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Sunday, December 26, 2010

My best Christmas present

Dear Family and Friends,

The best Christmas present this year for me was this:

video

Taylor's meds were changed two weeks ago and we got to enjoy the effects as his body adjusted to the new dosage.  Five days of no seizures and watching Taylor laugh, giggle and show off his new deeper voice with some good guffaws.  The best was when he would laugh at the appropriate place taking us all by surprise.  Christmas Eve he started having seizures again and the laughing has died way down.  But it is still better than it was before the meds changed. We tried catching it on video several times but never could quite get it.  But I did catch the end of one laughing spell.

Monday we enjoyed our neighbor's open house.  They throw a big party every Christmas for their neighbors and friends and put out tons of treats.  So we eat a bunch of fudge and visit while kids run wild.  I think its a wonderful idea, instead of doing neighbor gifts.  Speaking of which, I did not do neighbor gifts this year while our counters and cookie jars literally run over from friends and neighbors dropping something by.  I feel like I need to stand up in church and apologize for my lack of gift giving.  We did work, church callings, teachers etc and then I was done for the year.  Overall, we have tried to do less year and hopefully enjoy it more, which I think has worked well overall.  And having only one dessert instead of three or four for Christmas worked just fine. 

Spencer and Allison had school Monday and Tuesday as they get out a week earlier in the spring than the other schools.  Tuesday morning we woke up a little later as our electricity was out due to a huge snow storm.  So we got ready by flashlight while Jeremy scraped the driveway.  Then he followed us in the truck as I drove everyone to school.  I was a little stressed as I was helping with both Spencer and Allison's Christmas parties so I had the stuff and organizing part of that plus I was bringing Taylor and Robyn with me plus I didn't get up super early to get a jump on everything as planned.  But I don't know why I worried as all the other moms were there doing their parts and everything worked great.  Robyn enjoyed eating waffles and doing crafts with Allison and then eating waffles and sewing surgical dolls for Primary Hospital with Spencer.  None of the kids needed lunch that day.  

Tuesday was spent with kids running around in snow suits with wild abandon up and down the street.  It was a good thing they soaked it in, as by the next day it was raining and rained off and since, melting most of the snow.  Wednesday the kids and I went to the BYU art museum (one of Spencer's favorite destinations - go figure).  They had a special Carl Bloch exhibit going on.  It was really an amazing experience.  The kids' favorite part was that you checked out an Ipad with headphones that took you around the exhibit.  You could hear and see art commentary, history of the painting and discussion by religion teachers about the significance of different paintings.  Then to counter all that culture we went to the creamery to buy some BYU ranch (Mimi, you got us hooked), hamburgers and ice cream.  And as we walked in we got a big surprise:


Robyn is on the posters for BYU kid's meals.  They took her picture last year but I never knew they actually used it. We all thought it was neat.

Jeremy's nail products first print came this week so he has started selling them online.  That has led to a bunch of work and coordination on his part.  I just get to enjoy the fancy nails.  And he is getting everything put together on the photo studio co-op and took us over to see it.  Right now its just a big warehouse with closets but next week it becomes the professional shooting studio.

For Christmas Eve we met Jason and Kelly and cousins at the ice skating rink.  We have done this for a few years and I love it.  Kids are so excited and bouncing around that if we didn't go somewhere to blow off steam I think I would loose it.  Santa drives the zamboni and Christmas music is playing.  Spencer lost it a bit and it made me wish that they had special holiday/vacation bi-polar medication - it would make life so much easier.  But he figured out how his ice skate should lace/feel and was able to enjoy the process.  Allison had gone ice skating earlier this week for a birthday party so her skills were all warmed up and she was doing laps around us.

On the way to the rink we met a group of deer.  Robyn kept talking about seeing Bambi.


Then we returned to our house for nachos and to watch Its a wonderful life.  Jeremy taught our kids a few years ago that Santa gets tired of cookies and would appreciate nachos.  Santa has left notes confirming this theory so now the tradition is set.

