Male Mail

The boys like it when they get to open mail. Often I let them have the thick "Valu-Pak" envelope full of ads and coupons. Today it was Henry's turn to hit the mail jackpot and he went through all the coupons, asking me about the pictures or what they said.

He came to an ad for Nutri$y$tem with the customary photo of [insert woman's name here] who lost [insert number here] pounds on the diet. She, of course, was clad in an eenie beenie black bikini.

Henry brought the picture to me and said, "Yook, Mom. Dis yady's body is all opened up." I looked at the picture and was trying to understand what he was saying about it when he added, "She needs some cyothes on."

Something to remember when I lose my x number of pounds.


Slip Slidin' Away

I MUST get a few of the highlights of our holiday season on cyberpaper before the year escapes me. So, sorry for the lengthy mumble jumble - it's for my own peace of mind. And I'll just apologize right up front that most of the stories involve Calvin. I'm very aware of my second son and spend most days tickling, loving and trying to eat him, he is so cute, but this was just a big Christmas year for Cal...

The Tree Did Get Decorated

Morning People

My boys wake up and must. play. now. With or without Mom. With or without proper outdoor attire.
Henry came into my room one early morning last week, snuggled for a brief moment, then barreled off my bed, at which point I made my first stop at the bathroom and he was outside in the sandbox (and 30-something degree morning temp) by the time I got downstairs. He refused to be moved until pancakes with strawberry sauce were mentioned.

The Start of a Tradition

I grew up in a house where cookies for Santa were an irregular afterthought when they did happen. This year, however, our family Christmas was a quiet and relaxed one and the first in which Calvin was aware of Santa, so when we had an hour to kill before bedtime could reasonably be considered, I whipped up a batch of very simple peanut butter cookies (just found out this year that they are Santa's favorite!), instructed Cal in the fine art of rolling and fork-pressing them, and he in turn taught Henry the trade. It was adorable.

And the next morning was even more cute, when Cal stood staring at the empty plate of cookies with hand on his hip. I think we might have to do this every year.

A Few Things About Gift Giving and Receiving

I could NOT get out of Calvin what his fondest wish for Christmas was, and could not think of anything he might like or want or need. Honestly - it was crazy. Soon he started telling me, "Mom, I don't want to talk about this anymore," and other such unhelpful and off-putting answers to my inquiries.

My favorite response was the afternoon after we got a box of presents from Grandma and I asked him again what he might like Santa to bring. He said without a pause, "But Mom, we got so many wonderful presents already. I don't think he needs to bring anything else." (This was before any of the presents were opened or he knew what was inside them, by the way. And he really did say wonderful - it's his word lately - he draws out the first syllable in this darling dramatic way...)

That comment, combined with the time spent on certain activities Christmas morning, taught me that I just need to enjoy and be content, like them - and to just give the 99 cent Pez dispenser (aka "one of those things we saw that has a head that comes up and you get candy out of") instead of thinking I need a second mortgage to really give the kids a nice Christmas.

As it turns out, Cal did have some preferences on what his gifts were. We had a family exchange at Auntie S's house and she gave each of the boys two gifts. Henry opened his first and it was a personalized flashlight with airhorn button and radio. Calvin opened his first gift from Auntie S and it was a sweater. I watched his face fall and then twist into a grimace and he stammered, "This..is...so...weird!"

At which point Uncle K cracked up laughing and said that was the best thing he'd seen the whole season, and the college-age cousins started teasing Auntie S about being the aunt who gives clothes. It was quite hilarious, actually. Cal was trying so hard to not say something ungrateful, but couldn't quite be happy about it. His second gift, a flashlight like Henry's, helped him out a little.

On Christmas night, Cal suddenly ran up to me and tackle hugged me around the legs. As he was running away, he said, "That's the best Christmas present, ever, right, Mom?" Apparently, he had been distraught in Primary class that he hadn't gotten me anything. His teacher had told him, "Just give your mom a big hug. That's the best thing you can give her." And he remembered! (Although I did find out later that he had told his teacher, "But you can't wrap a hug.")

White Christmas

I didn't realize until Christmas Eve that Cal had connected snow with Christmas. We were talking about all the exciting things of the next morning and Cal chimed in, "And I'll look out the window and the snow will start coming down!" Oh, so sad. No, Virginia, it rarely snows on Christmas (here).

The Gift We Opened Early

I am SOOOO not a peaker/snooper/gotta-find-outer and I think it's a rude behavior in general. I really love surprises and anticipation.

Except when it comes to finding out about babies in utero. And as it so happens, I had to have an earlier-than-usual ultrasound the week before Christmas to check on a small abnormality. Everything checked out fine, but I had taken David along with me just in case there was bad news. Then the ultrasound tech said, "Did you want to find out the gender of your baby?" I was kinda thinking of this one being a surprise, because I don't have a particular wish one way or the other, but David must know and she caught me off guard because they usually can't tell anything until twenty weeks or so...

But it's really nothing we haven't seen before...quite definitely a BOY! Tres ninos! (I gotta find a way to have that on a personalized license plate, I think. It plays on my first name so nicely.)

