Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Our Christmas

Other than the kids being home from school and that they have some new toys, our world is pretty much back to normal today. I'm still in my robe, just payed some bills and now I'm putting off the laundry. Utah Dad is back to work. The Christmas tree and the other decorations are stored away until next year. The plastic tree needles all over my floor have been vacuumed up. Most of the yummy treats have been devoured. The beautiful cards from friends and family have been removed from the wall and are ready to file away (I save them). The wreath is no longer hanging on the front door.

As delighted as I am to put away the "Christmas clutter" (by the end of the season it really starts to bug me and we like to start the New Year fresh), I'm still feeling a little sad that the holiday season is coming to an end. We had a great one.

On Christmas Eve, Utah Dad cooked our traditional rib roast (we watch for the sales all season to grab a big one at a good price). It was perfect--medium rare and juicy. I added some mashed potatoes, gravy and additional fixings to the dinner. My in-laws stopped by for a couple of hours in the afternoon to eat with us.

After dinner, the kids opened their Christmas jammies. We attempted to do our reenactment of the nativity. I couldn't find most of the costume items we've used in the past. They must be in that box we didn't get out this year. The kids love this but they were also very excited and "being still" did not really happen.

After we read the Christmas story from Luke 2 and sang some hymns, the kids went to bed and Utah Dad and I set up our new TV so that we could watch It's a Wonderful Life together before going to bed.

The boys woke up just after seven and proceeded to wake the girls. They were pleasantly surprised to see that Santa had returned their names to the "nice list" and left them some lovely gifts. He didn't leave Amberly a violin or the game Neal finally decided he wanted on Christmas Eve (we warned him that Santa's sleigh was already loaded) but they still got most of what they requested.

We spent Christmas day in our pajamas playing our new games and watching our new movies. Utah Dad made "Breakfast Dinner" for breakfast. I cut up cheese and summer sausage to eat on crackers for lunch. The entire day was delightful and relaxing.

We loved learning and playing the new games Santa left in Amberly's and Utah Dad's stockings. Sleeping Queens and Loot are both fun, reasonably priced card games from GameWright. I was surprised that even Neal loves to play Sleeping Queens.

Early Saturday morning we all loaded into the minivan and headed to my parents' home in North Eastern Utah. It takes us a few hours and we arrived before lunch. Neal joined a bunch of my siblings and their families on a sledding outing. We were able to watch the videos later. My brothers are seriously insane. Several of the sledders came home looking as if their faces had tangled with the bushes or as one nephew put it, "he plant faced it."

I have six siblings--four brothers and two sisters. We're all married. We all have kids. Except for my youngest brother and his wife--they have a really big dog. There were 19 grandkids there this weekend (my sister's step-daughter was unable to join us). There are two eight-year-old boys; two six-year-old girls and four babies. The other 11 kids are between the ages of one and five. My parents' lovely but modest home was bursting at the seams so my mom arranged for us to spend Saturday afternoon at the church.

My uncle and cousins joined us. We ate delicious soup in bread bowls; visited; played basketball and ran relay races; sang Christmas carols and watched the children perform a talent show of sorts. The kids sang songs, told jokes and danced. My sister captured some wonderful blackmail style video of Neal dancing that could be very valuable during this teenage years.

Sunday morning we gathered in the ward where we grew up and my brother blessed his fourth baby and first daughter. Another brother sang the musical number accompanied by his wife. I didn't get to stay in the meeting for long because Thomas shouted out "I need to throw up". How could I stay? Everyone turned to look. I recognized the fear in their eyes. I took him straight to the restroom. He didn't. I'm pretty sure he just figured out a new way to get out of Sacrament Meeting.

Amberly informed me this weekend that she "needs to grow up on a farm". She had just come in from helping Grandpa feed his horses. My daughters and nieces LOVE horses. So Grandpa arranged to take the girls and some of the boys to his friends' house to see their miniature horses. The horses were so cute and little and gentle and the kids had a great time. The kids got to pet them, feed them, lead them around and even sit on their backs. I think I know what the girls will be asking Santa for next year. The owner invited us back this spring to see the baby miniature horses.

One of my favorite times at my parents' house is when all the kids go to bed and the adults gather in the dining room with treats and games. We visit and eat and have a great time. Sunday night we pulled out my sister's new game--Curses. I haven't laughed that hard in a really long time. My cheeks hurt and my side ached. There are some really funny people in my family.

We stayed up too late. We ate too much food. By the time we left my parents' home yesterday, Utah Dad felt a little like this miniature horse.

