Monday, January 22, 2018

Christmas 2017

Warning: This one is a doozy. Super long. Hope you enjoy.

This year for Christmas Max and I hosted several of my siblings for the holiday festivities. We had Macsen, the Lunds (John and Kristin), Bryson, and Natalie all here. It was wonderful to be all together, especially after  celebrating all the holidays the previous year in England with no family. We are making up for lost time!

Our first guests to arrive were the Lunds, coming from Oklahoma (where John had previously been stationed) on Wednesday, December 13.  As I said in the previous post, right after they arrived we drove up to Twin Falls for the weekend where we met up with my parents, Jessica and Zach, Kristin and John, Bryson and Natalie. Macsen arrived in Provo that following Saturday, December 16, but stayed down in Utah while the rest of us were in Idaho. After our weekend together, Bryson and Natalie each dispersed (to Salt Lake and Eagle, respectively) until the next weekend (Christmas weekend!). During that week after Idaho and Christmas weekend we stayed busy with lots of fun activities. As follows:

Christmas Activity #1.  Lunch at Nuskin

On Monday, Dec. 18 we had lunch in downtown Provo, where we picked up some Hruska's Kolaches (one of my favorite Utah eats) and took them to Nuskin to eat while we admired their pretty Christmas decor  and listened to Max's cousin play Christmas songs beautifully on her harp! Her dad works at Nuskin and she plays there a few times every Christmas season - so beautiful!

Christmas Activity #2. Gingerbread houses with Aunt Liz!

On Tuesday night Liz came over to decorate gingerbread houses with us. She's pretty fantastic at gingerbread houses and every year whips out some masterpieces. This year, she enabled us to attempt to do the same haha. It's something I want to do every year, but sometimes (usually) don't get around to doing for some reason! I see those ubiquitous boxed kits from Halloween until Christmas, but for some reason always figure I'll get around to doing them later... and then later never comes. So thank you Liz for making it happen this year. Really fun activity! Especially for the kids.
Liz had brought the kids houses over pre-assembled and dried so they got a head-start decorating (and eating... Claire!) while Kristin and I stuck (*hot glued*) ours together haha. I knew she was bringing some for the girls, but we wanted to make some too! So I went to buy a few that day, but I couldn't find any of the regular house kits left!! Luckily on an obscure shelf in the Christmas stocking stuffer region of the aisles of walmart I found two tiny kits, one a dog house and one a caravan/camper. They were pretty Awesome haha.
Jane didn't waste any time and had hers mostly covered almost immediately.
Major concentration going for those gumdrops.
She looks a little dazed and crazed haha, too much sugar too late at night.

Claire seemed to realize quickly that it was just as fun, if not funner, to eat the candy as it was to stick it on her frosted house.

Like her Dad. Very meticulous.
John was also really concentrating hard on his side of their Winnebago.
And all the finished products! From left to right we have:
Jane, Claire, Alice, Me, K/J, Max
Angled shot to get a side view.
Close-up of Jane's. Completely covered, with no rhyme or reason to it, I would expect nothing less.
Close-up of Claire's.
Close-up of Alice's, her eyes peeping over the counter behind it.
Close-up of mine. Apparently she was really excited about it. ...
...and I had to get a closeup of the back too, because that wreath! Just so cute!
Close-up of the Winnebago - Kristin's side...
...And John's side. I have to say, I did not expect John's to look so much, dare I say, cuter(!), than Kristin's! Well done John! It's really very sweet. The holly garland across the top, the cute "X" design on the door, the tail lights, the red and green color theme. Kristin, yours was kind of a monstrosity in comparison hahaha.
And lastly, a close-up of Dad's (Max's).  Very planned out, very neat and tidy, very meticulous.

Sometime the next morning (Wednesday) this happened:
Claire got into our Carnation chocolate milk mix. I found her trying to clean it up with wipes. 
Hey, at least she was trying to clean up her mess.

