Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Preparation

We've spent the past 3 days madly preparing for our trip to the Valley. We hope to be on the road by about 10:00 tomorrow morning.
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We took down the Christmas tree yesterday. The ornaments were packed away this morning before we dusted, vacuumed, and swept the entire house.
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Last night I spent some time in the kitchen. Planning ahead helps me be a little wiser when faced with holiday goodies.
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Our favorite sugar-free treat each Christmas is the ever-popular MacTurtle.
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It begins with little mounds of quartered macadamia nuts, usually 3 nuts per pile.
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Next I melt 8 Ross dark chocolate bars in the microwave. Ross chocolates are a bit pricey, but I wouldn't use anything else. Not only are they made of the best Belgian chocolate, but the sweetener doesn't cause the gastric distress created by most sugar-free candies.
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Then I drizzle chocolate over each pile, coating the nuts well. Each bar makes about 3 MacTurtles.
Allow the chocolate to set for a few hours and voila! You have 2 dozen beautiful MacTurtles!
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We plan to spend New Year's Eve with Karla's family in Mesa, and the annual Butler family Christmas party will also be held in Mesa this year. After the party on Saturday, we'll return home quite late that night.
I also made a pan of roasted walnuts last night. Melt a little butter in a saucepan, add 1 tbsp cinnamon and 3 packets of Splenda, and stir in 4 cups (12 oz) of walnuts until well coated.
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Transfer to a baking sheet and bake at 450 degrees for 10 minutes. It made the whole kitchen smell yummy!
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With the MacTurtles, the sweet walnuts, and the sugar-free cheesecake still in the freezer from Thanksgiving, we are prepared to face the barrage of sweetness we will meet in Mesa!
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Today Jacob and Sarah spent a couple of hours out in the cold, wiring our fence. Diego learned to jump the fence last year, until we bought him a shock collar. Sad, but it worked like charm.
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Yesterday he rediscovered his jumping skill, so we dusted off the shock collar and replaced the old wiring.
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As soon as he approached the fence and the collar gave its warning beeps, he remembered last year's lessons and backed away. Now we won't be worried about losing him while we're gone for 3 days.
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Today Jacob couldn't wait to set up the GPS.
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I told him we don't need it. I lived in Mesa for 10 years, and we've made multiple visits every year for the 20 years since we moved here, so I know the locations of all the places we'll be going.
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Still, he's a technology junkie and he insisted we needed to try it out. I guess that's wise.
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(Notice the footprints in Sarah's freshly mopped kitchen floor above? Funny!)
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Now the laundry is done, the suitcases and totes are almost packed, and all that's left is to set the alarm and go to bed.
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I will be taking my laptop along to blog our visit, so stay tuned!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Gingerbread Houses

