Monday, December 31, 2012

New Year's Eve

We decided to have a few families over to celebrate the New Year with us tonight.  It was super casual, mostly eating and playing games.  We invited our neighbors and some of our closest friends from Church and hoped they would all have fun together.  

Not only did they have FUN together, they had a BLAST.  This group was so perfectly and evenly matched, I could not have planned it any better.  No one was bored.  There were enough games, and everyone had a friend.  Perfect!  And when the kids are happy, the adults are happy.  The eight of us played games and had great conversation and listened to the awesome 70s playlist that the Scout Master personally put together for me!  

I can't think of a better way to celebrate an amazing 2012 and launch an equally amazing 2013, than with great friends.  I love these people so much and I'm so grateful that they are part of my life and my kids' lives.  I look forward to many more celebrations with them in the coming years.

Happy 2013 to all of you.  I hope this year is everything you want it to be!

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Notes From Church

I did something scary today.  I played a piano solo in Sacrament meeting.  I don't know why I always get so I was seriously shaking up there.  It was the craziest thing.  I've practiced and practiced this song.  And I've played it perfectly in the the privacy of my own home.  But something about playing for a lot of other people is absolutely terrifying.  BUT I did it anyway.  And it was really beautiful.  I don't know if everyone else liked it, but I loved playing it.  My hands were so shaky at the beginning that I came close to messing up a few times, but I caught it.  And then right in the middle of the song at the key change, which is my favorite part, I stopped thinking and just let my fingers do their thing.  For just a second, in the middle of that song, I forgot about all the people in the building and only thought about the people who love me.  I pictured their faces and heard their voices and saw their smiles of encouragement and I played the heck out of that song. And it worked!!  Hooray!!

I know I'm supposed to play the piano.  I know that I've been given this talent so that I can contribute.  I know there's a reason I feel compelled to practice certain songs and that I'm drawn to certain music.  I walked toward that vision today and it worked.  

Silent Night/Still Still Still

Here's what I can listen to it if you want, although this recording isn't me.  It sounds pretty close, though.  :)

It's kinda fun to do scary things on Sunday!

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Sea World at Christmas

On Christmas Eve, the Scout Master and I had a crazy idea to surprise the kids with one last trip to Sea World in San Antonio before our passes expired.  We have never been to SA in the winter, and we were pretty intrigued by the thought of Sea World at Christmas...."where the season meets the sea."

The weather forecast looked hopeful, and about 15 degrees warmer than Dallas for the weekend, so we happily loaded the van and drove off for our adventure bright and early yesterday morning.  

Sea World is beautiful during the Christmas season, and until it got dark, the weather was pretty darn perfect, too.  The Scout Master and a couple of the kids managed to get on a the roller coasters, and we hit all three of the big shows.  Unfortunately that's about all we were able to do because the park was completely PACKED with people.  Who knew Christmas was such an ideal time to visit Sea World?  We had forgotten about the Alamo Bowl scheduled for this afternoon, so we ran into A LOT of football fans, including both the UT and Oregon State bands!  Despite the crowds, we had a really great time.  Lots of togetherness,  and a really great way to break up the monotony of a two week vacation from school.  We stopped at a few of the outlet malls on the way home and zipped through the UT campus in Austin so that I could breathe a little orange blood into my children, and we made it home by 8:30ish.  

Here is my favorite part of this weekend and every other family vacation that we've ever been on...
I absolutely LOVE having all of my chickens in one space.  I'm not crazy about sharing one bathroom, and I'm sure the lack of privacy would be irritating after awhile, but to be stuffed in a hotel room for one or two nights is the most peaceful, content, joy-inducing thing I can think of.  I woke up at 4:00am because Mack is getting a pretty bad cold.  I gave him some water and then walked the two feet back to my own bed and hopped in.  For a minute, I just sat there in the dark and counted four little blessings and one larger snoring one beside me, and then I went back to sleep.  I love these guys so much!

Friday, December 28, 2012

High Five for Friday

1.  We watched the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy this week.  I love these movies so much. 

2.  These little guys were a happy surprise in my refrigerator this week.  June has a cute sense of humor, doesn't she?? 

3.  Indoor target practice because it was snowing outside.

4.  Christmas/Going Away party for all of Spell Girl's friends.

5.  Turning off all the alarms and SLEEPING IN all week!!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

White Christmas

I'm not a big fan of snow, but when it comes down on Christmas morning and lingers just long enough for everything to look like it's been dusted in powdered sugar, and you know you won't have to drive anywhere in it, it's perfect.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas Eve Jammies

Today has been longer than I wanted it to be, not quite as memorable as I had hoped, and much more frustrating.  I'm always caught off guard at how darkness can creep into places where there should only be light.  The month has been filled with too much rushing and buying, and not enough being still and reflecting.  I always try so hard to make everyone's dreams come true at Christmas and that's a pretty impossible goal.  I want the presents to be perfect, the food to be delicious, and the decorations to be beautiful.  I want to remember every single person and to be generous and thoughtful.  I want it to be a day as good as they've all imagined it in their heads.  I never want anyone to feel disappointed.  And 24 hours before Christmas is always when the weight of all my lofty expectations starts to crush me.  I've spent the day paring down the endless list, and tossing out the things that don't matter.  

