Mar 082015
Ready to ski!

Ready to ski!

For the past two years, we have enrolled the children in ski lessons during the winter months. We learned that they LOVE skiing. This year, as we were deciding when to start lessons, it was a particularly cold week due to a “polar vortex” and temperatures were in the low digits.

Temperature doesn't mean much in Virginia.  When you add in humidity and wind chill, you have to subtract between 5 and 10 degrees from the temperature.  15 is frigid!

Temperature doesn’t mean much in Virginia. When you add in humidity and wind chill, you have to subtract between 5 and 10 degrees from the temperature. 15 is frigid!

“It’s going to be really cold this week. Do you still want to ski?”
“YES!”
“But, we’ll have to get up really early in the morning.”
“That’s OK.”
“And it will be really, really cold.”
“Our ski coats and gloves will keep us warm!”

There was no excuse in the book that would keep them from skiing. They overrode my reluctance. So, once a week, we altered our homeschooling schedule to allow for “ski day.” We got up super early to make it to the resort for the 9 a.m. lesson time.

We had to be on the road by sunrise and sometimes a little before.

We had to be on the road by sunrise and sometimes a little before.

Just in time for class to start!

Just in time for class to start!

My pregnant body would no longer fit in my winter coat so I told my husband I needed to use his ski coat and pants. He handed them over without complaint. He was surprised the pants weren’t dragging on the ground on me….until I pointed out how high I was pulling them up around my belly.

My husband had no idea that his ski clothes double as maternity ski wear.

My husband had no idea that his ski clothes double as maternity ski wear.

The ski class is grouped by age and ability. It ran from 9:30 – 2:00 p.m. and included lunch. The kids in the class come from all over the world, especially during peak winter holidays. It is a great chance for my kids to interact with all sorts of children.

“Mom, there were some girls speaking Spanish and taking selfies at lunch.”

“Mom, I met a friend today!”

One time, Fairfax County schools were out for teacher work day and it seemed like every kid in the county headed to the ski resort. When I went to pick up my children at the end of the day, my 6-year old was engaged in a cute staring contest with another child.

The ski instructors are also some of the nicest people you will ever meet. Being around their positive and encouraging personalities has a wonderful impact on my children as well.

The girls spent the entire ski season in the “green” class. The green class is one below the highest level “purple” class. To graduate from the green class, you need to be doing mostly parallel skiing all of the time with very little snowplow/wedge. It is a hard level to get out of. Even my own skiing skills took a long time to get past this level!

Progress on a parallel stance!

Progress on a parallel stance!

Wide parallel turns are the transition from wedging.

Wide parallel turns are the transition from wedging.

Waiting for the ski lift.

Waiting for the ski lift.

This one sometimes skis with a snowball so she can hit you on the run.

This one sometimes skis with a snowball so she can hit you on the run.

Starting to put a little edging into her turns.

Starting to put a little edging into her turns.

Leaning back is still a problem we are working to correct.

Leaning back is still a problem we are working to correct.

Favorite trail this year: Geronimo!

Favorite trail this year: Geronimo!

Favorite trail: Lower Mak Attack!

Favorite trail: Lower Mak Attack!

While the girls skied, my son and I generally headed back to the car to take a nap and sip on hot chocolate until it was time to pick them up.

Relaxing in the car with some hot chocolate.

Relaxing in the car with some hot chocolate.

Last year, he and I had done some simple skiing together but that was impossible this year as pregnant ladies don’t ski. However, one day while registering the girls for class, the ski instructors asked how old my son was. They then informed me that next year he too would be eligible to enroll in the ski class! With that in mind, we wanted to make sure he had at least some exposure to skiing this year so next year wouldn’t be a rude surprise.

Suited up and ready to ski!

Suited up and ready to ski!

I signed him up for a private lesson. He seemed kind of excited at first but as soon as we had to put on all the ski gear, including boots and helmet, the tears and tantrums came out. All of that gear was just sensory overload. When he finally settled down from the gear, more tears and tantrums came when I left him with the instructor.

Not going so well at first.

Not going so well at first.

“Do you want to build a snowman? How about we play in the snow?”

My son just wailed.

I suggested they try to put his skis on and get him moving as he likes skiing once he gets moving. They tried but my son would not cooperate. A more senior instructor came out to help and after about 5-10 minutes, they came over to me,

“You know, not all 3 year olds are ready for ski lessons. We can’t work with him like this.”

Since I had already paid for my non-refundable hour of lesson, I asked if I could work with him a little and see if we could at least get his skis on and then the instructor could finish up with whatever time was left in the lesson.

“Go ahead and try,” they said dubiously.

I went over and gave my crying son a big hug. We walked around the ski learning area for a bit. He stopped crying and looked up at me and said:

“Mom, do you want to build a snowman?”

Even through his crying, he had heard and understood every word they said to him.

“Sure!” I said and we proceeded to build a small snowman.

“Do you want to put your skis on?” I asked him.

“I can’t balance on my skis,” he said

“Well, let me help you!” I said. We got the skis on and I started pulling him around the ski area. The ski instructor saw him and came over.

“Do you want me to put my skis on too?” she asked him.

She put her skis on and within less than a minute, my son went from holding my hands to holding hers and they went off to ride up the gentle hill on the ski escalators.

Finally!  A smooth transition with no tears.

Finally! A smooth transition with no tears.

“What did you do to make him cooperate?” the senior ski instructor asked me after they skied off.

I told her that he just needed a little reassurance. While common practice for preschoolers is to have mom drop off the kid and then disappear while the kid “cries it out” for a bit and then calms down, my son doesn’t like this pattern. He likes to have me there to help him gradually transition to new situations.

Next thing I know, he is high-fiving the lift operator!

Next thing I know, he is high-fiving the lift operator!

And smiling!

And smiling!

After the lesson ended, he still wanted to ski! He was “shuffling” off on his own power.

Unfortunately, we had to stop. He looked forward to getting out of his ski boots and back into his “car shoes.”

And the next week, he transitioned much easier and had his full one hour lesson!

Smiles from the start this time!

Smiles from the start this time!

Having a great time!

Having a great time!

As I was filming my son from afar, some mothers nearby commented, "Look at that itty bitty on the lift!"

As I was filming my son from afar, some mothers nearby commented, “Look at that itty bitty on the lift!”

He looked forward to his “skedding” lessons.

The other big change in our ski lessons this year was that the girls had the chance to ski in Utah at one of the major resorts. I always wondered how our Virginia ski lessons (which I find to be excellent) would compare to those of the major ski resorts.

To our delight, the girls did very well in their Utah skiing. The slopes were steeper and the altitude thinner but they didn’t think it was any harder than their Virginia skiing. They received excellent reports from their Utah ski instructors too.

The gorgeous Utah mountains.

The gorgeous Utah mountains.

2015-03-07-utah-trail

My daughter got her first lesson in using ski poles from her Utah instructors.

My daughter got her first lesson in using ski poles from her Utah instructors.

Utah skiers!

Utah skiers!

After ski class was over, the kids always loved to have a little time to play in the snow. They were plenty tired but loved to slide down the small ski slopes, especially my son!

