Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Christmas Gifts

Gifts. This word conjours up some mighty different emotions. There are some who immediately start thinking about some of the best gifts they have ever given to others. Others of us think of the best gifts we have ever received. We look forward to the catalogs coming at Christmas time and pour over bright and shiny new things that we know would make us happy. I want one of everything. Is that too much to ask? One of everything? Okay so maybe a few things need to come in a set. But really one of everything and sets of things that need to be in a set. There. That is all I want for Christmas. Then I would be completely, totally happy. Not really.

Now for a reality check. In today's economy, most of us do not have the money for everything we want. In fact, I don't ever foresee a day when I have enough money for everything I want. When I see others with so little, out of work, living paycheck to paycheck, not knowing where they will be living in a year, a month, next week or tomorrow, it seems a little selfish to even think of going over the top.

Now for my reality check. We cannot afford to have every little thing our hearts desire. We came into this holiday season thinking that we were going to be alright. Ryan has a good job. Sure there were moving expenses, but Marriott picked up a lot of that. Cost of living is more here, but we are doing okay. We had some money in savings and we are building that in hopes to get into a house within the next year. Slow and steady wins the race.

We are usually conservative in our Christmas shopping. We have built a reputation over the years that Santa only brings one gift. Usually a pretty good gift, but just one. The girls have never woken Christmas morning to find stacks of presents. We usually give one meaningful gift, maybe a few articles of clothing, a smattering of things that they need. The end result of this? I have a fourteen year old who is so grateful for everything she gets. I am aware that most fourteen year olds are never happy, regardless of how much they get. I have an eleven year old who expresses gratitude at the simplest efforts. I am aware that most eleven year olds are only thinking about themselves. I have a six and five year-old that think buying gifts at the dollar store for their family is the funnest thing around. I am aware that many six and five year olds feel cheated if Santa doesn't bring everything on their list. And I mean everything. For some reason, as I observe many children and adults in our neighborhoods, schools, communities, and in the lines in the stores, I feel there is one literary character who is the epitome of all of the spoiled, ungrateful children out there: Veruca Salt. Roald Dahl hit the nail on the head with that one.

The saddest thing of all is when the Verucas of this world grow up and have not grown up. Me, me, ME. Mine, mine, MINE. I want it all. I want it now. I want it ALL NOW. It makes my stomach turn. I understand that some people are stuck in a certain stage of life due to a traumatic experience. I understand some people just simply would rather deal with fantasy than reality. I understand that some people feel that they were deprived as a child and want to ensure that their children never feel that way. I understand some people feel entitled to have the best, regardless. I understand that some people feel the need to impress everyone else with how much they got as a way to show the outside world an image of wealth and success. I understand that some people think Christmas is all about how much loot they got at the end of the day. They literally have the little calculators going in their heads comparing what others have and making sure that they got what they were entitled to. Entitlement, greed, selfishness, spoiled: they are the ugly side of Christmas.

My poor children. They more I see of THAT side of Christmas, the more I am determined not to create little Verucas. So yes, I will continue to try to give meaningful presents. Just enough to make it special, but not indulgent.

A couple of years ago, my friend, Vicki Taggert told me about a way to let all of your children participate in gift giving without costing a lot of money. Take each one to the $.99 store/Dollar store and let them buy a gift for each member of the family. It was awesome. For about 30 dollars everyone got to buy everyone else a gift. It turns out there was some pretty good stuff. Monterey shocked me by not only how good she was at knowing what her sisters would want, but how she found the hidden treasures. She found incredible stuff. I never seem to find anything good.

Ryan & I: This year we gave each other our traditional Christmas gift. Why is it that our cars tend to need a major repair or a major appliance goes out every single year at Christmas time? This year? $1,100 for the van. Merry Christmas!

Ryan: He said not to get him anything else, but tough. The girls got him two ties, a book, and a massager. I made him a curtain to go over a window in our home. It was completely open so on the weekends, when he is home and wants to catch a little football, golf or take a nap, the sun beams down in his eyes driving him crazy. It is a simple little thing, but already, in the last two days, has given him much relief.

