Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas morning



Christmas morning is magical. Even now. I may not stand at the end of the hallway with my finger at my lips, staring in wonder at what Santa brought anymore, but it's still ... well ... magic.

I love the cookies and fudge every which way I turn. I love the lights, and the colors and the music and the smells of deliciousness. I love the happy, joyful feelings I feel everywhere I go. I love the time with family and friends. And, I'm not gonna lie, I love the presents.

But most of all, I love it because I love Jesus. I love that we set apart a time of year to celebrate His birth, because it reminds me that I need to be a little bit better at celebrating His life. I love Him, and I am oh, so very grateful, for everything He did for me.

At Christmas, my thoughts invariably turn to Mary. I know what an impact my mother has had on my life. I can only imagine the things that she taught Him, the ways in which she influenced Him. He was the son of God. He was also the son of Mary, and I am grateful for the life she lived, for the son she raised, for the sacrifices she surely made.

I believe that she did, in fact, know who He was. I believe that she knew before He was born that He was the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords. She knew. I know she did.



May we all be just a little bit better at remembering Him is my Christmas wish this year.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

There's no place like home for the holidays!



I mean it. Really, there's no place like home for the holidays - esp when you come from a home like mine. (Who, besides my sweet mother, would have a Jack-in-the-Box antennae topper as a tree topper? I'm pretty sure no one, that's who.)

Gosh, it's great to be home, where we eat candy for breakfast, lunch and dinner with snacks of chips and salsa and tamales in between. I love it here, because we watch movies and we sing and we talk and we eat and we laugh.

Oh, how we laugh.

Christmas is here, and so am I. Life is good.

Happy Ho-Ho-Ho to you...

Friday, December 23, 2011

Homeward bound

I'm headed home this afternoon, and this is one of the first things I'll see:



Aren't those stockings beautiful? My mother sewed (and embroidered) them with her own two hands. They've hung in the same place, on the same wall, my entire life and I love them.

Across from the stockings, right between the window and the door, we have this crazy clock:



It's funny enough that my mom's Mickey clock is the clock in the living room. (You know, the "nice" room that we reserve for company.) But at Christmas, Mickey steps it up a notch and wears a Santa hat. All the ornaments around him are cut-outs of pictures of us cute kiddos at Christmastime throughout the years.

The wall to the right of the wall covered in stockings is what we lovingly refer to as The Wall of Christmas Pix:



Isn't that great? Those are 5x7 frames full of pictures of the eight of us (my parents and all six kids) at varying ages and stages at Christmas-time. There are over 30 pictures in all, and I love them, because every single picture is a memory.

Just to the left of The Wall of Christmas Pix is the freezer. On top of the freezer are the Milk Dud boxes:



I don't even know how old these little guys are. ... They're older than me, this I know. They may be from before my parents were married, even. I don't even know. But how cute are they? I love them!

As you walk into the kitchen, this is the view:



Every cupboard (every space, really) is covered with a decoration. Some of them, my mom made the first year my parents were married. Some of them, Spencer made in high school art. Some of them have babies' scribbles on them. They are all familiar. I love my mom's kitchen, all the time, but at Christmas? I love it even more!

I wish I could show you every room in the house. I'm not kidding when I tell people that our house is a little Griswold-esque. And this would be why:



This is the woman behind the madness that is a Christmas decoration on every cupboard, the mother who lovingly sewed our stockings and photographically documented every moment of our childhoods. She is exactly the kind of gal who'd make herself an electric vest out of paper bags, Christmas lights and masking tape and then plug herself in and go to a party.

She is my mom. She made everything fun when I was little. She continues to make everything fun now that I am big. Christmas is Christmas, wherever I am, but it's a whole heck of a lot more fun when I am with her than it is when I am not. And today, I am homeward bound. Let the good times (and memories) begin!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Three of my favorite ornaments

I know I've told you all how much I love my tree. (I do. I love it!) And today, I'm going to show you three of the biggest reasons why.

