Thursday, January 14, 2021

COVID for Christmas Part 6: Christmas Eve Shepherd's Dinner

Sam had the day off on Christmas Eve, so we got to enjoy being with him all day long.
After we finished the gingerbread village, I cleaned up the kitchen and made rolls while Sam and the kids watched some of Star Wars
We recently started using the ClearPlay filter on Amazon Video and it has opened up a lot more movies we feel comfortable watching! We can easily go through and customize exactly what we want to skip in movies--like language, sexuality, violence, and even crude humor or words like "shut up" if we choose.
We've been really impressed with the filter and grateful that it gives us some more options for movies. So the boys have finally started watching Star Wars with Sam.

After they finished, I sent them upstairs to clean their room until it was spotless and change into their Christmas pajamas.
Meanwhile, Sam and I prepared for our shepherd's feast.
I have loved doing this the past couple of years! It gives us a meaningful dinner together on Christmas Eve without having a lot of work for a fancy dinner or a lot of clean-up in the evening when we really need to be making Christmas preparations.
We laid out rolls, french bread, a variety of cheeses, some dried and fresh fruit, nuts, and jerky.
We pulled out scarves for the boys to wear like shepherds, and we ate picnic-style in the living room. While we ate in the semi-darkness in the glow of the Christmas tree, I read the Christmas story and then we went around the room and each shared a way we could be like the shepherds.
After we finished our dinner, we watched The Christ Child movie before we put the kids to bed.

Sam and I spent the next few hours wrapping presents (none were wrapped since we had planned on taking most of them with us to Utah!) and we had some late-night Martinelli's to top off the day.

It was really a perfect Christmas Eve.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

COVID for Christmas Part 5: A Gingerbread Village

At some point in the Christmas season, I had seen a super fun idea for a gingerbread village using a Styrofoam cake form and a bunch of gingerbread cookies in the shape of buildings.
I thought it looked SO fun, and more manageable with kids than giving everyone their own house to decorate! And the end result was so beautiful.
I filed it away in my brain for an idea to try another year, but then, when we ended up not going to Utah, I decided to go for it this year! I ordered a cake form off Amazon, and on Wednesday the 23rd I whipped up a couple of big batches of gingerbread cookie dough.
I used 2 batches of this recipe:

Gingerbread House Recipe

12 T unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 c brown sugar
2 eggs
1 c molasses
1/2 t baking soda
4 t ginger
4 t cinnamon
1 t allspice
1/2 t salt
6 c flour

Cream together butter and sugar. Add eggs and molasses. Add baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, allspice, and salt and stir to combine. Add flour and mix. Roll into sheets 1/4 inch thick between two pieces of parchment paper and freeze until firm. Cut into desired shapes and place on a greased cookie sheet. Bake at 350 for about 15 minutes.

Later that afternoon, after chilling the dough in the freezer, it was ready to be cut into shapes.
The boys loved doing this and coming up with unique building designs, but it was pretty tricky to manage the dough. We learned a lot about what works best this year so hopefully next time will go more smoothly!

It kind of took forever to make all the 4 or 5 hours.
After all that work, it was nearly dinner time so I threw together one of my favorite yummy and it only takes about 15 minutes to make!

Tortellini Soup

1 lb sausage
2 cans Italian style diced tomatoes
6 c chicken broth
1 pkg frozen tortellini cheese noodles
1/2 bag spinach
1 c cream or evaporated milk

Brown and drain sausage. Add tomatoes and chicken broth and heat through. Add tortellini, chopped spinach, and cream or milk and heat until noodles rise to the top and are cooked through.

The next day was Christmas Eve and before our evening festivities we decorated all the houses and put the village together! Everyone loved this part--it was so much fun for all of us and I loved that everyone could work according to their skill level. And there were dozens of houses, trees, and snowmen to decorate so we all got to do plenty!

We thought it looked so magical as our table centerpiece throughout our Christmas festivities!!
And the boys actually enjoyed nibbling on it over the course of the next few days, too.
I eventually washed off the cake forms and will re-use them next time. They should last at least 4 or 5 years so I think they were worth the investment (about $25).

Things to remember (for my own reference):
-The dough was much easier to manage if we left out the water.
-Roll dough out between two sheets of parchment paper sprayed with cooking spray and then freeze it before cutting out shapes.
-Make sure the body of every building is at least 4 inches high before the roofline starts so the cake form isn't peeking through.
-Make the cookies fairly thick and bake for about 15 minutes, adding hard candies during the last 5-7 minutes to melt.
-I just snipped the corner off of ziploc bags for the icing this year--I definitely need to use icing bags with tips next year, as it was really difficult to control.
-Do more big stained glass shapes--the color makes a big difference!
-Make sure we get a good variety of colors of hard candy--the bag of jolly ranchers I got only had red, pink, purple, and blue in it.
-Make the building on the top proportionately taller than I would if it was standing alone so it can be seen well above all the buildings.
-I should probably make 3 batches of dough, or at least 2 1/2 batches, so I can make the buildings a bit bigger and hide all the cake form.

