Monday, December 31, 2007

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Fur is the cure

Jimmy is rarely sick, but three weeks ago he had stomach flu, and then just this week a nasty cold.

Besides any presentation of symptoms like vomiting, fever or runny nose, two things always alert us when Jimmy isn't feeling well. First, he crashes out and sleeps in the middle of the day. This from a boy who (much to my everlasting chagrin) stopped napping at two-and-a-half. Not even the longest and most boring of road trips lulls him to sleep. Second, and this is the clincher, Will curls up and cuddles with him.

In fact, we can always tell when somebody is coming down with something at our house because Will becomes very specific in his furry ministrations to that person, climbing into bed and snuggling. Our very own fuzzy Florence Nightingale.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Christmas hightlights, part 4: good eats

It's all about the nosh, baby. Not just at Christmas, but every major holiday involving food. I'm not super-picky, except about a few particular foods that have to be served for certain holidays, or they just don't feel right.

You'll probably laugh, but my holy grail of holiday fare (essential for both Thanksgiving and Christmas) is green bean casserole. My need for this traditional dish goes back to some time in the far distant past; my first distinct casserole memory is when I was a freshman in college and I went down to Mesa, Arizona, to have Thanksgiving with Nana, my maternal grandmother. She had a small spread but I remember we were both particularly concerned about the green bean casserole, and she showed me how to make it.

Everybody's got their favorite recipe; mine's basically a can of condensed cream of mushroom soup, a 16-ounce bag of frozen julienned green beans, and a couple handfuls of slivered almonds. Mix those all together in a casserole dish, top with onion rings, and bake at 350° F for 30 minutes. Presto! Tried, true, tasty, portable, and above all, goof-proof.

Earlier in November, Jim was watching his favorite cooking show, Good Eats with Alton Brown. It wouldn't be a stretch to say Jim has a bit of a man-crush on Alton. Not at all. In fact, I think Jim wouldn't have reached his current level of evil-genius-in-the-kitchen without Alton's inspiration. But I digress.

So, Jim was watching the "Bean Stalker" episode, and Alton presented his own recipe for his "Best Ever Green Bean Casserole". Now, we've tried enough recipes from Good Eats to know they're usually pretty reliable, but to claim to have the "best ever" green bean casserole? Hmfft. So it's got fresh green beans. But one of the ingredients is nutmeg? I was skeptical.

To humor Jim—and because it's always my assignment to bring green bean casserole—I made Alton's recipe and took it to the family Thanksgiving dinner. Where it received rave reviews, even from me. I never thought I'd say it, but I'm not going back to my condensed-soup-and-frozen-green-bean recipe. Ever. The nutmeg won me over.

So I made it again for our Christmas Day dinner (eaten from paper plates while wearing our jammies) and Jim made another favorite Alton recipe about which I cannot say enough good things, brined roast turkey. It's so moist, so tender—like turkey-flavored butter. Yum. Accompanied by fresh cranberry sauce, made from berries grown by my mom's Uncle Walt down in Grayland. And of course I made mashed potatoes, with a little bit of garlic and heavy cream.

All this building up to the pièce de résistance: Jim's chocolate pecan cheesecake with made-from-scratch caramel sauce. Just look at the picture; there are no words. Except, of course... Evil. Genius.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Christmas highlights, part 3: morning, sunshine!

Yeah. At least one of us got her beauty sleep before the 7:30 wake up call ("Mom! Dad! Did Santa bring my presents yet?") Serves me right for blogging into the wee hours.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Christmas highlights, part 2: fashion police

What do you mean, black peep-toe pumps with patent croc trim and sock monkey jammies don't go?

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Christmas highlights, part 1: a new hope

It was a Star Wars Christmas at our house. Please note: in addition to the Han Solo and Chewbacca Transformers (which join together to form the Millennium Falcon) that Jimmy's unwrapping above, he'd already received a Luke Skywalker Transformer that turns into an X-wing fighter (from Grandma Gail); R2D2 and Chewbacca pens; and Greedo, Luke, and Darth Vader action figures (visible in the right edge of the picture).

