the best Christmas cookies and neighbor love

Watching the Tchaikovsky piano concerto no. 1 this morning on Youtube was so thrilling that I accidentally gave myself shin splints running to the music. But tomorrow is Christmas Eve, so lying around nursing sore legs was not an option. Instead, Lydia and I turned out several batches of Christmas cookies before we packaged them up and delivered them to our awesome neighbors.

I had never made zimsterne before, but they are my new favorite Christmas cookie.

Cinnamon stars. Oh my gosh, I can not believe I had never tried making these before. The cookie is a nut meringue with a meringue icing baked on. I could live on these, I think.

Zimsterne (cinnamon stars). Oh my gosh, I can not believe I had never tried making these before. The cookie is a nut meringue with a meringue icing baked on. I could live on these, I think.

They are perfect for making with kids. Every step is kid friendly, and Lydia was so proud of herself.

They are perfect for making with kids. Every step is kid friendly, and Lydia was so proud of herself.

After I took this photo, I taught her how to spread the icing all over the cookie.

After I took this photo, I taught her how to spread the icing all over the cookie.

This is out of order. Between the meringue-making and the cookie icing, Lydia pooped in her pants for the first time ever since we took away her diapers. She made it to the potty for most of it, but I wonder if the meringue set her off....

This is out of order. Between the meringue-making and the cookie icing, Lydia pooped in her pants for the first time ever since we took away her diapers. She made it to the potty for most of it, but I wonder if the meringue set her off….

I forgot to post this picture a couple days ago. I am so proud of this hair...even though it all fell out within a matter of hours. I need to find kid-sized bobby pins!

I forgot to post this picture a couple days ago. I am so proud of this hair…even though it all fell out within a matter of hours. I need to find kid-sized bobby pins!

Anyway, my favorite part of today was dropping off gifts to our neighbors. It felt like Halloween again; we got short visits in with so many wonderful people, and I just love my neighbors! For some crazy reason, we decided to drive the gifts around and our car got stuck in a snowbank across the street from our house. I felt SO dumb, but luckily, the three boys who live across the street pushed the car out. The whole incident made me feel even more grateful for good neighbors who have compassion and help their apparently idiotic neighbors across the street.

Abe worked late tonight, so this day that started at 6:45am did not slow down until 9pm when I finally got the girls in bed. After that, I lay in bed watching Rachmaninoff, Horowitz, Olga Kern, and Yuji Wang (respectively) play the Rachmaninoff 3rd piano concerto. At that point, Abe kicked me out of bed so he could go to bed and I could blog.

Ah, sleep.

A perfect ending

I started off the day with an 8am session of Bikram Yoga. It felt awesome, and I hit 180 minutes of exercise this week! When I saw my doctor last week, he said to shoot for 150 minutes, so it felt really great to meet that goal.

I also finished the Book of Mormon yesterday, so I started again on the title page today. I have been thinking a lot about truth, courage, and missionary work lately. Missionary work confuses me, but thinking about it in terms of absolute truths helps me understand it a little better. Finishing and restarting a reading of the Book of Mormon always gets the juices flowing around truth, so my scripture study felt meaningful.

I even got some practice in, although my piano is by a huge window and can NEVER stay in tune. Right now it’s so out of tune I almost shudder to hear some registers (especially the upper), but I pressed on (!) through the awful sounds.

We also played in the snow today. Abe is sure that by the end of winter we will have a full blown snow fort, so he and the girls worked hard on it today:

Working hard on the snow fort.

Working hard on the snow fort.

Mary was at the ready.

Mary was at the ready.

And happy about it.

And happy about it.

:Lydia busied herself decorating the ground with snow angels.

:Lydia busied herself decorating the ground with snow angels.

The snow fort.

The snow fort.

