Saturday, December 27, 2014

Christmas Eve

I woke up early on Christmas Eve, the list of tasks for the day running through my mind. I love the holiday traditions we have established in our family, and I love that my children depend on them, but it is a lot of work to make holidays happen! I had to run to the grocery store to get last-minute additions to our day. We had waited for Lyndsay to be home to do our graham cracker houses, and with my work schedule, that tradition got pushed to Christmas Eve. Also, Lyns requested a turkey dinner, since she missed my food so much at Thanksgiving, and since I was scheduled to work Christmas Day, we plugged our holiday meal into this day as well.

While we worked on food in the kitchen, and carols played in the background, the kids and I got to work on our graham cracker village.

I did a cheater thing this year, and I'm blaming it on Pinterest. I saw someone had posted that they assemble their houses with hot glue since they never eat the crackers anyway, and then decorate with royal icing. This was a year I could definitely use a time saver, so I went with it. One less (at least!) batch of royal icing to make, plus the cost savings involved.

Several hours later, our finished houses!

Aiden's really took the cake this year. It was quite a masterpiece!

Lyns went for a log cabin this year.

Despite the confusion and turmoil in our marriage, I don't want anyone to be lonely for Christmas. I invited Adam to come and spend the holiday with us. His children, Caitilin (home from college) and Sean, came by for a little while to exchange gifts, and we got our traditional family photos in front of the tree. Man, we have so much fun together. Christmas has a way of blurring bad memories, and everything just felt so happy. We sure were missing Dylan though, who wasn't able to be with us.

Love a good laugh fest. And I love these two girls.

We reminisced about when they were little girls sharing a bedroom. Now they are college girls!

Three of our handsome boys.

Lyndsay made the rolls for me, and they were amazing!

Caitlin and Sean had dinner with their mom, so they didn't join us. The work involved in preparation was so worth it! The food was delicious! I'm not sure why Conor looks so glum here, except that he probably just wanted to get down to eating!

I really wanted to drive out to the temple to see the lights and hear the Christmas concert, but the traffic was horrendous, and truth be told, I really was exhausted. Instead, we read our nightly Christmas story together, sang several carols, and Lyndsay read the account of the Savior's birth in Luke 2. We had a family prayer together too, focusing on our gratitude and our wishes for members of our family who were not with us, and struggling.

My friend and visiting teacher, Angela, stopped by to drop off a gift.  We chatted for a bit. She's getting ready to move out of the ward, and a good distance away right after the holidays and I am so sad about that. She has been so good to me and I will really miss her.

Then it was time for yet another tradition: Christmas jammies! Each of the kids opened their gift.


Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Christmas Season: A Tree and Blessing Bags

We went back to artificial this year.

I love the idea of a real tree. For the last six years, we've gone to get a real tree from Kathy's Tree Lot on the day after Thanksgiving. $80 a pop. And it's beautiful and it smells lovely. But the sad fact was, real trees just don't have strong enough branches to hold all of our ornaments, so each year many got left in the boxes that just wouldn't fit. The ones that were on the tree would weigh the branches down and take turns falling off. As would the needles. The constant vacuuming, the back-of-my-mind worry about the tree drying out and catching fire, the one more chore of watering. . . I just decided to bite the bullet and go back to fake. I figure in three years it will have paid for itself. And I can enjoy all of my beloved ornaments!

Thank goodness that Aiden is here to haul the tree inside and assemble it!

And thank goodness it's pre lit! No more messing with strings of lights!

So, the house is decorated and cozy and we've been enjoying the Christmas spirit for several weeks now.

There is an idea floating around on Pinterest and various blogs about Blessing Bags. I'm always looking for opportunities to get the kids involved in service, especially during the holidays, so I thought we'd try this out. The idea is basically to assemble bags of simple items that people in need can use. Simple toiletries, some food items, warm socks, etc. We have homeless people all over near where we live and it's very common to come off a freeway to see someone sitting at the off-ramp holding a sign asking for help. I rarely have cash with me, but I always want to help. I've given food that I've had in the car, but thought this might be a nice thing to keep stocked in the van for such occasions.

For Family Home Evening I took the boys to the grocery store and the dollar store and we collected various items to make our bags. We made "girl" bags and "boy" bags. There isn't a huge difference between the two, honestly, besides the socks, kind of deodorant, and color of toothbrush.

There are lots of lists of ideas of what to put in the bags.

The boys and I assembled the bags when we got home.

 We included:

water bottle
dried fruit
nuts (this might not be a good idea for all homeless people as many do not have teeth. Should have thought of that. We were going for a punch of nutrition.)
hard candies
granola bars

There are many other possible ideas!

We made a bunch of them and put them in a box which we now keep in our van. We can't wait for the opportunity to share them and offer the blessing to someone in need!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

And Now He is 15

This little baby of mine. My sweet, squishy little Aiden has gone and turned 15. It's been a big year for him: starting high school and early-morning Seminary, making the football team and playing an undefeated season (even though he missed two weeks due to a concussion). He's being challenged in new ways and he's growing. And growing is sometimes painful. But this boy has a wonderful ability to evaluate himself and step back in line if he's fallen out. He can rein in his temper after a satisfying explosion and say he's sorry. He is both tough and tender. I love watching him grow.

