Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas Morning, Christmas Night

Jacob watches Dylan peel back layers of boxes and bags as he opens a gift from Jacob.

We started Christmas morning a little after 7am. Ryan and Shera were awake and waiting for the first signs of someone else stirring. When I got up and started opening curtains, Shera couldn't stand it any longer. She ran into Jacob and Dylan's room and woke them up, saying loudly, "It's Christmas!" and scaring the bee-jeepers out of Dylan!

Dylan is very pleased with the gift of a new cell phone from his brother.

We gathered in the living room, divvied up the stacks of presents, and began opening them from youngest to oldest. I always think it's more fun to watch the others open their gifts than it is to open my own.

Shera and Ryan get ready to plunge into their wrapped stack.

Shera reacts to their favorite gift: a pair of e-cigarettes.

To explain: Ryan and Shera have begun studying the LDS religion and made the decision on Monday night to be baptized. Before their baptism date (possibly January 18th) they plan to be married and to quit smoking. Ryan has nearly quit already, but Shera was nervous about it. This will help them get a good start on that goal.

After opening their own gifts at home, Chris and Sarah came over at 8:30 to open our mutual gifts together. The charcoal pencil portrait of them was my gift to them. I tried really hard to keep costs down this Christmas!

After opening our gifts, Ryan volunteered to make us all some ham, sausage, and cheese omelets. They were quite delicious! 

Jacob and Chris play with their electronic toys while eating breakfast. Sarah got Chris an iPad for Christmas, which he was extremely excited about. After breakfast, Jacob headed to Snowflake to meet his girlfriend Danielle's family and spend the day with them.

My haul:
From Dylan: a poster from The Hobbit for my classroom
From Jacob: a new purse; speakers for my computer; and a set of charcoal art pencils
From Sarah and Chris: a set of tableware (I love it!)
From Ryan and Shera: the "Family Rules" canvas and a box of cinnamon animal cookies
From my principal: a fancy pen engraved with my name
From an anonymous giver: the red apple ornament
And from myself: 6 Ferrero Rocher hazelnut chocolate candies!

Jacob's haul:
From Mom: A Babycakes cupcake maker; earphones; a scary DVD; and chocolate cherries
From Sarah and Chris: a pair of Air-soft pistols and a DVD (Limitless)
From Ryan and Shera: a recipe box with cookie and brownie mixes; and a box of animal cookies

Dylan's haul:
From Mom: an electric shaver; 50 Microsoft points; a Minecraft calendar; M&Ms; chocolate cherries
From Jacob: a cell phone and his first month of unlimited calls, texts, and Internet
From Sarah and Chris: a pair of Air-soft pistols and a DVD (Fun Size)
From Ryan and Shera: 15 Microsoft points (for Xbox); and a box of animal cookies

Ryan and Shera's haul:
From Mary: a fireproof safe (and Shera's candy-pooping reindeer from her stocking)
From Dylan: the fishing tee-shirt that Ryan is wearing; and a necklace and earrings for Shera
From Jacob: the e-cigarettes (went halves on it with Mary); slippers; and socks for both
From Sarah and Chris: box of chocolates for Ryan and nail polish/nail dryer for Shera

Sarah and Chris's haul:
From Mom: a hand-drawn charcoal sketch of their wedding day in a pewter frame
From Jacob: a fleece blanket featuring cute puppies for Sarah; a Leatherman multi-tool for Chris
From Ryan and Shera: the "Family Rules" canvas for Sarah; 3 DVD movies for Chris; and
            2 boxes of cinnamon animal cookies
Sarah gave Chris an iPad; Chris gave Sarah the heart necklace she is wearing, plus a bracelet

Left to right: Sarah, Chris, Kathy, Myron (my dad), Dylan,
Jacob, Danielle, Ryan, and Shera

The rest of our morning was quiet. We puttered around and relaxed. Shera has been missing her family in Missouri, so we set up an account to allow her to Face-Time her children and other relatives in Poplar Bluff. It was very sweet to see how excited her 3 little boys were to see their mom on their iPad screen. Now they can talk face-to-face whenever they want to!

Then at 2:30 I started the ham. At 4:30 Shera and I prepared the rest of the meal. At 5:00 my dad and Kathy arrived, and then Jacob and Danielle got here around 5:30. We finally gathered for dinner  before 6:30.