Some apres-ski sledding!

Some apres-ski sledding!

My daughter collapsing after lessons.  While this looks painful, she is just naturally this flexible.

My daughter collapsing after lessons. While this looks painful, she is just naturally this flexible.

2015-01-09-apresski

Organizational Tips for Skiing

  1. There is a LOT of gear involved in skiing. After 3 years of practice, we finally have this down to a system. Each child needs: ski coat, ski pants, helmet, balaclava (full face hat), goggles, ski gloves and ski socks.
  2. We store the goggles, balaclava and ski gloves in each child’s helmet and make each child carry his/her helmet to and from class.
  3. The night before we lay out all the gear and pack a lunch.
  4. The morning of our expedition, we boil water and put it in a big thermos, usually mixed with hot chocolate.
  5. Each child wears rubber rain boots to and from class, changing into ski boots at the lesson site. This makes walking through the parking lot much safer and faster and minimizes the weight of the boots that mom has to carry.
  6. After lessons are done, we make sure we have goggles, balaclava, 2 ski gloves and the helmet packed back up.

Next year, we might add to our gear challenges by purchasing skis and boots for each child. We have done well with renting so far but it would make the check-in process for lessons much smoother to avoid the equipment rental process, particularly if we will be adding a third skier. We bought the used skis and boots my son was using for $50. They paid for themselves in saved rental fees.

Our 2015 ski team photo.

Our 2015 ski team photo.

Anyone else skiing this year? Any tips to share on managing gear for gear-intensive sports? Please share in the comments.

Posted by anne Tagged with: ,
Mar 062015
Is this spring?

Is this spring?

It has been a while since my last post and yes, I’m still here! There has been an overwhelming amount of activity to take care of lately: skiing lessons, more doctor appointments for the baby, keeping up with the homeschooling, preparing my children to participate in a cross-country wedding and getting the house ready for our new arrival. Sadly, my blog has seen the brunt of my neglect.

Yesterday, the Fredericksburg area was treated to a surprise 6 inch snowstorm! While we have spring in mind, the weather has other ideas. This is the first winter I can remember in Virginia where we have had snow on the ground for more than two weeks at a time.

2015-03-06-snowscene2

Of course, some are thrilled by the snow, especially my son who loves to go out and play in it.

Measuring the snow.

Measuring the snow.

Yesterday's snowfall?  6 inches.

Yesterday’s snowfall? 6 inches.

2015-03-06-snowprincess

2015-03-06-snowangel1

2015-03-06-snowangel2

Exhaustion at the end of his snow play.  He barely made it in the door.

Exhaustion at the end of his snow play. He barely made it in the door.

In the next few posts, I hope to catch you up on some of our recent activities and the organizational lessons that came along with them.

Behind the scenes in March, I will be:

  • preparing our tax returns
  • doing some early spring cleaning
  • working on some home maintenance projects
  • cooking some healthy meals to freeze in advance
  • packing a bag for the hospital

What are your goals for March? Please share in the comments.

P.S. Reminder that this Sunday is Daylight Savings Time! Time to “spring forward” one hour at 2:00 a.m. Sunday and readjust all of our schedules.

Posted by anne Tagged with: , , ,
Feb 042015
My theme word for 2015.  Font: Le Architect by Manfred Klein.

My theme word for 2015. Font: Le Architect by Manfred Klein.

My focus word for 2015 is something that I have been thinking about over the past year as I have conducted various diet and exercise experiments on myself and seen my body change in various ways. During all of these experiments and particularly recently when I was looking in the mirror at my ever-expanding pregnant body, I came to realize that there is no “ideal” body weight or size but rather an ideal set of proportions.

Proportion is about finding the right balance of factors to achieve an ideal result. Proportion is important in so many areas, including appearance, health, time management, social activities, spiritual and psychological growth, financial goals, parenting and yes, even organization!

What I especially appreciate about the word proportion is that it is very different from the word “perfection.” Perfection implies that there are a limited number of ways to do something and often only one “right” way. Perfection also seeks to make every single part perfect. Proportion acknowledges that there is beauty even in imperfection and that perfection isn’t necessary. It is the overall balance and end result that is the most important.

So, as I venture into 2015, I am hoping to learn the following about proportion:

  • Learn to identify the ideal proportions in many areas of my life
  • Correct areas that are out of proportion
  • Appreciate how individual preferences on proportion vary and learn to identify the proportions used by others and their results

I hope you will also take a moment to write down a focus word or goals for 2015. I don’t view the focus word as a sort of report card by which I judge myself but rather a request to the world to teach me something that I need to know. The simple act of putting a request on paper seems to give the request priority. It helps keep me alert to life in general and by the end of the year I am always surprised at how much I have learned, often with very little effort on my part.

For examples of other approaches to focus words see:

  • Marcia Francois’ Word of the Year – who also gives us the great quote, “Aren’t you glad there’s no rule that says we have to have our goals done and dusted on 1 Jan?”
  • Kacy Paide’s 3 words for 2015
  • And as one final example, over the weekend, I had the privilege to attend the funeral for a 95-year old neighbor. During a very touching eulogy, the niece of this amazing woman told us about her aunt’s unique goal-setting method. The devoutly religious woman used paper checkbook registers to track her prayer requests. In the “Payee” line, she would write down the name of the person she was praying for and what she hoped God would achieve for that person. Sometimes it was people she knew and sometimes it was complete strangers from the street. She used the registers to remind herself of how she wanted to spend her time in prayer. She could also look over the registers from time to time to see how many of her prayers were answered.

You can see that there are many ways to go about your goal-setting for 2015. Even if you don’t take any concrete action right now, mull it over in your mind and you might be surprised at what comes to you a week or a month from now.

May 2015 bring good proportions to us all!

Posted by anne Tagged with: , , ,
Jan 262015
My theme word last year.

My theme word last year.

Inspired by Marcia Francois, the Organising Queen, I have been selecting a theme word each year for the past several years. I find the theme word concept is a great way to stay focused. If you just list all the goals you have for the year, you end up with an overwhelming list of different ideas. If you take another look at that list and try to focus in on just one word or theme that runs through all of those goals, it really does help to clarify what you are trying to accomplish.

Last year, I chose the theme word “traction” for my personal goals. To me, this word meant:

  • getting unstuck from unhealthy or unproductive behaviors
  • continuing to try new ideas until you find an effective solution for your problem
  • eliminating complacency and remaining aware of opportunities for improvement even in areas where you are performing well
  • forging into unknown, messy and complex situations
  • moving noticeably forward, whether by an inch or a mile

So, how did I do on my “traction” goals? I didn’t achieve everything I wanted to, particularly when it came to my physical environment organization goals and my blogging goals, but in many areas, I can celebrate success!