Lisa: I said not to get me anything else. I lied. I had committed to quite a few sewing projects for this year's gifts and my sewing machine conked. I went to Walmart, got the best one at the best price and called Ryan to thank him for my gift. I also received bath salts, Charlie's Angels (original TV series - 3rd season) set of DVDs, a can drainers, a calendar, and an ice cream scoop.

All the girls: I made the girls matching pajama bottoms and bought them all In-N-Out shirts to match. One thing they all love? In-N-Out. We are very grateful we have them here in Vegas. We even have an In-N-Out merchandise store. There is only one other. Ours is just off the strip. They also each got a hat. More on those later.

McKayla: Santa brought her a life size cut-out of Edward Cullen. Obviously Santa brought that, because I would have never bought that for her. Ahh to be 14 again. She also received her own pocket hymnbook with her name engraved. A matching church bag and scripture markers. Her own bank account and debit card (and the cash to open the account.) And a smattering of cute $ store items.

Madison: Santa brought her a life size cut-out of Jacob Black. Obviously Santa brought that, because I would have never bought that for her. Ahh to be 11 again. She also received an In-N-Out sweatshirt. She got cake decorating lessons and everything she needs for them. And a smattering of cute $ store items.

Maya: Santa brought her a guitar. She loves music and has been asking for a while. She can already play "Mary Had A Little Lamb." That girl is serious. She got a new dress, swimsuit, workout outfit, and a haircare kit with brush, mirror, and a bunch of clips and hair thingies. And a smattering of cute $ store items.

Monterey: Santa brought her a baby stroller with removable carrier. She played with one at pre-school and loved it so much. She was always talking about it. That Santa. He knows. She got a new dress, swimsuit, workout outfit, and a haircare kit with brush, mirror, and a bunch of clips and hair thingies. And a smattering of cute $ store items.

The girls (and us) also received many thoughtful gifts from our extended families. We are all grateful for them and their thoughtfulness towards us.

This year we gave two different gifts for our extended family. With 19 on my side and 10 on Ryan's, we needed to streamline. In the past, we have gotten one thing for my family and then different things for his. With the large numbers on both sides, we decided this year to give one family gift for each family unit and one individual gift for each person.

The family gift was for emergency preparedness. It is a file meant to store vital information in case of emergency. The file has stickers explaining what should go into each space. Here are the categories:
Important Documents: copies of certificates, SS cards,etc.
In Case of Death (for funeral arrangements)

I also included current phone numbers for everyone. So many of us have those numbers on our cell phones. What happens with no electricity to charge those phones? No numbers. I left a blank space to add any additional numbers for the extended family of their in-laws.

Unfortunately, to make that gift meaningful, they still need to do all the work of copying important papers and gathering the information. But at least this is a start. It is meant to fit in a grab-and-run bag/72 hour kit.

The individual gift was a hat that we saw on a Gap commercial. All the girls loved it and thought it would make a good gift for everyone. I made each hat reversible so they could get two difference hats for the price of one. Madison picked out a the fabric. I sewed them all. McKayla and Madison picked out which one went to each person. I thought they did a great job. Of course, they each got one for themselves as well.

Some people might read this and feel sorry for my girls. Some might read it and think we are too indulgent. Some might think that we are too materialistic and others might think we are stingy. At the end of the day, we tried to do our best. The girls were happy, we were happy, the extended family (we have heard from) seem happy. I feel good about the effort we made. I hope everyone had a Merry Christmas.

Saturday, December 26, 2009


Something happens to your Christmas celebration once you have been to Israel. No matter how hard you try, you cannot go back to picturing it the way you used to. That is why I love my nativity set from there. It features a palm tree. Every nativity set should feature a palm tree. I have always loved the way the LA Temple lights the palm trees. They not only swirl the lights around the trunk, but they outline the leaves. Some people only picture Christmas Trees as the evergreen trees that have been brought to us thanks to Germany. I love those, too. But the most Christmassy trees are the palm trees. Having lived in Southern California all my life, except for a brief stint in Hawaii (also has palms) and Taiwan (also has palms) and Provo, Utah (no palms, but mountains to die for) and now Las Vegas (plenty of palms here) I have a deep appreciation for the palm. Thanks to five years in the desert, I can even identify various types: queen, fan, date, royal, etc. Anyway, this is not about palm trees. It is about picturing Christmas.

