Friday, December 21, 2012

David turns 1!

Holy cow! It is SO hard to believe that it's already been a year. I find that, like a lot of things in my life these days, the time seems to be streaking by faster than I can keep track of it. My little man is already a whole year old. Where did the time go?!

David has grown so much in the last year! He was nice and chubby when he was born, and although he's thinned out a bit, he's still got that adorable belly! He's got some seriously cute cheeks, too. And thighs. Let's just say that I'm having fun having a kid without weight issues!

What an active boy! David seems determined to catch up to Amy in every possible way. He started walking around 10 months, and by now is quite proficient, although shoes occasionally give him trouble. He's very vocal and makes a lot more noise than Amy ever did. Probably because that's his way to get my attention when Amy is pushing/pulling/sitting on him or taking away a toy, etc. You know, typical toddler behavior.

While David is certainly active, he has much more of a mellow personality than Amy. What a blessing that is! I'm exhausted enough running after the two of them. I simply can't imagine what it would be like if he was as busy as his big sister! He definitely has needs and wants. He's curious about everything, but he's much more patient with things. He'll take the time to sit and examine something and try to figure it out, rather than flitting from one toy to the next. He's much more of a cuddler, and when he's sleepy, he's content just to sit on my lap or Brett's and chug a sippy cup of milk.

We had a little party for him this past weekend, and will be celebrating some more with family on Sunday, so I'll post birthday party pictures this coming week.

For now, though, enjoy some super cute pictures of our handsome little man!

David happily sitting in my stock pot:

Eagerly awaiting the arrival of party guests:

"Om nom nom...."

Present from Grammy:

Checking out trains with Daddy at the Botanical Garden:

Comparison of him this week with him at only a few weeks old:

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Christmas Crack!

A year or two ago, I found this recipe via a message forum I was a part of. I was skeptical at first, but because of all the rave reviews, figured I'd give it a shot. And I've never looked back! I've heard different names for this, but Christmas Crack is what has stuck. It's delicious, easy to make, and HIGHLY addictive!

First, gather your ingredients.

Pretty, right? I was feeling a little artsy. Ish. Anyway. Preheat your oven to 400. Next, cover your cookie sheet in foil and spray lightly with cooking spray.

Cover the cookie sheet with a single layer of graham crackers.

I break my graham crackers in half. It's okay if some of them are broken--just fit them in as best you can. Once that's done, it's time to make the caramel sauce. Bring the butter and brown sugar to a boil in a saucepan over medium-high heat.

I prefer to cube my butter, since it melts faster.

Mmmmm....look at all this golden-brown delicious heart attack....

Let that gorgeousness boil for 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Then pour it over the crackers as evenly as possible, spreading it gently if necessary.

Place in the oven and bake for 5 minutes. When you remove it, the caramel mixture will be molten and boiling. Allow to cool for about 3 minutes or until you can see the crackers distinctly. If they've shifted during baking, gently poke them back in place with a fork or knife:

There was one little piece that was just stubborn and refused to go back in place. Seems fitting for me. Anyway, after this, sprinkle the chocolate chips over the top and let them sit for about 5 minutes so they get all melty.

They'll get kind of shiny, and that's how you'll know they're ready to spread. I use my little offset spatula, like so:

No, that hand in the corner does not belong to Casper. That would be my ultra-reflective skin.

The chocolate spreads out nicely, and it should turn out to be even and pretty.

After this, you can add your toppings. I like to put chopped pecans on top. They're not pictured here because I was making this for class, and one of the girls had a pretty awful nut allergy. But there are a ton of topping options. Nuts, toasted coconut, sea salt, peppermint bits. The possibilities are endless. You'll want to gently press them into the soft chocolate so it doesn't all just come off when you break it up. Refrigerate to set the chocolate, and then break into pieces. Devour!
This would be my second batch, which DID have pecans.
Enjoy! Beware, though, because this is mostly butter and sugar, and you will love to eat it. And because it's so fast to make, it's easy to go through a ton of it.

Here's the recipe, adapted from A Southern Grace:

Christmas Crack

1 sleeve (approx.) graham crackers/saltines/Ritz crackers
1 1/4 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 cup butter
2 cups chocolate chips
3/4 cup chopped pecans (optional)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and line a cookie sheet with foil. Spray with cooking spray. Cover the cookie sheet with a single layer of crackers.