  • I completed 44 days of clean eating last spring, dropping 14 pounds. I learned to cook in an entirely new way, began to change my taste buds and have managed to continue my diet throughout the year in a modified way (more on this to come).
  • We completed another cross-country trip to visit family spending 18 days on the road with 3 children! We all had a ball and it is still on my to do list to give you a trip log of our adventures.
  • We achieved one of our milestone personal financial goals this year and have made significant progress in working toward our next goals (which will take decades to achieve).
  • Our homeschool curriculum this year is the most challenging we have attempted with more subjects and another child to preschool. So far, it is going very well.
  • We celebrated the holidays from October through December in grand style, from homemade Halloween costumes to a homecooked Thanksgiving and many activities for Christmas.
  • I did most of the above while pregnant and had to fit in numerous doctor appointments into an already crowded schedule!

It is a healthy and positive habit to take a moment to celebrate your successes. Even if you didn’t achieve exactly what you set out to do last year, did you make progress in other ways? Did you gain a key insight? Did you make key preliminary steps toward achieving your goals? Did life take an unexpected turn for you and you ended up having to completely revise your goals and go in a different direction?

Take time to congratulate yourself. Life is hard and we all deserve to feel that we are making “traction” in our own unique ways.

In my next post, my theme word for 2015.

Posted by anne Tagged with: , , ,
Jan 252015
It's been a month since Christmas.  Reflecting on our holiday memories.

It’s been a month since Christmas. Reflecting on our holiday memories.

Long time no post! Lots has been going on this month and we are nearly at the end of January! On this one month past Christmas, I wanted to take a moment to wrap up the holiday season.

Our holiday season was enormously busy as well. We had a wonderful time celebrating throughout the month but it was nice to be done with all of it. When I look at the big picture of holiday chores, it came down to eight major categories of tasks.

1. Putting Up Decorations

We put up more decorations this year than probably ever in years past. I shared with you my new front door decorations which I love. The other treat I did not share was the adorable mantel design my daughters created all on their own. I awoke from a pregnancy-induced nap to find my daughters had hung up all the stockings and created a fun toyscape. They even put up a tiny stocking for their sibling to be, which was incredibly sweet.

My daughters' impressive mantel design.

My daughters’ impressive mantel design.

We had a lot of fun with lights this year. During the dark days of December, having a variety of lights on throughout the house really cheered things up. Next to the mantel, we tried a DIY idea I had seen last year to wrap lights on upturned tomato cages to make modern “trees.” It took a little bit of work to wrap all the lights but they added a bright, modern touch to our mantel. My children came up with the idea to color some foam blocks we had with permanent markers to make “presents” for the trees.

Our tomato cage "trees" with foam block "presents."

Our tomato cage “trees” with foam block “presents.”

We added a few new handmade decorations to our tree as well.

The knitted "elf clothesline garland" by Rhonda Brewer that has been on my "to knit" list forever.

The knitted “elf clothesline garland” by Rhonda Brewer that has been on my “to knit” list forever.

Painted horse ornaments my girls made with their cousin at a Christmas-themed horse-riding event.

Painted horse ornaments my girls made with their cousin at a Christmas-themed horse-riding event.

2. Shopping/Making Gifts

This year, in addition to purchasing gifts for our children, we exchanged homemade gifts with family members. I was excited to try this for the first time but didn’t quite appreciate how much work it would end up being! My gifts included some homemade treats, knitted sheep and some portrait ornaments from my children.

A baking extravaganza!  Homemade macaroons, challah bread, cranberry orange and lemon blueberry bread.

A baking extravaganza! Homemade macaroons, challah bread, cranberry orange and lemon blueberry bread.

A flock of knitted sheep ornaments.

A flock of knitted sheep ornaments.

Portraits of family members done by my children.  They dressed up nicely in inexpensive $1 ornament frames.  I loved these!

Portraits of family members done by my children. They dressed up nicely in inexpensive $1 ornament frames. I loved these!

I had a lot to learn about sending baked goods through the mail. The first lesson was that you need to mail quickly after baking to prevent your hard work from becoming stale. We rushed to mail them one day after finishing the baking. We were in a huge rush to pack and label everything and it came out a bit rough. We tossed goodies quickly into sandwich bags and packed with shredded newspaper. If we ever did this again, I would have on hand one of each size of the U.S. postal service standard mailing boxes to estimate postage and packing requirements. (These can be picked up free at the post office.) Also, picking up a supply of colored tissue paper for nicer packing material and/or tins that exactly fit in the boxes would have been a nicer touch.

My daughter was so inspired by my knitting that she asked me to get her started on her own project. She picked it up immediately and began taking her knitting with her in the car when we had errands to run.

A new knitter!

A new knitter!

In other handmade activities, we signed my daughter up for sewing lessons at the incomparable G Street Fabrics during December. She ended up being the only child in the class and received private lessons, making an adorable drawstring bag and an assortment of pillows.

Sewing class

Sewing class

3. Family Photo Session

Since we have very young children who seem to grow by the day, we always end up delaying taking our holiday card photo until right near the holidays. It is always a full day, exhausting production getting everyone’s hair and clothes ready and taking enough pictures to capture one worthy of using for the card and individual portraits of the children. This year, I had an extra challenge trying to look attractive in my advancing pregnant state. Fortunately, I found some great YouTube videos about using contour makeup that seemed to help. I also learned the hard way that our waving iron was malfunctioning as it got too hot and burned off a lock of my hair right near the front! I tossed it out and added “new waving iron” to my Christmas list.

My pregnant holiday card look.

My pregnant holiday card look.

We learned a few years ago that you can make your family portraits look 1000 times better just by taking them outside when the light is optimal. For us, this is always just after the sun sets but it is still light out. I learned this year that this is called the “golden hour” of photography and that professionals use this trick as well. There is even a calculator that will tell you approximately when the golden hour starts based on your geographic location.

4. Organizing Used Toy Giveaway

I posted about this in detail before so I won’t repeat it here. We learned that we can lessen the stress of this activity by working on it a little throughout the year. When purging toys, we can clean them up, wrap them up and group by age and gender.

2014-12-28-firstdelivery

5. Sending out Holiday Cards

I learned a great tip this year about designing our holiday photo card. Every year, we have the same problem where my tall husband throws off the aspect ratio of our photos. He is always the tallest person in the photo whether he is standing or sitting down. For some reason, when I try to scale the photos down to fit on the photo card, I have to choose between cutting off his head or cropping all of us at the knees. This year, I tried numerous card formats from different stores and just kept running into the same problem. There was no way to fit in our full photo.

I was about to give up when I learned that Wal-Mart offers the option to print a completely blank photo card. I was able to design and crop my own photos using photo editing software and upload them to be printed on a blank photo card. I could also add in my own text boxes after the upload so the text was crisp and clear. Another bonus, I didn’t have to remember what holiday card formats we had used in years past and worry that we were repeating one.

6. Celebrating Christmas

On Christmas Eve, my children were very enthusiastic about making cookies for Santa. We made chocolate chip molasses cookies, which were awesome. They put out cookies and a large handful of carrots “for the reindeer.”

Treats for Santa.

Treats for Santa.

Santa was very tired and not feeling quite up to par due to a recent cold virus. Santa fell asleep and woke up just in the nick of time the next morning! Santa had just barely finished putting out the presents and filling the stockings when a small voice appeared over my shoulder.