We have been conditioned to desire the White Christmas. Bing Crosby/Irving Berlin did a pretty good sales job with that. The way Bing croons that tune, I would believe practically anything he sang. We think of a stable being what we think of as a stable. Made of wood with a little trough for food that could easily double as a bed for a baby with a little hay and straw (I'm not a farm girl so I am not sure the difference between those two) and a cute light blue blanket to keep our Savior warm. We immediately transfer our own understanding and circumstances to try to picture the Christmas. By tradition Joseph is a carpenter. Even though there is no reference to him being a carpenter in the scriptures, we sing and imagine his carpentering skills. Nazareth is surrounded by stone. Everyone in Nazareth was a stone cutter. Trees that would be used in carpentering are not even indigenous to Nazareth. Joseph was most likely a stone cutter, which actually makes a lot of scriptures with prophesies of Christ make more sense. But here again, we revert back to our little visions based on our favorite songs, scenes, and experiences.

The truth of it: those of us fortunate to live in deserts during the Christmas season are much closer to the scenery of the birthplace of our Savior. The terrain, the weather, the flora and fauna are all very to close to Bethlehem. Rocky hillsides, caves, and leather sandals (I think very similar to flip-flops in my own little mind) were the setting of Christmas long ago. When they were turned away at the inn, as a child, I always pictured a Motel 6 with a flashing "no vacancy" sign out front. It was really just peoples' homes, that they would fill up with passing travellers.

One thing that is for certain: the herald angels sang, the star shone bright, the Savior of our world was born that night. It was a miracle. It continues to be a miracle as individuals turn their hearts to our Redeemer and make covenants to remember Him, try to be like Him, and to follow Him.

1 And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed.
2 And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.
3 And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.
4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:)
5 To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.
6 And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.
7 And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.
8 And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.
9 And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.
10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.
12 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.
13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,
14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
15 And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.
16 And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.

Christmas Cookie Plates 2009

Since I am in a new location, I have decided to revamp the cookie plates by adding in hand-dipped chocolates. We will see how it goes. Here is the list and the schedule.

Christmas Treat Plate:

Chocolate Cherry Kisses
Sugar Crinkles
Molasses Cookies
Chocolate Pistachio logs
Cornflake Hollies
Pretzel Hugs
Sugar cookies:
Christmas Tree, Santa’s hat, Star, Ornament
Cranberry-Orange, Peanut Butter, Lime-Coconut, Lemon Blueberry, Polar Bears

Wed 12/2 Make Cranberry-Orange filling, freeze
Thur 12/3 Make Peanut Butter filling, freeze
Fri 12/4 Make Lime-Coconut filling, freeze
Sat 12/5 Make Lemon Blueberry filling, freeze
Sun 12/6 Make Polar bear insides
Mon 12/7 Make Chocolate Cherry Kisses dough, freeze
Tue 12/8 Make Sugar Crinkles dough, freeze
Wed 12/9 Make Molasses Cookies dough, freeze
Thur 12/10 Make Chocolate Pistachio Logs dough, freeze
Fri 12/11 Make Sugar cookie dough
Sat 12/12 Make Sugar Cookies, freeze

Sun 12/13
Make frostings
Frost sugar cookies
chop pistachios
Make Cornflake Hollies
Make Pretzel Hugs

Mon 12/14
Bake all dough
Dip all chocolates
Assemble plates

Tues 12/15

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

30 Days of Thanksgiving

30 Days of Thanksgiving: 30 things I am thankful for

* leftovers
* the scriptures
* the beauty of the Earth
* time
* my country and my freedoms
* my life: my body and my free will
* Jesus Christ & His Atonement & teachings
* my husband
* my brothers and sisters and parents
* my books
* repentance and forgiveness
* my children
* cars that run
* modern medicine, doctors, and dentists and the like. but not insurance companies: I'm still convinced they are the villians
* prayer
* my DVR
* good weather
* electricians; all repair guys for that matter
* opportunities
* people who fought in wars to preserve my freedom
* swimming pools
* central AC & heat
* my church
* the Las Vegas Temple
* technology to help me keep in touch
* food to eat
* my husband's job
* good schools for my girls
* a good night's sleep
* a home to live in

