Friday, December 31, 2010

To Burst in 2011

As I sit here, there are two hours and fifty-four minutes left of 2010.

What do I want for the new year? I've been asking myself that for several days. I spent this week up in San Francisco with my friend Jenn, who just had her second baby. I had time to think about our history as friends, how similar we are, how much of our past we share, and yet how different our paths are now. Mostly in motherhood. I am facing children moving out of my nest. Her little chicks are just joining the nest. As I held her sweet newborn son in the dark living room last night, his little body snuggled against my chest, and my face against his silky hair, I thought back to how many hours I have spent holding my own babies. How precious and sacred and fleeting that time is! Most of my children now have bodies that have grown much too big and cumbersome for my lap, and I spend my time and energy instead, trying to hold on to them spiritually and emotionally. 2010 brought challenges in that arena, challenges I really never saw coming. I will have more to face in 2011, and part of me feels scared to face what I do not want to face, but what is best. That's the thing about motherhood. It requires the most painful sacrifices, right from the outset. And giving birth is nothing.

So back to what I want for the coming year. It will be an ongoing goal, I'm sure, and probably has been somewhere in my mind, but I feel it pressing upon me with urgency that I must learn, and do!

I want a heart broken open with love. That's what I want.

It's terrifying to put that in words, because I know something of what is required to earn such a quality. Some virtues are forged in fire, and love is one of them, but I have to walk through the fire anyway, so I want to come out blazing with love. The kind of love that the Savior offers to me. The kind of love that I've noticed so profoundly in others lately, that I don't yet have--at least not consistently. I want the love that sees the soul, that treasures the soul, that believes in the soul. The kind of love that sees right past the person, human and flawed.

The kind of love that says, "yes". The kind of love that says, "I forgive you." The kind of love that says, "You first. You always."

My therapist has been teaching me that in order to claim that kind of love, I first have to believe that I am worthy of it myself, and that all flaws in the way I love others are attributed to flaws in the way I feel loved by God. When I realize how completely and infinitely and unconditionally I am loved by Him, I can begin to give that to others. In fact, he says, I won't be able to help it.

So that's my goal. To be cracked open. No, not cracked, busted open. Bursting open, pouring forth love.

The way that He is.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Parade of Handmade Christmas

I've been so excited for this post, to show you everything that I was able to make and give as gifts this year. Some of these I've already shown you, but I wanted to have a post with everything together, so forgive the repeats.

Caitlin's Messenger Bag purse from Shelley Detton's Infinity Tote pattern. The fabric is Heather Bailey's FreshCut line.

This was actually how it all started. I had this idea to copy my Grandmother's recipes for all of my sisters, and I thought I'd sew an apron for each of them to go along with the cookbook. I ended up making eight aprons, over Thanksgiving weekend, and that's when I fell in love with the look and feel of designer fabric and had to find more projects to make.

I got the pattern from Shelley Detton's blog and it was super easy to do. It's called the Empire-Waisted Apron, and I love the gathered front detail.

Here's Conor's Art Tote, complete with art supplies.

And another peek at Lyndsay's sun hat. Pattern by Amy Butler, fabric by Joel Dewberry.

This is the tote bag I made for my stepmom, Raelene. It's Shelley Detton's pattern (The Infinity Tote) and Amy Butler fabric from her Daisy Chain line. Which I am totally in love with.

A peek inside.

I wanted to sew from this fabric for the rest of my life. Isn't it so beautiful? This is another version, much larger, of Shelley's Infinity Tote, that I made for my mom. The fabric is from Kate Spain's Fandango line. I love this line.

Here is the interior lining with pockets. This is a really big bag. Perfect for a weekend getaway or for a whole bunch of knitting projects. Both of which suit my mom.

Here are the fabric baskets and bean bags again. Conor loves his set.

This was one of my favorite projects. This was a free Amy Butler downloadable pattern. I used all Amy Butler fabrics for it too, and I made one of these wallhangings for Lyndsay and one for Caitlin. I love them! This was an easy project, but I did need some help from a friend to assemble the frame and stretch the canvas and then the fabric over it.

The letters are ironed onto the contrasting background fabric and then I satin stitched around the edges of them. The girls loved them.

These are some cozy flannel burp cloths I made for my friend's new baby boy. I made a set of 4.

