For previous Christmases, we've taken the kids to see Santa at the mall. This year we decided to go pro. Bass Pro Shops, that is. I saw a flier that advertised the store's winter wonderland, including the free activities and free pictures with Santa. So we invited my mom to come along, and we drove to Mesa. The games that usually require quarters were all free: the Red Rider target shooting, the fishing and shooting video games, and the newly featured remote control monster trucks. Mason was freaking out about those trucks. Since we've been home, whenever we mention Santa, Mason says, "Santa has 'mote control monster trucks at his house!"
After seeing Santa and grabbing some dinner, we all went to Zoo Lights at the Phoenix Zoo. The lights were spectacular, especially the big light show accompanied by music. There was also a big interactive talking giraffe, which was probably the kids' favorite part. I don't know where the guy doing the giraffe voice was hiding, but he could obviously see and hear the kids. They stood there talking to him for a while. And of course the kids rode the carousel before we headed home. It was quite a magical evening.
Lately Amy and I have been creating magic in the kitchen. Last Monday we turned three flats of fresh blackberries into 21 jars of seedless blackberry jam. I borrowed my mom's old juicer to prep the fruit and remove the seeds. I have memories of that thing as far back as I can remember. My mom would use the grinding attachment to grind wheat into flour for homemade bread, creating a flour cloud in the house. In the summers, we'd go out as a family to one of the many humongous patches of wild blackberries along the river by our house. I'd complain and get freaked out by the bees, but eventually we'd fill our buckets with berries and take them home for my mom to make jam. So last Monday when I was running our berries through that old juicer, the smell took me back. And when I tasted the finished product, I was that kid again. I wasn't sure if it only tasted so delicious because of the memories associated with it, but when we sold all the jam by Friday, I figured it must taste pretty darn good to everyone else too.
And then there are the cupcakes. I don't mean to boast, but they are a huge hit. After Amy's husband took some to work with him to share with everyone (along with some classy fliers), it really took off from there. We've had a few huge orders, and last week we delivered assorted cupcakes to 11 different business around town, as Christmas gifts from another business. Next week we're catering the local Taco Bells' Christmas parties (we provided cupcakes for their Thanksgiving party too). And word just keeps spreading! We're pretty excited about it. And pretty proud.
If you live in Globe, and you're not busy, you go watch the light parade. Not because it will change your life, and not because anyone throws candy (Why don't they? What's a small-town parade without candy?), but because it's just what you do. And the carol singers on the floats may not be to Mason's liking, and the air horn of the "Long Live Cowboys" truck may give you a heart attack, but the kids will get to see Santa riding on top of an old fire engine owned by the guy who runs George's Hamburger Shop down the street. And everyone gets a kick out of that.
Do not underestimate the amount of time it takes to paint huge murals on the church walls.
When, after many requests for more committee members, your committee is comprised of only three people, be prepared to stress to the breaking point.
Don't leave tasks that can be done ahead of time to the final week.
Even though the food may come together at the last possible second, it can still be delicious.
Coordinate with your business partner so that you are dressed alike and are wearing matching homemade poinsettia hair clips.
Adorable clear gift bags from the dollar store, when filled with popcorn and M&Ms for Santa to hand out to the kids, will bust open at the seams and spill all over the floor, requiring you to vacuum and sweep multiple times.
Plan for the amount of people that have been coming the Christmas Social every December since you've been in the ward...and then feel like crying when only half that amount shows up.
Be pleasantly surprised when one of the best parts of the evening is the singing of "12 Days of Christmas," which is sung in parts by the guests according to which of the 12 appropriately themed tables they're sitting at.
Be thankful for the talented friends and spouses who chip in at the eleventh hour.
Make it home in record time after the social is over because of the overwhelming amount of cleanup help from the ward members.
Promise yourself that yes, this is the last time you put yourself through this.
Bree loves drawing and coloring. She is usually the subject of her own masterpieces. Today's rendition features Bree jumping on a trampoline, which is an artistic revelation. She said to me, "My hair is coming up because I'm jumping." And the triangle shaped dress is a new component (she asked me to outline the dress for her), because she was tired of dresses that are "just shaped like a body."
"Do you know what I'm gonna be when I grow up? A doctor and an artist. Both."
