Thursday, December 27, 2007

Gilmores celebrate Christmas Eve & Day with both families

Merry Christmas from our home to yours! This year we were blessed to celebrate Christmas in Fresno with both sides of our family now that my parents, Doug and Maria Lazo (better known as Papa and Nana) live just a mile up the road and Ericlee's parents, Chris and Larry Karlyn (Grandma and Grandpa) still live in a condo less than a mile the other way. Paul and Michelle (my bro and sister-in-law) drove up to Fresno with their beagle Buster. We fought over Paul and Michelle, cooked up a frenzy in the kitchen, played games, read the story of Jesus' birth in the Bible, opened gifts, ate, caroled and did I mention eating?

Papa and Nana hosted Christmas Eve this year at their new house. They served our traditional Italian Fish Soup with some fabulous appetizers. Meilani is a big fan of "sooop" - and pretty much anything Nana makes.

Grandma Chris aka Mrs. Claus came armed with presents for everyone to open. Meilani's Christmas Eve gift was this fabulous kid vacuum. She didn't give one iota that she was dressed up. She got right down to business "vacuuming" Nana and Papa's front room. This "toy" even makes the vacuum sound. She was quite the little homemaker in her sparkly skirt and sweater.

Ericlee and I were thoroughly blessed this year as we were surrounded by friends and family. In years past, Christmas has felt quiet but this year we embraced the bustle and the noise. Since Ericlee coached Cross Country in the fall and now is coaching basketball before Track in the Spring, our quality time together is the best gift of all.

Christmas morning we hosted at the Gilmore Casa. We made our traditional cinnamon rolls - this year with a healthy whole wheat, honey and raisin twist - to add to the brunch table. Auntie Michelle managed to keep Meilani occupied until 8:30 a.m. when Nana and Papa arrived. Then she made a beeline for the first gift - a new little table with bright blue chairs and a stool. She didn't even notice the enormous pile of presents near the tree. She sat right down at the table and started coloring with Nana.

We have learned our little girl is quite content with even the simplest of gifts. This quacking duck sent by our friends, the Ziermanns, in Chicago was a big hit. She was happy with this little guy for a while before she tackled the present pile again. She's a pretty fortunate kid to be in the center of eight smiling adults. Let's just say our house now looks like a tornado of toys just erupted.

Grandpa Larry, who loves all things weather related, got his annual Weather Calendar from Paul and Michelle this year. He's got action to cover the whole year!

Ericlee and I were practical and creative with our limited Christmas funds this year. We got each other some useful gifts like athletic shorts, a CD holder and desk set. Ericlee surprised me with a devotions book for busy moms and a hand-held recorder for interviews and other inspirations. This was my favorite gift, especially because he recorded "love messages" for me on each channel. So thoughtful!

After a walk through our neighborhood caroling and delivering cookies to our neighbors, we set to work on the traditional Christmas ravioli. Paul, Michelle and I did the work for this year's ravioli first course. We have a homemade pasta roller and a little cookie cutter tool to shape the ravioli. This is a fun family activity and probably the only time a year we make fresh pasta. We served it as our first course with a marinara-alfredo sauce mix. Yummy!

Uncle Winston (my dad's brother) joined us for our Christmas dinner. We were surprised and blessed when he showed up on our porch. We enjoyed our ravioli and then had a curried turkey, couscous and green bean casserole made by Grandma Chris. I even got to try out my new rotating 3-tier appetizer tray. Fancy schmancy.

Whenever Auntie Michelle and Uncle Paul are around, we find ourselves playing lots of games. We Lazo-Gilmores are a competitive bunch. This year we had a "game tourney" and the overall winner got a prize. We even convinced Dad (who is usually the pro dish washer after the feast) to play a game of Scrabble with us. Uncle Paul raked in the most points in the tourney and won the Starbucks card.
The morning after Christmas our festivities continued. Michelle's parents drove down from Oregon and stopped in Fresno for brunch at Nana and Papa's new house. We dined on Mom's Chicken Tetrazzini and caught up on all the news from the Irvine family before Paul and Michelle continued home to L.A. with them. Meilani was very sad to say "ByeBye - dogggy - home" to her new best friend, Buster. We're pretty sure Buster was excited for some alone time.

