Monday, December 26, 2011

Christmas 2011

Another Christmas come and gone.  All those presents under the tree have been opened, admired, played with, and put away to be enjoyed again later.  The houseful of friends and family have departed.  The big holiday meal has been digested (urp...well, mostly) and the sweet treats are now leftovers.  I'm always a little sad when it's all over.

Thank goodness I have all these pictures to remember it by!

As the only child still at home, Dylan insisted that Ed and I hang stockings this year, too, so his wouldn't be the lone stocking on the hearth.  Santa filled them with some good stuff!

25 Dec 2011:  Me with my good buddy Gwen!

The best blessing of the holidays is the opportunity to spend time with friends and family.  After attending church in the morning, Ed, Dylan, and I enjoyed exchanging gifts and sharing a big holiday feast (prepared by Ed) with our son-in-law and daughter Chris and Sarah; Ed's mom Caryl; and our close family friend Gwen. 

Ed also enjoyed a long talk with his son Hans, who lives in Illinois with his beautiful wife Pam.  And the highlight of my day was a 2-hour-long phone call with my missionary son Jacob in California!

25 Dec 2011:  Chris and Gwen

In fact, most of these pictures were taken during Jacob's phone call as we took turns talking to him.  Dylan was so excited to talk to his big brother that he had the phone in his lap for 20 minutes, waiting for the phone to ring at the agreed-upon time.  Then he handed the phone to me briefly, and from there it went to Gwen, then Dylan, then Chris, then Sarah, then Ed, then Caryl, and then finally back to me!

I insist upon having the final time with Jacob, and I also take the biggest chunk of time.  I am his MOM, after all!  Everyone else spoke anywhere from 5 minutes (Caryl) to 20 minutes (Sarah), for a total of an hour.  The second hour was all mine, and I cherished every moment.

25 Dec 2011:  Sarah and Gwen

Actually, just before we hung up, Jacob asked for a final quick word with his younger brother.  I heard him admonishing Dylan to work harder and do well in school.  I was certainly happy to allow him to share that particular message with his brother!

25 Dec 2011: Chris and Dylan

After dinner and gifts, we settled in to watch the DVD of Tangled, a Disney movie about the Rapunzel fairy tale which Sarah received from her husband for Christmas.  That's always been my favorite fairy tale: "Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your golden hair..."  Very cute movie, too!

25 Dec 2011:  Ed's mom Caryl

After the movie we enjoyed some pie and cake before Chris and Sarah returned home, taking Dylan along to spend a few days with them.  Now Ed and I have the house all to ourselves for a couple of days!

25 Dec 2011:  Diego gets a new Christmas sweater.

25 Dec 2011:  Sarah brought over a Christmas cake;
I had no idea my daughter was so creative!

25 Dec 2011: Speaking of creative, after watching Tangled Dylan decided
he had to braid my hair.  Sarah said I looked like Legolas from the back.  Cool!

I'm sorry that I somehow missed Ed during all the picture-taking (although I'm sure he is quite relieved that he got missed!).  He spent so much of his time in the kitchen whipping up our feast, he just wasn't in camera range (unless you count him in the background of the photo below...). 

And when I gathered up all his gifts today to get a shot of them, I intended to pose Ed with his presents, but he was gone by 8:00 this morning.  As so often happens, he has been gone for hours helping neighbors and friends repair their cars and trucks.  He is very service-oriented that way, and I love him for it.  But still, no picture.

25 Dec 2011: Dylan with his gifts.

And now, here are the traditional gift photos.  Dylan's favorite gift was the new Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 video game for Xbox 360 from Ed and me, and a 3-month subscription for Xbox online from Chris and Sarah.  He also received an M&Ms candy dispenser; a tool box filled with his own set of tools; a Kung Fu Panda 2 DVD; a Christmas tie and a Santa hat; glow-stick bracelets; a puppies calendar; a box of chocolate-covered cherries; and the ever-popular gift of underwear!

Ed's gifts

Dylan gave Ed a new, larger toolbox, and Chris and Sarah gave him a crystal cube with an elk laser-etched inside it.  Ed's mom gave him a very old mini-lantern that Ed's great grandfather used to use to light his way to bed each night.  From me, Ed received a compost crock (to store scraps for your garden's compost pile, but Ed will use it to store the table scraps he feeds to our chickens every morning); a music CD called "Facing Future" by Israel "Iz" Kamakawiwo'ole (featuring "Somewhere Over the Rainbow"); a computer game called "Civilization" (which I suspect Ed will trade in for new boots or some ammunition); a calendar featuring pictures of white-tailed bucks; a box of chocolate-covered blueberries (just had to try those!); and two of his favorite treats: peanut brittle and honey-roasted cashews.

