Thursday, November 29, 2012

Technology and peace

As I've battled with depression over the past several months, I have tried to fill my mind with multiple things to distract myself from freaking out. I have watched a lot of Netflix. I have read a lot of blogs. I have spent a lot of time on Facebook. I have played a lot of solitaire on my phone. I have taken a lot of naps. I have eaten a lot of food.

I finally reached a point where I realized that none of that was bringing me satisfaction and none of it was calming my troubled mind. It was just a way to pass the time and I was becoming increasingly agitated and frustrated as I did those things. So I tried something different. And it is working.

I have been reading my scriptures on my smart phone. Several months ago when I was teaching Sunday School to 16 & 17 year olds, most of them brought their phones to class instead of actual scriptures. I thought it was weird. I mean, who wants a cold impersonal phone when you can hold a real book in your hand that has worn pages and notes and that special smell. But one night about a month ago I was laying in bed and I didn't want to go down to the living room to get my scriptures. I was thinking a lot about trials and wanted to search by topic, so I opened the topical guide in the LDS Gospel Library app on my phone. I must have spent an hour reading and highlighting and cross referencing different scriptures that really spoke to me. For the first time I felt like the time I spent on my phone was actually useful, productive, and uplifting.

I have found myself turning on my Gospel Library instead of Facebook or Solitaire when I need a break or I need to escape and calm my nerves. I have been feeling peace. And I have been learning. Right now I am at the end of Alma in the Book of Mormon and really recognizing and appreciating the qualities found in good leaders. I am excited to be reading voraciously from the scriptures instead of forcing myself to do it out of obligation.

One of the things I love about reading on my phone is that I can do it in the dark. If Dan is sleeping I don't have to turn on the lights, although that hasn't been an issue for the last month since he's been working nights and sleeping down in the guest room during the day. But I love turning off the lights and tucking in for the night and reading the word of God in the blue glow of modern technology.

Watching, sharing...

Our old Christmas tree gave up the ghost last year (I just wasn't willing to bend the mangled branches anymore). Our new tree arrived via UPS this afternoon and we put it up tonight (and by we I mean me). It's a really nice pre-lit tree with soft branches and very few gaps. I ordered it from Sears and it's on sale right now (after I ordered it, of course) if you're in the market for a new tree. I really wanted to get one with white lights but it was out of stock. I'm the only one in the family that likes white lights, so I guess it's just as well.

After cleaning and vacuuming the living room, moving furniture, and assembling the tree, my back just didn't have enough left to get out the ornaments. We'll decorate the tree tomorrow.

The two little kids scampered off to watch a movie while Lily and I sat in the living room. Very high on my list of favorite things to do at Christmas is to sit in the dark and watch the Christmas tree. Dan teases me that unless we have blinking lights it's not really "watching" the tree, but blinking or not that's what I call it. When I was a kid my Mom and I would sit in the dark watching the tree and listening to Stille Nacht by Mannheim Steamroller. It's this beautiful piano & choral arrangement that culminates with the gentle sound of blowing snow. So peaceful. It brings tears to my eyes every time I hear it.

Tonight Lily and I sat in the dark listening to David Archuleta's Christmas from the Heart on the iPod. The lights were off and Lily was reading. I laid on the couch and watched the tree and pondered on the beautiful words and beautiful voice in each song. Laying there, I began to realize that it has been a very, very long time since I have shared a companionable silence with someone in my family. I am always either trying to get things done or trying to hide from everyone. It was so filling to be still in the glow of the Christmas lights and feel gratitude for my family and my circumstances.

Laying so peacefully, Lily put a warm blanket on me and I drifted off to sleep thinking of the birth of Jesus and what a blessed time of year this is.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Can I get some cookies?

Have I ever mentioned how much I love baking? You could probably tell that by looking at my muffin top.

Baking is such a fun activity for me. I love to gather up all the ingredients and whip it up into something yummy. Mack & Amelia love to help me and we all anticipate the final step when we can grab our spoons and have some "snitchies" (not too paranoid about salmonella poisoning in my kitchen). It's always fun to have a treat, but for me it really comes down to the feeling I get when I bake. It's festive. It makes me feel like there is something to be happy about, someone to please with the product, tangible love to share.

Last week I was channeling my Gram in the kitchen. She invented a recipe many years ago and it has become a staple in my extended family for the last three decades. Dan loves these cookies and they're a little off the beaten chocolate-chip-cookie path, so it's fun to make them. They are called E.T. Munchies and they have Reese's Pieces in them (I'll let you connect the dots).

I'm going to share the recipe with you because this amount of goodness should not be kept undercover. But if you keep the recipe, will you credit it to my Gram, Jeanette Cox? Then maybe I won't get in trouble for sharing a family secret!

