Monday, January 7, 2013

Happiness is...(December edition)

...Deciding that I wanted to make ourselves a service-oriented advent calendar and then actually WENT TO MICHAEL'S with the express purpose of locating supplies. I found these fantastic brown little envelopes (about 1.75"x3")(sold in packs of 25 - perfect!) and twine and holiday paper and...let's just say that crafting generally stresses me out, so after working on this and then walking away and then working some more and then taking a nap and then working some more, I hung it up in our kitchen and took a picture of it because I was so proud I actually COMPLETED the project. The lame thing is that you'd think after finishing 25 days of our "special project" (real creative name, right?), I'd feel a sense of accomplishment on that front, but I feel equally as satisfied with the actual production of said calendar.

Now, I told my kids not to tell anyone about it, since they didn't even know some of the recipients of the project and I didn't want them to give it away, so I'm kind of breaking my own rule here, but I'll only tell you about the stuff that wasn't so secret. Two of the big things we did that the kids are still talking about (and planning on next year - what have I gotten myself into?) were the night we took fudge and caramels to the police station and walked away with treat bags and ID kits and super cool hypercolor pencils, and then the night we went to the post office an hour before closing (approximately 1 week before Christmas) and passed out 100 candy canes. One woman, after hearing Gemma shout, "Merry Christmas! Would you like a candy cane?" with her arm outstretched and a grin on her face, looked at me and asked in a surprised/friendly voice, "What's this for?" I looked at her like the answer was obvious (I mean, the 4 year old just shouted it at you), shrugged, and said, "Christmas!" I guess people aren't used to getting things for free. Also, if you want to get on your mail-lady's best friend list, apparently all you have to do is leave her a homemade cinnamon roll in your mailbox. It's a little embarrassing that she has thanked members of our family no less than three times. So I'm already planning a Valentine's Day surprise.

The point is, just as I learned that studying for a test makes you do better, and putting snack and surprise time bags together before a road trip makes it more enjoyable, planning to maximize holiday awesomeness also makes a much more memorable and full season. I think most kids are inherently good. Most love to surprise others. But it is always refreshing to see kids impatient to open up instructions on what they'd be doing the next day. And even when they weren't sure why some people cried or strangers tried to hug them, they didn't act too uncomfortable. Plus, they got to eat plenty of the deliciousness we were passing out. It was a good time, but boy did it take some work. This past week has been (delightfully) quiet and relaxing. But I imagine we've started a tradition.

...taking my girls to see The Nutcracker. Ainsleigh has been going since she was 3, but this would be Gemma's first time. We had amazing seats and Gemma ate it up. About 20 minutes in to the performance, she suddenly turned to me and said, "Wait, is this a big TV?" No, I whispered back, that's a stage with real people. "Oh wow, that is so amazing," she breathed. When it began snowing on stage, she quickly looked up and asked, "Is it snowing INSIDE?!" I could imagine her quickly remembering the nights of summer thunderstorms where I reassured her it didn't rain inside and wondering if I had been lying to her. I reassured her that it was just pretend. When the curtain came down at the end, she began to panic, "What's happening now?" When I tried to explain that it was over and we would be leaving, she burst into tears, threw her head back, and covered her eyes with her hands, "NO! I want them to dance MORE! That was TOO SHORT!" I thought this was kind of hilarious, considering I doubted a one-4-year-old sit-in would produce the results she wanted, and that we had already been sitting there for over 2 hours. I tried to explain that the dancers were tired and they needed to rest, but she was convinced if she sat there long enough, they'd come back (which, theoretically, I guess is true). Then she became less charming as I tried to peel her off her chair and carry her out of the theater. I found all of this particularly amusing, though, when I considered that this was EXACTLY how Ainsleigh reacted, complete with tears and sobbing. Maybe it's a girl thing, but there is something decidedly beautiful about ballet that touches you in a way that only art can.

(this picture was taken BEFORE the show started.
afterward, the short one wouldn't have been as cooperative.)

...making caramel popcorn as part of our "special project." This recipe is probably the greatest caramel popcorn recipe I've ever tasted. Warning: only make it if you can give some of it away, otherwise you will eat it all and then probably owe your dentist a million dollars for all the cavities you'll need filled. 

But it would totally be worth it. If you have a million dollars, I mean.

(sorting out the unpopped kernels. Joel informs me that "old maids" is an insensitive term,
but I think all popcorn-related vocabulary is loving.)