Speaking of Spanish

Calvin has been very into learning languages lately - watches Noddy on PBS Kids and frequently comes to tell me words he has learned in Swahili and what have you. We have a few friends who speak Spanish whom he badgers to tell him words, and he wants to know how to say words like "whale" and "fishing pole" in Russian. We largely praise his efforts and compliment him on his pronunciation, although I haven't been really sure that he understands that it's an actual whole language, not just funny code words for certain things.

I think he "gets it" somewhat, however: The other day, "Feliz Navidad" came on the radio and I started belting out all the words since I was feeling festive. Cal piped up from the back seat: "Mom! You sing that sooooo well! How did you learn Spanish so fast? You are soo smart!"

Then in the bathroom at church last Sunday, he couldn't reach the paper towels and David was busy changing Henry's diaper, so a man from the Spanish congregation that meets in the same building helped Calvin out. Cal turned to David and started to ask how to say thank you, but then remembered and turned to the man and said, "Gracias!"

I find it pretty impressive that he knew what language to speak to the man, and had a desire to say thanks in a way that he was sure the man would understand (even though he likely would have understood "thank you" anyway). It pleased and impressed the man, also, from what I understand.

Jingle Bell Rock

When Calvin was one year old, we played a Christmas CD ad nauseum in the car and he would invariably go crazy happy in his car seat when Jingle Bell Rock came on, and only when Jingle Bell Rock came on. Soon, he was jamming when the very first three notes played. I started playing the first three notes over and over again, just to watch him go nuts, it was so adorable that every single time he loved the way that specific song sounded.

This year we had another fun variation on the Jingle Bell Rock - called the Jingle Bell Spin - on Christmas morning after all the presents had been opened.

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Hope your holiday was just as much fun, and happy 2007 from our house to yours!


If I Only Had A Brain

So I made a big pan of almond toffee. Covered in chocolate. With crushed almond sprinkles. I had stirred it over a hot stove for almost thirty minutes to get it to hardball stage. It was beautiful.

Grandma said that the best thing is to put it outside to cool off really quickly. I thought that was also a good idea, so I wouldn't have to rearrange the refrigerator and all.

The next thing I knew, I was outside screaming at a squirrel who ran away and up a tree and proceeded to chew me out from his branch. After the Brita pitcher debacle, this was one serious lapse in judgment on my part. I know what my boys will do with a given opportunity - how could I not consider what a squirrel would do with almonds galore?

I picked up the upside-down pan...the sheet of toffee stayed on the ground, I lifted it like the caramelized body that it was and brought it in, refusing to lose all that butter and sugar, and the scrumptious almonds. Picking the pine needles out of the melted chocolate was hopeless and that's when I began to sob.

Then I pulled myself together enough to scrape the chocolate and pine off and melt some new chocolate. Everything was going to be OK.

Then I tried a corner of it and it nearly took my back teeth out. Apparently didn't stir it long enough. Maybe I'll give it back to the squirrel so he can experience the need for dental work.

And maybe the candy making can wait another year.


Season's Eatings

My grandma sent me the sweetest little note this week and five recipes for her homemade Christmas candies. You don't even know how happy that made me feel because she's made these candies every year for as long as I can remember and doesn't so much anymore, and it means a lot to me to be able to make the candy she learned to make from her mom, without candy thermometers or fancy equipment. She is so precious to me and I cherish those recipe cards and the memories - hers as a girl, and mine as a girl - that they represent. This is the first Christmas that I am going to give candy-making a try.

In the spirit of holiday recipe sharing, several of you have asked for some of the recipes for dishes I've mentioned from time to time on the ol' blog. So I'm posting several of them this weekend. There are four soups because nothing is better on a winter evening or for a large gathering because it's hearty, easy to double (or triple...), can be dressed up by serving in a bread bowl...you get the picture.

Some of these recipes are my own finds that have become our family favorites, some are my favorite foods from the mission, and a few are from my mom, who, if she read my blog, would freak out that I'm so generous in sharing them. We come from a long line of excellent cooks and my mom is very proprietary of hers. So don't tell her I shared or she won't give me any more good ones.

One little disclaimer: In my Christmas Meme, I told you all about the Ukrainian dishes I like to make around the holidays. I'm including borscht and plov, but the recipe for varenyky (translation: "little boiled things") is a little difficult because I learned by watching and doing with the babushkas. If I had written instructions for the dough, they would say something like, "Dump some flour on the counter. Crack an egg or two on top. Salt well and toss together with a couple of wide bladed knives or spatulas. Add water until the correct consistency and then roll out really, really thin..." And cooking would be just as I was told: "Drop them in the water and boil until they swim."

Yeah. So if you want to know how to make varenyky, come on over and I'll show you. Or you can visit the freezer section and buy some Mrs. T's pierogies (the Polish word for varenyky which actually means "little baked things") - they're an OK substitute for the real thing. But the potato and onion ones are the only authentic flavor, just so you know.

Bon appetit! I've posted all the recipes separately for your reading and printing convenience.

Pork and Pepper Stew
Code Yellow's Prize-Winning Chili
Mom's Hamburger Soup
Mom's Crab Dip

Oh - P.S. There is a wonderful saying in Russian: "There should be a LOT of a good person." It's what they say to justify chubbiness. You gotta love a culture that still appreciates substance in a body. I've adopted it as my holiday, pregnancy, and just-feel-like-eating-good-stuff motto for life. Feel free to adopt it for your own. But only if you're a good person.

