Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Dance party

We had most of the family over at my parents' to celebrate my mom's birthday last night (thanks for commenting on her blog, by the way! It totally made her day!) and much fun was had.

My little brother played DJ and we had a rockin' 80's dance party. Mixed with a little bit of Gwen Stefani and The Carpenters. My girls had a blast. I had a blast. My parents had a blast. Joel was just embarrassed for all of us, though.

With this post I have fulfilled my goal of blogging every day for the rest of the year that I made sometime in August. Now I am going to take a break for a few days and recharge. Figure out my scripture/word/resolution(s) for the new year. Clean my kitchen. Stuff like that. I'll be back soon.

Hope you have a New Year's Eve that is just as rockin' as my family!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Ready for a new year

I have never been ready for a new year as I am this year. I'm determined to take the clean slate (so to speak) and make the best of it.

The past couple years I have done the ever-so-trendy-choose-a-word-to-be-your-official-theme-for-the-year thing, but I think I'm tired of that, and I especially felt like I wasn't all that successful at my word for 2008 anyway. (It was simplify, by the way, and the last four months at least have been anything but simple!)

This year I think I'll choose a scripture to be my theme. I'm not really sure which one yet, but I have a couple days to decide. I like the whole resolution idea, but have never felt like my resolutions last much longer than a few months. At least most of them. Usually one makes it the whole year, but it's always hard to say which one is going to win out among all of the things that I want to improve upon.

What do you do when it comes to New Year's Resolutions? A word? 20 goals? Nothing? How do you keep yourself motivated? (I bought a sign that hangs in my bedroom this year that says SIMPLIFY. I must say it did at least keep me reminded.) How do you keep yourself accountable?

Important questions, folks. I hope you have the answers.


Today is my mother's birthday and I know she would just love it if people hopped over to her blog and wished her a happy birthday. You could go to her personal blog: Out to Lunch or her fitness blog (did you know my mom is a famous fitness instructor? People sometimes even ask for her autograph and everything.) Deni Preston Fitness.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Maybe she's onto the next big thing

While we were driving up north on Friday, somehow the girls' conversation turned to vampires. Joel asked them if they even knew what a vampire was. Chloe confessed she didn't, but Bria said that she totally knew what they were. Joel asked her to expound, and she gave us the following definition:

"Vampires eat rotten cherries and rotten oatmeal, they have really sharp teeth and they bite people's heads off."

When asked how she knew this information she said:

"I heard it from a kid in my class at school. He saw Star Wars."

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Picture a Christmas Eve

I think this was our first Christmas Eve spent with just the 5 of us in a really long time (actually, ever, since the last time it happened Sophia wasn't born yet).

We ate lunch with Joel's brother and his family and played games early in the afternoon, and then they went off to be with Ashley's family, leaving us to do our own thing.

After eating dinner and tidying up we took a couple of pictures by the tree (Sophie wouldn't cooperate unless she could hold one of her presents, and of course the other two had to follow suit).

Then the girls opened up their Christmas pajamas. Kind of hilarious this year, because I obviously had no idea about sizing. The jammies I got for Bria and Chloe were just sized S, M, L, etc. and both pairs are way too big for them. Bria's especially are comically large...I think they would probably fit me! Oh well, at least they will last a few years!

Sophie is understanding so much more this year and was so excited to open her new jammies, and was ready to tear into everything else under the tree if we hadn't stopped her with a treat!

After we were all snug in our pj's (new or otherwise), we cuddled up under the tree and read the Christmas story. Then we started a new tradition that I have been dying to start for a few years now, and listened to the opera "Amahl and the Night Visitors." The girls really quite enjoyed the story, and it's less than an hour long, so it wasn't too much to handle. I have always loved the music of this opera, and Joel loves it too, ever since he got to conduct it one year at ASU. I think this will be a tradition we can enjoy as a family for a really long time.

Then we talked about what gift we would each give to Jesus this year, ate some pumpkin pie, discussed what we would like Santa to give us, checked the Norad Santa tracker website and went to bed and dreamt of sugarplums.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Why I am dreading switching to 9 am church next week

Ever since Joel got called into the Bishopric, my Sundays have been crazy. I have been really thankful that we have church at 1:00 pm, because it gives me plenty of time to get the kids breakfasted, bathed, dried, dressed, curled and cutified before I get into the shower myself.

