Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Universal Christmas part 3, and the temple

Here are some random pictures in Toon Town. Everyone wanted to "fly" behind marmaduke. Chris thought everyone could read his thoughts.
And I didn't get a picture of it, but a few of us went on a raft ride. It was a cool day and we got soaking wet. Since we were already shivering and teeth-chattering, we went on another log ride, and then the Jurassic Park waterfall ride. Luckily we had a few dry shirts to pass around, Chris shared his sweater with Ashley, I had a little sweater, and Josh pulled off his dry long-sleeved tshirt for Ethan to wear (josh didn't go on any water rides, so his top-layer shirt was nice and toasty).

Ashley and Josh and I shivered in the night air as we waited for Chris and Ethan to go on the Spiderman ride. We decided to get a hot chocolate while we waited, but it only kept us warm for a few minutes.
Before we left, Ethan really wanted to do Dr. Doom's Fear Fall, but Chris and I were both feeling dizzy and motion sick (we're so old!). So our skinny pre-teen walked down that dark hallway all by himself to ride a scary ride he'd never been on before. For being a meek kid, he's sure brave. And for being such a dare-devil, Josh sure doesn't like scary rides.
Even though Josh had carried around the brochure for Islands of Adventure for at least a month, and talked about it all the time to everyone, everywhere, he decided he didn't love this Christmas present too much.
But everyone else did. And I'm glad we got to share it with Rachel's family, too! 
When we got back to Rachel's place, everyone showered to get warm, then we ate pizza and watched Turbo. It was a fun night with cousins.
 The next day before heading back home, we all stopped at the temple. It was closed, but the kids liked walking around and looking at everything. I guess they have a small temple in Oklahoma, so they thought ours was nice and big. 

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Universal Christmas part 2: Dr. Seuss land

 After traumatizing Josh at Hogwarts, we headed to a happier place to ride some not-so-scary rides and eat some super expensive hamburgers in a big-top tent.

We waited for a half-hour in a line for a ride on the slow sneeches star-on-star-off machine.
Josh said it was a "rip off" because the ride was about 2 minutes long, after waiting for so long. But at least it wasn't scary. Also, it was a ride for preschool/elementary aged kids, yet they said Charlie was too little to ride on it (even though he'd just ridden the hyppogriff roller-coaster over in Harry Potter land). It made us wonder why there were so many adults waiting in line who didn't have kids with them. 

 This Grinch was pretty amazing. He had Jim Carrey's character down solid. I wish we'd had a video of him talking to us, instead of just a picture. I love the Grinch. :)

 I wish our pictures weren't all blurry, and that I'd stopped to take more pictures of the cousins having fun together, but at least we have pictures to remember a few little pieces of our Christmas present!

Monday, December 16, 2013

universal christmas part 1: Hogwarts

On our way to Hogwarts, we decided to surf for a minute.
I love how Josh is surfing with the Universal Studios brochure he's been carrying around for over a month.
The train conductor asked where we were from. For some reason the kids kept saying, "Utah" even though we haven't been "from" there for several years. But the conductor told us excitedly in his fake British accent that he had lots of family from that part of the world, and that we should definitely drink the butterbeer because it was non-alcoholic. 
While the bigger people rode on flying dragons, the boys figured out where to go next.
Life in The Swamp has made us so wimpy that the fake snow on the rooftops made us feel colder than we really were. Although, in our defense, it was a chilly 70* something outside.
Butterbeer mustache.
Charlie's first hippogriff ride. This was one of the few rides Josh kind of liked.
The Hogwarts ride made Josh decide this was the worst Christmas present ever. He nearly fainted when it was over. And that was after the lady at the gate promised him it wasn't scary. He talked for days about how the lady lied to him. But it was cool to tour Hogwarts classrooms and Dumbledore's office.
 If you missed the last post, you can see Ethan being chosen for a wand selection {here}. It was definitely one of the highlights of the day, and worth the wait in the long boring line to get into the crowded wand shop.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

sneek-peek of our Christmas present (which we "opened" last weekend...)

Since it's most likely our last December in The Swamp,
We decided to not have presents under the tree, just memories.
On Friday we headed to Universal Studio's Islands of Adventure with Rachel's family.
They were generous and let us sleep at their time share with them for two nights.
While we were hanging out near Hogwarts, Ethan was selected by a wand.
Despite the lure of the magical, intricately carved (made-in-china?) wand,
he decided that wasn't what he wanted to spend his $40 birthday money on (smart kid).

More pictures of our adventures to come this week.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

I know...too many Christmas posts

But it is December, which means lots of holiday activities and Santa hats and the color red.

 Santa came to our village here in The Swamp. A few days before this, the kids (except Josh, who was excited) said, "Do we have to sit on Santa's lap?" I said no, I didn't care if they did or not. Then they remembered something vitally important: they only get a present at the party if they sit with Santa.

