Thursday, December 28, 2017

In Review: 2017

Here we go! The last days of 2017 means it's time to look back on the year that was. Overall it has been a good year. I feel very grateful and blessed for my life.

[I have to mention that the low points this year have been a) that my grandma passed away last January, and b) not one specific moment but the general awfulness of the Trump administration. I'm focusing on the highlights here today though.]

Generally for me the year is split in three distinct phases:

1) January through April 15th: Not a lot of exciting goings-on due to busy season. Lots of mooching around the house. We did enjoy celebrating Valentine's Day and Easter.

2) Summertime: It was a good one! My friend Laura came to visit over the Memorial Day weekend. We took our first family vacation to Denver. We went to the pool many times and to the playground even more times. We went to the river and to the fair. There were nature walks and bike rides on the river trail. There were many Popsicles and home-made ice cream. I had a fun week of birthday celebrations.

3) Fall Holidays: In September we enjoyed the changing leaves. My favorite Halloween activity was the Great Pumpkin Patch train ride. Swede's 4th birthday tea party was a great success. Thanksgiving was delicious, followed shortly thereafter by Abel's 2nd birthday, and of course December was filled with all things Christmas.

Other 2017 statistics:

I ran 725 miles including four races - the Run the Rim 10K, the Narrow Gauge 10-Mile, the Steamworks Half Marathon, and the Thirsty 13 Half Marathon.

I read 65 books. The Top Five:

News of the World by Paulette Jiles

The One-in-a-Million Boy by Monique Wood
The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden
Celine by Peter Heller
The Half-Drowned King by Linnea Hartsuyker

I continued to enjoy the Three Pines mystery series by Louise Penny and I loved re-reading the first three Harry Potter books in the new illustrated editions.

I wrote 82 blog posts, added 28 new recipes (see the 'Food' page) to our repertoire of deliciousness, and traveled to Denver for work 6 times. I found a new yoga studio that I love, made some new friends, and restrained myself to 3 new pairs of Toms.

Swede's favorite movies throughout the year have been: Frozen, Anastasia, Moana, Trolls, and Boss Baby. Abel started talking, started to love books - Welcome to the family, Kid! - and rivals his sister at this age for obsession with Peppa Pig. Swede started dance class and both kids did swim lessons. These days can be difficult due to sibling rivalry, tantrums, picky eating, and general non-cooperation, but overall the kids are SO fun and this era of our lives is really special.

That's all! I'll be back next week to share my 2018 goals and plans. 

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Christmas 2017

Another Christmas has come and gone... We did so many fun things this year to celebrate the season! Decorating the tree, drinking hot chocolate, baking all the cookies, wearing Christmas pajamas, reading stories, singing songs, meeting Santa, making a gingerbread house, riding the Polar Express, and going to the Nutcracker. It was hectic at times but so lovely and fun.

Things that happened on Christmas Eve - 


 Snuggling up with my goofy kids to watch Olaf's Frozen Adventure.

We made cookies for Santa.

Earlier in the day we bundled up for a trip to the park.

And on Christmas Day -

Swede can barely contain her excitement!

Gumball's Christmas present... We did not let her eat this whole thing in one day.

After coffee and presents at home we went to my parents house for breakfast (cinnamon rolls, breakfast casserole, parfait) and more presents. 

Photo by Swede!

After quiet & nap time we went to Jonathan's parents house for dinner (turkey, dressing, green bean casserole, scalloped potatoes, gingerbread bars) and more presents. Abel was pretty worn out by the end of the day.

One last photo before we took the tree down today. Once it's over it's over.

That's all! I hope you had a great holiday weekend. Onward to 2018!

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Blossoms of Light

Last week when I was in Denver for work I met up with my friend Laura to go to Blossoms of Light at the Botanic Gardens. This was one of my favorite holiday traditions (as well as the Denver Zoo Lights) when we lived in Denver. We had a fun time chatting and admiring the lights as we strolled around the garden. (I am also proud of myself for resisting the $10 hot chocolate in a souvenir mug). Here are some photos but it was so much prettier in real life! I'd like to take the kids up to Denver at Christmastime in a couple years - I think they would love it!

