Monday, December 31, 2012

Farewell 2012

It's been (another) year of ups and downs, but it's over now. It's the last day of the year and before the new year hits at midnight, I wanted to take a look back at 2012.

I think one of the biggest events of 2012 was Nate graduating from college. It had been a long time coming and had entailed a lot of sacrifice, but he did it. He had been working full time for a year, attending school full time and fitting in 4-5 hours of sleep where he could. It was hard on us as a couple, but it was especially hard on him physically and mentally. When he graduated, I think we both felt a huge surge of relief. For so long, our mentality had been "just get through this." We were focused on the light at the end of the tunnel and finally it was here.

That feeling of relief was short lived. It wasn't long until we realized that he couldn't even use this degree he had worked so hard for. It was a degree in Criminal Justice and not only had he realized during the course of the degree that he had absolutely zero desire to work in law enforcement but that certain details probably precluded him for even getting a job as a police officer. Add to that an economy where they had been laying off cops for several years and it just looked bleak. So talk turned to going back to college. Finding another career path. At first, his desire to be a writer looked like it might be the way to go. We looked into bachelor programs where he could get a degree in English and work as a teacher while he wrote his book, which was his true passion. But once again, just as things were beginning to look bright and hopeful, reality set in. He had already taken too many student loans and didn't qualify for enough to actually cover the bachelor degree. There was just no way we could pay for it.

So down to earth we came. He would just have to find something else to pay the bills while he wrote his book. We looked at the 2 year programs offered by the college and Nate decided he wanted to take Accounting. We knew the income potential was higher than security or law enforcement and likely the job security was better as well. He also had many of the courses already so the degree would only take 5 quarters instead of 6. It turned out he qualified for just enough loans to pay for the course. So in September, back to school he went. When he graduates at the end of 2013, he'll have 3 2-year degrees. As it turns out, he really enjoys accounting and is very good at it. His first quarter resulted in straight A's and being added to the President's List.

That period of time was the most heartbreaking and stressful of the year. It was so crushing to feel like we'd finally made it, only to find the rug pulled out from under us again. It was about that time that Nate lost his job as well. Things were bleak, but we pressed on and, as they always do, things got better.

It wasn't all bad news and stress though. We were able to take a camping trip with our friends, our first ever as a family. It was probably the best experience we have had as a family.

One of the biggest blessings in my life, apart from my family, are my friends. They pretty much ARE family. Every event is just made better by their presence and I thank God that I'm lucky enough to know them. 

Anyway, we went camping on Memorial Day Weekend and wow. Lesson learned. Don't do it. A) There are no camping spots unless you reserved 10 years ago. B) The water is cold. Like, your toe will freeze and fall off if you test the water for 10 seconds cold. 

After driving around the mountains with 2 kids and a dog for a few hours, looking for a camping spot, Peter and I finally found a GREAT one. It's like it was made for us. It was spacious, big enough for 3 tents to be put up well away from each other for maximum privacy. It was close to the restrooms, which is critical when you have young children. It was close to the lake, but wasn't part of the lake campground, so it was cheaper.  And best of all, the campground wasn't crowded and packed together. The lots were spread out. The only people we really saw were the people across the road from us, who were super nice and chatted up the kids, who just think they've died and gone to heaven whenever someone takes the time to chat them up. They have lots to say....

It was an amazing trip and I'm really glad we decided to go camping instead of going (again) to Seattle. We're going to make camping a regular thing each summer and I'm really glad my kids will have that experience. 

This post has already been super long and I've only talked about the two biggest events of the year, but there have been many others. Damien turned 5, Julia turned 4 and I entered the dreaded 30's. (30 doesn't count. It's like you're standing on the threshold, peering in with a feeling of dread. 31 is when you give up and just step in.) Damien started kindergarten, Nate re-started college and I discovered the joy of 3 hours 3 days a week of having the house entirely to myself. 

Nate and I celebrated 6 years of marriage and discovered that we've celebrated NINE Christmases together. We started the year in marriage counseling and ended it stronger than ever. We have what can only be called a "volatile" relationship (we're both....irritable), but our devotion to each other is unwavering. There is no question in either of our minds that this is forever, no matter what. 

