Merry Little Christmas

Christmas has come and gone once again, leaving in its wake a mountain of torn packaging, and a bunch of toys and gizmos that we'll have to get rid of to make room for next year's haul. After all the dust has settled, hopefully we've made some lasting memories too.

My family had their annual Christmas party the Saturday before Christmas Eve at my sister's place. The great thing about having parties there is that Eddie and his cousin Sarah will go off to play in a far corner of the house, not to be seen for hours. Of course when they do show up again, Eddie's wearing something like this.

Violet shows off her surprised face as she opens a present.

Fast forward to Christmas Eve. We spent most of the day at Kristen's grandma's place in Huntington. Unfortunately I didn't get any photos while we were there. Back at home that night, we had some delicious Caprese panini for dinner.

We got the kids in their jammies, read the Nativity story, and let Eddie open his Christmas McQueen before bed.

Violet flashed her first hint of possessiveness on Christmas morning. She and Eddie nearly came to blows over who got to play with Jessie first.

I continue to roll out a few action figures from my Star Wars collection for Eddie every holiday. I was especially excited to give him "Disco Lando" as he was dubbed back in the day, due to his bell bottoms and Travolta-like poseability. And just look at that six pack!

Eddie's main present was a new big boy bed. It takes up most of his tiny room, but we got him a loft bed so at least there is still some floor space underneath to play. Last but not least, here is this year's Christmas card.


Holiday Traditions

When I was growing up in Price, we lived just a half hour away from my Grandma and Grandpa. We spent a lot of time at their house. Some of my favorite memories are from the Christmases spent at Grandma's. Every Christmas Eve, the entire family would gather at Grandma's house for dinner. After stuffing ourselves silly, Grandma would give each of us grandkids one present to open -- our Christmas pajamas. When we were small, Grandma would sew our pajamas, so they would all match.

With my brothers on my first Christmas, 1984

After changing into our pajamas and eating some dessert, we would head home. On our drive, we always played a game where we would shout out where we saw Christmas lights. I imagine this was created by my parents to keep my brothers and I from bugging each other, but as we drove, we'd call out, "Christmas lights on the left!" or "Christmas lights on the right!" (I still find myself doing this sometimes.) We would arrive home and head to bed, anxious for the wonders that the morning would bring.

Posing with my cousins in our matching p.j.'s, 1991.

Since my Dad worked shift work at the power plant, sometimes he would have to work the night before Christmas and wouldn't get home until 7:30 AM. It was excruciating trying to wait all the way until 7:30 before we could open our presents. We would divvy up the gifts and the chaos would ensue. After all our presents were open at home, we'd eat breakfast, get dressed, and go back to Grandma's for more presents and more food.

My family had our fair share of Christmas traditions as well. Since we lived far away from extended family for most of my childhood, we always just did our own thing. And over the years, we developed a pretty elaborate Christmas Eve program—complete with musical numbers, a tree lighting ceremony, and a delicious spread of holiday goodies. When we were younger, we would don makeshift costumes and act out the nativity. In later years, we were content to listen as my dad narrated it from the Bible. The night ended with getting to open one present before bed.

On Christmas morning, my brother and I were always the first ones to wake up. We'd sneak down to our sisters room and crawl into their beds so we could gang up on our parents. Just when it seemed we might explode with anticipation, we had to wait some more for my dad to light the fireplace. Once it was finally time to open presents, instead of a paper-ripping free-for-all, everyone took turns opening a present so we could see what they got and what their reaction was. Factoring in a short break for breakfast, present opening often stretched late into the morning. My siblings and I always tried to have the last present left to open.

New Traditions
Since we spent last Christmas at home with just us, Dave and I decided to start some Christmas traditions of our own. We want our children to grow up knowing that Christmas is not only about presents, but more importantly, about celebrating the birth of the Savior, so we have tried to include spiritual traditions. We make a trip to Temple Square each December to see the lights, the nativities, and the Christus. Eddie has always loved the temple and he looks forward to our trip downtown each year.

