A Lot of Fun... A Little Frostbite

We knew just to what we wanted to do on the last day of the year... Ski the Beav.  What could be better?

Um, warmer temperatures, that's what. Although fun, the frozen toes, fingers and noses took hours to thaw due to temperatures in the negative. It was that cold.

Brielle, being a 5th grader was able to get the "Pass of all Passes."  For $25.00, all 5th graders in Utah get access to ALL Utah ski resorts for FREE -- 3 times during the season. We jumped all over that, thinking we'd be able to ski all over the state this season.

We were wrong. While the "Pass of all Passes" is a great deal (and still worth the $25 bucks), skiing in Salt Lake and Park City is just not as cheap as it once was. Gone are the days you can ski Brighton for $40 bucks. I pulled up resort prices and most range from $65-115! Ouch!

But that's okay. Because Beaver Mountain has become our families favorite place to ski. It's close, we always run into friends and neighbors on the slopes and most importantly... it's cheap! I'm sure we'll venture out, but just not as much as we had planned.

Happy Skiing!


Christmas 2012

This Christmas totally tops the charts! Everything about my family's Christmas this year was truly wonderful. Now, here I sit, probably my last post of 2012, reflecting on the fun things we did this Christmas. Here's a not-so-quick recap...

We started out the season with our traditional trip to see the holiday Pickville Playhouse play, complete with Peppermint Chocolate Chip Shake from Chick-Fil-A. This year, we went with a large group with friends, and it was awesome!

Each year, they do a new spin on the previous years play, which focuses on believing in Santa and the birth of our Savior. It also includes fantastic original songs! When you ask Brielle her favorite part, she always seems to remember the fart jokes and the Twilight jokes. Even such, we look forward to this every year! And they must be growing in popularity, because they are doing fewer shows in Logan, and several shows in Salt Lake.

Donut Day took place just a few days before Christmas. You can read more about that in this earlier post, but I'm posting the picture again, because seriously... don't those look yummy!?!?

Christmas Eve took us to Chris's sisters house for some yummy food, a chance to talk with Grandma & Grandpa Merkley who are far away in Africa and get a fat lip.  Wait, what?

Brielle found out the hard way that Ab Roller's are not meant to be used on vinyl floors.

Christmas Day brought us a lot of surprises!

But that dog was not one of them. Ha! Had you shocked, didn't I? Chris and Brielle can only wish for the day I will give in to an English Bulldog, let alone an indoor dog.

Brielle loved, loved, loved all the goods she got for her American Girl Doll. She's had a make-shift bed for sometime now, using pillows and blankets, and the clothes were stuffed in a box. Not anymore!

I'm not sure we were finished un-wrapping gifts before Lily Ann was snug in her new bed, and all her clothes hung in her armoir.  Wouldn't it be nice if Brielle was that dillegant at putting her own clothes away. And that neatly, too!

Funny story... I told Brielle all week that she was getting hangers for Christmas. She looked at me like the lamest mother ever when she actually opened the hangers (before we gave her the doll furniture), until it clicked in her cute little head that the hangers were way too small to fit any of her clothes. Clever, I am.

The Lego Friends she also received from Mom & Dad were completely set up before we left for Alpine for our annual Christmas Day Lasagna dinner (yum!).

It's about time Lego came out with legos for girls. What took them so long to tap into that market?

I had Brielle's stocking this year. And if I knew how to get videos from my iPhone to my computer, I would show you yourself the excitement that Brielle could not contain when she looked inside to find 2 tickets to...

Taylor Swift's RED Tour in Salt Lake on June 1st. I've gotta be honest... this is just as much a gift for me as it is for her. I. Am. SO. Excited. Oh, and so is she.

While discussing stockings, Chris surprised me for the first time in years. When I say years, I mean, like 10. It's tough for him to get something past me. I'm not a snooper, per say, I just know him too well. And I check our online banking frequently around birthdays and Christmas.

But this time, he paid cash.

I received a "JamBox" that connects (wirelessly) to my iPhone to play all my T Swift albums. Because it's so small, I can take it anywhere. Into every room of my house and even in my car. It really is awesome. And I didn't know they even existed until I had one.

Brielle had Chris's stocking, and while wrapping it's contents, declared that Chris is an official Redneck. Apparently, in her mind, a Duck Commander hat and a new concealed handgun qualifies you as a Redneck. 

She is the coolest girl ever.

We spoiled each other, and were equally spoiled by my parents! And I'm not just talking about the Lasagna, which, by the way, was amazing. But would you expect anything less from an Italian Grandma and a mom who is an amazing cook? No, I think not.

I absolutely love a white Christmas. I don't know how people can celebrate Christmas without snow. It seems... not Christmas-y.  I love a good snow storm, and boy did we get one. Between Chris and I, we shoveled the driveway 3 times a day, multiple days. Our snow blower's broken and so are our backs.

But with snow, comes fun! There is this fantastic park in Logan that we refer to as "The Bowl." It is literally a 360 degree sledding park with short hills and long, super fast hills as well.

Of course, Chris gets in on the action, finding the smallest sled to ride on.

Where, oh where have I seen Chris riding toys that are too small for him??? Oh yes, here...

And here.

Must be a thing of his.

Tonight, we took down the Christmas. It's nice to have my house back, but sad that it's all come to an end. We really enjoyed ourselves his holiday season and I have cherished every moment! We had so many wonderful experiences this year, and 2012 was really good to our family. Tomorrow, we say goodbye to 2012 with a ski trip to the Beav (with my new skis -- yea!).

I failed to send out Christmas cards, or publish something special here on my blog, but know that our family hopes all our friends and family had as wonderful a Christmas as we did! And we wish everyone the very best in the New Year!

American Girl Doll "Nap Pads"

Brielle wanted to do something special for all her wonderful friends for Christmas. And since all of her friends have American Girl Dolls, she wanted to make sure it included them. Being that AG stuff costs a small fortune and ordering multiple somethings from the catalog was not an option, we opted to make something instead. 

