Feb 4, 2016

2015 Christmas "Baskets"

I'm not sure if I've ever really focused on the gifts we create each year for the families we exchange Christmas gifts with each year. For several years now, we have been doing themed gift "baskets" with some sort of homemade element to it.  

My mom and I had had this idea for several years before we actually executed it, mainly because we found that finding gifts for everyone on our list was hard, and because we're all in positions to purchase what we want for ourselves and because we're not always sure what people really would like. Today, our friends and family look forward to our gift baskets just to see what we will come up with each year and because they enjoy what they are getting. 

I think that first year, we made Bloody Mary mix, a cheese ball, and bread sticks that we then packaged up with drinking glasses, mixing sticks, a small bottle of vodka, a small cutting board and cheese knife. We included the recipes for the homemade items as well. We created a Hot Chocolate-themed basket for our non-drinking family and friends that same year, with a fleece throw blanket, mugs, hot chocolate packets and candles that I added wintry-themed stamps to. 

Another year, I made lemon bars in glass pans that I had stenciled the family's last name on. 

We actually start thinking up our theme almost as soon as Christmas is over as sometimes what we want to do takes time and planning. 

For 2015, our basket theme was "Fresh from the Farm". 

A Finished Jar of my Oven Dried Tomatoes. Cameron and I love these. 
Inside was a jar of homemade, oven-roasted tomatoes that can be used just like sun-dried tomatoes; a jar of sliced, homemade lemon cucumber pickles; some of my fig preserves, which Cameron called "Christmas in a Jar" based on just the smell of it while I made it; pickled sweet banana peppers, which are just like pepperoncinis; and packets of BBQ & Garlic flavored pumpkin seeds. 


A Finished Jar of my Fig Preserves. These have been a huge hit - to the point that people don't want to share any with visiting family or friends. 
We try to not overload people with a basket every year, but instead try to package it all in something that can be just as useful. One year it was a glass salad bowl from Ikea that people still use and comment on how much they love it, today.

An Unfinished Jar of the Pickled Sweet Banana Peppers. Definitely on the list for growing and canning next year.
This year, we went with a tote bag, which we have done in the past as well. The first time we did this, I made the tote from canvas left over from our wedding and embroidered fruit on the pocket. 
An unfinished jar of my Pickled Lemon Cucumbers. They were a hit too - people actually have asked for more. 
This year my mom painted our beautiful Thanksgiving Tom turkey based off a picture I had sent her. She then had the painting photographed so we could send a digital copy into Vista Print and have it printed onto the canvas tote bags for this year. Far and away, my mom's painting of Thanksgiving was the biggest hit among every one we gave these to. We also ordered extra so we can have some for ourselves.

The Totes
Yes, this is a painting. So many times, when we have shown people this painting, people think it is a picture.

This is my mom's painting in digital form. 
I always finish the "baskets" off with a cute, homemade gift tags and labels for all the goodies. Both last year and this year, this process was made even easier with my Christmas gift from Cameron last year - my Silhouette. I have used this more than any other of my crafting tools, except for maybe my sewing machine. 

Jan 21, 2016

Christmas 2015

London actually sleeps in hers in her bed at night! Such a hit with the girls. 
Given the excitement we had in Hawaii at the beginning of December, Christmas was pretty low key in comparison. My parents didn't even come out since we weren't getting together with the Moffetts on Christmas Eve. We did sneak in a nice Sunday afternoon lunch with some of the Moffetts the Sunday before Christmas.


We also were adjusting to having London on an actual school calendar this holiday season. She spent a lot of her off time up at Vicki's. We were definitely missing having her around, especially during the lead up to Christmas Eve and Christmas, but it was also nice to get some one-on-one time with Sydney.


I am also quite happy to report that since some gifts had to be mailed or delivered before Christmas that I was stress-free by then. Well, minus getting the house clean for Christmas night dinner. I even had time to help our scout elves with a little good-bye gift for the girls. On Christmas Eve morning the girls woke up to a gift from them that included Hot chocolate, Christmas mugs for all of us, a new Christmas book and movies, homemade Chex mix and handmade Christmas fleece pajama pants and sleeping shirt for the girls. They loved it!

