Monday, December 22, 2008
Years back when my little brother Garrett was only 11 or 12, Diedra and I decided it would be funny to tease him about giving him a really terrible Christmas gift, like an education computer game. Since he is one to (a) always tag along and ease drop, (b) act like he is not trying tag along, and (c) get really upset when we tease him, it was the perfect plan. All we had to do was talk in slightly louder than normal voices about his "present" and he was hooked. We had created an education math game called Mr. Math, which was also on clearance (which only made him more upset). It was hilarious. We didn't even have to try that hard, he fell right for the bait.
Once our trick was stuck, we then thought it would be even more hilarious to keep him thinking he got the crappiest Christmas gift ever, so instead of wrapping up a gift, we made him go on a treasure hunt around the house. By the time he got through all the clues, he was so bummed about actually finding an education math game, that he didn't even want to open his gift (which turned out to be a toad). Garrett was thrilled about the awesome pet and pretty upset that he fell for the joke. And the Christmas gag gift was born.
So the next year our family decided to pick names among the siblings. When I got my name and started brainstorming options, immediately I thought "what is the worst possible present?" After mulling over some pretty bad gifts, I realized that the worst possible present is having someone donate yours to charity on your behalf. Enter gag gift #2.
So instead of my sister Rixa and her husband Eric opening a gift on Christmas, then got a very fancy envelope. Inside was a letter from the president of an fake organization I made up thanking them for their generous donation. It also included pictures, a certificate of the donation in their name, and a company seal. The whole family was tricked. My mom even commented on how thoughtful the gift was. Eric was a little miffed about the gift, but of course couldn't say anything. I giggled to my self for several hours until I finally broke the news that the entire gift certificate was fake and I had a real present for them.
After that, gag gifts were a must. I couldn't believe that I had fooled the entire family with a little fancy word document and card stock. Diedra also got in on the gag gifts for the next couple of years. Below is a list of the various gifts we have given:
1. Chaste and Be Chased. A Mormon book on dating and being chaste. I gave this to my little brother Garrett one Christmas. It was a real book, but I made a fake dust jacket. My mother actually loved it (she is a big fan of giving chastity talks), and Garrett had this horrified look when he opened it. The best part was the accompanying CD of chaste songs sung by the MoTab.
2. Fake IDs. I gave Diedra the idea to make people in our family fake IDs with a little color printing and laminating. My dad got one for being a President Bush look-a-like and Garrett got one that listed his age as 21 and also included facial hair, issued by the State of Insanity.
3. Certificates of servitude. You know the "coupons" you give your parents when you are little for things like hugs and helping with the dishes? Well we made long, detailed, and extravagant certificates to each member of the family on behalf of Garrett and forged his signature. The best part was having each family member read theirs all while Garrett is in the background protesting that he did not write it or sign it and it is not valid. We promised away most of Garrett's savings, free time, and allowance. It was priceless.
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
Monday, December 15, 2008
I also love all the cooking and baking that comes with the holidays, because it means that I get to spend time making delicious food I only make once a year and often with friends. My dear friend Jocelyn wanted to learn the art of bread making, so we convened in her darling green kitchen one Saturday morning with Kim to see what we could create. (Notice how I match the kitchen?)
We made two batches of pumpernickel (one of my favorites) and the Spencer family famous French Bread (that is to die for, trust me). After some helpful tips like (the water should be warm like a baby's bath, don't over kneed the dough, and rise the dough in a slightly warm oven for 20 minutes) we ended up with really amazing bread.
1 ½ T dark molasses
1 ½ c flour
⅓ c medium rye flour
⅓ c whole wheat flour
1 T unsweetened cocoa
1 t salt
2 T butter (or oil)
1 ½ t yeast
Dissolve yeast in warm water and let sit 10 minutes. Stir in molasses and butter. Combine dry ingredients in a separate bowl and add half at a time. Dough should be soft, but not sticky. Knead until smooth. Let dough rise until double (about 45 minutes). Punch down and shape into a rounded ball. Let rise for 30-40 minutes. Bake at 350 for 20-30 minutes.
2 T yeast
3 T sugar
¼ c oil
1 egg yolk
6 c flour
1 t salt
1 egg white
Dissolve yeast and sugar in warm water, letting it grow for 5-10 mins. Add oil, yolk, salt, and 2 c flour. Stir until smooth. Add remaining flour until dough is soft but not sticky. Set in greased bowl to rise until double. Punch down and form into 2 loaves. Let rise until double and brush with egg white. Bake at 400 for 15-20 minutes.