I let the kids put all the ornaments on the tree this year. As usual, the bottom two rows of branches were sagging under the weight of 90% of the ornaments. When I told them to spread them out, Bree caught on, and stood on the arm of the couch so she could put some up higher. Then I brought out the step stool and told them both to move some of the ornaments up, so they wouldn't all be clustered at the bottom. Now 90% of the ornaments are in the middle section of the tree, a few are at the bottom, and there is a clearly delineated void at the top where Bree's reach ended.
For this month's preschool field trip we took the kids to the nearby Besh Ba Gowah (pronounced besh' buh gah'-wuh) ruins. Globe may not have a lot to offer in the cultural arena, but this place is actually really cool. The kids watched an informative video about the history of the Salado Indians who built Besh Ba Gowah (okay, so they sort of watched). Then we toured the museum and looked at a diagram of what the ruins look like today compared to what they probably looked like in the 1200-1400s. The museum has a really impressive collection of ancient pottery, as well as some baskets, sandals, and tools. Then we toured the ruins themselves, which the kids absolutely loved. They got to walk through reconstructed rooms, and climb up and down the wooden ladder in the two-story building. This was only my second time coming here, but the grounds were as pristine as I remember them. We finished off our fun day with a picnic lunch and some time playing at the community park across the street. I have been having a lot of fun with our preschool. I love seeing the kids make learning progress. Bree learns at an incredible rate. I admit, I'm not as proactive with teaching Mason his letters, colors, etc. as I was with Bree. But when he's given the opportunity (and Bree isn't around to answer for him), he quickly proves that he's pretty darn smart. Most of the time he's just acting too crazy for you to believe it.
This year we celebrated Thanksgiving early, since Chad is scheduled to work for the next ten days straight, including the entire Thanksgiving weekend. Thankfully, my parents were flexible, and invited us out for a big meal yesterday. We decided to go traditional, and made a few menu choices to emulate our country's first Thanksgiving feast. We roasted our turkey outdoors on the grill, and okay, so the pilgrims probably didn't have top-of-the-line gas grills built into an outdoor kitchen like my parents, but we did put some mesquite wood chips in there to pretend we were smoking the food over a wood fire. And though I couldn't find any historical proof that there were any potatoes or breads served in that first Thanksgiving, we carb-lovers couldn't survive without our mashed potatoes, stuffing, and homemade rolls.
Chad, my dad, and the kids went over to my grandpa's pond that morning, and caught some bass to add authenticity to our feast (Mason has a fish in his shirt in the picture...Chad said he wouldn't hold it with his hands...oh, and at some point Mason ended up with a hook in the back of his head, which is all he remembers of the fishing experience). Chad put the fish on the grill, and we also grilled up some green beans and butternut squash. The only thing our traditional meal was missing was some venison (we should have taken our friend Tyler's offer to share the spoils of his last hunt...). We know that the first Thanksgiving dinner included fruit and berries, so my mom made her cranberry sauce from scratch, and we had a selection of fruit pies. Oh, there were nuts too...in the pecan pie. And we had pumpkin pie of course. We like our pie, okay? Six pies for 6 adults. I think that was sufficient. We enjoyed our meal outdoors, as I'm sure the Pilgrims and Indians did, and our 70-degree and sunny weather was most likely much more comfortable than theirs was. If only our feast hadn't attracted all the neighboring honey bees. At least the day only yielded one bee sting.
I don't think I've ever really taken the time before to think about what that first Thanksgiving meal was like. I just thought we ate turkey because it's a cheap and easy way to serve a big crowd. But we're actually keeping up a tradition that started hundreds of years ago with turkey, fish, fruit, berries, pumpkin and squash. And I really enjoyed celebrating the holiday just with our family, my parents, and my grandparents. I wish I had taken more pictures, as always. But even so, I think we made some lasting memories.
I just realized, thanks to Tina's comment on my previous post, that I never officially announced that I'm pregnant! I really did intend to write a clever pregnancy-reveal post, but due to the actual nature of pregnancy, and me being alternately busy, tired, and lazy, I never got around to it. So there you have it. I'm due May 12th. How lame was that?
Trunk or Treat as a cat and bat (inspiration was taken from the cute treat buckets from my visiting teacher). I ate a luke-warm hot dog, which was probably not that smart...I think that's on the pregnancy "don't" list. But I ate two bowls of nachos with delectable oozy cheese to balance it all out.
