Merry Christmas to All

And to all a Goodnight


Cherry Walnut Bars

My mother-in-law is the Queen of Christmas Treats.  She has a whole arsenal of delicious Christmas recipes, and you better believe her four boys make sure she makes every single one every single year.  Since we are very sadly not going to see her this holiday season I'm trying to give Bryan a teeny tiny taste of what he's used to.

One day I made a dozen batches of chocolate chip cookies- a dozen batches of a dozen each.  Some were for a funeral and some for a baby shower, but our family ate an embarrassing number of the leftovers.  Next I made gingerbread cookies at Jilly's request.  We made and delivered these to many of our friends.  We had Santa's Cookies- a tasty recipe for oatmeal chocolate chip M&M cookies that my friend gave me.  And on Saturday morning I made gingerbread waffles.

But of all the Christmas delights, Cherry Walnut Bars are my very very favorite.  I had never tasted these until I married into the Martinez family but I immediately fell in love.  One year all my dirty, rotten in-laws (kidding!) ate all the cherry walnut bars before we got there and it just about ruined my Christmas.  I've since forgiven and let them know I will fight to the death for my annual cherry walnut bar (or bars... or the whole pan)  This year I made cherry walnut bars for the first time and they weren't quite up to The Queen's standard, but still delicious.

2 1/4 cups sifted flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup softened butter
2 eggs
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 (12 oz) jar maraschino cherries
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1 tbl softened butter
1 cup powdered sugar
1/2 cup flaked coconut

Mix flour, sugar, and butter til crumbly.  Press into a 13x9 pan.  Bake at 350 for 20 minutes or til crust is lightly browned (it took me a bit longer than 20 minutes.)  Blend eggs, sugar, salt, baking powder, and vanilla.  Drain and chop the cherries, reserving the liquid.  Stir chopped cherries and walnuts into the mixture and place on top of baked crust.  Return to oven and bake for 25 minutes.  Remove from oven and cool.  For the frosting: combine 1 tbl softened butter and 1 cup powdered sugar with enough cherry liquid to spread.  Frost, then sprinkle with coconut.  Wait til icing is firm to cut into bars (confession: I couldn't wait so they were pretty gooey but still delicious.)


fa la la la Friday Five

I way overestimated what I could accomplish this week.  I'm equal parts giddy about Christmas next week and terrified that it's coming so soon.  I'm going to have a busy, busy weekend.  But, nonetheless it's Christmastime!  And we're full of spirit and excitement and everything wonderful.

1. On Saturday morning they had a Breakfast with Santa at the YMCA.  If friendliness toward Santa factors into your naughty or nice status I'd say these girls are in trouble.  But they did enjoy the crafts and yummy breakfast.

2. There's a street in Baltimore where every house goes all out with lights.  It's called "Miracle on 34th Street" because the street happens to be 34th Street.  On Sunday we packed some hot cocoa in thermoses (which we didn't even need because it was the warmest night we've had in a while) and walked around enjoying the lights.  Mattie loved pointing out every "Mee Mou" (Minnie and Mickey Mouse) of which there were surprisingly quite a few.  And we had to take a picture of this crab- my girls are terrified of crabs and since they're the unofficial (maybe official?) symbol of Baltimore we see them everywhere.

3. On Monday evening we invited friends over to make gingerbread houses (and by gingerbread I clearly mean graham crackers.)  I made royal frosting, which worked like a charm (3 egg whites, 4 cups powdered sugar, and 1/2 tsp cream of tartar.) Jilly and Bryan got really into it and built a house, a tent, and another cool structure.  And Mattie ate her weight in candy.

Can't you tell Jilly loved it?  I swear she did but would not smile.

3. Jilly finished her first session of ballet and they had a little show on Tuesday.  They did a cute dance to "In Summer" then at the end Olaf surprised them all.  Of course, Jilly was terrified and wouldn't get near him.  Afterward we went to Chick-fil-A to celebrate and the Santa Cow was there. Surprise, surprise, Jilly was not a fan.  But Mattie was brave and went with me to say hi.

5. Jilly has been helping me gather costumes and props for a little nativity we're doing in Primary on Sunday.  It is wonderful to watch her fall in love with the story of Christ's birth.  I am so grateful for the Gift of Christmas and the magic it has brought to our home.


holiday survival guide

Amazon Prime: Between the winter weather that I am slowly adjusting to and two little girlies that must!touch!everything! shopping in actual stores has not been my cup of tea this year.  Amazon Prime has been a lifesaver over and over again.  Not only can I find nearly every gift I'd ever want to give, but also they're often cheaper than anywhere else and are sitting on my doorstep in two days flat.  What could be better?

