Friday, December 31, 2010

Season of Service

It is the evening of December 31, which would brings our Operation December just about to a close. What a lovely experience it was to focus more on giving and serving during this special time of year. I set out with the goal to perform an act of service, whether big or small, monetary or not, at least once a day this past month. I originally thought a daily charitable deed would be a bit difficult to fulfill. How glad I was to discover that once I made giving my focus, it came easily and naturally. With prayer and with an open mind and heart, opportunities of service seemed to just about fall into our laps! It has been a wonderfully uplifting Christmas, both in the blessing we received and in the opportunities our Heavenly Father provided for us to make others' blessings come about.

With many positive experiences of giving from this past month, we are not only prepared to make this focus a holiday tradition from now on, but to also start a new year with a dedication to give more of ourselves more often.

A Very Merry Christmas

Our very merry Christmas composed of:

Christmas Eve dinner (Ham, cheesy potato casserole, beans and rolls), opening presents and a round of white elephant gift exchange at Grandma Nancy's.

Then on to the Riding home for hors d'oeuvres (Chinese wontons, spinach artichoke dip with tortilla chips, bacon wrapped jalapeno poppers in raspberry chipotle sauce, monkey bread, mozzarella sticks with marinara, BBQ little smokies and assorted cheeses and olives) and opening gifts.

Christmas morning was just us. The boys opened their stockings first. Then we each took turns opening the rest of the gifts. We took our time, playing with and admiring each present after unwrapping, including our popcorn tin which Brody thoroughly enjoyed.

Our favorite gifts this year: Brody - teddy bear from The Ridings, Palmer - Alvin and the Chipmunks movie from Santa, Lera - sewing machine from Greg and Greg - Blu-ray home theater system from Lera.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Homemade for the Holidays

The holidays wouldn't be complete without a few homemade touches.

The first is my go-to way of packaging any yummy treat. I simply put the treat in a Ziploc bag, fold a piece of cardstock, decorated it and staple it onto the top of the bag. It is super fast and always looks cute. In this case, I bagged up homemade caramels and chocolates. These bags of goodies went to my sister-in-laws and their families.

I made up these cute snowman kits for some ward friends. Each kit included: a scarf, carrot, two pieces of coal, buttons, a hat and some fake snow for decoration.

We also passed out many Santa's Cookies plates that I had designed for our Relief Society's Super Saturday. Each cookie plate had a dozen delicious fudge chocolate cookies (recipe from my friend Jenn). These cookies are scrumptious! I made the cookie plates for the families Greg and I visit/home teach. Greg's companion took home one of the plates with the plan to deliver it later that night to one of their families. He later confessed, after sneaking one cookie, he couldn't stop himself, and ended up eating them all! His wife had to bake more cookies to replace them. Hehe.

My sisters and I make a small homemade gift each year to exchange between each other in honor of our mother. We call them angel gifts, since Mom always gifted us with angel figurines each Christmas.

This year London made a couple of seasoning rubs: Spicy Sweet BBQ and Citrus Herb.

While dejunking our attic I came across a home video my parents made of Ohio (places and people we knew and loved) just before we had moved to Utah. I had the VHS converted to a DVD and gave my sisters each a copy.

Sariah handcrafted a couple of super cute totes. This winter-esk scene is mine. London's was done in more fall colors.

Recipes - Peanut Butter Brownie Bites, Cookie Dough Truffles and London's Caramels

I made a couple big candy treat trays for Greg and my work last week and thought I'd share the recipes. Two of the treats I made were actually demonstrated at our ward's Super Saturday last month: Peanut Butter Brownie Bites (I substituted white chocolate for the chocolate coating on these) and Cookie Dough Truffles. I also spent an afternoon with my sister London making caramels. This was my first time making these melt-in-your-mouth delicious candies. I now know why my sister doesn't make them too often. They take hours and hours... but I must admit, the moment that chewy goodness hits my mouth, it's all worth it. I have yet to try a caramel that is as scrumptious as London's.