Here are the treat boxes that we made and handed out. Actually, I can't take any credit. Lyndsay did all of the baking this year, I just told her what to bake. I found these cute treat boxes at Michael's and so I picked four small goodies that would fit into the compartments. We made peppermint patties (from December's Family Fun Magazine)--holy yum they're good. There are cinnamon sugar almonds (from Mel's Kitchen Cafe blog), Russian Teacakes (minus the pecans, sadly, due to Conor's allergy), and mini gingerbread boys and girls. These are what we gave out to neighbors when we went caroling.

The kids got into the handmade Christmas spirit too. This is a pencil sketch that Dylan drew for his dad and then I framed it for him. He drew it from a photograph of the two of them together last summer. I think he did such a great job.

Lyndsay also gave out lots of her Lyns Pins birdie clips to friends, and Conor and I made a few fun things for his dad, like a piggy bank that he painted and I labeled "Dad's Soda $" and a chunky square pad of paper which Conor stamped the perimeter of. If that makes sense.

Here's the superhero costume I sewed for Conor. My needle broke before I finished the other accessories, so it kind of looks more like a Ninja, but he doesn't care. In fact, as soon as he opened it, he started taking off his clothes to put it on, and he's been wearing it ever since. This was the only project that I really hated sewing, but I knew how much he would love it, so that carried me through.

Lyndsay's cozy flannel scarf with ball fringe trim. This was a last minute idea. As in, December 23rd idea. I had seen another Amy Butler pattern for this, and had it in my mind, but couldn't spend any more money on amazing fabric to buy her flannels. But then when I had to run to Joann's because I'd run out of thread for the satin stitching, six inches before finishing the LOVE sign, I saw that their flannel was on sale for $2.49/yd, so I bought just enough to whip this up. I loved it. She loves it. Very easy, too.

I was most excited about giving Lyndsay her purse. The Rosetta Ruffle Purse! Isn't it so darling? It's a Jennifer Paganelli pattern, but I used more of Kate Spain's Fandango fabric (because I love it in every color!) I made two of these, actually, one for her and one for me, because I desperately needed a new purse. But I kept mine hidden until after she'd opened hers so she wouldn't have a clue what she was getting. I made hers in the small size, and mine in the medium.

The inside is fully lined and has pockets, and I used a magnetic clasp to close it, so it looks and feels very professional. She loves it, and no one will have a purse just like hers!

Here's my purse, in more Kate Spain fabric, from her Verna line. I love it! And I made pockets for my lip gloss, keys, pens, and even just for my cell phone. The first thing out of each of my kids' mouths was, "So that means you'll actually answer your cell phone now?" I could never find it in my purse, and hated digging for it while driving or running errands.

So that's it! Fun, huh? I can't believe I was able to sew so much in less than a month, but I'm so happy I did. It brought me such joy, and seeing that everyone loved their gifts makes my heart overflow with happiness.

I wonder what next Christmas will bring? Maybe an earlier start?

Saturday, December 25, 2010

The Reason for the Season

Conor, age 2, at the Mesa Temple Visitor's Center

Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas!

I am almost ready to relax.

I have been busy! I took on a million sewing projects all in the month of December, while studying for finals and finishing course projects, and being a mom, and teaching piano. . .and I loved it! Yes, I was busy, but I was so, so happy inside. I love this season! I would stay up into the late hours of the night sewing away, with my Christmas albums taking turns in the CD player. It was a glorious feeling to be creating beautiful things with my own hands for people that I love. It brought me so much joy. Even when the needle in the sewing machine broke. And broke again. And broke again. And when I ran out of thread of a particular color six inches before I was finished satin stitching on a project for Lyndsay and had to drive back out to Joann's in the torrential rain. Even when I was finishing up the last of Caitlin's gift and the sewing machine motor burned out on me, and though I took the whole thing apart and cleaned and oiled, still nothing. So then I remembered the old green tank that Adam bought me for Christmas that I put away without ever figuring out, and lugged it out. I cleaned it all up, read the vintage instruction manual ("Dear Homemaker, . . .") and guess what? It worked great! Until late last night when I was almost finished, and the needle broke. But oh well. I was finished enough, and satisfied with what I had accomplished.

And so tired.

So, I packed everything up, and called it good enough.

This morning I got up and wrapped everything. Can I just tell you how excited I am to see the kids open their gifts? I cannot wait! And then I can also show you what I've been up to.

Today we will finish up the rest of the baking, which up to this point has been done entirely by sweet Lyndsay, my life saver. We will do some cleaning up, some movie watching, some playing, and tonight Caitlin and Sean will join us for a pot roast dinner, caroling and delivering our treats to neighbors, and some Christmas Eve stories and cocoa.