Hot Cocoa: In high school I went to an early morning Seminary class at church and my sister and I would take hot chocolate with us every day.  Our friends called it our "Mormon Coffee."  Thankfully I don't have any classes to attend in the dark hours of the morning, but I still love hot cocoa, and I've passed on the love to my girls, who both have called it "hot toto."  Jilly's no dummy and tells me almost every afternoon, "While Mattie takes her nap today you and I should drink hot cocoa together."  Done and done.  My hot cup of cocoa helps me warm up and motivates me to get some things done instead of just sitting down to close my eyes for a bit.  I don't have a brand preference for cocoa, I'll drink pretty much anything that's hot and super chocolate-y.  But, I do love to add a dash of cinnamon to my mug and marshmallows are a must.

Smart Phone Gloves:  Apparently I'm pretty stuck on cold weather but these gloves have changed my life.  Now when we're out looking at lights or shopping or just riding in the frigid car I don't ever need to take my gloves off to use my phone.   Seriously, whoever invented these is genius.  There are lots of options: some pretty, some very affordable, some for men (Bryan recently got a pair of gloves just like this and he's sold.)

My New Vacuum: I will forever be a real Christmas tree devotee but that does not mean I love the mess they make.  Also, with holiday festivities we have more people coming over to our house this time of year so I'm a bit more diligent at keeping it clean.  I remember reading a blogpost once that said instead of stressing yourself about cleaning every square inch of your house you should have an arsenal of 2 or 3 things you can do with a few minutes' notice that will make a big difference to you on the tidy scale.  My thing (or one of my things) is vacuuming.  If my carpets are clean and have those beautiful vacuum lines I feel immensely better about the state of my house (even if windows have fingerprints, the sink is full of dishes, and the microwave is a scary sight.)  And it doesn't hurt at all that I bought my vacuum for 50% off on Black Friday.

Mancrates was the inspiration for this post.  If your husband/dad/brother/etc. is anything like mine they are The Hardest People to shop for.  Mancrates is a company that sells crates that are full of stuff men love and, my favorite part, must be opened with a crowbar.  They're an excellent option for some last minute holiday shopping


five on friday

{one} Mattie's nap has shrunk from 3-4 hours to 1-2 hours and Jilly's once or twice a week naps have decreased to never ever ever so both girls are totally out by 7:00 most nights.  Last Friday we put the girls to bed, got our own treat, and watched a movie (Maleficent) all by 8:45.  I am really really loving my long, productive evenings.  

{two} If you had told me 365 days ago that I'd call 42 degrees and sunny a really nice day I would have told you that someone had slipped a lil' somethin somethin in your egg nog.  But, that's our reality these days and we're slowly becoming proficient at bundling up and taking advantage of any sunshine we can find.

{three} Mattie is just killing me with how perceptive she is.  One night I was making dinner and suddenly Mattie was getting out the plates and forks before I'd even had a chance to ask Jilly to set the table.  Another day she brought me her baby and said "so cu-ute" in the exact tone I would say it.  In the mornings she'll sometimes bring Bryan his shoes when she knows he's about to leave.

{four} This week a friend and I did a babysitting swap so we could each do some Christmas shopping sans kids.  It was the most relaxing and efficient morning I've had in a very, very long time.  I even zipped through the Chick-fil-A drive thru to get myself a little treat (and eliminated all evidence before picking the girls up.)

{five} Jilly has been begging to make gingerbread cookies so we busted out the rolling pin on Wednesday night.  Clearly we have a future in cookie decorating.


merry and bright

I absolutely love all the Christmas excitement in December
And this past weekend was one of our best

On Friday night we decorated our Christmas tree
Jilly had been looking forward to it all day long and made a pile of all the ornaments she wanted to put on the tree 
(which included every ornament we own.)
In the end she decided to share and let us each put up a few of our own.

^ self timer picture, which is how we should do all pictures because my girls will actually look at the blinking light!

