Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011 Check-in

Today is the last day of 2011. Wow, that went fast. I thought I'd check in and see how I did with my goals from last year.

1. Continue to visit the temple once a month. CHECK! We went every month this year, and even a couple times some months. We continue to feel the blessings of the temple in our lives and will continue to attend as often as possible.

2. Improve at tithing payment. Check? Kind of? We did a lot better this year in most regards. We set up our bank to automatically skim our paychecks and move tithing into our savings account so we never touched it. That worked well. We made regular payments each month and were up-to-date on tithing on our salary all year. The hiccup was that we forgot to count rental income from Paul, Blair, Parker and Edgar so we did have a big chunk of catching up to do at the end of the year. And we need to work on improving our fast offerings.

3. Improve finances. Yes and no. It was very much a one step forward, one step back kind of thing. We were able to pay off some cards, but then we opened cards for other things (i.e., dining room table). We are down to having just the table and one other card and think we can pay them off in the next three months. We're almost there!

4. Home Improvements. We made a lot of progress, but of course not nearly as much as we would have liked. We did succeed in getting more living room seating and a living room rug, not to mention a new dining table and dining room rug. We also added a few small tables and art on the walls. We successfully painted the front door, the entire entry way, most of the downstairs trim, the guest bath, and painted and added wainscotting to the dining room. We did not get to the office, countertops, appliances in the kitchen, and we still have a little bit of painting left to do upstairs. Slowly but surely, right? 

5. Develop more hobbies. CHECK! I baked a lot this year, and definitely improved. I'm still not as great at cake decorating as I'd like, but I make a mean cupcake and my cookies ain't bad either. Hans needs to use those manly tools he got last year and build some stuff for our house. 

6. This year, we will read the Book of Mormon together as a family. As of this evening, CHECK! We have just 12 pages to go, which we'll finish off in our evening study together. This has been a really wonderful thing to do together, to study the Book of Mormon and discuss it together. I'm glad we were able to do it.

7. Participate in at least one organized run this year. CHECK! We ran the Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving, a five-mile race I never thought I'd be able to do. And now we're hooked and want to keep doing races.

8. Food storage. Work on it. Period. FAIL. Can I roll this one over to next year?

Looking back, I'm frankly a little surprised how many goals we actually met. I've thought many times this year about setting those goals and I think it's helped keep me accountable. I'm really glad we took the time to commit them to paper (er, blog...) and give ourselves something to work toward. And most of these don't stop here - hopefully, this year has helped us make some practices into habits so that they're easy to continue doing. Stay tuned for 2012 goals... since that seems to work for us :)

I hope you all had a wonderful 2011. Here's to a great new year!

Friday, December 30, 2011

Framed photo gallery

Remember when I started this project? Way back in July? Well, I finally finished it. Took me long enough.

We ended up going with a square arrangement, trying to have fairly even spacing, but not symmetrical across the middle. The final arrangement shown here is not where we started out. We cut butcher block paper in the shape of all the frames and moved them around the walls (I have a picture somewhere, but can't seem to find it). Once we had it how we wanted, we hung the actual frames. And then decided we didn't like the two vertical 2x4s on the right (they're now on the left middle) and we decided we actually liked the two bigger pictures in the same column, instead of one on the right and one on the left. It was good to have a plan - it was better to diverge from the plan.

And then it took me a while to collect the items to go in it. Here's what we've got:

A wedding photo ("groomals" if you will) taken by the lovely Laura Jenkins of AL Collective:

A family tree designed by yours truly (over many man hours in photoshop):

A simple saying on a deep purple background (also a photoshop creation):

A cute temple print of HaveJoy on Etsy:

And a bunch of photos of us over the years.
Prom - 2003

Seeing a Christmas Carol - Dec. 2002

Band concert - 2002

We also have a spot for our parents' wedding photos. Since Hans' parents are moving to Panama in a couple months, all their photos are packed up. So my parents get two spots for now:

Once I have to take down the Christmas decorations next week, that table is going to be pretty bare. I'll have to come up with something to add beneath the gallery.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Christmas in pictures

We just got a back from spending a few days in Houston with Hans' family. His brother, Karl, is military and here for a few weeks on leave. It was nice to spend time all together. We went in with Karl and our sister-in-law Heather to get their parents a Wii. You should have seen Karin's when she opened it. We spent our Christmas celebrations dancing (horribly) and Wii bowling.

 As you can see, we are incredibly full (so many yummy things) and incredibly spoiled. What a wonderful Christmas.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Wise Men Still Seek Him

I've always slightly envied my Catholic friends for midnight mass. That's why I loved that Christmas fell on a Sunday this year. I loved that celebrating the birth of the savior came before the Christmas presents and cinnamon rolls and feast. Today's speakers were all asked to talk about what Christmas means to their family. The two adult speakers asked their children and were met with the response "presents!" They joked about the answer and then went on to talk about what they think Christmas really means.

But I think the kids were on to something. Christmas IS about presents. Christmas is about the gift of his son that our Heavenly Father gave to us. A priceless gift. A miraculous gift. A gift given out of love.

And Christmas is about the presents we get each other. It's about a time when people (a lot of people) stop thinking about themselves and think about the needs and wants of those they love.

These gifts are all a manifestation of love. That's what Christmas is about to me - the strong feeling of love that I feel, especially this year. I am thankful for my Savior and his love for me, and for the endless love my father in heaven gives me to me. I am thankful to be surrounded by so many loved ones that fill my life with joy.