 Christmas Activity #3. Christmas Cookies with the Aunts

 My aunt Aunt Judene Spiel invited us and another aunt (Norene Bean) to come bake/decorate Christmas cookies at her house with her and some of her kids and grandchildren. It was soooo fun! Any time with those Ray Aunts, my mom's sisters, is special time. They remind us so much of her. We had a lovely afternoon together baking,  chatting, frosting, sprinkling, and laughing. 
Claire was LOVING using that rolling pin which was *almost* the length of her wingspan haha. The two of them were just so happy with their little balls of dough!
For as many cookies as we had to frost, the process actually went very quickly! Those kids were eager beavers about getting them cookies all decorated!
Alice with some of her newly met second cousins.
We all had a good laugh at this little one's "piping" job. Haha.
Each family (Spiel, Bean, Viehweg) brought a different type of cookie dough to share. We brought our step-mom, Deb's, great-grandmother's recipe for gingerbread, Norene brought her mother-in-law's recipe for sugar cookies, Judene had our great grandma Mynoa's recipe for cradle cookies. It was quite a mix of family legacy! All were so delicious! And so beautiful, too!

Christmas Activity #4. Banyan Christmas party! 

On Wednesday evening, December 20th (the same day as above cookie making) we went to Max's company Christmas Party. Dressed up in our "ugly" holiday sweaters we drove up to the Megaplex theaters at Thanksgiving Point where we ate a yummy catered dinner in a private party room while chatting with coworkers and mingling around a bit. After dinner we were taken to a private theater room where we bid our raffle tickets on prizes, a few awards (prizes) were handed out, and then they put on the new STAR WARS movie! It was a really fun party, Max works with some great people--everyone I met was so nice and wonderful to talk to and get to know. 

Here's a selfie of us in our sweaters. Max wore my crazy, 80's sequin sweater, my most amazing D.I. purchase ever. We thought it'd be funnier if he wore it and he'd be more likely to get a prize. I honestly don't own an ugly Christmas sweater! I need to invest in one. So I just wore a holiday-ish sweater. It was pretty surprising to us that Max didn't win any of the three ugly sweater prizes! Felt just a little cheated...
 My winnings from the party prizes :) Poor Max didn't get nothin. But I was really excited about all this cute Pioneer Woman kitchen stuff! I love her line of kitchen- and dining-ware, and her recipes are all soooooo good.

Meanwhile, John and Kristin were babysitting for us haha...
Seems like they had fun playing games. Hide and seek and the "Animal Game"
Jane's worm is priceless.

Christmas Activity #5. MORE CHRISTMAS BAKING!! (un-pictured)

Starting early-ish on Thursday afternoon Kristin and I began about a 6 hour long baking session where we made 6 different baked Christmas treats, I think, unless I'm forgetting one... We made several of Kristin's mother-in-law's Christmas recipes, all of which were amazing; Nutmeg Cookie Logs, Raspberry Almond Thumbprints, and Almond Sugar Cookies,  and then a few of my favorites; Sticky Holiday Chex Mix (which our mom always used to make - our family's one Christmas "baking" tradition haha), Double Chocolate Peppermint Cookies,  and Chocolate Almond Toffee. ... I think that's all. We decided not to make more gingerbread, since we still had some from Wednesday's baking session with the Aunts haha, and I had to nix one or two other recipes that I really wanted to make, because HOLY COW, we already had so many. But I just love having a yummy assortment throughout the holidays! And I've always wanted to make assorted goodie plates to hand out to neighbors and friends, because I always love receiving them so much. So we made a Ton, then gave about half of it away, and still had A TON leftover haha. But it was great.

The one thing I would have done differently is bought an electric mixer before hand. I'm not even kidding, we used a whisk for every single mix, doughs, toffee, and frosting, for 6 hours of baking. My hand was red and raw and near to blisters by the end. So dumb. It was just one of those kitchen gadgets that we'd gotten rid of before moving to England, and hadn't needed to buy yet, and forgot that I didn't have one until we started baking, and for some reason didn't think to just take a 30 minute break, run to Walmart, and pick one up. Our arms got a great workout that day.

All the goods turned out delicious and our goodie plates looked so cute. Wish I had gotten a picture of them before we delivered them. I also wish I had photographed the mountain of tins, tupperwares, and plates of baked goods stacked up on the counter in the corner of my kitchen, cause it was ridiculous. But so fun. 

Christmas Activity #6 The Lights at Temple Square 

On Friday night we drove up to Salt Lake City to see the beautiful lights at Temple Square. First we ate dinner at the City Creek food court. BAD idea on a Friday night haha, that place was crawling with people. The mall itself didn't feel very crowded but the food court was insane. We eventually found a table, although we had to split our party up, and ate quick and and got outta there. Bryson met us there and somehow managed to find our table amidst all the craziness.  Temple Square was also quite crowded, but again, it was the Friday night before Christmas, couldn't really expect anything different. But being out on the grounds was definitely better than the din of the food court.

