Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Boots . . . What a Good Idea

With all the snow around here, I've been reminding Ben and Janae that they need to wear boots outside.


Both are fortunate enough to have good, warm winter boots that keep their feet dry.


It's funny, though--I'd never thought much about buying boots for myself, even though I spend as much time outside in the snow as they do.

I had boots when I was younger, but even when I lived in snowy places like Rexburg and Provo, I didn't usually wear them.

I am paying for this now, of course--with achy ankles, knees, and bones in general whenever it's cold and wet. I feel like a very old woman sometimes!

So, I finally decided to invest in some winter footwear.


I found a good after-Christmas sale and got some waterproof snow boots for half price. I've worn them every time I've gone out since, and I can't believe the difference it makes to have warm ankles. I feel so much less cranky and miserable!


I wonder why it took me so long. . . .

Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Most Unusual Christmas on Record


We have had such an unusual Christmas this year--and I'm not just talking about Janae lounging around in Ben's underwear while reading books upside down!

With all the snow, Jason was away all Christmas Eve and half of Christmas Day--then several hours on Boxing Day and today, too. We missed Mom's turkey dinner on Christmas Eve, then we were there alone on Christmas Day. Where was all the NOISE NOISE NOISE NOISE?? (Can you tell we've been reading How the Grinch Stole Christmas?). I missed all the chaos and fun of my parents' house full of kids on Christmas Eve!

There was no re-enactment of the First Christmas with Jason as the donkey, no opening of one Christmas Eve present, no looking at Christmas lights on the way home. . . .

Anyway, on Christmas morning Ben and Janae ran out into the snow in their PAJAMAS--Janae was actually wearing her PJs with a "dancing" dress overtop, and I couldn't bear to force them back inside, even after Jason left for work. Then Janae did a faceplant in the snow and it was pretty easy to get her to come in--Ben, on the other hand, wanted to stay out all day (Janae's screaming didn't seem to bother him). It's hard being a single parent, let me tell you.


When I asked Ben later what his favorite part of Christmas was, he smiled a huge smile and said, "Playing outside in the snow!" Not playing with his new Thomas turning table, windmill, or Cranky the Crane? Not eating chocolates or building his Lego airplane? Not even close! I'm sure Ben will remember the whitest Christmas on record long after he's forgotten about all his toys, no matter how good of a job Santa did.

After Christmas there was not even any Boxing Day shopping (for us, anyway). It was a most unusual year.


Of course not everything was unusual. Janae loved her new Cinderella doll (when she saw it in the box she shouted, "An angel!"), Ben refused to eat the Holiday Morning French Toast that had taken 24 hours to make, and Jason ate all of his Purdy's Hedgehogs in a single sitting.

And Janae had lots of fun playing in the boxes!


We did have a nice Christmas, especially the time we spent together--it was just a little different :)

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Snowy Christmas Eve


Well, it's Christmas Eve and we woke up to a yard FULL of snow--with lots more coming down, too! Ben, of course, was ecstatic.

I have to say, these snow pants were a good investment! (I had to take a picture from the back--too cute!)


He has been playing outside all day, building tunnels, making snow angels, playing Mr. Grinch--it's about as much fun as a boy can imagine, I think.


We're really missing Jason, though--he's out on his John Deere plowing parking lots and driveways. I overheard Ben saying a prayer that Daddy would come home safely and that we would be able to drive the car to Grandma's house. We've been watching cars getting stuck in our parking lot, so I don't think we'll make it out until everything has been plowed and sanded. . . .

On a brighter note, Janae actually wore MITTENS (it took a bit of wrestling and a lot of screaming, but I knew Ben needed to get out there . . . and that he'd want to stay in the snow for a while!). She took a few steps in the knee-deep white stuff before asking me to hold her. (Doesn't she look like a little snow person? It's hard to believe that she could move at all!)

It really is magical to be out there in the snow on Christmas Eve!


Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A New Christmas Bozo!

If you've known my family for a long time, you might know about our annual tradition of selecting a "Christmas Bozo."

This started many years ago, when my dad would drive my sisters and me around to look at lights on Christmas Eve. He had a little Volkswagen Rabbit, and it was quite a breezy car, especially in the winter--so he would crank the heat to keep us all warm. Somehow we decided that the first person to complain about being too hot--whether in words or by taking off a glove, or (as Tina tried one year) by opening the window a crack--would be the "Christmas Bozo." I'll admit that it wasn't our most meaningful family tradition, but it was always fun.

Anyway, some of us have passed this tradition on to the next generation. And ever since I have known Jason, I have been our family's Christmas Bozo (sitting in the front seat and being pregnant have not helped with this, I might add!).