This was a very messy undertaking. I'm still finding sprinkles on  the floor!
London came home the evening before Christmas Eve so we were able to get a good baking & cookie decorating session in Christmas Eve morning in preparation for Santa's arrival. I even let the girls go at it with the sprinkles with no direction from me. We pretty much had to shake the cookies free of many of the sprinkles, like you do with glitter, before you could easily eat a cookie. But the girls had a blast decorating and used up almost all of my supply for sprinkles, which was good as they were getting on in age. 


In the afternoon, we headed up to Vicki's to celebrate Christmas Eve with Cameron's family, and enjoyed a delicious dinner of homemade tamales. One of these days Cameron and I will find time to have Vicki show us how to make these ourselves as we love them. After dinner it was present opening time, which can get quite messy with all the kids  opening their gifts at the same time. I'm still not sure who gifted the girls what on a few items. 


Once the mess was cleaned up and gifts were loaded into the car, we headed home. I think this is the first time we have been home at a reasonable hour on Christmas Eve. I know it was the first time the girls actually set out the cookies and milk for Santa on their own. Plus, earlier in the month, our Scout Elves had the girls make "Reindeer" food out of Christmas Confetti and Oatmeal, so they had fun spreading it out front under the bright, full moon that night. It was still past their bedtime so they headed to bed pretty quickly after we got home. Maybe next ear we'll get around to reading The Night Before Christmas on Christmas Eve. I did make sure they watched that movie earlier in the day. 


The girls gave us an early Christmas present on Christmas day by sleeping in! I think we were able to sleep until 8 AM! The girls loved the Mermaid Tails I made them for Christmas. Sydney had asked Santa for a "pink" gift for Christmas and he granted her with, not only wrapping her present in pink, but also getting her a bright pink long-sleeved shirt with striped pants inside of it. And Santa must have know about London's current fascination with the stars as he got her a book on Constellations that even glows in the dark along with glow in the dark stars to put up in her room. He also brought both girls some Mermaid Barbies. 

My Aunt sent us this dress - it was so beautiful and London wanted to wear it for days. I, on the other hand, want to save it for Sydney!
The rest of Christmas day was very low key. We were hosting Christmas dinner for Vicki and his sister and her family, which only totaled 8 people, including 3 kids. Cameron made a prime rib roast which was delicious, and we made baked potatoes, a salad, Au Jous and marinated Brussels sprouts to compliment it. 

The girls with their cousin Lillie on Christmas Eve. And yes, Sydney is wearing sneakers. I forgot to take the girls shopping for shoes! 
Overall, we had a nice holiday though it was definitely different from what we are used to and we missed seeing many of the people we usually see. But, we were rested for the big party all four of attended a week later for New Year's Eve at a friend's house. 

Jan 17, 2016

Hawaii December 2015: Saying Goodbye

Sorry to disappoint but there are absolutely no pictures from our last day and a half in Hawaii. That is because we were too busy squeezing every last second out of our vacation to get the most of it and the Aulani resort. 

Thursday was our final full day there and we hit the pools. London was in love with the tube slide at this point, but she surprised me by asking to go down the pitch-black tunnel slide. I'd overheard some people mention this slide earlier in our trip. They said it was pitch-black almost the whole time and longer than one would expect. Someone even said they got claustrophobic in it. With how London had reacted to The Twilight Tower of Terror and Space Mountain in Disneyland, I had steered her away from it for the trip. 

But since she asked, I explained to her that it was dark the whole way and that she couldn't go down with one of us. London said she still wanted to try it. So I went down first. It really was pitch black and longer than expected. Just when you think you are turning to get to the exit, it switches back and continues on. I'll admit I was apprehensive going down it the first time, too. And when I got to the bottom I feared I was going to be followed and met by a very scared girl at the end. 

NOPE! London came down squealing with delight! She loved it and went down it several more times, even convincing Daddy, Grammi and Grandpa to join her. I was beyond proud of my little girl for overcoming her fear of the dark to try something new. She was definitely rewarded for her bravery, too. 