Here they are with their friend Diego, showing off the presents they got from Santa. Woo-hoo!
 Then Santa played bingo with the kids. The winners recieved another present. Luckily everyone eventually had a chance to win, and the kids all walked away with two gifts.
After we played bingo with Santa, our stake was putting on a nativity event at our church so we headed over there. Members donated their manger scenes for the weekend and they were set up beautifully in the gym with sparkly white lights. The YW had made a million cookies, and the primary had crafts and costumes where families could dress up and get their picture taken like a nativity.
I forgot my camera, but hopefully the stake will email our family picture to us soon. It was a nice event, and helped us remember the real reason for the season, that it's not about gifts or Santa, but about Christ and all he's done for us.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

ashley sings at an assisted living home

Last night Ashley's after-school chorus group went to one of the assisted living homes nearby and sang to the retired people as they finished eating their dinner. The folks seemed to enjoy it, and the kids had a good time. Ashley even had a solo for a few seconds. It's hard to see in the dim lighting (and even harder to hear with the dishes clanging behind me) but here's her big musical solo debut (about :33) as well as her big tambourine solo debut:

December in The Swamp

Too bad this picture is so blurry.
It was a beautiful moonlit night with Venus outshining all the other stars
(you can see the bright little dot shining at the edge of  the palm leaf)
Yes it was 70* at 7 pm, and that was in the air-conditioned building where we were doing crafts.
The snowman is a gonner.
 It dropped 10 degrees, from 83 yesterday to about 73 today. I had to put on a sweater for a minute. I have to admit, I love December in The Swamp, when everyone on Facebook talks about the three feet of heavy, cold, wet snow they had to shovel. It's not too tempting to leave the state this time of year!

Monday, December 9, 2013

picnic with an elf

 This is what I discovered on the floor a few days ago. Wish they'd invited me...

Christmas Tamale Casserole

For some reason, years ago, Chris decided to make it a tradition to have Mexican food for Christmas. It started with Christmas Enchiladas, and then we tried to go all authentic and make homemade tamales, but it didn't really work out. And it took so much time for us to make something that wasn't as satisfying as a good tamale should be.

I found this chicken tamale casserole recipe a few weeks ago, and it's become my new favorite. It has enough of that delicious tamale flavor that it satisfies my craving -- without all the hours of hard work.

I use {this} chicken recipe, and it makes moist, flavorful chicken that falls apart when you touch it.
Instead of using packaged ranch mix in the chicken recipe, I use {this} easy, better-for-you, DIY mix.
You can do both of these things days in advance. It makes life much easier when it's time to cook.

Chicken Tamale Casserole (adapted from Cooking Light)

1 cup (4oz) pre-shredded cheese (I love 4 cheese mexican blend)
1/3 cup milk of your choice (we use almond mostly)
1 egg
1 tsp ground cumin
1/8 tsp ground red pepper
1 (14oz) can cream-style corn (I never have this on hand. I just blended up a regular can of corn)
*in the picture above, I didn't have a can of corn, so I used a few spoonfulls of mild green salsa. It kept it moist and gave it flavor. But I recommend the corn. It gives it extra tamale-ness.
1 (8oz) box corn muffin mix
1 (4oz) can chopped green chilies, drained. *this is optional. I rarely have these on hand, so haven't ever actually tried it in this recipe.
Olive oil
1 (10 oz) green enchilada sauce
2 cups shredded cooked chicken breast (see note above for my favorite recipe)

Preheat oven to 400*
Combine 1/4 cup of cheese and next 7 ingredients (through chilies) in a large bowl, stirring just until moist. Pour mixture into a 13x9 inch baking dish lightly rubbed down with olive oil.
Bake for 15 minutes or until set. Pierce entire surface of corn muffin cake liberally with a fork; pour enchilada sauce over the top. Top with chicken and remaining cheese (you can even add olives here, like I did in the photo above -- because I love olives...) and bake for 15 minutes until cheese melts.
Broil for a few minutes, watching it closely so the cheese gets that lovely brown on top, but doesn't burn. Remove from oven and let stand for several minutes to set before serving.

This recipe is just as tasty (or maybe even better!) as leftovers, after it's been absorbing the flavors all night. It would probably be healthier if you made your own corn muffin mix and enchilada sauce, but it's delicious, quick, and easy the way it is, if you've got leftover chicken to use up.

Friday, December 6, 2013

perseverance pays off

 Ethan has worked on his science fair project pretty much since school started, one little step at a time. He procrastinated a few steps and learned the hard way that it's easier to keep up and do each little part when it's supposed to be done, and to ask for help when he doesn't understand what was supposed to be done. His poster was due a few days ago, and the science fair is next week. I'm proud of the work he's put in to this. And I know he'll be relieved when it's all over next week.

Here's a beautiful, inspirational video on the value of hard work and sacrifice {link}

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

the scrooge who still put up a tree

I have a secret. I'm kind of a scrooge sometimes.
When my kids asked to put our Christmas tree up, I put them off for several days.
Then yesterday (when the kids were begging) I knew I couldn't put it off anymore or else Christmas would happen before our tree even went up.
I said, "Are you guys sure you want a tree this year? Really? Are you sure?"
They said yes. Then they dragged the two boxes out of storage and helped me put it all together.
I'm not sure why I'm a scrooge, because I love sparkly things.
But I've been that way for at least a quarter of a century. That's a lot of Bah Humbugs.
Maybe it's all the extra work setting up something you just have to take down in a few weeks.
But the kids love it. They enjoy reliving memories with decorations we've collected over the years.
And secretly, I'm kind of glad they make me put a tree up every year,
even if their mom is all, "Bah, Humbug" the whole time.

(Just to keep things real, right after this picture was taken I said, "scoot closer together so I can get a better picture," and Josh wouldn't let anyone touch him, and Ethan kept poking Josh, because Josh didn't like it, and we all went to bed mad. See? Bah Humbug!)

Enjoy this cute Christmas video about the reason behind Christmas: