And Saints and Angels Sing

Here in Salt Lake, the hottest holiday ticket in town is for the Christmas on Temple Square concert.  It’s free, but do dadgum popular that the tickets are issued via an online lottery.  This year over a million people entered.

Brian and I didn’t win, but our friends James and Laura did (er, rather, Laura’s dad won, but passed the tickets on to his daughter), and they invited us!

Whee!  A big, spectacular musical extravaganza!  This is what it looked like:

Big, brassy and sassy.  There’s the big choir, and and orchestra and a handbell choir (who, bless them, wore the dorkiest vests imaginable.  They made my heist-movie gloves look positively stylish).  Also featuring: the most modest dancewear money can buy!

Yup, the theme was “Christmas Stories,” which somehow translates to “Renaissance Faire Folke.”  Hence, a stage decorated to look like a castle, and heralds playing trumpets, etc.  I did think a line was crossed when a guy in chain mail started doing ballet.

But, whatever.  The choir (along with Jane Seymour) did a lovely “story-behind-the-story” monologue/choral arrangement of “Good King Wenceslas,” which is one of my favorite carols.  Brian and I did have a bit of a snicker when we noticed that the choir changed a line in one of the verses.  Instead of “bring me flesh and bring me wine,” they sang, “bring me flesh and fruit so fine.”

So, now “fruit so fine” is our codeword for any kind of alcoholic drink.  (“Dude!  That guy on the corner totally reeks of fruit so fine!”)

Believe it or not, though, my favorite part of the evening was just hanging out with our friends James and Laura.  It’s been ages since I’ve been on any kind of double date, and it was plain old fun to sit and chat while waiting for the concert to begin, and stroll through Temple Square before and afterwards.   If you’re reading this, J&L, thank you again so much!  It was just the right amount of holiday cheer to get me through a very busy, stressful week.

Kentucky Fried Tree

Brian’s parents asked if we would bring our kids down to help them decorate their Christmas tree.  We were more than happy to oblige.  Here’s what it looked like at the start of the process:

You can see exactly how high the kids can reach — look at how all the ornaments are clustered together.  Distribution improved once the grownups got involved:

Cute, eh?  I enjoyed finding ornaments that had Brian’s baby pictures on them.  He was a really cute chubby baby and yes, William pretty much looks exactly like him.

Brian’s family has a tradition of putting some odd unusual object on top of the tree.  This year, my kids nominated Colonel Sanders.  Some of you may remember him from the Ugly Lamp Party:

I tied a ribbon around his neck to attach him to the tree, and we decided to say that the loops on the bow were his “angel wings.”  (Maybe Buffalo Angel Wings?)  It’s Finger Lickin’ Good!

The Best Wreath is an Edible Wreath

Today is St. Lucia’s Day, a holiday observed in many Scandinavian countries.  Basically, the legend goes like this:

In the Oldene Dayes, Christians were being persecuted, so they hid in caves.  A woman named Lucia risked her life to bring them food.  In order to keep her arms free for carrying supplies, she put candles on a wreath and wore it like a crown on her head.  That way she didn’t have to haul around a lantern, although she did increase the risk of setting her hair on fire.  I like this story a lot; there’s a lot of delicious allegorical potential going on there.  No lie: Eleanor was almost named Lucia.

The traditional way of observing St. Lucia’s Day is to have the oldest girl in the family (or the most popular girl in the village) get up early on Dec. 13th, put on a white dress and a candle-wreath-crown, and bring breakfast in bed to everyone else.

Option Two is simply to EAT a candle-wreath-crown.  One made of pastry, of course.  I’ve wanted to obeserve St. Lucia’s Day for years (hey, I like pastry, and with Brian’s Scandinavian ancestry, it feels legit) but it’s only been until today that I’ve found a candle-wreath-crown recipe easy enough to pull off on a weekday morning.

This is mainly thanks to the cans of Pillsbury “full sheets” of crescent roll dough I’ve recently found in stores.  It contains one big giant rectangle of dough that you can transform into anything you want.

St. Lucia Day Wreath

  • two cans of Crescent Roll sheets
  • 2/3rd cup of brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. nutmeg
  • 3 tablespoons butter, melted

Preheat the oven to 375.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and coat with baking spray.