Que Pinterest.

I found this tutorial for some Nap Pads, but I'm going to give you my own instructions since:
  1. Her website takes forever to load
  2. Her instructions are scattered between 3 different web pages, and
  3. Her doll looks a little creepy (but then, most pictures of dolls do).

You'll need the following supplies:
  •  1/2 Yard Print Fabric (Front)
  •  1/2 Yard Solid Minky Fabric (Back)
  •  2 Large Buttons
  •  1 Package (3 Yards) Extra Wide Double Fold Bias Tape (coordinating color)
  •  13 Inches Ribbon (For the Handle)
  •  Batting 
  •  10 Inches 1/4" Elastic Band (White)
Start by cutting your fabric and batting 25" long and 13" wide. Next, you want to mark your fabric across using the following measurements:

Click on Photo for Clearer Picture

With your fabric and batting layered, stick 4 pins across each marking to ensure that the fabric doesn't shift or bunch while sewing. Stitch a straight stitch across the fabric (batting included) along the markings.

Once finished with the straight stitching, you'll add the bias tape. Explaining how to use bias tape is much harder than actually sewing on the bias tape. For your benefit, I found this fantastic tutorial on sewing bias tape.  NOTE: Skip past the "Making Bias Tape" down to the "Attaching Bias Tape to a Straight Edge." Make sure to also read the "Turning the Corner" tutorial.

Pin your bias tape down on the inside of the Nap Pad first, starting just below the pillow. MAKE SURE that you fold your beginning edge over, so that when wrapped and sewn on the other side, you'll have a nice clean edge. Since you are starting on the inside of the Nap Pad, do not worry about the strap or elastics at this point.

This is were the "Turning the Corner" tutorial comes in handy. Continuing sewing aroun the Nap Pad until you reach the top of the pillow on the side you started. At this point, you'll want to stuff the pillow a little fuller (not too much) than the rest of the Nap Pad. Continue sewing up the pillow until the ends of the bias tape meet.

Flip over to the outside of the Nap Pad and begin sewing just along the edge of the bias tape. Please, please, PLEASE do not do a close up. My sewing is no where near straight.

As you begin sewing on this side, place your ribbon across the 2nd seam up from the bottom, and stitch it right underneath the bias tape. Try your best not to miss this step, or there will be unpicking and restitching, neither of which, I like.

As you turn the corner at the bottom of the Nap Pad, you'll sew in the two 5" pieces of elastic roughly 1 1/2" from the sides.

When complete, roll up the Nap Pad, and using a marker or pencil, mark where the buttons should be sewn. My advice, don't guess. I'm sure I am not the only person who dislikes unpicking and restitching.

The end result is a Nap Pad your daughter's AG girl can sling over her shoulder...

Take anywhere...

And cozy up on.

In all, each Nap Pad cost me less than $8 to make (especially since I was mass producing them -- and by mass production, I mean 9). With the first two (and six hours of my time), there was quite a bit of trial and error. I made multiple trips to JoAnne's because I grabbed single fold instead of double fold bias tape, I found that the elastic & buttons worked better than Velco and I purchased the wrong thread.

By the time I got to the last 3, I had my own Sewing Machine (thanks Mom for the early Christmas gift!!!) and had become a total Pro at the the process, shaving the time down to roughly 1 hour and 15 minutes each, start to finish.

Although I did most all of the work, it was fun to take the time to complete this project for Brielle. All her friends loved them! Now if I could just find the time to finish the one for her doll...


Gingerbread Cupcakes w/ EggNog Frosting

Now, before you completely discount this recipe because of your probable dislike for EggNog, hear me out...

I don't like EggNog either. I can't drink the stuff unless seriously diluted with Milk (Skim, mind you). But, my husband and daughter love it, so you're sure find the stuff in my fridge around the Holidays.

There's no written rule (that I could find), but I think that Gingerbread and EggNog were made to be consumed together.  The combination of the two is magical. I made an EggNog frosting last year to go with some Gingerbread Cupcakes, and it was okay, but the frosting was disappointing. By the time you add enough EggNog to flavor a basic buttercream frosting, you have to add a ton of powdered sugar to get the frosting to hold. It was WAY too sweet and really didn't have that distinct "EggNog" flavor.

But I knew with the right frosting, these cupcakes could be really amazing. So, like I do in most situations such as this, I took to the internet and Googled it. I stumbled onto a website called Eat Cake for Dinner. She did something completely different to maintain the EggNog flavor, without over-sweetening it, and still ended up with a fluffy frosting.

(Click for Recipe)

Photo Courtesy of Eat Cake for Dinner

She literally makes an EggNog custard/pudding (without adding eggs). After cooled to room temperature, she whips it like crazy with butter. It will look as though it has separated at first, but just keep whipping! It will turn into a beautifully light and fluffy frosting.

For the cupcakes, I used Bobby Flay's Gingerbread Cupcakes (minus the ginger syrup).

My cupcakes, dusted with a little Nutmeg

The cupcakes were so good (at least that's what I was told by the people who actually tried them). Seriously though... no need to be afraid of EggNog. With some tweaks, the stuff can be turned into something fabulous!


Family Traditions

I love traditions. I love that there are events in my life that I can look forward to. I love that my family has created our own traditions over the years, but that we still participate in the ones Chris and I grew up with as kids. And I love that we get to experience those traditions with Brielle.

A new tradition that we started just last year was providing Christmas for a family through the Cache Valley for Hope Cancer Foundation. This foundation is special to me for a few reasons... First, who doesn't know someone whose life has been turned upside down by cancer? And second, the founder is a dear friend of mine who battled cancer himself. The goal of CVHCF is to help families affected by cancer, in whatever way possible, so they can focus on their treatment.