“Whatcha doing?”

“Oh, just playing with these presents that Santa brought!”

We had been so tired from activities 1-5 that we hadn’t had time to clean up the family room, which was quite a disaster. Realizing the immense leverage I had in this situation with eager children ready to open the stockings and presents, I insisted that everyone help clean up the house before we could open the presents. It really was quite a mess and it took a couple of hours to finish.

"Mean Mommy" made everyone clean before we could open presents.

“Mean Mommy” made everyone clean before we could open presents.

I was the least popular person in the house having everyone clean on Christmas morning but I couldn’t bear the thought of adding a ton of new toys to the existing mess. When it was finally time to open presents, the children were thrilled and had plenty of clean space to play with and enjoy them.

7. Planning/Cleaning up for New Year’s Party

This year we hosted a small New Year’s party for family and a few friends. It was a great incentive to get the house cleaned up from Christmas. Yes, even though we had just done a big cleaning effort on Christmas Day our house gets trashed extremely easily with all the activity going on. So, we cleaned up again and had a wonderful evening, even making it all the way to a midnight celebration!

My daughter stopping to hug my belly as I prep for our party buffet.

My daughter stopping to hug my belly as I prep for our party buffet.

Popping bubble wrap and spraying silly string at midnight.  A little girls' delight!

Popping bubble wrap and spraying silly string at midnight. A little girls’ delight!

8. Taking Down Decorations

After all the celebrations of the past few months, it was bittersweet taking down all the decorations. On the one hand, it was sad to say goodbye to the holiday season, but on the other hand, it was nice to be able to focus again on everyday life.

I told my children I would need their help to take down the tree.

“That’s too much work!” my 6 year old informed me.

She was such a brilliant helper putting up the decorations but the thought of trying to figure out how to pack them all back into where they came from was completely overwhelming to her. Quite honestly, it seemed overwhelming to me too! I found that taking it one step at a time helped and using the basic organizing technique of trying to focus on picking out categories of things. I labeled zippered storage bags which I packed with ornaments of the same type. I also separated my ornaments into two main bins. One bin held kid-friendly ornaments that could not be easily broken and the other the fragile ornaments.

It took nearly a full two days to pack up all the mantel and Christmas tree decorations. When we were done, this is what we were left with.

The Christmas tree ornaments and mantel decorations packed nicely into 3 bins.

The Christmas tree ornaments and mantel decorations packed nicely into 3 bins.

Then it was on to the front door. We purchased a new 3-foot storage box to hold everything. (Plastic boxes are a must for basement storage.)

Down came the front door decorations into this storage box.

Down came the front door decorations into this storage box.

It is a little strange to see all the amazement of Christmas packed up so small and compact. My children are already looking forward to the time 11 short months from now when we take it all out again. As for me, I hope to work up the energy by then.

Have any organizing lessons learned from this holiday season? Please share in the comments.

Posted by anne Tagged with: , , , , , ,
Dec 282014
Not quite what you might picture when you think of Santa's workshop!

Not quite what you might picture when you think of Santa’s workshop!

My husband has been bugging me to clean out our basement for some time now. There are a lot of things to go through but a large pile of toys was one of the problem areas. These were hard to get rid of for me for a couple of reasons. They were extremely sentimental to me and were given to us by sweet people we love. My children still liked a lot of them and they were all quite nice toys that seemed to me should be worth something to someone. I told my husband that I planned to give them away to needy families for Christmas.

A week before Christmas I had made exactly zero progress on this project (as there were a million other things to get done). I didn’t really have time to do this project but something inside me was bugging me to get on this.

My husband doubted that anyone would even want these old, used toys. If you donate to groups like Toys 4 Tots, you will note that they only want “new” items. Nobody wants used.

I told my husband that I would try a test. I would post a quick list of the toys to CraigsList in the “free” section. If there was no interest, I would round up a donation for Goodwill. So, I went down to the basement and began pulling out a small selection of our old toys. I took a photo, wrote a description and posted to CraigsList. I showed the list to my husband.

"We have new-in-box toys stored in the basement?"

Yes, we did! Mixed in with the old stuff were new, completely unwrapped toys. These were duplicates we had received for holiday or birthday gifts that I had never quite gotten around to returning or the kind of toys that my children just don’t appreciate and never play with.

An example of the used toys posted to CraigsList.

An example of the used toys posted to CraigsList.

At first, there was no response. A few hours went by, however, and I had 5 or 6 responses. We didn’t ask anyone for details about why they needed the toys but some volunteered.

Thank you so much,
Living with family.
Husband working three jobs to make ends meet.
Thank you for blessing my daughter

I have a 2yr old little girl and would like to get whatever you are willing to give.

My grandson will be very happy. I’m taking my hubby to get surgery tomorrow. He has stage 4 throat cancer.

It seemed like most of our recipients were hardworking, resourceful people. They were the sort of people you are happy to help out!

The new toys were of course the most popular. I was gradually whittling my list down. I took items off the posting list as they were spoken for. There were a few used baby toys left and I went to bed with the listing up.

I awoke to 6 or 7 responses wanting the baby toys! I took the posting down and wrote everyone who had responded by then telling them I had more toys to go through and would probably be able to come up with something for everyone.

I spent the day washing and tidying up the used toys. I sprayed them down with my favorite orange-scented Lysol to remove any dirt or germs. I rounded up all the tiny pieces for each set that my children often strew throughout the house. I packed them up into boxes or bags, wrapped them and bagged them for delivery, writing each person’s name and address on the bag.

"You want me to drive where?"

I needed my husband’s assistance on the last leg of this project. Even though every person I interacted with seemed like a kind, decent person, I realized that I still needed to exercise caution when interacting with random strangers on the Internet. These nice people had all trusted me with their addresses and the fact that there could be children at each address.

The first group of deliveries.

The first group of deliveries.

Just to be extra safe, I sent my “muscle” (a.k.a. husband) to do the delivery work. I let everyone know that my husband would be dropping off on their porch and gave them a rough time window. My husband ended up in some interesting places, including unpaved county roads.

This experience made me wonder if Mrs. Claus isn’t getting short shrift to Santa. Would it surprise anyone to know that Mrs. Claus might be the driving force behind the legend? Sure, Santa gets all the photo ops driving around in the sleigh and filling the stockings but is it really Mrs. Claus’ kindness toward children and her goading of Santa that makes Christmas happen at all?

My husband was so thrilled to be finally getting rid of stuff out of the basement, that he gladly drove our used stuff all over town. When I had the first shipment ready, I told him we might want to wait until the next shipment was ready to do the delivery.

"No, let's do a first round and I'll go again if necessary."

Since this was our first “Santa” experience, this ended up being an excellent idea. For the first test run, we were delivering to 4 houses. That evening I heard from two of our recipients who indicated they did not get their shipments.

At first, we feared that someone might have taken the presents but some investigation showed that Santa had a few delivery errors—in one case delivering to the house across the street and in other to the house next door. My husband was disappointed and personally fixed one of the deliveries. The other, seemed to have been fixed by a neighbor who saw the address on my delivery bag and realized there had been a mistake.