And honestly, that's the best way I can think of to end the year. 

Saturday, December 29, 2012

New Years Resolutions

It's that time of year again. The end. And also the beginning. As I look back over the year, I am torn. There have been some wonderful moments and some heartbreaking ones. Moments where I wish I would have tried harder, did better, been stronger and other moments where the pride of being a mommy just threatened to overwhelm me.

I might talk about those moments another day, but right now I want to think about the coming year. I have so many plans, so much hope and drive to make this year the best yet. Even then, I'm really trying to make this year the best yet so that the following year will be even better! I'm calling 2013 Year of the Nest. The reason for this is because I'm calling 2014 Year of the Baby. I've been teasing my husband, saying "2014: Year of the Baby. Confirmed!" It's not confirmed though. It's up in the air. It depends on many things. I really want a third child. I think my husband does too, but he has a few reservations. So he's calling it 2014: Year of the Baby Negotiations.

We have a lot of things to accomplish before we consider adding to our family. My husband is working towards his Accounting degree. He'll be done at the end of 2013 and will be looking for a good paying job. My health needs to improve and by that, I mean I need to lose weight. I need to be more faithful in my housekeeping duties and work harder to be more organized. And the biggest one of all: We need a bigger house.

So that's what 2013 is all about. Nesting. Preparing. Working hard to get things in order so that if and when the time comes, we're ready. And if the time never comes? That's ok because these things need to happen anyway.

So here is my list of "Resolutions" for 2013.

  1. Go to the gym at least 5 days a week, no excuses. 
  2. Make a conscious effort to teach the children good cleaning habits and be a good example myself. 
  3. Set aside money each month to put towards a new, bigger rental. 
I only have three because I think if I do these things, it will make a big difference in the coming year. For the first, I'm joining Anytime Fitness gym next week. Nate and his friends go every day and so I'll be going with them when I can (when the kids are in school) and on days that Julia doesn't have school, I'll be going on my own. I'll be following their workout plan and focusing a lot on strength training and building stamina. What I won't be doing is focusing on the number on the scale. My goal is not "lose weight." My goal is "build strength, increase fitness." I know I will lose weight as a side effect, but I think it will be more motivating to see my strength increase than to worry about the fluctuating number on the scale. I'll be keeping the blog updated with my progress.

Secondly, I'm not a housekeeper. Some women are born organized and capable of keeping their house under control. I'm not. I get overwhelmed easily and I'm the person who likes to throw blinders on when they're overwhelmed. If you don't acknowledge it, it goes away, right? Well unfortunately, that hasn't worked so far. Because of my attitude towards housework, my children don't understand the necessity of cleaning up after themselves and helping around the house. I haven't set a good example and so it's a battle to get them to clean up their room. This year, it will be different. We're working together to implement organizational plans and cleaning schedules to make sure that at the end of the day, the house is clean and ready for the next day. I'm sure to some of you, this sounds like "duh...", but for us, it's been a tough battle to get to this frame of mind. 

Thirdly, we need a bigger house. Even if 2014: Year of the Baby never comes to fruition, this tiny house is not big enough for a family of 4. We need money for a deposit and the actual moving. I don't want to wait until Nate has a better paying job. I want to be ready to move as soon as we can afford the increased rent. So we're setting aside as much as we can for this purpose. 

I'm feeling hopeful. I believe I can accomplish these things this year and I intend to stay accountable on my blog. I know that if I can just do these things for one day, that's all that matters. I don't need to worry about going to the gym every day for an entire year. I just need to worry about today. And when I wake up tomorrow, I'll do it again. Just one more day. 

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Christmas Baking

I'm not exactly a huge fan of cooking, but I love baking. This year, as we were tight on money, I decided to bake for friends and family in lieu of gifts. Well, I suppose I gifted baked goods! I just thought I'd share what I did.

The main thing was a red velvet cake in the shape of a Christmas tree thanks to a tin foil tree-shaped pan I got from Safeway. Honestly, I can't even call what I did baking. It was just too easy.

Yup. I used a box mix. Not only is this mix amazing, but I really, really needed the time I saved not mixing my own.