Being that Brielle found out the truth about Santa (see previous post), this opportunity was extra special for our family. Chris and I are trying hard to make sure Brielle didn't feel as though the magic, or the feeling of Christmas Spirit was lost. I hope that for her, having the opportunity to be "Santa" taught her something about the true meaning of Christmas. Somthing that couldn't be explained, but needed to be felt.

This year, we had the absolute privilege to provide Christmas for "Wonder-Mom" and "Super-Boy." Super-Boy is 7 and has a large tumor behind his eye. During treatment, his kidney shut down. He has had multiple surgeries, long term stays at Primary Children's Hospital in SLC and over the past year, has missed out on being a regular kid. According to Wonder-Mom, he's one tough little cookie.

Wonder-Mom said she lives her life one day at a time and on very little sleep. She works, takes care of a really sick kiddo and sometimes wonders how long she'll have with Super-Boy. She's sitting on a pile of hospital bills exceeding $800,000 and has decided that rather than wallow in that pit of depression, she will focus on her son and helping him get better. The stregnth and hope of that woman was inspiring, to say the least.

Buying for Wonder-Mom and Super-Boy was tough! Coming up with a gift for my own family is tough... let alone people you don't know! But Wonder-Mom was great and gave us some really good ideas. As excited I am to see Brielle open all the gifts purchased for her, I'm equally excited to hear about their Christmas!

Ah... Donut Day. A day when it is perfectly acceptable to cosume large qualities of carbohydrates and sugar, in the form of freshly made donuts. Each topped with Vanilla, Chocolate, Orange or Maple glaze and sprinkled with anything from nuts to bacon to potato chips (ask Chris about that one... he's weird).

Donut Day is serious. Everyone comes. Everyone participates. And everyone stuffs their face...

But come on, it's bread fried in oil and topped with sugar. Who wouldn't?

There are very few gifts that I remember getting as a child. I know that my parents always made Christmas special, and I don't remember every having to do without. But it's the traditions and memories that I think back on when I think of growing up. They remind me of who I am and the wonderful family that I had. And in creating new traditions, for my own little family, I hope I'm providing the same for Brielle.


Santa's Cover is Blown

I knew this day was coming and I even tried to prepare myself... and Brielle. I had begged Chris to let me tell Brielle who the "real" Santa was, and he did not agree. I even went as far as to ask random people, friends & co-workers when their kids found out, how they found out and who told them. And just as I had expected, the answers I received were completely split down the middle.

Half the people I talked to urged me to tell her. That kids should hear it from their parents and not from friends at school. Their advice... tell her before kids start talking about it at school.

The other half I talked to was shocked I'd even consider such a thing. Why would I possible want to ruin the magic of Christmas? Their advice was to let her "believe" as long as she wanted to believe. 

In the end, I let it go. I realized that maybe my wanting Brielle to know the truth was somewhat selfish on my part. Thought like "why should "Santa" get credit for the cools gifts that I thought of and that I bought? or not having to buy a "Santa" gift could allow us another family ski day" crept into my mind. Or better yet, we could go away for the Christmas break. Selfish, I know. So, I backed off.

What a big mistake that was. For our family, anyway.

The Year Santa's Cover Was Blown
Part 1 - The Phone Call

I was at our local mall one day when I ran into the mom of Brielle's BFF "M". She laughed when she saw me, since she was there buying a gift for Brielle from her daughter. We talked for a while and she mentioned that M had heard kids talking at school last year, went home and asked her parents. M knew the truth, but since she had younger siblings, she knew that she had to keep this secret to herself. I told M's mom that Brielle had made a point to tell me (multiple times) that she still believed.

Later that night, I received a call from M's mom while Brielle and I were out shopping. M's mom explained to me that some boys were treating Brielle badly at school because she still believed in Santa (exactly what I had hoped wouldn't happen). I had heard nothing about this! Brielle hadn't said a word! 

M's mom continued to say that Brielle confronted M and asked for the truth, which she was given. M was completed distraught... sobbing her eyes out at home... because she felt that Brielle's Christmas was now ruined. Poor M.

Part 2 - The Tears & Unwanted Information

So it was there, in the middle of a fabric isle at JoAnne's fabric that I asked of there was something Brielle wanted to talk to me about. She burst into tears. "Two girls at school were drawing boys private parts and M & I were so uncomfortable so we walked away!" she said while crying. 

Wow. I didn't see that one coming. I took the next 5 minutes to calm Brielle down, explain to her that she's not in trouble and that she didn't do anything wrong. We also had a talk about what to do in situations like those, and that talking to me is always the very best thing to do.

What is wrong with kids these days? They're 10 for crying out loud!

We walked to the car, and the tears started again. This time because she had no idea what was going on. "Why did M's mom call you? What did I do? Did I hurt M's feelings? I don't understand what's happening?" were the questions that came between the sobs. Rather than drag this out, I quickly said "IT'S ABOUT SANTA!"

More tears.  Oh boy, I thought. "That's it?" she said. Que more crying... "I thought I had done something wrong!" Her emotions and worry over the situation had gotten the best of her. Apparently, I should not have prefaced this conversation with "Is there something that happened at school you want to tell me about?" It was more than she could handle.

Part 3 - The Explanation

We grabbed Wendy's to go and headed home where she could feel a little bit more comfortable, and where dad could be present for this conversation. By this time, the tears had stopped.

I asked Brielle to name all the things that she knows about Santa Claus. Her list included things such as: Red Suit, brings joy and happiness to children, delivers gifts to children across the world, etc. I then asked her to name some of the characteristics of Jesus Christ that we've been reading in the New Testament this month. Joy, happiness, miracles and blessings where a few of the things she named.

We explained that Santa is nothing more than a symbol of Jesus Christ. Santa is the symbol of the joy and happiness we receive when we give to others. That Christmas really isn't about a magical fat man in a red suit that fits in everyone's chimney. It's about the feeling we have. We discussed that even though Chris and I were "Santa," we feel no greater joy that being able to plan and prepare a special Christmas for her. And that feeling with never go away.