Most of the ornaments on my tree are mine. As in, I bought them or I made them; but I do have a few, a precious few (and I use the word precious because I love them so much) ornaments that have been gifts. Today, I will introduce you to three of them.

First, The Ruby Slipper:

(Yeah, I totally just capitalized that like it's a proper noun. So what? To me, it is.)



How gorgeous is that ornament? It's from Kathy U., also known as Kathy the Younger. She sent this to me, I think, the year that she got married. She found it back East in a specialty Christmas shop, and I love it! I love it because it is red, because it is super sparkly, because it is a tie to Dorothy (and we all know I love her!) and I also love it because I feel very much like Kathleen Kelly in that I have this on my tree. Behold, the ruby slippers on the tree in The Shop Around the Corner:



But mostly, I love it because I know that when Kathy saw this, she thought of me. I love that she packaged this delicate little glass slipper in an inordinate amount of packing material, and she shipped it across the country because she knew I would love it. And she was right, I do. I love it for all of it's red and sparkly-ness, don't get me wrong, but I love it mostly because when I look at it, I think of her. Every time.

Second, we have this lovely crystal snowflake:



Isn't that beautiful? It's from Jennifer O. (Do you love that I refer to these girls with the first initial of their last name like it's actually part of their first name? Call it a nickname of sorts, I guess.) I have three of these same snowflake ornaments and I just adore them. I love that they are crystal clear. They are beautiful in the light of day with the sun shining on them. They are breathtaking in the evening when the white lights from the tree are shining through and across every bend and cut in them. They are pure white glass, tied with a sheer ribbon, and they beautiful no matter what angle you look at them from, in whatever light there is to see them by. They remind me of Jen because she gave them to me, but also because they are exactly what she is to me, simple and elegant at exactly the same time.

And third, we have this little guy from Christine:



Isn't that just fantastic? The year Chris gave me this for Christmas, she half-apologized, saying that it wasn't much, but she'd thought of me when she'd seen it in the store. Oh. My. Stars. I love knowing that this beautiful ornament reminding someone of me. I love that it has red and green and cream and gold running through it, that it's an unusual shape, that it seems rather like an ornament out of place in time - because it reminds of of the old-timey ornaments I've seen in movies or old pictures. This ornament represents so much of what I think is beautiful at Christmastime: traditional colors, a throw-back to the generations before. It's a reminder of a simpler time and the love of a friend. I think it's funny that, to her, it wasn't much of a gift - when to me, it's the best gift she ever gave me.

I think of these women every year when I put up my tree, and throughout the season as I catch a glimpse of these ornaments sparkling in the half light of the tree. I love having tactile reminders of people whom I love, visual proof that there are people out there who know who I am and what makes me tick. It is both comforting and thrilling that there are people in my life who know what is beautiful and meaningful to me.

I love my friends. I am a composite of them, in the same way that my tree is a composite of decorations that I chose for myself and decorations that others chose for me. The ornaments these girls gave me make things a little bit sparklier and a lot more elegant; they add a touch of class that my tree would not have without them. Speaking both literally and metaphorically, my life is a more beautiful thing because of the things that these women, and so many others, have brought into the mix.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A sister for Christmas

As many of you know, I am the oldest of six. There are four boys after me, and I spent my entire childhood either hoping that baby in my mom's tummy was a girl or wishing she'd hurry up and get pregnant again so I could win the sister lottery the next time around.

I was the lone girl (and a prissy one, at that) for a very long time. One of my favorite games as a kid was to dress my brothers up as girls (the oldest three of them even had girl names that I'd call them when we played the "sisters" game).

I give you Laurie and Una, Christmas 1979:



Like I said, for years and years (and years and years), I prayed that I'd have a sister. In late 1986, I got finally got one. (By then, all the boys were done playing the game - done and then some... and I'll probably get more than one "I hate you" comment and/or email for posting the pic that I did up there... so I was happy as pie to finally have a girl to dress up in holiday garb.)

