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.