Sunday, December 22, 2013

Christmas in a New Perspective

"I don't care if you're up," my dad's voice resonates from the hall, "but you have to stay in your room until your mother is ready."

"Okay," my older brother answers. "But can I run to the bathroom?"

I don't see it from behind my closed door, but I know what follows is a simple head nod from my dad followed by my brother slipping from his room, across the small landing, past my bedroom door, and into the bathroom. Though he tries to be subtle, we all know he tried to sneak a peak down the stairs.

"Hey," he bursts into my room a few minutes later. "Are you up?" Though his red hair is chaotic, I have to admit he looks particularly cool in his new Christmas jammies. We each got a pair before retiring to bed. Mine is a satin nightgown. Mom made them. It's our Christmas Eve tradition.

I've been up for what seems like hours. The anticipation is killing me. I point to our toddler sister who is still asleep beside me. "Shhh," I whisper, then, "Did you see anything?"

He nods as his grin grows. "There's something big down there. I'm pretty sure it's for you."

My heart does a dance. I've been hoping and dreaming about a new bike. My old one is okay, I've ridden it for years, but I'm much older now - seven, infact - and I'm ready for something more mature.

"What was it?" I pry, only half hoping he'll tell me. I really do like surprises.

"Not telling," he insists.

Visions of a bike circle my head. Is it red? Or blue? Or green?... Oh, dear. I hope it's not pink. Does Santa know I don't like pink?
We are full of giggles and excitement. Soon my younger brother joins us, and before long my little sister wakes up too. We probably disturbed her, but we really don't care. All we care about is the magic waiting for us beside the Christmas Tree. The ensuing hour seems like an eternity as we wait for mom to finally wake up and be ready.

This is the theme of my childhood Christmases: Anticipation. Excitement. Joy. Family.

There was the year Santa decided to play with my brother's remote control helicopter in the living room. Remember those glittery 1970's cottage cheese ceilings? Yeah, well Santa had some explaining to do when we found a good chunk of it on the living room floor. And then there was the year I was the guilty party in the ceiling destruction. Apparently when swinging a stick at the pinata, one should not aim upwards... especially when they are tall enough that the baton can make contact with the ceiling. 

One year we hauled loads of beautifully wrapped gifts into a small hospital room so we could celebrate Christmas morning with my ill Grandma. There was the year my siblings and I got new pillows then quickly destroyed our old ones by cutting them open and throwing the stuffing around the room. (Pretty sure my mom did NOT have a smile about that one!) 

Then I hit middle school and joined the orchestra where, after working very hard, I earned the coveted position of first chair in the first violin section for the Christmas concert. I was beaming with pride and to add to my excitement there was a boy in the percussion band that I may have had a little crush on. I wore my best new dress - a peach colored ruffly number - and confidently took the stage. Luckily the stage curtains were drawn because as soon as I took my seat, the chair slid backwards off the stage, turning me upside down and, you guessed it, flashing the entire orchestra and the percussion band.

... Laughing about it now is so much easier than it was then.  

The memories are virtually endless. Laughter, tears, and deviled eggs. But in all honesty, I don't think I recognized the value of our Christmas traditions then. I don't think I appreciated the time spent with family or what all those Christmas parties were really about. I don't think I cared if my mom had time to set up her camera and I'm pretty sure on at least one occasion I was a stinker about taking an annual family photo by the tree. 

And then something happened. You know what I'm talking about. It's that evil reality we all have to come to terms with eventually: We grow up! And Christmas changes.

As I welcomed my own children into the world, I tried to hold true to all of the traditions our family so tenderly cultivated. (You can read about some of them HERE.) There were years that it was overwhelming trying to squeeze it all in. Years of tight budgets, years of overburdened schedules, years where the excitement didn't come, and years where all I wanted to do was simplify.

A few days ago I stole my mom's box of pictures then spent the morning traveling down memory lane. Photos of my toddler cuteness mixed in with those awkward teenaged years. My kids and I shared some giggles (mostly at the expense of my siblings! - Love you guys!) And, a midst the giggles and even some sentimental tears, I noticed something.

