24 February 2020

Christmas Has Come and Gone

Nearly two months have passed since we celebrated Christmas 2019 but like any good trip back to Nebraska, it was memorable enough that we're still feeling the effects of it.
Elsa getting her baby fix.
We pulled the kids out of school a day early (they only ever watch movies and eat candy at school the day before a break anyway, right?) and drove to Nebraska in a single day. Thankfully this year, there were no escaped cows or loose chickens while we were away--always a blessing--and arrived in time for dinner.
One of our favorite Christmas traditions is to make trays and trays of treats to share. It's all chocolate and caramel, cookies and crackers and it's d-e-l-i-c-i-o-u-s. The best part of making the treats is having the kids help. It's amazing how much faster the work goes when there are half a dozen extra hands doing the work.
Even better than the treats are watching the cousins get reacquainted. The babies are definitely the most coveted companions, though they don't always appreciate being smothered with love. That doesn't put anyone off. This year, it was Peter who was passed around, kissed and hugged until he screamed, then they'd hand him back to an adult, and run off to play with someone else. No one ever suffers from hurt feelings when a baby is tired of playing because there's always someone else to fill the void.
Music is also an important part of our Christmas celebration. My sister and her family prepared to sing at their church by giving us a warmup performance. They're regular von Trapps.
One of the best parts about visiting family in Nebraska is that there's some time to slow down. We don't have to run outside to feed the animals and aren't tempted by the neverending to-do list. There's ample time to sit down and play a game because there's no reason not to be.
Really, though. Who are we kidding? We aren't very good at sitting still for very long. Even in the city, we find chores that need to be done.
As our kids are getting older, they're starting to enjoy gift-giving as much as they enjoy receiving them. Their default method is to make something and every time they hand me a gift, I'm in awe of their skill and creativity. This year, it was bracelets and necklaces from my mom's jewelry making stash.
The only one of our animals who makes the trek with us is Raven. She's a great multipurpose farm/city dog and can adjust to either setting as needed. When things were quiet, she'd sneak upstairs to cuddle with her pack.
It isn't often that we can take the whole family to the movies. It's painfully expensive and most of the time, we'd rather wait and watch movies from home where we can talk, look at our phones, and spill our popcorn without disturbing others. But when we got the chance to watch Frozen 2 on the cheap and in a nearly-empty theater along with half the cousins, we couldn't say no.
Seeing our kids with their grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins is one of my favorite things to do. The kids react differently to other family, they get a bit spoiled and pampered, and always come away from it happier than when we arrived.
Before Santa came on Christmas eve, we decorated cookies in record time. Seriously, as fast as three adults could frost cookies, someone would claim the cookie, smother it in decorative sprinkles, and ask for another.
We made some time for video games...
...and making sure the house was appropriately festive.
Claire doesn't go long without crafting something.
Like when I was younger, my grandma's house continues to be a central hub of social activity. The oldest cousin met the youngest for the first time, and it was a hoot.
Brandon and Peter meeting for the first time.
There's something innately entertaining about a baby, especially a friendly one like Peter. He was happy to oblige in silly games and gave a lot of tentative-then-genuine smiles as he was passed around from awkward teenager to experienced uncle to great-grandma.
Peter's first sweatband.
We couldn't say no to the nice weather outside either. Nebraska is one of those hit-and-miss type weather systems. Sometimes, Christmas break is bitterly cold and snowy while other times, it's mild and tepid. With springlike weather and a garage full of bikes and wagons, the cousins all went outside to play.
There were kids everywhere. In trees, flying down the driveway, chasing each other around the house.
An impromptu game of freeze tag formed out back, followed by a snowball fight with a small patch of snow that hadn't melted in the shadows. I watched with Peter on my lap, thinking it was a lot like how I spent holidays at my grandma's house when growing up.
When the snow was all gone and the sun started going down, we had to say goodbye and head to the next family commitment. With so many friends and family to see in our short time, we never get to stay in one place for long. It's a wonderful problem to have.
Christmas day finally rolled around and all of the kids' anticipation overflowed in excitement as they opened present after present.
The morning was spent with Jack's family before we headed back to ours for round two.
The kids did most of the heavy lifting when it came to passing out gifts, which is fine with the adults. They'd scurry into the other room, ferret out a gift for everyone, and we'd try to take it slow to savor the experience but by the end, it was happy chaos.
One of my mom's hens watching the craziness from the safety of the deck.
One of my favorite parts about watching the kids open their presents is how excited they get when they realize their twin cousin got the exact same thing. Everything is cooler when someone you love has one too.
Two pretty rainbow unicorns!
I am happy to report that we also kept up with our Amigo's tradition and met with Kristin, John, and Kristin's mom. If I'm counting right, that makes for year ELEVEN, which is nothing to sniff at, especially since neither of us lives in Nebraska anymore. Reminiscing, eating the iconic food, and catching up with friends makes me so, so happy.
We love eating lunch at Amigo's with Kristin!
Post-Christmas, the fun kept happening, but without the deadline Santa has imposed on him. Jack's mom took everyone to a pottery painting studio and it was everything my kids ever dreamed it would be.
They chose their little figurines and painted them with glaze, wondering the whole time how they'd turn out. I am always up for an art session, though I'm not particularly quick or talented.
Something else that gave us all a good laugh was playing Jackbox TV games together. They're social games on electronic devices that are always a hoot, especially since participants don't normally know who's contributed what. Let's just say I stayed up way too late too many nights playing even after the kids went to bed.
The best parts of Christmas break, between all the presents and activities, is definitely the downtime. We get to catch up with family and friends in a nonstructured way that lets everyone really get to know each other.
Decorating Grandma with a silly crown.
It's when we're lounging around someone's house and chatting, or enjoying ice cream together without the rush of needing to be somewhere else that I get to be the quiet observer of family dynamics.
It's especially interesting when the ice cream comes as a square.
And it's so exciting when it's done around an old Pacman arcade game.
So excited she could just jump.
There was even a little time to spend with just Jack. Gasp! A date night, no kids, listening to our brother-in-law play with his band! It was an out-of-the-ordinary treat that was much appreciated and enjoyed.
I knew my brother-in-law was musical but I'd never seen him perform. He's a rock star!
And just like that, time slipped away, and it was time to get ready to go. We got a cheap carwash and cleaned out the inside of the car so we could trash it on the way back home. Side note: children think it's exponentially more fun to do when everyone has their own bottle of window wash or vacuum hose to use for themselves. Go figure.
Hats off to Master Packer Jack. I don't know how he does it, but he managed to squeeze in all our luggage, gifts, Raven, and children into one Suburban without even a car topper on the roof. High five to those mad skills, even if he hates doing it.
The trip back to Indiana is always bittersweet. It feels like home but it also feels like leaving home. We're on our own again, the black sheep of the family who live nowhere near anyone else we're related to. At the same time, a road trip is a road trip, there are things to see, movies to watch, and the promise of seeing family again.
Things were quiet at home. Animals accounted for, house safe and sound, no frozen pipes to greet us as we've had in years past, and since we got home early enough that the kids weren't groggy and tired, we even managed to empty out the car before getting tucked into bed.
I spy Zoey.
It was an incredible, exhausting, memorable, and joyful Christmas season. We remembered, honored, and appreciated the miracle of Christ's birth a little more, felt closer to family, enjoyed the simple pleasures of life, and remembered to count our blessings once more. Christmas has come and gone but there are reminders of it we continue to have daily, which is one of the reasons Christmas is so wonderful--its spirit of love, hope, family and friends, peace, reverence, and appreciation can be felt throughout the year.
Grandpa and Peter waiting for ice cream.
 We hope you had an exceptional Christmas 2019 and are keeping the spirit of it alive well into 2020!

