Monday, December 26, 2011

another year older.... why doesn't she stop?

It's Maddy's birthday again.  Didn't this just happen?  Well, at least it wasn't near as emotional at the whole 13 year old thing.  Fourteen is easy.  

 We went for the usual birthday meal - to T.G.I. Fridays.  It is always good to go there.  A yummy American-style burger.  Their Jack Daniel's sauce..... hmmmm.
 And of course there was the usual singing of "Happy Birthday" - they sing it in English in a very stilted manner.  It is rather comical.  Especially the tambourine.
 A little while after we got home, Jake, Paulina and her cousin came over to visit.  Jake and Paulina are from Fairfield (CA) but Paulina is Ecuadorian.  They came to spend Christmas with her family and we are the beneficiaries of that trip.  They even brought us chocolate chips, peanut butter and walnuts!!!  You do not understand what a sacrifice of space and weight in their bags that was!
Anyway, they sweetly stopped over and brought Maddy birthday cupcakes.  They needed to make sure that she was experiencing the true Ecuadorian birthday custom.  

 The tradition is smashing birthday cake into the birthday person's face.  Jake was much, much too nice, so Paulina - the true Ecuadorian - took over.

 Ah, much better.
 Thankfully Maddy didn't hear them telling her that the other part of the tradition is that the birthday person, with the messy face, would then go around sharing her messing face by smearing it on other people!  She would have relished that portion.
Later it was present time.  Mia made Maddy a sweet card.  Lucy gave her a jewelry travel case, picked out from my stash of gifts.  She wanted to give her about 23 gifts from my stash (that would be more than I have.....) but I only let her choose one.
 And while she really really really really wanted a cell phone - and pretty much nothing else - I think she likes the down duvet that she got.  She had been asking for one for years.
 After dinner (of the many leftovers) Cade had us guess the many facts about various states.... he got info cards about the 50 states in his stocking.  He would give us all kinds of hilarious hints for things we didn't know - like state birds, mottos (some weird ones out there) and the like.

 And then it was cake time - or brownies, rather.  Maddy wanted homemade brownies instead of cake.  While normally I love to make nice, fancy birthday cakes, I was quite thrilled to have something non-time consuming and simple to make after the last few days (it was the first time I made that recipe here, and it will need some high-altitude tweaking for next time....).
Four candles for a 14-year-old.
Happy birthday my darling daughter.
I love you.

christmas eve with casa gabriel

December 23 - mom tells the kids "I'm going to need you to help out a little bit tomorrow."  The boy-child replies "But mom, it's Christmas!"
Mostly they did quite well with the few chores they had.  Maddy did a crazy amount of dishes, Mia helped with running things up and down from the kitchen we are borrowing upstairs, Cade tidied up the family room and Lucy picked parsley....
 I just finished cutting onions for the stuffing and then I asked Lucy to pick all the parsley leaves off the stems.  She kept complaining that her eyes hurt from the onions, so Eric found a way to "encourage" her to continue her chores while protecting her precious peepers.
Goggles - not only for swimmers.
 Cade also helped out by taking care of his own lunch.  He made himself a peanut butter sandwich.
 Okay, well I ended up spreading the peanut butter on, but he gave it a good go.
Then around 4:00 the people started coming.  All the kids:
 The whole group - minus yours truly and three people who came later:

After a few photos it was time for dinner.

Last year we introduced the unwrapping game (for lack of a better name).  We had to bring it back - by popular demand.  They boys loved it.  Since there are 5 new guys since last Christmas, Eric had to go through the explanation again.
Then the boys had-at-it!
Jesús got the prize again - for the second year in a row!!  Perhaps it is something about the name and the time of year.....
Eric and I also bought a bunch of $2-4 gifts - one for each guy, and had them play the white elephant gift exchange type game (although they were all decent gifts) - where everyone has a number and they unwrap a gift in order.... can either steal someone else's gift or take a new one.
It started off pretty slow, but once one of them (Dario) stole the first gift, it was on!   I'm guessing that next year they will be into it from the get-go.
The guys also all got stockings with some essentials like toothbrushes and fun stuff like candy.