It's always helpful if you have a little cutie to clean the beaters for you...

Once the cakes are done baking (about 30 minutes in small pans like this), you have to cool them completely. I kept them out on the counter for 15 minutes, then froze them. You can just let them come to room temperature, but not only does freezing them drastically reduce the cooling time, it makes it a lot easier to frost and decorate later on. You don't really need to freeze them solid. Just make sure they're cool and firm.

Time to decorate! I ended up only needing 1 can of frosting, but depending on how much you love your frosting, it's safer to have two cans handy! I used cream cheese frosting and Duncan Hines makes an amazing cream cheese frosting! No cuties were available to lick the spoon when I was done, so I was forced to take the job upon myself. It was awful, but someone had to do it.

I sprinkled the cakes with green sugar to give it some tree-like color. I considered just tinting the frosting green, but I decided that it just wouldn't be a proper red velvet cake if it had green frosting. I also threw on some red sugar for excitement. I used red sparkle gel for the garland and my expensive blue sugar balls that my husband knocked off the counter and into the garbage the day after I bought them. I'm not bitter, but I'm really disappointed I only got to decorate three cakes with them, considering they cost $5! It's ok though. It was my fault for letting him into the kitchen in the first place!

The next thing I made was Peanut Butter Chocolate Almond Bark. You can't really call this baking either because it's so easy! Pour anywhere from a half of a bag to a full bag of milk chocolate chips into a foil-lined pan and then about a half to three-quarters of a bag of peanut butter chips on top of that. Stick the pan into a pre-heated oven (about 350 is what I did) and let it melt for a few minutes. You'll know it's ready when the chips still hold their form, but are pretty shiny. Take the pan out of the oven and swirl a knife through the chips to get your pattern.

Sprinkle toasted almonds on top while the chocolate is still hot and melted and bang the pan on the counter a few times to get the almonds to settle into the chocolate. You can toast almonds really easily by laying them out on a pan and putting them in the oven for a few minutes. You'll know they're ready because they'll start to smell really good. Scientific, I know. Put the pan in the fridge for an hour or so to harden the chocolate, then break it all apart and package it. Try not to eat too much between the pan and the package, even though it's really really hard to resist. 

I just lined a really cute gift box with wax paper. This really needs to be refrigerated, or else the chocolate gets a little soft and you might end up with a mess. Incidentally, you'll want to refrigerate a red velvet cake as well, if you frosted it in cream cheese frosting. You can take it out of the fridge about an hour before serving to bring it up to room (aka, yummy) temperature. 

The last thing I did, which was not baking at all, was make candy sleighs. These are so easy to make (are you sensing a pattern here?) and I think they're just adorable.

I found an image for these on Pinterest but when I clicked through, it went to a blog called Just Say Sew and I couldn't find the candy sleighs anywhere on her site, so I don't know if credit belongs to her or who came up with these clever little sleighs. Either way, it was really easy to figure out how to make simply based on the picture. Glue dots are your best friend here. Don't listen to naysayers who say it's cheating (CHRIS). It's not. Use those little Hershey's Nuggets candy bag, 2 candy canes and a Kit Kat. 

Put glue dots on each of the bottom corners of the Kit Kat bar and attach the candy canes. 

Stack those bad boys in the shape of a pyramid, using glue dots to hold it all together, then wrap it in ribbon. Easy peasy!

Work in progress...

All done! Six candy sleighs all in a row. I really like these little things and I'll definitely be making them again next year. 

So that's what I made this year. I also cross stitched a little Santa Claus ornament for my tree, but never got a chance to finish it, so that will be hanging on my tree next year. I'm debating leaving my Christmas decorations up until after New Years, but honestly, I've had them up since the middle of November and I'm ready to get back to normal, so I guess it's off to tear down Christmas for me!

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas!

Lots of pictures in this post! We got home early today, around 10am. We had our big Christmas dinner on Christmas Eve so we could share it with our friend, Chris. Also, my mother in law had to work both nights, so we tried our best to make everything work around her having to sleep during the day and what-not.