We were exhausted and harried by the time we got home last night. But it was worth it because it was so much fun. Bring on New Year's Eve!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A Few Christmas Pictures

They're not reindeer. They're pronghorn antelope. This picture was taken out my bedroom window. I think they're beautiful.

We should have taken pictures BEFORE church when their hair still looked good. And inversion fog=crappy light in my house for pictures. The boys dressed up nicely in Christmas clothes for church too but they were unwilling to pose for pictures after church (they had already changed into pajamas). The kids didn't match this year but they were color coordinated in red and black. And thanks to hand-me-downs from my sister-in-law, Amberly was the only one who needed a new dress. I love my cute girls.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Clam Chowder for Dinner

Utah Dad and I love clam chowder. I know. Really. Even though we live in Utah--no where near clams. We love it anyway. While we lived in New Hampshire we ate it a lot. We ordered it nearly every time we ate out. We once ate clam chowder for lunch in Boston and later that evening had a bowl for dinner in San Francisco all while trying to get home to Utah (that was a long day).

I've tried so many different clam chowder recipes over the years. Some have been good. Others not so good. Then last year we got the really cool 9th Ward Cook Book and there was a recipe for chowder by our friend Rheanna. She had lived in Maine. Her husband was from Maine. Utah Dad insisted that it would be good (Mainers KNOW clam chowder). So, we tried it.

It was delicious. And easy. And unlike some clam chowder recipes that call for cream, I can keep all the ingredients in my pantry so that I can make it whenever I feel like it (those cold, homesick for NH type of days).

I've adapted the recipe a little to make it more our style and here it is (mostly Rheanna's--I hope she doesn't mind if I share it).

Clam Chowder

* Peel and chop some potatoes (I usually use about 10 medium size potatoes). Put the potatoes in a big pot and just cover with water. Put them on the stove to boil.
* Chop and sautee an onion in butter (or olive oil). I use butter because I like butter. :) When the onions are nice and transparent throw them in with the potatoes.
* Cook the potatoes until they are nice and soft. I hate to bite into an undercooked potato in my soup. Yuck.
* Add 3-4 cans of chopped or minced clams and the juice (whatever kind your husband happened to buy in the store. Sometimes we use both kinds. And because we're in Utah we use canned clams. Obviously.)
* Now pour in one can of evaporated milk. You might need two cans if you like it thinner. (Do not let it boil after adding the milk.)
* Salt and pepper to taste.
* I add some butter. Because I like butter. (Did I mention that already?) And because the clam chowder at Newick's in Dover, NH always had melted butter floating on top.

We had it for dinner last night. With scones. I had more for lunch today. Mmmm. So so very good.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009


My sister-in-law gave me a tube of C.O. Bigelow Mentha Lip Shine a few weeks ago. I LOVE it and now I don't think I can live without it.

Friday, December 11, 2009

"Be Like a Duck" (a Lucky Duck)

There are two lucky ducks today.



Jenni S.

both win a copy of Sandra Boynton's latest book/DVD "One Shoe Blues". While we're in the Boynton mood be sure to click here to watch another fun music video "Be Like a Duck" (a single from the Philadelphia Chickens CD).

If you happen to be Cassie or Jenni S., congratulations! Please send me an email with your information so that you can enjoy your new Boynton book right away.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

It's the Year Without a Santa Claus

Every Christmas season we make a trip to a local mall to let the kids visit Santa Claus. We try to go early in the season on a Monday afternoon in an attempt to avoid crowd and long waits (we're successful about half the time). This year, our trip to visit Santa was scheduled for yesterday. The kids were excited and looking forward to it. Neal was still trying to decide what he should ask for.

However, my children have found themselves on the naughty list this year. Sunday evening they were bad enough (i.e. impolite, rude, disobedient, completely obnoxious) that Utah Dad and I decided to cancel our annual visit to meet the jolly, bearded guy in the red suit.

We informed the children of our decision yesterday afternoon when they got home from school. There were some tears and some mild pledges of future obedience so that Santa might be persuaded (in letters) to return their names to his "nice list" before Christmas Eve.

Then during our revised Family Home Evening, we laid it on thick. Utah Dad and I are sick and tired of the name calling, the demands, the "tone" of voice, the rudeness. There were more tears and more slightly stronger pledges of future obedience and politeness. (Yes, it was one of those types of Family Home Evenings. Not really the intent of the Brethren, I imagine.)

And because we needed some positive reinforcements, we pulled out the big guns--the "Warm Fuzzy Jar". Ever since President Monson mentioned the warm fuzzy jar in October General Conference (the only thing my kids remember from the eight hours of conference talks we forced them to listen to) we have been intending to start our own warm fuzzy jar. I put it off, mostly because I kept forgetting to get pompoms whenever I went to the store. But now it was an emergency.