Laura and I have been doing a present and ornament exchange for a few years and this is the third time that we've come up with the same idea. Last year we did cozy socks. Another year it was throw pillows. And this year we both picked out coffee cup ornaments for each other.

Also in Denver I met up with my friend Tyffani and her adorable little boy Elliott! Travelling for work can be difficult but I love being able to meet up with some of my favorite people.

Other recent merriment has included: Abel's first time watching Charlie Brown Christmas. Making frosted (and excessively sprinkled) sugar cookies with Swede. And yesterday I received the most fun package of goodies from the lovely Nadine! She was my Secret Santa for the first annual present exchange in the Blogger Pen Pal group. [See Steph to join the Pen Pal group - We send each other cards throughout the year - It's so nice to get something fun in the mail now and then!]

That's all! We've done almost everything from The Big List of Ideas for Holiday Fun except going to the preschool Christmas party on Friday. It has all been really fun so far! How is the holiday season going for you?

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

More Holiday Goings-On

Today I'm linking up with Alexandra and Shea who have organized a second month of the Live Your Best [Holiday] Life challenge. Technically the link-up is to talk about Advent Calendars, but I have to admit that we packed ours away for the year on December 3rd. We were doing chocolate and small toys but it seemed to be creating less delight and more demand. I'm going to try again next year with more activities and a giving-back/kindness approach. So today I'm just going to share some other holiday goings-on that have been more successful.

Last weekend on Saturday I took Swede to a gingerbread house event at church. We decorated a little A-frame graham cracker cabin and a frosted sugar cone tree. It was really fun - Swede kept telling me "This is so fun!" - and really well organized and low-key. Also on Saturday we helped my parents decorate their Christmas tree and baked molasses sugar cookies (which are my #1 favorite holiday cookie).

On Sunday I took Swede to The Nutcracker for the first time. I thought she might be too young and was prepared to leave early but she loved it! I love the ballet and have seen The Nutcracker many times over the years. It's not my favorite ballet (Swan Lake!) but it feels like a holiday tradition and I really enjoyed sharing it with Swede. We have been reading the story at bedtime for the past couple weeks which I think was helpful as she knew what was going on. In the photo below we have a very serious Swede at the concert hall before the ballet started. The dress she's wearing was handmade by my grandma for my mom and I also wore it when I was little.

Speaking of my grandma, this is the first Christmas since she passed away at the start of 2017. I have been thinking about her frequently lately especially when decorating the Christmas tree as so many ornaments were gifts from her over the years. We hadn't spent the holidays together in a while but I have so many fond memories of Christmas at my grandparents' house all the years that I was growing up in Southern California. Here are the ornaments that she gave to me when I was one year old (left) and to Swede when she was one year old (right).

I have been enjoying another month of the Live Your Best [Holiday] Life challenge. Some of the prompts I've done so far are having (several) hot chocolate dates with Swede, starting a new holiday tradition with our first REAL Christmas tree, having a gift wrapping party (just me and Elf on Friday night but it still counts!), making the gingerbread house, and my impulse buy was a $5 holiday mug from the grocery store. We've also been reading all the books and singing all the songs and wearing festive attire whenever possible! There have definitely been a few holiday melt-downs but overall I feel like we've been finding a good balance.

That's all! How is the holiday season going for you so far?

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Reading Roundup - December 2017

Book Day! As usual I'm linking up wit Steph and Jana for Show Us Your Books.

Here's what I read last month:

1) Girl Through Glass by Sari Wilson. 3/5 stars. You may know that I love ballet, so generally I am interested in books about ballet, and this book was no exception. It goes back and forth between the late 1970's in the heyday of the Russian influence on the New York ballet scene (which was a fascinating glimpse into a rather seedy backstage) and the present day as the main character comes to terms with her past. There are a couple characters/relationships that I did not love reading about though.