Recipe: Borscht

Americans seem to have an impression that borscht is a purple mixture of beets heated up. Not so. It's actually a meat and tomato based soup with beets thrown in. At least the way they always made it for me. This was by far my favorite borscht (every babushka has her own family) because it has a little kick to it. I can't replicate it exactly, though, because Nina (the lady who gave me the recipe) had a marvelous little hot pepper tree that she grew in her window sill that she made a puree out of for the spicing up...I haven't really found (and maybe can't exactly remember anymore)the right peppers. But it's still delicious! Ukraine in a bowl. Mmm, mmm, mmm.

1-2 pounds of stew beef boiled in 5 liters of water with 5 Tbsp. bouillion granules
2 carrots, grated
2 small beets, grated
4 Tbsp. margarine
4 small onions, chopped
6 small potatoes, cut into bite-size cubes
1 small head cabbage, shredded
2 Tbsp. tomato paste
1 garlic clove, minced
red pepper flakes to taste
fresh cilantro, chopped

Fry carrots and beets together in margarine until nearly transparent, about 8 minutes, add to pot of meat and water. Add onions and potatoes and boil for 15 minutes. Add cabbage and boil until tender crisp. Finally, stir in tomato paste, garlic, and pepper flakes. (For spicier soup, add the pepper flakes when you put the potatoes in.) Add cilantro just before serving, stir well. Serve with sour cream.

Recipe: Plov

This is the best rice dish ever. David actually makes this one - he learned to make it from the wife of one of his close friends in Ukraine. It's a meal in and of itself. It's very important to follow the instructions EXACTLY for it to turn out right. The times are long, but it's actually not a work-intensive recipe. And wow, is it delicious.

1 lb. pork, cubed
1 lb. beef, cubed
3/4 cup sunflower or vegetable oil (sunflower is what most Ukrainians use)
3 or 4 large carrots, cut into small pieces (do not grate!)
3 or 4 large onions, diced
3 cups rice
1 or 2 heads of garlic (8-10 cloves), peeled and cleaned
3 bay leaves
8 black pepper kernels

Pour oil into a large cast iron pot or Dutch oven (must be stovetop and oven safe). Heat on medium heat for 15 to 20 minutes. Drop the cubed meat into the hot oil and brown it well. Salt heavily. Layer the onions on top of the meat, then the carrots on top of the onions. Place the lid on top of the pot and slow cook on low for 1 hour. While the meat and veggies cook, soak the rice in cold water for 45 minutes to 1 hour. Drain. When the meat and vegetables have cooked, drop in the pepper kernels and stir well, then add the rice - do not stir after adding the rice. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Start a teapot full of water to boil. Meanwhile, push garlic cloves into the rice. Pour in boiling water until it covers the rice. Cover and put in preheated oven and cook for 15 minutes, poke bay leaves into mixture, then cook for 20 more minutes.

Recipe: Mom's Crab Dip Appetizer

Use a shallow ring-shaped gelatin mold for this to turn out the best. It's beautiful on a large round platter with olives in the center of the ring and an assortment of crackers arranged around the outside of the ring. And it's scrumptious!

1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 can fancy white crab meat (I prefer Chicken of the Sea)
diced celery (1-2 stalks)
chopped green onions (3-4)
1 pkg. unflavored gelatin
1 8 oz. cream cheese
dash Worcestershire sauce

Spray a gelatin ring with nonstick cooking spray. Drain the crab meat, reserving the juice. Add water if necessary to the crab juice to equal 1/4 cup of liquid. Pour into a sauce pan and put on low heat. Stir in gelatin and dissolve. Add the cream cheese and stir constantly until smooth (it really will get smooth - patience!), then turn off the heat. Add soup and whisk until well blended. Add the veggies, then crab meat and Worcestershire sauce. Spoon into prepared gelatin ring and refrigerate at least one hour. (When ready to turn onto plate, soak ring in hot water for 1 or 2 minutes and run a knife gently around the sides of the dip to create air pockets for it to loosen from the mold.)

Recipe: Mom's Hamburger Soup

1 lb. ground beef
1 16 oz. can diced tomatoes
2 medium onions, chopped
15-20 baby carrots, quartered lengthwise
2 stalks celery, chopped
1/3 cup pearl barley or alphabet pasta
¼ cup catsup
1 tbsp. instant beef bouillion granules
2 tsp. season salt
1 tsp. dried basil, crushed
1 bay leaf
5 cups water

In large saucepan, cook ground beef until browned, drain. Add remaining ingredients. (NOTE: If you are using alphabet pasta, don’t add it until last 5 minutes of simmering.) Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 1 hour. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Remove bay leaf before serving. Serves 6. (I usually double the recipe so there’s plenty of left-overs – it tastes even better the second day.)

Recipe: Code Yellow's Prize-Winning Chili

This is from my Halloween debut as a great chili cook-offer. I double it every time because there should always be a lot of a good recipe. You can use different beans (pinto, white, etc.) for a little different flavor, and add more chili powder or fresh jalepeno for more kick. Yummy with cornbread muffins.