It was interesting to learn interacting with some of these families that disappointment is an intense emotion for them. When the deliveries were temporarily missing, one family adopted a mindset of “I’m going to do whatever I can to find this package.” But it was more common to have families adopt a defeatist attitude of “Oh well, things like this always happen to me. I guess we tried.” I can’t imagine how much life must have to kick you in the teeth to want to give up so easily. Fortunately, we were able to find the shipments and not disappoint any of our families.

I went back into the basement the next day looking to find deliveries for the remaining 6 families. Somehow, yet again, we came up with something for everyone. We washed up toys, put in fresh batteries, tested everything to make sure it worked, wrapped and packaged. Out went Santa again—two days before Christmas — this time with a 100% success rate.

Round two of our Santa deliveries!

Round two of our Santa deliveries!

In the end, we gave away about 39 packages of toys, helped out 10 families and roughly 17 children. It cost us nothing other than our time.

Our recipients were so grateful:

We received your gift wrapped toys! Thank you so much! Happy holidays once again.

Thank you so much again for the gifts. My kids are gonna love them.

Just want to say thank you again. He really enjoyed everything.

But these families gave us a lot in return. They gave us a more peaceful and serene home with less clutter. They gave me the motivation to start cleaning out the basement! They also helped us to remember our blessings and to think more kindly of those in need. Many times in the news, the needy are portrayed as a kind of drain on society. This project helped us to remember their humanity and see how wonderful these people can be as well.

This project made a huge impact on my children. When we were deciding which toys to give away, our kids had a much easier time letting something go when they realized that it might be someone’s entire Christmas present. They also stopped whining about their own first world Christmas problems immediately when I reminded them of the children we were helping who would be glad to have as much as they did. I even think my husband had at least a little fun dropping off the deliveries.

"We should do this every year!"

I was surprised to hear my husband say. For him, it honestly has nothing to do with the charitable aspect of this project. He just likes to see the stuff go out of our house and me cleaning out the basement!

I now have a better appreciation of how wasteful it is for me to have extra, unneeded toys in my house when there are many people who would gladly give them a good home. As we go through the year, I will have a better eye for what might be better off blessing someone else. It will really help me in my decluttering efforts in 2015!

Posted by anne Tagged with: , , , ,
Dec 122014
Our festive front door.

Our festive front door.

One of my best Black Friday finds was completely unintended. I was sent a notice about a flash sale on a front door decoration set for half price with free shipping. Total cost: $51.60. It was perfect for our home. It was a traditional, Colonial style with symmetrical matching trees in small pots, natural Williamsburg-style decorations of pinecones and berries, a door garland and even a battery operated LED wreath.

The set arrived quickly and I set to work putting it up. We generally don’t do a lot of outdoor Christmas decorations so I wasn’t exactly familiar with how this would work. I think we have all seen pictures in magazines of these beautiful garlands draped over doorways but once it arrived and I stood outside holding it in my hands, I realized that I had no idea how to do this.

Hmmm....how is this going to work exactly?

Hmmm….how is this going to work exactly?

The first thing I discovered is that the kit I ordered came with only one garland and it wasn’t going to be long enough to surround the door like advertised. Fortunately, I had one extra garland from a set I already owned that I had never quite known what to do with. All the rest in that set I use to wrap around our stair bannister but there was one left over that usually ended up unused or in random places. I lucked out and the two garlands coordinated nicely even though they are made of slightly different materials. The length was just right.

The garland is quite heavy to handle so you can’t just drape it over the door frame and expect it to stay. I knew this was going to require some hardware so I went in the basement to poke around in our tools.

First, I studded the door frame with nails about every 18 inches or so to give the garland something to prevent it from slipping off.

Studding the door frame with nails.

Studding the door frame with nails.

I laid the garland behind the nails and it sort of worked but there were parts of the garland that slipped out from behind the nails, especially along the sides of the door making the garland look loose and unkempt. My first thought was to tie the garland to the nails with some green sewing thread. This did not work at all. The thread was not nearly strong enough to handle the weight. I needed wire.

It came to me that some of the extra garbage bag twist ties we had in the kitchen might suit. So, I tied some of those around the nails.

Twist ties to secure the garland were tied around each nail.

Twist ties to secure the garland were tied around each nail.

I wish my twist ties were green and a bit longer but in general this worked great! The garland was nicely secured. I put the trees in place and started connecting all the wires together. When I got to the last tree, I had a small problem. I had a female (plug) end on my garland and only one male (prong) end coming from the remaining tree. I could either connect the tree to the outlet or the garland but not both!

Oops!  A loose end that could not be connected to anything!

Oops! A loose end that could not be connected to anything!

I went to the basement and looked at our collection of extra Christmas lights. All of them had one female end and one male end. There was no combination of lights that was going to work to get the garland and the tree connected to each other and the electrical outlet.

After all my efforts, I had managed to connect exactly one Christmas tree.

After all my efforts, I had managed to connect exactly one Christmas tree.

I texted my husband who was on his way to a company Christmas party to stop by the hardware store and bring me home a male/male extension cord that was very short.

He called me right back:

“I’m not sure male/male extension cords exist and even if they do, that would be extremely dangerous to have lying around. What if you made a mistake and plugged both ends into the same outlet!”

Electrical wiring is clearly not my strong suit.

“Are you sure you wired up the garland correctly?”

This was not the question I wanted to hear. That garland took forever to put up and I was not going to take it down. I insisted that my wiring must be right but that I would go outside to check for him. I started with the tree furthest from the outlet.

“OK, this tree has a male plug and it is connected to the garland via . . . . . another male plug,” I said with great disappointment.

“Yeah, you just need to reverse the garland and everything should connect just fine.”

So, back outside I went and took it all down and put it all back up again the other direction. And, of course, it connected perfectly.

A 5-minute call with my husband (who had no even seen what I was wiring but has a natural symbiosis with electricity) resulted in all the wiring connecting perfectly!

A 5-minute call with my husband (who had no even seen what I was wiring but has a natural symbiosis with electricity) resulted in all the wiring connecting perfectly!

Satisfied with my progress, I went inside to put up the garland on our stair railing that we also use to display the holiday cards we receive.

Staircase garland up!

Staircase garland up!

It is a great clutter prevention strategy to have a spot to put all those holiday cards that arrive.  We clothespin them to our staircase garland and they look amazing.  We admire them as we go up and down the stairs each day.

It is a great clutter prevention strategy to have a spot to put all those holiday cards that arrive. We clothespin them to our staircase garland and they look amazing. We admire them as we go up and down the stairs each day.

Lights make such a difference in lifting our spirits during the holidays. The only problem is that you have to remember to plug and unplug them every day. Fortunately, I put a technology solution to work for my staircase garland, an indoor light timer. These are a hot item at the hardware stores lately so if you see one and you want one, make sure to grab it. They are inexpensive. A pack of 2 with an indoor and outdoor light timer was about $12.

The indoor light timer, a wonderful, time-saving way to enjoy your holiday lights.