This year, we also went to see the holiday lights at Thanksgiving Point. Eddie loved seeing the moving lights, like the gingerbread boy flipping over the road and the penguin sliding down the igloo. He especially liked going to see the live reindeer in the plaza, even though all they did was lay on the ground looking suicidal.

A new tradition that we started this year (inspired by Dave's sister Cheryl) is using Christmas books as our "advent calendar" to count down to Christmas. We already had several Christmas or winter-themed books, but I purchased a few and checked a few more out from the library. We started on the 11th and have opened up one book each night. The last book to open is The Night Before Christmas, then on Christmas Eve, we will tell Eddie the story of Jesus' birth from the Bible.


Christmas Wishes

For Dave
Van Halen has long been one of my favorite bands, but they have been a certifiable apocalypse for the last 15 years. They've botched reunions, best of compilations, a Rock 'N' Roll Hall of Fame induction, and even an installment of Guitar Hero—with a whole lot of nothin' in between. But now, the band is reportedly prepping a new album for release early next year—their first since 1998, and first with David Lee Roth since 1984. I'm doing my best to keep expectations in check after a decade and a half of disappointment, but this album had better solve world hunger.

For Kristen
Recently, Kristen was with the kids at Port of Subs without me, so of course Eddie needed to go potty. It was already a struggle helping him up onto the toilet seat while still holding Violet, but then there was the little detail of the bathroom floor being freshly mopped. I don't laugh out loud very often, but I sure did when I received the text from Kristen informing me that she may have pulled her groin. After somehow recovering from doing the involuntary splits without dropping Violet, she was reminded of a handy item from Dave Barry's 2008 gift guide: the restroom baby hanger.

For Eddie
Eddie loves his share of boy stuff—Star Wars, superheroes, cars, etc. But spending most days home with Kristen means he has seen Pride & Prejudice more than a few times. By now, he has really gained a decent understanding of marriage and society in 19th-century England. His favorite character is "Mr. Jingley," but we couldn't find any good merchandise that features him. Instead, I think he'll happily settle for this Mr. Darcy muscle shirt.

Alternate: A Magic 8-Ball that answers "why" questions.

For Violet
I would say all Violet wants for Christmas is her two front teeth, but she's not picky. Any teeth will do at this point.


Christmas Crafts

My Christmas to-do list has been pretty long this year and seemed to be getting longer by the day. Luckily, I have started checking some stuff off! My big project this year was to make stockings for our family. We toyed with the idea last year, but were too indecisive on choosing fabric and they never happened. Since Violet needed a stocking this year, we were finally able to make a decision and picked out our fabrics. Then I got sewing.

I combined two different tutorials. I used this tutorial for the instructions on how to make a cuff. Then I used this tutorial for everything else.

Unfortunately, the project was sidetracked when my sewing machine developed a problem. It was unusable, but my friend Libby came to the rescue and let me borrow her machine, which I used to quilt our stockings. Her amazing machine inspired me to purchase a new sewing machine of my own which I used to finish the stockings up.

I wanted to have our names on our stockings so they didn't seem so generic. I have very little experience with embroidery, but I didn't let that stop me. We picked out a font, printed the names out the size we needed, then I traced it onto the fabric and taught myself embroidery.

I finally finished them up tonight and I think they turned out pretty well.

Now on to the rest of my to-do list, which includes aprons and hooded towels, which I'll post once they're finished.


Lights and Leaves

Eddie is going through a bit of a rage phase lately. When we attempted to get the kids bundled up to visit Temple Square on Tuesday, he had an epic meltdown over which coat he was going to wear. After our multiple attempts to reason with him failed to calm his growling and screaming, I got to pull out the parental classic, "Fine! We're staying home!"

By the time Wednesday evening rolled around, a contrite Eddie willfully submitted to our choice of coat, and we enjoyed a mostly pleasant evening downtown.

