmmmmmmm, smells good!

The other night we had a houseful of family. It was wonderful and fun. Since there are so many of us I decided to do the ultra-elegant pot luck option. My contribution was this soup and some home made French bread. Super easy. The thing to make when you want easy, tasty, warm and cozy. No pictures today. No frills. Just a simple recipe for a soup that never fails  - ever!

Pumpkin Soup

1 medium onion, diced
3 stalks celery, diced
1/4 cup butter
3 boneless chicken breasts cut into bite sized pieces
scant tsp chili powder
scant tsp cumin
6 cups chicken broth
4-6 potatoes peeled and cut into bite sized pieces
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 large can pumpkin puree
2 cups cream

In a large heavy stock pot melt butter and saute onions and celery until vegetables are limp and glassy. Add spices and stir well. Add chicken and saute until chicken is lightly browned. (5 minutes) Pour in broth and potatoes, making sure potatoes are covered. Bring to boil, turn down to simmer and cook until potatoes are done (10 minutes) Add salt to taste. Slowly stir in pumpkin and cream. Heat until warmed through.

Note: I usually "cheat" and substitute cooked chicken breast. I almost always have some in the freezer and it makes this faster and easier - which is most often what I am after when comfort food is the order of the day. It also means this is a "pantry" meal - in other words, I have all the stuff on hand most of the time and don't really need to plan ahead.


Cry Baby Cookies

I am just a sniff away from drooling. We made Cry Baby Cookies yesterday. It isn't Christmas at our house until those cookies are in the oven and then in the cookie jar. They  smell like Christmas. And the taste, the chew, mmmmmmm. Sooooo good.

Eden and her girls, and Hannah, Jane and Theo came over to get the Christmas baking started. Jane and Aubrie are adorably sweet together - perfect little girl cousins. Theo was a quintessential little brother -following them, wanting to be involved and (sadly) being accused of wrecking their doll-house. lol. He is in actual fact, the most yummy little boy. And Ysa contributed by having a marathon nap! Pretty much perfect.

There are a plethora of recipes out there for chewy ginger cookies but these are my favorite.

Cry Baby Cookies

4 cups flour
4 tsp baking soda
2 tsp cloves
1 tsp ginger
4 tsp cinnamon
2 cups sugar
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups butter
1/2 cup molasses

Combine butter and sugar, beat. Add eggs. Sift dry ingredients together and mix into butter, sugar, and eggs. Form 1" balls with dough, roll in sugar, and bake on greased cookie sheet for 12 minutes at 350 F.

Why are they called 'Cry Baby Cookies'? Good question! I don't know - another question for the universe, I guess. When I was Aubrie's age my mom didn't know either.

Aubs feeding Theo his soup - pretty cute!  The best part is that he would have none of his mom feeding him. 


Princess Dresses and Making Messes

Mid-mess. I am so happy in my lint and threads. Aubrie wants a princess dress (well, that may not be strictly true in that she hasn't requested a princess dress but she loves playing dress-up and loves princesses so...). At any rate, I am mid-making. And I am having a lot of fun. The sewing room is a mess. I am using a bit of cotton velvet but it looks like I have shredded at least a meter of the stuff to judge by the lint. lol. And sparkly, sequinned netting. And the buttons - oh my! It will be beautiful. I can't wait! Christmas making is so much FUN!!!


Kitten eyes

I wonder if newborn kittens realize they can't see? As those tiny eyes begin to crack open, what do they think? Another mystery for the universe - I only know that as my eyes begin to crack open I am aware that I didn't know what I wasn't seeing. It was there all the time. I just didn't see it. Sometimes I would catch a glimpse and think I saw. Or a hazy image and (all unready, eyes unfocused) turn away. So much I missed that I am humbled to see now. The sorrow that is not unique to me. The grace and strength of love. The way in which we are all too often inclined to feel isolated in experience which is in reality nearly universal. That there is compensation. That God is very good and very real and very there. 

Yesterday was a good day. A hard day but  a very good day. Full of blessings and eyes cracking open a little more. Sometimes I shake my head at myself - always wanting to turn away from "hard things" when experience shows pretty consistently that the hard things are the best things in the end. (Kind of the reverse of the 'where much is given, much is expected' principle. Or you only get out what you put in.) If my life was as pastoral as I foolishly persist in believing I would prefer, it would be bland beyond belief and I would be as shallow as that sunny canvas in my mind. Having no desire to be shallow (and with a perverse resistance to plumbing whatever depths there may be) I am grateful for the wisdom of God. As I submit to His will, I learn a little wisdom too. And my life is, instead of bland, full of richness. Rich experience. Untold riches of family, friends, and love. Support. Goodness.

It's not that hard after all. I only have to open my eyes and see.


Nutcrackers and Sugarplums

When I was a very little girl visiting my grandparents I would read pretty much anything I could find that was even remotely interesting to me - I became quite a fan of "Reader's Digest" and "Lady's Home Journal" at a ridiculously young age. (When I think back I wonder that nobody noticed and suggested that they were inappropriate reading material for a 7 year old - but things were different.) There weren't many children's books around their home but one that I loved to read, again and again, was a tattered, torn and missing pages copy of The Nutcracker. Nobody ever read it with me and, probably partly due to the missing pages, I didn't really understand it. It was mysterious and frightening and totally compelling. Time went on and I forgot the book. I grew up and became mother to two sweet girls who loved the magic of pink tutus and fairy tales. Cue Christmas and Nutcracker season!