Fall Festival and Globe Christian Halloween Carnival. At the festival, we ate bean burros from a local woman's booth, cupcakes from my booth, and candy from the Krazy Kone's stash for trick-or-treaters. At the church, the kids played in the bouncy house and giant slide, and won some more candy tossing ping pong balls into floating bowls. It's a little hard to see in the picture, but Mason's pants are soaked because he tripped and collapsed the side of the snap-up pool. The free cotton candy was awesome too. I gave some to Mason, and he just held it and looked at me like I had tricked him...this couldn't possible be "candy" of any kind.
It was really cool taking part in some of the events the community offers. There were quite a few different things going on the two nights before Halloween. One of these years I'd love to go through the haunted house in the old historic jail house, and take the Ghosts of Globe tour, where people stand on the corners downtown, dressed in old-fashioned clothes, and tell you old ghost stories about the area. The best thing: it's all free.
On the actual night of Halloween, we put on our costumes to go to dinner at a friend's house. Chad as an angel, and me as a devil. Then as we were backing out of the driveway, Mason threw up all over himself, his bat costume, and his treat bucket. So, I took Bree to the party, and Chad stayed home with the sick boy, who was running a fever. I felt terrible, because Mason was standing there with puke all over him, saying, "I not throw up anymore. Go to Levi's house?" Poor guys.
I like to encourage Mason's creativity, but this seemed a little inappropriate. I believe the red object in question is from their plastic food set: some kind of long vegetable now beyond recognition. I threw the offending piece away after Chad and I had a good laugh.
Note to self: buy tinker toys to avoid this in future.
Here are the preschool kids playing the giggle circle game. I remember playing this with my friends when we were younger. You lie in a circle, with your head on a friend's belly. Someone starts laughing, and when the belly beneath your head bounces and jiggles with laughter, it makes you laugh, and the cycle continues. The kids thought it was pretty fun.
A two-year-old who will cry from thirst and hunger. Do I give in and suffer the messy consequences, or listen to his pitiful crying?
Mason repeating, "Don't need to barf, Mama," throwing up between words, and simultaneously pushing away from whatever barf receptacle you're offering.
A sick four-year-old girl who is up half the night, but who makes you proud as she makes every effort to make it to the bathroom.
Bree in the bathroom crying after accidentally messing her pants, saying, "It's all my fault," but who rallies admirably when I reassure her that it can happen to everyone (even adults) who gets the stomach flu.
Me imagining I'm feeling the beginnings of stomach pains, and praying that I will escape it. And a house that smells sickeningly of Lysol.
Last Saturday Bree and I were lucky enough to attend my great friend Kristina's wedding in San Diego. (Chad had to work, and I bribed a friend to babysit Mason). Girls' weekend! Kristina has been my friend since we met in sixth grade. We were together in honors classes all through junior high and high school, and we attended community college together in the Running Start program, and graduated with our Associates Degrees before we got our high school diplomas. We starred in school plays and musicals together. And when we were sixteen Kristina joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She's an amazing example of faith to me and everyone she's touched. Her new husband Brad's mother caught me in the bathroom at the reception and said, "Kristina told me you were the one who gave her a Book of Mormon." Her eyes welled up with tears as she thanked me for sharing the Gospel with Kristina, because so many lives have been changed as a result, including Brad's and his family's. I was touched, and was grateful to her for reminding me what a wonderful conversion story Kristina's is. I can only take a small part of the credit, of course. Kristina had an awesome group of friends during those teenage years, all of whom were great examples to her. And Saturday I felt a lot of pride watching Kristina take that wonderful step, and seeing her so happy. Bree, of course, became instant best friends with everyone on the temple grounds, as per her custom, including the family who only spoke Spanish. To them she said, "Muchas gracias" (credit due to Dora the Explorer). I was constantly pulling her out of the way of wedding pictures...and there were a lot of weddings that day! She wanted to be in all the pictures, and could not stop hugging Kristina and touching her dress. That evening, the dinner cruise reception was awesome, and Kristina and Brad had a beautiful sunset ring ceremony. The food was delicious, and Bree monopolized the dance floor for a large portion of the night. The adults in our party also embarrassed ourselves, showing off our white dance moves. Bree and I had a great time, and were completely worn out by the end of the night. We made sure the traditional honeymoon basket found its way into the right car, and said our goodbyes. It was a wonderful weekend, and I'm so glad I made the trip.
We have been pretty busy around here lately. For one thing, preschool started this month, and the kids are loving it! Two of my friends and I take two-week shifts teaching preschool on Tuesdays and Fridays. It's been awesome... especially since my turn hasn't come around yet! I'm actually excited, and have been requesting library books for story time that relate to my unit's theme: "The more we get together". We'll be learning all about families and friends.
