Thursday, December 16, 2010

Our home for the holidays

It's been fun getting ready for Christmas in our new home. Somehow, even our same old decorations seem to have gained new life being in a new place.

We got a slightly bigger tree this year. When we got it home, it wouldn't fit in our old tree stand.

A new industrial-sized one was required. Steve had to use a sledge hammer to get it into the tree trunk.

I have no idea how we'll get it off when the holidays are over.

(Tree skirt is new this year, from Pottery Barn)

I bought the NOEL stocking holders years ago from Pottery Barn.

At the time, we only had Olivia. I couldn't imagine us having more kids than hangers. When Grant came along, I bought a cheapo snowflake from Target. I wish I'd have thought ahead and bought the PEACE set instead!

It looks so pretty at night!

The staircase garland was my big addition to our decor this year. It took several attempts to get it to look like I wanted, but in the end, I love it!

I was so excited to unpack my nativity this year. Last year was the first year we had it, and I had to pack it up before I was ready when we decided to put our house on the market last January. I walk by this dozens of times a day, and just love it!

Our family room mantle is huge. Everything appears dwarfed on it.

Especially this nativity.

But I love it all the same. It was the first nativity I bought after we got married. In spite of its simplicity, I just adore it, and it will always be special to me.

Steve was in charge of the yard. The pictures don't do it justice.

I love December. I love the Christmas music playing and the smell of cinnamon candles burning throughout the house. But come December 31, I'm done and don't get in my way as I'm packing up. You're likely to end up stuffed in a box in my attic.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Stress-free holiday baking

About 9 years ago, a friend of mine was telling me about these "Cookie in a jar" gifts she was making. It sounded perfect to me...I had a toddler in the house (yes, it was Olivia, if you can believe that!) and was not into watching the timer or thermometer for perfectly browned cookies or soft-ball stage candy.

They were a huge hit, and have been my gift to friends, teachers, etc. ever since! While I wish I could make and give one to every single person who happens upon my blog, that is simply an impossibility. So instead, I will share the "recipe" with you, and you can make your give, or to keep and enjoy as your own!

Both the cookie recipe and brownie recipe require a 1 quart canning jar. I've discovered wide mouth is easier to fill than the standard, but either will work.

Cookies in a Jar
Makes 1 gift jar

1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 cup chocolate chips
1/3 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup all purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp baking soda
1/8 tsp salt
1 cup quick cooking or old fashioned oats
1/2 cup peanut butter chips, white chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, or holiday M&Ms

Stir together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a small bowl.

Layer ingredients in a 1-quart glass jar in the following order (bottom to top): granulated sugar, 1 cup chocolate chips, brown sugar, flour mixture, oats, and other chips last. Tap jar gently on the counter to settle each layer before adding the next one. The jar will be very full at the end!

Baking directions: Heat oven to 375. Empty contents of jar into a large bowl. Add 1/2 cup (1 stick) softened butter, 1 slightly beaten egg, and 1 tsp. vanilla extract. Stir until well mixed. Drop spoonfuls onto baking sheet. Bake 8-10 minutes. Enjoy!

Brownies in a Jar
Makes 1 gift jar

1 1/2 cups sugar
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa
1 cup peanut butter chips, or chocolate chips (I tried mint & dark chocolate chips this year...yum!)
1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup mini semisweet chocolate chips (I've also used peppermint chips or Andes mint can get creative here!)

Layer ingredients in a 1 quart glass jar in the following order (bottom to top): sugar, cocoa, 1 cup chips, flour, baking powder, salt, 1/2 cup chips. Tap jar gently on the counter to settle each layer before adding next one. Attach baking directions.

Baking directions: Heat oven to 350. Grease and flour 8x8x2 baking pan. Combine 1/2 cup melted and cooled butter and 2 slightly beaten eggs in a large bowl. Gently stir in jar contents. Spread in prepared pan. Bake for 35 minutes. Enjoy!

I like to get creative in the packaging. I add a circle of holiday fabric under the screw band, tie on some ribbon, and sometimes even a bell. Whatever I happen to have in my stash at the time! For the baking instructions, you can either print it and cut into a tag to tie on, or simply use packing tape to stick it directly onto the jar. This seems to work the best, as there's less chance of it becoming separated from the jar contents!

Happy Holidays, from my neck of the woods to yours!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Letting go of perfect, and finding perfection

Around November 1 every year, I start scheming our holiday card. I set the bar high a few years back when I penned a custom poem about our annual happenings. I've written poems or a letter of some sort, and designed our card every year since then...and just can't go back to the standard drag & drop card.

Last year, a friend/photographer took an amazing candid shot of our family. It captured the essence of the love we feel for each other, and is now hanging as a 20x30 canvas in my family room.