For the last 12 years "Nutcracker" performances have been a very large part of our Christmas Season. For months prior to performance, rehearsal schedules ruled our lives and Tchaikovsky's wonderful music filled the air. Merin loved it. From her first small part as a Candy Cane to Party Girl to Clara and finally to Sugarplum Fairy. She danced in her sleep.The rest of the family hummed the music under our breath. It was just part of Christmas and I loved it. So imagine my complete shock when, shopping in Holt's, I heard the Sugarplum Fairy music and was overwhelmed with sadness. 

Tomorrow is the first performance of this season of Jeunesse Classique Ballet Company's The Nutcracker. I will attend. I have been "inoculating" myself all week with the score so as to not make others uncomfortable with my tears. I have been trying to direct my mind to thoughts of how much joy Merin took in the opportunity to dance and how pleased she would be with her students. It was important to her. And so I will be okay. 

(I am happy to say that the mystery of the story has long been answered!)



I'm tired. I sleep and I dream. Every, every time I sleep, I dream. Vivid dreams that leave me tired still. Not necessarily bad dreams but often uncomfortable. Never about death. Always about Merin. Awake, I think that I will be relieved when the dreams stop. But then I wonder.....will I miss them?


Black Bean Tofu Stir-Fry

In many things I am very loyal. But when it comes to food I think I might be a bit fickle - or at least I like to play the field. As much as I love to cook, it just gets boring to make the same things night after night and week after week. On top of that I have an embarrassment of riches when wealth is counted in cookbooks. Consequently I try new recipes on a very regular basis. In fact, it is my habit to sit down with a few cookbooks and magazines every week and plot a menu so I don't forget to try something that has appealed to me. (Once, just out of curiosity I went through the calendar to see how often I repeated a recipe and it turned out that even for favorites it was never more often than once in six months! and for many things only once a year. Ha! That's a lot of cookbooks.) The upside of my 'style' is that we try many new tastes and textures (in five kids we really didn't have much of an issue with picky eating), the downside is that I frequently forget which recipe it was that I tried for that thing and where I found it. One of my favorite sources for quick and yummy meal ideas is 20 Minute Supper Club. The other night I tried this recipe and we loved it. I think "you gotta try it". Soon.

Black Bean Tofu Stir-Fry

1 pound firm tofu, diced into 3/4 - inch cubes
2 Tbsp soy sauce
8 Tbsp sesame oil
1 tsp freshly ground pepper
2 Tbsp black bean sauce
2 Tbsp hoisin sauce
1 tsp sambal
2 Tbsp vegetable oil, plus more for frying
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
2 red peppers, julienned
1 pound snow peas
1 pound shiitake mushrooms, stems removed, sliced
1 cup bean sprouts

In a bowl marinate tofu cubes with soy, sesame and black pepper.In another bowl mix together black bean and hoisin sauces with sambal to make sauce.

Heat a wok and add vegetable oil. Add tofu and fry until golden. Add 1 Tbsp sauce and toss tofu. Remove to serving dish.

Add more oil to wok, add onions and red pepper and cook for about 2 minutes. Add 1 Tbsp sauce and toss vegetables. Remove to serving dish with tofu. 

Add more oil to wok, add snow peas and mushrooms and cook for about 2 minutes. Add 1 Tbsp sauce and toss. Add to serving dish and mix. Top with bean sprouts and drizzle with remaining sesame oil to serve.


The House That Lisa Built

To jump right into the holiday season (which is the only way my good friend Lisa approaches anything!) on Wednesday evening we made Graham Cracker Candy Houses with the Young Women in our ward. It was a lot of fun - and just what the doctor ordered for me. The girl's creations were very ...... creative, and ran the gamut from gaudy to gorgeous. Lots of candy was consumed, the noise level was high, and it felt just right. 

I just had to share the house that Lisa built with you. It is soooooo Lisa! If there is ever anything happening that is cool or fun, the irrepressible Lisa is there driving it. She is the definition of exuberance and her house is the visual representation of that. No tasteful selection of candy color schemes. No holly over the door (in fact, no door!) No careful arrangement of specific elements. Just an explosion of candy. On every possible surface. So totally Lisa. So. Much. Fun.

And just in case you want to make your own Candy House creation, here's how:

You will need
-7 square graham crackers
-royal icing
-a base of some sort (we used a square of cardboard covered with white paper and cellophane)
-lots and lots of candy (we used mini M&M's, licorice allsorts, Mike&Ike's, Smarties, Twizzlers, Jelly Belly's, gum drops of assorted sizes - the list could go on and on)
-few inhibitions
-a tiny bit of imagination
-some degree of patience (putting the pieces together into a box and making the roof stay was a bit challenging for some...)

You will need to cut one of the squares in half diagonally to make the triangles for the walls that support the roof. This can be a bit frustrating since it is easier to make the cracker crumble than cut ;) Be gentle and you will be successful.

Assemble the house by running a (generous) bead of royal icing along each edge of each cracker and sticking them together in a box. Allow a few minutes for drying as you attach each piece and you will need less patience - since it won't all collapse. Ha! When the shell is together, go nuts adding the candy and making your own personal 'statement'. Have fun!

Look! Someone made a dog out of mini M&M's. So cute.