Last Wednesday we had our first class field trip. We carpooled down to Mesa to the children's museum there. For only $6.50 a person (half that if you have awesome buy-one-get-one coupons like Mackenzie found online), you get hours of play and learning experiences. There were giant blocks, a playhouse with a kitchen, story room, and garden, an art room, exhibits to experiment with sounds and video, and the featured Japanese Manga exhibit, which is why I have a photo of all the kids inside a furry cat-bus. Apparently there is a Japanese comic with a giant bus that is actually a live cat...don't ask me. Bree, however, is very familiar with the Japanese cartoon "Avatar", and knew how to act appropriately in the Japanese house, saying to her friends, "Welcome to Chang Palace." It was a lot of fun, and was a deliciously air-conditioned respite from the 110-degree heat outside. We'll definitely visit again.
Today Chad and I sampled six different cupcake flavors from Sprinkles, the world's first cupcake-only bakery. Thanks again to my awesome Visiting Teacher! Actually, Chad didn't get to taste the Key Lime, since Joanna came over, and I jumped at the chance to get her opinion. Sorry Chad.
I am really impressed. And three pounds heavier.
Red Velvet: moist, subtle chocolate cake with superb cream cheese frosting. Key Lime: a summer flavor, and one of my favorites. Key lime cake with lime-vanilla frosting and lime zest. There was also a surprising lime glaze under the frosting, which really added a nice zing to the entire bite. Black and White: dark chocolate cake that was a little dry for my taste, and yummy vanilla buttercream. Chocolate Marshmallow: same chocolate cake with marshmallow creme in the middle (a little unappetizing for me, rather like Twinkie filling), and bittersweet chocolate glaze (too bitter we thought). Peanut Butter Chip: peanut butter cake with semi-sweet chocolate chips (I wasn't too big on the cake flavor, and thought milk chocolate chips would have been better), and amazing peanut butter frosting with chocolate sprinkles. Lemon Coconut: moist vanilla cake with lemon coconut cream cheese frosting. I am not crazy for coconut, but I loved this cupcake. The flavors and textures were wonderful.
In summary: If you live near a Sprinkles, you must go. Warning: a single cupcake will set you back $3.25, but if you've never been, it's worth trying at least once. My advice is this: steer clear of the chocolate cake, and if you're a cream cheese frosting fan, make sure you pick a Sprinkles cupcake topped with the stuff.
Last night my Visiting Teacher Barbara called, asking is she could drop by. I said, "Of course!" knowing that Barbara always comes bearing excellent gifts. But I was not prepared when I opened my door and she presented me with cupcakes from Scottsdale! She knows that I've been fine-tuning my cupcake recipes, gearing up to start selling like crazy. So she brought me cupcakes from two of the nearest (over 1 1/2 hours away!) cupcakeries, Sprinkles and Scottsdale Cupcakes. I was beyond touched. I could not wait to taste them all, and make notes on what ideas I might adapt for my own purposes. What follows is a highly critical assessment of Scottsdale Cupcakes (and Barbara, lest you think I did not enjoy the cupcakes because my opinion of them may not have been the highest, be reassured that with every disappointing bite, my excitement at beating my competitors soared!). So I put a movie on for the kids, and Chad and I sneaked into our room with a plate of halved cupcakes. We tasted all four flavors from Scottsdale Cupcakes.
From left to right: Tuxedo: slightly bitter supermarket-bakery-caliber chocolate cake with yucky white frosting. I called the shop, and she swore up and down that the frosting is real buttercream, so I'm not sure why it didn't taste good. Deluscious: bland vanilla cake with cookies & cream frosting (the Oreo flavor was nice, but I still didn't like the frosting). Cosmopolitan: moist cake, but I couldn't tell it was supposed to have a cranberry flavor; VERY tart and over-powering lime-vodka icing. Momo: yummy cinnamon & sugar cake with Madagascar vanilla frosting, sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar. Definitely the winner of the bunch, but that frosting ruined it.
In summary: I cannot account for the great reviews this place gets in local print. I would choose my own homemade cupcakes over theirs any day: better tasting for half the price!