London's Caramels

2 sticks butter
4 cups sugar
2cups light corn syrup
2 cans evaporated milk

Over medium heat, melt butter. Add sugar and corn syrup and bring to a boil. Very slowly add milk, keeping mixture at a boil. Continue to cook, stirring constantly, until mixture reaches soft ball stage, 235 degrees (takes 1-2 hours). Immediately pour into a well creased pan. Allow caramels to cool completely. Cut into squares and wrap in wax paper.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Big Blonde Moment

Admittedly, I am a ditsy blonde. I'm not stupid. I think of myself as fairly intelligent, but honestly, I do tend to embrace the stereotypical blonde from time to time.

One particular instance occurred recently, Thanksgiving morning. I was out early (just having attended Lyndee's Zumba class, which was fabulous fun) and stopped to gas my van and pick up a paper for Black Friday shopping. I purchased my paper and prepaid for exactly $8.00 of gasoline (just enough to make it through our shopping excursion, saving as much of my cash as possible for the shopping itself). I then called my sister while walking to the van to see if she wanted me to get her a paper; they were going fast. She told me to pick up an extra one since she was sure one of our bargain hunting buddies would want it. I went back in the store and did so. I then got in my vehicle and drove out of the gas station's parking lot while still talking on the phone. As I was entering the main street I glanced at my gas gage to see it still on empty. Whoops, I forgot to gas up. I glanced in my rear view mirror to see that every pump was empty except the one I had prepaid on, where a man was already pumping gas into his vehicle. I exclaimed to London that someone was using my gas and I had to go.

I drove up to the gas pump just across from the man and got out. I noticed him looking at the gas tank with a very perplexed look on his face. The following awkward conversation proceeded.

Me: "Did the gas stop when it reached $8.00?"
Him in a confused voice: "Yeah."
Me: "That's because I prepaid at that pump and then drove off, like an idiot."
Him: "Oh."
(We stare at each other for a minute or so, very awkwardly. Me, waiting for him to offer to repay me, because it was my gasoline, but not asking because it was my fault that I didn't get it. I rationalized to myself that it was only $8.00, but at the same time, I purposefully only put in that much because I wanted to save my money.)
Me: "Well, I guess... (another long pause)... Happy Thanksgiving."
Him: "I can pay you for it." He then proceeded to give me a ten dollar bill and I thanked him and gave him back two ones.

I recounted the story to my family at Thanksgiving dinner. They then told our shopping companions the next day. Everyone found my flounder quite amusing and for several days after, the "Happy Thanksgiving" quip was used by all whenever they caught themselves doing anything slightly stupid.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

More Palmerisms

He kissed a garbage can at church for no reason at all.

Calls Eskimo kisses nose kisses. He requests them often. And one night he asked for a head kiss and then proceeded to softly head butt Greg.

While pointing at snowballs in the snow he remarks, "The snow pooped Mom!"

Yelled to me, "Brody's hurt!" When I went to see what was wrong I found Brody with his arm pulled out of his now limp sleeve. Palmer proudly said, "I did it."

Makes "snow angels" on the carpet inside our home.

Stuck a green bowl upside-down on top of his cup at dinner and announced, "Veggie Tales!" (as in the cucumber from Veggie Tales)

Was whimpering off and on through the night. Greg went to check on him and calmed him down. A few minutes later I hear him whimpering for me. As I am slowly dragging my tired body out of bed, I hear him scream out in bloody murder. I race into his room and urgently ask him what happened. He responds by grabbing at his nose and through loud and adamant cries exclaims, "Boogies!" (as in boogers).

Calls his green beans "beanstalks." They are always the first food eaten off his plate.

Noticed the cracks on the road and said, "Mom, the road is broken," and "Palmer broke it."

Took him to The Mayan for the first time this week. Throughout the meal he ran towards the water to "go swimming." When leaving he commented about it saying, "We ate in the trees and friends jumped in the water from upstairs."