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

COVID for Christmas Part 4: Sleeping by the Tree

On Tuesday, we started the morning off with these pumpkin white chocolate scones with ginger glaze. A friend in my ward made them for my baby shower and they were completely amazing. I made them at home and they fell a bit short of what I remembered from the shower. So I tweaked a few things and made them again on this day and they totally lived up to what I remembered!

Another friend in the ward dropped off a box of about 100 books for the boys to read while we were stuck at home! I was worried about their books getting mixed in with ours, so I put them all in Elsie's room (she was still sleeping in our room at the time so her room was largely unused) and told the boys they had to stay in there while they were reading them. I pulled out the mattress from our guest bed and they spent many hours shut away in there, reading, over the course of the break!

She also included a few other activities, like play-dough, puzzles, treats, and these crazy straw making kits.

And then the doorbell rang and another woman from our ward had put together the most amazing box of activities for us! I don't know how many hours she spent putting this together, but I was totally blown away. She just did this out of the kindness of her heart! She even had an invitation included to a storytime over Zoom (which we did the following night) and she had her husband scan in the pictures from the book so she could do a screen share and the boys could see the pictures better than if she just held up the book. Amazing!

Another friend had dropped off this stovetop potpourri the night before, so our house smelled amazing all day as it simmered on the stove all day. We were so grateful to have so much love and concern from friends!

I read a lot more of A Return to Christmas to the boys as the day went on. They really enjoyed the book! After dinner, Sam and I started to set up our tent in the living room for the boys to sleep in by the Christmas tree. It had been over 3 years since we last set it up and it was full of dirt! Our last camping trip was about 2 days before we moved and I guess we never properly cleaned the tent. We got it all cleaned and tried to set it up, but it was too large for our living room (It's a 10-man tent) and the poles would not stay in their loops without stakes, so we finally gave it up and just put mattresses by the tree instead. The boys were only mildly disappointed and they loved sleeping next to the magical tree!

Monday, January 11, 2021

COVID for Christmas Part 3: Lego Christmas Village and a Scavenger Hunt

On Monday morning, we found a gift bag our neighbors put on our doorstep.
Inside was a fun inflatable reindeer ring toss game to help our COVID Christmas be a bit more fun!
The boys thought it was a riot.

It's really hard to keep the noise level reasonable when all the boys are home and cooped up inside. With Sam working from home, I really try to keep the house somewhat calm and quiet during work hours, but it's tough with five active boys running around! So we went upstairs to their room and I challenged them to work together to make a Christmas village out of Legos while I started reading a new Christmas chapter book to them, A Return to Christmas.
I loved all the little details they came up with!

Here we have a house (with the roof removed) with a man setting up a Christmas tree inside and a wreath on the door:

This is a little candy stand on the town square:

This is the giant Christmas tree on the town square. They later added a woman on a ladder next to it, putting on the star:

Here is a snow plow with a bunch of snow in a pile:

This is a Christmas tree farm, with a tractor in the background, and a woman is handing the man money to buy the tree. He is holding an ax, and they even cleverly made a slot in the trunk that the ax fits into so it looks like he is halfway done chopping down the tree:

Here is a car driving down the street:

And here is a little Christmas train with a couple of snowmen next to it:

I loved seeing how they worked together and came up with different ideas while I lay on the bed with a sleeping baby, reading aloud. It was glorious.

That evening after dinner, we headed out for a Christmas light scavenger hunt around town for Family Home Evening!
I whipped up a batch of hot chocolate and put it in the kids' thermoses to sip on while we drove around.
Just as we were loading everyone into the car, Lincoln let out a blood-curdling scream! He had pressed the button to open the thermos lid (which has a rubber straw in it) and the hot chocolate, which was nearly boiling, had become pressurized in the thermos and sprayed out the straw all over his face!
Talmage opened his thermos as well and the pressurized hot chocolate shot about 12 feet and splattered all over the garage wall.
Lincoln was crying and very distraught about his burned face, which hurt badly. Elsie was screaming in her carseat, there was hot chocolate all over the car and the garage, and we almost called it off--at least for Lincoln, Elsie, and I.
But eventually we coaxed Lincoln out the door with a bag of ice on his face and we started the hunt.

After that rough start, it actually ended up being a lovely evening.
We found a few houses that had their lights synchronized to their own radio stations and they were so fun! And we found almost everything on the scavenger hunt list (I always like to print out this one).

Lincoln fell asleep in the car on our way home and he looked so peaceful next to the Christmas tree after Sam carried him in from the car.
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