Gifts for our whole family

We also recieved several family gifts.  Jacob sent us a 3-D wooden wall hanging of two bears that I simply fell in love with!  I've always admired those and secretly longed to own one!  Jacob also sent us  some seashells and rocks he collected from Samoa Beach.  I miss my home state of California!  Ed's mom gave us a cookbook with sugar-free recipes and our friend Gwen brought us a can of rolled chocolate luxury wafers.  Chris's mom, Brenda, sent us a beautiful, heavy, Paula Deen pie plate.  Ed is already dreaming up recipes to bake in it!

Mary's gifts

As for me, Dylan gave me an electronic Monopoly game.  I'd never heard of such a thing, but apparently there's no monopoly money; it's all on a debit card you put in the debit card machine!  Sarah gave me a beautiful new Willow Tree figurine called "Forget-me-not," which is the 14th figurine in my Willow Tree collection.  I love them!  Ed gave me a travel bag for makeup that's really cool.  It opens up (see below) so you can hang it on the bathroom door or mirror and have all your makeup and bottles and such right at hand.  He also got me my favorite, sugar-free Ross dark chocolate bars, only available online and not-so-cheap.  Can't wait to use a few to make some of my famous MacTurtles!  

The makeup bag opened up.

Lastly, Ed bought me a Clear-play DVD player and a 3-year subscription for Clear-play services online, which is actually more of a family gift.  We've both wanted one for a long time. 

Ed's favorite movies tend to be R-rated, which we both choose not to watch.  So he misses out on a lot of the crime dramas he loves.  Occasionally, some movies in my favorite genres, science fiction and fantasy, are also R-rated and I have to pass them up.  With Clear-play, you can download filters which can be used to modify the language, violence, and sexual content from any DVD you watch.  And you can adjust how much is removed from the movie. 

For instance, neither of us is too disturbed by violence that is integral to the plot, so we would set it to remove only the most graphic and gratuitous violence and leave the rest.  On the other hand, we would set it to remove all nudity, graphic sexual situations, and offensive language.  Hopefully there will still be something left to watch!  We look forward to trying it out.  

We hope your Christmas was also filled with family warmth and all the good things your heart desired! 

Thursday, December 22, 2011

'Tis the Season

22 Dec 2011: Today's continuous snowfall.

It has been snowing heavily all day.  It's supposed to snow another 6 to 10 inches tonight and 2 to 4 inches more tomorrow.  Looks like it's going to be a white Christmas!

22 Dec 2011: A freshly cleaned living room...aaah!

Did you know that today was the "darkest" (aka "shortest") day of the year?  Tomorrow our daylight hours will gradually begin to lengthen again.  I spent the day cleaning house, but I didn't mind.  Our little home seems extra warm and cozy when it's snowing outside and there's a Christmas tree inside.

It's just one of the many things I love about the Christmas season.

I love watching the pile of gifts grow under the Christmas tree as we get them wrapped or the UPS driver leaves packages on the front porch.

3 Dec 2011:  On the highway heading home.

It's crazy, I know, but I love the cold weather and the snow.  I love how fresh snow sparkles when the sun comes out, and I love how the trees look like they've been dusted with powdered sugar.

10 Dec 2011: A view of our area from Porter Mountain.

I love living in the mountains, surrounded by forests.  When we went to cut our own Christmas tree, Ed chose to take the scenic route, which led us to the top of Porter Mountain and the spectacular view below.

3 Dec 2011: The ward Christmas party was well-attended despite 2 feet of snow outside.

I love attending the ward Christmas party each year, seeing our friends from church and enjoying good food, music, and family fun.

The ward Christmas party wouldn't be complete without the Nativity performed, with song and scripture, by the adorable Primary children.

3 Dec 2011: my son Dylan is the 7th young man from the left,
joining in a performance of "Believe" from The Polar Express.

A song performed by the Young Men and Young Women (youth ages 12-18) is also a must!

I love the big Christmas concerts that are important events for our family at this time of year.  Dylan performed on bass with his junior high orchestra, and Sarah continues to perform with White Mountain Symphony Orchestra.  I never miss any of their concerts, but the Christmas ones are extra-special. 

6 Dec 2011: Dylan on bass at his Christmas concert.

10 Dec 2011: White Mountain Symphony Orchestra in concert.

14 Dec 2011:  Our church youth return from caroling.

This year I loved being involved with the Christmas activities for the youth of our ward.  In fact, my Beehives (the 12- and 13-year-old girls) were in charge of the caroling activity last week.  We had more than 30 participants and lots of fun.

While the kids were driving from home to home, singing their chilly hearts out, my advisor Gina and I stayed at the church to prepare hot cocoa and treats for their return.

By the time the youth returned, they were ready for a hot drink to warm them up!  They also had fun making pretzel snowmen like the ones in the picture above.  (I think the two on the right look like the Blues Brothers.)

15 dec 2011: My first period class brought enough food to feed a small army!

Finally, I love the end-of-the-semester parties in my classes as the year comes to a close and both teachers and students look forward to a 2-week break from school!