That afternoon the girls headed back to Aunty's after lunch, and their final activities there - Stitch's Space Goo and Hula lessons. Apparently, London opted not to do the Hula lessons as she was having too much fun with some friends she made. Sydney did participate and showed us her moves later that night, as well as the cutest little bow. I'm also happy that the girls did their own thing while at Aunty's and didn't cling to each other among strangers. They truly are independent little girls. 

While the girls were at Aunty's, Cameron and I made our way to Laniwai, Aulani's spa. We scheduled and treated ourselves to a couple's Signature Lomilomi massage. When we arrived we were greeted by an attendant who walked us to a wishing pond. We were instructed to select a polished rock from a basket. Cameron selected one that said "Listen" while I selected one that said "Dream". Back in high school, dream was actually my favorite word so I found it funny that I selected this word now. We were then instructed to make a type of wish and toss it into the pond. 

We were then given a tour of the Outdoor Hydrotherapy Garden, which has several dipping pools at various temperatures (including one at 40 degrees!) and showers with different ways of pouring water on you. We then were separated to be shown the locker rooms and gender-separated facilities. Mainly this was where the showers and dressing areas were and eucalyptus-infused sauna and steam rooms. Included in the dressing area was a swimsuit dryer since swimsuits were required in the Hydrotherapy garden. We loved this little machine! It would be very handy in all the rooms too.

We were also asked to pick out our favorite scent from some body scrubs. I couldn't decide between the plumeria and another so the attendant let me take a sample of both home. Cameron selected Laniwai's signature scent, which I was pretty sure he would any how. It's exactly how a nice spa smells, which is a smell he loves. 

We both tested out the steam rooms before meeting back up in the Hydrotherapy garden. We then made our way back to the treatment waiting room, after changing into the provided bathrobes, which were super soft. The waiting room had comfy lounge chairs, super soft blankets, gentle music playing, light snacks and infused water options. I fell in love with the coconut water immediately. 

The actual massage was just ok for me. Cameron enjoyed his more. I think my issue was that the masseuse didn't use enough pressure on me. I had still been running fairly regularly at this time and had tight muscles. I prefer a masseuse to really work on getting the knots out. My best massage experience was in Las Vegas at the Excalibur spa. That masseuse was good as asking how the pressure was and even commented on my knots, working very hard to get them out. I walked away from that one completely relaxed and loose. This one I was relaxed but still felt tight in areas - particularly my back. Plus, when the massage is this light it goes very quickly and doesn't feel long enough. The Excalibur one was the same length of time, but because of the pressure I was ready for it to end, and it felt longer because of it. Plus, a really good massage will last you a few days over just an ok one. I could have had another massage a few hours after this one.  

After our spa treatment, and with the girls still at Aunty's for a couple of hours due to their schedule, Vicki, Cameron and I headed across the street to a restaurant called The Monkey Pod. A co-worker had recommended it to me and I wanted to make sure I tried it out. My parents opted to snack for dinner and watch the basketball game on TV. 

The Monkey Pod did not disappoint. I got the Hamakua Wild Mushroom & Truffle Pizza. It came on a thin crust with a white sauce. It was delicious, though the single bite of Cameron's Big Island Cheeseburger was heavenly. Vicki got the Mahi Mahi Fish & Chips, which she said were the best she had ever had. My cousin Eddie was able to join us at the end, and the bite of his Proletariat pizza was also delicious. I also had a Mod Tai cocktail with dinner. It had light rum, creme of coconut, lime juice and a lemongrass-cardamom syrup in it. I found it very light and refreshing and wish I had the recipe for it to recreate it. 

My parents had picked the girls up from Aunty's before we got back from dinner. We visited with Eddie a little longer before we forced him to go home. The poor guy had been working 12-16 hour days for 6 days straight and was exhausted. We appreciated him making the effort to see us, but we also wanted to make sure he made it home. The rest of the evening was spent packing up. Since London had fallen in love with the water slide we wanted to make sure we went swimming in the morning before we had to leave. 

We were also glad we packed an extra duffle bag for the trip home - we needed it! And while we had made an effort to pack light and wash clothes while on the trip, there were still items I found I didn't wear and could have packed even lighter. 