Our kids managed to contain themselves till 7 on Christmas day.  And then they waited some more as I got Taylor ready.  Jeremy had a small accident where he dropped his camera and his lens shattered so we waited some more.  But our Christmas prayers were answered as it was only his UV filter that broke and not anything else.  Christmas was a laid back affair with everyone happy and excited over their presents.  It wasn't really a toy year as kids had asked for things instead.  Jeremy disappeared for long periods of time as he enjoyed his new ipad.  Spencer kept watching his bean bag expand with shouts of excitement everytime it expanded an inch.  Allison taught Robyn how to ride her "big" bike. Jason and family came over that evening for dinner and presents and to play.  It was just a wonderful day.  Allison fell asleep that night in her new chair, in her new PJs, with her pillow pet held tightly in her arms. 

I have decided I like having Christmas on Saturday as I can't clean anything up today and instead we are just hanging out and enjoying being together with new books, games, and left overs to keep us occupied.  Hope you had a wonderful Christmas.

love, Heather

Mickey has claimed Allison's chair already as her own.
Spencer thinks he can sleep in his bean bag now.
Robyn was so excited that her legs only bend a little bit on her new bike.  On her old bike her knees practically touched her chin.
My mom made matching outfits for Robyn and her doll.  She is in heaven.  (Allison spent the afternoon doing a make-over on Robyn, hence the hair.)

Monday, December 20, 2010

Marinara Sauce


My friend Karen gave me this recipe.  It is the best marina sauce I have had.  Not overly tomato tasting its just right.  My kids think meatballs are required but I think marina sauce with some Parmesan cheese sprinkled on top is just perfect.   Karen got this from a Betty Crocker cookbook and I have changed it only slightly.

Marinara Sauce

1 chopped onion
2 cloves garlic minced
1/4 c chopped green bell pepper
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 can (14.5 oz) diced tomatoes, undrained
1 can (8 oz) tomato sauce
1 tsp dried basil leaves (or 1 Tbsp fresh)
1/2 tsp dried oregano leaves (or 1 1/2 tsp fresh)
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp fennel seed
1/8 tsp pepper
1 tsp sugar
A few shakes of red pepper flakes depending on how much spice you like.

In saucepan, heat oil for 1-2 minutes. Add onion, garlic, bell pepper and cook for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in canned tomatoes, tomato sauce, basil, oregano, salt, fennel seed, pepper, sugar and red pepper. Heat to boiling over high heat, then reduce heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes.  Serve over pasta.  Makes 4 servings.


Marinara sauce is not my family's favorite, they are too used to meat.  However if I throw in some meatballs then its the best meal ever in their opinion.  So I am happy that everyone is getting their vegies and they are happy their carnivore wants are being met.

Meatballs

1 lb ground hamburger
1 lb regular sausage, I prefer Jimmy Dean (you can use Italian if you like some spice)
1 1/2 c bread crumbs
1 onion, finely chopped
1 egg
salt and pepper
1 tsp nutmeg
4 oz tomato sauce (half of a small can)
2 c water with 2 tsp beef bouillon

1. Mix all but the beef bouillon mixture into tablespoon sized balls.
2. Heat 2 Tbsp oil in a large skillet over medium high heat.  Add half the balls at a time and brown well on each side (around 5-7 minutes a side).  Place browned meatball on a plate and brown the other half of the meatballs.  When the second half is browned, add the first batch back to the pan.
3. Pour the beef bouillon mixture over all the meatballs.  Reduce the heat to low and cover with a lid for one hour.
4. Remove the lid and return the heat medium high and cook until only a little liquid is left, around 15 minutes.


My friend and running buddy Diane introduced these to me last year when at the end of Ragnar she gave some to each of us.  They are easy to make, completely addictive and even when made by my inexpert hands with lots of little hands assisting they turn out looking scrumptious.  Diane pipes melted chocolate into little decorations on top by squeezing it out of a small ziplock with a hole cut in it.  She will even add food coloring to white chocolate for different colors on top.  I took the easy way out and just drizzled some leftover chocolate on top.  I have even seen them done with crushed heath bar, chopped nuts, crushed candy cane or sprinkles put on top while the chocolate is still warm.