But last Sunday made me realize that perhaps I have been doing everything completely backwards. It is a dangerous thing to leave three little girls who are completely ready for church unsupervised while you take a shower. All was well when I got into the shower: They were playing quietly in a bedroom where I had told Bria to keep an eye on Sophia and make sure she didn't get herself into any mischief, and headed off into the bathroom.

When I got out of the shower, I was brushing my teeth when I started to feel that little niggling feeling in the back of my mind that something might be wrong. You know, the one they tend to call "Mother's Intuition?" So, I went into the bedroom to check on the girls. At first glance, all seemed to be fine. Bria and Chloe were playing Barbies on one bed, and Sophia was involved with some toy on the other one.

But then I looked closer at the alleged toy that Sophie was playing with. As it turns out, it was not a toy at all, but a can of chocolate frosting from the fridge. There was chocolate all over Chloe's Little Mermaid bedspread, and quite a bit on the floor. More distressing was the large amounts of chocolate all over Sophia's face, hair and clothing.

So, I did what I had to do, I lugged her into her room (half dressed and with a towel turban on my head) and gave her a good and quick wiping down with half a box of baby wipes. She was extremely unhappy with me, but there was just no time to bathe her again if I expected to get myself ready, and besides, nobody bats an eye at a slightly disheveled two year old. A slightly disheveled 34 year old is another story entirely.

So, the thought of switching to the early hour of church sends me into a downright panic. Obviously, the girls will have to have their baths the night before. But I'm still going to have to get up at the crack of dawn in order to make it to church on time! Especially since Joel just informed me that his meetings will start at 6:00 am every week.

Sigh. What a fun year this will be.

Friday, December 26, 2008


I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas! Since you're all probably busy playing with your new toys, I thought I would do this meme today that I've seen several times. And, if you got a new iPod for Christmas, you can do it, too!

Here are the rules:

1. Put your music listening device on shuffle.
2. For each question, press the next button to get your answer.
3. You must write that song name down no matter how silly it makes you look.
4. Title this post what the answer to your last question is.
5. Good luck and have fun!


Flea Bag (Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass)


Dancing Through Life (Wicked Soundtrack)


Bohemian Rhapsody (Queen)


Soave Sia Il Vento from Cosi Fan Tutte (Mozart)
Translation: Gentle is the Wind


Love theme from Romeo and Juliet (Nino Rota)


Mon Coeur S'Ouvre a Ta Voix from Samson and Delilah (Camille Saint-Saens)
Translation: My heart opens at your voice. (I must admit that French is my worst language, and Babelfish had a horrible translation for this one, so I just guessed. Some Frenchie out there can correct me if I'm wrong.)


Make Me Smile/Now More Than Ever (Chicago)


Suite: Judy Blue Eyes (Crosby, Stills & Nash)


Zadok the Priest (Amici the Opera Band)


Just My Imagination (running away with me) (The Temptations)


The Devil Went Down to Georgia (Charlie Daniels)


Thank Goodness (Wicked Soundtrack)


The Damnation of Faust (Hector Berlioz)


L'Enfance du Christ (Hector Berlioz)
Translation: The childhood of Christ.


The Age of Aquarius/Let the Sun Shine In (Fifth Dimension)


MacArthur Park (Maynard Ferguson)


Amazing Grace (This was a piano accompaniment to a version I sing...)


Unforgettable (Nat King Cole)

This was most definitely an amusing little exercise. I must confess that I skipped A LOT of songs, because the bulk of stuff on my player is classical, and it's all called Symphony or Variations on a theme or Intermezzo. I thought that would be pretty boring, so I only stopped on a song if it actually had a title, even if it was in a different language. I hope that's not cheating, but there you go. I have a clear conscience.

And now please excuse me while I continue dancing through my life.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Feliz Navidad, Craciun Fericit, Buon Natale, Froliche Weinachten and Joyeux Noel!

Hope you are having a great day and that you are NOT reading my blog.

But just in case you are, Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

On the twelfth day of Christmas, tradition gave to me:
Twelve verses of scripture

Okay, so it's really 19 verses, but what's a girl to do? There are only 12 days of Christmas and this is my most important tradition, I think.

Like many of you, one of the Christmas traditions I had in my home growing up was the re-enactment of the Nativity scene. I was always the angel, except that one year my Grandma was visiting and insisted on being the angel, so I had to be Mary. I loved this tradition. We haven't been wonderful at doing it in our own little family, but tonight we will be making sure it happens.

We always read the following verses from Luke chapter 2, and act it out as we go.