The indoor light timer, a wonderful, time-saving way to enjoy your holiday lights.

These timers come with few instructions. I’m sure most people figure them out right away but my lights were on 24-7 for two days while I sorted it out. To spare you the same problem, here are my indoor light timer instructions:

1. Plug the light timer into your outlet (or extension cord).
2. Plug the male end of your lights into the side of the timer.
3. Make sure the switch on the side of the timer is set to “timer on.”
4. There are little gray plastic pins all around the dial on the top of the timer. Pull up all the gray plastic pins during the hours when you DON’T want the lights on. I made a mistake when I first started and pulled up just the pins for the start and stop times. You have to pull up all the pins between those two hours.
5. Rotate the dial to set the timer to the current time. If your lights have not come on even though they are supposed to, you might need to rotated the dial a full turn around first until the lights come on and then set the time.

I have a new appreciation for how much work and frustration must go into every single holiday light display. As I am driving by enjoying someone else’s lights, I will wish them a silent congratulations on a job well done!

Do you have any lighting misadventures to share?

Posted by anne Tagged with: , , ,
Dec 092014
It's Nutcracker time!

It’s Nutcracker time!

The Christmas season is not complete for us without seeing a performance of the Nutcracker! We looked forward to our season ticket performance of The Washington Ballet’s Nutcracker. This is their 10th anniversary celebration.

A few days before the performance, I just happened to notice on Twitter that The Washington Ballet was hosting a “Family Day” with special activities in the morning on the same day as our performance. I wasn’t sure what to expect but we weren’t going to miss it. We woke up early and drove into the city. Because we were so early, we even snagged prime parking in the garage right across the street from the theater.

As we walked into the Warner Theater, we found it alive with dance. There were dancers posing all over the hallways and balconies. The pairing of the gorgeous theater with its gold and chandeliers and the elegant ballet dancers was stunning.

The children were given an activity booklet with assignments to have their pictures taken with the performers. They received a stamp for each activity completed. If they completed all the activities, they would get a special prize during intermission.

My girls weren’t in the best of photo taking moods that day but grudgingly complied with my request for pictures with all the dancers. The dancers were all very gracious and welcoming.

A gorgeous ballerina.

A gorgeous ballerina.

The delightful jack-in-the box.

The delightful jack-in-the box.

Posing with the Chinese dancers.

Posing with the Chinese dancers.

Clara and Fritz.  Clara was portrayed by Katharine M. Lee and was one of the best Clara's I have ever seen!

Clara and Fritz. Clara was portrayed by Katharine M. Lee and was one of the best Clara’s I have ever seen!

My girls loved the craft table where they cut out and assembled paper Nutcracker ornaments for our tree.

My girls loved the craft table where they cut out and assembled paper Nutcracker ornaments for our tree.

The most genuine smile from this child all morning!  Enjoying her Nutcracker creation.

The most genuine smile from this child all morning! Enjoying her Nutcracker creation.

The company dancers were warming up along the railing as a demonstration for the crowd.

The company dancers were warming up along the railing as a demonstration for the crowd.

Their stretches put my yoga to shame!

Their stretches put my yoga to shame!

An impressive split!

An impressive split!

One dancer said she stretched about an hour and a half each day.  This type of flexibility takes dedication.

One dancer said she stretched about an hour and a half each day. This type of flexibility takes dedication.

My girls attempting some ballet moves with a "cardinal" dancer from the cat and the cardinal birds solo.

My girls attempting some ballet moves with a “cardinal” dancer from the cat and the cardinal birds solo.

Saluting with the soldiers (English style).  These soldiers had the cutest personalities.  One girl was giving out high fives and another fist bumps to all passers by.

Saluting with the soldiers (English style). These soldiers had the cutest personalities. One girl was giving out high fives and another fist bumps to all passers by.

Septime Weber rehearsing a group of child dancers on stage.

Septime Weber rehearsing a group of child dancers on stage.

Luis R. Torres was Drosselmeyer.  In addition to being an amazing dancer, he could not have been more charming chatting with the children and posing for photos.

Luis R. Torres was Drosselmeyer. In addition to being an amazing dancer, he could not have been more charming chatting with the children and posing for photos.

After the activities, we had a few snacks from the theater and headed to our seats for the show.

Santa gave me my wish .  . . Maki Onuki as the Sugar Plum Fairy!

Santa gave me my wish . . . Maki Onuki as the Sugar Plum Fairy!

The show was wonderful! Every time we attend the ballet, I find something new to appreciate. This time, it was appreciating the fact that while on stage, your face and facial expressions are the most important aspects of your performance. A beautiful face with a pleasant expression, no matter how difficult the choreography, is the mark of a truly great performer.

Another wonderful thing to appreciate about The Washington Ballet’s performance was that they freely mixed races in their casting. During the party scene, for example, an African American mom was paired with a white daughter with blonde curls. Initially, there was a bit of shock, but that quickly faded into an appreciation for how beautiful this kind of casting is. When there is great contrast between the performers, you end up appreciating more the differences and beauty of each performer. It magnifies each one. A great performance also transports us into a fantasy world and the blind casting helped to heighten the fantasy element as well.

One of the best pairings of the entire afternoon was the Anacostian pas de deux between Esmiana Jani and Brooklyn Mack. You need to be in excellent physical condition to wear the costumes for this dance as they show plenty of skin. Esmiana Jani’s translucent white skin paired with Brooklyn Mack’s chocolate brown was so gorgeous. The contrast again allowed the audience to more clearly focus on each dancer. Sometimes in a pas de deux you tend to think of the two dancers as one unit and some details of their performance get lost. In this performance, you saw each detail and it was just breathtaking.

Maki Onuki, of course, never disappoints. She was perfection as the Sugar Plum Fairy! It is hard to describe what makes her so compelling to watch. There is something in the way she effortlessly lifts her legs into high arabesque, her beautifully poised fingers and hands, and the precision of her footwork and turns. She makes it look so easy. When she is on stage, it is really hard to focus on anything else.

Her partner, Miguel Anaya, however, managed to distinguish himself as well. In addition to amazing jumps and turns, he was the best partner to her in the pas de deux. In most pas de deux, there is a part where the woman does a series of pirouettes and the man helps her to turn by spinning her at the waist. Maki Onuki and Miguel Anaya did this move the best I have ever seen! He spun her so quickly and she remained perfectly straight like a spinning top. There was no wobbling side to side during the turns and they stopped the turn precisely with no jarring movements. Incredible! At the end of their performance, as they were taking their bows, he paused to kiss her hand, a touching gesture that seemed to say, “You are a prima ballerina. Thank you for dancing with me.”

As I mentioned before, Clara, portrayed by Katharine M. Lee, was amazing. Her arabesque is so high, especially for a child dancer. She had great poise and maturity for someone so young as well. There was a scene in the beginning where she looks into a sort of “mirror” and sees herself as the Sugar Plum Fairy with the real life Maki Onuki staring back at her. Perhaps some day this vision will be realized!

I completely loved the entire show and the Family Day experience. It was a bonus to see our good friends from Fredericksburg coincidentally at intermission. We gave them the free Nutcracker tickets we got with our season subscription last year and they went and were hooked! They now make The Nutcracker part of their family holiday traditions as well.

As for my girls, they enjoyed it but found all the activities on one day a bit tiring. One daughter took a nap during the first act and the other during the second. Between the two of them, they saw the whole performance! They did love to point out all the dancers they had met in person and it made the performance even more special for them. They also enjoyed getting their prize, a small Nutcracker ornament, for their efforts. They came home and displayed them proudly on our mantel.

The treasured Nutcracker prizes.

The treasured Nutcracker prizes.

Posted by anne Tagged with: , , ,
Dec 022014
Inspired by a designer wreath, my Thanksgiving wreath design.

Inspired by a designer wreath, my Thanksgiving wreath design.

I have needed a wreath for my front door to fill the holiday gap between Halloween and Christmas. I have my black tulle wreath for Halloween and usually try to find a fresh pine wreath for Christmas but November has a gap.

Early this fall, while flipping quickly through a design catalog, I came across an unusual wreath of ruffled burlap with orange flowers. I thought the materials and colors perfectly reflected November. It was quite expensive but I tore out the page for inspiration, wondering if I could make my own version.

I began by making a base for the wreath from two wire coat hangers, leaving one end open.

Two wire coat hangers became the base for my wreath.

Two wire coat hangers became the base for my wreath.

I then cut simple long rectangles of burlap about 13″ wide and a yard or two long, folded them in half and sewed tubes.

Stitching the burlap tubes.

Stitching the burlap tubes.

I used two tubes and slid them onto the open hanger, stitching the tubes together by hand.

Adding the burlap tubes to the wreath form.

Adding the burlap tubes to the wreath form.

At this point, there was some creative hand sewing to get the ruffles just right. I don’t really have instructions for this. I just made stitches where necessary to keep the ruffles bunching correctly. (I also realized that in most craft projects there probably is a lot of this “fussy” behind the scenes detail work, which is why most of us never end up with a result that looks exactly like the instructions we are following.)

Then, it was time to make the flowers. I was inspired by some handmade flowers my artistic aunt recently created. I googled how to make them and came up with this video.

I used leftover polyester fabric from our Halloween costumes. The first step was to cut out circles from the fabric, which I did much of while waiting for my children’s soccer lessons.

Cutting lots of circles of various sizes from orange and yellow polyester fabric.

Cutting lots of circles of various sizes from orange and yellow polyester fabric.

The next step was FIRE! You hold the edge of the fabric near a candle flame, just long enough to melt the edge and curl it but without singeing it or burning it. It took some practice before I stopped burning the fabric.

Burning the edges of the circles with a candle to make them curl and seal the ends.

Burning the edges of the circles with a candle to make them curl and seal the ends.

The YouTube tutorial suggested cutting small slits in each circle to create petal shapes. These were rather difficult to burn and I singed the ends of most of my first few flowers. When I looked at my aunt’s example, it seemed that she did not cut the slits and just used the circles whole. I tried this technique and it was far easier and just as beautiful.

Two options for burning patterns: on the left, the result of burning the circle uncut.  On the right, cutting small slits in the circle before burning to create more of a petal shape.

Two options for burning patterns: on the left, the result of burning the circle uncut. On the right, cutting small slits in the circle before burning to create more of a petal shape.

I then had a whole stack of petals on the table. I started showing my daughter how to stack all the orange together and all the yellow together to make the flowers I had in mind based on the tutorial.

A large collection of burnt  petals.

A large collection of burnt petals.

My daughter took one look at my examples and the huge collection of petals and informed me that I was being far too restrictive in my combinations. She quickly pulled together the most beautiful combinations of yellow and orange and also told me to make some with just the small petals so I had flowers of different sizes. Her artistic talents amaze me sometimes.

My daughter inspired me to combine the the petals in various combinations to create more interest.

My daughter inspired me to combine the the petals in various combinations to create more interest.

The next step was to hand sew a few stitches to keep the petals together in the finished flowers. My youngest daughter informed me that she wanted to learn how to do this. We sewed the first few together, with me pushing in the needle and her pulling it through. Then I gave her a threaded needle and told her to try it herself. She did a beautiful job!

Sewing flowers with the help of my daughter.

Sewing flowers with the help of my daughter.

The pile of finished flowers.

The pile of finished flowers.

My daughters had big plans for these flowers. They wanted to sprinkle them all over our Thanksgiving table as decorations. Fortunately, we had some left over and their plans were realized. They looked amazing!

A simple but elegant touch sprinkling the flowers all over the Thanksgiving table!

A simple but elegant touch sprinkling the flowers all over the Thanksgiving table!

It was then time to attach the flowers to the burlap base. While you could glue them, I like to be able to wash my wreaths before I put them into storage so I sewed the flowers on by hand. This was another part of the process where there aren’t specific instructions but a loose method of figuring out how many to use and where to put them. In the designer example I was following they bunched them all on one side.

To finish it off, I added a tulle hanger loop and a tulle bow. I also used more hidden tulle as ties to help with bunching the burlap together attractively.

In the end, I had something similar to my designer example but a bit more simplified. I love how it came out and it means even more to me seeing the work of my daughters reflected in it too.

Our Thanksgiving friendly front door.

Our Thanksgiving friendly front door.

Posted by anne Tagged with: , ,
Dec 012014
The scene the day before Thanksgiving.

The scene the day before Thanksgiving.

It has been quite a weekend and I am still in disbelief that it is the first of December!

We started off with weather drama–our first snow of the season! It was only a dusting that melted quickly but enough to cause panic. We did our grocery shopping the day before the storm and the store was packed.

Glad to be done with the grocery shopping!

Glad to be done with the grocery shopping!

When we got home, I took the time to thoroughly clean out the fridge as I unpacked the groceries and this was my best Thanksgiving organizational tip. I found that my trusty sanding sponges are great for scrubbing sticky messes out of the fridge. With the fridge cleaned out, there was space for holding the brining turkey. I also had a fresh supply of plastic food storage containers and only good, fresh ingredients to work with. We only have one fridge to work with so we have to make the most of the space.

The tidied fridge with groceries unpacked.

The tidied fridge with groceries unpacked.

On the day before Thanksgiving, we ideally would have stayed home but I had a pregnancy checkup to attend. With light snow falling, my husband did not want me traveling alone so the entire family packed up and we all had a beautiful journey to the doctor through snow-covered farmland.

Virginia has some of the most beautiful farmland in the country and it is even more charming with a dusting of snow.

Virginia has some of the most beautiful farmland in the country and it is even more charming with a dusting of snow.

Once back from our travels it was time to get cooking.

THANKSGIVING MENU

The main courses of our Thanksgiving feast.

The main courses of our Thanksgiving feast.

The Turkey

While most cooks will advise you to stick to what you know for important meals like Thanksgiving, I find it more interesting when cooking for my own family to try some experiments. I read Padma Lakshmi’s advice on cooking a Thanksgiving turkey by brining it in buttermilk and cooking it with apples and oranges and found it so unusual I had to try it.