We slept in a little but still managed to squeeze in a good hour and a half in at the pools before we had to get dressed, dry our suits and head out front to wait for our shuttle to the airport. London went down the dark slide as many times as she possibly could, too. 

We were all so sad to see this trip end, it was such a good trip. Usually at the end of a vacation, I am ready to get home and back to our animals. I was just beginning to miss them when the week ended. I could have stayed a few more days if we could. London could stay there forever. She still says how much she misses Hawaii and says she wants to live there someday. 

Thank you to my mom & dad, and Vicki for the trip. I hope we can all do it again someday!


Jan 16, 2016

Hawaii December 2015: Ocean Swimming & an Island Tour

Given how much in pain I was in Monday night, I was very thankful that Tuesday was another day full of relaxation. I was able to get a good night's sleep in, combined with Advil, so I woke up Tuesday feeling much better and ready to enjoy the day with the girls. 

Sydney's eye was looking better with all the drops too. Just the corner of her eye looked red that morning. That's also when I noticed she had 2 or 3 of her long upper lashes stuck behind the skin of the lower lash line! I was able to use a Q-tip to fish these lashes out but they were bend badly and I feared they would get stuck again, so we eventually pulled them out. I'm almost positive this is what led to the irritation and gunky eye the day before and pink-eye may not have been the issue at all. Oh well. The drops had helps immensely for the irritation.

We decided to start the day out down by the ocean. Aulani offers complimentary beach toy rental, so we picked up a bag on our way to finding some lounge chairs under an umbrella. We got lucky and found some in the front row. The girls played with the beach toys a little, but soon London had made a friend, as she did every time we went swimming, and started playing with her beach toys. The little girl had this cool mermaid water doll that I wish I could have found for the girls. The mom told me she had gotten it at Walmart, but I've never seen anything like it. I'll have to keep looking as the summer months draw near. 


When that little girl and her mom left, Cameron took the girls swimming out into the ocean while his mom rented a kayak. I stayed on the land, reading magazines since the water this time of year was a little too cold for me. While the temperature was pretty much 84 degrees every day, which was perfect for spending so much time outside, the actual water was a little on the chilly side. I preferred the heated pools at the resort. 


The girls and Cameron didn't last in the water too long either. Before long, we packed up and headed back to the Villa for lunch. And naps. 


When the girls woke up we did some more swimming before having a light dinner back at the Villa. My parents had spent the early part of the afternoon hanging out with an old friend from the days when they lived on Oahu. 


Tuesday night was also the night we discovered "Mo'olelo Fire Pit Storytelling" with Uncle Ito at Aulani. I'd read about it on the resort's web site prior to our arrival and had wanted to check it out but had forgotten about it until I saw it happening poolside that evening. Luckily, that was a night that Uncle was telling stories 3 times. I had read to get there early as seating was limited around the giant fire pit. We got there about 20 minutes early and it was packed, already, but we were able to find some seats. Uncle came out and lit the fire and proceeded to tell a story about the Menehune (mythical, hard working, little people of the islands) that lasted about 15 minutes. The girls weren't too into it, but Vicki, my dad, Cameron and I would return later that night and as much as we could our last few nights to hear Uncle's different mythical stories. I only wished we had checked this out earlier in our trip. It was a nice, relaxing way to end our evenings and prepare for bed. We had the same "Uncle" each night and he was a very gifted storyteller as well. 

Wednesday was our second to last full day on the Island and a day we used to tour the island. Since my parents lived there for 5 year, they chose to stay back at the resort for the day, so it was just Vicki, Cameron, the girls and I. 


We loaded onto our tour bus through E Noa Tours for our North Shore Adventure with several other Aulani guests at a decent hour that day. We made one stop at the resort next door for a few more people and then we were on our way. Our tour guide, Cousin K, described this tour as the "Eating" tour of the island, based on all the stops we would make. 

First stop was at a Coffee farm and stand. Given that Cameron and I aren't coffee drinkers, we mainly used this stop for a bathroom break and did wander a grove of coffee bean trees. There wasn't any formal tour here, so it was mainly a place to grab a cup of coffee and tour the gift shop. 