I've been looking for new cupcake recipes to try, and I came across a recipe for orange cupcakes with gorgeous two-toned frosting. I'm still working on the frosting skills, but I think they turned out really pretty. The cake recipe itself was a little dry, but the frosting was delicious. It's the same buttercream that I usually make, but with orange juice and orange extract in place of milk and vanilla:
1 cup butter (substitute up to 1/2 cup shortening to keep frosting soft)
4 cups powdered sugar
2 Tbsp fresh orange juice
1 tsp orange extract
My friend Amy and I have talked for ages about starting some kind of business. We feel it's a shame to let all our talents and brains go to waste (not that motherhood is a waste...far from it...we just want our efforts to reward us with cash). So, we're gearing up to sell jams and jellies, and all sorts of cute girlie stuff at the...wait for it...local swap meet! Hey, it's all we've got here. It's our town's equivalent of a cute farmer's market. And the rent can't be beat. So today we got together and made 30 jars of Prickly Pear Jelly. What a beautiful sight. Next week we're tackling peach and raspberry jams. And if you're in Globe the first Saturday of September, stop by the swap meet. Ours will be the booth that actually looks appealing.
This is what's been going on in our house lately. Mason is two and a half, and is beginning to make the potty connection. He's been earning stickers like crazy, filling up his chart to earn tractor toys. Still no sign of that elusive number two cooperating. We'll just have to be patient with that. Apologies to any visitors that may catch a glimpse of a half- or totally-naked boy. We're working here.
Chad decided to make dinner on Saturday. Perhaps he knew that I wasn't in the mood to cook. He may have been motivated to come up with his own alternative to the inevitability of another leftover night. Whatever the reason, we had the most delicious teriyaki steak and chicken kabobs, with squash from our garden, onions, and yellow peppers. Some guys volunteer to cook, and you get a gloppy spaghetti. Chad volunteers to cook, and you get kabobs. He sure is nice to have around.
Yes, that's desert, not dessert. The desert may appear to be a barren wasteland at first glance, but despite it's intolerable summer heat, it's actually rich in natural food sources. Not that I'd eat most of them unless I was pretty desperate, but the prickly pear cactus fruit is one exception.
During years where we get a good amount of rain (good means we're no longer measuring annual rainfall in single digits), the cactus fruit is plump and juicy, and this year's harvest was a good one.
I went to my mom's this week to learn the ins and outs of the picking and juicing process. To start, you must be in the desert. This is essential. Locate a fruit-laden prickly pear cactus (not to be mistaken for a barrel or saguaro, which also bear fruit, but of a different kind). You want to look for fruits that are large and dark red. Use a pair of tongs to pick them, to avoid the need for bandaids later.
If the fruit is nice and ripe, part of the pear will stay attached to the cactus.
Pick until you have a bucket full. Or three buckets full. It just depends on how much juice you want (for every three gallons of fruit, I got one gallon of juice).
Dump the fruit into a sink full of water, to wash off the dust and bugs.
Wear rubber gloves (the kind you wash dishes with) when touching the fruit. They're not called prickly pears for nothing. They've got tiny needles that can cling to everything if you're not careful, but the dish gloves will protect your hands as long as you don't grip the fruit too tightly.
Cut each pear in half lengthwise, then in half again.
Dump the quartered fruit into the top section of a steamer.
A steamer is a wonderful contraption, and thankfully, between my mom and my grandmother, we had three going at once. The fruit (whatever you're getting juice out of) goes into the top pot, which has a sieve-like bottom. You fill the bottom with water, and as the water boils, the juice is steamed right out of the fruit...
and collects in the middle chamber like magic.
The fruit comes out sad and dessicated, devoid of color and life. Throw it over the fence for the resident cows to eat.
Pour the juice through a finely woven cloth, to strain out errant slivers. Notice the gorgeous color. Store in a sealed container in the freezer until you're ready to make jelly (I personally like to save the jelly-making for cooler weather).
Prickly Pear Jelly:
Wash/sterilize and then heat 5 half-pint jars in a warm oven. Heat 5 lids in water that is barely simmering.
Mix the following:
2 1/2 cups prickly pear juice
3 Tbsp lemon juice
1 package pectin
1 tsp butter
Bring to a boil.
Stir in 3 1/2 cups sugar. Bring to a full rolling boil, and boil for three minutes. Ladle into hot jars. Wipe rims of jars with a clean damp cloth.
Place hot lids on jars, centering to ensure a good seal. Screw lid bands on. Turn jars upside-down onto a towel for five minutes to "process" (no need to mess with a boiling water bath). Turn right side up and allow to cool and seal (you'll hear the lid pop when the seal is successful). The jelly will keep in a cool pantry for at least a year.