This public service was brought to you by some true-blue old-school Star Wars afficionados (me and Jim). Just doing our part to ensure a new generation of fans rises up more powerful than before when we are gone.

Oh, and if that's not enough intergalactic holiday cheer for you, check this out:

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

An hour later...

...yes, it's Christmas now and the stockings are stuffed, I finished one final last-minute gift for Mr. Picky-pants (now that he's gone to bed), all the presents are under the tree and I can finally say, in the immortal words of Clement Clark Moore, "Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!"

Monday, December 24, 2007

Ten more minutes until Christmas...

...the presents are all wrapped, and so I'm cutting my losses and going to bed!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Shepherds and other not-so-wise men

Looks like we'll be reviewing the account from Luke 2 in a little more detail on Christmas Eve, after tonight's conversation at the dinner table:

Jim: (to Jimmy) "So, what did you learn about today in Primary?"
Jimmy: "Shepherds."
Me: "What did the shepherds do?"
Jimmy: "They told what Jesus said, just like President Hinckley."
Me: "Who else came to see the baby Jesus?"
Jimmy: (looking perplexed) "I don't know."
Me: "Did someone come and bring baby Jesus presents?"
Jimmy: "People."
Jim: "Did some wise men come and see Jesus?"
Jimmy: "Yeah, and some foolish ones, too."

(Glossary notes for my non-Mormon readers: Primary is the kids' Sunday School. President Hinckley is the prophet of the Mormon church. Jimmy's comment about "foolish ones" is actually a reference to one of his favorite Primary songs, "The Wise Man Built His House Upon the Rock", in which his favorite part is how the rains came down and washed away the foolish man's house upon the sand.)

Saturday, December 22, 2007

So sneaky

Yesterday we did a last-minute Christmas shopping trip to Yakima and I still couldn't get Jim to give me any ideas for additional presents beyond the two I've already bought and my secret ironing elf duties during this past month. In a moment of exasperation I told him because he had given me so little to work with, I had been reduced to doing his ironing because it was the only thing I could think of to do as a gift.

"Oh, I know about that," he said.

"You what?" Whereupon he confessed to having read my blog (?!), and also that he was just waiting to see if I could hold out and keep from telling him. Which I utterly failed at.

Sneak. Rotten blog-reading-picky-pants-who-also-happens-to-have-bought-me-extra-presents-and-of-course-I-still-love-you-even-though-you-are-a-sneak.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Tag, i'm it

A couple of people have tagged me with this "Christmas Getting-to-Know-You" thingy in the last few days, so I guess I'm out of excuses. Just remember, you wanted to know these things about me, so you have only yourself to blame...

1. Wrapping paper or gift bags? Wrapping paper up until 8 p.m. on December 24th. After that, consider yourself lucky if it's bagged and tagged.
2. Real tree or artificial? Artificial. I lost the will (and the financial justification) to argue with Jim about it last year.
3. When do you put up the tree? Now that we have our fake pre-lit tree, December 1st.
4. When do you take the tree down? New Year's Day.
5. Do you like eggnog? Gotta have the nog!
6. Favorite gift received as a child? Parachute Pinatti.
7. Do you have a nativity scene? Yes. It’s made of glass and on well-protected display atop the mantle.
8. Hardest person to buy for? Mr. Picky-pants himself (that would be Jim).
9. Easiest person to buy for? Jimmy. Anything Star Wars, Dr. Seuss or Spiderman.
10. Worst Christmas gift? You know, I’m just grateful for whatever. Really.
11. Mail or email Christmas card? Received or sent? It was all I could do to get out Audrey’s birth announcements and the numerous thank you cards for baby gifts. So I’m doing my best to live with a raging feeling of inadequacy for not sending out Christmas cards this year. Thanks so much for reminding me.
12. Favorite Christmas movie? A Christmas Story, hands down, because as a child I had a dad who cussed like that, and got my own mouth washed out once or twice when I attempted to test the @!#$% double standard. But I’m not bitter.
13. When do you start shopping for Christmas? The beginning of December, after the bills are paid.
14. Have you ever recycled a Christmas present? Nope. But in the interest of full disclosure, I have recycled both wedding and baby gifts.
15. Favorite thing to eat at Christmas? Grandma Mary’s nut rolls and Jim’s chocolate cheesecake.
16. Clear lights or colored on the tree? Clear, non-blinking (no Christmas Las Vegas-style).
17. Favorite Christmas song? “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” and “Hark the Herald Angels Sing”.
18. Travel at Christmas or stay home? Home.
19. Can you name Santa's reindeer? Rudolf who?
20. Do you have an angel on top of your tree or a star? A gold star.
21. Open the presents Christmas Eve or morning? Christmas morning .
22. Most annoying thing about this time of year? I’m not even remotely a fan of overly sentimental, cloying Christmas songs… those poor-orphan-with-no-shoes-playing-his-drum-and-buying-shoes-for-his-crippled-little-sister kind of songs. Yeah. Not so much.
23. What are you most thankful for this year? Reconciliation. Forgiveness. Laughter. Hugs and kisses from my babies.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Human hairball