On Saturday we drove down to Washington D.C.
We dropped the little ladies off at my sister's house and Bryan and I went to the temple.
We had been for a couple weddings, but hadn't been back just the two of us since our wedding 7 years ago.
Afterward we ate Cafe Rio at Katie's house then took the girls back to the temple to see the lights
It was raining and Mattie was asleep half the time
but it was so beautiful and peaceful there- no better place to be at Christmastime!

^ babysitters extraordinaire


first snow

We eagerly awaited our first snow day,
and of course it came at the worst time- the day before Thanksgiving 
when we were already worrying about bad traffic driving down to Richmond.

But, the snow came and was beautiful, 
and the girls loved the 15 minutes we spent outside playing.

When we left that afternoon it hadn't stuck to the roads 
and once we got out of Baltimore there was no snow, only rain
so it ended up not being a perfect little snow day.

^  "When I was a baby I loved to eat snow!" - had to make sure she still loved it

^ my more sensitive and less adventuresome child surprised me by loving the snow, but she also didn't touch it

^ 24 hour time lapse between those last two pictures. We've officially left Fall and entered Winter territory


friday five

1.  Jilly had her first Primary Program the Sunday before Thanksgiving.  She nailed it (kind of ;) )  I'm in the Primary Presidency (best calling ever!) so it was my first Primary Program also, and I was quite busy with preparations so I was very glad it went well. 

2.  Jilly got hurt one day this week and was lying on her bed crying so Mattie started patting her back saying "iss okay, iss okay."  Then another day Jilly was in time out and was not happy about it so Mattie went over to make funny faces at Jilly to get her to smile.  When they're not fighting over baby Jesus, these girls are besty best friends.  

3.  We told Jilly that when she was little she called tortillas "chinchias."  Jilly loved hearing this and now her favorite game is "when I was little."  She'll say "Do you know what I called babies when I was little?  baabeebobo" or "Do you know what I called legos when I was little"  loodobebaga"  Constant silliness around these parts. 

4.  The girls had a double check-up this week.  Both were pretty nervous at the beginning but braved up when we started singing Doc McStuffins songs.  The doctor asked Jilly a few questions and of course Jilly would only respond in a baby voice (drove me crazy!)  But she was able to show off her ballet technique when the dr asked her to balance on one foot.  Mattie is petite but healthy and happy.

5.  Last night we got our Christmas tree.  This picture is not the tree we brought home, we thought this was The One and I asked the poor guy working there to hold the tree while I snapped a few pictures then a few seconds later we found The Actual One.  I started to get out my phone for more pictures but Bryan took pity on the worker and put an end to all picture-taking.  Then, after the guy charged us $2 to cut off the stump (must be a MD thing because we've never had to pay before- not that $2 is very much but still!) he told us to put the stump in some boiling water when we got home.  We did, and our entire house smelled perfectly Christmas-y and ah-mazing.  I spent the evening watching Peter Pan, addressing Christmas cards, and sipping hot cocoa.  I double dog dare you to come up with a better evening.


Christmas Advent Ornaments

Last year my friends Shauna and Jana posted about making mini Advent Ornaments, and I suddenly needed to make some of my own.  I actually started way back in September, but wasn't very dedicated to the project til November and then I found myself sitting at my sewing machine late into the night November 30th so I could finish the tree in time!  This was an enormous project and left me with stiff and sore fingers many nights but I really enjoyed it, and I'm so thrilled now that it's done!

The pattern can be found here, and was immensely helpful.  I realized that I liked the simpler ornaments better because I was able to make them look better.  So I skipped a few of hers that seemed complicated and instead made a little Baby Jesus in a manger (got this idea from Shauna), a star, and a light bulb.  I wasn't crazy about the tree in the pattern either so I copied Jana's.

My favorite part of the project is that Jilly loves it as much as I do.  Every morning in November she would ask if I had finished an ornament the previous night and get so excited to see my progress.  Now there is an ornament in each pocket of my Advent Calendar (so glad to finally have a purpose for it!) and it's so fun for the girls to pull one out every morning.  Hopefully these ornaments survive for many, many years!


haul out the holly

+ The Little People Nativity is once again the best Christmas toy ever.  My only complaint is that it only comes with one Baby Jesus- we need two so my girls will stop fighting!

+ For Family Night on Monday we told the Nativity story
B: "Christmas is Jesus' birthday"
J: "What??  I thought Halloween was Jesus' birthday!"
B: "Why did you think that?"
J: "Mommy told me."

+ Jilly calls the angels "fairies" and I'm still trying to decide how necessary it is to correct her.