1 pound ground beef
1 medium onion, chopped (1/2 cup)
1 jar (16 oz.) mild salsa (I love Herdez)
1 can (15 oz.) tomato sauce
2 Tbsp. lime juice
1 can (4 oz.) chopped green chilies, drained
1 tsp. chili powder
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 can (15-16 oz.) black beans (I use Kuner’s jalepeno black beans with lime)
shredded cheddar cheese, if desired
sliced green onion, if desired

Cook beef and onion in 10-inch skillet over medium heat 8 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until beef is brown; drain. Mix beef and remaining ingredients except beans in 3 ½ to 4-quart slow cooker. Cover and cook on low heat setting 8 to 10 hours. Stir in beans. Cover and cook on low heat setting about 5 minutes or until hot. Top with cheese and onion. 6 servings.

Recipe: Pork and Pepper Stew

(courtesy of A Dinner A Day by Sally Sondheim and Suzanne Sloan)

This is easy, easy, easy, and so hearty and yummy. My little boys eat it up like crazy, even with stewed tomatoes and red peppers. I like to thaw out some Rhodes frozen rolls in the afternoon and bake them while the soup is simmering. And oila! Dinner in about 30 minutes.

2 pounds lean boneless pork
1 large onion, peeled and chopped
2 large red bell peppers, seeded and chopped
1 clove garlic, minced (I buy minced garlic in a jar - so much easier!)
1 pound small new white potatoes (Or large potatoes, washed and cut into small pieces)
2 Tbs. fresh chopped parsley
2 Tbs. olive oil
2 medium cans (14.5 oz. each) diced stewed tomatoes
2 tsp. dried basil

Cut the meat into 1-inch cubes and salt and pepper to taste. Heat the oil in a Dutch oven. Add the pork and the garlic and saute until the pork cubes are lightly browned on all sides, 4 to 6 minutes. Add the onion, bell peppers and the potatoes and saute until the onion is softened, about 5 minutes. Add the undrained tomatoes and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover and simmer until the pork is tender, about 20 minutes. Add the parsley and the basil to the pot, season to taste, and stir to blend.


The Golden Tickets

Since I was a freshman in college, one of my favorite Christmas things has been Handel's Messiah. The faculty of Ricks College would be so glad to know that their little cultural arts requirement for graduation really worked to bring a little culture and music and beauty to a small town girl who might not otherwise have known what an oratorio is.

Back in 1999, when I lived in Salt Lake City, I went to hear the Mormon Tabernacle Choir sing Messiah. I went alone the first night and it was so beautiful, I got tickets for the next night. I wanted to share it with someone, so I asked a guy who had picked up on me in Sunday School a couple weeks before. Handel would be so glad to know that his great masterpiece served as a tool for winnowing out prospective relationships. The guy was bored and seriously asked to leave at the midpoint. In his defense, Handel may have been too heavy a requirement for a second date, but shoot. I'm worth it and he failed the classical music litmus test. Didn't even call...

Since moving here to DC, I've known about a free Sing-Along Messiah at the Kennedy Center. You have to go a couple weeks in advance to stand in line for tickets. Then when you go to the performance, they give you pretty much the whole score. Special soloists still sing all the solo parts, but the audience sings the rest. How cool is that? It has been my dream every year to go, but something has happened every ticket day, every year, that kept me from being able to go.

But guess where I was on Saturday? Yep, standing in this line. (It wrapped around three sides of the Kennedy Center - I was toward the end.)

And guess where I'll be next Sunday night? Yep, singing Messiah with my husband in the Kennedy Center. I am so excited!!! My little Christmas dream is coming true. And you'll notice that this time I married the guy before making him sit through it. He can't just not call.

In all seriousness, I think one of the most beautiful and spiritual things ever is when scripture is set to astounding music. Where one might not always reach your heart on its own, the other will. Both together are golden.

I am so excited to make this Christmas memory!


Our Weekend in Bethlehem

Actually, it was just one night. And it was in the gym at the church. But we dressed up like Bethlehem and pretended like it was the first Christmas.

David and I got to run the Census table and we bought our dinner from little market stalls set up all around and the kids got to visit the carpenter's shop to help sand the manger, a candle shop where they got to make a real candle, a spice shop where they could get gold, frankincense and myrhh - the whole bit. There was also a little synagogue set up and an inn with no room, and of course, the stable.

Almost everyone who came dressed up and it was quite a fun evening. Here is what we looked like. (Oh, and just be aware that Calvin is not a shepherd boy. He is a Bethlehem boy. That is the only way he would put his costume on.)

My favorite, however, is this little guy. Calvin brought him to me and asked if he could come along, because he was dressed like a Bethlehem boy, too. A "rock-n-roll alien Bethlehem boy," to be exact.

It was quite a party.


Christmas Tree Treasures

I'm joining in a little late, but Morning Glory is hosting Christmas Tree Treasures today. And, just because I am in a Christmas-two-for-one-sale kinda mood, No Cool Story also invited us to share some favorite ornaments as well. So go to both of those blogs and pick up on everyone's treasures! There's some really precious things and some new blog friends to be made. 'Tis the season!