I'm shedding. Again. Last time I was afflicted by this kind of follicular bid for freedom, it was the same. Jimmy was between three and four months old, and suddenly I started to notice my hair everywhere: on floors, furniture, clothes, the driver's seat headrest, my child, my hairbrush, clogging drains, blasted to walls by my blowdryer—and suprisingly (considering the amount of hair elsewhere), still on my head. I was rather freaked out until I flipped through my "what to expect" books and read about postpartum hair loss, known scientifically as telogen effluvium (now there's a term with a tasty ring to it).

As much as I love all the overtime with my lint roller, vacuum and broom, the really fun part comes a couple months from now when all the new little hairs growing back are about an inch long and sticking out in weird tufts along my hairline, and I have to try and beat them into submission with extra styling goop and hairspray.

Good thing I live in Ellensburg where it's so windy that most days are bad hair days anyway.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Me and santa: a retrospective

The prompt at Writer’s Island for today was to write something about how we embrace this season.

Santa and me go way back. Some years we were thisclose.

Other years not so much.

Here I still believed, but not for much longer.

In December 1976, my family had just moved from Provo, Utah, to nearby Springville. We lived in a small, mouse-infested apartment above a weight station. On Christmas Eve, I was determined to stay up and watch Santa deliver the presents I knew were coming because I had been extra good all year. I waited quietly in bed, feigning sleep until I heard my parents go down for the night and then I snuck out to the living room from the bedroom I shared with my little brother Lee. Crawling on my hands and knees, I slowly backed myself into the gap between our couch and the wall behind it. I was almost completely hidden when I felt something move next to my leg and heard a loud snap. With a shriek I shot out from behind the couch—and then realized I had backed into a mousetrap. I shoved the trap under the couch and resumed my prime position for Santa surveillance. Sadly, I fell asleep before the man in red showed up.

By Christmas 1977, I was a jaded eight year-old chaperone for my nattily suspendered-and-plaid-pantsed brother (clearly still a believer).

Over a decade later, I became even more jaded when my mom took my youngest sister and I for Santa pictures at Northgate Mall in Seattle. I was a college freshman, and she was a year and a half. We camped out in line, sandwiched for what seemed forever between other people's toddlers melting down. At last it was our turn. I sat on Santa’s lap, and Meredith sat on mine. Right before the photographer snapped our picture, nasty old Santa copped a feel. Yeah. I waited for the flash, then shot him a dirty look as I whisked Meredith away as quickly as possible. All I could think was, at least better me than her.

Last year when Jimmy was three, Jim and I had The Santa Talk—you know, the one where we discussed whether we should inflict belief in Santa (and the inevitable emotional trauma at its termination) on our children. It had been long enough since the perverted Santa imposter incident that I didn’t dismiss the idea out of hand. Eventually we decided in favor of a guilt-free Santa Claus, a benevolent Kris Kringle with no naughty-or-nice strings attached.