The menu: glazed ham; mashed potatoes and gravy (both homemade); green bean casserole; buttered corn; green salad with Parmesan, red wine vinegar, and olive oil; cranberry relish; rolls; and 3 kinds of beverages. It was all yummy and the conversation was loud, friendly, and fun.

Jacob with his girlfriend Danielle. We so enjoyed having her with us!
She loves to laugh, gives back as good as she gets, and seems to fit right into our madness!

After dinner we visited and watched movies and snacked on Kathy's jello salad, Shera's chocolate-cherry dump cake, and Sarah's and my Christmas fudge. Then the carb crash made us all long to take a nap!

We had a wonderful Christmas Day of family togetherness. I hope you and your loved ones made happy memories, too!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

'Twas the Night Before Christmas

I can't believe Christmas Eve is here already! But it is, and everyone was so excited for Christmas morning that they were all in bed by 8:30. I'm not kidding. Okay, Dylan was still playing Xbox, but he did it from his bed on the top bunk. Thus, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.

The stockings were NOT hung by the chimney with care, even though everyone definitely was hoping that St. Nicholas soon would be there. As you can see in the top picture, thanks to a living room packed full of new furniture, we had to place the Christmas tree smack in front of the fireplace, and the gifts made it too difficult to reach the hearth. So we settled for putting the stockings out on the coffee table. I'm sure Santa will find them. He's pretty brilliant that way.

All the gifts are ready, under the tree, waiting to delight the givers as much as the receivers when they are opened tomorrow morning. I am so happy that I will be surrounded by my entire family to share Christmas Day, exchanging gifts and enjoying Christmas dinner together. 

Besides Jacob and Dylan, we have Ryan and Shera here to add to the fun, and Chris and Sarah will also be spending the day with us. And we will be blessed to have Jacob's new girlfriend Danielle joining us for dinner! Jacob plans to join her family in Snowflake for brunch and then return here in time for dinner. My dad and step-mom, Myron and Kathy, will be joining us for dinner, too. 

It will be great to be with everyone tomorrow! 

Shera was still in a cooking mood today, so she baked her heart out. She started with this chocolate-cherry dump cake to be enjoyed tomorrow night after Christmas dinner.

Then she made this variation on Mexican wedding cookies, with cocoa and chocolate chips. She sprinkled them with silver, white, and green sprinkles. Finally, she made a cranberry relish with jellied cranberry sauce, oranges, and almonds, which is chilling in the fridge for tomorrow's dinner.

This evening, Jacob asked Ryan to give him a haircut. I'm thinking he wants to look good to meet his girlfriend's family for the first time! Ryan was happy to oblige.

Jacob looks good!

As long as we were in a hair-cutting mood, I asked Shera to give me a trim. My hair had gotten so long, it was always in the way. When it gets long enough to sit on, it's time for a trim!

Shera did a beautiful job. My head feels so much lighter, and my hair doesn't look straggly anymore. It's amazing the difference just a few inches makes!

May each of you have a wonderful Christmas filled with love and family and friends and fun, as well as remembrance of the One whose birth we celebrate at this time. Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Southern-fried Heart Attack

23 Dec 2013: Shera spent more than 2 hours in the kitchen tonight!

This week we moved our Sunday dinner to Monday, due to work-related conflicts. We still weren't able to match Jacob's schedule, but the rest of the gang was here.

Shera, who was born in and lived her whole life in the small town of Poplar Bluff, Missouri, wanted to share some of her favorite southern-style cooking with us. She called it a southern-fried heart attack, due to all the grease, breading, and carbs. But, wow, it was good! 

This was my dinner plate, clockwise from the top: fried potatoes, breaded and fried pork chops with gravy, corn bread, and macaroni-and-tomatoes (which is apparently a popular southern dish). The only thing missing from my plate is the cornmeal-breaded fried okra. My mother often prepared okra (her parents were from Oklahoma), but I never cared for it.

Ryan and Shera at dinner

We all enjoyed the meal immensely. The pork chops--and there were a lot of them--disappeared, and so did the potatoes!

Chris, Dylan, and Sarah on the other side of the dinner table


My son-in-law Chris and stepson Ryan trim the trim!