The lights were beautiful, as usual. And we even managed to get a  few decent pictures.
This reflecting pool is always my favorite part of the light display. Like probably everyone else in the world.
The beautiful nativity in the middle of the pool with the floating lights all around like floating stars and the reflection of the magnificent temple as the backdrop for it all, it's just so pretty.
It just makes it look so magical to have it all so perfectly reflected in the giant pool.
We almost left Temple Square without seeing my other favorite part, the Joseph Smith Memorial Building! I nearly forgot about it. I always love walking inside and seeing its magnificence, especially when it's all gussied up for Christmas.
All the nieces swarmed Bryson.
It was interesting walking inside this building after not seeing it for over a year, specifically after the year we had in England traveling around the UK and Europe. We walked into so many incredibly beautiful, magnificent buildings and saw so much grandeur during our travels that the feelings my past self would have had walking inside this lovely Joseph Smith Memorial Building and basking in its loveliness were somewhat dampened after all the exquisiteness, sophistication, and splendor we saw in Europe. It was a strange feeling. A little bit of nostalgia and sadness that I wasn't as blown away anymore as I used to be, but with it all acceptance, realizing that it was because of the incredibly blessed year I'd had with my family, we were so fortunate to have so many amazing experiences packed into that little year abroad. How blessed I am that I've been able to see and enjoy so many of the wonders and beauties, some of the greatest of man's accomplishments and creations in this world.

It is still as exquisite as ever, I was not disappointed or let down, but instead of being transfixed by this beautiful  architecture, it is now added to a collection of visual images stored in my memory of some of the great architectural wonders of the world. I wonder if I'm making any sense.  ...Whether I am or not, we can all still enjoy Jane's cheese here:

Christmas Activity #7. Ward Christmas Party

Our church congregation (called a ward) hosted a cute Christmas party at our church building. It was a pajama party breakfast! Although you wouldn't have known it walking in, as EVERYONE else came in their street clothes, looking fine and ready for the day. We definitely took them at their word and showed up in our pajamas haha, and we were nearly the only ones who did! C'mon people! It said Pajama party!! Slightly aggravating. But only slightly.

It was a really delicious breakfast, lots of options. Pancakes fresh off the grill, giant cinnamon rolls (that's what we went for) Greek yogurt with parfait type mix-ins (had a little a that too - those giant, shiny blackberries and raspberries were too tempting to resist). After everyone had finished eating we had a special visitor come and the kids all got to sit on his lap. Our cute bishop put on the suit, sat every kid on his knee and gave them each a cute goodie bag.
Claire was much too terrified to sit on his lap, we could hardly get her to stand near him!
Can we all just take a second to smile at Jane's clodhopper boots. Haha, especially in comparison with Alice's dainty little ballet flats. Oh these two, I LOVE their differences, they couldn't be more so. Alice so dainty, Jane so not.

That evening (Saturday) we had a nice dinner with everyone at the house. Our Ogles family, Kristin and John Lund, Macsen and one of his long time friends that we all know and love, Lauren, Bryson, and Natalie. Macsen made us all a big (but not too big haha) pot of Borscht. It was a lovely evening, we lit our advent candles since we had missed the previous Sunday while in Twin Falls, and after dinner, as we sat around the table with the candles burning and a plate of homemade Christmas cookies being passed around (from the massive stash Kristin and I had baked) Alice told us all the Christmas story using little puppets she had made in her Christian pre school. A wonderful start to the Christmas weekend. 

And this video of Claire is the only documentation I have of it. After being inside all day (aside from the Christmas party breakfast) the kids were all a bit stir crazy, so while the borscht cooked, the adults took the kids to the nearby park. Me, the Lunds, Bryson, and Natalie played with the girls until dark, most of the time playing Alice's school playground game, Lava Monster. It was very fun with the adults in on the game too. We were chasing each other all over that playground. This video is of cute Claire all bundle up, running to the play ground.

 Christmas Activity #8. Christmas Eve Church Services

We woke up earlyish Sunday morning (like we do every week) for our church service at 9. The only difference on Christmas Eve is that it was only 1 hour of church, instead of 3. It being Christmas Eve, church would consist only of what we call Sacrament Meeting, where we partake of the sacrament, or the Lord's Supper. Also, with it being Christmas Eve, the program was primarily music performed by the ward choir and other small ensembles.  It was a wonderful meeting, that went 20 minutes over when it was supposed to end. The two people giving the talks (sermons) and the ward's choir director didn't quite communicate properly about how much time each would take (which is odd, because the two giving the talks are actually IN the ward choir....) so anyway, one or the other or probably both took too long and instead of 1 hour of church we ended up having 1.5 hours of church, but oh wells. The kids were super antsy, but I was up in the choir seats, not having to worry about them.... haha.