I give you Laurie and Katie, Christmas 1988.



Sweet poinsettias, eh? (Also, how much are you grooving on my circa 1987 turquoise/leopard print shirt? Pretty hot stuff, right?)

I have so many fun memories with my sibs. From going out into the woods to chop down the tree (a tradition that I completely loathed and abhored at the time, as I'm sure any of you who know how very NON-outdoorsy I am can imagine) - to the building of our own Christmas tree pizzas on Christmas Eve - to the watching of every movie Santa brought on Christmas day - to the wrapped up dolls and cans of food storage under the tree. My word, we've had a lot of fun. We've done a lot of stupid things. We've laughed a lot. We've sung a lot of songs. We've eaten hundreds of pounds of fudge. I could go on and on.

I love my family. As an adult, I love every one of my siblings and wouldn't change a thing about any of them (read: there's no part of me that would ever want my brothers to wear a dress and pretend they were my sister).

I love the memories I have with all five of them (plus in-laws and next-gens), and I look forward to the years of memories yet to come!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Bonus!

Because I ran across this picture tonight, looking through some old family photos...

We have here a 30 Days of Christmas bonus post, people.



I love this picture because Santa is my dad. I love the laugh on my face and the twinkle in his eye.

Christmas Magic. That's what this is to me.

Jimmy Stewart's OTHER Christmas movie

Have you seen Mr. Krueger's Christmas? Do you love it?! I do! I always have, since I was little tiny. (Because I think Jimmy Stewart is adorable. And when I was a kid, I thought that putting the mitten on the tree was just funny.)

When I lived in St. George, I had an opportunity to go to a fireside where the director (or producer... I don't remember what he was, but he was something) of this (and many other church produced) films spoke. He talked a lot about how fun it was to work with Jimmy Stewart - that he really was as nice a guy as everyone always said he was. But what he said about the manger scene has stuck with me for almost 20 years. He told us that the manger scene was done in one take, that after the scene had been shot, Jimmy stood up and looked him in the eye and told him that he hoped he'd gotten that, because he couldn't do that again - that he'd felt like he was really there.

Watch this clip. I'm sure you'll feel like you're really there, too.



My word, I love Christmas! I love the music, the food, the sights, the smells ... and 3 minute movie clips that speak volumes about the love Christ had (and has) for all of us.

Monday, December 19, 2011

For you, Daddy...



Silver Bells always reminds me of my dad. Always.

My whole life, whenever the man starts singing Christmas songs just for fun (around the house or whatnot), this is the song he starts with. When we go caroling, this is his suggestion. When we're in the car, and decide to sing carols instead of listen to the radio, this is what he leads with. I don't know that it's his favorite Christmas carol, per se, but it's invariably the first song out of his mouth. And every time I hear it, every year, all season long, it reminds me of him.

Merry Christmas, Daddio! I love you!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Reason 12,732 why I love being a grown up at Christmastime



Oranges.

I love them.

And now that I am a grown up, I can buy (and eat) them by the box full. (And I do.)

When I was growing up, there was a family in my ward who'd get a box (or two, or three or four) of oranges every year at Christmas. I remember going over to watch movies or play games - or, erm, just to mooch food - and we'd cut oranges and eat them while we watched, played or chatted. I remember slices of oranges so juicy that I'd have rivulets of sticky sweet goodness running from my pinky to my wrist and halfway to my elbow before I'd even think to grab a towel. I tell you, those oranges were fantastic, made all the more delicious by the fact that there were boxes full of them and the sky was the limit as far as how many we could eat. At our house, we'd peel oranges and eat the sections. At the Solomons', we'd cut them cross wise and then eat them right off the peel. Oh, they were heaven. Pure, juicy heaven.