...walking into Home Depot, surveying the new delivery of trees, seeing one with a nice top, and saying, "I bet that's a good tree," only to have your husband shake it out and behold that it's not a good tree, it's the BEST tree. We were in and out in 15 minutes. And, even though the tag said it was an 8-foot tree, it was more like 10 feet. So large, in fact, that our ornaments seemed a bit sparse. No matter, not only was this the tallest and best shaped tree we've ever had, but it was sucking up water like a cactus for THREE WEEKS. I finally stopped watering it a couple days after Christmas so the base could dry out before we hauled it to the wood-chipper. Last year we were worried our three would go up in flames a couple days before Christmas. This year, it was still soft and lovely as it exited our home on January 3. 

...Albus in a Santa hat. Nuff said.

...making 4 batches of salted caramels (different recipe from above - NO sweetened condensed milk, thank you) and practically breaking my arm, patting my own back with how amazing they turned out. Also, last year my Mom, in a fit of genius (these fits happen), decided to see if anybody actually made wrappers so we wouldn't have to spend endless amounts of time cutting and recutting wax paper. We kind of felt a little sheepish at the number of candy-wrapper options. So I ordered these caramel wrappers (Amazon prime!) in November in anticipation. They are even better than I imagined and my caramels looked professional (a couple people asked me where I BOUGHT the candy. WHEE!). The only think I thought was kind of funny was that it said 800-1000 count. So...that's kind of a big discrepancy  don't you think? But I'm not complaining. I'm patting my back! Yet another example of PREPARING. Oh, and then, along with other holiday goodness, I ordered these bags from Oriental Trading Company:

Look how cute they are! They each fit about 12 caramels and were so fun to hand out. I will definitely order them again next year. This site was also a great place to get other little "special project" supplies - perfect for Secret Santa doorbell ditching and whatever else your little elves want to do.

...watching my insanely talented little friend Kinsey perform Irish dancing and playing her harp. She is #1 in our Region and close to the top in the nation (in both, actually) and the kicker is that she is as beautiful inside as she is out. If she doesn't watch out I'm going to stuff her into my pocket and carry her around with me. In a totally un-creepy kind of way. I'm actually more her mom's age, but Kinsey is polite enough to pretend like I'm cool and we can get hot chocolate together. But that's what happens when you're a youth leader at church so they're forced to love you. Or something like that.

...grooming Albus the way a wire fox terrier should be groomed. Look how regal he looks.
...taking pictures of your dog now that you're a "dog person."

...receiving a package of goodies from your favorite sister ever. We're still about six months away from our very own Trader Joe's (woe) so Allison angelically put together a few of my favorite things, as well as a few things that have become my new favorite things (chocolate covered marshmallow caramels, I'm looking - hungrily - at you). We have been enjoying them throughout the whole season and looking at this picture reminds me that I hid a gingerbread mix in the basement for later discover - yay!

...texting the above picture to your husband and having him burst through the kitchen door and then casually ask, "So...what's the picture about?"

...watching the girls' dance recital. This was Gemma's first and I was worried she'd freeze. She didn't. See the jangley scarf around Ainsleigh's waist? That thing is actually pretty heavy (for a small person). Donovan wanted to know if they were real coins. Anyway, the whole thing tinkles quite nicely and I've told Ainsleigh I'll probably wear it around the house when I'm cleaning. Joel supports this. You didn't need to know that last part.

having fun with camera+. her little arms and back KILL me.
i want to cover them in kisses forever.

 ...warming up by the fire when it's freezing outside. We often have to push Albus out of the way. Or, if he isn't there, if we sit down, he's right there sitting next to you, as if to say, "Great idea, boss." What we all find ludicrous is that he'll lay there for so long that he will begin to pant. HEAVILY. And not move. Like the idea of tearing himself away from the fire is far worse than overheating. Actually, I've done the same thing.

Can you tell this is basically a "I couldn't think of what has happened in the past month so I looked through the photos on my phone and suddenly I had something to say" post? Most (all?) of these have ended up on Instagram (something I'm still trying to figure out how to use, how to follow people, how to...whatever. I'm peehee, if you're on).  Excuse the less-than-high-quality pictures - I was working on an iPhone 3gs. But DON'T WORRY. I have an iPhone 5 now. I guess that should be my last thing. Happiness iPhone 5. Amen.