We also went to This is the Place Heritage Park for their Candlelight Christmas with Balu, Tom, Suzanne, Steve, Charlie and Henry. We walked all over, sampling gingerbread, square dancing, learning about the first Christmas cards, signing Santa’s lists, meeting Santa, eating the best doughnuts I have ever had, and feeling moved by the live Nativity. Lydia spent the whole day anticipating the Baby Jesus and kept talking about how she would be quiet and not wake him, how she’d give him a binky, and how she’d take off her gloves when she saw him (I have no idea about that last part, but she was adamant…). Anyway, I love that place. To make it even better, at the end, Abe bought me a new wedding ring!!! I can only wear a plain band in my lab classes, and we found a plain silver band for $14.50!!!!!! It fit perfectly, and since I’ll probably wear it for the next decade, I could not be more pleased.

Mary Berry in her poof outfit. She toddled all around the park in this and kind of stole the show.

Mary Berry in her poof outfit. She toddled all around the park in this and kind of stole the show.

When I came home, I baked more cookies.

I baked a forest of bittersweet chocolate Christmas trees. Now if I can just get around to packaging them and giving them away before I eat them all...

I baked a forest of bittersweet chocolate Christmas trees. Now if I can just get around to packaging them and giving them away before I eat them all…

Oh! I made another pint of lemon curd today. I think I’m going to make this for Christmas brunch. It just so happens I have a lot of mascarpone and now a ton of lemon curd in the fridge already. Now I just have to make a million crepes and it’ll be all downhill from there.

And now, my mom is here!!! So I’m going to stop blogging and go talk to her.

Loving: today.

This morning we got off to a rocky, tantrum-y start; I even had the thought, “Oh, no! It’s only 8:30am and I’ve already had it up to HERE with being a mom!” …but things got better as soon as I took the girls to the Gateway Children’s Museum. They had so much fun playing in the water, “shopping,” climbing up stuff, and decorating paper stockings. We were the only ones who signed up for the stocking class, so they had the whole quiet craft room to themselves. It was such a nice note to end on, and the girls were both perfectly behaved–Mary didn’t even poop until we got back home. So considerate of her.

Lydia and I spent Mary’s nap reading a bunch of Christmas stories and playing the Primary book’s Christmas songs together, and at dinner I almost lost my voice cheering for every single bite Lydia took of her squash. (She took approximately 30…I lost count around 23 because around then I started cheering and playing high-five and tickle/hug games with Lydia in between each bite.) I cuddled Mary a lot, and basically enjoyed my children for the rest of the day. I ended up LOVING being a mom today.

After the kids went down, I learned a really simple, sweet piece called “Shepherd Boy,” by Grieg. The meditative, soft progression of the notes helped me reflect on the Good Shepherd and on the shepherds that visited Jesus. Considering one of my recording deadlines is fast approaching (the end of December–YIKES!), this was ultimately a foolish way to spend the limited time I have at the piano. But it also made my evening feel perfect, so I guess I don’t regret it that much.

I then discovered that Talenti ice cream containers are the perfect way to store the lemon curd I made today. I polished off the rest of the ice cream just in case I need another container tomorrow…

lemon curd.

My friend, Cierra, gave me this recipe. It didn’t turn out like hers because I had to attend to several emergencies while I was supposed to be stirring, but it was still delicious. Here’s where she got her recipe.

The only thing that would make the evening even better is if Abe had not JUST started his trip home from Rock Springs. I hate him traveling those middle-of-nowhere roads in the middle of the night, but guess what? This is his last trip with Guardsmark! Hip, hip, hooray!

And so for today’s pictures:

Why did I cuddle Mary so much today? Well, she missed her morning nap because of our outing, and she was a little sad for the rest of the day. Also, she kept getting stuck on this chair.

Why did I cuddle Mary so much today? Well, she missed her morning nap because of our outing, and she was a little sad for the rest of the day. Also, she kept getting stuck on this chair.

I forgot to post this picture from yesterday. Isn't it cute?

I forgot to post this picture from yesterday. Isn’t it cute?

The Big Confession. I.e., I am a [well intentioned!!!!!] hypocrite.