E.T. Munchies

{cream together}
1/2 cup soft butter
1 1/2 cup crunchy peanut butter
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
3 eggs
1 tsp. corn syrup
1 tsp. vanilla
2 tsp. baking soda
{mix well and add}
4 1/2 cups oatmeal
8 oz. Reese's Pieces

Bake at 325 for 8-10 minutes

Now, a couple of hints on these babies. You have to flatten them a bit before baking, like so:

A rubber spatula works best because it doesn't stick to the dough as much as a spoon.

You have to watch them because they burn easily. You don't want to wait until they're brown or you've overdone it. This is what they look like when they've gone 3 or 4 minutes too long because you were too busy commenting on someone's Facebook post.

This is what they should look like, firm but not brown:

Unfortunately, E.T. Munchies are not my kids' favorite. I don't know who their parents are.

Whilst the E.T. Munchies were baking, I whipped up some sugar cookie dough. Mack & Amelia helped me roll them out and cut out shapes until they were bored and I did the rest after they'd gone to bed. The next night we mixed up several colors of frosting and the girls and I went to town.

Lily is getting to be pretty good with a frosting bag.

Amelia has yet to master the less-is-more concept. It's tricky getting just the right amount of pressure so you don't overdo it.

Although it's not yet Thanksgiving, the girls insisted that we do Christmas trees. Here are a few I decorated:

Amelia frosted the most cookies and loved mixing up the colors.

And marking her territory.

Lily didn't have as many to show because she nibbled along the way!

And she made a few special cookies for her brother and sister.

When we ran out of cookies to frost, Lily continued to practice her decorating skills on the lid of the cookie box.

Here is my favorite sugar cookie recipe. Nice and soft and just the tiniest bit of tang to them.

Sugar Cookies

{cream together}
1 cup soft butter
1 1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs
3/4 cup sour cream
2 tsp. vanilla
{mix then add}
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp nutmeg
4 cups flour

Chill dough 1 hour. Roll out 1/4 inch thick and cut out shapes.
Bake at 350 for 10-12 minutes.
Cool and frost.

The cookies are good enough to eat without frosting if the thought of eating something piled in butter and powdered sugar makes you want to gag. But that's not you, right?

Let me know if you try either of these recipes. What have you been baking lately?

Wednesday, November 14, 2012


Every November 1st I wake up and think, "I'm SO glad Halloween is over." It's stressful for mothers, trying to make it fun and memorable for our kids, trying to avoid costume malfunctions and meltdowns and late nights on a sugar high.

But as I look back at the pictures I think, "What's the big deal? Why do I get so stressed? It's a fun time for our family despite the drama. I think I'll do it again next year."

Mack changed his mind about his costume several times. First he wanted to be a bat, then a pirate, and finally settled on an Army guy. The only Army costume I could find was a size 6-8 so we had to do a lot of rolling up. He wore it for several days before and several days after Halloween. He especially liked the helmet.

Amelia spied a cute fairy costume the first time we looked at Walmart and was set to go about a month before Halloween. As an extra bonus her Bogs matched her outfit perfectly! (By the way, if you're looking for some good winter boots, Bogs are the very best thing we've ever owned. They are pricey, but SO worth it.)

Amelia was probably the most excited about the blue spray we got for her hair.

We got super lucky with the weather. Usually the kids have to wear lots of layers to stay warm in the 30-40 degree weather, but this Halloween it was around 60 when we started trick-or-treating. I was amazed that Amelia could get away with wearing just her dance leotard.

Our cute kitty Anna was pretty interested in all the festivities. The rest of the cats (5 more!) watched from a distance.

Lily was not with us when we started trick-or-treating. She's a cool 5th grader and stopped by the house after school just briefly enough to grab her costume and go to her friend's house for a friend dinner followed by trick-or-treating.

Amelia helped Mack until he got a hang of things.

Then she was like, "You're on your own, dude!"

We caught up with Lily and her friends a little later (I love how I knew we would run into her because there's only about 10 or 12 streets in the main part of town!)

Striking a pose by the Catholic Church (yes, we actually have one in town!)

Lily started to run off with her friends again and her Dad told her she better come back for a picture with her brother and sister or she would be in big trouble with her mother! We bought Lily a pioneer outfit near the end of 4th grade for a rendezvous her class had up in Star Valley. When I bought it I told her she had to wear it for Halloween, too. But she wouldn't put the bonnet on for me. Stinker.

As it started to get darker we realized we'd forgotten the glow sticks and a masquerade type mask that matched Amelia's costume. Sadly, it had gotten left on the lawn where we were spraying the blue hair goop and some trick-or-treaters stepped on it and broke it. There were some tears shed but I promised to buy Amelia another one next year. I refilled the candy bowl, broke out the glow sticks, and the mask was forgotten. As you can imagine, Mack was pretty thrilled to have a glowing sword.