Here's a before church Christmas Eve picture, they're hair's all still in tight curls and looking fresh, but we didn't quite get enough wreath in it, so had to try again afterwards...
Also, Claire was crying....
Oh but look at that cheese from Jane haha. Sorry, I can't bring myself to delete them...

There's the wreath! After church we used more strategic posing and placement.
I forgot to mention, I did make their dresses. I sewed like CRAZY for a couple weeks in November to make the dresses Alice and Jane are wearing. Claire's dress I made for Alice several years ago, and now all three have worn it. I love those ruffles so much I just used the same pattern and made the exact same dress again for the older too.
After church the girls gathered around Max as he was playing some Christmas hymns on our "new" piano. It badly needs a tune haha, still (it's been like 2 months...) I just loved watching them sing around him as he played. So sweet.

Sometime that afternoon the girls put together these cute nativity scenes with sticker pages from their Aunt Georgia. Very sweet. There should be a third one somewhere... guess Alice never got around to taking a picture of Jane's.

Christmas Activity #9 Garrett Family Party / Viehweg Family Christmas Eve Dinner

Sunday afternoon our little family ditched my siblings (haha, sorry?) and we went to Max's parents house for the annual Garrett Family Christmas Party (Max's mom's family). It was very fun, they had a potluck dinner that we (sort of) didn't eat since we had planned a nice Christmas Eve meal for later in the evening with my family back at home. We participated in the traditional White Elephant gift exchange, which is always fun. This year instead of an exchange, Maureen, the host, read a fun story/poem that assigned each number to take a present or some specification (color, size, etc.) or trade with some other number. It was a fun new way to do a White Elephant.

After coming back home we sat right down to a lovely meal that had basically been prepared for us while we were away haha. I'd prepped a few things before leaving (including burning the glazed carrots... dag-nab) but Kristin and whomever else helped her got the ham, cheesy potatoes, green beans and rolls (which I had prepared and left to rise - I did contribute a little) all cooked and ready to go, and the table set nicely as well. All I had to do was grab the bottles of Martinelli's and we were set. It was a delicious meal, beautiful and holy feeling with our advent wreath's 4 candles all ablaze and flickering.

Christmas Activity #10 Nativity Reenactment

After dinner we sang a few hymns, then acted out the Christmas story... after scrambling around finding costumes and props for 10 minutes, and then waiting for Alice's meltdown to wane. She had all the parts and pieces planned out perfectly in her mind, but then Jane and Claire threw a wrench in all her plans when they actually had a preference and didn't do as she demanded and then the whole thing was ruined and there were tears and there was wailing and she was NOT going to do it. And then it all blew over and we had a very nice time acting out the story of Joseph taking Mary to Bethlehem and the birth of our Savior. And everyone's costumes looked great.
Claire was just about the cutest little Joseph that you ever did see, and as you can tell from these pictures, she was loving leading (pulling) her donkey (Uncle Macsen - per tradition. He can't ever be anything else now, it's just been this way for so long) around saying "Come on puppy," in her tiniest little voice... or was it "come on pony..." not sure.
Letting loose after our performance haha.
The cutest little Joseph ever.
Mary, Joseph, and the little baby Jesus.
Showing us the gold in her box. It was full of Jerusalem shekels that I'd brought back from the Holy Land after my study abroad in Israel. Actually, both those little boxes and Claire's head scarf were from there as well.
Here's another closeup of them all in costume watching something on Bryson's phone, back when Jane was going to be Joseph and Claire a sheep... must have been before the melt-down haha.

Christmas Activity #11 Christmas Eve Pajamas

Every year on Christmas Eve, as so many family's do, my parents would give us new pajamas.  I always loved the tradition and have kept it going with my own kids. This year I got them all matching tartan flannel nightgowns. I love them! And so did they, but things melted down quickly when it was time to take a picture haha.
Lots of crying in this one too, I don't blame you if you don't wanna give it a listen, but I have to post it for memory's sake, cause we'll be laughing at it soon.
Totally laughing at Alice's crazed smile haha.
I know there are way too many of these, but they're all so funny haha.

Christmas Activity #12 Christmas Morning!!!