02 February 2020

Sally Lunn Bread

I don't know who Sally Lunn is but she makes a delicious bread.
I remember my mom making this bread whenever we'd have soup in the winter and it was a treat. It's soft, crunchy, and is delicious with a little butter and jam. It also is a great substitute for French bread when making French toast if it's allowed to dry out a bit so it's not mushy. Any way it's served, it's guaranteed to be delicious!

Ingredients:

4 1/2 teaspoons yeast
1/2 cup warm water
1 1/2 cup lukewarm milk
2 Tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 eggs
1/4 cup shortening
5 1/2 cups flour

Dissolve yeast in warm water and sugar. Stir in milk, salt, eggs, shortening, and flour. Beat until smooth--the dough will be very soft and sticky. Cover and let rise in a warm place until double, about an hour. Stir down batter, then spread into a greased pan. Let rise to within one inch of the top of the pan, about 45 minutes. Heat oven to 350F and bake 45 minutes until golden brown and crusty. Serve warm with butter and jelly or slice and let dry before using as French toast.
 Either way, Enjoy!

22 January 2020

Fire Building

Jack lecturing about fire safety.
Every time we have family night, someone is in charge of choosing an activity that we all participate. This week, Jack convinced Claire--this week's chooser of the activity--that it'd be fun to learn how to build and start fires. Despite the chilly winter day, we bundled up and went out for a fire building lesson.
It might seem ridiculous to teach kids how to start a fire but by taking away the mystery of it, it squelches their curiosity, teaches them a healthy respect for it, and teaches them a vital survival skill that who knows when they may need to use, if ever. Still, it sure can't hurt to know...just in case.
Jack talked to them about tinder and kindling, how to stack their wood just right, how to tell if their wood is dry enough. Then, he sent them on a scavenger hunt to find what they needed.
Raven, Peter, and me watching everyone work.
It didn't take long for the kids to start complaining about the cold, how hard it was to find what they were looking for, and when they finally got their piles of firewood all set up, they discovered pretty quickly just how difficult it is to get wood to light on fire.
With a lot of encouragement and patient teaching from Jack, a bit of help from me, and the promise of roasting marshmallows when we had fire, they persisted until everyone got their own little campfire burning. Talk about a sense of accomplishment!
They ate their marshmallows with pride and after they put out their fires, walked back inside with smoke on their clothes and soot on their faces, they held their heads a little higher, knowing what they were capable of if they put their mind to it.

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