Bring the butter and brown sugar to a boil. Boil for 3 minutes, stirring with a whisk. Pour over the crackers and spread as evenly as possible. Bake for 5 minutes. When you remove it, the caramel mixture should be molten and boiling; allow to cool about 3 minutes or until you can see the crackers distinctly. If they have shifted while baking, push them back in place with a fork or knife. (NOT your finger. Trust me on this one.)

Sprinkle the chocolate chips over the toffee and let sit for about 5 minutes to melt. Once melted, spread chocolate evenly. If desired, sprinkle on pecans and press lightly into the chocolate. Let cool a bit and then transfer to fridge to harden. Once hard, break candy into small pieces and place in containers.

Laura's Notes:

I ALWAYS use graham crackers. The original recipe called for saltines. I've tried that, and the Ritz crackers, and I definitely prefer the graham crackers. I think they just turn out the best. You could also probably use those little square pretzels--that could make it interesting!

I have adjusted the caramel mixture to be a batch and a half of the original, as I felt the crackers weren't really sufficiently covered, but a double batch was way too much. The recipe above reflects that.

Like I mentioned in the post above, you can leave the pecans off, although I definitely love my pecans. You can also substitute a variety of different toppings--sea salt, crushed peppermint bits, toasted coconut. Get creative! The possibilities are endless! You could also try different combinations of chocolate chips--white chocolate, mint chocolate, etc.

I usually let the sheets sit on the counter for about half an hour, and then stick them in the fridge overnight. Perfection. I've found that, provided you're not storing them next to the stove or the oven, they don't really need to be refrigerated after being broken up.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Christmas prep is in full swing!

So, I wrote about getting our tree, which I'm still just so thrilled about. We put it up in our front room and decorated it. White lights, silver garland, and red, green, and gold ornaments with my angel on top. I'm really happy we can have it in our main room where people can enjoy it. How, you may ask, can I do this with two small kids? Well, that's why I love Craigslist and the fantastic woman who sold me one of those "super play yards" that I can put up around my tree to keep the kids away. Mwuahahahahahahaha.

Brett put his train up around the tree last night, and I've got just a few finishing touches to put on before I post some pictures.

I'll be starting my holiday baking as soon as I can get to the store. I need some batches of Christmas Crack! Yum. My mouth is watering now.

My baking is somewhat restricted this year, since my hand mixer finally kicked the bucket. Granted, most of this, I can do by hand. But there are some things I want to make that require butter & sugar to be creamed together, and I just don't have the muscle or the speed to do that with a wire whisk and some elbow grease. Good thing a hand mixer is on my list! :) Maybe I'll be doing baking. Good thing the Christmas Crack is easy and requires no mixer. I can churn out batches of that stuff like it's going out of style.

The most exciting part of Christmas prep is making gifts! Like I mentioned in my last post, I make gifts for our families since we don't have the money to buy a lot of stuff. I have so much fun hunting down the "best" ideas for Christmas gifts. It's just so exciting! I love imagining the look on someone's face when they open it. Granted, my gifts probably aren't as thrilling as some things you can get in the store. But I put a lot of thought and effort and time into them, and I hope it shows. Last year I gave bath salts and sugar scrub, with some little pots of homemade lip gloss (which was delicious, by the way).

This year, my theme is different. I'm not giving it away, because naturally I don't want to spoil the surprise! But I really hope people like my gifts.

I'm documenting the process of making some of these, so look forward to some fun posts after Christmas!

Christmas Season Memories

I've been a bit quiet since my last few posts, mainly because I was waiting for some craziness to die down. But I'm back now!

My preparations for the Christmas season are in full swing! I'm totally stoked, because this year I convinced Brett that we should go cut down our own tree! So, off we went this past Thursday to Eckert's to chop down a tree, with kids in tow. Which made for an interesting (and occasionally frustrating) trip.

I have such good memories of the Christmas season from my childhood. Most of our Thanksgiving traditions are from Brett's side of the family, but a lot of the Christmas stuff is from my side. For example, cutting down our own tree. As early as I can remember, we would go to Meert's Tree Farm the day after Thanksgiving. It always seemed like Dad took FOREVER finding the "perfect" tree. (Which I now appreciate more, since it was my job this year.) We'd cut it down, haul it back, wait for Dad to secure it to the top of the van (which also took forever). Then we'd get home and put the tree up, cut the netting off, and voila! A huge pine tree that filled the house with the most amazing smell ever.