Her next question... "So you guys ate all the cookies I left out?" It seemed the only disappointment she felt was knowing that she essentially gave treats to her parents. Such a bummer.

Part 4 - Being Santa

This is the part where most families would have said "Now you get to be Santa for your younger siblings" like I'm sure is the case with her friend M. But, being an only child, we had to get creative. The best we could come up with was that we draw names, and be the "Santa" in charge of that persons stocking. Brielle is also hard at work trying to come up with just the rights gifts for the Cancer family we are buying for.

I'll tell you what... 2012 will go down as the year that Santa's cover was blown. But it will also be remembered as the year when no Christmas magic was. The Christmas Spirit is still alive and our family is looking forward to a wonderful, magically, Christ centered Christmas.

And bonus! I'll get all the Santa credit!


30 Days of Gratitude - Day #30

Day #30 - Everything Else I Failed to Mention in 30 Days

"As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them." --John Kennedy

How often do we really sit down and reflect on the many blessings that we have? For me, not very often. I'm seem to lack the time for a lot of things lately. Just ask my husband.

But making this "30 Days of Gratitude" project a priorty, every single day, has reminded me just how important it is. It doesn't take long. Just a few minutes is all. Over this past month, I've learned that my blessings are all around me, in every person I meet, in everything that I do. Some I realize like a slap in the  face, while other blessings are subtle feelings in my heart. A confirmation from the Spirit that I am loved.

There are so many other blessings that I'm grateful for that I failed to mention during this project, but it doesn't make them any less important or valued. I'm grateful for the experience I had over this past month. I saw things differently than before. Blessings realized seemed to suddenly have more meaning. As I work my way into the new coming year, I hope that I take the time to slow down and reflect on the many gifts that I've been giving.


30 Days of Gratitude - Day #29

Day #29 - The Tough Times

Yes, I'm one of the those people. I think to myself... "I'm so glad that Heavenly Father gave me this trial so that I could learn something."

Ha Ha Ha! I'm joking. Who really enjoys tough times?

Lets get serious. Though at the time, those experiences were not at all enjoyed or wanted, they've taught me some valuable lessons. I really do feel as though the tough times have made me stonger, brought my family closer and certainly humbled us. For that, I am grateful.

I also should express my gratitude for a Heavenly Father, who may place trials in my path, but will never leave me to face them alone.


30 Days of Gratitude - Day #28

Day # 28 - Parents / In-Laws / Grandparents

I know, it's multiple things today. But having only 3 days left of the "30 Days of Gratitude" project, I may have to squeeze in a few extra where I can.

I'm grateful for my both my parents and my in-laws, for different reasons, obviously. My parents raised me (and are hopefully proud of what I've become), taught me, supported me and loved me even through a few rough years. Even today, when I don't see them as often as I'd like, they still play a profound part in my life.

I'm grateful for my in-laws. They are such good examples of missionary service. They are kind, generous, and make huge sacrafices to be involved in their many grandchildrens lives. They raised a wonderful son, whom I love dearly, and for that, I'm indebted to them.

It's safe to say that all four were raised differently, but it's probably what I appreciate most about them. I love the lessons learned and experiences shared from each one. I believe it helps me become a better wife, a better mother and a better person.

I consider myself lucky to have my grandparents (aka Carrie & Bert) in my life. I never met Chris's grandparents, as they passed long before we ever met. He has such wonderful memories of his grandparents, while growing up and I have wonderful memories of mine. The spoil Brielle like they spoiled me (worse, probably). 

I love the friendly nature of my grandpa. The man can strike up a conversation with anyone, anywhere. He's sweet and has the most tender heart. I adore the sassy Italian nature of my grandma. Her nickname for me is "babe." See ya babe! How ya doing babe! Sounds strange (and hopefully not morbid) but I will miss that when she's gone.

I'm so grateful for my family, immediate and extended. I love them dearly and hope that they know that.


30 Days of Gratitude - Day #27

Day #27 - The Plan of Salvation

"All that we call human history - money, poverty, ambition, war, prostitution,
classes, empires, slavery - is the long terrible story of man trying to find something
other than God which will make him happy.  -- C.S. Lewis

Isn't that the truth?

This evening, just before leaving work, I was visited by a colleague who quite honestly, is one of the dearest, kindest and most generous old man I've ever met. Mr. Nixon recently lost his wife, and as a highly respected REALTOR in Cache Valley, I sent flowers on behalf of our organization to his home.

Surprisingly, I wasn't greeted by a man who looked as though he was mourning, though inside, I'm sure he was. When I expressed my sadness for the loss of his wife, he simply stated "Don't be. We lived a life that most people never experience. We had hard times, but we did everything we ever wanted to do." He went on to explain that our Heavenly Father has a clock ticking on all of our lives, and that when it is our time to go, we should not question it.

I found a conference talk given by Elder L. Tom Perry in October of 2006 in which he states...

"God is the Father of our spirits. We are literally His children, and He loves us... God's whole purpose - His work and His glory - is to enable each of us to enjoy all His blessings. He has provided a perfect plan to accomplish His purpose." 

He goes on to express his concern as people try to find the answers to life's most basic questions. Where did we come from? We are we here? Where are we going? And that technology has only multiplied the confusion by spreading messages contrary to God's plan across the earth.

I sincerely appreciated the sweet testimony that had been born to me today. It made me pause and reflect on the plan of salvation. I am grateful for the gospel of Jesus Christ. I'm am grateful to know that my life has a purpose and that a plan has been laid out for me to follow. I'm grateful for the reminder that my life - that this life - is the time for me (us) to prepare to meet God. And I'm grateful to know that I'm not alone in doing so.