I ransacked the Christmas box and picked out a few of ours - the tree trimming is quite behind schedule this year...but here's a sampling. You'll just have to wait for the picture of a completely decked out evergreen sometime later in the week month.

Each year I've let the boys pick out a favorite new ornament to add to the tree. I label them with their name and the year, and I plan to give them a box of their ornaments for their first married Christmas. This was Cal's first pick, and I love it because he really did spot this bell from far away, and his hand was barely big enough to hold onto it, and he loved the sound it made.

This was Henry's pick last year. He had just started talking and we were wandering the Christmas decorations in search of an ornament for Cal when Henry went crazy: "Do-wah! Do-wah! Do-wah!" I didn't even realize he knew who she was (that was before she was a name in our household, really)or that he was so passionate about her. So Dora it was.

David and I try to also pick out an ornament that is special or unique to us as a couple, or reminds of something we did during the year. This amazing blown glass ornament was what we picked out on our Thanksgiving trip a couple years ago when we went to North Carolina for Thanksgiving. It is well over 4" in diameter, and has some amazing colors in it. I love it.

David's sister gave us this ornament a couple years ago - I call her Funky Gift Girl and she just makes me smile when I pull her out of the box each year.

These are my very, very favorites. I saw them a couple years in a row at a craft fair in my hometown but never bought them for myself. Then my grandma picked out a few for me one year, and my brother and mom added to the collection with some smaller wood and similar crystal-like ones a year or two later. I just love the beauty and neatness of the wood. And they smell wonderful.

I have a half dozen of these little matrushka doll ornaments. I always think of Ukraine an extra lot at holiday time, perhaps because it was a time in my life when I felt closest to the Savior - like Christmas all year long. These little girls remind me of that time.

At our wedding luncheon, each guest received a little bell to ring whenever they wanted David and I to kiss. Very few of the bells were alike, and many of the guests and friends still have our wedding bells displayed somewhere in their house. I love bells - when I saw this little collection in a thrift store, I had to have them. They remind me of my wedding day and also of all the rites of passage in life that bells signify. When I hang them on my tree, I invariably think of "tintinnabulation."

This is the temple where we were married, and I love this ornament - how delicate and golden it is.

This is one of my greatest treasures - my sister made it last year. Each page has a little print of pictures of the Savior's life from birth to resurrection, and each picture goes with the most beautiful poem that my sister wrote. I can't read it without crying and feeling such gratitude for the birth of Jesus, for his life and mission and the promise of eternal life.

And this is the country angel that one of my young women's leaders made for us as a wedding gift with a little note to use it on our first Christmas together. I like her quaintness and simplicity, and she has topped our tree every year.


Fa La La La La: The Meme

I was tagged - oh, perhaps decades ago - by my friend Millie to do this fun Christmas Meme. She kept me an honest woman by tagging me, because I was about to steal it from my other friend No Cool Story...

Anyway, I am as excited to do this meme as I am to actually start decorating my house for the holidays and to post pictures tomorrow for Morning Glory's Christmas Tree Treasures.

It just so happens that doing a meme is less life-threatening a heck of a lot easier than getting to the boxes of Christmas decor in the closet at the moment. (Morning Glory - if I'm late, can I still come to the party?) So here it is...

1. Egg Nog or Hot Chocolate?

The season isn't real for me unless I have a cup of eggnog at least once. I got that from my grandpa. He like his with Pepsi. I like mine with root beer, or sometimes just a little diluted with some milk. Yum, yum, frothy goodness. But for general chilly winter days, I'm a hot cocoa drinker all the way. I like to mix sweetened condensed milk with baking cocoa and cinnamon, add boiling water and bask in the rich goodness. (We stirred that up a lot in Ukraine because there was no such thing as hot cocoa mix there and the regular milk was an invitation for dysentery.)

2. Does Santa wrap presents or just sit them under the tree?

OK, first off, if we're perpetuating a meme, let's send it along with proper grammar. If Santa does any sitting, it's while he's taking a break with the cookies and milk you left him. Otherwise, he sets the gifts out, wrapped or whatever.

Growing up, we never had a fireplace, so we left our stockings on the couch cushion of our choice and that's where Santa set the presents - some wrapped and some not. As soon as we had opened all the presents, we had a place to sit.

As a side note, he also always spelled our names wrong - mine with a "y" instead of an "i," my brother Craig was always "Greg" in Santa's books, my sister Joeli was "Julie," and so forth. Funny guy, that Santa. Doesn't want us to think he's tooo omniscient.

3. Colored lights or white on tree/house?

I'm a huge fan of thousands of white lights, but this year is the first year we've had outdoor lights, and Cal is enamored with colored ones. The magic is mostly for the kids anyway, so colored is what we went with outside for now. The tree has white lights.

4. Do you hang mistletoe?

Nope. Which probably explains never having been kissed beneath it. But I get my kissing in, never you fear.

5. When do you put your decorations up?

Since we have a December boy, we wait until after his birthday to deck the halls, so that he gets his own day before it's all tinsel and such, but we're still usually all decorated by the end of the first week of December. This year, I'm running a little more behind than I would like to.