We'd get all the decorations out. The way I remember it, we'd decorate the rest of the house while Dad put the lights on the tree, although I'm not sure if that's entirely accurate. I DO remember that the lights took an eternity, because he was incredibly picky about how they looked on the tree. Finally we got to put the ornaments on, and then the angel on top. I remember just loving that angel, and I always wanted to be the one to get the angel out. It's the reason why our tree topper is an angel, and why I hunted for weeks for the "right" angel the first Christmas we were married.

I remember the house being filled with Andy Williams and Mannheim Steamroller (I think). Andy Williams is still probably my favorite singer of Christmas music. I remember how much Dad loved Kathy Mattea and how he would play "Mary, Did You Know?" over and over. I listen to it every Christmas.

I remember the ton of holiday baking Mom always did. I always loved helping her in the kitchen, although I'm sure I was probably more a hindrance than a help. I remember how Dad loved those little mincemeat "pies", and how he and I were pretty much the only ones who ate them. Date-nut pinwheels. Pecan snowballs. Almond bark pretzels. Fudge. Grandma & Grandpa's toffee and peanut brittle. (Seriously, the best toffee ever. There's just no comparison.)

Every single year, Dad would always warn us, "It's going to be a small Christmas this year." There were a lot of us kids, and money was tight with such a big family. Looking back, maybe they were "small" Christmases. I'm not really sure. They never FELT small. There were always gifts piled around the tree. I was always so excited about the gifts I got. I remember one year in particular, Dad got me a train set. It hadn't been on my list, but he told me he'd thought I would like it. I thought it was one of the coolest gifts I'd ever gotten. He was so disappointed when we couldn't get the train to work. He even took it back for a different one, and THAT one wouldn't work, either. I don't remember what I was given in its place. There was probably something. But I look back on that so fondly, remember how excited he was to give me that train set.

So many memories! Christmas Eve dinner with our seafood bisque, cheese, crackers, sausage, and other yummy things. Opening one gift, and that awful year I got coal and thought I wasn't getting anything else. (Honestly, probably the only negative memory I have of Christmas.) Reading the Christmas story from Luke. Cinnamon rolls. Driving around looking at lights. Taking the tree out to the garden, where it was eventually burned after it dried out. Dad's last Christmas. More recent memories with my sisters and their kids. Christmas plays with the Leigh and Hawkins kids. Brett and I painstakingly painting wooden nutcrackers by hand for Christmas gifts. We did one for each set of parents and one for ourselves. Each one took us HOURS to complete.

I love Christmas. I love giving gifts, especially now. We don't have a lot of money to spend, so I've discovered the thrill of making gifts. I get so excited searching for just the right gifts to make, hoping that people will like them.

To me, this really IS the "most wonderful time of the year."  Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Clarification, because, whoa, are things getting out of hand.

All right. Time to take a step back.

I've been pulled into a religious debate that I really don't want to be a part of.

My decision to support marriage equality is a legal, political decision. It is not a religious decision. I am not demanding or expecting the LDS church to change its stance.

The US is not a theocracy. Its laws, and the laws of the states, are not determined and should not be determined by religion.

According to US law, according to the Constitution, all people are equal under the law, with no discrimination.

And to me, this includes discrimination based on sexual orientation.

So yes, I support all people being equal before the law. I support same-gender couples having equal rights before the law.

And yes, I separate that from my religious beliefs.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Follow-up: Figuring out a few things.

My post: Figuring out a few things (in which I came out of the pseudo-closet), got some really mixed comments. I'm not surprised--my viewpoint is certainly NOT the traditional or majority view in the LDS church. Most of the negative comments focused on The Family: A Proclamation to the World, a document written by the leaders of the church in 1995. I wanted to make a few points to clear up exactly why I've arrived at the decision I have.

1) People confuse the Family Proclamation as doctrine. It is not doctrine. It was not and has not been canonized. The Church does not have any doctrine on LGBT matters. Similarly, the church never had doctrine on how black people should be treated, either. What the church has is policy. And there is a big difference between doctrine and policy.

Doctrine rarely changes, nor should it, as we view it as the word of God. Policy, however, is the words of our human leaders, and it DOES change. Fairly frequently. Our leaders are human and fallible. We need to remember that, and allow them to be fallible and to grow and change, just as we do.