Would you believe I had to swap two out of three heads in this photo? Bet you can't guess which two.

I was interested by all the trees on the temple grounds that still had their fall leaves. Thus I ended up with a few dozen closeups of lights and leaves, and little else unfortunately.


Love & Hate

In honor of Kristen's 27th birthday today, I have compiled some of her greatest loves and most passionate hates. Happy birthday, honey!

Love // Mashed Potatoes
Hate // Stuffing

Love // Christian Bale
Hate // Tobey Maguire

Love // Sewing
Hate // Washing Dishes

Love // Back to Nature's Chocolate Delight Granola
Hate // Oatmeal

Love // Death Cab For Cutie
Hate // Neil Diamond

Love // Reading, Writing
Hate // Arithmetic

Love // Dr. Pepper
Hate // Lemon Water

Love // Daniel Craig
Hate // Roger Moore

Love // Kids Sleeping
Hate // Kids Whining

Love // Cheesecake
Hate // Blue Cheese


The Five Stages of a Hot-N-Ready Pizza

1. Fresh from the heat lamp
You'd better step on it. Your $5 is living on borrowed time.

2. Still warm
Don't think. Get out of the car. Go straight to the kitchen. Hork down three slices before you can even say "dinner's ready."

3. Lukewarm
But why must you eat so fast? Well, there is an unspecified temperature barrier that, when crossed, makes the Hot-N-Ready go from "eh, not bad" to downright inedible.

4. Cold
Inexplicably, the Hot-N-Ready regains a certain "I hate myself for eating this, but this kinda reminds me of college" quality when chilled.

5. Reheated
You fool! Once you attempt to reheat the Hot-N-Ready, it crosses over into treacherous gastronomic territory that even drunken hobos fear to tread. You should have just eaten it cold.


Our Oregon Trail, Pt. 3

I had to be back in Portland on Monday for my press check. Due to the uncertain nature of printing, my press time kept getting pushed back, which allowed us a more leisurely drive back from the coast.

We stopped to see the Portland Temple, located a half hour south of the city. This is one of the only temples I have been to where you can't see it until you are pulling into the parking lot. It is very well hidden amid a cluster of towering evergreens. The grounds were quite peaceful, with autumn leaves gently raining down all around us.

Next up we checked out the Chinese Gardens in the heart of Old Town, had lunch at Besaw's, and took a stroll through the Nob Hill shopping district before my press time finally arrived.

While I was working, Kristen and Violet visited Pittock Mansion (and noted the location of a Ben & Jerry's for future reference). After a break in my press schedule, we had some amazing pizza at Apizza Scholls, and started our Christmas shopping at Powell's. My second press check rudely arrived at 3:30 am, but at least it concluded the business end of my trip.

What visit to Portland would be complete without getting VD? Voodoo Doughnut, that is. We hit up the famous shop for breakfast on Tuesday morning. This beauty I am showcasing has an unrepeatable name, but is decadently topped with chocolate frosting, oreo chunks, and streaks of peanut butter. We weren't daring enough to try the maple bacon doughnut.

Doughnut power fueled our exploration of the Columbia River Gorge, highlighted by the majestic Multnomah Falls. Throughout the trip, Kristen and I had been searching for the perfect souvenir for Eddie. Here in the gift shop, we found a sparkly blue toy car with a surfboard on its roof. Eddie loved it, although he initially mistook the surfboard for an ironing board.

From the falls we continued east to Hood River. At Panorama Point above the town we surveyed the surrounding orchards, but the sun was in the wrong spot to get a super clear view of Mt. Hood. (Luckily, we got a surprise overhead view of the snow-capped peak from our plane window on the flight home.)

On our final morning we rode the Portland Aerial Tram, then went to the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry. We didn't enjoy the museum quite as much as we had hoped, due to it being flooded with hundreds of middle school kids on field trips ('nuff said). But that mild disappointment couldn't dampen how much we enjoyed this vacation. We already want to go back.