6. What is your favorite holiday dish (excluding dessert)?

Love a Christmas ham and Grandma's au gratin potatoes. Mom also makes the most fabulous potato soup or clam chowder in bread bowls, that we usually only have around the holidays. I also like to make some things I learned to make in Ukraine - varenyky (boiled potato dumplings), borscht, holubtsi (translated "little doves," but they are cabbage rolls), and David makes plov (the most fabulous rice dish on earth).

7. Favorite Holiday memory as a child:

I'm using poetic license to change this to my favorite memories as a mom. The Christmas Cal was born was amazingly beautiful - record snowfalls in a place that usually has green muddy Christmases, so we jsut stayed inside with our little family all together. We had little or no discretionary income for lots of gifts or hooplah, but we had this amazing newborn son. Priceless.

Two years ago, there was apparently a shortage of actual newborn babies at Christmas time in our church congregation, so the lady in charge of the program asked if David, Henry and I would star as Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus. Henry was the most enormous baby Jesus ever (he was nearly 10 lbs at birth and at Christmas he was almost six months old already!) but he lay in his little manger, sound asleep, with one fist in the air the entire time they read the story.

8. How and when did you learn the truth about Santa?

The bell still rings for me, people.

9. Do you open a gift on Christmas Eve?

Never did growing up. I'm still not an "open early" person at all, but I do like to get my boys Christmas jammies to open and wear on Christmas Eve.

10. How do you decorate your Christmas Tree?

We have one of those cool machine-gun-like things that you just aim at the tree - and pahpahpahpahpahpahpahpahpahpahpahpahpahpahpahpah! Shizamm! Beautiful festive tree in an instant! Cindy Lou helps out with the topper - we pass her up the big tall ladder from arm to arm.

No...Simply lots of lights, wide wire ribbon instead of garland, some matching glass bulbs to fill in the most and then a large eclectic mix of meaningful ornaments. (To hopefully be on display here tomorrow.)

11. Snow! Love it or Dread it?

Love, love, love it. You can take the girl out of Colorado, but you can't take the Colorado out of the girl.

12. Can you ice skate?

No. I've never downhill skied either. I know, a travesty for a Colorado girl. Couldn't afford it when I wasn't afraid, and now I have children, so I have to live more conservatively.

13. Do you remember your favorite gift?

My mom had a beautiful calendar one year and when I was home visiting in June, I told her that I loved the picture/painting that was on that month and mentioned that it would be so beautiful framed. She remembered the whole rest of the year and had it matted and framed for me. It was the most perfect surprise - I cried because she remembered from all those months before, and it is still a treasure to me. It's the first thing I hang up whenever we move somewhere new.

David gave me a string of pearls our first dating Christmas. They are beautiful and perfect, and one of the truly elegant things that I own.

14. What's the most important thing about the Holidays for you?

The story of the birth of the Savior never grows old to me, and I love the feeling of newness that accompanies the end of the old year, and the beginning of the new. And if all I had was family and Christmas music, I would be totally happy.

15. What is your favorite Holiday Dessert?

I honestly cannot think of one. Love my Aunt Sheri's sugar cookies and my Dad's crumble-top apple pie, and my mom and grandma make an awesomely rich cherry chocolate cake. I'm also big on homemade candies. I just don't think I could choose just one. One kind of "dessert" - actually it's a snack - that I miss from home is a big bowl of nuts and a nutcracker and those little picks. Grandpa always liked to munch on nuts, cheese and salami on crackers in between holiday meals. Just reminds me of the big family Christmases we used to have.

16. What is your favorite holiday tradition?

We're working up some new ones with our little boys. I don't remember any definite ones from my childhood and most of David's are related to Christmas in Arizona (not totally adaptable to colder climates). I love the idea of advent candles (that you light red ones, and on Christmas morning they are white, because Christ is come into the world - it makes the wonder and beauty on Christmas morning as much about Christ as it is about Santa)- so I'm developing a little personal family twist on that. I'll keep you posted.

17. What tops your tree?

A little country angel with a straw hat instead of a halo that one of my youth teachers gave us for our wedding. She made it herself and included a little note to use it for our first Christmas together. We've topped our tree with it ever since. (Picture coming soon.)

18. Which do you prefer, giving or receiving?

Giving. Actually, I love the list-making incident to giving, and I love to find perfect things for people, and I love doing for others.

But I'm learning that gracious receiving is part of Christmas, too - and there's nothing I love more than a surprise and to know I'm loved or appreciated in a way that I don't always see in myself.

19. What is your favorite Christmas Song?

Too many to count...O Holy Night...I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day...Mary, Did You Know?...Angels We Have Heard on High. This year I taught the children at church, "Stars Were Gleaming" and it is now a favorite, too.

20. What is your favorite Christmas story?

After the story of Christ's birth and the Book of Mormon story of faith in the birth of the Messiah, I love "The Christmas Truce" (Silent Night from the trenches), and "The Tale of Three Trees."

Safari Time and Impromptu Prayers

At long last, I'm giving the low-down on Cal's birthday party last Friday. I was a little disappointed - I invited all of blogtopia, but none of you came. That's OK. There wasn't enough cake anyway.