I always thought I had great Christmases, abundant with gifts galore. My mother's photos showed a different story. A story of Christmases of plenty, for sure, but also a story of lean years. There were always gifts, don't get me wrong, but there were some years where those gifts were simple and few. And, yet, I don't remember ever feeling disappointed. I don't remember ever wanting more. My Christmases were always full of the things that mattered most. 

In that box of my mom's photos I finally realized that Christmas really isn't about the "what's" but the "who's."

That is exactly why we hold fast to our traditions. They aren't about the parties or the candy or the gifts. They aren't about the sparkling lights or the best dressed tree. They aren't about the food or the music or the pinata. They are simply about being with the people you love. They are about building a foundation of love, togetherness, and even friendship. And I couldn't be more grateful for all the "who's" who have been the building blocks of my life! I love all of you!

It's been a lot of years since my siblings and I gathered in the early morning hours to giggle and anticipate the gifts that awaited us (though now I do it with my own kids). It's been a long time since Santa surprised me with a red and white Huffy. My mom does't sew us Christmas jammies anymore (though I do buy a pair for my kids each year) and it's been way too long since I've seen some of my cousins. And, after sifting through my mom's photos, I realized that I've failed to make a photographic record of my own growing family by our tree each year. (Wow! I hope that doesn't come back to bite me one day!) But what I really hope is that aside those bikes and bbguns and iPads, my children will have felt joy of peace and love and acceptance each Christmas season. For Christmas isn't about whats under the tree, but what is in our hearts.

*If you'd like to check out more great stories of Christmas memories, check out and their Unwrap Your Memories Campaign. 

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Chocolate Crack (aka: Chocolate Toffee Brittle)

This easy to make chocolate toffee brittle is a favorite treat at our house. We call it "chocolate crack" because its addicting! I dare you to eat just one!

What you will need:

  • 1 sleeve of saltine crackers
  • 1 cup unsalted butter (not margarine)
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 12 oz. semi-sweet chocolate chips (milk chocolate chips work too)
  • 1 cup crushed pecans

Ten easy steps: 

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

2. Line cookie sheet with foil. Spray foil with nonstick spray. 

3. Line foiled cookie sheet with a single layer of crackers. (A standard sized cookie sheet should hold 35 crackers.) 

4. Melt butter and brown sugar in saucepan on stove. Cook on med-high heat for 3 minutes. 

5. Pour butter/brown sugar mix evenly over crackers. 

6. Bake for 13-15 minutes (I'd err on the side of 13 minutes because 15 is a bit much in my oven. Be careful not to burn it.) 

7. Remove from oven and immediately sprinkle chocolate chips on top. Allow the chips to melt for a minute or so, then spread evenly across crackers. 

8. Sprinkle with crushed pecans. 

9. Refrigerate 1 hour.

10. Remove from fridge and break into pieces.  

(*I lied. There are eleven steps.) #11. ENJOY! 

Monday, December 16, 2013

Book Blitz: "In All Places" by Misty Moncur

Displaying in all places misty moncur.jpg

Today I am super excited to be a part of the Book Blitz for Misty Moncur's third installment in the Stripling Warrior (aka: Daughter of Helaman) series. If you missed her first two books, you may want to check out my reviews on them. Daughter of Helaman and  Fight For You.

 Daughter of Helaman         Fight For You         

Because it's the holiday season, and we're all thinking about budgets & free loot, I'm going to start a little backwards. Yep, that's right. We're going to cut right to it and talk about THE GIVEAWAY first. 


Misty is offering 1 ebook copy of IN ALL PLACES. Click on the Rafflecopter link below to enter.

And now, about the Book: 

In All Places by Misty Moncur 
Available on Amazon - December 10th, 2013

After defeating their enemy at Manti, the Ammonite warriors are free to return home. But for Keturah, returning home means putting her weapons down and leaving the warriors she has come love. She misses Reb’s stupid jokes and even the hard, awful work of being a soldier.

