Archive for December, 2010

Letters to Santa

Dear Santa,

All I want for Christmas is you to visit here in Kansas. I hope you make it! I hope you like our cookies, and I also love you, Santa.

I was good this year. We left some cookies and milk for you. Thank you for coming! I frosted the cookies for you. I’m learning a lot from school. I like my building and my teacher. I had a very good day here opening presents.

I love you, Santa!

From: Ava

Dear Santa,

We left you some cookies and milk. Thank you for coming. We tried to be good this year.

Love, Olivia

Ava and Olivia Fix

Holiday baking

Following what has been an unusually hectic December at work, I am officially off the clock and on holiday break. To celebrate, I pulled myself out of bed at 5 am and went to the store . . . but that’s mostly because I shirked responsibility last night, and we took the kids for frozen yogurt and a trip through the neighborhood to look at Christmas lights. Time well spent, even if it did lead to a rather early morning.

I’m not anywhere close to being ready for the holiday, though the house is decorated and a majority of my baked good gifts are done. Last on my baking gift list is peanut butter chocolate chip cookies, which are cooling as I type and need to be on their way to Denver in about an hour.

Earlier in the week, I made three recipes to give as gifts. I started with a new recipe—Rosemary Roasted Cashews by Ina Garten—for my coworkers. Thanks to Melissa for the tip on this one; they were fast, easy and delicious.

Then, I made four pounds of chocolate truffles. I decided to do three bases–one cayenne cardamom, one  orange and one original. I used Martha Stewart’s incredibly simple, two-ingredient recipe, then rolled them in various toppings.

Finally, I tried something totally new this year, and made Irish Cream. It wasn’t a particularly inexpensive endeavor, but it was fast and easy (which seems to be the theme right now). Here’s my recipe:

Irish Cream

4 can of sweetened condensed milk (14 oz each)
4 cans of evaporated milk (12 oz each)
2 cups of Hershey’s syrup
5 cups milk (or cream)
1/2 teaspoon espresso powder
1.5 liters of Irish whiskey (I used Bushmill’s)

Mix together and pour into glass containers; label with instructions to keep chilled and shake before using.

Now, I have Italian Beef waiting for the oven, and I’m expecting a houseful of family by tomorrow afternoon. This will be the first time I’ve hosted Christmas Eve, and it will be the first time my girls will wake up in their own house on Christmas morning. There’s a lot left to do, but I am working to keep everything as simple and enjoyable as possible.

I am approaching everything in 24 hour chunks—doing just enough meal planning and grocery shopping and holiday-related tasks to make it through the following day successfully. It’s allowing a bit more sleep and a bit less stress.

I am very much looking forward to the coming week, and to spending time with our families. See you soon!





Big news

Big news over in Smith Familyland . . .  Ava has a loose tooth! My first response to her assertion was, “Oh my goodness, we need to get you to the dentist IMMEDIATELY.”

Shortly thereafter, I remembered that this is the new normal.


Holiday preparations

Our holiday preparations started Thanksgiving weekend–given the crazy amount of travel we’ve planned for this month, we had to get an early start. And yet, somehow, the month is already more than half over!

We arrived back from Nebraska the Sunday after Thanksgiving weekend, opened the door and threw our luggage, then headed out to cut a Christmas tree from a nearby farm. It was windy, but warm–perfect for a hayrack ride. (It was not perfect for hauling a giant tree back on the top of your SUV, but we made it, despite 45 mph wind gusts.)

I selected a tree in record time–after all, 17 loads of laundry awaited me at home.

The following weekend, Doug and Karyl came down. We spent Saturday morning at the Old Fashioned Christmas Parade, where we paid for the warm weather from the previous weekend. Fortunately (?) my car battery died on Mass Street the night before, securing us a fantastic spot to watch the parade with friends.

Olivia–not one for serious winter wear–kept saying, “Mom, my eyeballs are cold.”

We kept warm with coffee and hot cocoa. Every five minutes, Bryan would say, “Wow, I wish we could turn on the car and enjoy the heat!”

The big girls didn’t seem to mind the cold.