Sounds perfect to me.

p.s.-- My friend who lost her baby this week wrote up the birth story, agonizing and beautiful, if you'd like to read it. In my post I mistakenly wrote that she was a week overdue. In fact, she was due this week. I corrected that.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Mourning Morning

Yesterday was a weird day. It's been raining for days and days, as you may know. Friends are worried about mudslides and flooding, and though our house is safe (I think), it's hard to relax all the way and enjoy the storms outside when you know people you love are frightened and praying that their houses will be safe too.

And then, in the afternoon, I stupidly gave Conor a Ferrero Rocher chocolate candy that was gifted to me by a piano student, and within seconds he came running to me saying, "I'm allergic to these!" I thought it would be safe, since he's allergic to walnuts and pecans, and hazelnuts (the nut in the candies) is in a different nut family. I mean, he eats cashews, almonds, and peanuts with no problem. I dashed him into the kitchen and gave him a huge dose of Benadryl and Adam and I watched him. No hives this time, but even half an hour after the Benadryl, his breathing was still getting worse. Scary worse. So, we loaded him up and took off for the hospital, while he wheezed and coughed in the back seat. An Epi-pen and some steroids and a nebulizer treatment had him better in a few hours and we came back home.

Then I found out that a friend of mine, who had gone into the hospital to have her baby girl, had lost her baby. At the final stretch, the baby just didn't make it, though she'd been fine throughout the pregnancy. Little Becky. We all knew her name. This was my friend's 4th daughter, and her loss just broke my heart. I couldn't sleep at all last night thinking of her holding her little girl in the hospital, under very different circumstances that what we all expected. It just isn't fair, but then, we know that life isn't supposed to be. Right before Christmas, too, and having to break the news to the three big sisters who have been looking forward to Becky joining the family.

It gives all of us an opportunity to serve her and her family, to reach out. To take the other girls in, to bring meals for the family, to do whatever we can to help ease the burdens of life while they mourn and heal.

I couldn't sleep at all last night. The rain poured outside my window. My Conor was safe in his bed after a scare that without medical treatment could have turned out quite differently. I prayed for my friend and her heart, and her sweet angel. I am grateful for eternal families and knowledge of life behind this mortal one. I am grateful for temple sealings that keep baby Becky a part of her family forever. I am grateful for faith.

I am grateful for an opportunity to serve a friend, who would do anything for me. This is the friend who saved me with the dentist recommendation when Aiden was suffering last summer. My inspired friend. My hurting friend.

Christmas just became more meaningful.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010


Two of my children have cell phones. The rule in this house is that you don't get a cell phone until you start high school. I figure, up until that point, how often do you really need to talk on the phone, and who do you really have to call? And at that point, (high school) the kids having cell phones is just as much for my convenience as theirs, as they become a little busier, more social, harder to keep track of.

The other rule in this house is that we all share minutes, and each line is only allowed 250 "emergency" texts. The kids monitor those texts very carefully, because if they go over, the per text rate is ridiculous and they have to pay it. Since you pay for texts coming and going, they are very particular about who they text and how often. And I like it that way.

They each asked for unlimited texting for Christmas, in a tongue-in-cheek sort of way--knowing what the answer would be, and I gave them a big fat NO, with a smile. For one thing, it's an unnecessary expense, and one I can't afford anyway. But a bigger reason I said no is on principle. I will never buy unlimited texting because I don't believe in it.

Have you ever noticed how if you have money in your pocket, you spend it? If you keep junk food in your cupboards, you eat it? If you have comprehensive cable packages, you watch more TV? And if teens have unlimited texting, they literally try to text unlimitedly?

I hate that.

I see teens completely and utterly addicted to texting. They text at the dinner table (rude), they text while they're with other friends (rude), they text during school, they text while standing right next to the person they're texting(weird)! And you know what else? They say nothing! The majority of their texts are filled with gossip, nonsense code, sexual innuendo (or not so), and ridiculousness. They stay up into the wee hours of the night texting instead of sleeping. They wake up and immediately begin again. All of this "communication", ironically, keeps them from actually communicating! I have seen kids have ongoing texting relationships with other kids that they have never and would never actually speak to in person. That doesn't even make sense! And meanwhile they have no time to talk to their parents, their brothers and sisters, or have real conversations with friends and romantic interests. I don't think it's right.

Typing texting code into phones allows a certain anonymity, a certain boldness, an artificial uninhibitedness that doesn't exist in face-to-face relationships. Mix those ingredients with a teen's desire for independence and their raging hormones, and sometimes what you get is shocking. Sexting is rampant, and being fiercely prosecuted by law. Text bullying and harassment are even alarmingly common. It's a false sense of security to be able to just type away in such a private, uncensored way and never really have to be accountable in face-to-face.