Almost 2 years ago, my husband Ed installed a new front door. It's a beautiful door with a little bit of frosted glass, which he painted blue. Somehow, though, the door never got trimmed.

Ryan was saying, "I did this!"

So today, Ed's son Ryan decided it was time to finish the door. We went to Lowe's and bought the trim, then stopped by my dad and step-mom's place to borrow a skill saw. While Shera was busy cooking up a storm in the kitchen, Ryan and Chris installed the trim around the door. By the time dinner was ready, the door was finished.

I briefly thought about painting the trim blue, too, but I decided it like it better white. It makes the blue of the door stand out beautifully. Now it finally looks like a real door. Great job, guys!

The finished product. I love it!

Next project: the trim between the kitchen flooring and the living room carpet!

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Snowboard Dating

Dylan and Brooke at Sunrise Park Resort this morning.

Dylan and his friend Brooke went on a date today. Not to a movie or dinner. Not to a dance or bowling alley. No, they went snowboarding!

At 7:30 this morning, I drove them to Sunrise Park Resort on the Fort Apache Reservation, about 35 miles from our house. We had a small snowstorm last night, which continued into today, so the roads were a bit icy. Snow was flying horizontally across the landscape. The drive took almost an hour each way, rather than the usual 30 minutes.

When I dropped the kids off at 8:30, it was just 22 degrees outside and the snow was getting a bit heavier. The resort is located at an altitude of 9,200 feet, but the highest peak is 11,100 feet. (Our town is at about 7,200 feet.) I reminded them both to be careful not to break any limbs or necks!

These pictures were taken within 6 miles of the ski resort. Dylan took them through the car window, trying to get a good shot of the ski runs on the 3 peaks: Sunrise Peak, Cyclone Peak, and Apache Peak. It seemed like every time he aimed the camera, a bunch of trees jumped in the way!

Brooke and Dylan get their gear out of the back of the car . . .

. . . and they head toward the 2 ski lifts.

A view of the ski lifts (left and center) and a run on the right.

I'd arranged to pick Dylan and Brooke up at 4:30, since the lifts close at 4 pm, but Dylan called at 12:30 and said, "PLEASE come pick us up! We're freezing and it's snowing really hard!" I told him it would be a while, but he said they would wait in the nice, warm lodge.

Ryan and Shera decided to ride to Sunrise with me so they could check out the resort. As a teen in Alaska, Ryan was such a great half-pipe snowboarder that he had sponsors and got his pictures in magazines. He's hoping to find a job soon so he can go snowboarding before the season ends. As he explained, there are no mountains in Missouri (where he's lived for the past 10 or 12 years) fit for snowboarding!

The Sunrise Park Ski Lodge

It was 2:00 when we finally reached the resort, but Dylan and Brooke were nowhere to be found. In true teenage fashion, as soon as they got warmed up and comfortable again, they decided to squeeze in a few more runs before we arrived! Their faces were awfully rosy from the cold when they came off the mountain!

It got so warm in the car on the ride home that everyone fell asleep except Ryan and me (thank goodness, since I was driving!). Ryan actually got cute pictures of all the sleepy heads, but I won't embarrass them by posting those!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

A Christmas Tour

The Nativity I bought in Nogales, Mexico in 1987.

These past few years have been filled with so much drama and tension, I just didn't have the energy to drag out the old Christmas decorations. Now, though, there is once again peace at home, and I've truly enjoyed making the house feel festive again.

First I gathered my chosen decorations on the coffee table and decided where and how to arrange them.

The Nativities, of course, are the most important, to remind us of the reason for the season. I love the south-of-the-border flavor of my Mexican Nativity (top photo) with the distinctive blue-and-white bird motif hand-painted on each piece. 

I also love the soft colors and simplicity of the "Christmas in a Nutshell" Nativity above, featuring a walnut-shell manger and peanut people, handmade by my sister-in-law Dana. She also crocheted the dress and halo for the little clothespin angel, which I always group with this manger scene. The "Joy" piece is fairly new, but I think it sums up the entire scene nicely.