Once the Pilot was back up and running, Bryan and I went to the Country Club Plaza in Kansas City while Doug and Karyl stayed with the girls. We had a great time watching the Big 12 Championship, though admittedly, it would have been better with a Nebraska win. We spent Sunday being grateful for grandparents and making a big dent in our Christmas shopping.

Last weekend, we attempted to make our way up to Nebraska to celebrate birthdays with Wyatt and Grampa Great. However, 45 minutes outside of Omaha, Olivia threw up. Between the blizzard and the desire to spare our families exposure to a stomach bug, we turned around and drove three and a half hours home, without seeing anyone. Bryan–in good humor–promptly proclaimed it “the worst trip to Nebraska EVER.”

We recovered at home, playing Candy Land and finishing Christmas shopping. While it wasn’t the weekend we had planned, we did appreciate a quiet day at home together.

I just returned from a three-day trip to Madison (with an extra night at the KC airport hotel due to an ice storm yesterday). It was fabulous to see Alisa, Melissa, Lori and Liana–the spa and the snow were pretty awesome, too.

So, while December has been a blur so far, we’re having a great time. We’re looking forward to the coming two weeks and all the gatherings they will bring. Hope the holidays are off to a good start where you are, too.

75 years of greatness

Grampa Great is celebrating his 75th birthday today. I’ve had the pleasure of knowing him for all of my 32 years, from the time I was certain he could repair my broken balloon at age three, to the time he fixed my oven to save one of my first Thanksgivings. From Elmwood, Nebraska to Little Birch Lake, I can always say, “Yes, Grampa, we are indeed having fun now.”

Thanks for all you do, Grampa Great!


Ava and Olivia Fix

Doug took this gorgeous photo this summer (and, he just supplied me with a very large print, too!).

Apple Phyllo Crisp

I adapted this recipe for Pear and Apple Phyllo Crisp to make what is essentially butter, pastry and just enough fruit to move leftovers squarely into the “breakfast” category.

I brushed about seven or eight layers of phyllo with melted butter, sprinkled it lightly with sugar and cinnamon and added a thinly sliced apples to the top. Incredibly easy, very casual, and great with cinnamon ice cream.

Especially in the morning.

The details

One more party post…thanks again to everyone who made it such a fabulous day for Olivia!

Here are a few of the details of the party, starting with the cake table.

Bryan’s awesome bloody marys (with props to Ina Garten, too):

Mom’s angel food cake, just like her grandma and my paternal grandma used to make for birthdays:

Number three cookies, a tradition my grandma started for me and my cousins, made complete with sugared ladybugs from Madison (thanks, Liana!!):

I used a Wilton ladybug cake pan and added an additional layer underneath. I felt like the star tip was cheating (I had originally planned a fondant cake), but then Bryan called me the Seurat of cake decorating and I felt much better.

Even the presents (and some gifts!) carried the theme forward.

We served quiche and sausage, and Karyl brought a gorgeous fresh fruit platter.

The birthday girl was indeed pleased…


Party pics

One of the benefits of holding birthday parties in Nebraska—especially over Thanksgiving weekend—is that most of our family members are able to attend. Here are a few shots of those who helped Olivia celebrate.

Bryan and his dad, Doug:

Gramma Great, our generous hostess:

And our gracious host, Grampa Great:

My mother-in-law Karyl and sister-in-law Jess:

My sister-in-law—the newly-minted Dr. Capp—as well as my nieces, Sylvia and Hazel, and Ava.

Hazel seemed to be quite fond of Ava—and Ava was DEFINITELY fond of Hazel.

Hazel’s twin, Eliza:

Aunt Katie joined via teleconference from Boston:

Mom had a chat with her, too:

Here’s my stepdad Dave. (Happy birthday to you, Dave!)

And here’s a self portrait of the proud parents:

And some of our littlest guests, including Wyatt, who’s about to turn three as well:

And Leo, showing off the treat bags:

And my newest niece, Sylvia, who is a month old today. Isn’t she gorgeous?

Thanks to everyone who helped us celebrate! More party pics coming soon.