A realtor in our town hosted an interesting display before Christmas. Businesses and other buildings from Show Low to Pinetop-Lakeside were invited to submit gingerbread houses representing their properties. They got a huge response and set up the little "community" in their offices for the public to view.
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I didn't go myself, but Jacob went and took pictures for me. Here are some of his favorites.
Jacob actually helped make this gingerbread barn in his Culinary Arts class. This old tumble-down barn is probably the most famous landmark in Lakeside. Located on a hill above a curve in the highway just before you come to the tiny downtown area, this barn and a crumbling round retaining wall (see the m&m wall to the left) have been captured on canvas by hundreds of painters. You see them all the time at craft fairs and in restaurants and other businesses...and now in the gingerbread house display! And yes, the old horses still use the barn. Nice job, students!
Some of the gingerbread houses are great replicas of the actual businesses, and some bear no resemblance at all. This one gets my award for best likeness. I'd have known it was Skier's Edge even if it weren't identified by the sign!
McDonalds also captured their building's look quite well.
The Lakeside Fire Department's gingerbread firehouse is beautiful, but it looks a little different. For instance, the door is on the left instead of the right. Love the fire engine, though!
KFC looks pretty good, but I think McDonalds trumped them.
This gingerbread business is the spitting image of Darbi's Cafe. How many times have we walked up that ramp and through their front door? I like how they managed to work their phone number into the piece!
Another restaurant we frequent is Mama Bears. In fact, Jacob worked there during the summer of 2006. It is owned by our friend and local celebrity, Jineane Ford Ross. She was Miss America in 1980, had a brief acting career, and then became well known in Arizona as a TV newswoman in the Phoenix area for about 20 years. She is now "retired," but still active in local events, as well as running the restaurant and the lodge to which it is attached (the oldest log lodge in Arizona).
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Having said all that, this cute little gingerbread house bears absolutely NO resemblance to the actual restaurant! (And, oh yeah, her husband Kerry is a firefighter at the Lakeside Fire Department, seen above.)
Our Child Development students observe at the Montessori School every semester, but I've never been there, so I have no idea if it looks like its gingerbread namesake. I like their clever use of gum for the roof. It looks like the metal roofs many buildings are now opting to use, since they won't ignite in the event of a forest fire.
I've never eaten at Cafe Bocado, but this looks like the building I see from the highway as I drive by. It's a fairly new establishment in an old building. Nice job on the porch railing!
This is the radio station. I haven't been to their new building yet, though Jacob has been there many times to do radio spots to advertise SADD Club events. My friend Crystal and another friend Cam also work there. I'll have to ask them sometime if this is an accurate representation of their new station.
Finally, White Mountain Recreation Center in White Mountain Country Club. It's been ages since I've been there, probably when I chaperoned Prom there back in the '90s. I seem to recall it looked something like this, but I can't say for sure.
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I hope you enjoyed this little visit to our community!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

HCG: Maintenance Week One

Our first week off the hCG/500-calorie diet has been completed, and it has been a learning experience.
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I was worried about staying within the "don't gain more than 2 lbs/don't lose more than 2 lbs" limits for 6 weeks. As it turns out, it's a valid concern, particularly during the week before Christmas!
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The week began well enough...
Day 1: No gain or loss
Day 2: 0.8 lb gain
Day 3: 0.4 lb loss
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Sarah did even better. She lost 2.6 more lbs during the first 3 days off the diet.
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Then came Wednesday. Jacob decided to make one of my favorite foods, chicken enchiladas in green chile sauce. The rules say NO starches or sugars for the first 3 weeks, but I bought low-carb tortillas and told myself it would be okay. I also taste-tested several hand-dipped pretzels that night, plus some banana pieces dipped in leftover chocolate.
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The next morning I was up 2.8 lbs! Sarah was up 1.6 lbs.
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We reined it in for Christmas Eve, but we had planned to cheat on Christmas day, sort of like we did on Thanksgiving. I ate a couple of small cookies and candies (pre-Christmas gifts from friends), plus 5 pieces of my all-time favorite, English toffee. Our dinner was exactly the same as Thanksgiving dinner, except no candied yams this time, and I ate lightly. I did indulge in peach pie for dessert.
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Yes, I was baaaad!
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The next morning I was up another 1.2 lbs, putting me 4.8 lbs above my lowest weight from Sunday and Monday.
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I was kicking myself and thinking, "You worked so hard for this! What, are you crazy?"
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Fortunately, Dr. Simeons had worked out a solution for this situation. I reread the final chapters of his book, Pounds and Inches, to make sure I got it right.
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I quote: "As long as their weight stays within two pounds of the weight reached on the day of the last injection [of hCG], patients should take no notice of any increase, but the moment the scale goes beyond two pounds, even if this is only a few ounces, they must on that same day entirely skip breakfast and lunch but take plenty to drink. In the evening they must eat a huge steak with only an apple or a raw tomato."
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I had already expected I'd have to try this method the day after Christmas dinner, but the words I typed in bold letters leapt out at me. I was thinking I'd gained 4.8 lbs, but that was incorrect. I had actually lost 2.2 lbs after I stopped the hCG (but while still on the 500-calorie diet). Apparently that is unusual. Most people quit losing as soon as they stop the hCG.
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That meant I was only 2.6 lbs over my weight on the day I stopped the hCG. That made me feel much better! I only had to take off 0.6 lb in order to stay within the 2-lb boundary.
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As I said, it's been a learning experience. Yesterday I did the all-day fast followed by steak and a raw tomato, and this morning I had lost the 1.2 lbs gained on the previous day! Sarah has stayed within the 2-lb range, but she decided to try the fast-and-steak method with me. She had gained 1.4 lbs on Christmas day, and this morning she was back down exactly 1.4 lbs. Amazing!
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So it seems at this point that Sarah and I are maintaining, even if we broke some rules and came dangerously close to blowing it.
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For those who are wondering about the claim that the hCG diet changes your relationship with food, the jury is still out. I do see some positive changes, but the whole Christmas goodies theme has made it difficult to judge.
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I cannot deny that I am loving eating the foods I missed during the diet.
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Oddly, what I'm enjoying most is being able to eat eggs for breakfast again. To me, this spinach, cheese, and red onion omelet is heavenly!
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Yet I haven't indulged myself as much as I'd expected I would after 7 weeks of deprivation.
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I find I'm satisfied with less food and not inclined to want to snack. (The inability to resist Christmas sweets falls into another category, I think...)
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When I sat down to Christmas dinner, I looked down at the small portions on my plate and thought, "I don't want this." And I didn't. I left food uneaten, but my belly still felt like it would burst!
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So maybe there is a change. We still have 5 weeks of maintenance left to find out!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Holiday Fun