I have heard teens brag about their 6,000 or 10,000 or 14,000 texts in a month. One month! What a time/talent/energy black hole! It's as if because they have no limits, they will try their hardest to push them anyway. I don't think that's a good principle. Life has limits. That is a true principle. What can we really do as much as we want to of? Even worthwhile and valuable things that we wish we could do limitlessly are hedged in by other necessary things that we just have to do as part of life. It's all about balance.

I'm all for communication. I don't mind the kids talking on their phones with friends (though they have parental curfews set so their phones shut off at certain times). I don't mind their friends coming to our house to hang out (which means eat me out of house and home). I'm a big fan of conversation and talking things out, whether those things are just run-of-the-mill teenage chatter, budding emotional or romantic feelings, or even disagreements or arguments. I just think it should be real talking, not texting.

When a kid has a limited number of texts, they are very careful how they "spend" them. They're a little more particular about who they give their phone number to. It gives them the ability to make their own decisions and use their independence within a reasonable boundary. There are times when a quick text message is so convenient and useful. And being able to text just a little makes the kids feel "cool", which is an important ingredient in a teen's life, but as with many other areas of life, indulgence isn't necessarily better.

If I were to give my kids unlimited texting for Christmas, it would cost me $29.99 (plus taxes) per line per month. That's over $700 for one year! $700 for something that doesn't improve their communication skills, uplift them, or improve them. $700 to waste more time, talk less, read less, learn less. No thank you.

If they have that much to say, I'd rather spend the $700 on journals and stationary and stamps.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Handmade Christmas: Fabric Basket with Bean Bags and "Cup" Cakes

I first saw this idea on a blog I enjoy, Trapped Between a Scream and a Hug. Rachel Sue had compiled this great list of handmade Christmas gifts and I loved this one, taken from two different blogs. I made one for Conor, and one for my friend's son. I love the idea of homemade toys, and tossing a bean bag into a darling fabric basket is a game that even big kids and parents will enjoy the challenge of.

The funny thing to me was that I didn't know how tiny the baskets were because the measurements were in centimeters, and I'm not used to thinking in centimeters. I suppose the size makes sense for bean bags, but as I was putting the baskets together I kept feeling like they were for a doll instead of a real child. But they are very cute, and very, very easy. I made these two, with the bean bags in about 2 1/2 hours, including a break to cook and serve breakfast.

The basket is the perfect size to fit five bean bags. I used home dec fabrics for the basket so they were a little stiffer, along with stiff interfacing, and then I used some quilter's fat quarters in coordinating shades for the bean bags. Very cheap. And easy. And darling. Would be a great baby shower gift too. Or toddler birthday party gift.

Then we have the "Cup" Cakes, an idea from Family Fun. This is also super easy and cheap. (I like cheap.) You just use one boxed cake mix to make eight gifts. It's a microwaveable cake for one, with a glaze mix too, tucked into the mug that the recipient will mix and bake the cake in. I gave these to each of the Primary kids that I teach on Sunday, and Conor gave one to his teacher.

You can find the directions here. And mugs are on sale everywhere.

Back to sewing! I can't wait till after Christmas when I can show you all what I've been up to!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Just the Right Word

Conor loves words. This is interesting because, as you know, for a long time he didn't talk. And when he did begin to talk, nobody except his family could understand him. But he's come a long way, and it's apparent that for all those months when he wasn't speaking, he was listening. And accumulating vocabulary.

His prayers are the best. At mealtime, he once said, "Heavenly Father, thank you for this scrumptious meal." And at Family Home Evening on Monday he said, "Bless us to keep the commandments and to respect Jesus." Respect Jesus? What 4 year old says that? But it was a good reminder for all of us, indeed.

When we went to the Ward Christmas party last weekend, and Santa walked in, Conor leaned over to me and said, "That Santa kinda creeps me out." But he got over it pretty quick so he could get his candycane.

And yesterday he stormed into the livingroom where I was, and with clenched fists he said, "I am so fascinated!" By the looks of his demeanor I said, "I think you mean 'frustrated.'"

He paused and said, "Well, what does fascinated mean?"

"Fascinated means really interested and excited about something."

To which he replied, "Well, I want the one that means really angry." (not mad, angry.)

"Yup. That's frustrated."

"Okay, then, I am so frustrated!"