Aiden does so much to help our household run smoothly. He gets himself up and off to Seminary, he's responsible about his school work and schedule, he is the best big brother to Conor, always willing to play a game of chess or SkipBo. He takes care of things at home when I have to go to work. I am proud of him and so grateful for him. We'd gone to pick out his presents a few days prior. He chose a new football and a chair for his room. But I wanted him to feel especially loved and appreciated on his birthday.

I worked the night before, so I was sleeping until about 1pm, when I couldn't stay asleep any longer with the excitement on my mind. I had a lot to do to get ready for his birthday celebration that night and then Thanksgiving the following day.

On Tuesday, Conor had a day off from school, so he and I made a long banner to hang in Aiden's room. We decorated each letter, and then I hid it away.

I hung that up in his bedroom (he still has it hanging. . . he loves it!) Never mind the blankets tacked up for curtains. That's getting taken care of for Christmas. Shhh!

Then I went out and bought a dozen helium balloons to put in his room. He was so surprised by those little simple acts. He wasn't expecting them at all and it really made him happy. (Oh, and he's getting real bedding for Christmas too!)

I made one of his favorites for dinner: Taco Salad. He had eaten a three entree plate from Panda Express just an hour before, but was still able to put this away too. The boy can eat!

He opened cards and was delighted to get some cash. Teenagers love cash.

And after a little break (while I put pies in the oven), we enjoyed cake. Aiden chose carrot cake again this year. It's his favorite.

Here's our attempt at a birthday selfie. Do I look tired? That's because I was! But so happy. I love my Aiden.

Fifteen. Wow.

Later that evening, I found him in his room, shirtless (like he is most of the time), doing Rubik's Cube challenges with his brother. He proclaimed it his best birthday ever. But he says that every year.

Apple Turkeys, Pajamas, Two Dinners, and Scrubs: The Best of Thanksgiving

Up until the week of Thanksgiving, I wasn't quite sure how I would pull the whole thing off. I was scheduled to work Tuesday night and Thursday night, and Aiden's birthday was Wednesday. This year it was only to be me and the boys for Turkey Day. Lyndsay decided to stay up in Utah to save the gas money and to stay focused on her classes, since she'd be home in a few weeks at the end of term anyway. I knew I'd have to do something, and the boys were looking to me to make it happen. I assured them there would be food.

After I woke up on Wednesday afternoon (having worked Tuesday night), I scrambled to get Aiden's birthday festivities accomplished. (More on that in a separate post.) Once cake was eaten and dinner was cleaned up, I did what Thanksgiving prep I could. That included baking the pies (I only did pumpkin this year), baking the rolls, and laying out the bread for the stuffing. This is a yearly tradition that my mom always did the night before Thanksgiving.

Before going to bed, we lay out the bread (one loaf per pan of stuffing desired). I only made one batch this year.

By morning, it's pretty stale and ready to be torn up by the children. Conor got the job this year.

Then I add the onions and celery that have been sautéed in butter, the herbs, salt and pepper, and enough chicken broth to make it moist. Into the oven it goes. (Or, into the bird, but I didn't do that this year.)

Simple and delicious.

I also only cooked a turkey breast this year. Since it was just the three of us, and we only like the white meat anyway, it made sense.

While the food was cooking, we watched Christmas movies and the Charlie Brown Thanksgiving special. Then we did our other Thanksgiving tradition dating back to my childhood, and made apple turkeys.

The kids never outgrow it. Poor Lyns missed out.

Dinner was ready around 2pm, which is when we like to eat our big meal. We talked about our blessings and Conor made several toasts, which is his favorite thing to do at meal time. We ate contentedly, even though we were only three. I love these boys and I was not going to miss a chance to celebrate Thanksgiving with them, even if I was missing my other children and feeling stretched thin.

Just the basics this year, but all the good stuff. During dinner, I realized I was still in my pajamas. Oh well. I suppose that was a compromise worth making.

We worked together to get the meal cleaned up, I took a nap for about an hour and a half, then got into the shower and got ready to leave for work.

Thankfully, it was a pretty quiet night on the unit. One of the nurses was kind enough to bring a full Thanksgiving meal for us from Trader Joe's (her husband works there). Around midnight, we carved another turkey and enjoyed another delicious meal.

I love the night shift! I got to eat one turkey dinner in my pajamas and the other in scrubs! That's how to do it!

Really, I count my job and my new friends as some of the biggest and best blessings of this year. I can't believe how lucky I am to love what I do and to truly love all the women I get to work with. Their friendships have been a balm to my soul and a steadying force in my life when other things are rocky. This year, they helped turn me into a real Labor and Delivery nurse, and I am so grateful.

I marvel at how God balances our lives. He cannot prevent the trials and the pain we must experience, but He always makes sure we have hefty doses of blessings. His loving kindness has been so apparent to me this year, once again.