Once again we were reminded of the center of Christmas: time celebrating Christ's birth and quality minutes with family. More than all the gifts and all the hype, this is what we will remember about Christmas 2007.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Pita Piatta Party: A Yaquinto Family Tradition

It's no surprise that many of the holiday traditions in our family revolve around food. One Italian family tradition is making a special pastry called pita piatta: a double coil of cinnamon-sugar-raisin-doughy yumminess. This family baking day is the start of Christmas – the beginning of the season – even more important than decorating the tree or wrapping gifts. On Sunday, my mom's cousin Jan (Oliveto-Grimm) and her family joined us for the first time to make our pita piatta. Can you see the resemblance?

When we make pita piatta we're talking quality and quantity; our pita piatta recipe makes 14. My mom's the chief recipe follower and she tries her best to maintain quality control (although she says this is hard with so many people helping out). We package them up and send them around the country to family and friends and we always serve them at our Christmas Eve and Christmas Day festivities.

We started this tradition when I was a kid and we would always bake with my Grandpa Yaquinto (my mom's dad, John). He was the pita piatta master and he trained my dad in the mixing of the dough. My dad loves to put on the girliest apron in the house and get his muscles working in the dough.

This year Meilani joined us for her first "Pita Piatta Party." She put on an apron and helped Daddy with rolling out the dough. This is a very grown-up job she was eager to help with and even insisted on managing on her own. The dough is rolled out paper thin and then topped with a mixture of oil, cinnamon, sugar, raisins and walnuts. Meilani popped a few raisins in her mouth as she worked - just to make sure our ingredients were up to par. Then she helped sprinkle on the cinnamon and sugar - my favorite part. I always imagine we are Christmas angels throwing stardust over the night sky on Christmas Eve.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Make it a Mediterranean Christmas with Cooking Club friends

We hosted our annual Cooking Club Christmas party on Saturday with a Mediterranean theme. We have 10 couples in our Cooking Club but they never come all on the same night; this year every couple made it and we had an elegant dinner for 21 adults, three babies, one toddler and a dog named Buster. We had a full kitchen of ladies chopping, prepping, cooking and following recipes.
One great addition to the kitchen help this month was my sister-in-law, Michelle. Paul and Michelle drove up from Los Angeles with their dog, Buster, to spend some Christmas with the family. Michelle's a great dessert maker and a wonderful helper to have when you're in a pinch. She took charge of the Italian Ricotta Cheesecake, which uses ricotta cheese instead of the traditional cream cheese. This warm cheesecake was a definite hit. Auntie Michelle also helped out with Meilani. (We can't wait for Meilani's new baby cousin coming in April/May.)

My other right-hand woman in the kitchen is Cori Schmidt. I was happy to have her helping out for this menu. She made a fabulous Zucchini Caprese Salad, which is a colorful stack of zucchini, tomato, basil and mozarella with a balsamic sauce. Another hit of the the party.

The first course of the meal was my family's traditional Christmas Fish Soup. We make this tomato-based soup every year for Christmas Eve. Many Italian families have versions of this soup. We like to use orange roughy fish or sometimes tilapia. The soup is a meal in itself.

Our beautiful spread also included Roast Leg of Lamb with garlic and rosemary, confetti couscous, a layered Mediterranean salad, Spanakopitas, Hummus and pita bread and a Holiday chocolate mint trifle for dessert. This was indeed a feast!

We had so many guests we actually had to take all the furniture out of our front room and stash it in the garage so we could set up tables for everyone. (Pictured here are Jeremy & Corban Pusey, Marcy Pusey, Darrel & Cori Schmidt and Paula Beery - Josh Beery was on the way.)

The guest of honor at our table was Shawn Young, who traveled all the way from Baltimore to hang out and celebrate. We had a "Haiti Reunion" at our table with all the people from our original Haiti team and their spouses plus babies. How cool to reflect on how far God has brought each of us in our lives since 2001 when we all traveled to Haiti together.

Joining us at the third table, is Mary & Antonio Andrade, Paul (my bro) and Michelle Lazo, and Stacie & Forest Benedict. Buster the dog is roaming around somewhere - probably hanging out by the roast lamb or running away from sweet Meilani.

We also had a visit from Santa at our Cooking Club. Santa Caleb Johnson and Mrs. Claus Niana Holman were quite the pair. Our gift exchange got to be very rowdy as we fought over kitchen items. The big steals were a fondue set, a grill basket for vegetables, a snazzy travel kitchen knife and a vegetarian cookbook. Ericlee and I ended up with ice tongs and pie beads for making the perfect pie. No complaints.