Okay, I haven’t been able to sleep well since I wrote my little blurb on modesty, so I’ve decided to air the reasons why the post was so hypocritical. Please don’t get me wrong; I believe absolutely everything I wrote, but in terms of “walking the walk,” um, I certainly don’t (or at least didn’t use to) walk it. I intend to do better in the present and the future, but, as many of my previous roommates can attest, I certainly didn’t adhere to those guidelines in the past.

Okay, it hurts to even type this, but after my mission I spent approximately $10,000 on laser hair removal. (The first rounds didn’t work, so I had to start from the beginning in grad school.) Take that, poor people of the world! Also, I’m sure I have spent no less than hundreds of hours trying to tame my hair (and hogging plenty of mirrors…sorry, ex-roommies!). And, as long as I am confessing, during stressful periods of my life, I also have engaged in major spurts of “retail therapy.” A saint in the spending department I am not.

But my studies recently have led me to my present views on modesty, and since life is all about learning and moving forward in continually enlightened states, I am hoping to do better in the future. I hope my daughters will do better than I did in the modesty department, but I guess even if they succumb to the beauty culture that saturates our society, that’s not the end of the world, right? Hopefully they can keep learning and moving on, too, and I hope I can give them and everyone else lots of room to do that. (Also, if any one of them wants laser hair removal, I WILL fund that for them. I’ll try to offset that offensive spending by serving missions from age 50-death.)

Okay. Lots more skeletons in my closet, but at least those are the ones that kept me up at night recently. Maybe I can finally sleep well tonight?

Also, in terms of today, it has an icky feeling about it. Abe got some really bad news in his private off-the-blog life, and I just feel so sick for him. He’s so resilient and optimistic, but it pains me to see such a good person endure a trial.

Before I heard his bad news, I let Lydia have “do-whatever-you-want” time, which is different than quiet time because she’s allowed to leave her room. It was an experiment, and it worked! Lately, she’s had an allergic reaction to the start of “quiet time,” and even though once it started she appeared to have fun, I just felt bad about how much she didn’t like starting quiet time. Anyway, the only rule in “do-whatever-you-want” time is that she can’t interrupt my piano practice, and she did great! She even wandered into the living room and played near me at times, but she never interrupted. Considering I got in three hours of practice and made dinner, this was a toddler feat.

Also, all I did during practice was try to memorize the really simple, one page Traumerai. I can not even begin to describe how difficult that simple task was for my burnt out brain. After all that work, I doubt if I try to play it from memory tomorrow I will succeed. Well, who even knows if I’ll get a chance since we have a four-hour wedding and then Diwali in the evening.

That’s my cue to post pictures…:

Cookie break at Whole Foods this morning.

Cookie break at Whole Foods this morning.

Post-lunch, pre-nap play.

Post-lunch, pre-nap play.

Better go get the phone!

Better go get the phone!

Mommy, it's for you!

Mommy, it’s for you!

Lydia waiting for me to stop taking pictures and start reading to her already.

Lydia waiting for me to stop taking pictures and start reading to her already.

Errands and some funny pictures of Mary’s hair

I have not felt up to taking the girls to the grocery store, and finally last night we ran out of food. Abe and I realized that when the girls would wake up in the morning, we would literally have nothing (except for canned beans, dried pasta and condiments) to feed them. So we decided to take them to Smith’s for breakfast.

And so we did. When the girls woke up, we read a couple books to them, bundled them up and brought them to Smith’s, where Abe fed them while I shopped. In light of the situation in the Philippines, my grocery budget has been chopped in half. On normal weeks I have to operate on a cash basis to make sure I don’t go over budget (which is sad, because I loooooove credit card rewards, but I just can’t handle using one responsibly), and by the end of the week I am barely scraping by. So the past two weeks on a half-budget have been awesome exercises in self-control and discipline. I was SO proud of myself because by the end of our errands, I was sure I had more than enough food to get us through the week–and I stayed within my budget!!! A truly out-of-character accomplishment for me, let me assure you.