But, this year, we have a new--shall we say--"winner."



Benjamin loves Chrismas, and some of his Santa costumes might be considered bozo-like, but Ben has never complained about being too hot, even on the hottest days of summer. (He does, occasionally, complain about being too cold--sometimes when we're grocery shopping in the frozen food aisle, he'll say--through chattering teeth--"Mom, I'm cold--let's snuggle!")

No, Ben is not our Christmas Bozo.



Well, he might look like a bozo in this picture, but he did not complain about the heat or try to take off any of his snow gear. He was not the Christmas Bozo.



YES! Janae HATES wearing hats, boots, and scarves--and she is yet to wear gloves or mittens--we literally cannot put them on her (it's a combination of screaming and wiggling that makes this impossible). I can't be sure about this, but I honestly don't think she would have been crying in the picture if she'd been outside in just a diaper (don't worry; I'm not planning to test this theory).

When we had the heat cranked, it didn't take long for Janae to take off her boots and socks. Definitely the Christmas Bozo (and I was happy to relinquish the title!).

Janae plans to spend the rest of the snowy season inside, sipping hot chocolate while watching the other two bozos through the window.


What a girl!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Another Book Review . . . So Soon?

You might be wondering how I could be writing another book review so soon—don’t I have a house to clean, children to feed, Christmas presents to wrap, and a husband to keep in line?

The answer is, I finally caved in and read Twilight. Let me explain. . . .

When I first heard about Twilight from my sister Anita, I was really interested. Anita loved the book (and the rest of the series, too), and she told me it was written by a BYU graduate. She warned that the book was a bit cheesy, but she said it would be fun to read.

I am always looking for a good book, so soon after I’d talked to Anita I went to our local bookstore and found Twilight. But when I read the back cover, I didn’t think there was any way I could read something so cheesy: “About three things I was absolutely positive. First, Edward was a vampire. Second, there was a part of him . . . that thirsted for my blood. . . .” Come on! I can’t read stuff like that. I put the book back on the shelf and left.

I did look up the book's author, Stephanie Meyer, and found that she'd been an English major at BYU at the same time I was--she looked a bit familiar, too, but I definitely didn't know her.

Time went on—the movie came out, and everyone was talking about it, but still—“thirsted for my blood”? I don’t think so.

Finally, I got an email from Chapters saying that Twilight had outsold Harry Potter (which I still find very hard to believe, by the way). Anyway, I decided it was time for me to get an opinion about the book--so the next time I was at the grocery store, I picked up an inexpensive copy. I was tempted to go through the self-serve check-out to avoid having the cashier wonder why a mother in her 30s would want to read a love story about vampires--but then I thought, “It’s close to Christmas—maybe she’ll think I’m buying it for ‘a friend.’”

Well, a few days later I picked up the book and read the first chapter—and after that, I was hooked. I could hardly put the novel down. Of course, I only read at night while my children were sleeping (but not while lying in a coffin, don’t worry!).

I thought I’d just share a few things I liked and didn’t like about the book, along with a little theory I have about why the book is so addictive.

First, things I liked:

1. The writer’s style and tone. This book is easy to read--not only because it’s adolescent literature but also because of the author’s smooth writing style. The descriptions are incredibly visual (I can see why this book would be a natural choice for a movie), and some of the novel’s early passages (such as the scene where the protagonist first sees the vampire group in the school cafeteria) are striking—this is what made me want to keep reading. I also picked up on a sort of mysterious, dark and eerie tone in the first chapter that intrigued me throughout the book.

2. The protagonist is easy to relate to. Bella Swan considers herself clumsy, bad at sports, socially inept, pretty much completely substandard in every way (except academically), and--once she sees Edward--obsessive. We don’t know anyone like that, do we?

3. The hero. I’m reminded of a line in Anne of Green Gables. Anne is explaining that she is not interested in one of the boys in town because he is “too good.” When asked if she’d prefer a wicked man, Anne says that she’d like someone who “could be wicked but wouldn’t.” Edward Cullen is the epitome of this. Of course, in real life I think a man who wouldn’t hurt a fly is best, but in novels, it’s more interesting to have that “wicked” potential.

4. The whole idea of vampires, especially this humanitarian group, was very interesting. I’m thinking of reading Bram Stoker's Dracula--which, if I remember correctly, is considered a literary classic. Will this redeem me in the eyes of my non-Twilight reading friends? :)

Now, the thing I didn’t like: the fromage.

1. The cheesy love scenes and dialogue. “Thirsted for my blood”? This is definitely a “kissing book”—and at times the descriptions were a bit much, but I have to admit that I could not write a love scene to save my life.