In a small bowl, combine sugar and spices.  De-tube or whatever a can of dough and roll it out.  Brush butter down the center third of the dough and sprinkle half of the sugar-spice mixture on top, leaving the rest of the dough plain.

Cut diagonal strips on either side of the filling, then overlap the strips into a “braid.”  I took a picture to show you how it’s done:

Repeat with the other tube of dough and remaining mixture, then form both braids into a wreath on the baking sheet.

Bake for 20-25 minutes or until a nice golden color. I suppose the more proactive among you could form the wreath the night before, refrigerate it, and bake it off in the morning.  If you do, it’ll probably take 30 minutes of baking time.

The fancy-schmancy among you have probably already had the idea of putting on a butter, milk, or egg-wash glaze before baking and/or sprinkling it with white sugar.  Good for you.

You’re supposed to light candles in the wreath before you eat it.  It looked pretty, but I didn’t have time to wait for the wreath to cool before I stuck the candles, in, and the bottoms melted a bit into the hot pastry.  Silly me.

Delicious anyway, eh?

Sweets & Treats Reprised

Last year, the women in my family attended the Santa’s Tea Party at the Grand America together and enjoyed it SO much (scones!) that we decided to do it again this year.

MEET THE CONTENDERS:

From left to right: Katie, Eleanor, June, and Emmaline.  Ready, set, tea par-tay!

Emmeline spent a good amount of time on Grandma’s lap:

And naturally Kathryn and Katherine were also party buddies:

I was buddies with the food:

NOM NOM NOM.  I am a total sucker for teeny sandwiches.  You can pretty much get me to do anything for a sandwich the size of a postage stamp, so think of the possibilities if you had a sandwich the size of a football!

Even the children’s sandwiches were cute.  This is a fancy pb&j idea that I have to steal:

Orders of hot chocolate came with little cappuccino cups of whipped cream:

This was all fine and good, but what Eleanor was really interested in was meeting Santa Claus.

Katie came along with her, and we were worried she would cry, but instead she was far more interested in getting Santa’s beard.

Meanwhile, dessert:

I was in heaven.  My mom was of the opinion that it wasn’t as good as last year, but I suspect that was mainly because my sister and her children weren’t able to come (they are awaiting a new baby brother back in Pittsburgh).

However, pates des fruits and citrus madelines did do a little something to assuage the pain of missing Liz.  Eleanor was completely satisfied afterwards:

NOM NOM NOM.

Lights! Camera! Action!

Here’s the secret to successfully visiting Temple Square at Christmastime:

  • Go early in the month
  • Go on a weeknight
  • Get there before 7 pm, to avoid hordes of youth groups (bless them, but they obliviously walk through family groups and kids get lost)
  • Avoid snowy days
  • Hats, gloves, scarves.  And a big ol’ bunting for baby.
  • If you’re lucky, you’ll have all the above factors and there will warm-ish temperatures, too.

Comparing this year’s visit to last year’s, I must also say that not being 7 mos. pregnant also increases the quality of the visit.

Smaller crowds were definitely a plus.  This was the first year the kids have been able to see the automated “Nativity” program that plays every 20 minutes or so. Usually the audience is massive and impossible to penetrate.  The kids were wowed, especially when they projected a star on the side of the Tabernacle.  Hey, you would be too, if you were six!

Smaller crowds also meant I had time to take a shot of this cool luminary.  It’s made of die-cut metal, and there were several, all depicting scenes from the life of Christ.

Eleanor noticed the seagull statue next to the Assembly Hall:

I used the moment to tell the story of the “Miracle of the Seagulls,” but didn’t mention that the Seagull Monument was the world’s first public statue commemorating bird heroism.  And if birds get to sit on statues of human heroes, shouldn’t humans get to sit on statues of bird heroes?

Dashing in and out of the various buildings on the square does wonders for numb fingers and toes.  Jeff was miffed that we didn’t stay to do some impromptu family history research.

It was beautiful, although I must admit that my favorite part was the walk to and from the car.  We parked next to City Creek Park, and all the man-made “streams” and “ponds” had been drained for the winter.  The kids went wild with running in and out of the dry stream beds and dashing under the bridges.  Adorable.

Last tip for a successful trip: lots of cream on top of the hot cocoa afterwards!

The Real Meaning of Christmas

I’m trying to keep the “Real Meaning of Christmas” a priority in our household.  So, every morning before school, I’ve been reading a bit of Luke II or whatever as part of our daily dose of Scripture Power. I expected this to keep the holiday Christ-centered, not as commercial, etc.