Then we had the regular gift exchange.  We always do a name pull/exchange.  The kids got Danielle (the Douce's daughter), Carlos, Lizandro and Miguel.  And again Jesús..... last year he picked Mia's name and was beside himself not knowing what to buy for her.  This year he got Cade and again his anxiety level rose.  He bought Cade some baseball slippers and they were a hit!
Cade was thrilled.
I was a little (more than a little) sad that they boys had to leave at 8:30 to go play games at another house - I really wanted them to stay and play here.  But we did end on a fun, happy note and I think the guys had a great time.  I know I did.

the nativity story

Christmas morning we watched this:
While a few things are not portrayed exactly as the bible states, it is a rather good movie about Mary, Joseph and the birth of Christ.
And it caught me.
Now I have heard, studied, and pondered this story countless times.  Its significance in my life and in the lives of millions is indescribable.  But when I saw the actual birth of God depicted - when Mary was pushing and Joseph receiving the All Powerful Creator God, but in the package of a completely helpless, crying baby - it completely overwhelmed me.
Can you get the sacrifice?  Can any of us really understand it?  Really?
The God who calls the earth His footstool - became one fraction of that earth's population.... and then did it all so that He could die for us.  And that is only a part of it all.
The whole thing is crazy - love like that.  Crazy amazing.

christmas without Christ

The kids - elementary school - had a wonderful Christmas program on Thursday.  I wish I could remember what the name of the whole thing was, but I'm going to call it "Christmas Without Christ" after one of the songs from the musical they sang a lot at home.
There was a play with songs in between that various grades sang.
I was pretty far away, but thankfully a friend got some better pictures up close.  The first one looks like they are doing the Macarana, but don' worry, they're not!

Cade is very intense when he does his songs.

And then Mia.

Mia was quite worried about one of their songs.  Apparently no one was getting the words of the second verse right.  Sure enough, they messed up, although it was hardly noticeable.  It did, however, cause Mia some serious anxiety.
The teachers obviously put a lot of work into the whole program and it paid off.... it was very well done.

Monday, December 19, 2011

not the most pleasant topic

I'm going to be somewhat round-about in this post, but if you don't like poo-poo talk, find a different blog to read today.

I was too late to the bathroom again.  This has happened many times in the past three days, and I've had the issue for four now.  I'm feeling rather crappy lousy.  My family left about 2 hours ago for the beach for our little holiday getaway and I remain at home.  I bantered back and forth, over and over deciding if I should go or not - driving my otherwise very patient husband batty.
Obviously we decided (I say we because I begged him to help me make the call) that I should stay and I'm glad that I did.  Fifteen minutes after they left I wasn't fast enough getting to my new best friend, the bathroom.  And twice more in the past two hours.  Good times.  Did I mention that I am feeling rather poopy yucky?
I'm not so thrilled to be without my family but I so wanted them to go and have some fun.   We were supposed to leave yesterday but decided to wait to see if I felt better today.  No such luck.  I still debated going but wasn't that keen on the five hour drive.....if I can't even make it to the bathroom in my own house, the drive won't work out very well.  And even when I do get to a bathroom, the are inevitably filthy, unstocked, and crude.
As I was just now taking my second shower of the day, and feeling rather sorry for myself, I believe God brought to mind a little girl that I met this past year.  I wish I had her picture, but at the time I couldn't bring myself to take it.... it felt too cruel, capturing this sweet innocent girl in humiliation.  But now I realize what probably wouldn't really have affected her (she most likely wouldn't have noticed) could have strongly impacted each of us.
We were on one of our trips to the jungle.  This little girl was around four years old and must have had Downs Syndrome.  She was wandering around the village by herself for hours.  She had a very dirty t-shirt on and nothing else - nothing covering her little bottom except for layers and layers of dried on poop.  I believe she must have had diarrhea, as many kids there do (they are so often filled with parasites that diarrhea is a way of life).
She was alone, filthy, smelly, and none of the other kids played with her.

While in the shower, feeling rather crappy awful, and loosing my bowels again while in the shower (sorry for being blunt), I felt like that little girl.  Alone, filthy, smelly.  And then God walloped me over the head with my self pity.
I was in a hot shower - and I had three in my very nice house from which to choose.  I could get clean and unsmelly in minutes.
I had three (technically four, but one isn't working) bathrooms to choose from).
I have a family who did not want to leave me alone (well, okay, the kids were mostly fine with leaving me at home - but they didn't want me to be sick!).  Eric's biggest concern was leaving me alone for three or four days.
I have a husband who was eager to help me out - even going to the store to buy some adult diapers.  And even loved and kissed me when I wore them.

It has been hard.  This whole fall has been very difficult with feeling poopy  bad so often with headaches, migraines and now this.  I feel like the crappiest lousiest wife and mother ever.  But I am so blessed.  My husband and children are so patient and kind to me.  Their understanding and love have been overwhelming.  My friends haven't given up on me.  Those to whom I have made commitments and haven't been able to follow through have had understanding.  I really am blessed.
Lord, I'm sorry for complaining.
I'm sorry for my wallowing.
Thank you for so many blessings.