2) I'm not asking for doctrine to change. I'm not asking for the Family Proclamation to change. "Marriage between a man and a woman is essential to [God's] eternal plan." That's what it states. And I believe that wholeheartedly. It IS essential to God's plan. It's how we bring children into this world. And I'm not saying that should change. I respect the church's right to base its religious recognition of marriage as being between a man and a woman.

The issue of gay marriage, for me, is a public policy issue, not a religious one. The public policy issue is that right now same-gender couples are not allowed to have the same legal protections for their spouses as straight couples do. And I have a problem with that.

The church will always have the right to recognize marriage however they choose to, as well it should. The religious definition of marriage is one thing--the state's definition is another. And the 12th Article of Faith states that we believe in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law. 9 states and D.C. have legalized same-sex marriage. For the gay people who DO choose to marry, shouldn't we do the Christlike thing, and allow them to be protected under the law, even if we don't agree with their personal choice?

No one is going to force the LDS church to perform gay marriages, nor should they, and I'm not debating that.

To close, a quote from Mitch Mayne, an openly gay man and an active member of the church: "We'd do alot better as disciples of our Savior if we paid a little more attention to our own salvation, and a little less to everyone else's."


There's a lot of talk about the Family Proclamation, so I wanted to point something out. I mentioned above that the Proclamation says that marriage between a man and a woman is essential to God's plan. It is. Absolutely. But it does NOT say that marriage between a man and a woman is the only way. It says "The family is ordained of God." It is. Absolutely. It does NOT say, "The family is ordained of God, unless it consists of a same-gender couple."

Nowhere, not ONCE, in the entire document, does it say anything about homosexual/transgender people or couples.

It says that ALL human beings are created in the image of God. It doesn't say, "All human beings are created in the image of God, unless they're LGBT."

It says that gender is an essential characteristic of individual eternal identity and purpose. Not gender unless you identify with a different gender than you were born with. Not gender unless you're gay.

So, yes. I did study the Family Proclamation. Extensively. I prayed about it. And no where, not once, does it say anything about LGBT children of God. Regardless of whether you believe it's doctrinal or not, there is nothing about gay/transgender people.

NOTE: BEFORE commenting, please read this post. Thanks.

Diet Update, Week 4!

Woo hoo!

I know this was sort of small beans, but I can't help this awesome feeling of accomplishment. I have been fast food free for 30 days. I don't crave it anymore, at all. In fact, the thought of eating McDonald's is actually fairly nauseating now. I've discovered that the things I really enjoyed, I can make at home, and they're even better! (And probably less bad for you. Probably.)

For example, I had really wanted to try this new sandwich at Jack-in-the-Box. It's a cheesesteak melt. I LOVE cheesesteak sandwiches. But, rather than buying it there, Brett and I made our own version the other night, and they were AMAZING. Seriously. Thin cut steak, sauteed onions and bell peppers, pepper jack cheese, on toasted sourdough bread, with some spicy mayonnaise. Yum.

We also really love their eggnog shakes and look forward to them every holiday season. So, instead, we got some vanilla ice cream and some lowfat eggnog, and we're going to make our own. Hopefully tonight, after my final presentation in class.

I'm going to continue this part of my diet indefinitely. I'm not saying I won't EVER eat fast food again, but it'll be a rarity.

I'm especially proud that I stuck to my guns on the no-soda thing. That was really hard. I did have a celebratory Coke last night, and I have to say, it was mildly disappointing. I don't know if it was because it was over ice, and not cold straight from the can (yes, I'm very specific about the way I like my Coke. Either straight from the can, or from a soda fountain. Light ice.). But it just...wasn't fabulous. So, even though I don't intend to really follow the no-soda-thing too closely, I won't be drinking it often. That's kind of bittersweet.

I haven't really lost any weight, again, not that I expected to. Maybe a couple of pounds, but it's hard to tell. I do feel less sluggish and more energetic, though. Today at playgroup Amy and I chased a flock of geese halfway around the pond, and I was barely out of breath.

Now that this 30-day challenge is up, time for a new one! Just in time for Christmas, ha. It's time to add in an exercise program. And yes, I will be reporting in weekly, continuing to track my weight, etc. I really liked doing Jillian Michaels' 30-day Shred before, so that's what I'll be doing. She's mean and I occasionally yell at the TV screen, but it's so worth it.

Stay tuned for exercise updates!

Monday, December 3, 2012

Figuring out a few things.