I also got to spend a few hours this last Saturday with Kim making the most delicious sugar cookies. I am a sugar cookie purest; I don't eat any one's cookies but my own. The secret: add 1 tsp almond extract to the dough and a little to the glaze. It makes the flavor much better. I also dip my cookies in a glaze, which is easier than frosting (since the glaze smooths itself out, requiring so spreading) and hardens so that you can stack them in a container.
Now I am looking forward to some more baking with Ben's family and maybe trying out some new dishes.
As proof here is a picture of Ben snorkeling in Waterlemon Bay. We found a few sea turtles and were following them around the shall, grassy area as they ate. They are incredible to watch and really fun to swim with.
Highlights of our snorkeling:
1. We saw lots of sting rays, which Ben and I both love. I've seen them before, but they somehow never seem to lose they draw. They are really fun to swim above and watch, although Ben and I came across one in Maho Bay that did not seem happy to have us so close, so we backed off.
The sunset at Cinnamon Bay.
Thursday, December 11, 2008
Above is the view from Concordia, which is an eco-friendly vacationing spot on the southern tip of St John. It is a small complex of condos, with a restaurant, pool, and convenience store. I've been to this side of the island before, but not stayed there, so it was a nice change. The view was incredible. And since we had a kitchen, I brought an entire backpack of food, which might sound crazy to some people to fly with a bunch of food. But when we were eating brie with fresh french bread and pears for dinner while watching the sunset, I bet you were jealous. Most of our meals we ate in the condo, which made it that much easier to upgrade to a nicer room after our first one needed some repairs.
Driving on the left side of the road. Notice how the vegetation kind of takes over.
Our favorite switch back. This picture doesn't do justice to just how crazy this turn was. The best strategy of not dying: honk and then proceed with caution.
Each morning we would wake up to complete silence (after falling asleep to the surprisingly loud noise of tree frogs, the silence of them stopping actually wakes you up). It as wonderful to wake up to the bright sun and get to relax for a few more hours before hitting the beach. Most morning we would read on our wrap around porch while enjoying the sun. We would then head out to the beach around 10 for a few hours of snorkeling and then head back for lunch before round two of snorkeling. We had amazing weather and visibility all week.
Our condo was a two-story loft that had a porch that wrapped around, so we could see 180 degrees ocean view.
The main floor.
The vaulted, wooded ceiling. On the left side you can see the loft where our bedroom was.
The view from our porch. I spent most mornings and evenings out here just enjoying the view.
Some other fun aspects of the condo were:
1. Two sides of the shower were slats that you could open up and see the jungle. Really great for the exhibitionist in me, but also rather alarming to hear people outside walking around.
2. The condo was the highest up on the hill, so we had the best view.
3. The bedroom was upstairs, but the stairs were on the exterior. Not a big deal if you are heading up to grab something, but kind of strange to hop out of the shower and streak up the stairs so no one sees you.
4. We were about a 15 minute walk from our condo to Salt Pond Bay, which is were we did a lot of our snorkeling. It was fun to go a small hike and emerge from the jungle at the beach.
5. Humming birds were everywhere. Every few minutes one would fly by me as I sat outside.
Monday, December 08, 2008
To show that this is still alive in America, here is a snippet from his last letter:
The Frandsen family (from the 3rd Ward) hit a deer with their car on the way to
the Christmas activity on Friday. Brother Frandsen thought that he should
keep since it had done damage to his vehicle. He called the Sheriff and
waited. Finally after nearly an hour the Sheriff finally arrived.
While the Sheriff was filling out the possession tag, the deer raised it’s head
then sprang up and ran away! It is a good thing that he didn’t just throw
the deer in the back of his vehicle and drive off.
Lest you think that we only talk about people who pick up dead animals off the side of the road, earlier this year my dad came across a dead wolf (timberwolf) and put it in his trunk to take home. Only after skinning it did he realize that it is probably illegal to do so with endangered animals, so he called the police who quickly confiscated it. I'm not sure what my dad would do exactly with the wolf hide, but something tells me he would find a good use for it.
Maybe someday if you are cool enough you might get your own Garrett t-shirt with his face on it. I suggest sending him packages now to start buttering him up.