1. And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed.

2. (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.)

3. And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.

4. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of David, which is calld Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:)

5. To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.

6. And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.

7. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.

8. And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.

9. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

10. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

11. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

12. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

13. And suddenly there was with the angel, a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

14. Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

15. And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into nheave, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.

16. And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.

17. And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child.

18. And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds.

19. But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.

I hope that we are all pondering these things in our hearts today. After all, this little story is the entire reason we celebrate this season. It is so easy to lose sight of the "reason for the season" when the commercialism and the wants and the stress take over. This little story is not so little, in fact. It is the most important story we can ever tell our children. God loved us, so he sent his Son. We give gifts to each other, because Jesus Christ gave us the greatest gift of all.

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

On the eleventh day of Christmas, tradition gave to me:
Eleven (million) Christmas lights

Except, there probably aren't 11 million lights at the St. George temple. Maybe in Salt Lake, but we haven't been up to see those lights in years.

This is a tradition I really love, and I'm thankful that (so far) we've always lived close enough to a temple that does lights to be able to go.
Last week, we hopped on down to St. George to finish up some Christmas shopping (since a Target and a mall actually exist down there) and see the lights at the temple.

My favorite part is always the Nativity. I have a sneaking suspicion that it was Sophia's favorite part, too.

The girls loved the lights. I asked them which color they liked best and they pretty much said all of them. And then Chloe piped up, "My favorite lights is the TEMPLE! It's all lit up white, Mom!"

And I finally felt like I was in the mood for Christmas, despite all of the stress in my life.

Monday, December 22, 2008

On the tenth day of Christmas, tradition gave to me:
Ten Christmas albums

Ten Favorite Christmas Albums

Oh, how I love Christmas music! I usually bring it out on Thanksgiving night and listen to it through the New Year. We have way more than 10 Christmas CDs, and these just happen to be the 10 albums that I like best right now. (And yes, this is a household where two professional musicians live, so it's a little on the classical side.)(Okay, a lot on the classical side.)

1. Jenny Oaks Baker: O Holy Night

2. Josh Groban: Noel

3. Carreras / Domingo / Pavarotti: Christmas Favorites from the World's Favorite Tenors

4. Tchaikovsky: The Nutcracker (no link...there are a million recordings around of this, and we have three of them anyway!)

5. Glenn Close and Placido Domingo: Repeat the Sounding Joy

6. The Boston Pops Orchestra: Holiday Pops

7. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir (This is their most current album, but I have most all of their Christmas albums, so...we'll just count them all as one.)

8. Harry Connick, Jr.: What A Night! A Christmas Album

9. Kristin Chenoweth: A Lovely Way To Spend Christmas (This one is hands down my girls' favorite--Kristin C. is just so much fun!)

10. Yo-Yo Ma & Friends: Songs of Joy & Peace

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Sunday, December 21, 2008

On the ninth day of Christmas, tradition gave to me:
Nine batches of yummy fudge

I made this fudge for the first time last year, and I think I finally found my traditional give to the neighbors treat. Since I like to spend as little time in the kitchen as possible, the search for the traditional treat hasn't been an easy task for me.

There was that one year I made what seemed like fifty million batches of different kinds of cookies and wondered what on earth I was doing after two days of non-stop cooking. I've tried caramel popcorn, peppermint brittle, and a few other things. One year, I dispensed with the treat making altogether and gave everyone a candle.

Then my mom gave me this recipe for 5 minute fudge last year. Yes. I said FIVE minutes. It's not a lie, either.

Here's the recipe:

1 Can Sweetened Condensed milk

1 Cup Semi-sweet chocolate chips

1 Cup Butterscotch chips

1 Tsp Vanilla

Then you can add nuts or currants or even marshmallows to it if you want.

Put it all together and melt on the stovetop, stirring constantly. Spray a square baking dish and pour it in and stick it in the fridge until it sets up. I prefer leaving it in overnight, just because then it's nice and firm.

It's easy and it's super yummy, too!

Last year I experimented with all different kinds of chocolate chip mixtures (peanut butter, milk chocolate, butterscotch, mint) but I decided I like the butterscotch/semi-sweet mixture the best. Personally. But you can try it with whatever kind you like.

And now I need to go make a few more batches.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

On the eighth day of Christmas, tradition gave to me:
Eight(y) Christmas cards to send

Eighty. That's how many I ordered this year. I think I sent about 73 or so, but I'm still waiting for a few addresses. I was wondering why on earth we send so many, and I have come to the conclusion that it is because we were in school the first 8 years of marriage and made a lot of friends who are now all over the country as they graduated and got jobs. I slash a few people off the list here and there, but more are always being added.