The last few weeks before Christmas were filled with fun holiday activities.
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They were also packed with last minute extra credit assignments, final essays, and assorted end-of-semester school chores, making it hard for me to get near a computer to blog about all the fun!
So now we'll look back at a couple of the activities we enjoyed.
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The ward Christmas party was an evening of music. Sister Kroupa played Christmas tunes on her trombone, and later Sister Snow accompanied us on piano while we sang carols.
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Rather than a dinner, we enjoyed hot cocoa, apple cider, and sweet treats.
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In the top photo it's just Jacob, Sarah, and me since Dylan went to a friend's birthday party that evening.
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In the second picture it's Sarah and her friends Emmi, Reyna, and Gina.
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Above, Sarah sings a Christmas hymn with the Relief Society ladies. At right, Jacob performs with the other teens in the Young Men program.
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We all shared a good laugh watching the bishopric and their wives on stage, as the wives wrapped their husbands head-to-toe in toilet paper to turn them into "snowmen."
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Santa also made a visit, listening to the children's wishes and handing out small bags of gifts.
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The sweetest moment always comes near the end of the evening when the Primary children reenact the Nativity, while the audience sings "Away in a Manger" and "Silent Night."
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Dylan's orchestra concert fell on the final week of school. We are always among the first to arrive, since he must be there early to tune up his instrument and whatever else it is they do backstage!
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Here we have Jacob and his friend Christal waiting with Sarah for the concert to begin.
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Dylan is one of only three cellists in the middle school orchestra, and they all did an outstanding job.
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The performance was beautiful. They did something new this year. At the end of the concert they combined all the orchestras, bands, and choirs (from the middle school, junior high, and high school) and had a sing-along of carols. It was unexpected fun!
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Dylan's new teacher is Theresa Bailey-Dick, who is also the conductor of White Mountain Symphony Orchestra. Sarah auditioned with her last week and is now a proud new second violinist in our community orchestra!
Christmas is such a joyous time of year, on so many levels: faith, family, food, fun, and the simple joy of giving.
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I love the feelings of peace, hope, and love in the air. If only those feelings will continue throughout the year.
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Christmas, I shall miss you!