Oreo Truffles

1 package of Oreo cookies (mint or regular)
1 8 oz box of low fat cream cheese
Dipping Chocolate

1. In a food processor (or blender) mix the Oreo cookies till they are crumbs.  Mix in the cream cheese until it is smooth.
2. Line a pan with parchment paper.
3. Scoop out a tablespoon at a time and roll into balls.  Place each ball on the lined pan.  When done, place the pan in the freezer for at least an hour.
4. Melt milk, dark, or white chocolate in a bowl.  I melt mine in the microwave till it is almost soft and then stir it with a spoon to melt it the rest of the way.  You want the chocolate to not be too hot or runny.
5. Take the balls out of the freezer.  Stick a ball with a toothpick, stick it into the chocolate till covered using a spoon to help spread the chocolate on the ball.  Hold the ball over the bowl for a minute to let any drips come off and then place it back on the parchment paper. Twist the toothpick out carefully using the tip to help smooth the chocolate over any holes that are left.  Repeat with all the oreo balls.  Drizzle with chocolate if you want for decoration.  (If doing sprinkles you have to do the sprinkles almost right after you dip each ball while the chocolate is still sticky.)  Place the pan in the fridge till the chocolate has set, at least an hour.  Store in the fridge (or freezer) till ready to eat.  Makes 36 balls.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

A week of parties


Dear Friends and Family,

This week I think we might have overdone the parties but it was fun!  Monday night Jeremy enjoyed an early birthday/Christmas present with his brother Jason by going up to a Jazz game and sitting second row behind the basket and enjoying all the other VIP benefits.  He came home happy and with a hoarse voice from screaming to cheer on the game.  The kids and I spent the evening running around plates of fudge to their church teachers and scout/activity leaders.  The kids all wrote their thank you notes and were so thrilled to do something for their teachers.  Thinking I would help foster a sense of gratitude in them for all their teachers do I asked them why their teachers did so much for them.  I was told it was because their teachers loved them and wanted to be with them.  Robyn said this with a big grin because she thinks she is just so cute that her teachers want to always be with her.  Spencer is convinced his scout leader would rather hang out with his boys than anyone else.  I am just glad that they have such amazing people in their lives who cheer them on.

Tuesday Allison had Activity days where she made a gingerbread house masterpiece - that fell apart in front of our house as she came home leading to lots of tears.  The next morning though she realized that a broken gingerbread house is one that is easier to eat and all tears were forgotten.  Spencer with a very brave scout leader cut up firewood with an ax and started his own fire.  He came home with a band-aid, a s'more covered mouth and a huge sense of pride.  His to be 12 year old scout leader came by with his form to sign up for what merit badges he wants to do at camp this June.  He is going to be gone for a whole week!  I am not sure I am ready for that - although he sure thinks he is.  He has very high expectations of what will happen in rifle shooting class.

I debated before the movie came out whether I would take Spencer to see Harry Potter 7.  Then I heard from everyone and seeing the trailers that it was not a kid movie.  Spencer was a little bummed as we have done dates to see all the others.  So Wednesday I snuck out with my friend to see it.  I felt like I was playing hookey on a school night.  It was a great movie (definitely not for kids) and then since they stopped halfway through book 7, I had to spend the rest of the week reading the book to remember all the details as to how it ended.

Thursday Jeremy enjoyed his last non-middle age birthday.  Kids and I made him an omelet for breakfast.  Robyn was quite perturbed that he wasn't getting a birthday cake but when I found out it was because she wanted a piece of birthday cake, I just substituted a cookie from our neighbors and peace reigned once again.  His birthday was also his company party so we spent the evening at that.  His work party did the same thing of giving us each money and telling us to go buy something for ourselves.  So we pooled our money together and went back to buy a Sunday afternoon nap chair for our room.  (the massage chair didn't happen).  We are anxious to give it a trial run this afternoon.

Robyn and Taylor had their last day of school Friday.  Taylor spent half the week home sick again but I think now he is finally over his never ending cold.  He has been sick since Thanksgiving!  He enjoyed all the Christmas festivities they have at his school, choirs, Santa visits, crafts etc.  Robyn had her big preschool party and told me it was the best day ever.  They had a gift exchange, got to wear PJs to school and eat red jello and do all sorts of fun Christmas things.  Then the topping to her day was coming home to a real letter from Santa Clause answering her letter that she wrote.  I am not sure what she said in her letter that she and Spencer mailed but I am sure grateful to the postal worker who helped answer it!  Spencer has been showing her how to track Santa on NORAD.