Fortunately, the four little believers in my house missed most of the melt down I had today.  And as usual, they spent all of Christmas Eve excited and happy.  They jumped up and down and ran to their rooms to put on their new jammies tonight...all footies this year, by request.  Their excitement is contagious.  And thankfully, because of them and because of an infinitely patient Scout Master, I'm going to bed tonight realizing that what's under the tree doesn't matter as much as the love those four put into all the little presents they bought for each other.  And that the turkey may not get into the oven by 6:00am, but it's not as important as the fact that we have a kitchen overflowing with food and a warm home to live in.  And that the hope that comes from the Savior's birth all those years ago is a far greater gift than anything I could ever buy or make for them.    

I'm grateful that today is over and that we can always count on tomorrow.  I hope the day finds all of you exactly where you want to be, surrounded by people you love, and filled with the joy of the season.  

Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Notes from Church

Sometimes church isn't what I expect.  The Christmas program is always one of my favorites because it's the one time of the year when we get to sing and sing and sing those beautiful Christmas hymns.  Oh, how I wish we could sing them all year long!  This year's program wasn't quite what I expected.  We have a new choir director who has had to work against overwhelming odds to pull together even one song for Christmas.  We sang Joy to the World.  But that was it.  The Primary sang.  And there was one other special musical number.  And a handful of speakers who spoke about things other than Christmas.  We discussed Moroni Chapter 7 in Gospel Doctrine, and "Seeing the Potential in Others" in Relief Society.  Why do we not set aside the entire day to talk about the birth of the Savior?  And sing songs that are about the birth of the Savior?  What a shame that December is now nearly over and we haven't once sung "O Little Town of Bethlehem."  (sigh...)

But even though the meetings weren't exactly Spirit-filled for me today, the Spirit still managed to sneak up on usual.

There is an older couple in our ward who recently moved here from Arizona.  They are retired, empty nesters and they are delightful.  We had the pleasure of sitting in front of them for the first time today in church.  When the opening hymn started, I heard myself singing and recognized the familiar voices around me, but there was a new voice from behind me that I had not heard before.  It was this new brother behind me singing so beautifully that I had to stop and just listen.  His voice was so clear and so perfect that I was completely overwhelmed.  I barely sang the hymn and instead just chose to listen to his beautiful voice for all four measures.  I listened for him to sing the Sacrament hymn and later the closing hymn, and that satisfied my longing for beautiful music today.  His voice behind me, standing out above all the other voices in the congregation, was better than the Primary and the choir and all the speakers combined.  I told him afterward that it was a pleasure to sit in front of them today.  (And I will secretly be finding ways to sit near them in the future.)

I found out later that this man used to be in the St. Louis Opera Theatre.  Well, no wonder he was so amazing...

And I also found out that he now suffers from dementia.  So, even though he has been blessed with this amazing and beautiful gift, he isn't able to perform publicly anymore because he can't trust his mind.  He is able to retain things from the past, but has difficulty with short term memory.  I felt so privileged to have accidentally sat in front of that couple today.  I don't know how many other people will get to hear that voice since he doesn't share it publicly anymore, but I loved that little tender mercy of getting to be one of the few.  

I am so grateful for the talents we've been given.  I don't understand all of the mysteries of the world...why people suffer with illness and mental challenges, why we have to wait for things, why we don't all have the same abilities and talents, and why some of us choose not to share what we have.  But I am so grateful for the beautiful tenor voice that sang behind me today, and that even though it is impeded at the moment, it is still such a wonderful gift to the people who get to sit near it.  He reminded me to use my own talents more often, and that time flies by very very quickly and situations change.  I am quite sure that sweet man's voice will be numbered among those angelic voices that will bless all of us in the next life.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

State Champions!

Football playoff games at Cowboy Stadium are one of the amazing perks of living in Dallas.  I LOVE this place.  And since I would NEVER in my life be caught dead at an actual Cowboys game, this is the best of both worlds...high school football and an amazing stadium  to watch it in!  

The game didn't start until 8:00pm, but we decided to leave at 4:00pm so that we could stop for dinner on the way and still be there in time to get good seats.  
Everyone felt like hamburgers and since the final days of my way-too-carnivorous year are rapidly coming to an end, I agreed.  This place is a total DIVE, but holy cow! the hamburgers were amazing.  If you have to have a last hamburger of the year, this is the place to have it!

When we got to the stadium, we realized that about 20,000 other people also had the same idea to get to the stadium early, so we texted the Rods (who are always our backup when we don't have good seats) and we made our way up to Section 313 where they had already been for an hour before we arrived.  

Cowboy Stadium is a little like a maze, though, and we ended up snaking through the hallways on the upper levels of the stadium.  Flowering Buttercup found a soul mate, though, so we stopped to take a picture.  (I have no idea which Cowboy this is.  I wonder if he knows he has ice on his head??