While sending Christmas cards can get slightly expensive, it's just part of the Christmas budget. I do it because I love receiving Christmas cards, so I assume everyone else does, too. I'm kind of like a little kid whenever the mail comes during the month of December.

This year has been totally strange in that regard! I think it was December 10th before I got my first card! I've gotten quite a few since then, but it was a long and painful wait for me!

The first year we sent out Christmas cards, Joel wrote a hilarious newsletter to go with it. That has since become firm tradition. It's fun for me to watch him giggle to himself at the computer as he composes the letter, and I am never allowed to add my input or even read it until it is completely finished. Don't tell him, but sometimes I tweak it a little behind his back when I print it out, usually in the embarrassingly sappy paragraphs he writes about me. It's his thing though, and so I let him have it. Besides, he gets lots of positive feedback from everyone and it's one less thing that I have to do during the holidays.

My thing is to design the card and do the picture and make everything look pretty, and then address and send them all out. I got to it all rather late this year (just like everyone else, it seems) and finally sent them out on Tuesday and Wednesday.


Friday, December 19, 2008

I may as well change my name to Murphy

Because the last few days have not gone well, at all. Amazingly, I still have my sparkling positive attitude and my Christmas cheer completely intact.

Or not.

I'm trying though.

Yesterday, Sophia knocked down the Christmas tree, sending ornaments rolling into the kitchen and breaking the stand into smithereens. I had just come in from some back-breaking snow shoveling since the hour that Joel spent out there only managed to clear his side of the driveway and then he had to go to work. I was tired. I wanted to rest. I didn't want to deal with a broken Christmas tree.

So, I called Joel to buy a new stand and left the mess alone. Meanwhile, Sophia decided to take handfuls of chilling fudge out of the pans in the fridge and smear her peanut butter and jelly sandwich in her hair. Lucky for me, soon after her second bath of the day, she fell asleep on the couch looking all angelic and perfect, even after the havoc she had wrought earlier.

Today, I got into my van to start to deliver the aforementioned fudge. Keep in mind we got an awful lot of snow, and our roads are pure ice, not to mention the fact that the plow only did the main roads, leaving piles of snow barricading the side roads. Like the one I live on. In trying to maneuver myself through the barricade, the car slid on the ice and slipped into a very large mountain of snow and ice. I couldn't get out. It was freezing.

I called Joel, my knight in shining armor, to come save me again. Along with the guy having a cigarette across the street from where I was stuck, he pushed me out of the bank. But then the car wouldn't start no matter what we did. So we had to call a tow truck, and I went home and nobody got their fudge.

Turns out the snow bank I ran into broke the cable that shifts gears. Great. Even greater is the fact that nobody in Cedar City has the right part for my car, and they won't be able to get one until Tuesday. And the next day is Christmas Eve. So I may not have my car back until after Christmas. So we get to all squeeze into Joel's car if we have to go anywhere together....which, aside from church on Sunday, I'm going to try really hard not to do.

But my lovely niece came and saved the day. She went and got Sophie's carseat out of my van for us, and we all piled into her car (which gives me much hope that it won't be a huge deal in Joel's car either) and delivered some fudge and went to the store where I got my Christmas Spirit back shopping for a sub-for-Santa project. Besides, it could all be much worse, and I will thank my lucky stars that the entire transmission didn't fall out or something.

Life goes on, even for Murphy.

Now back to your regularly scheduled 12 Days of Christmas!

On the seventh day of Christmas, tradition gave to me:
Seven letters to Santa

And almost all of them written by Chloe. One was written in behalf of Sophia, though, as she can't yet write for herself. Here they are in all their misspelled glory, and I'm not even going to translate for you. You can click on them to get a better look.

Chloe's letters:

(I had to black out our address on this one, but I do adore the way she spelled Cedar City.)

Sophie's letter (written by Chloe):

Bria's letter:

Thursday, December 18, 2008

On the sixth day of Christmas, tradition gave to me:
Six adoring nativity pieces

Okay, so it's probably a stretch to call this a tradition, but it seems to be exactly that. Especially if I have a two-year old in the house at Christmas time. And this year, I definitely do.