Friday, November 27, 2009

Thanksgiving 2009 - One for the Books

Some people use their blogs to make everything seem perfect while their lives are imploding. Some people use blogs to try to convince the world that they are worthy of love and respect. Some people are incredibly real - those are the ones I love to read. I try to document things as they really are - for the sake of my family history. I want my girls to look back and see the reality of their lives, not just the sugar-coated version that will look like I was the perfect mother in the perfect marriage with the perfectly clean house. That doesn't mean that every little flaw is exposed, but that the essence of the situation is caught.

I say all of this now because this post will include it all: the sickening perfection and the horror of it all. But this was a great Thanksgiving, regardless of the eventual outcome. We cooked, we laughed, we cleaned.

We approached this Thanksgiving, our first alone with just the six of us, our first in Las Vegas, our first where the four girls and I would be doing 100% of the cooking 100% from scratch, as an opportunity to establish tradition. The tradition we established? That the process is more important and fun then the outcome.

Let us begin a week and a half prior. In Family Home Evening, everyone was given the opportunity to make requests for the menu. I spent the next week fine tuning and organizing and shopping. A few days before Thanksgiving, we met again for the assignments: everyone would help. Everyone would have several jobs. All went great. The girls were excited to embark on this new journey, the turkey was on sale, the recipes were tracked down. I made a schedule for Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday that would distribute all of the work so the Thanksgiving could be relaxing.

Tuesday we began. We made sugar cookies, put together our goodie plates to deliver to new friends and teachers. We got out all the ingredients, recipes, and cooking equipment. We did all the dishes so we could cook in a clean environment.

Here was the schedule:

Appetizers: ready by 11:00
Eric's Bacon-Wrapped Scallops – McKayla (Thursday 9:00am - make marinade, marinate scallops for one hour, wrap in bacon, skewer, cook)
Kirsti's Artichoke-Cheese Dip in a Bread bowl – Madison (Wed – chop artichoke hearts, mix together dip, store in fridge, Thursday 9:00am prep bread bowl, filling with mixture, cook and toast sourdough)
Crudites with Ranch Dip – Monterey (Wed – make Ranch, cut carrots, prep celery, Thursday 9:00 am – cut cucumbers, red pepper, open olives, wash tomatoes; arrange on platter)

Dinner: eat at 3:00
Maya's Favorite Salad – Maya (Thursday 1:30 prep salad)
Truffle Butter Turkey - McKayla & Madison (Thursday 9:00 am prep and start to roast)
Sweet Potato Souffle – McKayla (Wednesday – prep, Thursday – bake at 1:00)
My Daddy's Mashed Potatoes & Gravy - McKayla & Madison (Wed night – peel potatoes, Thursday – 1:00 start potatoes; start gravy)
Stuffing-Stuffed Mushrooms - Maya & Monterey (Wed – prep filling, wash mushrooms, assemble, Thursday – bake at 2:30)
Orange Zested Cranberry Sauce – Madison (Wed – make, store in fridge)
Homemade Rolls - McKayla & Madison (Start as soon as Turkey is in the oven)

Dessert: serve at 5:00
Pumpkin Pecan Pie – Maya (Bake on Wed night)
Leaf and Turkey Sugar Cookies – All (Bake on Tues; decorate on Thurs)
Brownies – Maya (Bake on Wed)

Everything went perfectly. I mean it. We all worked together. There were no last minute runs to the grocery store. Nothing burned. The Pecan Pie set beautifully. The Cranberry Sauce could have won a throw down with Bobby Flay. No cuts. No broken dishes or fingernails. Everyone got along. I did forget to buy the ingredients for the salad, but honestly, we could live with that. We ate all the veggies on the veggie tray before dinner so I think we were in great shape veggie wise. The rolls were a dream.

We put everything on a small buffet table. At the long dinner table, we kept the rolls and butter close at hand.