And now that I am a grown up and am in charge of the grocery buying, I can have heaven in my house. And I do. Seriously, I'm eating about 10 lbs of oranges a week these days. I peel them, I cut them, I juice them, I zest them. I love them. They taste like Christmas to me, and they feel like home. When I eat an orange slice in my kitchen, leaning over the sink so the juice won't drip on to the floor, it takes me back in time. I might as well be standing on Luana's wood floor with Cathy on one side of me and Christine and Patty on the other. I taste the sharp tang, and I can hear Rachel and the other kids laughing and playing in the living room. I have instant recall of the chimes of the Christmas clock, and I am grateful for the years of memories I have tied to a family that I love, in a house that was a second home.

Oranges.

I love them.

I love the way they feel, taste and smell - almost as much as I love the memories they bring back to me.

Go buy an orange today. Heck, buy a bushel. Take them home and cut them up and eat them until you think you'll burst. That's what this time of year's for, anyway. (And, being cold season and all, the vitamin C can only help.)

Friday, December 16, 2011

Breath of Heaven



Because I've been feeling that I need to make sure and keep Christ in Christmas.

Sure, peppermint is delicious and fun music is always a good time... but it was time to bring Him into my 30 Days of Christmas posts.

I love Him. I'm grateful for His life. I'm overwhelmed at the magnitude of the plan. I marvel at the purity of Mary and her ability to raise the Son of God so He could be who He needed to be - for each and every one of us.

"Help me" - Mary says it so well, so perfectly, in this song that is very like a prayer. I pray that He will - help me, help you, help all of us - every day, but especially as we try to stay focused and remember who and what matters most at this sacred and holy time of the year.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Joseph, Mary and Baby Mickey circa 1979



This is an Evans family classic, folks. Baby Mickey gets brought up in conversation at least once every season. You can see why. I mean, is that not pretty much the most adorable little nativity scene ever? ... Also, I'm pretty sure that it was my stuffed monkey that I used to dip (repeatedly) in the toilet when I was a kid, not the Mickey. (Pretty sure, but not positive.)

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

So happy together...

Meet my two best breakfast besties.



Seriously, this is the BEST cup o' hot chocolate outside of ... well, actually going to Starbuck's for hot chocolate.

Heaven in a mug, I tell you. Pure heaven!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

This cake tastes like Christmas!

*And by "Christmas", I mean: peppermint. (Clearly, I am on a peppermint-obsessed roll this year. But truly, I love it. And the good news for all of you, my dear readers, is that I have no qualms in admitting that and sharing the wealth with you in tips and tricks for how to make the holiday season even more delicious and calorie-laden than it would be without me!)

I give you The Cake That Tastes Like Christmas:



Yeah, I know. That cake looks like a giant cake donut covered in peppermint candy sprinkles. ... And it sort of tastes like that, too. (In my opinion, this is not a bad thing.)

And it's not just the crushed candy canes on the outside of the cake that give it a minty flair, people. Oh, no. This cake has a secret weapon inside of it.

Behold, peppermint pudding:



That was a sweet view of my claw-like hand and kitchen sink, right? (I'm putting it up anyway because I know it will make my mom happy to see the Noel on my fridge in the background. I'm funny like that.)

Here's a better pic of the box o' pudding, sans claw:



Yes, Jello is now making a peppermint pudding - and my mind is running amok with thoughts of all the things I could do with this pudding: trifle, parfaits, just a bowl o' pudding with broken candy canes on top. (I'm pretty sure I'm gonna have to go back to Safeway and buy every box on their shelf, as this is a seasonal item and I have no less than half a dozen things I'm wanting to do with it.)

Anyhoo... make this cake. (Make it even if you don't like peppermint - just use the chocolate pudding, or a white chocolate pudding, or a vanilla pudding, or do a lemon cake mix with a box of lemon pudding. Really, the possibilities with this recipe are endless.)