2. The cheesy villains. I thought the predator had potential to be a great villain, but he turned out to be very stereotypical/predictable. Oh well, I wouldn’t want to have been so scared I couldn’t fall asleep after reading so late into the night.

Finally, my theory.

I think part of what makes people so obsessed with this book is the main character’s obsessiveness :) The book is written in first person, and I think reading an obsessed person’s thoughts makes people feel more frantic. It’s an interesting and suspenseful story anyway, but the tone of the book is one of the things that intrigued me the most. I felt anxious and wanted to keep reading until I felt better--which wasn’t until the end of the book.

When I got to the end and read the preview of the next book, New Moon, my impression was, “this sounds way too cheesy.” I wonder if I will cave in and read the rest of the series, too . . . stay tuned for more book reviews, I guess!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

We Made It!

Well, guess who made it through the first semester of preschool!


Yes, Ben and I made it through--have you ever seen me look this happy in a picture? I got to stay with Ben all morning at school, watch his Christmas concert, and then take him home to keep for the next three weeks!

Ben's concert was fun to watch--they sang several Christmas songs, complete with costumes, props, and dancing (I have some great video footage!). Ben sang out, too--I was so proud of him I had to blink really hard to keep the tears back (at a preschool Christmas concert, I know!)


Ben also brought home presents he'd made for me and Jason, including an elf doorknob decoration, a pretzel string (I suggested putting it on the tree, but Ben said, "Actually, I choose to eat it!"), and a snowball ornament for the Christmas tree.


Our little guy is sure growing up!


Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Happy Anniversary? Let's Hope So!


Jason and I will be celebrating our sixth anniversary in a few days. We have plans to go out for dinner, we have someone willing to babysit Ben and Janae (right, Mom?)--unfortunately, though, we we don't have the best track record when it comes to our anniversary. Here's proof:

1st Anniversary: I was 4 months pregnant with Ben--we went to the temple, and I got overheated and almost fainted.

2nd Anniversary: I went to the dentist and got a FILLING--my mouth was still frozen at dinner.

3rd Anniversary: Jason's dad was in paliative care at the hospital, so this was a really sad time for our family.

4th Anniversary: I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes THAT DAY, so I was paranoid about eating anything--I felt pretty sorry for myself all through dinner (at the Keg, too!).

5th Anniversary: We went to a new restaurant and were really disappointed (Jason got what looked like a child's serving of dinner--and we were tempted to go somewhere else afterwards, but we didn't). Jason had also received a letter earlier that day about an accident he'd been in during the summer--and let's just say he wasn't in the best mood.

So, this year? I can't foresee any problems, but I guess I would have said that on December 16th of any of the previous years, too . . . we'll have to wait and see what Friday brings :)

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Three Cups of Tea: An AMAZING Story

Last night I finished reading Three Cups of Tea, and I was so amazed by the story that I kept Jason awake so I could tell him everything that happened. I have to admit that I do this with almost every book I read, but in this case, the book was a true story--and it really changed the way I think about so many things. I thought I'd write a bit about it here, in case some of you are thinking of reading it.


Before I go any further, I'll admit that when this book was recommended to me, I didn't think I'd really be interested, given the title (i.e., I don't even drink tea!). But when I saw the cover, and read the back, I was already intrigued. Early in the year I'd read a novel called A Thousand Splendid Suns, which heightened my interest in the Middle East and helped me learn quite a bit about Afghanistan.

Three Cups of Tea is about an American man (Greg Mortenson) who fails to climb K2, has a rough time getting down the treacherous mountain, and then ends up being nursed back to health by the people of a very poor village in Pakistan. After seeing the bleak conditions of the children in the village (who are attempting to hold school classes without a teacher, building, etc.--just drawing with sticks in the dirt), he ends up promising the people there that he will come back and build a school. He goes back to California, becomes almost hopeless in his attempts to raise money and return to build the school, but then ends up doing incredible things to help the people of the Middle East. Anyway, you can read a more detailed summary online if you want to, but I thought I'd just make a few comments on the book and the story.

First, this book deals with some of the world's most important issues: education (the importance of educating women, particularly), peace/terrorism/national security, and human potential.

This book is incredibly eye-opening. Greg Mortenson was one of the only people from outside the small villages where he built schools to even know that these places existed. The people in these villages were desperate for their children to receive education, some parents even sending their sons down the river on primitive rafts in hopes that they would find another village where they could be educated. The parents didn't know if they would see their children again. At times I could hardly bear to read about what these people would sacrifice for their children to learn.