We sat down to dinner. I was so proud of the girls. They really worked hard and they were proud of everything they had accomplished. I truly believe that when children cook their own food, they are more inclined to try new and different food. Everyone ate everything. It was beautiful. We were able to have relaxing dinner conversation, without having to worry about impressing anyone (that is code for some extended burping contests) everyone was positive and complimentary towards every ones cooking efforts. We had good conversations about what we liked about having Thanksgiving this way and what we missed about not having it with extended family. Everything was very positive. Dinner took a while. It was glorious and lovely.

I should have known something was about to go drastically wrong.

Maya and Monterey wanted to eat brownies. I told them to go ahead. They went over to the buffet table and there was a bit of a struggle over a particularly large, luscious looking brownie. A few words were exchanged, a little struggle and boom. The table went down. The food flew up. One side of the legs had buckled. Everything was down. The pie was completely saved. It landed right side up, away from the broken ceramic bowls. Everything else was on the floor. Mixed together.

This follows in a long line of holiday disasters. I immediately thought about A Christmas Story and the dogs eating the turkey, They ended up in a Chinese restaurant eating Peking Duck with the head still attached. Then there was Christmas Vacation where the turkey was so dry and there was cat food in the jello. There was even The Brady Bunch wedding where the boys' dog was chasing the girl's cat and the wedding cake went down.

Then there were the extended family stories: the devilled eggs made with cat pee, multiple throwing up stories, a few fights, some drunk extended family, and a few others I could mention but won't because the people involved are still alive and kicking.

All we could do was laugh.

So what do I have to be grateful for? We had already finished dinner. We did not end up in an emergency room (see the 4th of July post.) Most of the turkey was still in the kitchen. The rolls were not involved at all in the incident. There was no yelling or screaming or blaming (except that Monterey claimed that either Jesus or a ghost did it - but the deflection of blame is almost an art form for Monterey.) We all worked together to clean it up, sweep, mop, throw away without anyone being asked. We even saved a few brownies. The pie was safe. None of my beautiful Polish pottery was broken. The only broken dishes were old and not really my favorite things anyway. We probably did not need the calories from all those yummy leftovers anyway.

Something always has to go wrong. This was simply our homage to Murphy's Law. But I am so glad that THAT went wrong instead of so many other things that could have gone wrong. We will always remember this Thanksgiving. Without that incident, this would have been a blur in a couple of years. Now we can always look back and laugh and say "Remember the time when all the food went down and we had no leftovers?

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Thanksgiving Options

Most years of our marriage we have gone to my husband's family for Thanksgiving dinner. This had many advantages, namely, incredible food. I mean this was always a fantastic, free-for-all, feast. The dinner would be divided up among all those who were interested in cooking. Some years, because of travelling, all I had to do or could do was just show up. Since so many of us were living locally, we did a massive division of labor. One person might handle the appetizers, another might have dessert, someone else might do all the veggies, etc. Other times we just divided dish by dish. The division of duties is a good thing: everyone could specialize in their own part and not mass produce mediocre dishes. As if that was not enough, they are all great cooks. Everything was always delicious. The only downside: too many and too much. How could a stomach possibly become so engorged and not even get a taste of everything? (By the way, that is not really a huge downside.)

This year, we are just a family of six. We met together and at Family Home Evening we discussed our options. I wanted to be sure that everyone had everything they wanted. Ryan suggested we go to Claim Jumper for our Thanksgiving dinner. He was just thinking of me: no prep, no dishes, no clean up, free refills, etc. What a thoughtful husband. If the husbands of this world planned holiday dinners, we would all go out to dinner. I thought that maybe we could cook every one's favorite parts of the meal and then get a restaurant to provide the things we really were not passionate about. I got the menu from Claim Jumper and Ryan and I perused it. Again, he just wanted to eat there. But what about our dinnertime banter? In a restaurant, we act one way, at home another. That was appealing to him as well. Somehow he doesn't appreciate that the girls will spontaneously break into song at a subtle suggestion. Someday, when they all move away, he will miss that.

As I pondered his offer and the different options, I could not stomach the idea of going out. As I looked at the sides we could order, it did not sit well either. I am a cook. I love to cook. Most of the things I make, people seem to enjoy. All around us, we see that cooking is becoming a lost art. Suddenly it hit me: this was not about ease or tradition or about endless refills of Dr. Pepper. This was about me teaching my daughters how to cook.