I showed the kids the large glass vase we would fill and the pompoms that I bought at Walmart yesterday (the kids are pretty sure I didn't buy enough to fill the jar. I promised them I'd buy more). They were excited and anxious to start being more obedient, kind, thoughtful and willing to serve others.

We told them a few ground rules:
1. Mommy and Daddy can reward a warm fuzzy for any good behavior that we observe (i.e. politely asking for something at the dinner table; using the potty for potty business; completing chores or homework without whining; obeying the first time . . .).
2. The child cannot ask for their own warm fuzzy for good behavior, but a kid can "tattle" on a sibling for good behavior that Mom and Dad might have missed.
3. We are all in on it together. It's a big family project. Not a contest.

We didn't come to a consensus about the prize we will get if and when we fill the jar. We're still thinking about it. We might have to have a family vote.

So far, on day one there are eleven warm fuzzies in the bottom of the jar. And that makes me feel warm and fuzzy.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

How to Mend a Broken Heart

Eight years ago today Utah Dad and I handed our little baby boy over to the doctors and nurses at Boston Children's Hospital for major surgery on his heart.

We were at his two month old check-up with a pediatrician we had just met for the first time. As proud parents, we showed off our good-natured, chubby baby for Dr. Soares, who reminded me of a grizzly teddy bear. Dr. Soares joked and maintained the usual conversation with first-time parents until he listened to our baby's heart beat. He listened again. And again. I wasn't worried. Certainly nothing could be wrong with our delightful miracle baby. And then he order an EKG. And then he sent us to the hospital for blood pressure tests on our baby's tiny arms and legs. And then he gave us the name of a qualified and respected pediatric cardiologist.

We were first time parents. We didn't know that it was unusual for a baby to sweat profusely whenever he nursed (it was a hot and humid New Hampshire summer). We didn't know that a baby should kick his legs more. We didn't know that a baby shouldn't sleep so much (we thought that was good) or take so long to nurse. We thought we were holding him too tight when his legs turned purple.

The day before Neal's check-up, I had interviewed for a new position within the company where I worked. I was on maternity leave for another four weeks, but the position was working on the Utah contract and it was very likely that I would get it. I'd be able to travel to Utah several times a year and take Neal with me. The company had an on-site day care and great benefits for working moms. And I loved my job. At the same time, I really did want to stay home with my baby. We weren't sure how we would be able to afford having me at home, but there wasn't a question of how we would decide after that appointment. Thankfully, I've been able to stay home with my children ever since.

Dr. Rauchenbacher, the pediatric cardiologist, worked out of a hospital an hour away. We became very familiar with the drive to Manchester as we became very familiar with the technical terms of Neal's condition. After additional tests, including an echo cardiogram, it was determined that Neal had a coarctation of the aorta. Essentially, the aorta had a kink in it--like a garden hose--so blood flowed into his upper body at a high pressure and his lower body had very low blood pressure. (Neal claims that this is why he is so smart--all the blood went to his brain when he was a baby.)

The cardiologist wanted to schedule the surgery as soon as possible, insisting that the earlier the coarctation was repaired the better. Boston Children's Hospital was another hour south but the surgeons were very experienced and had excellent reputations. (We were already very familiar with Mass General in Boston. It sometimes seemed like our only trips to Boston were for hospital visits.) The surgery to repair Neal's heart was scheduled for December 6th, 2001.

Neal was five and a half months old by then. He weighed slightly more than 18 pounds. The other babies in our heart ward were tiny, frail, sick things. Even though it took Neal so long to eat--he'd get tired and would have to rest--he was my first and only baby. I could sit and nurse him all day if he wanted and sometimes I did. Thankfully, he continued to sleep a twelve hour stretch at night. Neal was sweet and cheerful. He smiled often and rarely cried. He didn't act sick. He didn't look sick.

The bulk of our family lived in Utah--over 2400 miles away--but Utah Dad's parents, my mom, grandma and sister flew to Boston to support us during Neal's surgery. We stayed in a nearby hotel and were at the hospital at six am for his scheduled surgery. There was an emergency and a delay and it was several more hours before Neal got called in for surgery. Even though he couldn't eat (I thought I might explode before a kind nurse found me a breast pump), Neal was sweet and cuddly and warmed the hearts of his grandparents and the staff.

I generally stay calm and collected in an emergency (it's later, when the tension breaks, that I cry). It was a very long day. I was about to crack. The surgeons cut the kink out of the aorta and then sewed it back together. That's what I remember now. At the time, we listened through all the technical, medical explanations; had detailed diagrams; asked every question we could think to ask. But now, eight years later, I remember only the basics. You can click here for a graphic summary (it's not graphic as in gross).