I tried out the panorama feature on my phone because you can't really capture Cowboy Stadium without it.  

We sat in Section 313 at about the 30 yard line with 15 of our favorite Allen Eagles fans.

I'm not sure that I really even watched the game on the field, though, because this giant Jumbo Tron (which is as big as my whole house, I think) was so beautifully distracting.  There were almost 50,000 people in attendance at this game!

Here's the band on the Jumbo...

The game was amazing and exciting and I had to jump to my feet more than once to cheer my head off!  And after a pretty intense 4th Quarter, we all celebrated our State Champion Allen Eagles.  Love this team!  Love this high school!  And LOVE LOVE LOVE Cowboy Stadium.  What an amazing way to end a great season.  

Friday, December 21, 2012

A Fleet of Snowmen

Here's what I've been doing for the last two days!  (I'm sure there is probably a way I could have divided up the bulk of this work and spread it out over the entire week, but that's not usually how I roll.  I prefer to save it all for the very last minute and then race around in a mad rush trying to pull it all together.  That just seems to work for me.)

In October, I agreed to be the Party Mom for Mack's 4th grade class.  How ridiculous is that?  That is so far from the way I think anymore, it's not even funny, which is probably a lot of the reason I left the details of this party till the very last minute.  There are six 4th grade classes, each with their own party mom, and at this school, they form a Party Team and make all the parties for the grade level totally identical.  We have a lead Party Mom, but I'm not sure which one she is, who called a meeting early in November to get ideas for the Christmas party.  I missed that meeting.  I received email after email with details and suggestions, some of which seemed way too much for me to handle, so I just volunteered to make the treat for all the classes.  They had decided on a snowman theme, so I remembered a cute Melted Snowman cookie that last year's Party Mom used in June's class, and thought I could just re-create that.  Sugar cookies are my thing.  I can make them in my sleep.  So I knew that mass producing snowmen cookies would be much easier than planning a game or a craft.  I wasn't intimidated at all by 132 cookies.  

And then yesterday I started making them...

It wasn't difficult.  It just took A LOT longer than I expected.  

This is the sugar cookie recipe I have used since the Scout Master and I got married.  It is the BEST ever.  
And it came out of this recipe book from the first ward we were in when we were newly married.  LOVE those ward cookbooks!!

I made four batches and stopped counting cookies after I got to 100 because there were clearly more than enough.

I frosted them with royal super favorite thing on the planet for decorating sugar cookies.  It's just egg whites and powdered sugar and it sets SO fast.  This was the fun part for me...because as it turns out, I'm much better at mass production than I am at the precision work.  

I frosted 8 cookies at a time, and let them sit on a wire rack while I partially melted large marshmallows to look like snowman heads.

It was a little tricky to get just the right number of marshmallows and just the right time.  If you leave them too long in the microwave they double in size and are way too big to be proportionate to the rest of the cookie body.  And they're too melty to pick up.  (Don't forget to spray the plate with cooking spray because they definitely are sticky!)  
I attached the melty marshmallows to the still sticky icing and then threw on three mini chocolate chips to look like buttons that had randomly melted off. 
After the icing was completely set (a couple of hours) I enlisted the help of some daughters to draw faces and pipe scarves on them.  (I did a batch or two BEFORE I figured out that the chocolate chips go on so much easier while the icing is still wet.)
I kept repeating all of that stuff up there until it was time to make dinner.  Then I started again until it was time to leave for Spell Girl's bass recital.  And then I started again after all the kids went to bed.  It was a long and tedious night.  By midnight, this entire table was covered with snowmen.  And by 12:30, I could no longer think, or see, or detail anymore little melty snowmen, so I opted for sleep.

I was nervous this morning when I woke up, and I fully expected to have to RUSH to finish all the details I had left last night.  Before I even walked into the kitchen at 6:00am, I said a prayer and asked Heavenly Father to make up whatever difference there was left.  I said, "Here's what I have... these messy-looking cookies, these good intentions, and this desire for my son to remember that his mom was involved in his 4th grade life.  Please make it enough."  When I finally mustered up enough courage to get off my knees and venture into the kitchen, I saw these adorable little faces.  It was like a fleet of little snowmen waiting to greet me and get started with the day.  They were so much cuter than when I left them the night before.  
I divided them up into six trays, one for each 4th grade class.

And then I stacked the trays into my favorite dessert carrier.  
And by 7:00am, my little fleet was ready to go to the elementary school and have a Christmas party!

It's such a small thing to be grateful for, but my little snowman fleet made me so happy this morning.  I needed extra help today.  I needed to know when to stop, what was good enough, and how to find joy in the things that mattered.  The cookies were important, but there were other more important things.  I'm grateful that even though the cookies didn't change overnight, my perspective did.  I'm grateful that it felt like I had extra hours in my day today.  And I'm grateful that even without the Diet DP that I desperately wanted, I still had plenty of energy to pull off a party for 17 fourth graders.  It was a good day.