I do have a testimony of the plan of salvation. I do believe that true happiness is not found in having money, possessions, power or status. Happiness is found when living your life as God intended... by obedience to His law, by having eternal goals, and with the promise of heavenly blessings. And if I ever needed a reminder of this, I'm glad that I received it today from Mr. Nixon.


30 Days of Gratitude - Day #26

Day #26 - The Holidays

I had a few experiences the past few years that had me resenting the holidays, namely Christmas. Simply stated, I just didn't like what I saw around me. Greed seemed to become the overall theme.

I'm not a saint, by any means, but I began to miss the feelings I had growing up. My parents were super generous at Christmas time, but it always seemed to about more than just the gifts. That's what I wanted and what I was craving.

So, two years ago, Chris and I made a commitment to make Christmas more about helping others, making memories and remembering Christ. As a result, the last two Christmas's have been the best ever. There are fewer gifts under our tree than in years past, but no on has noticed or been disappointed. The memories we've made and the people we've been privileged to help have made our family feel far more blessed than wrapped packages ever could.


30 Days of Gratitude - Day #25

Day #25 - Italian Food

I'd just like to thank the Italians for such wonderful food (while I'm right now, making calzones stuffed with ricotta and mozzarella cheese, Italian sausage, peppers and onions).  I have yet to find an Italian dish that I don't love, but can find plenty of other ethnic foods I'd rather not touch.

I seriously cannot wait for Christmas Day Lasagna. 


30 Days of Gratitude - Day #24

Day #24 - The Arts

Brielle and I went to see the Nutcracker today at Ellen Eccles Theatre in Logan. Brielle has started getting excited about the new plays that come to town, and quite honestly, I enjoy going with her.
I remember as a kid, my parents used to take us to many plays at the Capital Theatre in Salt Lake City. Les Miserables, Phantom of the Opera and The Secret Garden are a few that I remember. Now, later in life, I realize what a huge expense it must have been to take 2 adults and 4 kids to these theatrical events! $90 per person is what it would cost, now, if I took Brielle to Capital Theatre.

I will admit that the play that come to our little local theatre don't quite compare to those seen in the big city, however, for $40 bucks, Brielle and I can go and enjoy a lunch and an afternoon play. I sincerely appreciate the sacrifice my parents made to introduce us to the arts, and for the opportunity we have, even here in a small town, to the same.


30 Days of Gratitude - Day #23

Day #23 - Subtle Reminders

I am very vocal about the despise I have for Black Friday. I hate seeing the ads pile up in my garbage bin. I hate the TV ads that promote it. I hate the lines I saw outside retail stores when I drove home from having Thanksgiving dinner with my family. And I hate hearing stories about people getting shot or trampled on while fighting over the "unbeatable" deals.

Now -- please understand -- I don't want to judge those who thrive in and look forward to these events. I understand, a good deal is a good deal. But for me, Thanksgiving weekend is time when we reflect on the many blessings that we have, and prepare for a season centered around the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

Black Friday does neither of those things for me. If anything, I feel as though it takes away from the meaning and spirit of both holidays.

Now, some may argue being able to score a great deal on some legos that they "intend" to give to someone else does prepare them for a season of giving. Hey, more power to ya. Retailers will be disappointed, but their Grey Thursdays, Black Fridays and Cyber Saturdays have the opposite affect on me. Because all of it -- the ads, the hype, the buildup -- all it is to me is a subtle reminder to be thankful for what I have, to prepare for a season of giving and to bring my family closer together.


30 Days of Gratitude - Thanksgiving Day

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! Today, I'm grateful for the opportunity to spend time with family I don't get to see very often and eat tons of wonderful food that my mom has prepared. Oh, and I'm grateful for a Grandmother who every year, makes Pineapple Cream Pie as an alternative to that Pumpkin junk.


30 Days of Gratitude - Day #21

Day #21 - Brielle

I'll tell you what... having to write of something you are grateful every single day is a challenge. It's not that I lack things to be grateful for. The problem is narrowing down one to focus on each day. 

I've been waiting to write about my gratitude for Brielle for awhile. I knew that this would be a big one, and wanted to make sure I had the words to truly express my feelings for this amazing little girl... whose not so little anymore.

From about the time that Brielle was 2 years old until about 7, I desperately wanted another child. So much so that it consumed me. I've written about this before, but I'll give you the short version. In a nutshell, every person I met that was pregnant or had a new baby became my enemy. I hated them.

And then one day I realized that being so focused on what I didn't have (the one thing I wanted) was causing me to miss the precious blessing I did have. Brielle. And she is nothing short of amazing.

Brielle is the best Christ-like example. She is kind and caring, always aware of other peoples feelings before that of her own. It's one of my favorite qualities about her. Brielle is so funny and has such a unique personality. Not a day goes by that she doesn't make me laugh.

***Pause... the kid just choked on a smartie. Dang Halloween candy is still lingering in my house.

At age 10, she is responsible and obedient and rarely ever back talks. She does want she's asked and certainly makes life a little easier on her parents. Brielle is smart and talented. It has been such a joy to watch her mature, develop her musical talents and get involved in sports.

Brielle is at an age where she'll do anything and go anywhere with us. She'll adventure out on a hike, help me at the grocery store, or sit by my side while we're being thrown into the air on a roller coaster ride. We even completed our first 5K together this year.

I don't think that it's possible to adequately describe the amount of joy that Brielle brings into my life. I love her with all of my heart and am so grateful to have been blessed with her.

For fun, here are a few of my favorite pictures of Brielle (just so ya know, the girl is always smiling)...

3 Months Old

2nd Birthday - SeaWorld San Diego, CA

Fishing w/Dad - 4 Years Old

5 Years Old

Bear Lake - 6 Years Old

7 Years Old

8 Years Old - Baptism Pictures

First Day with Izzle-Frizzle

Horse Show - 9 Years Old

9 Years Old (You can't see, but she really is smiling!)


30 Days of Gratitude - Day #20

Day #20 - DayQuil / NyQuil

Need I say anything more?