In a Church Welfare Training Meeting earlier in the year, this is what Julie Beck, the Relief Society General President, said:

"How do we become self-reliant? We become self reliant through obtaining sufficient knowledge, education, and literacy; by managing money and resources wisely, being spiritually strong, preparing for emergencies and eventualities; and by having physical health and social and emotional well-being. So what skills do we need to help us become self reliant? It was important for my grandmother to know how to kill and pluck a chicken. I have not yet had the necessity to kill and pluck a chicken. However, even in the early days of the Church, Brigham Young pled with the sisters to learn to prevent illness in families, establish home industries, and learn accounting and bookkeeping and other practical skills. Those principles still apply today. Education continues to be vitally important. Each of us is a teacher and a learner, and literacy, technical, and reasoning skills are a daily requirement. There is also a great need for better communication skills in marriages and families, and good parenting skills have never been more important. We also see an increase of debt and consumerism in the world.

I asked several bishops what self-reliance skills the sisters in their wards needed most, and they said budgeting. Women need to understand the implications of buying on credit and not living within a budget. The second skill bishops listed was cooking. Meals prepared and eaten at home generally cost less, are healthier, and contribute to stronger family relationships."

I made up my mind: not only will this be completely homemade, but each daughter will help me with different parts of the menu. This way, they are involved and they are learning how to cook, bake, and plan a large, detailed, multi-course meal. Since we normally partition the meal, they have never been involved with those aspects. They have never prepped a turkey since that was always done before we arrived. I have done a whole Thanksgiving dinner by myself several times. This is what I need to teach them.

So here is the menu and the division of duties:

Eric's Bacon-Wrapped Scallops - McKayla
Kirsti's Artichoke-Cheese Dip in a Breadbowl - Madison
Crudite with Ranch Dip - Monterey

Maya's Favorite Salad - Maya
Truffle Butter Turkey - McKayla & Madison
Sweet Potato Souffle - McKayla
My Daddy's Mashed Potatoes & Gravy - McKayla & Madison
Stuffing-Stuffed Mushrooms - Maya & Monterey
Orange Zested Cranberry Sauce - Madison
Homemade Rolls - McKayla & Madison

Pumpkin Pecan Pie - Monterey
Leaf and Turkey Sugar Cookies - All
Brownies - Maya

Each girl will help make the shopping list for their item, plan when we should make it (including prep in advance stuff) decide on the serving dish, etc. Everyone will work in the kitchen.

Oh yeah, I forgot one thing. Ryan can take care of the beverages. Baby steps for him. Next year he is going to get something he actually has to make with his own two hands.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Thanksgiving Five Years Ago

Five years ago, we had just moved to the Palm Springs area. Our life had changed drastically. We had two under two and Ryan was taking the responsibility of being the sole-breadwinner while I was adjusting to being a stay-at-home mom for the first time. I had attended a Church Relief Society meeting where Jackie Simpson had shared and idea of kind of a time capsule concept. You would survey the family and then in five years or ten or twenty, reflect back on what people where thinking at that time. Some things change. Some things do not. You could ask questions or just give a prompt. The point is to get people sharing their thoughts and state-of-mind and ideas. I had suffered with the death of my father the year previous to this and felt that I wanted this information. I would have loved to have had this survey from my dad.

Here are the questions and the results:

What is your favorite thing to do on Thanksgiving weekend?
Ryan - golf, spend time with the family, sleep
Lisa - eat, decorate for Christmas
McKayla - watch movies with my family
Madison - I like to eat with my family
Ryan's sister Melissa - cook
Ryan's sister Kym - eat, go to movies, early AM shopping, being with family
Ryan's brother Matt - eat, go to the movies, watch the Skins game
Matt's wife Meagan - eat, sleep, have fun w/ the family
Ryan's dad Tom - eat, watch football games, play golf, kiss my granddaughters
Ryan's mom Diane - spending time with family

