As has been our tradition since the beginning of our romance, we started opening presents well ahead of Christmas Day. Rob and I started doing Twelve Days of Christmas when we were dating in 2000, and we loved it so well that we continue all these years later. We couldn't find Sophia's stocking (since rectified), and we have no mantel, so I asked Rob to hang the stockings on a living room wall of our small bungalow south of Miami.
Twenty-thirteen was the year of the small appliance for me. Rob gifted me with a SodaStream, which I've already put to constant use, a BabyCakes cake pop maker that will show up later in the post, and this Cuisinart that I had to open early to make some hummus. Honestly, the Cuisinart is not the be-all-and-end-all that I thought it would be; I'm slightly disappointed. But, I don't think I know all that it can do, yet, so I shall reserve my final opinion on it for later.
I neglected to do another Team Odette tradition this year: create an Advent calendar full of activities that represent both the joy and the meaning of the season for us, so our Twelve Days of Christmas actually didn't start until the 19th. I know some of you will say that the days are actually supposed to begin on Christmas Day and continue into January, but that's never what we've done, and I'm not going to change anytime soon! So anyway, we started a week before Christmas Day, with the kids opening one present each per day.
On the second night, we gave Jack an Xploderz gun with it's liquidy-gel ammo, and the five of us had a blast (heh) taking it outside and shooting at each other. It's super-fun, though a difficult set-up for the smaller of the kids. When they're bigger (read: stronger, in Chloë's case) and have the arm length necessary to extend the trigger thingy to it's full potential, we may just have to add another weapon or two to the arsenal. Until then, maybe we'll just stick with NERF.
We didn't do a tree this year because of the small space constraints combined with inquisitive young kittens, so our presents piled up in front of the entertainment center. However, we did get a family gift of an inexpensive Netflix subscription, and I think Hunter, here, is the happiest with that decision. He loves watching all things pet on the Cute Overload videos, especially those with puppies! It's pretty funny to watch him come running whenever dogs start yapping on the telly!
Of course, Christmas is baking season for me, so I started with these chocolate teddy bears that I used to make when I was a teenager in Central New York. I searched high and low for the recipe and finally found the necessary Hershey cookbook on eBay (of course), a year or two ago. Eureka! At last, I have come full circle and made my bears again. The only trouble was, I ran out of proper decorator bags and had to use Ziploc snack bags, which does not quite do the job justice. Meh. No matter. They still taste delish!
For the girls, 2013 is the year of the Monster HIgh doll, and between them now they have collected more than 20. I kinda love them, myself. They're cool, interesting, and not Barbie-doll perfect in physical form.
Between us and Rob's dad, the girls have been gifted with several bracelet-making looms that are the latest craze, and we are now all adorned with all manner of colorful rubber jewelry. They have yet to learn more than the most basic techniques, despite my encouragement to go on YouTube for further instruction, but that could have something to do with their Kindle Fires not wanting to accept a charge lately?
A surprising last-minute Mom WIN was the gift of Melissa and Doug's "Suspend" game for Jack. The boy-child is all about LEGO City sets, and it's difficult to get him to want to play with much outside of that, but I just had a hunch he would enjoy Suspend. I was right! He has played it with everyone but me, every night since he received it. Of course, the fact that it's based on mechanics may have something to do with that, as he is a very mechanically-inclined laddie.
The children anxiously awaited the arrival of Christmas Eve, since they knew that meant two things: Candlelight Service at church, and STOCKINGS! We ended up getting up wicked early on Tuesday morning and crashing well before church time in the evening, which rots, because it's the service we all look most forward to during the year. But stockings are a certainty on Christmas Eve for Team Odette, and finally it was time.
There was more baking on Christmas Eve, too. I'm not even done, and it's 2200 on Christmas Day... but that's okay. My sister-in-law Gail gave me a Martha Stewart Cookie book a few years ago, and I still have fun discovering new recipes to make from it. However, these cocoa meringues have made before, and with good reason: they are a favorite of Sophia's and, I think, Chloë's, and so they're worth the two hours in a low-heat oven for my lady-babies.
My coconut macaroons were just so-so, but that may have something to do with the fact that while they were in the oven, Rob and I got carried away with a smooch-fest that caused them to burn? Maybe. The choclate macaroons, on the other hand, were outstanding. I'll definitely have to make them again, especially if I desire to gain 20 pounds in a single sitting.
I used my BabyCakes cake pop maker to create some festive "birthday cake" for Jesus, and it was a slight learning curve but they turned out okay. Sophia has popped one in her mouth every time I look, so while they're not my thing (frosting = blech!), they were worth making.
A large part of my ethnic heritage comes from the Pennsylvania Dutch culture, so I love to make at least one Dutch apple pie every year. This year, though, I couldn't find my favorite recipe, so I had to settle for next-best and hit up AllRecipes.com. The girls have indulged and give it two thumbs up, so I guess I'm satisfied with that.
The recipe for these lemon cream cheese bows also came from Martha's book, and they wowed me. I mean, literally, "WOW." You have to try them. They're not eat-ten-and-pass-out cookies, but they're definitely eat-one-and-swoon treats. So. Freaking. Yummy.
We gave several of our neighbors gifts of boxed chocolates this year, so it was really fun when one of the kids discovered a return box of chocolates under the lighted Christmas tree on our porch last night. So sweet - literally! We have some really nice, friendly neighbors, and I'm grateful for that after the creepy neighborhood we came from in Portsmouth.
At midnight, with the kids wide awake from their long and late naps on Christmas Eve, we made the decision to let them each open one present per hour until they were all opened. It was such a delight! I seriously adore this method of spreading out the joy over days and hours, instead of one quick rip-fest on Christmas morning, because it causes the children to slow down and enjoy each present in turn, rather than open, chuck over the shoulder, and move on to the next in a complete lack of gratitude and appreciation. I recommend it. Here, Muffin's curiosity got the best of her, and she arrived in front of me in an uncharacteristic display of The Nice.
My cat, Tinkerbell (or as I have been calling her, "Tinky-Winky-Binky-Bean) looked on from her perch on the back of the couch with mild interest. This cat has gained far too much weight, and if it doesn't involve food or some serious lovin', she can't work up too much give-a-damn.
Chloë's cat, Pepper, has been exiled to the bathroom until he gets neutered, since he pees inappropriately whenever he is left to run freely in the house. He got a reprieve this afternoon for some attention and adoration from his mama, but I'll be darned if I couldn't get a good shot of this otherwise-photogenic puss. As for the kittens, Lucky and Hunter, well, let's just say I need to keep working on my action photography skills to get a decent photograph of those two. I'm sure you don't mind.
Some of the Monster High dolls are in hiding, but here are the ladies with twenty of their closest friends. Not my best capture, but the sun was in their eyes, and Chloë's poor blocked tear glands were working overtime by the time I snapped this shot!
I took a lot of pictures on the beach today, and I'll share those with you in Part The Second. For now, I leave you with this, as I have to go call my pops back before he hits the hay.