Everyday Reading

December 22, 2014

Christmas 1999

We're spending Christmas with my parents in Las Vegas this year.

My parents moved from the house I grew up in more than a decade ago (just a few weeks before I graduated from high school), and so I'm used to coming to the "new" house when we come to visit.

But when I think of Christmas with my parents, I think of that old house, and I especially think of the Christmas of 1999.

A few weeks before Christmas that year, my youngest brother, Shepard, was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor.

The doctor recommend that my parents take Shepard to San Francisco for brain surgery. "If this was my child," he told them, "I wouldn't send him to anyone in Las Vegas."

My mom, Shepard, and my dad's mom spent about a week in San Francisco (my dad was there for the actual surgery, then returned home to be with us other four children and to work), while we waited for news at home and tried to go about normal life.

The night they returned home, we all went to the airport to greet them. This was still nearly two years before 9/11, so you could go up to the actual gate.

I think we all felt a little nervous about seeing Shepard with a shaved head and enormous scar and stitches on the back of his head, but when he was actually there, his same sweet self, we were all so relieved to see him that we all squeezed in to hug and kiss him.

My mom told us about a kind gentleman on her flight who offered her his first class tickets (Shepard's stitches were done in heavy black thread and with a blanket stitch, so you couldn't miss them if you tried), but my mom insisted they were fine and that the flight was very short anyway.

A few minutes later, the man came back, saying he'd been to the ticket desk and upgraded her tickets and that this was something he and his wife really wanted to do, and merry Christmas. I can't even type that sentence without getting teary.

Since my dad's return a few days earlier, we had worked feverishly to get all the Christmas decorations up inside and the lights on the outside of the house hung before my mom and Shepard returned.

When we pulled up the house, my mom commented on the lights, but Shepard, sitting in the back seat, didn't see them.

Then, as we all piled out of the car, he looked up at the house, lit up in the dark with hundreds of tiny lights, and whispered, "Home."

Everyone got a little teary.

That was a Christmas our whole family remembers. There was so much gratitude and love, but also nervous anticipation for what might lay ahead, with chemotherapy was fast approaching in January.

It was also Shepard's last Christmas. He died 26 days before Christmas in 2000. His presents were already wrapped under the tree - presents we've never unwrapped and that we put back under the tree year after year (I'd bought, but not wrapped, a little umbrella for him that I gave to Ella for her third birthday, 12 and a half years later).

Since Christmas always makes me think of Shepard even more frequently than I already do, I was happy to join Aflac in promoting their Duckprints program during the holiday season. Aflac has raised more than $93 million to fight childhood cancer and the Duckprints award goes to champions for childhood cancer.

They raise money through Duckprints merchandise – like the annual Holiday Duck, which is available at participating Macy’s or at aflacduckprints.com – which goes to U.S. hospitals treating childhood cancer.

This year, Aflac will also give an additional $2 to the Aflac Cancer Center for every post, share, tweet, or re-tweet that uses the #Duckprints hashtag on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook (you can follow them on all platforms at @AflacDuck).

I was selected for this opportunity as a member of Clever Girls and the content and opinions expressed here are all my own.

December 19, 2014

Before There Were Five

The last time we had family photos taken, I wasn't pregnant with Ani yet and Ella was not even two years old (and I still love those photos so so much).

When we found out we were having a third baby, I felt pretty sad that we'd never had family photos taken when there were just the four of us.

And then I remembered that when our whole family had been together in May right before my brother left on his mission, we'd had family photos taken, both of my entire family and of our little family, by Chris Jenkins Photography.

I guess when your parents are the ones that pay for them, you don't remember them quite as much. I also blame the fog of the first trimester plus the insaneness of this summer with living in three different states and preparing to go overseas.

I'm really happy to have these (and I also have secret dreams that next year Ralphie will come visit us in our new permanent home and take photos of our family of five. I know she wants to).

Also, I can't get over how much younger my girls look in these photos, especially Ani who only had about five teeth here.

December 18, 2014

A Gingerbread House Party

One of my favorite Christmas traditions is making gingerbread houses. 

My family started having gingerbread house decorating parties about two decades ago and have hardly missed a year in all that time (I clearly remember inviting over a few friends when I came home from my freshman year at BYU). 

When my mom was visiting us in London, I mentioned how lonely Ella was in London without friends to play with and my mom suggested that, when we returned to the States, we invite a few little girls over for a gingerbread house party. 

Ella, of course, was beside herself at the idea and has been asking for days if TODAY was the day. (About an hour and half beforehand, she came up to the bathroom where I was doing my hair and said, "Grancie says there is a lot to do still. I think you know I will be very disappointed if you cancel my party." I assured her we would not be canceling).

We invited two little twin girls over who are just Ella's age and that she knows a little bit from church and they all enjoyed playing together and decorating their houses.  

The evening before, we'd made a little trip to the store to pick up gobs of candy and the other supplies we needed. The girls stood around salivating while we got everything set up.

I keep saying "gingerbread houses" but we've actually always just done graham cracker houses. They're a thousand times easier to make, they cost practically nothing, and you're not spending a million hours trying to decorate something enormous. 

Usually we assemble them with frosting, but this year we just hot-glued them together. Super easy and fast and less worry about them falling apart before the icing had a chance to set. 

We made a double batch of royal icing (a few minutes after I snapped this photo, we transferred it to the KitchenAid so it could just beat on its own instead of using the hand beater) to attach the candy to the houses.

The recipe is super simple:
3 egg whites (at room temperature - this is important)
1 pound powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

Beat everything together for 8-10 minutes on medium-high speed until it's very very thick and doesn't ribbon down from the beaters when you pull them out of the icing.

Then we gave the four little girls their houses and their frosting and set them loose.

(We'd heard that it was less messy to use those cheap condiment bottles than frosting bags, so we bought them for 97 cents each at Wal-Mart. They felt really soft and pliable, but once you put the frosting in, it was basically impossible for the girls to squeeze them on their own. There was no mess because no frosting was coming out. My mom and I ended up doing most of the squeezing at the beginning and then eventually just put the frosting in little bowls and let them dip their candies right into it or use a table knife to spread it on. Skip the bottles and use a pastry bag instead). 

Ella put a tremendous amount of candy on hers (after quiet time later that afternoon, she came back down and added a bunch more), while Ani would carefully put a piece of candy on the house and then immediately remove it and eat it. Eventually, she didn't even bother putting it on the house. She'd just ask for some frosting on her candy and then eat it. 

All in all, it was a delightful morning, and I'm thrilled to see some of my favorite traditions live on with my own girls. 

Also, I've discovered that my candy tolerance is very low these days. A few big handfuls of peanut butter M&Ms and I felt sick the rest of the day. What a wimp. 


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