My mom purchased a plastic Precious Moments Natvity playset for two-year old Bria way back when she was actually two. It was mainly to keep her from touching my very breakable Precious Moments Nativity and it seemed to do the trick because Bria played with it incessantly that year. The thing that I remember most, is that I always found all of the figures surrounding the manger looking at the baby. I thought it was quite astute of a two-year old to know that the Baby Jesus is indeed the most important part of the Nativity.

And then Chloe did the same thing the year that she was almost two. But, then again, she also put the Baby Jesus in time out quite routinely.

Over time, we've lost either the shepherd or Joseph, I was never sure which was which anyway, but we've managed to keep the rest fairly intact. I put it together for Sophia last week, and she has been loving it. She puts the baby to sleep in his bed, after making sure I give him a "tiss and hud." She happily sits at the kitchen table while I am doing my chores and plays endlessly with the set.

And again, I always find it looking just like this. All of the six remaining figurines surrounding their Savior in adoration. At least, that's always the word that comes to mind when I see it.

After three kids, I'm no longer surprised at her cleverness because I am positive that these babies do indeed realize just how important the Baby Jesus is. It's my job to help her remember.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

On the fifth day of Christmas, tradition gave to me:
Five Colinde

I served an LDS mission to Romania. While I was there, I fell in love with their Christmas carols, which are called colinde. When I came home from my mission, pretty much the only thing I had to do in order to complete my degree was my senior recital, and I knew that I definitely wanted to do a set of Romanian colinde on it.

I engaged the help of my friend Liz, who was a piano performance major at BYU and had served with me in Romania. Together, we arranged the carols to be something a little more interesting to listen to, and yet still keep their Romanian character. She did an amazing job with the piano accompaniments. These songs didn't have any accompaniments at all: you could only find sheet music with the melodies and maybe some choir harmonies written out, so we really had our work cut out for us.

I painstakingly put all of this on a player (thanks Erin, for the help!) so you can hear it, too. This is me and Liz making Romanian Christmas music together at my senior vocal recital TEN years ago! (November 13, 1998.)

Romanian Colinde
Here's a little about each song (Frankly, I am too lazy to write out entire translations...besides, I'd have to look a lot of words up anyway. It's been 11+ years since I was in Romania!):

1. O ce veste minunată! (Oh, What Wonderful News!)

This song is about the news of Christ's birth, and that he would ultimately die for us in order to atone for our sins. I lose it a little bit (a lot) emotionally at the end of this piece, when the lyrics get to the part about how he will redeem us (să ne mântuiască). So, maybe you could just end it early, because it's really kind of embarrassing and it doesn't sound good at all.

2. Astăzi s-a născut Hristos (Today Christ was Born)

This is a fun, lighthearted carol about the birth of Christ, and I did not cry while singing it. The main chorus says "Lăudaţi şi cântaţi, şi vă bucuraţi" which means "Praise and Sing and Rejoice." Love it.

3. Bună dimineaţa la Moş Ajun (Good Morning to Santa Claus)

Another lighthearted little carol, all about whether or not we'll get gifts! "Ne daţi ori nu ne daţi?" basically means "Are you giving us stuff or not?" If my kids were Romanian, this is the song they'd probably be singing all the time.

4. Moş Crăciun (Father Christmas)

Just a beautiful melody all about Santa/Father Christmas. How he comes with his long white hair and gives the little girls and boys gifts, and never forgets to come at Christmas time and so on. Very popular in Romania.

5. La Vitleem, colo-n jos (Down There in Bethlehem)

This really is my all time favorite Christmas Carol, it even beats out O Holy Night. I need to remember to sing it for my kids this year. I just think it's hauntingly beautiful, and it perfectly captures my feelings about what Mary must have felt that night in Bethlehem. It talks about how Mary birthed Jesus and laid him in a manger meant for oxen, and how she cried quietly after she had him because she had no clothing for him. The climax of the song says "Nu mai plânge Maica mea!" which means "Don't cry anymore my mother!" and goes on to say that we will bring him clothing in order to swaddle the Holy Babe. I ended my entire recital with this piece...understated but powerful.

These colinde mean so much to both Joel and me (Joel also served in Romania, in case you didn't know) and we often listen to them at Christmas time. (We have other we don't usually listen to me singing, but I really love these particular arrangements and wanted to share them with you.) Brings back all sorts of wonderful memories every time.

I hope you enjoy them!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

On the fourth day of Christmas, tradition gave to me:
Four Nativity scenes

I adore Nativity scenes. I want to someday have a room in my house that is just filled with them at Christmas time.