But fighting Lamanites on the battlefield was easy compared to returning to the life of a village girl. She wants to honor her family’s wishes and marry Zeke, but honor will come at a steep price.

Zeke might have won Ket’s loyalty with his blood on the battlefield, but he knows he hasn’t won her heart. He’s tired of trying to make her love him, and for Zeke, loyalty just isn’t enough.

Gideon knows Keturah is practically betrothed to someone else. He thought he was prepared to take her home to Melek and leave her there, but that was before he let himself kiss her in front of the entire village.

Whether Keturah is at home or on the battlefield, there are still battles left to fight—the battles in her heart.

Fall in love with Misty Moncur’s stripling warriors, who come alive against her vivid Ancient American backdrop. An intriguing blend of adventure and romance, In All Places is the unforgettable conclusion to her Daughter of Helaman trilogy.

About the Author:

Between working and raising a family, Misty fits in writing like other people fit in breathing. Misty writes in the Romance, Young Adult, and Religious genres. She lives in Utah with her husband, her Wii-addicted son, and her curly-haired daughter. They spend a great deal of time laughing and the rest of it eating pizza.

In her spare(ish) time, she reviews books at Six Mixed Reviews

You can find out more about Misty and her work by visiting her Website, following her on Facebook and Twitter, and on Wattpad.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Christmas Traditions [somewhat] Unique to our Family

Welcome to this week's Friday Five. If you are new here, Friday Five is nothing more than a short (hahaha) list of five random(ish) things. They might be favorites, thankfuls, pet peeves, or frankly whatever else strikes me on any given Friday. 

Today is my grandma's birthday. It's been eleven years since she returned home to our Heavenly Father and I still think of her almost daily... especially at Christmas time. So, this weeks edition of Friday Five is dedicated to my Grandma. And, fittingly so, 3 out of the 5 things on this list are traditions that my family celebrates because of her. 

Our fun (and perhaps unique) Christmas Traditions:

1. Hallmark Ornaments - When I was a small child my grandparents started this fun tradition. Each Christmas they would give us an ornament to add to the tree. And we're not just talking any old ornament, but one hand picked from Hallmark's annual collection. They did this for all of their grandchildren. And when my children, their great-grandchildren, were born, they included them too. I'll bet grandma bought close to 40 Hallmark ornaments that last Christmas she was with us.  - Since her passing, my parents have picked up the tradition with their kids and grandkids. Each ornament has a story and a memory. And, after all these years we have quite the collection!

2. New Years stockings - On New Year's Eve, after the celebrating has commenced, we empty any remaining Christmas candy from our stockings and re-hang them on the mantel so Santa's wife, known as Mrs. Claus or Dina, can come refill them with more "sensible" treats like fruit and nuts. She also leaves some of the more "needed" items that Santa tends to look over in favor of toys and fun stuff. For example, she might leave socks, or books, or, umm... headphones that Santa forgot to leave with the iPods. ;-)

I've been told this is a tradition brought by my ancestors from Germany. I can't really verify its origin however (at least through a quick google search). I have found variations of it throughout the world (ie: Lady Long Fingers, Santa Croupee, and Le Petit Bonhomme Javier), but none exactly the same as ours.

3. Pinata - My earliest memories include gathering around a candy-filled pinata in my grandparents basement at our family Christmas party. I remember my aunts tying a dish towel over my eyes and spinning me around. As I got older, that pinata sure got a lot wigglier. More than once I sent chunks of ceiling falling to the floor. I'm pretty sure I'm the reason they finally slapped an age limit on all the candy-whacking fun! All of my children have had the opportunity to participate in this fun tradition. This year will be the last year my youngest will get to swing that bat. :(