Friday I gave Jeremy his birthday present which was an overnight trip to the Armstrong mansion, a bed and breakfast up in SLC.  There was a little confusion as to whose present it was as we were staying at an old Victorian bed and breakfast and eating dinner at Zuppas.  But it was wonderful to get away, especially at this time of year.  We took a long walk around temple square and all the nearby buildings with the lights.  We haven't done that without kids since we were dating and both wished in the fountain at Temple Square that we would be married someday.

We came back Saturday afternoon to go to Allison's Christmas dance recital.  She did wonderfully and looked way too grown up.  She is becoming a true performer and kept her face and smile towards the stage the whole time.  This week she was called back at school to try out for one of the main parts for The King and I.  She was very excited and nervous about the prospect.  Having to dye her hair black for the play just added to the attraction of being a lead.  She finds out Monday how she did.

Then Saturday night Jeremy and I went to a neighbor's house for a Christmas party.  Seriously the amount of fun activities in our life seemed a little over the top this week but we just soaked in every moment.  And now we are enjoying a day of naps and hanging out.  Allison and I sang with the choir for sacrament meeting so we had to be at church super early to practice.  So of course Robyn and Taylor got to be there super early as well.  Best part of a busy week is that everyone enjoys being able to just play together and hang out.  Allison is busy teaching Robyn in school right now.  It involves lots of ruler pointing and singing the ABCs.  We are missing our snowstorm and having a wet drizzly weekend instead.

Love to you all, Heather

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Fudge

Fudge is one of Jeremy's favorite Christmas treats.  We only make it once a year as it is horribly, wonderfully addictive.  For many years now my mom's friend Pat has made a big tin of fudge for our family every year that we would munch on for the whole month.  So Christmas and fudge in my mind just go together.  We experimented for several years to find our favorite recipe until we made this one and decided we had hit perfection and shouldn't search any further.  Jeremy's favorite is just plain fudge without nuts while I like to mix it up.  You can either make lots of small pans of fudge or just stir in the extra ingredients in different sections of the 9 x 13 pan.  Technically this keeps for a month but we have never tested that.  Also the original recipe said to cook it according to temperature on a candy thermometer but I always have better success doing it by time instead.


Fudge

4 c sugar
1 12 oz can evaporated milk
16 Tbsp (2 sticks) unsalted butter
1 8 oz jar Marshmallow Fluff
2 tsp vanilla extract
12 oz milk chocolate, chopped
8 oz semi-sweet chocolate, chopped

extras: pecans or walnuts, mini-marshmallows, crushed toffee, peanut butter, carmel, crushed candy bars

1. Line a 9 x 13 dish with foil and then spray the foil with Pam.
2. In a large pot over medium heat, bring the sugar, evaporated milk and butter to a boil, stirring constantly.  Reduce to a simmer and cook, stirring constantly until the mixture is a light tan color, 7-12 minutes (or 234 degrees).
3. Take the pan off the heat and stir in the marshmallow fluff and vanilla until combined.  Let it cool for 5 minutes (or till its 200 degrees).
4. Stir in the chocolates until smooth and combined.  Pour into the pan and refrigerate uncovered until firm, about 4-6 hours. See 5*.   Remove from the pan using the foil and then cut into squares.
5. ** For different types of fudge:
a. For peanut butter or carmel fudge put drops of the extra ingredient along the fudge right after you pour it into the pan.  Swirl it in with a knife.  If doing carmel make sure you swirl it in enough so there aren't any big clumps of carmel, just nice streaks, otherwise your fudge won't be stable enough to cut easily.
b. For mini-marshmallows and/or nuts - sprinkle them into the pan BEFORE you pour the fudge in.
c. For crushed toffee or candy bars - sprinkle half the pieces into the fudge after you have poured it into the pan.  Swirl the candy in with a knife.  Then sprinkle the rest of the candy on top, so it sticks to the fudge.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Choirs sing

Dear Friends and Family,

Snow has melted and we are at sunny skies and 55 degrees.  To make up for the lack of white stuff (and I am soaking up every warm moment) the week was full of Christmas activites.