+ We ate some Trader Joe's Candy Cane Joe-Joe's one night and I could tell Jilly wasn't crazy about them because she only ate half a cookie.  The next day she asked me if we were going to eat more of those cookies with toothpaste in them.

+ Bryan's favorite thing to tease me about (from the long, long list of possibilities) is my totally uncool taste in music.  But, when it comes to Christmas music I reign supreme.  If you haven't listened to the Peaceful Holidays station on Pandora then you are missing out- it's especially perfect for bedtime.  Also, this is amazing.

+ I'm not ambitious enough to do an Advent calendar with activities for every day in December, and I don't have the energy for Elf shenanigans every night, but I can handle Christmas books every day.  I wrapped them all up because my girls think it is so, so, so exciting to unwrap a present.   Between our collection and the piles I've brought home from the library we have enough for each girl to open a book every day.  We open them first thing in the morning and it's the best way to start our day.

+ One of my favorite parts of an East Coast Christmas is all the candles in the windows.  I bought these and they are awesome because they turn on automatically every night at dusk and then off again when the sun comes up.  I grew up having to run around to each window to turn the candle on so I am basking in this newfound laziness.

+ Speaking of laziness, I've become a couch shopper.  I've always loved shopping at Christmas time because of the excitement, decorations and all the fun things to see, but this year it's not worth it.  I'm the biggest baby ever, but it is such a haul to bundle my girls up in coats, hats, mittens, run out to the car, take coats off to buckle them in car seats, drive to the store, then have to get out right when the heat has finally come on, bundle everyone back up, run in the store, strip layers off.  I'm exhausted just typing it.  So, I buy everything online.  Thank the heavens for Amazon Prime.


Giving Thanks

We had the very best Thanksgiving weekend down in Richmond.  Some highlights:

+ My mom made a delicious feast.  I was in charge of sweet potatoes and a pumpkin crumble, and both had pretty much the same ingredients- sugar, brown sugar, and butter.  Yumm.  I didn't get a picture of our group (us, my parents, Ty, Beth, and the missionaries) but it was a lot of fun.  Oh, and Minnie Mouse joined us also.

+ On Thursday night my mom and I went out for our first ever Black Friday (or do we call it Black Thursday now??) shopping experience.  My mom got some Christmas gifts and I got... wait for it ... a vacuum.  And since I bought our last vacuum 4.5 years ago for $30 this one is a vast improvement and I'm in love.  Just call me June Cleaver.

+ Bryan shaved.  No Shave November is fine with me, as long as it only lasts a month.

+ Mattie was sicky-sick-sick.  Remember back in August when I was sick and wished that my kids would lose their voice?  Wish granted.  Baby girl woke up Friday morning and had no voice and it was equal parts the sweetest and saddest thing.  The cough that came with it was awful and caused more than a few missed hours of sleep.   

+ Christmas Lights at Stony Point Mall- It was oh so cold, but still fun

+ Bass Pro Shop to see Santa.  Jilly would only go up if Tyler came along and there was no way Mattie would get near Santa without me, so thus the group shot.  And, I have the greatest family ever because we waited in line for an hour and I heard nary a complaint.  It helped that there were $1 hot dogs for sale in the parking lot- a big hit with the menfolk.

+ Very notable: my hometown is getting a Cafe Rio this January!!!  Can't tell you how exciting this news is.

+ Short Pump Town Center (so maybe we went to two malls in two days.)  They've recently renovated and it is gorgeous.  We didn't even go in any stores (tragic) but had a great time walking around and enjoying the decorations.  Jilly especially loved the Christmas tree- it was super tall and you could walk right through the middle of it on the second story of the mall.  Jilly hasn't stopped talking about it.  And Mattie loved the train ride best.

+ We took some pictures of the girls by the fireplace at the mall.  This picture cracks me up- Bethany was playing peek-a-boo to get Mattie to look so she started playing along.

+ No pictorial evidence but we also saw Mockingjay (pretty good but depressing, as expected) and Interstellar (awesome! I haven't stopped thinking about it.)  I also went to a boot camp class at the gym with my dad and it kicked my booty.  At church on Sunday I talked to a girl I grew up with but haven't seen in about 12 years.  When she first saw me she said to her mom, "Is that who I think it is?" and her mom replied, "No, that's her daughter."  Further proof that I am very quickly turning into my Mom- could be a lot worse :)