4. Gag gifts!- My husband's grandma was a hoot! And, though she is gone, her legacy lives on in this fantastic, much anticipated tradition. Every year on Christmas Eve, we gather as a family to laugh, and tease, and share stories of each other's adventures - uh, er, mishaps? My mother and father in law present each of us adult children with gifts beautifully wrapped in newspaper and masking tape. (If you're really lucky, you end up with the comic page! Whoo, hoo!) Then, each of us children present our own children with their gifts. The catch? This is not for the faint of heart. You've got to have a good sense of humor, a vivid imagination, and a birth certificate that vouches that you are at least 12 years old. Why? Because this is not child's play! Each gift is carefully considered and comes with its own unique story. For example, the first year my son got his driver's license, he ripped the mirror off the side of my car. For part of his gag gift that year he received the broken mirror. (It has now been re-wired and functions as a lamp in his room.) My niece and my daughter received matching pairs of granny-panties one year. Why? Because we were tired of seeing their cracks when they bent over. I think my all-time favorite was when another one of my nieces got a hand knit "nut cozy" and a set of nuts... (yeah, that was the year it was so cold her "nuts froze off!" Lol!) Other gifts we've given/received: Rogaine hair-growth treatment for men, a lug-able-loo (aka, a port-a-pottie), anti-snoring strips, a stud-finder, etc.

5. Taffy-pull  - This is the big tradition I wish we'd had when I was a kid but am every so happy to have married into it. Each Christmas season my mother and father-in-law host a family candy making day. While the young kids frost sugar cookies, the older kids and women make a mess of the kitchen making all kinds of candy. From year to year our candy selections vary with one exception: old fashioned taffy. This is the men's & older children's game! If you've never pulled taffy you should give it a try at least once... and by once, I mean, you probably should watch someone do it at least once. That sugary concoction boils up to about hand-melting temperature and then what do they do? They butter up their hands and pass it back and forth to stretch it. Sounds pretty uneventful, right? Wrong. You've never experienced funny till you've watched grown, adult, tough-men slather their hands with butter, ooh and ah and grunt and grimace, then grunt in satisfaction as they pass the glob on to the next victim so they can give their hands a break, lather up with another round of butter, and do it all over again. Family Tradition Fabulousness at its BEST!

What are your traditions? I hope you have at least a few. And if you don't? Well, its never to late to start some.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Gift I Can Not Give

I sat down today in an attempt to finalize my Christmas shopping list. Strangely enough, I've never waited this long into the season to pull everything together. Even more strange is the fact that I'm not having a nervous breakdown about my lack of preparation... yet!

I logged on to my laptop and started to build a spreadsheet. (Oh how I love feeling organized!) I started by making a column for each member of our family then created a list of the things I'd already purchased. A quick glance told me I needed some ideas, so I pulled out the handwritten wish-lists from my children and gave them the once-over.

Boo's list was pretty cut and dry. The first six things listed were custom remote control cars. I guess an eleven year old's gotta dream, right? Numbers seven through ten, however, seemed doable.

At first glance, Lu's list made me chuckle. It was a short list, consisting of only six items. Rocky? I thought out loud as I read number six. Why would she want something she already has? Silly girl.

I played with the idea for a minute, thinking I should totally just slap a bow on our cute little Rocky and call it good. Easy. Funny. We'd all have a good laugh.

Then, I had an epiphany. In hindsight I realize I should have had it sooner. My girl wasn't trying to be facetious or even funny. She wasn't trying to make me laugh. She was, in fact, asking for the truest desire of her heart.

You see, Rocky is one of our dogs. He is old, he is nearly blind, and he is Lu's best friend. They are about the same age and I'd guess that they don't remember life without each other. Last year, right before Christmas in fact, we got word that our sweet Rocky was in the advanced stages of heart failure. He wasn't expected to make it long. The fact that he's still with us is a miracle. And to Lu, its more than that, it's a literal answer to her prayers.