What I did not expect was the following conversation . . .

ME: ” . . . and the angel did speak unto the virgin Mary . . .”

JEFF: Mom, what’s a virgin?

ME: Erm.

ELEANOR: Yeah, Mom.  What is it?  They are always calling Mary that.

ME: [looks at watch; 10 minutes until school bell rings] It’s a . . . woman who is young and innocent?

JEFF: So that means you’re still a virgin, Mom?

ME: [nervous laughter]  No, no, I’m not a virgin anymore.  It’s . . . a woman who has never been married?

JEFF: [thinks]

JEFF: [thinks]

JEFF: So is that why people get divorced?  Because they want to be a virgin again?

ME: No, that wouldn’t make you a virgin again.  A virgin is a woman who has . . . never BEEN with a man [rolls eyes at herself] Or, a woman who has never had relations with a man [rolls eyes at bad Monica Lewinsky flashback] or, erm . . . erm . . . errrrururuuruuuummmmm . . .

And so on.  I think I kept stumbling over myself for a few more seconds, and then declared that “this doesn’t have anything do to with Christmas, anyway,” smacked the Bible shut, and sent them off to school.

I friend suggested that I say a virgin is someone who is “pure,” but that’s not true.  I’m not a virgin, and I consider myself to still be pure, honest, faithful person.  All it really means is a person who has had sex, and the emphasis in the Nativity is about the miraculous aspect of Immaculate Conception, but that wasn’t something I wanted to get into right before school (geeez, who knows WHAT note Jeff’s teacher might send home) or in front of my four-year-old.  Ack, ack, ack.

Thanks a LOT, St. Luke.

Festival of Sneeze

It’s actually the Festival of Trees.  But the convention center was so packed that I truly feared being sneezed upon.  I didn’t look at the trees so much as stand in a line and shuffle past them.

For those of you not in the know, SneezeFest is a fundraiser for Primary Children’s Medical Center.  People decorate Christmas trees and donate them to the festival.  Rich people buy them.  Money is raised for a good cause and all is well.

Some people get creative with the trees, and the results are adorable.  There was a Pooh tree . . .

Later, a Coca-Cola polar bear tree.  (A tribute not just to a product but a specific ad campaign for that product)

The children were especially taken by this little Lego tree . . .

. . . we found the Angry Birds tree amusing . . .

. . . and I loved the Barbie tree mainly because it gave up all pretense of tree-hood.  It’s just a conical pile of boxes.

Eleanor’s expression in the above photo pretty much sums up our attitude towards the evening: basically good but kinda overwhelming.  After seeing 100+ trees you get tree-blindness, and everything becomes a blur of twinkle lights.  Add to that the gingerbread houses, wreaths, candy shoppe, craft booths, live entertainment, and a children’s game area, and, well.

I’m exhausted just writing about it.

Special thanks to my mother-in-law, Kathryn, for coming with us!  I don’t think I could have survived without the extra adult to herd the kids.  It’s been ten years since I’ve been to Festival of Trees, and I think it will be another ten more before I go again.  Beautiful and fun, but whew!

Turkey Trot

My in-laws took us to “Eat Like a Pilgrim” at Thanksgiving Point this year.  It’s supposed to be an “authentic” Pilgrim-y experience, and I think the emphasis is on the quotation marks.  Want to party like it’s 1699 at home?  Then do the following:

  • Put no forks on the table
  • Provide napkins the size of Rhode Island (men wear ’em on their right shoulders for easier hand-wiping)
  • Put a baby goat in a nearby pen, thereby ensuring that no children stay seated for longer than 2 minutes
  • All women wearing jeans will be put in the stocks
  • Halfway through, a thoroughly oily-chested Squanto should come in and macho-goad everyone into a tug-of-war contest
  • Serve a berry pudding with a lot of refined sugar.  Trust me, the 10-month-olds in your party will LOVE this.  In fact, mine screamed, banged her hand on the table, and occasionally grabbed my arm while screaming and banging if I didn’t stuff berries in her mouth every 15 seconds.