So, it got me to thinking. Tomorrow I am taking my last two finals of the semester. Political Science and Microbiology. (I already took the Psychology final.) Do you remember this post? The one where I had this burst of inspiration that I should go back to school for my RN degree and you all encouraged me to go for it? Well, it has taken a bit longer than I originally thought, but the first milestone is about to be completed. I have now completed all of my prerequisite courses (which turned out to be slightly more than 3,--9 actually-- even with my old classes still being accepted) and will be able to submit an application for the Nursing Program in January. Can you believe it? It's been two years of courses, and now I face the next hurdle.

I have all sorts of feelings inside. Pride in what I've accomplished so far (4.0 GPA!) and a bit of nostalgia that this part is coming to a close. Excitement at what lies ahead, and a bit of trepidation too, as this next phase is the "real deal." Wondering how I will work the course load into my schedule, or rather my schedule into the course load, since the Nursing program is not a student-flexible one, but rather predetermined and fixed. A bit of giddiness, some fear.

What's the word I'm looking for? What's the perfect word?

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Handmade Christmas: Sun Hat

You're probably thinking, "A sun hat? For Christmas?" That's understandable. As I was typing the title I thought the same thing. But my life is not so much like it used to be with white winters and warm sweaters. I live in Southern California, and it's all about the beach. Today, for example, it was in the 90's. Terrible, I tell you. At least at Christmastime it is. At any rate, I found this Amy Butler pattern for a sun hat, and it seemed like a reasonably quick project, and so I decided to make it for Lyndsay as a Christmas gift. (She knows about it, since I had to measure her head, but she hasn't seen it finished. So, Minely, if you're reading this, do NOT direct her to my blog!)

The fabric is Joel Dewberry, and though you can't see too well in the pictures, I used lime green thread in all the topstitching accents, and a coordinating print for the inside lining.

I am really pleased with the outcome. The pattern was super easy to follow, and the hardest part was cutting and pinning through all the layers of canvas that are sandwiched between the exterior and lining of the hat to give it its shape. But the heft of the hat is wonderful, and the fit is perfect. I had Lyndsay close her eyes while I put it on her head just to make sure. This will be a great accessory for reading (and friendship bracelet making) on the beach. And will go perfectly with the pink sunglasses I know she just ordered for herself. Tee hee.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Handmade Christmas: Child's Art Tote

So, while Conor napped this afternoon, I whipped up an art tote for him for Christmas. Conor loves to draw and color and craft, so I'm sure he will love this gift, as it keeps all of his art tools in one handy, portable place!

I wish I had a camera that captured how cute the colors really are, but you get the idea. I found the idea and tutorial over at H is for Handmade. Amy's instructions are easy to follow, and I only made a few small changes, like adding the button closure. I used a navy polka dot duck cloth and a scrap of apple green duck cloth (for the handles), and then a quilter's fat quarter for the inside pockets. Those, plus some apple green ribbon and a red button cost me less than $5, and sewed up in less than a naptime!

Here is the art tote opened up. There are two sets of pockets: the smaller, divided up red polka dot ones (which you can't see the cute polka dots) lined with green ribbon, and then the bigger inside pockets behind the flaps, for paper or coloring books.

I picked up some fun new art supplies for Conor's tote (because isn't coloring with new crayons so much better?) and then I sized the pockets to fit the things I bought. I stuck a pad of construction paper in one of the flaps and I'll put a coloring book in the other. Now he can be an artist on the go!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Handmade Christmas: Messenger Bag

Last night I made this messenger bag for my stepdaughter. Even though I got confused about what the pattern was talking about and had to re-cut and re-sew a seam, it still went together fairly easily and looks so professional. I think it looks so "Caitlin" and can't wait to give it to her.

I bought the downloadable pattern, "The Infinity Tote" from Shelley Detton's Etsy shop. It's a multi-use pattern that teaches how to make five different types of bags, with directions for custom-made bags as well. I mentioned how I have fallen in love with Shelley's blog and her tutorials are so well done. Everything she does looks beautiful.

The fabrics I used are Heather Bailey's designs. Have I mentioned that I've fallen in love with designer fabrics? Yes, it's sad, but true. Amy Butler, Michael Miller, Joel Dewberry, heaven help me. Have I mentioned that I found a site that will cut all of my favorite fabrics to order and deliver them to my door, with free shipping? I'm in heaven. I mean, the fabric district in downtown L.A. is great, but it takes a lot of gas to get there and parking is expensive too. There's a great quilt shop not too far that sells many of my favorite designers, but then I have to take Conor. The online Quilt Home has everything. Everything!