So far, I have four that I really love. I did have a few other cheap ones, but I finally just got rid of them. Anyway, here are the Mary/Joseph/Baby Jesus trios from each of my sets.

This is my Precious Moments Nativity. It isn't complete, and I haven't added to it for several years, but I hope to finish it one day. I love it. Joel bought me the Mary, Joseph and Baby Jesus for our second Christmas together, and then he and my mom both added to it for several years after.

This is my Willow Tree Nativity. It also isn't complete, but someday it will be! My mom gave it to me for Christmas the year I was pregnant with Sophia. I love the Willow Tree figurines, even though they don't have faces and sometimes my kids take a marker to help them out. Luckily the Nativity set has escaped all face drawing thus far.
This is just a cute little one. I like it a lot. This year it is up on the shelf above the fireplace where the stockings are hanging.

This one is special to me because it belonged to my Grandma. I think it's beautiful, and most importantly, it reminds me of her.

We have a Creche festival here in town, that I sometimes remember to attend. I love seeing all the beautiful Nativities from all around the world. Totally inspiring, and a perfect reminder of why we celebrate this holiday in the first place.


P.S. My first day of Christmas post is being featured today in Emily Jensen's column at Deseret News/Mormon Times! Click here, I am the first link under the Photos header. What a nice Christmas surprise!

Monday, December 15, 2008

On the third day of Christmas, tradition gave to me:
Three joyful stockings

I bought these three stockings while I was pregnant with Bria. She was born in October, so I am pretty sure I bought them when Christmas merchandise first showed its face in the store aisles. I thought they were adorable. And then I bought the JOY stocking hangers on the day after Thanksgiving. I remember being so thrilled to find them at Target because I had been lusting over similar ones in the Pottery Barn Catalog that were way beyond my meager budget.

I still love these stockings, but I sure wish I had had the foresight to buy 5 or 6 of them instead of three. It worked for a while, but I have never updated the darn stockings, because I need them to match. Every year I look for something that might work, and I suppose I am just too picky, because I never succeed.

When Chloe came along, Joel and I just shared a stocking. When Sophia appeared, Joel and I just dispensed with having a stocking altogether. (Actually, we have some ugly ones that we fill for each other on Christmas morning, but they don't get to be displayed. They're ugly.)

I think this is the last year that these particular stockings will be used. I saw some that I fell in love with, and I think they'll be easy to make. So, I'll do that for next year. Maybe. If I even remember. Perhaps I should start now.

And I might even be able to find some stocking hangers that say PEACE, too. We shall see.

And, I have a winner for the candle giveaway! No pictures of the drawing this time, so you'll just have to trust me that Annette from Four Girls and a Burly Man is the winner! Congratulations Annette!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

On the second day of Christmas, tradition gave to me
Two Messiah performances

As a musician, and especially as a singer, Handel's Messiah has always been an important part of Christmas. I have often participated in the choir or as a soloist in these productions. And even if for some reason I don't do that, I at least go to see one. Christmas just isn't Christmas without that beautiful music.

When Joel and I were first married we used to go with our good friends, the Fletchers, up to the Utah Symphony to see it. It was tradition, even when Mary Beth was big and pregnant and due any second, we went. They just packed along her hospital bag, just in case. Then we all graduated and went our separate ways, but I sure wish we could go with them again!

This year, I am a soloist (I am singing "Comfort Ye"--I know, it's weird-- and the soprano recits) and also participating in the choir.

For those of you in the area, we have two performances: Tonight and tomorrow night (December 13 and 14) at 7:30 pm in the Heritage Center. It is free, but you have to have a ticket because it is so popular. I have two extra tickets for tonight...let me know if you want them, especially because Sunday is usually the more crowded of the two performances.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

On the first day of Christmas, tradition gave to me:
One beautiful Christmas tree

I'm participating in the 12 Days of Christmas over at Erin's blog. I decided to center it around our holiday traditions, because I really do want to make sure they're all written down somewhere. So here goes....

I think the tree is one of my favorite parts of Christmas.

I bought our tree on Black Friday in 1999...our first holiday season together as a married couple. Joel wasn't thrilled about the artificialness of it, but he has come to accept my loathing of real trees.

I love to make a big to-do of putting on the Christmas music the Day after Thanksgiving and decorating the tree. I love my tree, and I still love the colors and ribbon and ornaments I picked way back in 1999.