Allison had choir and more choir this week.  She had a school assembly Tuesday.  Wednesday their choir sang up in SLC at the Joseph Smith Memorial Building.  Since kids and I were already up there we made an evening of it.  We walked around to see the Temple Square lights, had dinner at the Nauvoo cafe, checked out the Family History library and saw the movie about Joseph Smith.  We had to leave 3/4 of the way through the movie because Allison was sobbing her little heart out.  Its one thing to read the stories but its another to see them portrayed especially on in IMAX screen.  Of course Spencer and Robyn didn't think anything was wrong at all!  It led to a bunch of good discussions though about Joseph Smith and the early church and what they went through.  Someday we will finish watching it - but probably on a smaller screen without as much emotion wrenching effects.  Then Thursday night was the choir concert at school.  Spencer after having seen the performance twice already elected to spend the evening home with Taylor watching cartoons.  Allison's voice has improved a lot with all this singing - she is on key most of the time now.  For awhile we worried she was taking after my tonally challenged dad.  She has started going to choir practice for church with me on Sundays along with a few of her friends.  It is fun to see them take it so seriously.

On Monday Meredith stayed with Taylor and the rest of us were able to go see a production of The Christmas Carol.  Robyn had this cough from a tickle in her throat that would not stop.  I felt like it echoed through the small theater despite all my candies and sips of water I was giving her.  But the message of the play really hit home to me.  Spencer and Allison have been reading the story in school so they knew all the lines.  Robyn still goes around saying "bah, humbug!".  And I just keep tearing up every time I think of Scrooge singing God Rest ye merry gentlemen at the end of the play.

Taylor went to school for a few hours Monday and then has been home sick all week.  He isn't too bad except for his snotty nose.  He is almost better, unless he sneezes - then watch out.  But he has started eating and drinking again, at least a little bit which is always a good sign.  I'm glad its the season for egg nog as its a great motivator.  On Friday we met with the neurologist.  We are raising one med, then if that works, lowering and getting rid of one, and then if that works, trying out adding in a new one.  Its always a long process of guess work when we do his medications.  What worries me is when the doctor asks for my opinion and tells me to go home and read up on the choices!  He goes in at the end of the month for an MRI to see if his loss of skills is from mini-strokes or brain damage from all the seizures.  So Taylor has been my shadow this week.  Going grocery shopping with him has reminded me of how grateful I am he goes to school.

This week Jeremy and I actually got two dates - it is the holiday season.  We had a ward council party at our Bishops house while our kids watched a movie at home.  They keep my phone so they can text Jeremy's.  When we get texts like "can we have a popsicle" we don't worry.  When we get texts like "what time are you coming home" its getting to be time to call it a night.  They love their little freedom even if we are only three houses away.  And then last night after a trip to the temple we went chair hunting.  We are trying to find a chair for our bedroom that looks good enough for me but that Jeremy can snooze in.  We tried out so many chairs and of course the ugliest one was also the most comfortable.  Jeremy did find his ultimate chair, except for the price tag.  It was a massage chair and he hasn't stopped raving about how it was the best massage he has gotten.  It was pretty amazing.  I think that furniture store will become a more regular stop for us.

Saturday the girls and I had a girls only outing.  We went to see The Nutcracker.  One of Allison's friends was dancing in it.  It was wonderful.  Robyn gasped when she saw the Nutcracker come out and wanted to know why the guy wasn't wearing any pants.  He only had tights on.  She was very concerned about it.  I explained that guys wear dance pants that look like tights.  She wasn't too convinced.  Then she wanted to know why he looked like a girl with all his make-up on.  She has definite ideas about boys and girls.  This week she was teaching her best friend Luke how to waltz.  Luke recently learned that he is supposed to open doors for all ladies and rushes to help Robyn out every time they go someplace.  I can't help but think of what Robyn and Luke will be like together when they are teenagers.  I hope they stay friends but probably they won't even talk to each other.