The brining ingredients: buttermilk (with a little salt and sugar added) and turkey.

The brining ingredients: buttermilk (with a little salt and sugar added) and turkey.

Brining the turkey in buttermilk in a turkey roasting bag in the fridge for about a day and a half.

Brining the turkey in buttermilk in a turkey roasting bag in the fridge for about a day and a half.

Cutting up apples and oranges for the seasoning.

Cutting up apples and oranges for the seasoning.

This year I had to plan some extra time to teach my inquisitive daughters who wanted to help.  Here: showing my daughter how to peel an apple.

This year I had to plan some extra time to teach my inquisitive daughters who wanted to help. Here: showing my daughter how to peel an apple.

I stuffed the apples and oranges inside the cavity, tucked a few in between the skin and the breast meat and put the rest in the bottom of the pan along with a little bit of water.

I stuffed the apples and oranges inside the cavity, tucked a few in between the skin and the breast meat and put the rest in the bottom of the pan along with a little bit of water.

After several hours, the turkey was done!

After several hours, the turkey was done!

Everyone loved this turkey, especially my children. The turkey was moist and delicious and the fruit gave it just a bit of sweetness.

Corn Pudding

Another new recipe was trying the Virginia selected recipe of “Corn Pudding” from The New York Times’ list. Apparently this list was rather controversial. This NBC News story about Minnesota’s outrage over “grape salad” was hilarious. I must say that I have never heard of corn pudding before but then being a relatively recent transplant to Virginia I didn’t feel qualified to judge.

Shaving the corn kernels for corn pudding.  It was actually quite hard to find corn in the grocery store this time of year.

Shaving the corn kernels for corn pudding. It was actually quite hard to find corn in the grocery store this time of year.

In general, corn pudding is quite a simple recipe but the cooking process is a bit unusual. You cook the pudding in a water bath. Generally, you do this in the oven but since my oven was occupied by the turkey I used the electric skilled my in-laws gave to me one year as a present. This is a lifesaver when you need more oven space.

Corn pudding is cooked by steaming it in a water bath.

Corn pudding is cooked by steaming it in a water bath.

My only problem with the electric skillet for this cooking method was that the steam condensed onto the top of the pudding. We had to drain it before eating to remove the excess water. Other than that, it seemed to cook perfectly!

Corn pudding.

Corn pudding.

What does corn pudding taste like? If you have ever had a dessert like flan or the Greek dessert Galataboureko you have an idea of the general consistency and sweetness of this dish. Then add some corn kernels to it. It is really quite sweet. It must come out of the same southern tradition as sweet potatoes with marshmallows. In general, we liked it. I am not sure if we would make it every year but it is an interesting side dish.

Stuffing

Our stuffing came from a basic package mix. The only change this year was that we tried the “cornbread” variety and it was delicious!

Stuffing ingredients.

Stuffing ingredients.

Garlic Cauliflower Mash

So, when you are trying new recipes, not every recipe can be a winner and this one definitely is not! I wanted to include a vegetable and a clean eating recipe in our meal. This alternative to mashed potatoes sounded great but tasted terrible! It might have been better with either no garlic or just a very tiny amount. The garlic in this was overpowering and made it inedible. I even tried heating it up a bit the next day to reduce the garlic taste but it was just awful. Most of this went into the garbage.

Reboot with Joe's Garlic Cauliflower Mash - not a winner for us.

Reboot with Joe’s Garlic Cauliflower Mash – not a winner for us.

In the match-up between traditional boxed mashed potatoes and the healthy alternative, garlic cauliflower mash, the potatoes were the clear winner!

In the match-up between traditional boxed mashed potatoes and the healthy alternative, garlic cauliflower mash, the potatoes were the clear winner!

Cranberry Mousse Mold

I thought it would be humorous and a reference to my home state of Utah (Jello capital of the world) to serve some sort of Jello dish with our dinner. We tried this Cranberry Mousse Mold. The first problem with this recipe is that it is impossible to find cranberry flavored Jello. I checked several stores and none of them had it. I ended up using strawberry instead. I put the whole box in but the Jello just never ended up setting up correctly. There seemed to be too much liquid from the cranberry sauce and water. To make it work, I ended up freezing it but it began to melt quickly as soon as it came out of the freezer.

The cranberry jello mold disaster.

The cranberry jello mold disaster.

It’s very disappointing to ruin a Jello recipe! The flavor was actually OK but the consistency was all wrong. I’ll have to try again with a different recipe.

Pumpkin Cream Pie

Pumpkin pie is controversial in our house. Some of us love it and some of us can’t stand it. I saw this recipe for Pumpkin Cream Pie and thought it sounded interesting. The comments said that it was a great pie for people who hate pumpkin pie.

Ingredients for pumpkin cream pie.

Ingredients for pumpkin cream pie.

My 6 year old took ownership of making this recipe with me. She thought the filling was delicious and creamy but her favorite was the whipped cream with brown sugar and pumpkin pie spice. I loved the whole thing and even the pumpkin pie haters in the house said that this was delicious! This is a definite keeper for us and very easy too.

The finished pumpkin cream pie.

The finished pumpkin cream pie.

The proud pumpkin pie chef.

The proud pumpkin pie chef.

Rolo Stuffed Pumpkin Spice Pudding Cookies

This recipe has been on my to make list for a while. I missed the small print about how you can substitute the pumpkin spice pudding for vanilla pudding with 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice added so I was desperately searching stores for pumpkin spice pudding. This was as impossible to find as the cranberry Jello! During our Thanksgiving shopping, I just happened to find a box of the pumpkin spice Jello and I grabbed it.

The elusive pumpkin spice Jello pudding.

The elusive pumpkin spice Jello pudding.

My eldest daughter took ownership of this dessert as chocolate chip cookies and Rolos are her favorites!

Ingredients for Rolo Pumpkin Spice Pudding Cookies.

Ingredients for Rolo Pumpkin Spice Pudding Cookies.

The trickiest part, burying the Rolos in the cookie dough.

The trickiest part, burying the Rolos in the cookie dough.

These cookies were very rich and chocolaty fresh out of the oven. They actually tasted better the next day when everything solidified a bit.

The proud cookie chef.

The proud cookie chef.

Our awesome desserts.  Both were fabulous!

Our awesome desserts. Both were fabulous!

Overall, it was a wondrous feast! We have so much to be thankful for this year.

The rest of the weekend, however, went steadily downhill. The next morning, my son awoke with a terrible digestive virus, which then spread throughout the whole family, sparing only my husband. So, despite all this rich eating, I ended up losing a pound and a half!

While I had big plans to get a start on our holiday decorating, I ended up cleaning up terrible messes, washing bedding, disinfecting surfaces, and sleeping in to try to recover myself. Caring for sick children while you are sick yourself is the most exhausting task as a parent. We are all on the mend now and feeling much better but still recovering a bit. I did manage however to get quite a bit of our holiday shopping done online as well as catch up on my knitting. We are starting December a little behind but hope to catch up a bit this week.

Hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving! Any great recipes or memories to share?

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