This post has been in the works for a while, and I just can't quite get it the way I want it. That's unusual for me, since I normally wax poetic (and/or long-winded) pretty easily. So, I'm not sure how much sense this is all going to make, but I have got to get this off my chest. (And yes, it is long-winded.)

A few weeks ago, I was reading a post on Stephanie Nielson's blog. I love reading Nie's blog, but there was something in this particular post that bothered me. It's a minor thing, really, but it feeds into a lot of things I've been thinking about the past month or two.

"She has never questioned her religion...ever."

One phrase. One innocuous phrase. But it bugged me. And then it bugged me because I couldn't figure out why on earth I was SO BOTHERED by that one little sentence.

Then I bugged me because I HAVE. And it bugged me because, thanks to my own struggles, I felt like that little statement made her better than me. Like, she (and any other LDS person) must be so much better/more incredible/more faithful than me if they haven't questioned their religion.

I feel like our religion ENCOURAGES us to question. To study things out. To read the scriptures. To ponder. To pray. And to do this constantly, especially in a world that is constantly shifting. And yet we're taught to always "follow the prophet".

While I am a faithful member now, and have been for several years, I wasn't always. I DID question, although the path I chose was based more on my anger and stubbornness than on any real problem with the church itself.

A lot of bad things have happened to my family, and to me. I'm not throwing a pity party, I'm simply stating a fact. My abuse. My younger sister's abuse. Years of surgery. For me, years of bullying and torment at the hands of my peers. My dad passing away from pancreatic cancer. Really, horrible things. And at the moment when I started feeling like our lives were finally coming back together, Heather was in the accident. For no reason (that I could see at the moment), her life was changed dramatically and irrevocably.

And like the selfish, prideful person that I was, I got angry. I got angry. I'd been taught for years that God gives us trials because that's how we learn, blah blah blah. That He has a plan for us. That He LOVES us. And I was just enraged. I lost it. I ranted at Him. I had several (one-sided) screaming matches with Him, off in the woods by myself. How could He DO this to my family? AGAIN? How could He take all of that away from my sister? From my mom? And yes, from me, too. How could He claim to love us when He kept letting such horrific things happen to us? We were faithful members of the church! We did everything that was asked of us! And THIS was how He repaid us?

Finally, I'd had it. He wasn't responding to me, so I was done. And I told Him so. I told Him that, until and unless He changed His behavior toward me and my family, that I was finished with Him. That unless He actually started acting like He loved us, that I was just done. That I refused to worship a God that would treat the people I love so poorly. (I'm really not sure how I wasn't struck down. I was Mean? Yeah.)

And so while I had to continue going to church while I lived at home, I was just going through the motions. I went to church. I prayed when I had to, but I didn't mean it. I stopped reading the scriptures. I stopped praying by myself. I had a running inner monologue that just wouldn't stop being angry. Once I was at college, there wasn't anyone to keep me from doing anything I wanted. I stopped pretending, and told myself I was so much happier without all those stupid rules and restrictions on what I could wear, drink, etc. And for a while I had myself fooled.

Thanks to several members of my family, I eventually came back. I realized the only person I was fooling was myself. I wasn't happy. In fact, I was more miserable than I could ever remember being. I broke things off with my then-fiance and moved home, determined to get my life back on track. And I did! And I am so much happier now.

Even now, though, things happen that force me to take a closer look. That make me examine my relationship with the church, and my personal relationship with my Savior. With all the attention that gay marriage is getting right now, I've been doing a lot of thinking and praying. The church doesn't support gay marriage. I have a problem with that. And I have a problem with my having a problem with it. There's a lot of cognitive dissonance going on in my head lately.

I've come to realize that I have to stick with what feels right to me. I love the church. I love the gospel. (No, this is not an announcement that I'm leaving the church. Far from it.) I have such a strong testimony of it. And I also know that my Heavenly Father (who DOES love me) will help guide me. That I have to rely on Him when it comes to these hard-to-figure-out issues. That I'm not a bad Mormon for questioning my religion once in a while. And that, yes, it is okay for me to be Mormon and to support gay rights. All of them.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Family Photo Shoot!

We had the fabulous opportunity to have a family photo shoot a couple of weeks ago, courtesy of Lindsay and Scott Nesham of Landlock Photography. The pictures turned out GREAT! Lindsay was fabulous with our kids, and I feel like she did a great job of capturing their personalities, especially Amy's! We had a fun
time, and got some really great shots.