2) Humble Roots: How Humility Grounds and Nourishes Your Soul by Hannah Anderson. 3.5/5 stars. I heard about this book from the Risen Motherhood podcast. As with all self-help, some of the chapters in this book resonated with me and some did not. The main premise of this book is that the stress and anxiety many of us feel to do and be all the things all the time, and perfectly, is the result of pride. Finding the peace and rest we all seek begins with the humble recognition that WE ARE NOT GOD.

3) Standard Deviation by Katherine Heiny. 3.5/5 stars. This book is a little strange. The plot meanders along without much happening. That doesn't mean it's boring though. It's like life, I guess. You love your spouse and kids with all your heart and they drive you crazy at the same time. You aren't quite sure how you ended up here. Things happen that are funny, boring, tragic, bittersweet, ironic, and beautiful. It's a very close observation of the big and little details and idiosyncratic foibles of those around us.

4) Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi. 4.5/5 stars. The book starts in Ghana in the eighteenth century with two half-sisters - One marries a British officer; the other is sold into slavery. Each set of chapters thereafter follows the next generation of descendants from the sisters. I felt like almost every chapter could have been an entire novel and often I wasn't ready to move on, but overall it comes together well. This book is very good, very powerful, and also very sad and difficult at times for me to read, especially in the early chapters detailing the horrors of the Third Passage and slavery.

That's all! What have you been reading lately?

Monday, December 4, 2017

Christmas Tree Weekend

Every Christmas for the past three years Jonathan and I have promised each other that next year we'll get rid of the falling-apart hand-me-down fake tree we've been using and start the tradition of buying a real Christmas tree. The same thing happened this year, except that when Jonathan went into the garage to get the fake tree to decorate on Sunday, he remembered that we threw it away last summer during an ambitious clean-out-the-garage project. So after a moment of panic I went down to the grocery store to pick out a nice-enough tree and now... Voila! Honestly I'm glad that we were forced to buy a new tree. I prefer real trees in general and the house smells so nice!

I had a really nice time decorating the tree with Swede. She enjoyed unwrapping all the ornaments and directing where they should go. The pink sparkly doughnut was the first ornament to go up! Abel is less interested but at least he's not trying to pull the ornaments off the tree like he did last year.

Other festive weekend events included a hot chocolate date with Swede, baking red-and-green M&M cookies with Abel - I decided it was time for him to be included in the weekly baking projects - and Jonathan and I went out to a nice dinner at Ken & Sue's. Also I watched The Family Stone and finished up my Christmas shopping.

I've also been reading lots of Christmas books with the kids - And let me tell you about this Christmas miracle! - I have read The Night Before Christmas to them together for the past three nights without any fighting. It feels really special and make me so happy!

That's all! Do you prefer a real tree or a fake tree? Have you decorated for Christmas yet? I don't do any decorating other than the tree and stockings but I love having that one festive corner.

Friday, December 1, 2017

The Big List of Ideas for Holiday Fun

Please note I want to emphasize this is a list of IDEAS. It's easy to become overwhelmed and stressed with all the must-do holiday activities, but I do want to keep it FUN, so I hereby waive my obligation to do any and all (OK, most, because obviously some of these are non-negotiable) of the activities below in the interest of family harmony and mental health.

     - Decorate the Christmas tree!

     - I love the tradition (which I also incorporated for Halloween this year) of new Christmas pajamas & books for the kids on December 1st.

     - Do the Advent calendar - I keep it simple with M&Ms every day.

     - Sing Christmas carols.

     - Read lots of Christmas books.

     - Watch our favorite Christmas movies - Swede likes The Polar Express, Charlie Brown, and the Grinch; I like Elf and The Family Stone.

     - Holiday Baking! I'd like to give cookies this year to the kids' preschool and Sunday school teachers. Also I bought a cute plate on sale last year to do cookies for Santa on Christmas Eve.

     - Go to the Christmas Eve church service.