So, when I read her Christmas wish-list, my heart breaks. No amount of money can buy her what she wants. There is nothing I can do, nothing I can say, no strings I can pull, or mountains I can climb to fulfill her Christmas wish.  
All I can do is keep praying that this cute little guy keeps hanging on. I know he can't live forever, and that the eventuality of his exit is imminent, but if we can just get through Christmas...

Friday, December 6, 2013

Favorite [Nontraditional] Christmas Songs

Welcome to this week's Friday Five. If you are new here, Friday Five is nothing more than a short (hahaha) list of five random(ish) things. They might be favorites, thankfuls, pet peeves, or frankly whatever else strikes me on any given Friday. 

In honor of my FAVORITE holiday, for the month of December all my Friday Five posts will have a little something to do with Christmas. Today I think I will tackle the ever popular topic of... (dun, da, da, dun!)... Favorite Nontraditional Christmas Songs! 

In no particular order  - and with no particular logic, here are a few of the songs that put a festive swing in my step and a smile on my face. (You can listen to them by clicking on the song title.) 

1. Christmas Cookies  by George Strait. -  Mmm. Cookies! And smiles. A little twangy, I know, but I just can't listen to this without grinning: 
"Those sprinkly things just make things worse 
cause it makes 'em taste better than they did at first 
and it just makes 'em impossible to resist." 
.... and my fav line: 
"Now there's a benefit to all of this, 
that you might have overlooked or missed, 
so now let me tell you the best part of it all. 
Everytime she sticks another batch in the oven, 
there's fifteen minutes for some kissin' and some huggin'!" 

2. Mary Did You Know by Donny Osmond.  - I know a lot of artist have recorded this song. This is my favorite version, however, I kind of like this one by Cee Lo Green too. 

3. Thank God for Kids by the Oakridge Boys. - Pure nostalgia. I grew up with this song. I particularly remember hearing it on the car radio as my dad would drive us to check out the lights on "Christmas Street" each year. Every time I hear it, it takes me back to the fabulousness of my childhood Christmases.    

4. Stille Nacht (Silent Night) by the Dresdner Kreuzkor -My mother's family has passed many old German traditions down for generations. Being proud of my heritage, I purchased a CD by the Dresdner Kreuzkor many, many moons ago. Though my children don't understand most of the lyrics (yeah, I failed to teach my children a lick of the German language. Still kicking myself, but that's off subject...), we play this CD several times throughout the Christmas season. When my daughter was about 8, while decorating the Christmas tree, she threw the tree-skirt over her shoulders like a shawl, clasped her hands opera-style in front of her, and pretended to serenade us from atop the coffee table. Can't listen to this CD without reliving that priceless moment!

5. All I Want for Christmas is You  by Michael Buble - What can I say? I'm a romantic. Who doesn't love this song? And by Buble? Come on!

Happy Birthday, Elder

It's his first birthday away from home. I can't but help feel a little out of sorts. Not so much sad, just somber.

As the days wear closer, his special day seems to scream from the calendar. Should we be making plans? Is it weird to celebrate without him? Or, should it just be business as usual around here?

There doesn't seem to be a correct answer.

We've sent cards. One from his siblings and another from us as parents. I know he's got a few others on the way too. We also scheduled a special grocery delivery for the morning of his birthday - all the makings for his favorite dinner. And a cheesecake, because that's his absolute favorite! (Hope its good. I ordered the NY Style, but half-way around the globe, NY cheesecake may not be the same as it is here in the US.) Also some extras, like chocolate milk, popcorn, chips and salsa, and, oh yah, candles!

He will not feel forgotten.

But, my heart is still heavy. I can't seem to reconcile the time that's past since I held that tiny 5lb 8oz baby boy in my arms. He was so tiny. So perfect. And, he needed me....

But not for long. Wow, my boy grew fast. By the time he was one he was a whopping 25 lbs. He was also walking and talking. Full sentences. I never thought we'd experience quiet again!

Then he went to preschool and for a few hours a couple times a week, I missed the sound of his sweet little voice.