30 Days of Gratitude - Day #19

Day #19 - My Husband

I'll be honest, there's nothing I hate more him putting his dirty socks on the floor in front of the laundry basket, or when I hear him say "yes, I'll do the dishes... when I get around to it." Seriously, I wouldn't have asked if I didn't want them done now. Makes me insane. 

But I confess. I do take him for granted sometimes. Like tonight. I'm pretty sure I have a sinus infection and it is causing the most horrible migraines. I came home from work and crashed. He left me alone, in my dark bedroom (which makes me happy when my head hurts so bad), and brought me coke to settle my stomach, crackers to munch on and plenty of meds when requested. I appreciate those little things...

Besides that, there are many other reasons I'm grateful for my husband. He came into my life at exactly the right time and changed it for the better. He makes the most wonderful dad. He puts the needs of his family above his own. He works hard, day in and day out, to support and provide for our family. He is an incessant tease... which sometimes I hate, but most of the time, I love.

He's stubborn, and almost always has to be right, but he's never asked me to be something that I'm not or do anything that I don't want to do. He supports mine and Brielle's hobbies, even though he might never choose them as his own (i.e. the horses). He understands me enough to know when I need "me" time and allows me time out with my friends. All in all, I don't think there's anything he wouldn't do for our family.

Oh, and he doesn't make me watch those horrible science fictions shows/movies. SO thankful for that.

Babe... life would suck without you.


30 Days of Gratitude - Day #18

Day #18 - Pinterest

Today, we ate well. This morning we had "from scratch" blueberry muffins with a streusel topping. For dinner, we had spicy BBQ Pot Roast with Ranch Cheddar Grits and gravy. My husband said it was the most flavorful pot roast he'd ever had.

Brielle piped in and asked "even more than grandma's because usually you still like grandma's more?"  To which he replied that this particular roast was really the BEST he'd ever had.

But it wasn't my roast. Or my muffins. It was another persons recipes that they (thankfully) decided to share. Granted, I tweaked both recipes to fit the likes and dislikes of my family, but I could never have created the recipe base. And they were both fabulous, and I found them both on Pinterest.

There are so many talented people in the world! I'm amazed at the recipes, home decor and fun craft ideas I can find on Pinterest. Most of my meal planning lately comes from things I find on Pinterest. I'm so grateful that people I've never met, nor would every know, are willing to share their talents and ideas with the world.


30 Days of Gratitude - Day #17

Day #17 - Having the Means to Help Others

I recently received the wishes & wants list from the family that we will be providing Christmas for this year. It's for a mother living here in Cache Valley, and her son, who is currently receiving treatments for cancer. The goal of Cache Valley for Hope Cancer foundation is that each cancer family will have food for the holidays, as well as gifts under the tree.

The moms Christmas wish... that her son will get better. I cry each time I read her email.

Yesterday, Chris and I discussed what Brielle would be receiving for Christmas, how much we'd spend, what would come from us and what would come from "you know who." I also went the grocery store and purchased a weeks worth of groceries for our family.  

I wasn't worried about money. I didn't worry about how we would pay for the gifts. I didn't skimp on the groceries I purchased, thinking that some items may be frivolous and not necessary. We don't have circumstances that make us to wonder how we're going to pay for our next meal, or how we could possibly afford to provide Christmas for our family.

Not only do we have the means to provide a comfortable life for our family, we're able to help out another during the holidays. Today, I'm grateful for that.


30 Days of Gratitude - Day #16

Day #16 - Girls Night Out

It's tough being a mom, and even more tough being a working mom. I have to do all the regular mom stuff... grocery shopping, laundry, house cleaning, soccer practice and voilin lessons, in less time.  When I get home from work each day, the last thing I want to do is house work. What I really want to do is just chill. And watch Grey's Anatomy.

Don't get me wrong -- I love being a mom and I love my job -- I wouldn't want to change a thing. I'm just a little tired all the time.

But what I really love, is when I get a break from it all, and get a fabulous night out with all my friends. I feel like I get to let lose, have fun, and not worry about all my mom duties at home. We gossip, we complain, we rant, but most importantly, we laugh a lot.

Tonight was dinner and movie with the ladies... Breaking Dawn, Part 2. Funnest night out in a long time. And while I'm grateful for these few nights out with friends, I'm equally grateful for a husband who supports GNO's and kisses me when I walk out the door. He clearly knows I need time with my friends as much as I do.


30 Days of Gratitude - Days #12-15

I'm behind again. Big surprise. If only there was a person to clean your house, keep up with your job, pay the bills, blog and journal all your vacation photos for you... while your on vacation... before you come home from vacation. For free. Wouldn't that be nice?  If someone knows someone, I'd love to have that person's number.

Day #12 - Technology

"I fear the day when technology will surpass our human interaction. The world will have a generation of idiots."  --Albert Einstein

It's true. People have become dumb with all the LOL's and JK's and LMAO's. Not to mention, those who hide behind a text message or Facebook, so they can say whatever they want, without regard to feeling, and without having to look the other person in the face (I'm guilty of it too). Drives me insane.

But I am grateful for technology. I love staying so closely connected to my friends and family. I love that my blog gives my family an opportunity to see what's going on in my life, without having to make the trek to Logan (and I hope they appreciate it as well). I love the sweet text messages I receive from Chris and Brielle each day. I love that with one simple text, I can join up with all my BFF's for a quick lunch break. And I love that my work has provided me with the tools I need to successfully complete my job each day.

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Day #13 -My Mom

I feel it only appropriate, since the 13th of November is my mom's birthday, to express my gratitude for my mom.