During our errands, we made a stop at the library where we literally busted our library book bag in an attempt to return all of the books we had checked out. It exploded right in front of the elevator. We then asked the guy at circulation if we could get a free replacement. After all, it is a bag we bought from the library for the express purpose of carrying books, and it failed to perform its function. However, he informed us that we would have to buy a replacement. Since I was at the end of my budget, buying a $2.00 library bag was an unfathomable expense, so we had to make do carrying our new stacks of freshly checked out books in (free!) plastic grocery bags.

I am SO excited about my new books! In light of the recent increased activity in my life, I have had trouble finishing my books in a timely fashion. In fact, I checked out The Paris Wife on audio in the hopes that I can finish it on my commute to and from school. I also checked out an audio book on the first woman in the government in Afghanistan, and three books: Black Folktales by Julius Lester, Flashman and the Tiger by George MacDonald Fraser, and Harvard Square by Andre Aciman. I don’t know if I’ll end up finishing Harvard Square because lately I can’t seem to handle the dark places of other people’s memories, but I did find the plot intriguing: A Jewish exile from Egypt befriends an anti-American named Kalaj who hates America because (so he claims) of this: ““Their continental breakfasts are jumbo-ersatz, their extra-long cigarettes are jumbo-ersatz, their huge steak dinners with whopping all-you-can-eat salads are jumbo-ersatz, their refilled mugs of all-you-can-drink coffee, their faux-mint mouthwash with triple pack toothpaste and extra toothbrushes thrown in for value, their cars, their malls, their universities, even their monster television sets and spectacular big-screen epics, all, all of it, jumbo ersatz.”

In light of my rant yesterday about conspicuous consumerism and materialism gone wild, that quote caught my attention.  As a result, this novel is now sitting next to me bed waiting to be started before I go to bed tonight. We’ll see how it goes.

I also have to do my readings for my menu writing class, and I’ll try to get my homework done too. So I better hurry up and post pictures before it gets too late.

Before our breakfast outing. Mary loves the book Mary Wore Her Red Dress. It's a library book, and when she was crying last week, I grabbed it and started singing it to her. Ever since then, she walks up to me waving it in her hands and pulling on my shirt until I read it to her. For the record, her other favorite book is Duck and Goose. We've probably read it a hundred times, but whenever I ask her to choose a book to read, she goes and grabs that one and then giggles at every page.

Before our breakfast outing. Mary loves the book Mary Wore Her Red Dress. It’s a library book, and when she was crying last week, I grabbed it and started singing it to her. Ever since then, she walks up to me waving it in her hands and pulling on my shirt until I read it to her. For the record, her other favorite book is Duck and Goose. We’ve probably read it a hundred times, but whenever I ask her to choose a book to read, she goes and grabs that one and then giggles at every page. Also, Abe and I were too tired to change out of our clothes last night, and we were too tired this morning to put on new ones. So this I’ve been wearing those (super comfy) leggings for over twenty-four hours by now.

We did a lot of reading today. This is after Mary's three hour nap and Lydia's three hour quiet time session. When we finally released her from quiet time (at 4pm), she was giving her stuffed animals a puppet show and making Minnie Mouse act out the role of "doctor."

We did a lot of reading today. This is after Mary’s three hour nap and Lydia’s three hour quiet time session. When we finally released her from quiet time (at 4pm), she was giving her stuffed animals a puppet show and making Minnie Mouse act out the role of “doctor.”

Mary looked like a mini-teenager in her jeans and yellow shirt today. It made me feel nostalgic. Also, we can put her hair in a ponytail now!

Mary looked like a mini-teenager in her jeans and yellow shirt today. It made me feel nostalgic. Also, we can put her hair in a ponytail now!

And this is what happens when we take the ponytail out.

And this is what happens when we take the ponytail out.

Mary didn't think it was funny, but Abe and I did.

Mary didn’t think it was funny, but Abe and I did.

categories

So I just now got around to adding categories to my blog. I’m hoping I can cut down on the boring cataloging of daily activities and instead just check boxes. It feels so exciting! I basically created a to-do list with stuff I normally do, and when I check off those boxes, I’ll feel like I accomplished stuff during the day. When I first started this exercise five minutes ago, I was sure I had done nothing today. But holy cow, nothing feels better than making a to-do list of stuff you’ve already done; I feel like a rock star, even though I spent most of the day in bed!!