Friday, December 25, 2009

Scenes of a Carter Christmas

Sometime during the night, Santa stopped by to fill the stockings with goodies! Dylan started trying to get me up to open presents around 4 a.m. I managed to keep sending him back to bed until 8:00. Once we were all up, he volunteered to play Santa and pass out everyone's gifts. Once the presents were piled up, the kids waited for Mom to get the video camera ready, and then they tore into their piles. After the wrapping paper carnage ended, they gathered their gifts neatly to pose with this year's haul. Here is Dylan with his pile of goods. His favorite gifts were the rip-stik, the remote-controlled motorcycle, and especially the Guitar Hero game for his Nintendo DS.
Oh yes, and we must not forget the ring. Dylan has been begging to wear some of my rings these past few weeks. I told him he didn't want to wear my girly rings, but he said he didn't care, he just felt like wearing rings lately. To prevent mine from getting lost outside or at school, I got him his own ring for Christmas. He loves it. Dylan's birthstone is ruby and he likes the reddish color of the gemstones.
Jacob sitting with his presents. His favorites are the remote-controlled boat and new bedding. He was tired of the old Batman quilt from his pre-teen days. Jacob also got a very nice tie from Trisha, a sweet young lady he's been dating, so he's particularly fond of it (for obvious reasons).And Sarah with her prizes: she loves the TV series Kyle XY, so she got seasons 1 and 2 on DVD; we both love the new TV series Vampire Diaries, so I got her a poster of the two vampire brothers from the show (whom we both think are very hot!); and her favorite is the new doll that makes adorable cooing sounds while sucking on a pacifier. Dylan got her the cute little ceramic puppy.Finally, here are my gifts. Dylan gave me the beautiful green earrings, Jacob got me the Water Horse DVD, and Sarah gave me the Star Trek DVD. They know what I like!
Most of the day was spent playing with and enjoying their new gifts. Above, we have Jacob assembling his new boat, Sarah learning how to play the new Phase 10 Twist game, and Dylan playing Guitar Hero on DS. When Dylan didn't have the DS in his hand, he was racing the motorcycle around the house, terrorizing poor Diego! There was also a lot more foot-stompin' to the Dance Dance Revolution game.
Jacob and Sarah playing Phase 10 Twist.
At 3:00 we had an early turkey dinner. Jacob made us a peach pie for dessert later tonight. (So much for no starches or sugars!)
After dinner we drove over to Show Low Lake to see if there was any part of the lake unfrozen enough for Jacob to float his new boat on, but no such luck. He'll have to wait till warmer weather brings a thaw. It was 24 degrees outside while we were there. Brrrr!
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Below is a short video taken at the lake. The ice isn't strong enough to walk on yet, but it's pretty tough. Instead of skipping stones across the water, the boys (Dylan's friend Justin had joined us) skipped ice across the ice. It produces an eerie sound, almost like the sound of a boomerang. The camera didn't pick it up too well, but maybe you can hear it...

video

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Eve

I love Christmas Eve. It conjures up images of a peaceful evening, a quiet hearth, and visions of sweet things dancing through our heads. With teenagers in the house, though, it doesn't always turn out that way.
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It all started sweetly. Last night Sarah and Jacob spent a couple of hours hand-dipping nearly 100 large pretzels. So many wonderful people from church have given gifts of service to our family throughout the year, and at Christmas time we try to think of some small token of appreciation to give in return.
They put blue sprinkles on the white chocolate...
...and clear sprinkles on the chocolate chocolate.
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This morning we wrapped pretzels in blue plastic bags, tied them with ribbon, and attached notes for each family. Then Jacob spent all morning making deliveries.
My children spent the afternoon in pursuits like sledding and watching The Santa Clause. After dinner they asked if they could open one gift. I allowed them to open the family gift I'd gotten for them: the 3rd incarnation of Dance Dance Revolution.
So much for a quiet, peaceful evening! They spent the next 3 hours stomping out dance moves while the nick-nacks on my shelves shimmied dangerously near the edges.
I have to admit, it's fun to watch them. And I do approve of the new video games that encourage physical activity. (My personal favorite is Wii Fit.)
At 11:00 I called a halt to the dancing so we could observe our annual tradition of filming the kids while they hung their stockings. You can see that they became creative this year, hanging their stockings on the clock. Interesting, but odd...
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By 11:30 they were all snug in their beds, waiting for Santa to come. I'm sure they'd be dreaming of sugar plums, if they only knew what they were!

And so, Merry Christmas to all, and to all a Good-Night!