When writing a note to Santa Clause, he told me he wanted a snowman and a new friend for Christmas.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

A Walk with Santa

We attended our local fitness center's A Walk with Santa. Santa rode in on a fire engine and then they lit up the trees surrounding the building. After the lighting, Santa lead everyone on a walk around the track. Along the path the kids saw cute blowup Christmas characters, while a high school choir walked behind us caroling. Then the kids each took a turn sitting on Santa's lap. This was the first time sitting with Santa for both our boys and they both did wonderfully and provided me with these picture perfect cutie-patootie photos.

While in line, we asked Palmer what he was going to tell Santa that he wanted for Christmas. He responded, "Presents." When actually prompted by Santa, he said, "A surprise." Honestly, Santa really can't go wrong this year. As long as there is something wrapped under the tree, Palmer's Christmas wish is taken care of.

We thought for sure Brody would eat Santa's beard. He really likes anything furry and fluffy, and he shows his love for such plush items by giving them a firm chomp. But he was very well behaved and sat there smiling like a little angel.

After a visit with Santa, Palmer colored a penguin pin, and went on a candy cane hunt. They also had face painting and hot chocolate and cookies. It was a pretty cute event and it was all free of charge. I'm sure it'll become a Hess tradition from now on.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Festival of Trees 2010

Originally, we had planned to attend a few Christmas events during the first part of December: The Festival of Trees, Breakfast with Santa and The Forgotten Carols. After we did our budget we realized we had enough money to only do one event. Although I have been dying to go to The Forgotten Carols for years, I just couldn't give up our family tradition of attending The Festival of Trees, so attend it we did.

Every year we each choose a themed tree of interest (i.e. scrapbooking, Harry Potter, The Simpsons, music, baking cookies, etc.) to be on the hunt for. Then once your tree is found, we take a picture of you in front of it. Unfortunately, this year we got a little sidetracked and only took pictures of particularly unique trees and trees that were our children's favorites.

Unique Trees:

Palmer's favorite tree: Mickey Mouse theme

Brody's favorite tree: Cookie Monster theme

We enjoyed some mouthwatering scones with honey butter and washed them down with some chocolate milk. We sat by the sweetest pair of old men while we ate. They were so charming and kind. They truly had the spirit of Christmas.

We ended the evening in the children's activity area. We purchased a wand for each of the boys and Palmer took a turn in the bubble machine. He was so excited to get inside a bubble. He was actually shaking in anticipation. When it was his turn he just about ran into the pool of bubble solution before the attendants could help him up onto the stool.

We had a wonderful time. The boys were really well behaved, but after a couple hours of gazing at the trees they were done.

We only got a glance at the gingerbread houses and didn't even see the small trees, wreaths, other decorations or the store. But honestly, Greg and I were done too. As we were leaving, Greg and I couldn't help but chuckle about the previous trips to the Festival of Trees with my mother. She loved the festival even more than I do, and would make sure to see every single display. Many years she would continue to roll herself around in her wheelchair for about an hour after the rest of us sat pooped out on a chair in the corner. Oh how I love that woman and the zest she had for life! Hopefully one day we will be able to donate a tree in her memory.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Operation December

Once I saw the title of this particular blog template "Giving is Living," I knew it must be our blog's design for the month of December. Last month I had a specific focus and did my best to put all my extra time and effort into it (as much as a possibly could since Brody was sick just about all month). It was great to have a worthy purpose to concentrate on for the month and I am excited to do so again in December.

Greg and I have been talking, for the last couple months, about how this Christmas we want to really focus on serving. We have been so blessed in the past years with help, service, thoughtfulness, kindness and gifts of plenty, often in the case of very generous secret santas. This was especially true last year when we were really struggling financially. Oh how thankful we are for the kindness of others and oh how we yearn to pass that kindness on. With Greg's recent improvement in employment, we are now getting back on our feet and are thrilled to not only be able to provide for ourselves but for some others as well.

So with that in mind, I want to dedicate the month of December 2010 to service. Our family hopes and prays and plans to give of our time, our efforts, our money and ourselves for the good of others. We are striving to more embrace a lifestyle that is best emulated by, the reason for this season that is upon us, our Savior Jesus Christ.

Let Operation Give commence!