May your holidays be filled with joy and love as well. Merry Christmas.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Christmas cookies

Something about the holiday season just gives me the urge to bake. How 'bout you? Last night, I tried a whole slew of new cookie recipes and I really like them all! They make great gifts for our co-workers and bosses. Check them out!
White-Chocolate Cherry cookies (Better Homes and Gardens)
I halved this recipe because I didn't want 60 cookies. They remind me of something, but I can't put my finger on what. I like the cookies alone - they don't necessarily need the chocolate and sprinkles. They were really easy to make (quick, too, if you skip the dipping) and taste light and not overly-sweet.
Molasses Crinkles (My Kitchen Addiction)
Mmmmm.... I love these. They have just a little bit of crunch on the outside, but the rest is soft and chewy. The combination of spices is rich and just right. They took the longest because they have to chill for two hours. Otherwise they'd be so quick.
These were probably my favorite, and I don't usually like peanut butter cookies. I didn't use mini cupcake liners like the instructions said, and I like it just fine. I froze the unwrapped Reese's cups and then just pushed them into the cookie dough balls. They kind of melt in your mouth and have just the right amount of peanut butter.
In addition to the cookie plates, I also put together these cute hot cocoa mason jars (originally from My Recipes). I used pint jars instead of quart and halved the recipe. I cut a plastic coke bottle in half and used it as a funnel to help get the ingredients into the jar. Making them was surprisingly fast and cheap and made a perfect gift.

What new holiday recipes have you tried this year? Anything good to share?

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

White elephant party 2011

Saturday was the second annual Sweeting White Elephant gift exchange. We didn't have as many people as last year (I blame John Williams... how selfish to get married on that day ;)) But we had a good time. And there were good gifts this year!

Jeff fought pretty hard for that Chia pet
Right before she opened it, Mandy said "I really hope it's a Justin Bieber poster!"
Notice that William is only showing his gift IN the bag... he got the surprise, special gift of the night :)
Candace and Josiah will be having tacos for the next two weeks.
After scoring 5.5 lbs of licorice, Amber no longer has to buy gifts for her kids
And of course, I got to do some cooking and decorating, which was fun!

We had a small hot chocolate bar. I got the little buckets from the $1 section of Target and picked up a bottle of chalkboard spray paint from Walmart. The recipe for crockpot hot chocolate was delicious and decadent. Daniella had three cups, including one for the road. Check it out:
These are my favorite chocolate malt cupcakes. I tried to dye the chocolate frosting white, but I didn't have nearly enough dye. I threw on some white sprinkles and sanding sugar and called it good. The template for the North Pole signs is here.
I also made a delicious spicy cranberry cream cheese dip, but forgot to take pictures. It was really easy to make (puree and pour) and was a huge hit.

Hope everyone is having a happy holiday season.

It's [Finally] starting to look like Christmas

Given that we were out of town the first half of December, we got a little behind on making our house festive. Over the past week or so, I've slowly been able to put up a few things and it's starting to look much better!

We had a bit of trouble finding a tree this year, probably because it was so late. Home Depot had a ton, but most were either too small or seemed dead already. We finally found one that was full and fresh.... but it was huge. We knew it was huge, but got it anyway. It was a struggle to get home (I still have bruises to prove it). But I love it and I love how it smells.

We went with a red and green theme this year. I think it needs something extra... maybe some ribbons? Maybe I'll add those tonight. And since it's such a monster, the star topper we've been using doesn't work and I can't find something bigger. Oops. I think next year I want to try and all silver and white tree.

I saw this thing on Pinterest that said you could hang some mirrors inside the tree to help reflect the light back out. I hung about 20 (see it behind the Santa Claus?) I don't know if it helped, but it couldn't hurt.

Also courtesy of Pinterest, I saw these scrapbook-paper trees and thought they looked easy. Definitely use the template - I didn't, and regretted it. But I thought it helped make the Nativity table a little less bare.

My "craft closet" has about four more holiday crafts that I started and didn't finish. I may do them after Christmas, that way they're actually done before Christmas next year :)

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Happy National Cupcake Day!

Today is national cupcake day. I asked my boss if I could have the day off, seeing as it may as well be a religious holiday for me. She laughed. A lot. I was only halfway joking ;)

In celebration of the day, I made these gingerbread cupcakes that I found on The Rockstar Diaries.
I'm not thrilled with them. They're good, just not my favorite. It's not a taste thing - it's a texture thing. They're very dense, which is just not how I like my cupcakes. If that's your thing, this might be your new favorite recipe. Steph and I had a debate yesterday, partially sparked by this cupcake, about the difference between cupcakes and muffins. It's not just about the icing - an un-iced cupcake is clearly not a muffin. Google tells us the difference is in the ratio of fats, sugars and eggs. Google also said "If you threw a cupcake against the wall, you would hear something of a 'poof!' If you threw a muffin, you would hear a 'thud!'"... but I think it was joking. These little gingerbread guys are clearly in the grey area between cupcake and muffin. But I digress. Here's the recipe.

What you need:
3/4 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup flour
1 T. ginger
1 tsp cinnamon
Dash cloves
1 1/2 T. molasses

Cream together the butter and sugar. Add in the eggs and vanilla and beat to combine. Add in the remaining ingredients and beat until just fully mixed (don't overbeat). Pour into cupcake liners and bake at 350 for about 18 minutes.
The original recipe calls for a buttermilk buttercream. But I decided to go a different direction and make up my own Eggnog buttercream. I didn't have a recipe, so I just kinda threw stuff in. Some of these measurements may be approximate - add or subtract as you wish.

What you need:
1 cup butter, softened
3-4 cups powdered sugar
3 T. eggnog
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cloves

Cream butter until fluffy (2-3 minutes). Continue beating as you gradually add in powdered sugar. Mix in eggnog (you may need more or less, depending on how stiff you want the frosting). Finally, add the vanilla, cinnamon and cloves and beat until combined.

Happy Cupcake Day, the happiest day of the year!