The next stop was the Dole Plantation and the information train ride through some of the fields. As we learned how pineapples are grown, we also saw that the fields we were touring were getting ready to be planted, which meant there were no pineapple plants to see. We did see some after we got off the train, and we did see other things like sugar cane, and bananas growing in their bunches. The girls loved it, but mainly for the train ride. After we got off the train we did see a little planting of pineapple plants and that's where I learned there are many different varieties of pineapple. The pink pineapple was my favorite!

Bananas on  the tree look awesome




Our first pineapple sightings at the Dole Plantation
We then got some Dole Whip and enjoyed eating out on the patio in the sun. We still had time before we had to be back on the tour bus, so we wandered the gift shop a little. The Pearl Factory stand was handing out keys to a locked treasure chest giveaway, so we gave that a try. No luck. But we did draw a 40% off coupon to crack open a clam, so we let the girls each pick out a clam and see what kind of pearl they got. London ended up with a beautiful pink pearl, while Sydney's had more of a purple tint to it. Both mean love. We'll probably have our favorite jeweler create something with these pearls for each of the girls at the right time in their lives. 





The girls with my favorite pink pineapple






Our next stop would be for lunch, but not before we battled the traffic on the windy side of the island. The road was only two lanes, and apparently the finals for the Triple Crown and Pipemasters competition and was the place to be. Cars were parked for miles. I'm sure it was some great surfing too, as the waves we could see along the drive were huge. Most of the beaches we passed were closed due to the large waves and the dangers they posed. It was also quite rainy on this side of the island though we were able to stop and take pictures of the waves during a little break in the weather. And by the time we made it to our lunch stop, it was sunny again. 




Lunch was a cash-only shrimp shack on the side of the road. But don't let that fool you. I ordered some coconut shrimp that was delicious. The girls were the ones that lucked out the most - the chicken and noodles they got were fantastic. The noodles were exactly what I had wanted our first night when I ordered noodles from the Hawaiian BBQ location (those were awful!). The chicken was breaded and cooked to perfection - not over cooked at all. 





After lunch we drove less than a mile to our next stop, Kahuku Farms.  We got to take a tractor ride through the farm, which included mango, papaya and bananas. The farm also has a farm stand & cafe where you can get smoothies and purchase fresh fruits and vegetables grown on the farm as well as culinary and bath and body products, also made from ingredients on the farm. I think this was Vicki's & my favorite stop with all the culinary, bath & body products. 

Coconuts! 
Papaya Tree
More pineapple sightings at the Farm

We did some shopping as we enjoyed our complimentary smoothies after the tour. Vicki got me a jar of the body butter lotion, which I have been using almost everyday since we got back. It has a beautiful, light tropical scent and moisturizes very nicely. We also fell in love with their hand-cleaner. It also has a nice light scent, not like most hand sanitizers, plus it's not drying so you don't have to apply lotion afterward.  I haven't really used the culinary items we got but I did get to taste them all and they are truly unique and delicious. 
Old papaya trees

Young payapa trees 

Our final stop of the day was at Tropical Farms, a macadamia nut outlet. Just imagine macadamia nuts of all different flavors, both sweet and savory to taste test. We found a few selections we liked best and made our purchases and wandered the rest of the gift shop a little before making a mad dash to the tour bus as it started to rain again. 

Luckily, it was time to head back to Aulani. Sydney was tired and tired of all the driving at this point and ended up sleeping in my arms just like a baby on the way home. Looking down on her I was immediately transported back to her newborn days. She even suckled in her sleep like a newborn and put her hands in little fists onto her cheeks like she did back then. So sweet. 

The drive back was long due to traffic and the weather. When we got back to the resort we could tell that it had been raining there for a little while, enough to wet the ground, but the sun was shining through as it set. 

Cameron used some of the savory macadamia nuts we had purchased that afternoon to bake on top of some salmon my dad & I had picked up at Costco at the beginning of the trip. That was definitely one of the best dinners we had on the whole trip, and it was from the comfort of our villa. This was especially good as we were wiped out. 

Overall, our tour experience was fantastic and I would highly recommend E Noa Tours for any one visiting Oahu.