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!