What are your five favorite things to eat on Thanksgiving?
Ryan - yams, rolls, potatoes, mac&cheese, dips
Lisa - Caress family rolls, my dad's mashed potatoes and gravy, yams w/ pecan praline topping, cranberry sauce, deep-fried turkey
McKayla - corn, turkey, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce
Madison - cranberries, turkey, vegetables, fruit, mac&cheese
Melissa - mashed potatoes, yams, rolls, fried turkey, gravy
Kym - yams, deep-fried turkey, rolls, pie, pie
Matt - turkey, gravy, artichoke dip, rolls, candied yams & Henry's (root beer)
Meagan - green bean supreme, deep fried turkey, potatoes, stuffin', any of Kym & Missy's delicious creations
Tom - pumpkin pie cheesecake, turkey, wheat rolls, stuffing, Lisa's dip

What is your favorite Thanksgiving memory?
Ryan - going to Grandma's (Ruth)
Lisa - cooking for a whole ward on my mission in Taiwan. We got 2 Butterballs through the black market. The elders (4 of them) ate one whole turkey while my companion and I did the last minute shopping. The second turkey was enough for the whole ward since everyone just wanted a little taste.
McKayla - my first Thanksgiving
Madison - when I started to like mac&cheese
Melissa - eating at Grandma & Grandpa Caress' when they lived at Pine Terrace with all my relatives
Kym - same every year: cooking & lots of food & laughter around the table
Matt - Grandma Caress yelling at everybody and saying "nobody loves me" and walking out of Uncle Jack's house
Meagan - last year, helping in the kitchen w/ Kym and Melissa, my fabulous sisters
Tom - this one
Diane - whenever the whole family is together

If you could take your whole family for a "Destination Thanksgiving" where would you take us all?
Ryan - We are already here (referring to the Palm Springs area)
Lisa - New York City. We would go to the Macy's Parade, have dinner, then shop in NYC on Fri and Sat.
McKayla - NYC!
Madison - Disneyland
Melissa - Rome; for Pizza
Kym - Jackson Hole, WY
Matt - Hilton Head, SC
Meagan - the temple or a movie ... or both!
Tom - here in Bermuda Dunes
Diane - here in Bermuda Dunes

Do you have a favorite Thanksgiving song, scripture, and/or story that you would like to share?
Lisa - "Count Your Blessings" and "That's What Turkeys Have For Thanksgiving"
Madison - "The Turkey Woogie" and "That's What Turkeys Have For Thanksgiving"
Melissa - "Come Ye Thankful People"
Meagan - "Five Little Turkeys" "I'm a Nut" "I Saw a Little Turkey" and "Because I Have Been Given Much"
Tom - Alma 28, "We Thank Thee O God for a Prophet"

What are the five things you are most thankful for?
Ryan - wife, kids, golf, job, family
Lisa - my children, my husband, my whole family, the gospel, my health
McKayla - family, food, chocolate, malls
Madison - my family, friends, house, money, love
Melissa - family, gospel, home, friends, education and opportunity
Kym - my testimony, my family, my health, my talents, my hot bod j/k!:)
Matt - the gospel of Jesus Christ, my family, my freedom, my beautiful wife, health
Meagan - Matt (my most lovely, adorable & hot husband) the gospel, family, sleep, holidays with the family
Tom - Jesus Christ and His Atoning sacrifice, my wife & family, Redlands Temple, granddaughters, family history and the spirit of Elijah
Diane - the temple

Things have changed in the Caress Family: Matt and Meagan have welcomed a son and daughter, Kym is now married with a son, Tom and Diane moved houses, and we moved away. Maya and Monterey were too young to express anything but hunger, sleep, and a full diaper; let alone opinions. It is always fun to look back and think about how some things change and others stay the same.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Welcome to Las Vegas ... again

Woo! What a day.

We started out going to a Chinese restaurant for breakfast. An Elder, Duane Frizell, that I served with in the Taiwan Taipei mission happens to be in our new congregation at church and alerted us to this rare find: real Chinese breakfast. It is my favorite , but so rare to find. We decided we were dying to try it and we were dying to have the girls try it so we ventured over to the Chinatown here in the Las Vegas area.