I know this may sound cliche, but my mom was and is always there for me. I can't remember a volleyball game, softball game or piano recital that she missed. She was always in the stands -- and I had a twin sister involved in just as much -- so I'm sure it wasn't easy. Even now, if I need her to watch Brielle, sew something for me, help me with something, she doesn't tell me "no."

She's good at everything she does.  Cooking, sewing, teaching, decorating, etc. I look to Pinterest for ideas, and she just comes up with them on her own. I'm constantly asked if I cook as good as my mom or decorate as well as my mom, and the answer is no.  Just no.

Most importantly though, she's a great example.  When I consider how to raise my child, I think back to the wonderful memories that I have of my mother and ask myself if I'm doing those same things.  But maybe the question should be "am I doing those same things as well as my mom?"

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Day #14 -My Home

There is nothing that makes me feel more comfortable than walking through my big, red front door. I love my home. My current home, in particular.

For several years, we floated. Looking back to the last three houses we've lived in (one in SLC and two in Cache Valley), I never felt "at home." There was always the feeling that it was a brief pit stop, and soon, we'd be on to something different.

Not any more. Here, in this house, I feel completely at home. I know I will be here for some time. It was a tough road to get here, but the sense of permanency, consistancy, warmth and coziness that I feel here has never been matched. It's not huge. It's not fancy. It's not perfect. But we're making it our own, and truly feel that the Lord has guided us to the exact place that we are supposed to be.

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Day #15 - Cache Valley

Since we are on the subject of home, I am also grateful for the community in which I live. I never knew that living in a rural area (rural to me, but not to Chris) was the life that was meant for me. I couldn't love this place any more than I do. I love the mountains that surround my home, the beautiful scenary, the wonderful people and the slower pace.

It suits me.


Redemption: Merkley Family Vacation 2012

I've been wanting to post about our family vacation for days. But since this trip was filled with jam packed days at theme parks and super late nights, I was left utterly exhausted. I'm just now getting around to moving photos from my phone to my computer, and subsequently, my blog.

The theme for this trip was appropriately title the Merkley "Redemption" Vacation. Last year, at exactly this same time, we were in Anaheim, CA for another work conference / DisneyLand family vacation. This particular vacation (if you can't remember) was plagued with pneumonia and turned out to be miserable... mostly for Brielle.  We weren't about to let anything get in the way of enjoying our time in Florida (even when Chris decided to get bronchial pneumonia just two weeks before we left AND Brielle and I had a short stint with the stomach flu). Cursed?  It's possible.

We were lucky enough to have our good friends, the Clonts family join us on this adventure. So if you see a few random kids you don't recognize, you know why...

Discovery Cove is an aquatic park where literally, the ocean has been brought inland. Here, you get to interact and swim with dolphins, wade in the water with sting rays, snorkel with exotic fish and enjoy the beautiful beaches. This place was pricey... but included in our day was all we could eat food, snacks and treats, wetsuits, snorkel gear, towels, showers, etc.

First things first... snorkeling with Sting Rays.

Some where small, and others quite large.  I told Brielle not to worry, that they wouldn't hurt her, but I found myself wincing each time one would pass me and it's long tail would slither past my legs.  I get the creepy's just thinking about it again.

Above is Brielle... floating while the seas creatures swam beneath her. And below, you would be correct if you guessed that was a shark.  Multiple sharks, actually. Underwater, there is a glass wall to give snorkelers the illusion that they are also swimming with sharks (or near, rather).

So many places to explore.

I think we could easy say that the highlight of this day was the interaction with the dolphins. When you arrive, you are given a scheduled time to meet with a dolphin trainer for your 45 minute dolphin experience.  It was SO fun.

We met up with Stella (or dolphin) in the water, and learned about her unique characteristics, abilities and other fun facts about his friendly creature. For example, did you know that when dolphins swallow fish, they have the ability to not swallow sea water at the same time? Cause is hurts their tummies? I had no idea.

We were all staring into her mouth as he showed us how she swallowed food, showed us her teeth and let us feed her fish. The trainer taught us hand signals to different tricks, like singing, clapping and splashing. And... the signal if we wanted a dolphin kiss.

Cutest picture EVER.

 And then it was time to ride.

The kids loved this place! And so did we.

Universal Studios Orlando
The first item on the agenda for our second day in Orlando was Universal Studios, namely, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. I will say that this portion of the theme park was a lot smaller than I had expected, however, they went all out on every little detail. You would have thought you were an extra in one of the movies.

From the costumes of the cast members, to the the Hogwort's Express, to the specialty shops -- they pulled out all the stops and created Hogsmead just as you'd picture it in the books and see it on the movie screen.

We found the Weasley's car... crashed in the trees, Hagrid's house and the drink made famous in the books...

Butterbeer. The only way that I can describe this deliciously sweet, way over-priced ($10 bucks a piece!) drink is this... it was like drinking liquid, slushly, creamy butterscotch. Oh man, it was good. We each had two. I'm currently scanning Pinterest for Butterbeer knock-off recipes.

I think I forgot to mention that it was topped off with frothy whipped cream. And that it was really, really, good. Did I mention how yummy it was? And came complete with multiple brain freezes.

Amazing, really it was.  If it didn't cost so much to get back into Universal, I would have gone back every day.

We wandered through the familiar corridors of Hogwards School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, passing Dumbledore's office, the Defence Against the Dark Arts classroom, the Gryffindor common room and the Herbology greenhouse on our way to the Forbidden Journey ride. It was pretty awesome.  Everything was so recognizable!

We stopped at HoneyDukes Sweet Shop and Brielle (or course) chose the chocolate frog, which included a Dumbledore trading card. Sadly, the frog did not leap out of the box, but did disappear in her mouth.

Another request on Brielle's list of places to visit was Ollivander's, the Maker of Fine Wands. You can tell by the look on her face that she had a tough decision to make. Will she choose the wand that "chose" her? Or choose a wand that was unique to one of the characters in the book?  In the end, she went with the wand that chose her.

