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