In the end, I’m glad Jim and I could agree Santa had a certain magic integral to our own childhoods—a miraculous magic of hope, humor, giving, and possibilities—and that we want our kids to have it, too.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Going AWOL

Family visits, a sick kid, and a possible trip out of town (but only if the sick kid gets better) all mean that this week I have not been and will probably not be posting. So much.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Sock monkey lovin’

It wouldn’t be Christmas for me without sock monkeys. My Aunty Joan gave me one on my sixth Christmas, an old-school long and skinny sock monkey (’cause this was about 1975) that I named Parachute Panatti. I would swing him around by the tail like some primate slingshot and then let go so he sailed triumphantly through the air. What can I say? I was six.

Oh, how I loved him. When I was eighteen and the time came to move out and pack or purge my treasures, Panatti was one of the few who made the cut. Currently he’s holed up in my shrine to childhood memorabilia, a Rubbermaid Roughneck storage tote down in my sewing room.

Mom remembers about me and Panatti, so when she found a sock monkey tree ornament a couple of years ago, she sent it my way. And then last year for Christmas she gave me pink flannel sock monkey pajamas. I had just gotten pregnant, so I couldn’t wear them more than a few times before my pregnant belly was too big, and they were some of the first pre-pregnancy clothes I couldn't wait to squeeze into when I lost all my baby weight.

Lately I’ve been thinking it’s time to expand my sock monkey wardrobe, perhaps add some matching slippers to go with my jammies. So when I saw the picture below on No Cool Story’s blog this morning, I knew it's time to start saving my pennies. Do you think that big red bow will make me look too busty?

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Santa claws

In Acts 20:35, the apostle Paul quotes Jesus as saying, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Certainly, this holds true in some situations less than others (diamond earrings? chocolate cheesecake? a full-body massage?) but it’s a value that my parents worked hard to instill in me, and now I’m trying to pass it on to my own progeny.

I wanted to do a family service project for one of our advent calendar activities, but something enjoyable as well as meaningful, so Jimmy could start to grasp early on that being kind can be fun and rewarding. My mom had a great suggestion: do service at an animal shelter, since Jimmy has such a great love of all things furry. When I called our local shelter, they suggested we could donate food or even come in and feed treats to the cats.

Yesterday we did a quick shopping trip to and then headed to the shelter.

Good call, Mom.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Lucky number 8

I’m not superstitious, but if I believed I had a lucky number, it would be eight. Eight and I have a long history. I was born on the eighth day of October, the eighth month of the Roman calendar. Some of my most significant personal milestones have happened in years that end with eight (like graduating from the hell that was high school and starting my life as an adult).

It’s more than that, though: eight is pleasing to the eye. 8. Look at it. It’s the only number besides zero that’s symmetrical from side to side. And it has an alluring, curvaceous shape to it—a fertile form, ripe with possibilities.

I have this feeling that today is going to be a great day….

Friday, December 07, 2007

A date which will live in infamy

The single thing that fuels my passion for history is seeing how seemingly unrelated events in the past shape the lives of individual people today. That, and I love a good story. Whether or not a war is just, the cost in lives—both lost and permanently changed—is incalculable. But this isn’t a post about war; it’s about how the events at Pearl Harbor 66 years ago today shaped my life. Or rather, made my life possible.

Several years before Jimmy was born, I was up on San Juan Island visiting my grandmother. She told me firsthand the story of how she, born and raised in Boston, and my grandfather, who grew up on the Washington coast, met during World War II. I captured it on tape, but this is the gist of it. She was a Navy nurse stationed on the island of Oahu. One of the patients she cared for was a handsome young navy flier being treated for malaria, who made a pass at her after she gave him a shot of quinine. Apparently this was a big problem for military nurses because many of the men they met, both patients and officers on base, were married men looking for companionship. My grandmother told me about one of the other nurses who was dishonorably discharged when she was caught fraternizing with a married officer.

So when Clark Cottrell, Jr., asked her out, the first thing she did was look up his next of kin to see if his wife was listed. She found the Reverend Clark Cottrell, Sr., and decided it was safe to accept the invitation to dinner. And the rest, as they say….

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Mom, is it christmas yet?

For a while now I've been thinking about what Christmas traditions I want to establish for our family to make the holiday more meaningful, especially for the kids. A couple years back I decided I wanted to have an advent calendar so every day they could do something fun or thoughtful to get ready for the coming holiday. I clocked a lot of hours scouring the internet for the perfect advent calendar but any that came close to what I wanted were all way too spendy for my taste.