But I guess this day did have some activity in it. Anique, one of the ladies I visit teach, had a hair appointment this morning and needed a last-minute babysitter, so I watched her daughter for a couple hours. During that time, I had a wonderful spiritual experience. First of all, I was nervous about babysitting since her daughter is about the same age as Mary, and I could not quite visualize how things would play out when I had two crying babies on my hands. (How do mothers of multiples do it?!) However, I prayed hard that God would help me figure out how to get Fleur to sleep (she was yawning and obviously exhausted, and the only way she goes to sleep normally is through nursing–can’t do that–or a ride in the stroller–another non-option), and then I put her in her car seat and rocked her. Within two minutes, the sweet thing was asleep, and I felt like God had directly answered my prayer–especially since minutes later, Mary woke up from her nap. Whew! It felt like a miracle, because until that point, Fleur made it abundantly clear that she preferred her mommy, and all attempts at entertainment were a no-go.

When Anique returned from her hair appointment, we visited until Fleur woke up. She wanted to see the house, so I gave her a quick tour. When we got to my closet, she observed that I have an extremely limited wardrobe. (This fact only bothers me when I get down to a two-shirt rotation, which, since my wardrobe is that limited, happens more often than you’d think.) BUT THEN! Then sweet Anique went on to offer me a bunch of her clothes! Her brother-in-law owns a boutique full of bohemian style clothing, which just happens to be right up my alley. Weather permitting, I would wear hippie skirts every day if I only had enough in the rotation. Comfy, colorful, and the same elastic waistband I get in pj’s, yoga pants, and–it just so happens–my chef pants. Is life a bowl of cherries or what?

Another great thing that happened today: Our piano got tuned! I love our piano tuner. He is a very sweet older gentleman who served a mission in the Philippines and loves Filipinos. Ever since he found out I am half Filipino, He ascribes any display of good behavior on my part to the fact that I am half Filipino. It is very funny and endearing.

After a morning full of such excitement, Abe came home early since he had to leave town tonight. When he came home, I went straight to bed because I could feel myself getting sicker every hour. Right now I have a pretty sore throat, and I’m sure if I don’t wrap up soon and go to bed, it will get worse. I put the kids down half an hour early with the hopes that more sleep for them would translate into more sleep for me.

I don't know if it's inappropriate to post pictures of my toddler on the potty, but I think she is SO cute when she goes. She sits there swinging her legs and singing to herself.

I don’t know if it’s inappropriate to post pictures of my toddler on the potty, but I think she is SO cute when she goes. She sits there swinging her legs and singing to herself.

These two pics were from a couple days ago and I just forgot to post them then. I can't believe I forgot to post them since I LOVE the fact that Lydia wears elf slippers around the house.

These two pics were from a couple days ago and I just forgot to post them then. I can’t believe I forgot to post them since I love the fact that Lydia wears elf slippers around the house.

 

I accidentally switched the camera button to "manual" instead of "auto," and for most of the day I thought my camera was broken. I really need to read the manual. Anyway, Abe took this picture when he was trying to figure out what was wrong with my camera.

I accidentally switched the camera button to “manual” instead of “auto,” and for most of the day I thought my camera was broken. I really need to read the manual. Anyway, Abe took this picture when he was trying to figure out what was wrong with my camera.

Mary and I were bonding.

Mary and I were bonding.

And then Mary crawled up and down the stairs for half an hour while Abe and I made sure she didn't fall.

And then Mary crawled up and down the stairs for half an hour while Abe and I made sure she didn’t fall.

She learned this "trick" from Lydia.

She learned this “trick” from Lydia.

She crawled until she exhausted herself. For twenty minutes it was all smiles and giggles, and then suddenly she was a sobbing mess devoid of any extra energy.

She crawled until she exhausted herself. For twenty minutes it was all smiles and giggles, and then suddenly she was a sobbing mess devoid of any extra energy.