Inside the fully-lined tote are three pockets. Cute, huh? The whole project from start to finish (including my disastrous beginning) took four hours, but would be much, much quicker the second time. Which is good, because guess what Lyndsay said when she saw it all finished?

"Awwwww! I want one!"

Thursday, December 2, 2010

A Playdate and a Party

It's weird having an only child; I don't know how people do it. I realize that I have four children, but Conor is so much younger that it often feels like he's an only child since we spend so much time together, just he and I. Many days I wish I had just disregarded my personal circumstances and had another child, a sibling for Conor. A playmate.

I didn't have to worry about playmates for my older three children. They had each other, and most of the time a herd of others that I tended for daycare. Conor lives a completely different lifestyle than they did, and sometimes I feel sorry for him. I mean, we do plenty together, and he gets lots of interaction, but I wish he had a little sister, to be honest.

When the big kids were in Arizona, Conor was terribly lonely. As soon as was feasible, I invited some friends over for a playdate. Two little ones, a brother and sister. Conor could barely stand the anticipation. We made a list of things they could do together when Leilani and Drew arrived. Legos, Pictureka, a snowman ornament craft, playing kitchen, etc. When they arrived, they wanted to play kitchen right away. Conor seemed upset.

"What's wrong?" I asked. "Playing kitchen is on your list and they seem to love your kitchen."

"But Legos is first on the list!" he said, exasperated.

Oh dear, I'm afraid his lack of spontaneity is my fault. I stick to lists too. But he relaxed with a snack, which he offered first to his little buddies. So many things to learn: manners, going with the flow. . . it's exhausting to be 4.

I wanted to have a little craft for the kids to do, so I came up with this snowman ornament based on an idea I'd seen in Family Fun magazine a while back. They loved it.

After two hours, my friend Mari came to pick up her kids. Nobody wanted the fun to end, so we promised to get together again soon. In fact, Mari invited Conor to come to Leilani's 5th birthday party this Saturday. His first party invite! He is so excited. I asked him what he'd like to give her as a gift and he said, "How 'bout her very own Robin? She liked my Robin." Which is thoughtful, true. But Leilani is a girly-girl, so I made her a little purse pouch that she can carry around.

It was super easy to put together, and super cute for a little girl. Actually, I was thinking what a great many other uses it could have, like a travel jewelry pouch, for example. I got the idea and followed the tutorial on one of my new favorite blogs, 7 Layer Studio. Shelley is incredible. You should browse around.

So we can't wait till Saturday, and hopefully Leilani will love her little purse!

December 1st

I am inundated with end-of-the-semester responsibilities. Projects, papers, and finals galore. All I want to do is sew and bake and wrap. As I sat studying yesterday, I realized it was December 1st and that we needed an Ushering in the Christmas Season party. Why not? And I needed the small diversion.

I love Christmas stories and have amassed quite a collection. Each year our Stake gives out a bound copy of collected true Christmas stories, to be read one each day leading up to Christmas. There is also a list of scriptures to read, with each one focusing on one characteristic of the Savior. I knew that had to be part of our celebration.

Our hometeacher always brings the kids chocolate advent calendars from Trader Joe's too, an event they eagerly anticipate, no matter how old they get. December 1st meant opening that first little door to reveal that first little bite of chocolate.

And what goes deliciously with chocolate? Orange Sweet Rolls! A recipe I'd been wanting to try for a while now, and man, oh, man, it did not disappoint. (And what a breeze to make bread dough in my new Kitchen Aid!) I changed up the glaze just a bit and whisked in some leftover cream cheese frosting, which to me was perfection.

So, we ate our dinner (Chile Verde Pork on rice with tomatoes and pepper jack cheese, and fresh green beans) and then we gathered for our first scripture teaching about Jesus' compassion, and our first Christmas story. The kids opened door number one and ate the bite of chocolate, Conor hung the first ornament on our Santa advent calendar, we ate the Orange Rolls (had to put the brakes on Dylan at 6. Good grief.) And then? Then, we did our family Pollyanna.

Nobody knows what a Pollyanna is for some reason, but it's just when you draw names for gift-giving. That's what we always called it growing up. Each of the kids' names goes into a mug and they draw one name that they will buy for.

We closed with a family prayer, and then Conor went to bed and the rest of us went back to homework. Christmas music plays quietly in the background and I'm fairly sure the house feels even warmer now, even homier, even more like Christmas. And that's the best feeling ever.