Then one day I was chatting with a friend about my idea, and she told me she had made an advent calendar for her kids in the shape of a giant stocking so she could put story books, gifts, etc. down inside. Brilliant! I bought the fabric last year at an after-Christmas clearance and stashed it away in my sewing room. Then the week after Thanksgiving, I kicked into gear sketching, cutting, and trying to find the perfect way to put numbers on the pockets for each day. After some trial and error, I'm quite pleased with the results.

Here's our new advent calendar. Since Jimmy is currently learning about days of the month and calendars, I decided to leave the pockets blank so that we could put the number on each day and count down to Christmas.

Inside each pocket is a piece of paper with a scripture, story or activity to do and a piece of candy (of course).

I love it because it's a perfect answer to Jimmy's latest favorite question: "Mom, is it Christmas yet?" I just say, "Honey, go check the advent calendar and count how many days are left until Christmas."

And he does.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Ironing elves

Pssssst! Can you keep a secret? We're kind of strapped this Christmas with paying off hospital bills (that's not the secret, though) so I've been trying to get creative with gifts for Jim. In the past I've given him various home-made coupons for romantic evenings and other services rendered, none of which he's ever actually presented for redemption. So this year I decided to bypass coupons. I haven't told Jim yet, but one of his Christmas presents is that for the whole month of December, every night before I go to bed I'm ironing clothes for him to wear to work the next morning.

Monday at 6:45 a.m. he found the first freshly pressed outfit hanging in his side of the closet. When he asked me if I had done it I said, with a studiedly unconvincing innocent look, "It must be ironing elves." I'm just waiting to see how many mornings he can hold out before breaking down and asking what's up.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

I still do

The last time I gave my word
Was to one who wears my ring
No need to promise any more
To anyone, to anything.

Faux fir

Last year I finally caved. Jim had been bugging me for several Christmases to get a fake tree, but I repeatedly refused. I loved the smell of a live tree too much, and sweeping up fallen needles tracked all over the house was a small price to pay. But when I went to the day-after-Thanksgiving sale at Jo-Ann Fabric and saw their $99.98 fake trees were on sale for $59.98 and I had a coupon for an extra 10% off, I knew the time had come.

As much as I love that fresh tree scent, I love even more not freezing my heinie off trying to find the least lopsided, least expensive one on the lot, a day or two before Christmas. Now the tree goes up December 1st or 2nd, and we enjoy it all month long. No extra sweeping necessary.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Good, better, best

Last Sunday I filled in as a teacher for Relief Society. The lesson was based on a talk by Dallin H. Oaks, "Good, Better, Best," from the most recent General Conference. At the heart of this talk are profound principles of physical, mental and spiritual health: the most difficult choices we make are not between good and evil, but between good and good; because of the limited time we have in our daily lives, it is not enough to do something just because it is good; we must choose to do first those things that are of greatest importance, that are better or best uses of our time and energy.

I'm glad that I was asked to teach the lesson because, wouldn't you know it, this is an area that I need to focus on personally. I've been reflecting on it for the past two weeks as I was preparing my lesson and in the days since. I'm realizing that I expend a great deal of energy on good things: cleaning, cooking, laundry, and so on. Sometimes I put those things before playing with my kids and even more often before making time for myself (and by that I mean worthwhile personal time like exercise, writing, meditation, scripture study and prayer). I'm not feeling terribly guilty about it; I know finding the fluid balance between necessary duties, personal growth and cherished relationships is challenging.

But pondering on this topic was a big reality check because it reminded me how I waste a lot of time, every day. Watching television, playing computer games, reading books (when I should be doing something else), and yes, spending time on the internet. None of those things are inherently evil, but when excessive or inappropriately timed, they are not "better "or "best". Why am I putting "chewing gum for the brain" before activities that actually sustain and nourish the best creative and spiritual parts of myself?

Making changes to how I spend my time is going to take effort on my part, but I'm ready to commit. I want to spend less time with the computer and TV, and more time feeding my spirit and playing with my kids or I will miss the best moments of being a mom and being me.