Darn Good Chocolate Cake

1 pkg devil's food cake mix
1 pkg (3.9 oz.) chocolate instant pudding mix
4 large eggs
1 c sour cream
1/2 c warm water
1/2 c vegetable oil
1 c semi-sweet chocolate chips (I recommend the mini chips, as they weigh less and are less likely to settle at the bottom of the pan)

Mix it all up, pour it into a greased and floured bundt pan and bake at 350 for 45-50 minutes. Turn cake onto a wire rack to cool.

You can ice it, drizzle a glaze, or leave it plain. Serve it with ice cream, fresh fruit (raspberries, anyone?), glaze it (or, uh...make a ganache-like substance, like I did up there) and then press candy (candy canes, Reese's cups, Butterfinger... whatever floats your boat) into the frosting. Don't be afraid to mix it up with the chocolate chips, either. You can do white chocolate or peanut butter chips - mix and match and make this recipe yours. This cake is so ridiculously moist and delicious that you simply can't go wrong!

Happy holiday baking, my friends!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

I dedicate this post to Molly Sanchez Mortensen

I love Christmas trees. All of them. I love all of them. But I especially love my own. I love it because I've had it for umpteen years. I love the memories of this tree in my apartment in Provo, in my bedroom in Taylor, in my living room here in Mesa. I love that the star on the top of my tree was made by my brother Kirk when he was in high school wood shop for Benjamin #1. I love the clear balls that I stuffed with potpourri with my own bare hands almost fifteen years ago (they're sorta moldy now, but I still use them because I love them so much). I love the random ornaments that were gifts from some of my best friends, friends who know what colors and textures are my favorites. I love the cranberry colored wooden bead garland. I love the fake presents under my tree, fake presents I've been using since I can't even remember when, because I think a tree without presents looks sad and barren (and I don't have kids to get into them, so I can decorate however the heck I want). I love the berry picks and the crocheted snowflakes and the homemade ornaments and the bells that have real, actual clappers in them, and I love the lights.

I love the lights especially, because they always remind me of Molly. (Those of you who were lucky enough to be in the BYU 3rd Ward should remember Molly. She was delightful. Molly was a joy and a pleasure. She was, truly, one of the sweetest and most genuine people I've ever known.) The year that Julie and I lived in The Pink House (capitalized, because it was a proper noun - a living thing with a personality of its very own), we had a Christmas party complete with homemade egg nog and caroling in the neighborhood. Molly came with her husband (she'd gotten married that year and left the ward) and we were SO HAPPY to see her again. We were talking in the front room, by the tree and Molly was staring, mesmerized, into the tree (we were on Ben #2, maybe Ben #3 by then) and she pointed at a light bulb and said "this one is you". Molly told me that when she looks at a Christmas tree, and all of the many lights that shine on the ornaments and make everything sparkley and beautiful, she thinks of the people in her life that do that for her - and that she liked to give the bulbs a name, to help her remember the people she loved.

Every year since that year - every year - I've thought of Molly as I put the lights on the tree. I love her. To say that in the present sense sounds a little silly, since I haven't seen her since 1997, but I love her. She changed me. She made me a better, kinder and happier person. She was one of those friends who come into your life and leave you better.

And this light is hers.



Merry Christmas, Molly, wherever you are. For me, you'll always be a light on my tree.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Some things never change...

Me, playing dress-up circa 1977:




Me, playing dress-up circa 2010:




Some things never change.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Vermont must be beautiful this time of year...

Anyone who knows anything about me knows that I am a movie loving fool. And any movie that can be quoted is a movie worth watching, over and over again.

Enter White Christmas:



Good gravy, I LOVE THIS MOVIE! I mean, so much. And the people who know me best (my mom, my sister, my cousins) know that the surest way to make me giggle is to throw a line out every once in a while, just to keep me on my toes. See the text conversation below between Julie and me. This started at about 10:00 PM Thursday night and ended 11:00-ish, when we realized how late it was and sent ourselves to bed like responsible grown-ups do.

Julie: You'd have to pay $6.60 or even $8.80...