This was our card last year - the canvas is just the b&w print. I love it!

This year, we didn't have time to do a professional photo shoot. But I figured it would be no big deal to get the kids gussied up and do a photo shoot of my own. So two weeks ago, I made the kids get dressed for church extra early and step outside for a few poses.

I had visions of perfection, with my three angels all posing willingly and happily, flashing authentic smiles and complete cooperation. I got the cooperation from two of the three.

This is how the pictures went:

With each click of the lens, I was getting more frustrated and irritated, yelling at Grant.

"Stand still!"
"Stand up straight!"
"Look at the camera!"
"Open your eyes"
"Smile normal"

He wasn't following any of my directions.

I finally gave up. I was thinking "How the heck can I put a card together?"

When I plugged my camera into the computer, and watched the photos upload one by one, I couldn't help but laugh. It was like watching a slow motion movie, with Grant as the main character.

Watching the film roll, all the irritations I was feeling behind the camera just disappeared. I saw him, for who he really is, and the pictures seemed to capture the essence of him completely. I knew then that the original idea I'd had for our card just wasn't right.

This is our life. These are my kids. And while they may not be "picture perfect", they really are absolutely perfect for me, in every single way.

And I know that years from now, when Grant is all grown up and cooperative, I'll be so glad that I didn't go for perfect this year. Because what I got was so much more...

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Thanksgiving 2010 - Better late than never

I realize I'm almost a month behind, and should be recording Christmas memories right now instead of Thanksgiving. So this will be quick so we can get on to the holiday happenings.

We spent Saturday through Tuesday of our Thanksgiving week camping in the desert.

The kids got dirty.

Steve did too.

The dune buggy provided some good adventures.

And even caught a little air.

The kids rode miles and miles on the quad...around the campsite slowly, and a little quicker out on the dunes. They're getting braver!

Grant would ride with whomever would take him. He's itching for the day when he can handle that thing on his own. I'm dragging both feet in terror of that day. That boy knows no fear.

We enjoyed the respite from responsibilities, technology, tv, and modern conveniences. Though in the interest of full disclosure, we did rent a 26' RV trailer with running water, heat, and a flushing toilet. And the campground had full facilities a mere twenty yards from our campsite. So we didn't really rough it. But close enough.

On Wednesday, we hit Disneyland, along with about a million of our closest friends.

This was a milestone adventure for us. The last time we went to Disneyland, Jack screamed riding the tram from the parking lot to the park. This time around, all the kids were big enough to ride all the rides (except for Indiana Jones, which had a line 2 years long and no one wanted to wait that long anyway).

We filled up three cars on Autopia.

And yes, that striking man 2 cars behind me is Steve...
the same one that was covered in dirt just a day prior.
That guy knows how to get dirty. But he cleans up well.

We all rode Space Mountain, Splash Mountain, Matterhorn, and Thunder Mountain Railroad. Even Jack. Though he did close his eyes the whole entire time. But not a single tear was shed!

Grant somehow managed to doze off while on Pirates of the Carribean.

We went on the Nemo Submarine, and saw the Haunted Mansion all decked out as the "Nightmare before Christmas".

We took the crowds all in stride, and thoroughly enjoyed the day. Goofy even wished us Merry Christmas!

Thanksgiving Day was spent with the wacky and wild Whitaker clan.

Steve with his mom, brother, and sister

Joyce, aka "Nan" with all the grandkids except Chelsea,
who was with her mom. We missed her...

While it was a whirlwind week, it was great to be together as a family. And a great opportunity to remember all that I am thankful for.

We booked it home on Saturday, unpacked, did 400 loads of laundry, and were ready to get back to the grind by the time Monday rolled around.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Wake up call

One morning last week, I woke up and realized that there were no more babies in this house. I felt a little like Rip Van Winkle, waking up from an extended, deep sleep and seeing the world changed around me.

For the past 11 years, we've had a baby or toddler in the house. We've changed thousands of diapers and woken up countless times for mid-night feedings. Not to mention all the other duties, stresses, responsibilities, and joys that come with a baby.

I looked out the front door on Wednesday morning, and saw this:

Grant was headed down the walkway to jump into the car for his ride to school. Somehow, the bald little baby who was born just yesterday (it seems) turned into a boy. A real boy.

A boy who dresses himself for school.

A boy who rides the school bus on field trips.

A boy who goes potty unassisted.

A boy who feeds himself.

A boy who entertains himself and can communicate his needs and carry on an entertaining and attentive conversation.

A boy who sleeps through the night. (Most of the time)

A boy who now only rarely wants to be held. And almost never wants kisses.