I'm realizing I actually didn't take very many pictures on Christmas morning. We sure had a fun time together though, working our way through that huge pile of presents. We are so very blessed, to live in such plenty and such comfort. On big celebration days like this I can't help feeling the tiniest bit guilty that we have so much, and to spare, when so many people have so little and lack so much. I hope I can be more mindful of those less fortunate than us. 

First thing Christmas morning I got mad at Max because he told the girls they could go down and open their stockings while we were still in bed. I tried to yell at them to stop but once they got the go ahead it was a stampede downstairst to see their loot. I wanted to be up and dressed and down there waiting for them, taking pictures and documenting and enjoying it alongside them. Apparently he just wanted to sleep longer haha. We did not have a clear communication about our plans and expectations for Christmas morning. Lesson learned.

I did make it down in plenty of time to witness most of their fun though.
Ready to open presents!!
Well, now it's everyone.
Above and below: Claire carrying around all her new baby puppies. I got both her and Jane a Puppy and Kitten Surprise toy. I Loved that toy when I was a kid! The mama and her tiny babies you can pack around inside her tummy was so fun to play with! Hope they're enjoying it like I did.
I had to document Bryson's patchwork wrap job he did for Kristin's present. By the time he asked me if we had any wrapping paper, ours was basically all gone! I'd supplied everyone else in the house with wrapping paper from my giant Costco roll, and I didn't think it'd ever run out, but sure enough it did! So he had to make do with what paper we had left in the house. It turned out amazing.
Most especially this handprint cut out for a turkey at Thanksgiving time. Haha.

Alice trying to figure out how to get the candy out of an M&Ms ornament tin.
 New coat.
 New puzzles.
 A box of American Girl Doll clothes and books which went along with a present she opened later, an actual American Girl Doll, my American Girl Doll and clothes that I had when I was a child. Felicity, the best one.
 (Almost) All eyes on Claire while she opens her gift.
Jane and her favorite (and her most consistently asked for) gift: the toy trumpet.

Cute Claire, opening up something.
And Alice, playing with her new paints and easel.
Here was my favorite gift of the day. Both Max and I have really loved messing around with and trying to learn these amazing songs. Someday we'll actually get to see the musical!

It really was a lovely mornign. Lots of nice and thoughtful gifts, delicious food - Cardamom Almond bread, a recipe I got from a friend in Oxford, and Li'l Smokies sausages for breakfast. We played in the miraculous Christmas Eve snowfall, fiddled with new toys, and talked on the phone with far away family members.

As for the rest of the day, around 3 o'clock all our guests left for Grandma and Grandpa Viehweg's house up in Salt Lake, she had invited all of us to her annual Christmas afternoon lunch buffet. We really wanted to go as well, but decided instead to stay in Provo and go over to Max's parents' house to celebrate a bit of Christmas cheer with them.  They served us a nice meal of roasted ham, potatoes, delicious rolls, etc. It was a wonderful evening where the girls got more spoiled with endless presents and we played a really fun game of Maureen's creation. 

She had bought everyone, including her parents who were with us that evening, a book, wrapped them all up, and handed them all out to everyone but had confused the books so the recipient of the gift didn't in fact open the book she had intended for them. We opened them one by one and had to guess who we thought the book was for and hand it to that person, who then opened their book and followed the same pattern. Eventually all the books were opened and delivered to who we thought were the correct recipients, and by the end Maureen had to make only two changes.  It was a really fun, interactive game, where everyone ended up happy. A nice way to spend Christmas evening.

I got the book Secrets of a Charmed Life, which begins with a young student studying at Oxford and tells about her uncovering a story about WWII and the bombing of London during the Blitz. A great book, and especially fun for me to read being familiar with Oxford, Oxfordshire, and London. I loved it.

In all it was a wonderful holiday. After our evening with the Ogles we went home to a house still full of family and I basked in the blessed time I got to spend with all of them nearby. I'm so grateful for my Savior, Jesus Christ, and love so much celebrating and reverencing His birth every year. It is a wonderful time to gather with family, show love through gift giving and service, but most importantly to remember our Lord and his humble birth, and His life of service dedicated to us,  the people of the world, His brothers and sisters, as well as His ultimate sacrifice and death, saving our souls and redeeming us from our sins, pains, and mistakes.  What a wonderful time of year it is and a beautiful thing to celebrate.  If you would like to learn more about our Lord Jesus Christ, you can look here, my church's website dedicated to answering questions and teaching about Him.

Until next time, Cheers.