I made jungle vines and leaves out of green construction paper. Easy. Cheap. Went a long way toward making the house jungle-like. The picture-taking was a little forgotten and a little substandard (my camera has never been the same since the beach...) but you get the general idea.

I read somewhere that the best bet for a preschooler crowd is a sit-down meal, and it really was a hit. We borrowed a low table and I had a couple of the moms bring their own child-size chairs so the guests could sit at a party table that was just their size. The kids started up their own inane conversation and were laughing and eating like crazy - one of the moms there said it was the first time she's ever seen her boy eat something besides a PBJ.

The Menu:
Baby Pythons (hot dogs cut in strips and boiled until they curled)
Beetle Wings (potato chips)
Zebra Tails (portions of string cheese alternated with black grapes on skewers)
Tiger Smiles (orange wedges)
Bug Juice (little bottles of blue "Bug Juice")

We played Wild Animal Charades - the kids pulled pictures of jungle animals out of a bag and acted out what was on the picture. When someone guessed what they were, all the kids got to act like that animal.

Then we made safari party hats out of newspaper and the kids went on two expeditions. The first was a small obstacle course in the dining room (no pictures, but David did an awesome job of creating a little trail with masking tape as well as snakes and a piranha pond and a cave with household furniture and pillows) - the kids wanted to run it again and again.

The second adventure was a Frog, Snake and Lizard hunt up in the "cloud forest" jungle. Everyone got their very own dollar store flashlight and went in search of little creatures in the upstairs hall jungle. They were THRILLED.
We finished up with opening gifts and eating the Alligator Cake and ice cream, then played Catch the Lion by the Tail (aka Duck, Duck, Goose / Lion, Lion, Hyena) until the parents came.

At the end of the day, Calvin said, "That was the best birthday EVER. Thanks for thinking of it, Mom." So, a success. And I don't feel quite as guilty about talking him out of a been-done-a-million-times-already Thomas the Train party.

If I were to do it again, I would have it only last 90 minutes instead of two hours, and I would freeze the cake before trying to frost it.


Sunday was Calvin's actual birthday and it ended up being rather mellow, with a family celebration after dinner. But more candles to blow out and a couple more gifts. Calvin took it all in stride and is so pleased with everything - it makes me excited for Christmas because he's just into the anitcipation and the joy of surprises, big and small.

Anyway, at one point during the afternoon, Cal and David were cuddling and talking and David was telling Cal about the day he was born and how special it was and how tiny he was, and so on.

Calvin piped up and said, "We're going to have a new baby, huh?" (We haven't told him directly because six more months is an eternity for a little kid, but he doesn't miss a trick...) David said, "Yes," and Cal asked if it would be a sister baby or a brother baby. David told him that Heavenly Father gets to choose that. Cal then said, "Well, I want a sister baby." David said, "Well, we'll just have to see what Heavenly Father gives us."

Cal was quiet for a minute then said, "Dad, I'm going to say a prayer right now." And without further delay, he started by thanking Heavenly Father for everything and then said, "And please bless that we will have a sister baby."

Sometimes I'm not as secure or confident in my own prayerful requests, but when a little boy prays like that - with the surety that if God is in charge of something, then He is who we need to talk to, and right away - I feel pretty sure that the sister baby is a done deal. I guess we'll see.


Turkey Day Revisited

Before I move on to Christmas, this has to be put out there...

Henry was extra cranky one morning last week so I took him upstairs for a little earlier than usual afternoon nap and thought I would fix Cal some lunch when I came back down.

Apparently, the ten minute naptime routine with Henry was more than the carnivore in Cal could handle, because when I came back to the living room, this is what I saw:

Yes, that's a turkey leg roughly the size of Calvin's own leg (or head, for that matter!). I was going to make soup or something out of it, but Cal made it into a nice lunch for himself.

His chin was greasy, and he just kept biting off big hunks of cold meat and saying, "This (chomp, chew, gobble) is soooooo (chomp, chew, gobble) goooood, Mom!"

It took a few days before I could look at the pictures. And a few days more before I could post about it. But now I only gag a little. And I almost have some level of pride. The boy could hold his own at one of those authentic Renaissance feast re-enactments, don't you think?


The Picture of the Family Will Be Altered...Forever!!!

I promised an update of the birthday party, but that is just going to have to wait. Who can talk wild animal games and crocodile cakes when there is something completely mind-blowing like this to discuss?

In September you may recall that one of my dearest real-life friends and way funny and thoughtful blogger, Angela (aka "Ant Chla" as my little bro called her), posted a fabulous tribute to me for my birthday.

Amongst all the strokes to my vanity and very cool memories that she shared, she mentioned a phenom in our friendship that I now like to call the "Marlin-Dory Relationship Continuum." You know the part in Finding Nemo right after Marlin and Dory meet and he is madly following her because he thinks she knows the way to the boat that scooped up Nemo? And then she suddenly turns on him and says, "What? You wanna piece a me? Huh? This ocean's not big enough or something?"

OK, it's not exactly like that, because I've never turned on Angela, but she does follow me a lot and she gives me credit for being much more "with it" than I am, because I am more like Dory than I would like to admit. (Ask my husband - I have absolutely no a very sketchy memory of our first kiss. Sad. And he still married me.)