Unless you are suffering from a sinus-pressure headache (which I was) the evening can be rounded out with stately Pilgrim dancing.  Jeff’s History Face was on full throttle.  To tell the truth, I was rather impressed by the setup.  They even had a calligrapher on hand — a CALLIGRAPHER! — to write out whatever you wanted on little slips of paper.  In retrospect, I regret not taking the chance to get something like “PWNED” written in swirly whirly script.

But, anyway.  Real Thanksgiving was just as much fun.  It was at my parents’ house this year.  We ate this many pies (I made a chocolate chess pie, a mango pie [not pictured] and a pear-frangipane tart):

. . . which was pretty much the only photo I took of the entire holiday.  Oh, except baby Emmy!  She’s my little niece and apparently the only other thing I found as beautiful as pie:

Meanwhile, we gave Katie her own little bowl of whipped cream for dessert.  I love this picture; it’s the epitome of post-Thanksgiving stupor:

Annnd . . . that’s it.  No pictures of turkey, no happy people seated around a table, nuttin’.  I snapped this photo when I got home so I wouldn’t feel so bad.  It’s a display of Thanksgiving crafts and whatnot that I put on our mantel:

Eleanor made this little ceramic dish at school, of which she is rightfully proud:

In other news, during Thanksgiving weekend, the kids were taken to three movies in three days.  All Hail the Muppets.  For them, I am truly thankful.

Hitting the Crazy Juice

One of my best friends, Julia, came to visit us this Tuesday.  It was an impromptu delight.  We went to the Natural History Museum (no, I can’t get enough) and then she stayed for dinner and helped us decorate our Christmas tree.

All fine and dandy, EXCEPT  . . . my kids decided to Hit the Crazy Juice that day.  For reasons which I cannot fathom, they pulled a series of annoying, nutty stunts far, far beyond the pale of what’s considered normal around here.  In the hours before dinner, they:

  • Were caught jumping on my bed, along with all the sleeping bags they could find.
  • Were caught rooting around in the crawlspace
  • Later, all the dinner knives were found missing.  Turns out they had been hidden in the crawlspace as well.
  • “We were playing hide-and-seek,” explained Jeffrey.  “The knives were the people we were looking for.”
  • Only Jeff’s friend, Win, knew where the knives were hidden.
  • [insert Wrath of Mom here]
  • THEN they wanted to play “Human Avalanche”
  • I said “No”
  • “How about we just roll the beanbag chair down the stairs?”
  • “No”
  • “How about we put the beanbag chair at the bottom of the stairs and we take turns jumping off the stairs and landing on the beanbag chair?”
  • “NO”

Then, dinner.  I don’t think any of the kids ate anything, but they made the most interesting sculptures with their mashed potatoes.

The actual tree decoration was less Norman Rockwell and more running-around-and-screaming.  Katie especially found screaming to be quite the delight.

Julia, if you’re reading this, just know that this is not the normal modus operandi for the family.  Excepting the Katie screams, of course.

Pumpkin’d

Rapunzel, Ninja, Spooky Evil Monster, check!

And one turducken, check!

The cuteness was in full swing, as you can see.  Katie sat on the floor behind me whenever I opened the door for trick-or-treaters, leading to a lot of fawning over her cuteness.  Once there was a whole platoon of preteen girls who all cooed and squealed at her in unison: “Ooooooooo the BAAAAABEEEE!”

Trip to the Haunted Symphony — done!

(I especially liked it when the conductor, dressed like a pirate, duelled someone with his baton.)

Parade at the elementary school — accomplished!

Yes, making Eleanor’s wig took quite a bit of work.  And 2 1/2 big skiens of curly yarn.  But it looks incredible and we are quite proud of ourselves.  Here’s a picture of it in-progress:

Eleanor and I wrapped the yarn around and around the kitchen table in order to keep the strands of hair a consistent length.  Crazy times.

Aaaaaand then the candy.  Our ninja developed a quirky obsession with KitKat bars this year.  As he put it (bursting through the door midway through trick-or-treating), “I TOTALLY HOGGED ALL THE KITKATS!”

Then he went out to get more.  He referred any non-KitKat candy as “discards” and traded most of it for Eleanor and Wimmy’s few KitKat bars.  The result?

Something like 34 bars.  Brian and I are puzzled because Jeff has never, not once ever shown a preference for this kind of candy or even mentioned it.  And now he’s hoarding them and won’t touch a single one until the “discards” are gone.

In other words, a happy Halloween for all.