I remember the day he got on the Kindergarten bus. We were both trying to be so brave. Only one of us cried (and only after the bus was out of my sight!) I was tempted to follow in my car. You know, just to make sure he got to the school okay.

Then, I blinked my eyes and he was in Middle School. And, before I knew it, he knew everything! He was dating, driving, and holding a job. I shook my head in amazement as I watched him grow. Each day was passing too quickly. That little boy who couldn't shut up turned into a teenage boy who didn't want to talk to me.

...Except when he needed me. Broken hearts, homework questions, and empty gas tanks held us together while he tiptoed through those years of self discovery. But, at the end of the day, he always needed me.

I suppose that's the hardest part about this birthday: knowing that he doesn't really need me anymore. Okay, I know children always need their moms, but its different now. He clearly doesn't need me like he use to. He is so independent. So mature. And so very far away.

Maybe I'll make a cheesecake in his honor. Maybe I can even talk my hubby into singing a little off-key rendition of Happy Birthday with me. Our off pitch serenade, I'm sure, will be something my son will not miss.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Monday, Monday

"Good morning Monday. We meet again."

In the greater context of my life, I've grumbled those words with reluctance, angst, and often even bitterness, never once considering the unfair implications I might be putting on this poor, defenseless day. Funny how that all changes when you send a missionary out into the field. 

A typical weekend at the Worlton house consists of family recreation, date nights, chores, church meetings, and many other forms of generalized "busyness." It's with a sigh of relief that I fall into the comfort of my bed each Sunday night. But, sleep is often hard to find. Before my head even hits the pillow, my mind starts racing with anticipation. How was his week? Is he doing okay? What does he need? What has he learned?  My heart can hardly wait til morning.   

I often wonder how they did it, you know, "back in the day?" It had to have been torture to snail mail a letter and have to wait a week, or two, or even more for a response. I can't help but love this modern age of rapid technology and easy communication. I simply hit the "send" button to post my email and within seconds it travels across the world to my missionary. He, of course, won't open it quite then. We are on different time zones. He is still in bed. 

Slowly I drift to sleep, 

Somewhere in the deep, unsolicited chambers of my mind, an alarm goes off at almost precisely 4:00 am each morning. While I have absolutely no reason to be up so early, this little routine can be quite frustrating and even bothersome on most days. Monday, however, I welcome the little disturbance.

I retrieve my smart phone from the corner of my nightstand, then, careful not to wake my husband, I build a little blanket fort over my head and tuck myself and my phone inside. It's light is bright at first, burning my eyes with its illumination. I blink a few times then, like magic, everything comes into focus. Moments seem like eternities as I wait for my emails to load. Fourteen new messages, it says. And, right at the top of the list, my very favorite one.

I look at the time stamp. Could it be? Did I actually catch him today? 3:58 it says. My clock reads 4:02. My heart jumps and I take a little chance:

"Hey, son! Are you there?"

The message flies through space (and maybe even time!) with miraculous speed. I hold my breath with each anticipatory second that slips by.

"Yes, silly mother. Why are you up?"

Being awake at this ridiculously early hour suddenly has its benefits. For the first time in months, I am able to have a somewhat "normal" conversation with my son. In the quiet of my blanket fort, we "chat" back and forth until his time runs out. I can almost hear his voice and see his quirky little smile as he tells me to "have a good week and GO TO SLEEP!" Oh, how I miss my boy!

"I love you, mom," his last message ends. I hold the phone in my hand for a moment hoping maybe another little message will follow. I don't give up hope until the screen goes to sleep. I take my cue, disassemble my fort, set my phone back on the nightstand, and fall back onto my pillow.

What a blessing technology is. Mondays have become my favorite day.

Slowly I drift back to sleep. And this time, I actually get some rest. Monday mornings just might be as fabulous to a missionary mom as Christmas morning is to an eager child! 

I think The Mamas and the Papas best sum up my feelings today:  

"Monday, Monday, 
so good to me. 
Monday mornin'
 it was all
I hoped it would be." 

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