We had a great time. Dinner was awesome, we played games well into the wee hours of the morning. I think I finally passed out around 4am, which made waking up at 7am with the kiddos that much more agonizing! Luckily, the kids had tons of gifts to open this morning so they were pretty much on overdrive in terms of excitement and that sort of pure joy and energy is infectious. It was so fun to watch them open everything.

Once we got home, we had breakfast (thank goodness Jack in the Box is open on Christmas!) and took a nap because we were exhausted! All in all, we had a wonderful Christmas.

Soooo many presents! This doesn't even include the ones that Santa brought!

Julia wearing one of her new Christmas shirts. 

Damien wearing one of his new Christmas shirts and also the toy parrot he was obsessed with all day.

Game time!

My sister-in-law, Mikallie, waiting for games to start.

Our friend, Chris, showing off his candy sleigh...

...and plotting during the game...

Damien waiting patiently to open presents. Why is it always the Daddy who is the last to get out of bed?! We always had to beg my dad to get up so we could open gifts and this morning, the poor kids had to beg Nate! Oh, and yes, those are birthday bags. It turns out kids don't care if the bags their presents are in say Merry Christmas or Happy Birthday so my mother in law's stash of gift bags came in super handy last night.

Damien, Mikallie and Julia showing off their pj's, still waiting for Nate to get up so they can open their presents. Such torture!

Finally, they got to open presents. Here they are showing off their new Santa hats. 

Damien picked out this gift himself from Walmart a few weeks ago, but we made him wait until Christmas to get it, so he was looking through everything to find it. He wanted it to be the first one he opened hehe. (It's a Nerf shotgun.)

The aftermath... There was no way we were going to get everything into the trunk of our car. Luckily Mikallie's dad, Mike, offered to drive the rest of the gifts to our house in the back of his pickup. Thanks Mike!

I hope your Christmas was as wonderful as ours was!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Damien-isms Past and Present

12/22/12 - Damien: "Um, mom? I want my birthday to be all about you. Like, your face on the balloons."
                 Me: "What? Why?"
                 Damien: "Because I love you!"

12/22/12 - Damien: "What the Christmas eve is going on here?!?!"
11/25/12 - Damien: "Dad, I know your middle name. It's Thomas."
                 Nate: "Nope, that's Peter's middle name."
                 Damien: "You have the same middle name as Peter??"
                 Nate: "No Damien, my middle name is Calvin."
                 Damien: "What?! (bursts into a fit of laughter) That's a HILARIOUS name! Hey Mom, Dad has a SILLY middle name hahahahaha."

11/23/12 - Damien: "I'm a stunk!"
                 Julia: "What's a stunk?"
                 Damien: "A stunk is an animal that stinks from his tail."
                 Julia: "Eww"

11/10/12 - Me: "Oh look! It's snowing!"
                 Damien: "Whaaa?? MY FAVORITE DREAM CAME TRUE!!!!!!"

11/7/12 - Damien, desperate to wear the clothes he wore yesterday for a second day, starts to put his new clothes over his old clothes. I tell him to take the dirty clothes off and put the new ones on. His response?
                Damien: "Come on, Mom. Isn't wearing two shirts cool?"
                Me: "No, change your clothes."
                Damien: "Well, it sounds cool to ME."

11/5/12 - Me: "Hey Damien, what do you like to dream about?"
                Damien: "Um, I like to dream about the biggest muffin ever. But, I need to see it first. If I see it, it will unlock the dream."
                Me: "Good talk."

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Something Cold, Something Warm

We woke up this morning to a gorgeous blanket of snow. I love snow, but I hate the cold. When I lived in Canada, it would snow in late October and stick around till almost May. Here in Washington, it usually snows right before Christmas and it's gone in March. I love the short season, but I'm always a little worried there won't be any snow for Christmas. Luckily it came just in time this year!

Damien getting a good look at all the white stuff this morning.

I chose to keep my admiration of the pretty snow indoors. We were going to watch the Polar Express at the theater today, but opted instead to watch it from the comfort of our couch under warm blankets (our house is old and drafty.)

One thing that's been on my mind a lot, as it has for most people, is the Newtown shooting. Yesterday, a group of bikers arrived in Newtown and formed a blockade around the funerals for some of the children.