Jeremy has been busy getting his nail shield company going and gets his first real products this week to sell.  So he has been excited and working hard to get all of that going.  He took Spencer to brave the Christmas rush at Costco yesterday, to see a fellow photographer at her book signing.  He returned with a new phone system (our old phones had stopped working weeks ago) and a big bunch of flowers and enough bread that I don't need to return to Costco till sanity returns.  How did I get so lucky? This week is his birthday, his last one before he is officially middle aged.  This week he celebrated getting his weight down to 190 after three and a half months of amazing will power and persistence.  26 pounds gone!  I told him congratulations and then ate some of our Christmas candy...  Someday I will be as good as he is.

After all this week's worth of activities, we are enjoying a Sunday afternoon and evening of nothing happening.  Making fudge and playing is the extent of our agenda.  And I have high hopes of everyone crashing early.

Hope you are enjoying this Christmas season, Heather



Sunday, December 5, 2010

Christmas Season in Full Force

Dear Family and Friends,

Christmas season hit full force this week.  Monday night was our lighting parade for the neighborhood.  We walk up and down the street as everyone turns their lights on for the first time and then we meet in someone's garage for hot chocolate and goodies.  

Wednesday we had our girls' cookie exchange party.  We made tons of sugar cookies that the girls decorated while the moms talked.  And then we ate a bunch of cookies and talked some more.  Two things we learned this year that worked better.  First have boxes to take cookies home in.  They work so much better than towering plates spilling cookies everywhere.  Second is to have the girls fill up the boxes with cookies for everyone to take home before we start munching on extras.  That way everyone gets to take home some of everyone else's cookies.

Friday the kids and I headed up to Sandy for the Festival of Trees.  We walked around and saw all the decorated trees and gingerbread houses, ate scones and listed to some very earnest but bad kid singers perform.  

Saturday, Allison went to a cooking class with friends where the goal was to make as much sugar coated treats as possible.  Then that night we went to our ward Christmas party.

So this week has felt like the holidays.  Kids have been excited over each event which has led to kids randomly and loudly singing Christmas songs, jumping up and down or bickering and teasing - depending on how much sugar had been recently consumed.

Robyn caught a cold this week and so she and Spencer have been coughing away.  Spencer's croup has come back but as long as he sleeps with his window open and clears his throat a bunch in the morning, its pretty livable.  Robyn just sounds like a small smurfette, but her cough is almost gone.  Taylor recovered from the stomach bug only to be hit with the cold bug.  So he is busy blowing massive amounts of snot all over his blankets but is back to drinking again and is otherwise cheerful.  Just if you hear a sneeze sound you grab a box of tissues and run to him fast.  The cold has spread to me too but chloreseptic seems to keep me functioning.  Its just that time of year.

Jeremy has been busy this week.  He is putting together a photo studio co-op where they partner up to rent a warehouse to be a photo studio.  So he has had lots of meetings with that.  Then he is also partnering up with some friends to produce and sell nail wraps.  If you have ever seen patterned sticker type things covering my toe nails, that is what they are.  They are calling themselves Sassy Nails and are planning to go live with that in a week or so.  We got samples back last week and they looked really good.  So he has been designing, figuring out marketing, building the web site etc.  Add that to EQ stuff plus a few side jobs he has picked up recently and he has been pulling some late nights and waking up early with ideas.  Seems like all his projects and plans came together right now.

I have had little Christmas projects that have been keeping me busy plus just regular life.  Moments of intense activity punctuated with long moments of monatany ie helping Spencer with math homework.  The snow has finally almost melted but there are still clumps here and there.  Allison was busy most of this week breaking out sleds and heading off in her snow gear to tackle any small hills.  They just announced they are doing another school play this year, The King and I.  She is excited to try out for it this week.

Hope you are enjoying this holiday season, Heather

Robyn has been busy making "presents" for everyone





Mom, the bench cushion is done!

I sewed this bag this week that my friend taught at our Relief Society meeting.  Now I know all the mistakes NOT to make, so I will have to do another one.

Our favorite gingerbread house - candy galore

They had a playhouse at the festival that had a real gas fireplace inside.