While I have started getting a little sick of some of the ornaments, we do add to it a little bit each year, and last year I got rid of a ton of them that I couldn't stand to look at any more (mostly because they look like they're ten years old!). So, when I first decorated the tree this year, it seemed like it was really missing a lot. Even though this was the very first year I have allowed the kids' homemade ornaments on the tree (yes, I'm aesthetically weird that way), it still seemed empty.

So, we went to Target and had the kids each pick out an ornament (I think we started a new tradition!) to put on the tree. Joel and I each picked something, too.

Bria chose this white dove (and I think it's kind of funny that she happened to put it next to those glass kind of seems wedding-ish, don't you think?).

Chloe chose this red cardinal (thank you Chloe for picking something that matches! She is, after all, my aesthetic child).

Sophie chose this little ceramic bluebird (and gets so excited to show people her "boodie" on the tree).

Joel chose these music notes (surprise, surprise).

I decided to get as much bang for my buck as I could and chose a box of 15 ruby ornaments.

And then, a week later, my mom sent a box of beautiful red and gold ornaments! Like the wisemen on the camels by my ruby, the star near Chloe's bird, and many, many others. My tree looks decadent now.

Don't you think?

Friday, December 12, 2008

My overstuffed days and my aching back

It's been pretty crazy around here lately. Between kids and rehearsals and performances and kids and photo shoots and photo editing and finals and dishes and kids and all the other stuff, I kind of lost my mind.

And my back, it seems.

You see, I always carry stress in my upper back and shoulders. It's been a major issue since high school. It gets to the point where it is so bad that it feels as if knives are shooting down my back and I cry a lot. And if you know me, I am not a baby about pain--I am generally pretty stalwart--but this can get unbearable. Things like sitting at a computer editing photos, sitting on the piano bench playing, standing in rehearsals holding heavy music and hunching over to wrap Christmas gifts really exacerbate the problem. Also stress. You can probably guess that it started getting particularly painful the day Joel was laid off from the University.

Two days ago I woke up in extreme agony. I had Joel try to rub it out a little, which usually helps, but I wasn't getting any relief. Ibuprofin wasn't touching it and I knew the only thing I could do was get a massage, but I didn't really know how I could afford that right now. So, I suffered.

Then, I got a phone call from my husband. He said he had some money left in his Christmas budget for gifts for me so he was giving me an early present. He had set up an appointment for a massage, and it was just a couple hours away. He apologized that he wouldn't be buying me any books this year, but felt that I really had to have the massage.

I started crying. Mostly tears of gratitude this time, only mixed a little with tears of pain.

I went and got my massage. The guy was a gem...he worked on me for an hour and a half even though I was only paying for an hour. He gave me some special numbing cream to take home for no charge. He could tell what horrible pain I was dealing with and took pity on my poor soul (and back). He told me all kinds of stretches I should be doing, and taught me how to most effectively rub out the pain myself. I will definitely be going back to him sometime soon.

I am still hurting, but it's mostly the sore kind of pain today. That part of my back received a good workout!

Most of the stressors are easing up, anyway. Two performances down, two to go. I finally finished grading my finals. I finished wrapping gifts. I even finished editing all the photoshoots.

Want to see?

Family of Eight (This is my best girlfriend from High School/College and her family.)

Their kids


Holt kids 1

Holt kids 2

Ellsworth (mini session)

I'm happy to say that after this coming weekend, life will be bliss. I plan on sipping hot cocoa (okay, so I can't...maybe some herbal tea) by the fire while I read a good book and have a yummy Christmas candle burning.

Which reminds me...go enter the candle giveaway if you haven't yet!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

How to make a blog banner in Photoshop Elements

Update: 2/05/2014-PSE 5.0 is obsolete now, but these same steps will still work if you have a later version of PSE. I have upgraded to PSE 12.0 and though things are placed slightly differently, everything in this tutorial still applies. 

I've had a few requests for help on this, so here you go. I don't know how to do it in any other program, so if you don't have Photoshop Elements (PSE), I apologize. This should be fairly similar for most versions of PSE, (I have 5.0) and maybe even kind of in full Photoshop. I haven't the faintest idea about that. If you don't have PSE, you can get a free 30-day trial download at the Adobe website. You can make a pretty simple header, or an extremely complicated one (which I really can't), but I'm going to show you how to do one that's somewhere in between. My best advice is to just play around with things. If you don't know what something does, just try it out. You can always click undo if you hate it.