     - Have our traditional Christmas Eve fondue dinner at home.

     - Ride the Polar Express! I went with Swede last year so Jonathan will go with her this year. We'll probably start going as a family next year.

     - I'm taking Swede to see The Nutcracker! I was planning to wait until she was a little older for this but a friend and her daughter offered us tickets to go with them. I hope it goes well but we can always leave early if needed.

     - Go to the preschool Christmas party (and meet Santa).

     - Go out to a nice dinner with Jonathan at our favorite restaurant.

     - I'm excited for the inaugural Blogger Pen Pal Christmas Exchange!

     - I'll be in Denver for work in mid-December and have planned a trip to Blossoms of Light at the Botanic Garden.

At Blossoms of Light in 2013 when Swede was one month old!

     - MAYBE: Make a gingerbread house. There's a church event for this that I might go to with Swede, otherwise I'm not brave enough to make one at home.

     - MAYBE: Go to the Festival of Trees.

     - Things I am definitely NOT doing: Elf on the Shelf, any Christmas craft projects, or much decorating besides the tree.

That's all! It seems like so much but it's really just books/movies/songs with the kids, baking, and one fun activity per weekend, so hopefully it's not too overwhelming. 

What are some of your favorite new or old Christmas traditions?

Monday, November 27, 2017

Thanksgiving 2017 & Abel's 2nd Birthday

On Thanksgiving we had a pancake breakfast with Jonathan's parents and Thanksgiving dinner with my parents. Logistical difficulties prevented me from running the Turkey Trot which was very disappointing. Maybe next year! I say that every year, but I really do want to (re)start the Turkey Trot tradition sooner than later. My grandpa was visiting from Denver though, so it was good to see him, and the food was all very delicious. I contributed Creamy Butternut Squash Casserole. We made an excellent decision to avoid mealtime chaos by have dinner while Abel was napping. 

Abel's birthday was on Friday! It's hard to believe this little man is two years old. He is obsessed with construction vehicles so I thought this shirt was appropriate.

My friend Ashley was in Durango visiting her mother-in-law for Thanksgiving and she was able to spend the morning on Friday with me - Hooray! We had a nice time playing with the kids. Her baby Hugo is not-quite four months old. We went on a walk too because the weather has been unseasonably warm.

On Friday night Swede and I went downtown for Singing with Santa, a community event to kick off the holiday season. We sang Christmas carols, shared hot chocolate and a cookie, and watched the Christmas tree lighting ceremony.

On Saturday we had a birthday brunch for Abel with my parents and grandpa. My mom brought over her delicious homemade cinnamon rolls and I made my favorite Breakfast Casserole. The rest of the day was low-key. Jonathan and Swede went to the park and the library in the afternoon while I stayed home with Abel, mostly playing with his new Lego digger truck.

On Sunday we went to church, watched the Trolls holiday special (twice), and I made a miniature Thanksgiving dinner. Our actual Thanksgiving dinner was less traditional so Jonathan and I were still craving our favorite classics. We bought a rotisserie chicken and I made mashed potatoes, dressing, and green bean casserole. Swede and I also started the holiday baking extravaganza with The Perfect Soft Peanut Butter Cookies.

Whenever I show the highlight reel from a holiday weekend it looks really fabulous, and there were definitely many special moments, but I feel it would be a little fake to not also mention that it was a pretty difficult weekend overall. Mostly because the nature of holidays equals family togetherness time, but the kids seem to be at an all-time high of not-getting-along-well. [I think one of the culprits is competition over all the new birthday toys.] Plus Abel has been super grumpy - I blame his two-year molars - and Swede can only be described as "wound up." I'm not saying she doesn't have good cause! Celebrating two birthdays and Thanksgiving within one week is very exciting, but also very hectic. Which I'm going to keep in mind as I put together my list of fun ideas to celebrate the Christmas season. Hopefully I can strike the right balance between having fun and staying (relatively) calm.

That's all! I hope that you (Americans) had a lovely Thanksgiving weekend.