When we walked in, the waitress explained that they were not really open for breakfast. We could see other patrons eating so we asked again. She handed us a menu in Chinese with very bad broken English translations to show us what they served. We were thrilled and told her that is what we came for. She gave us a table and we noticed we were the only non-Chinese is the whole place. That alone was very exciting because then I knew we must be in a really good place.

We tried to decipher through the bad translations, but it was easier to just read the Chinese. We found a few things we wanted and motioned that we were ready to order. We explained what we wanted and asked a few questions. It wasn't until we broke out in Chinese that she finally relaxed and started understanding what it was that we wanted.

I ordered Dou Jang 豆漿 which is a type of warm soybean milk. It is very traditional to start the day with a bowl of warm dou jang. It tastes different from soy milk you would find in the stores because it is made fresh daily and served with a very coarse sugar so you can sweeten it to your taste. I tasted and sweeten until I felt it was just right. I spooned a little into the teacups so each girl could try it. They did not care for it. It is an acquired taste, but I love it. My Chinese companions and I would drink it every morning. We would order it warm on cold days and cold on hot days. One gulp and I was back in China. I showed the girls that every single person in the place was sitting there with their bowl of dou jang.

I ordered 3 dan bings 蛋餅 which is a cross between a crepe and tortilla which a scrambled egg and green onions are cooked with it. It is sooo good. The girls loved it immediately. You can eat it with a little soy sauce to add a little saltiness to it. It is one of those dishes that I liked the moment I had it and I knew they would too. I probably ate dan bings about 75% of the time for breakfast. They would be a big hit in America, if anyone wanted to try.

I ordered Sau Bing 燒餅 which is a flaky sesame bread. I used to order it with a scrambled egg in it "sau bing jya dan." It was my favorite but you could not find it in every breakfast shop - only some. Again, the girls loved it immediately.

I ordered Mantou 饅頭 which is Steamed Bread. Instead of baking it in an oven (which doesn't really exist is their kitchens) they steam it. It has a totally different texture, and a slightly sweet taste. Ryan used to order it "mantou jya dan" - with a scrambled egg in it.

I ordered Tsung You Bing 蔥油餅 which is a Green Onion Cake. I actually have a recipe for them and I make them occasionally for my girls. They love it. The ones in the restaurant were so much better. I discovered that I am too conservative on the oil and I probably don't have the heat just right. They loved them so much that at the end of the meal, we had to order one more. It is kind of like a very flaky, thick tortilla. But the way it is assembled with green onions, salt and a dash of sesame oil makes it savory and highly flavorful. All four girls went nuts for it.

I ordered Dumplings
蒸餃 which are pork steamed dumplings. They had a little too much ginger for the girls, but my girls are dumpling girls. They preferred them boiled in the traditional way, but this was more like the street vendor style. They were good, but not something I usually ate for breakfast.

Afterwards we had a little talk with the waitress about the kinds of food we could find for lunch and dinner. We have total confidence that we have found a truly authentic place. We are very excited about this insider tip. Anyone who wants to try, let us know. You will not be disappointed. The girls thanked us all day for taking them and McKayla has decided that she wants to serve a mission to Taiwan.

From their we parked at the MGM Grand and walked through to get to M & M World. The girls have been wanting to go since they saw it the first time on our scouting trip to find a house. They loved four floors of everything that you could possibly think to do with an M & M or the motif. Of course, since M & M are their signature candy - with four M girls, it was inevitable, they wanted to purchase the whole store. We got out with a bag full of unique colors and flavors and I'm sure that several finds of the day will end up on their Christmas list. We saw the M & M 3D movie, which the little ones loved and the rest of us tolerated.

We went next door to Coke World and enjoyed two floors of fashion and flavors and furnishings. We wanted to try the 16 different soda flavors from around the world, but Ryan talked us into the 8 different float flavors. Ice cream makes everything taste better. We loved the traditional root beer and coke. The Fanta Orange and Mello Yellow were also favorites.

From there, we went to the legendary "Welcome to Las Vegas" sign for our Christmas picture. (This is a taste of it. I won't publish the one we will be using until after Christmas.) This is just a tease. We wanted to get them sent early this year, because of the move. The weather was perfect.

Home again for our Saturday chores: laundry and cleaning, more unpacking and organizing. But what a fun half day of enjoying our new home city.