Julie: Mutual, I'm sure. (She had to send two texts to get my attention, I guess. Like I wasn't going to guess the movie at the first quote. Whatever.)

Me: Girls like that are a dime a dozen. ... Don't quote me the price when I haven't got the time.

Julie: Boy, girl, boy, girl.

Julie: I guess she carried me away with her. I don't weigh very much.

Me: General Waverly... a janitor? It's worse than that, I'm afraid. I own the place!

Julie: A landlord!

Julie: Right in between ouch and boing...

Me: What do you get when you mix liverwurst and buttermilk?

Julie: Pray, tell, what does "Mandy" have to do with the minstrel number?

Me: Who knows... But doesn't she have great legs?!

Julie: Grab the cow.

Me: It's time for mother hen to leave her nest.

Julie: I'm starting to play trombone a little, too.


White Christmas + Cousins (with a capital C) = a good time. Forever and ever. Amen.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Christmas traditions

My mom called this morning to tell me that she was going to be giving the lesson in Young Women's today, and she was SO EXCITED, because the lesson was on traditions. Mom and I get pretty excited about traditions, because we think they're great memory makers. We talked for about half an hour before I had to go out the door to my own church meetings, and I've been thinking ever since about our Christmas traditions - what they are and what they mean to me.





I'll share just a few:

sugar cookies - baking them, frosting them AND eating them
Harry Connick Jr's Christmas album - I cannot get enough of the big brass sound
fudge - at least 3 different kinds
dipping pretzels (for hours) as we talk around the table
cold cereal in snack-sized boxes
microwave popcorn as a meal
watching movies all day Christmas day
the garland around the living room ceiling
Mom's wall of Christmas photos
watching (and quoting) White Christmas all month long
going caroling with Mom
having a friend come over to play the piano while Mom, Kate and I sing
Christmas tree pizzas
the unofficial seating arrangement in the living room Christmas morning
waking up SUPER early because it's Christmas, even though we're all grown up
Queen Anne chocolate covered maraschino cherries
the Milk Dud cartons on top of the freezer

The 25 Days of Christmas book





I tell you, I could go on and on. I know that most of the stuff I typed up there won't sound familiar (or even make sense) to most of you, and that's okay. These are my family's Christmas traditions. You have your own, as you should. There are things that we do that my mom's family did, there are things that we do that my dad's family did, there are things that no other family (including the Griswolds) would have ever done, but we do it and we love it. (Insert a visual of Tyler's bacon-wrapped Christmas tree pizza from last year.)





Traditions. They are memory makers. They make the holiday, the magic, the relationships we have with our loved ones real. I am grateful for them, for the sameness of things from year to year. Going home to my parents house and opening the living room door to see the wall of stockings that have been hung in the same place all of my life? That's when I know that I am home, on so very many levels.





My word, I love Christmas! And so much of why I love it is wrapped up in the way my parents taught me how to celebrate it. I'm grateful for music and candy and laughter. Out of all the things we do, having fun together - I think, anyway - is the most important. Thanks for the memories, thanks for the silly (and meaningful) traditions that we have, Mom and Dad. So much of why I love Christmas is because the two of you did. Thanks for raising me right.

Friday, December 2, 2011

A milkshake a day...

Probably won't keep the doctor away. But you know that I'll be having one anyway!



I'm pretty sure that I've talked about my life-long love affair peppermint here before. It is a love that is deep and true, and it's lasted a lifetime already.

I tell you - I looooove peppermint. And peppermint and chocolate together? EVEN BETTER!

Enter Chick-fil-A's new seasonal milkshake. Pure heaven, served in a styrofoam cup with a thick straw. (Also, they serve fried chicken at this fine establishment. And we all know how I feel about the fried chicken...)

Go get one today. ... And if you live in my neighborhood and don't want to go alone, you just let me know. I'm all about supporting friends and loved ones in their quest to get their peppermint shake on. What can I say? I'm a giver.