Amelia was totally peeved that she could not run off and go trick-or-treating with her friends without her parents around. We found one group of friends, siblings, but Amelia threw a fit because she wanted to leave the group with just her friend. So I made her Dad take her home. Then I found another one of her friends that was trick-or-treating with just her mom and little brother and Amelia decided that was acceptable. After a knocking a few doors all the drama was forgotten and she was having a great time.

We finished the night by going to Amelia's teacher's house which is about 10 minutes out of town. He promised all his students that if they came out to his house he would give them a whole big handful of eyeballs. Awesome!

When we got home we were greeted by Annie snooping around the jack-o-lanterns. So cute!

I guess I'll try to have a better attitude next year. :)

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Amelia's 6th Birthday

Amelia turned 6 on September 5th. I always want my kids to feel special on their birthday just like my Mom made me feel. Amelia has been wanting a locket for about a year now and I found a great one on Etsy. The lady even printed and put the pictures in for me. (A word of caution: she's in England so you need to order about 3 weeks in advance.) Amelia got to open her locket at breakfast. In years past I have made a special badge for Lily to wear to school on her birthday and I am continuing that tradition with Amelia.

While she was at school I drove into Montpelier and got some balloons. I was totally thrilled to find a number 6 balloon. Amelia loved it!

However, the bliss quickly turned into a full on freak-out when I made Amelia come outside for some pictures and a gust of wind came up and blew her #6 away. She was so mad at me and I was so distraught that I had ruined what was seeming like the perfect day for her. She only stopped yelling at the top of her lungs when she saw me bawling my eyes out. We're quite a pair. Luckily Dan missed the drama, he was on a flight home from his drilling rig in Texas.

Grammie came up for Amelia's birthday. When Amelia got home from school and I wouldn't let her open her presents until Daddy got home around 7:30, she was not pleased. "I've been waiting all day to get home and open my presents!" So I told her when Grammie got here she could open her present from Grammie. The pink animal print purse and wallet did not disappoint!

My Mom always made special cakes for us kids. You can read about my Mom's cakes here. I didn't start decorating cakes until Lily was 7 and I was no longer working full time. I thought it was too much work, but after trying it and seeing the reaction from my kids, I was hooked! After I made Amelia's cake for her friend party (see below) Lily said, "I bet other kids wish their moms made would make cool cakes like yours." Made me proud!

For months before her birthday, Amelia pours over our cake decorating books to decide what kind of cake she wants. She changes her mind several times and frets over choosing just the right one. I wasn't up for something super complicated on her birthday this year so she settled on this heart cake.

There were several leftover pieces after I cut out the heart shape and Lily had fun making some of her own designs.

On her 5th birthday Amelia had a huge hissy fit because Mack blew her candles out before her. This year they each got a lecture before it was time to blow out the candles and we compromised by relighting the candles a second time to give Mack a chance to blow out the candles.

I thought it would be fun to have a treasure hunt for Amelia to find her presents. We started out with an envelope with the first clue. Gifts were hidden in different places throughout the house and each had a clue written on the outside. The grand finale was hidden inside our camper.

We considered getting a neutral colored bike so Mack could use it when he gets older, but we decided that Amelia would really, really love a pink bike. We were right.

Even though it was nearly dark, Daddy helped Amelia take a few spins around our street to try out her new bike. It's her first bike with hand breaks and gears.

In our family we only do friend parties every other year starting at age 6. Amelia was beyond excited to have her first friend party. I was willing to go all-out for her friend cake so we got on the internet and found a picture of a kitten she liked. She colored it just the way she wanted it (to look like her siamese cat Sophie) and I copied it onto the cake.

I gently cut the lines into the cake as a guide, then carefully outlined and filled in all the details.

It took me almost 4 hours to make that cake and I was up until 1:00am! But I was smart this time and did it the night before the party so I wouldn't be rushing to finish it moments before the guests started arriving (which is usually what happens).

On the morning of the party Amelia and Mack helped me cut out lots of sugar cookie shapes for the kids to decorate later.

Amelia stuffed the treat bags,

and asked me about every 15 minutes when her party was going to start.

We played two games where the girls could win a prize. Ring toss:

and musical present. It's like musical chairs, but with a gift wrapped in multiple layers of paper. You pass it around and each time the music stops that person gets to unwrap one layer until the final person gets the gift inside.

After games the girls decorated sugar cookies.

Amelia was really excited to show her friends the kitty cake.

I usually take lots of pictures of my cakes to get all the details and different angles, but this time I completely forgot until after the candles were blown out.

At the end of the party, I took the girls outside, each with a balloon. On the count of three they each made a wish and released their balloons.

Lily was a big help at the party and as soon as all the girls left I went straight up for a nap! Birthdays are hard work, but there is no better feeling than knowing that all your effort was worth it and that your child loved their birthday.

Ok, so I didn't exactly do the condensed version. But it was fun! And I did make a concession by only doing a quick edit of the photos in iPhoto. Yes, I finally got my Mac!