I also learned that a lot of the teenagers who became Taliban fighters came from poor families who sent their sons to the only schools that were available--which were extremist religious training centers. One of the book's chapters, titled "The Enemy is Ignorance," has this heading:

"As the U.S. confronts Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq, Greg Mortenson . . . is quietly waging his own campaign against Islamic fundamentalists, who often recruit members through religious schools called madrassas. Mortenson's approach hinges on a simple idea: that by building secular schools and helping to promote education--particularly for girls--in the world's most volatile war zone, support for the Taliban and other extremist sects eventually will dry up."

The book's introduction also makes this statement: "Mortenson goes to war with the root causes of terror every time he offers a student a chance to receive a balanced education, rather than attend an extremist madrassa."

Three Cups of Tea has interesting passages about Mortenson's interaction with Taliban leaders, his experience with being kidnapped, the relationships he developed with Pakistani villagers, the ways the world changed after 9/11, and even how Mortenson met and married his wife. I actually think Greg Mortenson is one of the most incredible people I've ever read about--his devotion to education and his sincere concern and respect for the people he met in Pakistan and Afghanistan allowed him to do things very few people could.

Now, having said all of that, I have to also report that the author's writing style was not my "cup of tea" :) I found many of the sentences "overly embellished" with extra adjectives and attempts at metaphor. I also found at the beginning of the book that the author never resists going off on a tangent to explain the historical significance of this or that--even when the information seems irrelevant. But by the middle of the book none of this bothered me--I found that I'd become interested in even the tangents, because I was intrigued by the story and wanted to know more.

I was so excited about what I was reading that I told Ben all about it, too--he was also very interested and wanted to know more, but I found it difficult to provide him with age-appropriate details to round out the story. Then when I was looking for a picture of Three Cups of Tea online, I found that there is a children's adaptation of the story called Listen to the Wind that will be released in January--so, of course, I pre-ordered it (sorry, Jason--I couldn't resist) :)


Anyway, if you're interested in Three Cups of Tea, my copy will be available as soon as I re-read it!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Santa Party Part I: Ben's Dream Come True

Benjamin has been dreaming about having a Christmas party, so we decided to invite a few cousins over for some holiday fun. We tried to keep it under control, which was not easy with Ben's ideas about making a real sleigh and having real reindeer! Anyway, we had a few decorations: Amanda and Rebecca helped us make the snowflakes a few days before the party, and we hung them up to create the year's first snowfall in the kitchen.


We had an amazing Santa Claus cake, courtesy of Auntie Tina.


We had a few games and crafts, including Pin the Nose on Frosty (won by Jilly) and Hot Potato (won by Ben).

Mom and Tina made pomanders (which they couldn't put down once they'd started--we don't know why sticking cloves into oranges is so addictive, but it definitely is!), Rebecca and Ben decorated paper gingerbread people (kind of like paper dolls), Amanda made a popcorn string (which Janae later ATE), and Holly and Uncle Jason watched a Christmas video.


And, of course, Santa came to visit with all of the children. You don't often see anything as cute as this!


Unless you keep reading. . . .

Santa Party Part II: The Girls' Visits

Amanda was reluctant to visit with Santa at first, but she finally got up the courage to sit on his knee and tell him she wanted a Webkin for Christmas!


Rebecca was really brave--she was the first to sit on Santa's knee.


Santa assured Jilly that she would get what she wanted for Christmas.


And Holly couldn't take Santa too seriously--she thought he looked just like her cousin Ben :)


Anyway, Ben was right--it was fun to have a party with Santa!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Benjamin Sees a Who!


Most of you know that Benjamin LOVES Dr. Seuss. He gets me to make him Green Eggs and Ham (actually, I still haven't made them green, but maybe someday!), dresses up like the Cat in the Hat and acts out the story while I read the book, and--of course--has memorized most of Horton Hears a Who (as well as the above-mentioned stories).

Most of you also know that Ben dressed up as Horton the Elephant for Halloween. We went to see the latest movie version of Horton Hears a Who when it was in theaters last spring, and we have been waiting for the DVD to come out.


A few months ago we found out Horton would be released December 8, so Jason and I thought we would buy it for Ben for Christmas. I was planning to keep Ben away from stores like Walmart or Superstore, which would have big displays of the DVD, from December 8 until Christmas, thinking he would be even more surprised to see the present if he hadn't been asking for it at the store every time.

Well, I certainly underestimated my son! On Friday I was looking through the local newspaper, and Ben was playing beside me, when suddenly he said, "HORTON HEARS A WHO!!!!!" I turned to see him holding up an advertisement for the movie--about an inch square (pretty much "Who"-sized, if you ask me)! He insisted on cutting the picture out, then he put it in a ziplock bag to keep it safe.