Jacob just gave me this sweet Holy Family Nativity for my birthday in September. I've been looking forward to displaying it. The metal box with the snowman scene was something I got last Christmas. There was a gift in it, but I can't even remember what it was or who it was from. I just know I loved the box and saved it to show at Christmas. The lid has a clear plastic window, and the snowman scene is painted on the inside bottom of the box. Pretty cool!

Over the years I have received a variety of little Christmas trees as gifts. I've also collected several small Christmas ring-boxes. This year, for the first time, it occurred to me that this grouping was a match made in heaven!

The lighthouse is on the shelf year-round, but I always like to give it a homey Christmas feel by adding the little snowman. I believe he was also created by my sister-in-law Dana.

Alongside the little Christmas scenes on the shelves, I also hung a few items on the walls. The little stockings were decorated by Jacob and Dylan when they were in kindergarten. Adorable!

Lastly, I do love my display of characters from the old TV special "Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer" and the Island of Misfit Toys. It makes me feel like a kid again. 

Back in the dark ages when our town had only 3 TV stations (47, 33, and 24) and there was no such thing as a VCR or DVD, we looked forward to the single annual showing of this program at Christmas. It was a big family event, usually with popcorn and all 5 of us kids gathered on the floor in front of the TV. Seeing these characters always takes me back to the wonder I felt as a child at Christmas time. 

I wish that same wonder for you and those you love!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Christmas Tree Redo

We finally got our Christmas tree up a week ago. It looks very nice, finally, but this year's tree was more challenging than usual.

Dylan and Jacob try to straighten the tree.

Jacob actually bought the tree for us 2 weeks ago, trimmed the bottom, and set it up in the stand with water, but it took us several days to find time to decorate it. Meanwhile, we couldn't get the tree to stand straight! Every time we readjusted it, the tree would look okay for a few hours, and then it would lean several inches forward or back. As if it were moving of its own volition!

After my stepson Ryan and his fiance Shera moved in with us on the 10th, we borrowed a neighbor's pruning shears and Ryan went to work. It took him only a matter of seconds to identify the problem: a couple of awkward branches at the bottom of the tree. He snipped them off, did one more readjustment, and the tree has been perfect ever since!

This year's selected ornaments

As I'm sure I've mentioned before, I buy each of my children a Hallmark ornament every year, and our collection has grown extensive, even after Sarah married Chris and took her ornaments with her. So we now choose our favorite ornaments to hang every Christmas rather than hanging them all.

I have my own favorites, of course. For the past 3 years I've been collecting this new series based on "The Twelve days of Christmas." So far I have a French hen, two turtledoves, and a partridge with a pear. I think they're adorable!

These are Jacob's ornaments for the past 5 years, the series called Season's Treatings. With Jacob being an avid baker, these ornaments are perfect for him!

I didn't really intend to stick with a certain theme for Dylan. Over the years I just bought ornaments that fit his interests. Then a couple of years ago it suddenly struck me that I nearly always bought him ornaments that featured snowmen, like these above and below. So now I specifically look for snowmen!

We ALWAYS put up the kids' "First Christmas" bears. Each child has the full 5-year collection, and sometimes we hang them all, but I insist on at least that very first one.

This is one of mine, but the kids insist on hanging this angel ornament every year since it has special memories. They call it the "cracker" ornament because when Jacob was small he used to think it was a cracker hung on the tree, and every day he'd cry for me to give it to him to eat!

I particularly treasure these ornaments that have two views, front and back (see the front above and the back below). They are so clever!

Finally, I love these little house ornaments. The Mickey and Minnie one has a clip on the back where you attach it to a bulb on the tree. The bulb shines through the back and makes it look like the fire in the fireplace is flickering behind Mickey and Minnie.

You might think that's the end of the story, but you'd be wrong. When we strung the lights on the tree, we found we didn't have enough lights. To save money, we'd bought the smallest tree Walmart sold (2 feet shorter than the size we usually got), so I had thought my 2 strings of lights would be enough. They weren't.

We put on the ornaments anyway, but I couldn't stand the tree having a bare bottom. So I bought one more string of lights, but the prongs on the plug didn't fit those already on the tree. In the end, Jacob bought me a whole new set of lights, but that meant undoing the whole tree and starting over. Groan . . . Thank you, Ryan, for seeing through that whole "redo" ordeal with me!

Now it feels like Christmas!