It is a strange feeling to know that the baby stage of our family is officially over. It makes me feel old. Like somehow not having a baby anymore has aged me into a middle-age person instead of a young mom. I'm not sure how I feel about that.

While I know that at some point, everyone has to be done having babies, there's a part of me that aches to go through it all over again. I miss the newness of life, so perfectly perfect and full of wonder. I miss being so solely needed and being the one responsible for the sustaining of life of a tiny, helpless being.

But then, just when I consider begging and pleading Steve to try for one more, that same four year old, who at times is so grown up, reverts to his near-forgotten baby ways, and throws a fit like this:

And in that moment, I am content to be moving on to the next stage of life.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Great American Cover-up

The mural on our staircase wall has been the "elephant in the room" (actually, it's much bigger than an elephant) since we bought the house.

I'll never forget the first time we saw the house. Olivia was at a friend's house. Steve and I walked through the front door with the boys, and there it was. Larger than life. Naked statues. Kissing. With a leopard watching from above.

(The view from the front door/entry)

(The view from above)

Jack's reaction was priceless. He took one look and said "Ewwwwwww—that's so gross!"

It's been almost 6 months since we moved in. While the mural bothered me a bit at first, I then sort of forgot about it. I can one possibly forget about a 16' wide painting up the staircase I climb numerous times every day? But it's true. I just sort of put it out of my mind. That is, until someone came to visit. They'd take one look at the wall and then look down at their feet or fidget with semi-embarrassment. I always found myself jumping to explain..."It wasn't exactly our taste or style, but we knew that it had been an incredibly costly addition to the house, and we felt a little guilty about not loving it and wanting to keep it as part of our decor, yada yada yada." So, the mural stayed, and we just figured when the time was right, we'd know what to do.

In the 6 months since we've been here, we've also had issues with the boys being frightened in the house. Jack was afraid to get out of bed in the night. If Grant was left upstairs, or downstairs for that matter, by himself, he would freak out screaming that he was scared. No amount of reassurance seemed to help.

Last Friday night, we were discussing our weekend plans. A birthday party for Saturday morning had been cancelled due to the weather, and although we had a Halloween party Saturday evening, our day was wide open. Steve asked Jack "What do you think we should do tomorrow?" Jack's response was immediate "Can we paint over the mural?"

That did it. Saturday morning, we woke up early and headed to the paint store. On our way, we took a detour to the donut store for one of these:

When we got home, we gave the kids some Sharpies and let them go to town on the wall before we got to work. This is likely the only time in their life that they'll be allowed, let alone encouraged, to tag a wall.

A heavy coat of primer went on first.

A few hours later, the final coat of paint went on.

As Grant was supervising the paint job, he said "Now I won't be scared anymore". Steve and I really had no idea that the boys were so bothered by what to us was just a bit of tacky art.

It's amazing what a couple of coats of paint can do. We still need to figure out something to put on the wall (or some things) to break up the vastness of it.

In the meantime, the boys are adjusting superbly to the blank slate. Grant actually carried his laundry basket upstairs today. By himself. And didn't shed a single tear.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Days of the dead...

Halloween came and went without much fanfare this year.

We decorated the yard a bit more than in year's past. It looked good.

My favorite inside decoration was the spider I made a few weeks ago. I added some web candle holders to the table as well.

When it came to costumes, I took the easy route. I had a discount coupon for an online costume shop, and let Jack and Olivia pick what they wanted.

Olivia chose a "tween" version of Alice in Wonderland. It was actually pretty cute.

Jack chose a cheap plastic getup.

Grant didn't get a choice when it came to his costume. I had a hand-me-down firefighter costume that Jack wore when he was 4. No sense in buying a new one, right?

He really wanted to be Wolverine or Harry Potter. So I drew a lightning bolt "scar" on his forehead, and told him he was Harry Potter pretending to be a firefighter. It worked like a charm.

(He looks thrilled, doesn't he?)

The kids enjoyed their annual Halloween celebration at school. They wore their costumes and participated in the parade through town.

Olivia marched with the band.

On Halloween morning, I woke up with strep throat. I wanted to die. Literally.

We had not yet carved pumpkins. We hadn't even bought pumpkins (except for the little one Grant got on his field trip to the pumpkin patch). Steve took the boys to the (fake) patch at the fairgrounds, and came home with one of the last pickings of the season.

The kids walked with Steve around the neighborhood begging for candy, while I stayed home and answered the door. 4 times. That's right, we only had 4 groups of trick-or-treaters. And I was armed with 10 pounds of candy, expecting the little goblins to come in droves.

I'm still on the couch, 4 days later. The DVR is empty. I've moved on to On Demand. The only benefit of not being able to swallow is I haven't even been tempted to touch these:

or this:

or this.

Here's hoping I'm back among the living soon.