I bet he could hear a Who if one was speaking--he's that good!


I'm sure he'll still be really happy to unwrap the DVD on Christmas morning, though.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Adventures in Peppermint Bark Making

You might think adventures is too strong a word to use for a description of making what has been termed the "simplest candy recipe ever" (at least by fans who commented on the recipe I used), but Ben and I would have to disagree.

It all started a few weeks ago when Ben brought home a Purdy's Chocolates fundraising brochure from his preschool. I pondered over my order for a long time, trying to decide whether or not I should include a little something for myself (for Jason to give me for Christmas, of course). The item that tempted me the most was the peppermint bark. I'd tried this once before at Mom and Dad's (a couple of years ago now) and have been craving it ever since, but I could never justify buying it for myself. Anyway, I decided to order some--just to support the kids.

Well, our order arrived last week, and every day since I have debated on whether or not to open the peppermint bark. I have also thought of all the other people I should probably give it to as a gift. To make a long story short, I thought I could solve all of our problems by making MORE peppermint bark . . . then I could have some now, we could give some to other people as gifts, and the REAL peppermint bark could still show up in my stocking on Christmas morning!

As I already mentioned, the recipe said it was super-easy to make and always a hit on the dessert table, so Benjamin and I put Janae down for her nap and got started.

Step One: crush the candy canes--we would need one cup. I put Ben to work on this. Although the recipe suggested a hammer, I thought we would try the more genteel method of using a rolling pin. I began by showing Ben how to roll it over the candy canes (which, of course, were in a zip lock bag). This didn't work too well, so I showed Benjamin how to smack the candy canes using the rolling pin. Still not satisfied with the results, I went upstairs, found Jason's hammer, and let Ben pound the candy canes, as the recipe had recommended. This was Benjamin's favorite part of the activity.


Step Two: melt the chocolate. I selected my medium-sized Visions saucepan, then carefully washed and dried it. I had to wash a few other dishes, too (and thought I'd take advantage of the opportunity, with Ben being otherwise occupied), so instead of putting the saucepan in the dishrack (where it would be buried with other items), I put it on the narrow stretch of counter between the sink and the . . . floor. Of course, it didn't teeter there very long.

Step Three: sweep, vacuum, and--ultimately--wash the kitchen floor. This step wasn't in the original instructions, so the preparation time ended up being a bit longer than expected.


Step Four: back to melting the chocolate. Now that we were using a stainless steel pot, this actually went really well--we didn't burn the chocolate, and it melted very nicely and smoothly. Notice Benjamin was doing most of the work here.


Step Five: add peppermint extract to the chocolate. This step was optional, but I thought we would like to have some peppermint in our candy. So, I got out our bottle of pure peppermint extract, carefully measured out a teaspoon, then dumped the rest of the bottle all over the counter. (The peppermint, of course, continued to drip down the cupboards and onto the newly-washed floor). I don't recommend this step, but it sure made the kitchen smell like Christmas!

Well, the rest of the steps really are fool-proof, because somehow we managed to complete them without too much more difficulty. We now have a tupperware container full of delicious peppermint bark.

So, if on Christmas Day your gift from us looks suspiciously like peppermint bark, be sure to savor it--after all, it was made with lots of . . . love :)


Monday, December 1, 2008

What Christmasy Children I Have!

When I was little, mandarin oranges (the ones that come in a box with green papers) were a really special Christmas treat. Jason, however, doesn't consider anything a treat unless it's CHOCOLATE, and our kids seem to have inherited his point of view on this. So, I've had to work extra hard to pass on my love of Christmas oranges, but today I realized that I'd been successful.

When we bought our box of oranges last week, I took one out and showed it to Benjamin and Janae. I pointed out that the wrapper was like wrapping paper holding a special present. Then I smelled it and said "it smells like Christmas." I showed them how easy it was to peel and then let them try. Cheesy, I know, but when we finally ate the orange both kids loved it :)

Anyway, this morning I took an orange out for Janae to eat as a snack and started to peel it, but she stopped me and said, "Smell it," then pressed her little nose up against it!


We also put up the tree today to surprise Daddy (no, Ben couldn't wait one more minute!).


We had Christmas music playing on the computer in the kitchen, and when the song "Feliz Navidad" came on, Janae came running into the living room shouting, "Merry Christmas . . . Dress!" She wanted to put on a "fancy" dress so she could twirl it while she was dancing :)


Ben has been "instructing" Janae on the proper handling of Christmas ornaments; she's getting pretty good.


What Christmasy children I have!