Why did they have to do this? Because those so-called "christians" from Westboro Baptist Church showed up to protest the funerals. Of children. I honestly have no words. But this group of bikers show that there is humanity in all forms and thank God for them. Those parents were allowed to have some peace as they said goodbye to their children because of these men and women and that warmed my heart today.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Christmas Traditions

The last few days have been great. We went out one night last week to just drive around and look at the Christmas lights, a tradition we've had since the kids were babies. We found ourselves high up in the hills above our town where some of our valley's biggest homes are located. It was amazing to see such gorgeous homes all decked out for Christmas, not to mention the view overlooking the town.

Another tradition we took care of this week was the making of the gingerbread house. There's not enough icing or candy to cover the house with the kit I bought, and I could have bought more candy and made more icing so the kids could cover the whole thing, but that never happened and honestly, the kids don't know the difference. They had a blast decorating it, even if it ended up looking more than a little disheveled and random.

The next day, Nate had to work at his mom's house, caring for his little sister while my mother in law worked, so I took the opportunity to spend some quality time with the kids. We stayed up late watching movies that included Veggie Tales: Saint Nicholas, a Tale of Joyful Giving, The First Nativity and Mickey Mouse Christmas Carol, which is one of my favorite Christmas movies of all time.

The biggest tradition is yet to come. We'll be spending Christmas Eve at my mother in law's house. Normally she makes dinner, but this year she has to work (she works at night), so she'll be sleeping all day. I'll be cooking Christmas dinner on Christmas eve while she sleeps and we'll open presents on Christmas morning when she gets home from work. It'll be a bit of a mixed up Christmas, but the most important part is that we'll be all together. 

Monday, December 17, 2012

Baby, It's Cold Outside

I'm a Christmas junkie. I really can't think of another way to put it. I can't get enough of Christmas. My tree goes up in late November, Christmas music gets put on and plans are made. And by late November, I mean the week before Thanksgiving.

Christmas is often bittersweet for me, but really, it's only because I make it so. There are many reasons to feel blue at Christmas. As if there weren't enough personal reasons, all one has to do is turn on the news and a dark, moody cloud awaits to cover you in gloom.

I'm sitting here, listening to Christmas music, watching the snow drift slowly down from the black sky out my window and it's just...nice. I feel a twinge now and again when certain thoughts pass through my mind, but over all, my life is good. I complain, too much. But tonight, I can't think of a single thing to complain about. Perhaps it's a Christmas miracle.

Or maybe it's just that I spent the evening watching Christmas programs with my children and it's really hard to feel down when you're cuddling with your kids on the couch watching a bunch of vegetables blessing a family in need. Ah, Veggie Tales, what would we do without you teaching us what is right (and that vegetables are awesome.)

I realized that I really really want my kids to understand what Christmas is truly about. I stopped going to church for selfish reasons, and at times I find myself questioning my faith, but I realize that I desperately need to make sure my kids have a firm foundation. I want them to know and love Jesus. I want them to understand compassion and the kind of love Jesus commands us to have for each other.

I guess that's really what I love most about Christmas. It's a time to really focus on what's important and then, a week later, we get to make a fresh start. Just like a fresh snow fall covering the dirt and muddy tracks  of past journeys, the new year is ripe with possibility. And really, a new beginning, a chance to do better is really the best gift anyone could ask for at Christmas I think. After all, that's what the first Christmas was all about; a second chance for humanity.

The one song that I've been thinking about a lot lately is "I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day." The lyrics just seem so poignant right now:

"And in despair, I bowed my head.
'There is no peace on Earth,' I said
'For hate is strong and mocks the song
of peace on earth, goodwill to men.'

"Then pealed the bells more loud and deep.
'God is not dead, nor doth he sleep.
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on Earth, good will to men."
At a time when a nation mourns the loss of 20 innocent children to a deranged gunman, despair seems appropriate, hope seems scarce. But we must have hope and take courage. Jesus is come to us! Christ is born, Emmanuel, God with us. Though it sometimes seems that our nation has abandoned God, God has not abandoned us. I believe this to be true with all of my heart. The time to dwell on the past is over. God is with us. We have new hope, a fresh start. It's Christmas time, once again.