With that, let's get started.

1. First things first. Get yourself a new, blank canvas. You can do this by going up to file and choosing New >Blank file.

2. A dialog box will come up asking for specifications. I usually size my headers to be approximately 900 pixels wide and 300 pixels tall, at 72 dpi.
3. Next, you're going to need to open some stuff to make your header pretty. I always use digital scrapbook paper and elements, as well as pictures. If you don't have any digital paper, there are loads of freebies on the internet. Just Google it. has a free digital kit each month, which is where I generally go to get mine. The three papers I (randomly) decided on, are designed by Jessica Sprague for 2Peas.
4. Once you have everything open in PSE, go up to Window>Images>Cascade.
(You can also choose the tile option instead of cascade--the images will show up in a grid instead of cascaded as is shown in the next slide.)
5. Once you do that, your screen should look like this:
6. You can bring any element to the front by clicking on its title bar, and you can also click and drag them around if you need to. So, arrange the windows in a way that allows you to have both the blank file and the paper you want for your background at the front.
7. Pick your move tool, either by pressing V on the keyboard, or choosing the tool that looks like an arrow and a plus-sign on the top of the tool bar (found along the left-hand side). Now, click on your background paper and drag it over to your blank file.
8. The paper will almost always be a lot bigger than the blank file. If you like how it looks all big. Great. Leave it alone. If you would like it to be smaller, first click on the maximize button on your now not-so-blank header file. Zoom out (you can do this easily if you have a mouse with a scroll. Otherwise choose the zoom tool by pressing Z on your keyboard, or the magnifying glass looking tool), until you can see the outline of the digital paper.
9. Next, just click and drag the corners of the paper and resize until you're happy with what your background looks like. If you like it, click the green checkmark.
10. Now, let me interject that I totally make my headers up as I go along. I rarely have any idea what they're going to look like. Sometimes they turn out wonderful, and sometimes I hate them. It's just how the process goes with me. So, for this one, I decided I wanted to the pictures to have a different background than the flowers, so I first dragged them onto the blue paper and arranged them there. In order to do this, I repeated steps 4 through 9. You could just put them straight onto the header if you wanted to. Once my pictures were arranged how I wanted them, I needed to flatten the image. You can do this by clicking More>Flatten Image on the layers pallette.
11. Then, I needed to crop it down, so it was a rectangle instead of a square. You can do this by choosing the Crop tool, either by pushing C on the keyboard or the little picture frame looking thing on the tool bar (describing the tool pictures is hard). Choolse no restriction up on the tool bar, and crop away to your heart's delight. Once you like the crop, click on the green checkmark and you're good to go.
12. Once that was done, I repeated steps 4-11 and moved the pictures onto the pink paper. Then I repeated steps 4-9 and moved the whole thing over to the actual banner.
13. Now it's time to write your title. Choose the type tool, either by pressing T on your keyboard, or clicking on the big T tool on the tool bar. Now it will act kind of like a word processor, so you shouldn't find this part too difficult. First, choose a font, and then a font size. Then click onto your banner around where you'd like the text to show up and start typing. It will type in the color shown at the top right of your screen. Just click in that box if you'd like to change it. Just like in Word, you can highlight your word one you've typed it and change the color, font or point size until you're happy.
14. There's one thing that doesn't act like a word processor. Once you've typed, you can move the text around. There are two ways to do this, but I'll just show you the easier of the two. After you've typed your text, pick the move tool again. (V on the keyboard, plus/arrow on top of toolbar.) Click onto your word, and a box will appear around it, allowing you to move it around.
15. Once I had my text where I wanted it, I could have been done, but I decided that it needed a little something else. So, I went to my brush menu and found a brush that I thought might look good. You can get to the brushes by presing B on the keyboard or clicking on the paintbrush on the toobar. You can also download lots of free brushes for PSE (just Google it), but for the purposes of this tutorial, I decided to stick with whatever was already there. In the Special Effect brushes I found a butterfly. The thing about Special Effect brushes is that you have no real control over where they go....they kind of just go willy-nilly around the general area you click on. So, I just clicked away with the butterflies until I sort of liked what I saw. 16. And then it was finished! Not sure if I'll ever use this one for my blog...if I do, I'll probably have to wait till spring.

17. Now, to get it on your blog. The easiest way is to choose the header gadget and upload your header. Just make sure that you click instead of title and description and shrink to fit. Blogger is a lot smarter than I am about what fits best on the screen.