We spent 2 entire days at Universal Studios Orlando, but it's funny, I really only took pictures in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. The rest of Universal was pretty to similar to the one found in California. But even still, we had a great 2 days!

SeaWorld was not on our list of things we wanted to do, however, entrance was FREE with the purchase of the Discovery Cove ticket, and you can't beat FREE in Orlando. With that said, SeaWorld was not nearly as big and as tiring as the first 3 days, so we welcomed a day to chill and catch some fun shows.

I love this next picture... I have this exact picture of her at SeaWorld San Diego when she was two years old. Sniff, sniff. It's like she went from 2 to 10 instantly!

We saw the famous Shamu show, we loved the Seal and Otter show, but if you ask Brielle about her favorite activity at SeaWorld, she'll tell you it was finding the pearl in an oyster.

You walk up to the divers in the water, request an oyster, and they will bring several to the surface. You pick your oyster and take it to the shop to say a "good luck" chant and have it cracked opened. Now, the first time we did this, Brielle ended up with a pretty pink pearl. However, it had something on it that made it look dirty, so they asked her to pick another oyster.

We were told that it's really rare to get a black pearl. Well, Brielle ended up with something even more rare...

A chocolate colored pearl. It's small, but it was beautiful! She had it set so she could wear it on a necklace.

As a kid, I thought Epcot was totally lame. I didn't think that Brielle would enjoy it, but we agreed to go for Chris. This day turned out to be one of our favorite days. We purchased a 1 day hopper pass (to jump between Epcot & the Magic Kingdom, knowing we would be rushing through the parks in an effort to see everything! In the end, we didn't have to, and it was perfect.

By the way, Brielle kept calling it Ep-a-cot. It was even more hilarious when we heard other kids on the train calling it that, too.

This particular day happened to be one of the final days of the Food & Wine festival. If you are not familiar with Epcot, I'll tell you this... it's not full of roller coasters and rides. Epcot is twice the size of the Magic Kingdom, and showcases the World. Small replicas of international cities line the lake, giving you the chance to experience places like Mexico, Japan, China, Italy, France, Ireland, and others, without ever leaving Florida.

Along with the Food & Wine festival, they had food vendors in each "country" with 3 samplings of the local cuisine, each costing about $5. That gave us an idea for lunch. What if we visited multiple countries, try a sampling from each one, and eat our way around the world?

Best idea ever!

We had a Bratwurst in Germany, Ravioli in Italy, Cheese Tartine in France (along with a Napolian because we could NOT pass that up), Belgian Waffle in Belgium and so much more!  If I hadn't been so full, I would have continued with the Empanadas in Mexico and Fish & Chips in Ireland. YUM.

Another thing that we loved was the Phineas & Ferb: Agent P's Showcase Adventure. Brielle got to go under cover as "Agent B" along with Agent P on a quest around the World Showcase at Epcot. Complete with a cellphone in hand, she received clues and messages that connected her with Phineas and Ferb, in an effort to stop the evil villains.

Being that we were in Mexico at the time, her clues took her through the Mexican ruins and local markets. She was determined and did successfully completed her mission. She took her assignment very seriously, and it ended up being pretty fun. Had we had more time, we could have taken additional assignments in Norway, China, France or Germany.

Another important assignment that Brielle was given was to seek out Grandpa Bert's girlfriend, Snow White. Now, I should mention that all week, I begged Brielle to take photos with Minions and other random characters, but no. She wasn't interested. Grandpa Bert asks, and she gladly stood in line for 30 minutes waiting to meet Snow White.

Then it was time to hit the Magic Kingdom. And before I begin, here is my disclaimer... It's way more expensive and not as great as the Magic Kingdom in California. The End.

Wait.. I will say that DisneyLAND is just not the same anymore without Cinderella's castle. Now the end.

We spent all of about 3 hours in the Magic Kingdom. Space Mountain, the light parade and Thunder Mountain were the highlights. Do not -- I repeat -- DO NOT ask Brielle about her Nascar driving experience. I attempted to record her first attempt at driving on video, and it ended in tears.

This girl, always so serious. But when Mickey & Minnie are speaking to the crowd, I guess you listen.

Earlier in the day, I asked Chris why Cinderella's castle was covered in nets? Now I know. And clearly, it wasn't nets.

I don't have much to say about this day, because I wasn't able to participate in all the fun. My meetings had started and I was stuck in a 40 degree, enormous convention center than spanned nearly two full blocks.  If my feet hadn't hurt after walking around theme parks all week, they certainly did now.

Here is a collection of the pictures Brielle text me from her phone...

I do know this about the picture above.  That is the space shuttle Atlantis and this day was the very last day you could see it. It is now being bubble wrapped and stored somewhere until they can build a new museum type building to hold it.

Later that night, Chris and Brielle picked me up and we headed to Downtown Disney to meet up with the Clonts family. They had spent a 2nd day at DisneyWorld while Chris & Brielle hit Kennedy Space Center. As soon as Brielle hit the Lego store, she just had  to show me "Lego Friends." I was completely unaware that Lego had finally entered the market with their version of Lego's for girls.

It's a bit dark, but this is one of the Lego Friends built entirely out of Lego's. Thank heavens, I know have ideas for Christmas gifts.

And that, my friends is the conclusion of the Merkley Redemption Vacation of 2012. Unless we mention that Delta was almost successful at not letting Chris and Brielle on the plane on their return to Salt Lake. Oh, and that they landed during the giant snow storm (thank the Lord I wasn't with them, or I would have had a full blown panic attack on the plane). Oh, and that someone forgot to put the snow scraper in the car, so Chris had to scrape 9 inches of snow of with his bare hands. And then drive back to Logan during the worst of the storm.

There, now that is the conclusion of the Merkley Redemption Vacation of 2012. Where we'll go in 2013, I don't know, but I can't wait. Traveling is the best with my two favorite people!