I remember seeing my little baby son, sedated and covered with countless tubes and wires, in ICU that evening. He looked so tiny then. His nurse was from Utah. My dear friends Sue and MaryEllen traveled from New Hampshire and Maine to visit us. Utah Dad stayed at the hospital that night in a cubby. I returned to the hotel. The next morning, Neal was awake and able to move from ICU to the heart wing. I could stay there with him. I could nurse him again. He hurt and he was sad. But he was brave and rarely cried. His grandparents spoiled him. I rocked him. I sang to him. I sang "Away in a Manger" and "A Child's Prayer". His Aunt DiDi sent a Christmas tree for his room. By the second day he was happy again, unless he had to take his medicine. He was on the mend and our spirits improved. His Gramps bought him a fish balloon that he loved to kick. His smile and laugh returned. We sat in our small corner of the ward we shared with three other tiny babies (that made me want to cry) and visited and joked and laughed. And we realized that we needed to be with our family again and made plans to return to Utah.

Eight years later, I rarely think about his surgery. Neal sees a pediatric cardiologist every few years. He's healthy and strong. He's a smart-aleck. He's a picky eater. He's a tease. He taught himself how to play the piano. He loves space and science and math. He reads Harry Potter. He plays soccer. Yesterday, he went to ski school at Alta. He fell down a bunch but he just kept getting up and he was getting the hang of it. And he wants to be a pediatric cardiologist when he grows up.

Today, I am grateful--grateful to my Heavenly Father for miracle babies; for Priesthood blessings; for doctors and nurses who have been inspired with the knowledge to heal; for family; for friends and especially for my darling, sweet, sometimes-obnoxious little boy.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Sandra Boynton Book/Music Review and Give-away

They finally finished the road behind our house and Utah Dad insists that we get curtains for our kitchen window as soon as possible. He's especially concerned that our lovely neighbors might get a glimpse of me dancing in the kitchen. I love to dance but I am not very good at it. Seriously, grace and coordination are not two of my strengths. Unfortunately for Utah Dad, that doesn't stop me from dancing. He's mortified.

When Neal and Amberly were very small, I discovered a book and CD collection called Philadelphia Chickens by Sandra Boynton. Unlike most music for children, these songs had clever and humorous lyrics put to fabulous music performed by artists like Kevin Bacon, Laura Linney and Meryl Streep. It is music that makes you want to get up and dance--swing dance. I grab the kids and swing them around and we have a great time (I burn a few calories too). My new dance partners--Thomas and Lilly--also love it .  The Philadelphia Chickens CD includes nearly twenty songs that make you want to boogie. My personal favorite is a love ballad to the hard-to-reach chocolate chip cookies.

A few years after we found Philadelphia Chickens, I was delighted to see Sandra Boynton's  Dog Train at my local book store. Dog Train is an equally fabulous collection of songs dedicated to rock and roll. The songs are performed by actual bands that parents will recognize, like Hootie and the Blowfish and Five for Fighting. If it was possible to love a CD more than we loved Philadelphia ChickensDog Train was it. We rock out together to "Tantrum"  and "Penguin Lament". We listen to it in the car. We sing along. We all, including Utah Dad, know all the words. Sandra Boynton understands children and the way they think. If you don't believe me, listen to her songs "Broccoli" and "I Need a Nap". You'll be convinced.

More recently Sandra Boynton has written and published Blue Moo: Jukebox Hits from Way Back. We don't have that one--yet. Hmmm. Christmas is coming. "One Shoe Blues", a single from Blue Moo performed by the legendary B.B. King is the inspiration for Boynton's latest book and her first movie short.

Workman Publishing, who publishes all of Sandra Boynton's books, sent me a copy of One Shoe Blues, which includes the storybook, song, and a DVD with the musical movie short this week. My children and I have already enjoyed it several times. They also sent me two more copies to give away to you. Christmas is coming. I know you or a special child would love one. It would make a great stocking stuffer.

To win a copy of One Shoe Blues by Sandra Boynton leave a comment on this post. To earn additional chances to win do one or more of the following:

1.  Become a follower of Utah Mom's Life Blog.
2.  Add the Utah Mom's Life Button to your blog.
3.  Post about this give-away on your blog, Facebook, Twitter, etc.

Be sure to come back and leave an additional comment on this post for each thing that you do.

The contest will be closed to entries at 11:59 pm on Thursday, December 10th. The winners (there will be two) will be announced on Friday, December 11th some time in the morning--after I get the kids off to school and feed Utah Dad and the others their breakfast and maybe get dressed (but probably not).