Our Oregon Trail, Pt. 2

After leaving Cannon Beach, we carried on up the coast to Astoria. Situated near the mouth of the Columbia River, this picturesque little town has served as a location for such classics of cinema as Short Circuit, Kindergarten Cop, Free Willy, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III, and most famously, The Goonies.

Since Kristen is the resident goonie in our family, it was her honor to pose in front of Mikey's house, aka the goondocks (although she couldn't be convinced to do the truffle shuffle). Our other stop on the Goonies tour was the Clatsop County Jail, now serving as the Oregon Film Museum.

The museum itself is pretty small and only took about 15 minutes to explore. You can peruse posters of movies shot in Oregon, recreate famous scenes from said movies, check out the jail cell of Jake Fratelli, get your mug shot taken, and even leave messages for the Goonies. (Kelly needs to rethink her life, methinks.)

Next up was the Astoria Column, which sits atop Coxcomb Hill, the highest point in the surrounding area. 164 spiral steps took us to the top.

After catching our breath, we enjoyed the panorama of Astoria and the adjacent countryside. (Click to enlarge)

Violet proved herself to be a world class traveler on the trip. It was our unique opportunity to remember a time not so long ago when we only had one kid, with one notable difference—Eddie was never this agreeable. Kristen and I also speculated that there must not be very many babies in Oregon because Violet commanded the attention of complete strangers everywhere we went. (As opposed to Utah where a half dozen babies come spilling out of every minivan.)

Our hotel was situated on the river, right under the Astoria–Megler Bridge that connects Oregon to Washington. After a walk along the waterfront at sunset, an otherwise peaceful dinner was spoiled for Kristen by a now infamous bowl of "black glump" soup. You can ask her for details.

Next: The City


Our Oregon Trail, Pt. 1

With Stampin' Up once again sending me to Portland this past week for a press check, I decided to bring Kristen with me and make an extended getaway out of it. Violet got to tag along too on account of still drinking momma milk, while Eddie got left behind with his Aunt Cheryl and favorite cousin Sarah. We dropped him off on Saturday morning and said our goodbyes. But as we lingered to chat with Cheryl for a few minutes, Eddie notified us, "Please, you should go." Okay then. That separation anxiety phase from a few months ago has officially passed.

We arrived in Portland at lunchtime on Saturday, so we stopped in for some gourmet grilled cheese and tomato soup at the Grilled Cheese Grill—an old trailer and school bus that now serves as a makeshift diner. The unofficial motto of the city is "Keep Portland Weird," and little joints like this are making it happen.

Once our bellies were thoroughly warmed, we headed for the Oregon Coast by way of the Tillamook State Forest. After a drive through the towering trees and a lovely spectrum of fall colors, we arrived at Cape Meares. Highlights included an old lighthouse as well as the "Octopus Tree," a large spruce without a central trunk, but with limbs sprawling out horizontally before turning upward (allegedly an ancient Indian burial site). We stayed the night in Garibaldi, and feasted on freshly caught fish and chips.

Thanks to the time difference and daylight savings, we woke up extra early on Sunday. We had breakfast at the hotel, then began our drive up the coast. We stopped at Rockaway Beach to enjoy the sound of the surf and take some photos of Violet on some gnarled driftwood.

We continued northward, stopping once at a scenic lookout to feed Violet and gaze at the powerful waves crashing onto the cliffs below.

By late morning, we arrived in Cannon Beach. We pulled off at the first beach entrance to check out Haystack Rock, which appeared to be only a little ways down the coast. Well, since the rock is so large, it appeared closer than it actually was, so we got a much longer walk than we bargained for. On the way back to the car we wandered through town, passing blocks and blocks of rental houses along the way. Just as we began wondering if we were ever going to see our car again, we found a small bakery where we could rest our sore feet and refuel with a chocolate chip ginger scone.

Next: The Goondocks