But anyway, years ago we noticed this whole pattern of doing all the same things in life within 6-12 months of each other. This is roughly how it went: (Keep in mind that this is vital information for your future and ours...)

September 1974: I was born, then 10 and a half months later, she was.

September 1992: I started my freshman year at a Ricks (Forever!) College and 12 months later, she did. Our friendship began when we moved into a house we shared with six other girls.

We cried buckets of tears at having to go our separate ways 8 months later, frantic that our paths would never cross again...and we started a late night phone call binge and letter-writing correspondence over the next few months. (This was before e-mail, people. Can you imagine?)

October 1994: I visited Angela in Missouri for a 10-day slumber party. Among other things I went to Wichita with her parents and picked a fight with her 6'6" brother over Nilla Wafers that we had bought to make banana cream pie. He ate them! All! Without asking! If I'd a had a sling shot...

April 1995: (six months later) She came to DC to visit me. And we pretty much decided that we needed to get together every six months. At least.

November 1995: I left on a mission to the Ukraine. (after making fun of a roommate for learning such a useless language as Russian, there I was...hmmm....learning Russian. And finding it quite useful. Divine retribution.) There went our six month plan. But luckily we were in good letter writing habit by then. Angela was not going to go on a mission. Ever.

August 1996:(9 months later) Angela got her little piece of divine retribution and was called to serve a mission in Utah. (What was that you said when you were fifteen about the possibility of serving a mission there?!) Just for the record, I'll take freezing nose hairs and not understanding anything that's said to me for months on end before I could endure 250 women confined to ten acres. So our penance for catty remarks were perfectly suited to each of us.

October 1997: I enrolled at Utah State University - based on Angela's mention of it in a letter once...and the hives that I broke out into at the thought of attending BYU - sorry cougar people, but I just could not fathom...

Five months later
, Angela was at USU, too. (She had planned all along to go there, so it was really me that followed her, even though I got there a few months earlier.)

Spring 1999: I graduated from USU, and 12 months later, Angela did, too. GO AGGIES!

January 2000: I moved into a studio apartment in downtown SLC and went to work in the real world. Loved the independence and solitude except for the time I caught my finger in a LOCKED car door while holding a basket of laundry and the keys were in the opposite pocket and when I saw my flat finger after finally getting it out, I just wanted my mommy. Angela (a much more social creature) thought I was crazy to live alone.

12 months later
, she got herself a studio and enjoyed the riotous single living for a bit as well...because Riotous is our middle name, you know.

May 2001: I finally realized David had me at hello and we got married. Angela liked my wedding so much that 10 months later she asked me to work up a good reception for her, too, and her J really liked that I made sure he had treats while he stood in the reception line and that I booted them out while the night was still young...

December 2002: My first baby, a boy, was born, and less than six months later, Angela's first baby boy, Benja, came along.

July 2004: My second baby boy was born. I could have sworn I was having a girl, but it was really a boy. And what a boy! Then nine months later, Angela THOUGHT she was having a boy, but it was really a girl. And BOY, what a girl!

So, between developmental milestones of our babies and career milestones of our husbands and emotional milestones of being friends, Angela and I have enjoyed more than a decade of tag teaming, advice giving and consoling because one or the other of us has pretty recently "been there."

But you should know that all of that is about to change dramatically. And not just for Angela and me, either...

We have just concurred on a startling new development that may indicate an impending collision of the space-time continuum and it could have earth-shattering, life-altering consequences for everyone who knows us, even just our cyber buddies. And most likely anyone we have met in real life.

Something BIG - and we mean something REALLY big - is most certainly about to happen, because Ant Chla and I are breaking the 6-12 months rule that has thus far governed our friendship's existence. Not since the school year of 1993-94 have we done something like this at the EXACT same time!!!

All we're saying is maybe you all should get your food storage in order, line out your wills, build your bomb shelters and map out your escape-from-earth routes, because not only are we posting eerily similar posts on the same day, but Angela and I are both having our third babies six months from now!!!!

If that doesn't have you concerned about the state of life as we know it, consider that these two third babies from different moms, born within mere DAYS of each other (instead of the requisite six to twelve months apart), will also have birthdays almost exactly THIRTEEN months after TomKat's baby Suri. (**Cue Twilight Zone theme music**)

All I know is that when garbanzo beans are my new chocolate and heartburn and sciatica arrive about six months ahead of past experience, there is something bigger than all of us happening here.

Furthermore, Frog Eye Salad, aka Carrot Jell-o, is also implicated in this conspiracy, because not only is she having a baby about the same time, but she was the first to suggest my impending pregnancy on my blog, and how could she have known I had just done a Clear Blue a week or two before? AND, it was one day after reading this post of hers that I had an unprecedented and very unfortunate experience in WalMart. (Just subtract the store clerk and plastic bag from her story and add a 2-year-old climbing madly out of the cart and a 3-year-old coming back from the toy aisle and very loudly exclaiming, "What the...?!!!?" and you've got mine...)

Just don't ever say that we didn't warn you. And beware of pregnant women everywhere. They, too, may unwittingly be part of this vast operative of forever changing the world as we know it.