'Tis the season, and I love it!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

In Search of the Perfect Tree

10 Dec 2011: Pines, firs, and aspens in the forest near Green's Peak.

When my two older kids were small, their dad and I used to go into the forest to scout out and cut our own Christmas trees.  Sarah is 22 and Jacob is 20 now, so that was a very long time ago. 

It was always an adventure, including the year we were almost stampeded by a herd of elk running through the clearing where we were cutting our tree.  When I say the ground was quaking and the trees were trembling, I am not exaggerating.  I had no idea how huge elk were until we were nearly trampled by them.

Mary's very own Charlie Brown Christmas tree.

This year Ed and I decided to venture out to cut our own tree.  Why pay WalMart $50 for a tree when we could get a permit for $15 and select our own fresh tree from the forest surrounding our home?  A week ago we headed up toward Green's Peak, about 30 minutes from home, with permit and chainsaw in hand.

I'm happy to report that we were not even remotely threatened by elk, although we did come across several hunters scouting for them.  I think Ed was a little disappointed.  As for me, I felt that hiking uphill through a foot of snow was adventure enough at our age!

Ed told me to pretend like I was cutting down the tree.  Yeah, right.
I'd never even held a chainsaw in my hands before that day!

We found a couple of cute white fir trees, but then we hiked up a little higher to make sure we didn't see anything we liked better.  That's where I found an odd little tree that somehow captured my imagination.

Many years ago, someone had cut off the top of the tree and left a good-sized stump (the permit states that you cannot leave a stump bigger than 6 inches tall).  Against all odds, two new trees had grown out of the stump, becoming a sort of double-tree.  I'd never seen anything like it.

Ed cuts my tree, leaving a nice small stump.

The more I looked at it, the more it grew on me.  I tried to tell myself that it was too "unique" to be a Christmas tree, but I couldn't help myself.  That tree was a survivor and somehow I could just see it covered with my treasured ornaments.

Seeing my expression, Ed asked warily, "Is this the tree you want?"

I answered, "I think so.  Do you think it's too weird?"

"Yes," he replied emphatically.  Then he sighed.  "But I'll cut it for you if you're sure you want it."

Ed carries the tree back down to the road.

I wasn't 100% certain about the tree, but somehow it "spoke" to my heart.  Ed doesn't get what I mean when I say things "speak" to me, but sometimes they just do.  Almost like a recognition or a shared understanding.  That tree felt like it was waiting for me.

Ed had to hike back up the "road" a ways to get the truck to where we were.

This week has been quite busy, filled with the usual Christmas activities, and the poor tree spent a couple of days in the back of the truck, a couple more on the porch after snow began falling again, and then a few days unadorned in the living room.

Our double-trunked tree in the living room, awaiting adornment.

We purchased new Christmas tree lights on Wednesday, and when Dylan and I returned from a caroling activity later than night, Ed had the tree nicely lit up.  I love the soft glow of Christmas tree lights!

A close-up of where the new trunks grew around the original cut near the base.

On Friday we finished the last of our semester finals and school was dismissed for two weeks of Christmas break.  Hooray!  Yesterday, Dylan and I finally dragged out the boxes of Christmas ornaments and made our tree beautiful.  It was just as perfect as I'd envisioned that day in the forest.

It is very different this year.  In past years I had all three of my children helping me decorate the tree, and we sorely missed Sarah and Jacob.  

Ever since my kids were babies, my tradition has been to buy each of them a dated Hallmark ornament each year, something that fit their personality or interests for that year.  But this year newlywed Sarah's box of ornaments has a new home on a Christmas tree in Chris and Sarah's apartment.  With Jacob away serving his mission in California, we didn't open his box of ornaments, either.   

Somehow, though, Dylan's, Ed's and my ornaments were just enough to do our double-trunked tree up right.  I think our odd little tree ended up just where it belonged!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Snow Day

School was cancelled yesterday, for which I am grateful since I had parking lot lunch duty and there was a foot of snow on the ground! It has continued to snow since then and is supposed to snow until tomorrow, another 5 to 11 inches. We're up to 2 feet deep already.
These are some pictures I took around our house yesterday morning. Today it's twice that deep, but I haven't been outside yet. Maybe I'll post more pictures later, but for now here's how the winter wonderland outside our house looked yesterday.

The oak tree branches were bent low by their load of snow.

We've been very blessed. We were awakened twice in the middle of the night (about 2am Friday) by the brilliant flashes of transformers exploding. Several of our friends and neighbors were without electricity all day yesterday and into the night, but we only lost power for a few minutes. Ed says we must be right on the edge of a different grid.
We had no Internet all day and experienced several brief brown-outs, but that's a small price to pay for all this beautiful snow and the needed moisture it brings.

The chickens' fenced yard became a cave!

 It started snowing again while I was taking pictures.

The fallen fence behind our house.

The oak trees at the side of the house.

A canopy of branches above the greenhouse.

Dylan's basketball hoop filled up with snow!