And the little girl?  I hope to see her again.  And I know that in spite of the miseries of this earth, Jesus can't wait to hold her tight and does even now.  I am praying for her.

Now please excuse me - I don't want to be late again.....

Sunday, December 18, 2011

jesse tree

 This is the first year that I have ever heard of the Jesse Tree tradition.  I read about it around three months ago and then researched it a little more.  At some point I came across this website.  I read about her book One Thousand Gifts and a little of her blog when she went to visit Compassion children in Ecuador.
While at times her language is a little too flowery or descriptive for me, her heart is amazing.   God has definitely gifted her.
Anyway, she has a Jesse tree advent written out with devotionals for every day and pictures that you can print out to make ornaments.  I did just that and we have enjoyed the daily journey through the bible leading us to Christ.
I simply printed out the pictures, glued them to red card stock and laminated them with clear contact paper.  One day I would like to make other ornaments to replace these, but for now, they are great.
Our Jesse Tree sits in our "new" family room.
We decorated the tree with some lights and ribbons, as well as some rolls of scripture.  They are leftover from the wreaths that I made last year.
This is essentially what a Jesse Tree is: journeying through all the stories and the family background of Christ's genealogy.  It is a wonderful way to keep the focus on what Christmas is truly about.

peppermint marshmallows

For the craft sale, Marlo had made some peppermint marshmallows and sold them with packages of hot chocolate.  
Now who doesn't want homemade peppermint marshmallows?  So good.
One lady asked me a few days later if she could order just some marshmallows.  Sure, why not... anything (almost) to make a little more cash.  So, I whipped up a batch.
I had not made marshmallows in years.  Like, lots of years - many, many.  
When I think of homemade marshmallows, I always think of the ones my Grandma made at Christmas time - absolutely perfect cubes of marshmallow goodness rolled in I'm not sure what - light brown something*.  I talk about them like they were my favorite but in reality, I much preferred her chocolates.
Well, I must say that I love making marshmallows.  It had been so long that I forgot how easy it was.  
 I used my own recipe but followed Marlo's in terms of dropping red food coloring on top and swirling it in.
 They were very pepperminty - I apparently used more peppermint extract than Marlo did (and it was her extract that I used - sorry Marlo!).  But in spite of the strong peppermint they were very good.  The lady who ordered them said that she will forever be a marshmallow snob (not her words, but the general meaning) - not wanting to buy store bought again.
Cade was begging for some for his class, so I made another batch for that, and for us.  Since I didn't have any peppermint extract, I experimented.  I crushed up a few leftover candy canes and added those.  While they are a little stickier, they are sooooo good.  And since the candy canes were red, green and white, I added green to the swirl.

I feel the urgency to share the recipe as they are so happy and luscious (usually I only use those two words together when describing myself):

Peppermint Marshmallows

1 cup water
3 packages unflavored gelatin
1 1/2 cups of sugar
1 cup of light corn syrup
1/8 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup crushed candy canes

1/4 cup of corn starch and 1/4 cup icing sugar - mixed together

Put the gelatin in your mixing bowl and add 1/2 cup of the water.  Let sit.
In a small to medium sized pot, combine the remaining 1/2 cup water, sugar, corn syrup and salt.  Cook over medium high heat without stirring until the mixture reaches 220 degrees (240 for those of you at sea levelish areas).  
Turn on the mixer with the gelatin in it - on low.  Slowly pour in the boiled mixture while the machine is running.  Once it is all in the bowl, turn the mixer on to high and beat for 10 or 11 minutes.  While the stuff is mixing, grease a 9 x 13 pan and then coat it with your cornstarch/icing sugar mixture.
While the mixer still running, add the extract and crushed candy canes.  Beat one minute more.
Pour the mixture (that term is used lightly - it is more like "plop") into the pan and spread it out evenly (I grease a rubber spatula to make this easier).  Put a few drops of food coloring on top of the marshmallow goo and swirl it in with a toothpick.  Sift some of the cornstarch and icing sugar on top.
Let it sit for at least 5 hours.
Grease a sharp knife and then dip it in the cornstarch stuff.  Cut the marshmallows into the size you want (you could use cookie cutters too if you want to get fancy) - dipping the knife into the cornsugar (new word) as necessary.  Then roll each marshmallow into the cornsugar and store in an airtight container.  They should last about 3 weeks or so.
Then heat yourself up some yummy hot chocolate, add one or two of these babies and enjoy the goodness.

*Grandma Marshmallow Update:  Mom to the rescue - she just informed me that it was crushed corn flakes and sometimes toasted coconut.   Thanks momma!