The Christmas party went off without a hitch. The food was even done 15 minutes early - much to everyone's surprise. Ericlee and I indulged not only in wonderful food but a great reminder of one of our greatest gift - the support and deep friendships we have here in Fresno. Bon Appetito!

Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas from Santa Honey

We went to the Farmer's market on Saturday with our friend Shawn Young, who is in town visiting, and we met up with Santa. He was selling local honey at the market and we snapped a quick photo with the jolly guy. Meilani didn't want to be held by him - that explains the furrowed brow. We loved the idea of the Farmer's Market Santa! So sweet!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Meilani's Milestones: Groovin' up to 18 months

Today we took Meilani to the doctor for her official 18-month check-up. She's officially 18 1/2 months now, but who's counting? She's 33 1/2 inches tall and 24 pounds. Since some of you might be logging onto our blog for the first time, we wanted to take a few minutes to share some of Meilani's milestones this month. Our little "baby" is now a talking, climbing, dancing personality. What a difference from last Christmas when she was such a wee one!
Meilani loves her sticker books (pictured here). She's a girl of details. She enjoys taking all the stickers out of the book, arranging them on the pages, creating little dramas with the "Anmals" and then returning them to their original homes. We are very grateful to have found something to occupy her in the car and while sitting on the potty. Yes, we have ventured into the wonderful world of potty training. She's doing pretty well for 18 months - pooping and peeing on the toilet three to four times a day. We need to graduate from the pull ups but a mishap today with the big-girl panties means we might need to wait a bit longer. No rush.
One milestone is Meilani has moved into her toddler bed. She's been sleeping with us since she learned how to crawl out of her crib (at 5 months). We finally got a little wiser and converted the crib to a bed and she at least falls asleep there and stays for half of the night now. A little progress and alone time for Mama and Daddy. Since we're still breastfeeding we don't mind her joining us "up" in our bed later in the night. A new favorite word is "NighNigh" when she's sleepy or trying to put her stuffed animals to bed. (We are really into the "babies" now - her word for all her dolls and animals. She likes to feed, diaper and put them to sleep.)
Meilani's favorite room of our house is the kitchen. We wonder how that happened! She loves "HelpHelp"ing Mama with the cooking and Daddy with the dishes. If we are anywhere near the counter or sink she pulls up a chair and rolls up her sleeves. An eager beaver. She likes to roll out pizza dough (pictured here). She also helps make the weekly granola cereal on Sundays. She's a big fan of the measuring spoons, salad spinner and our fancy VitaMix for making smoothies. This Christmas season has been lots of fun as Meilani has helped with lots of traditional (and healthy) recipes. She's a great eater too; she's had her share of exotic foods like Italian manicotti, Indian masala, Filipino adobo, South African babootie and Armenian pilaf. She loves "sooop" and she's already a vegetable lover.
This morning we received this cool AquaDoodle toy in the mail from Aunt Jan and Uncle Russ in Texas. This is a perfect gift for our little artist. It's no-mess and Meilani can doodle to her heart's content. Usually she's at Mama's desk "typing" on the computer or scribbling on any scrap of paper (including Mama's students papers and Daddy's Bible). She's also a big fan of post-it notes. (Hide yours or else!)
Meilani's comprehension and vocabulary is growing at leaps and bounds. She is drinking up this stage of exploration in life and each day comes up with new words. We started her off with sign language and now she's trading in her signs for the real words. Of course, there's the usual toddler "more," "mine" and "no." (We discourage those words.) She's also good at "Nani" (what she calls herself now), "bite" (when she's feeding herself with her "poon" or fork, "bubbles" (anytime we're in the bathroom) and "jump" (much to Daddy's delight). That one was really cool until this afternoon when she jumped off Daddy's desk chair and landed on her head. (Owwww!) Thank goodness this was in our one carpeted room in the house. Grandma Chris bought her this nativity scene to play with for Christmas and she loves to create the animal noises and make the angel and shepherds "fly." We are so blessed by our sweet girl - so full of energy and life - and making each day full of wonder and surprises.

Monday, December 17, 2007

The Bridge Caroling Crew: Singing in the Streets

Last night we joined our friends from The Bridge church for a Christmas caroling extravaganza in the neighborhood. This is the second year our church hosted this event but the first time we were able to go. We gathered in our worship center to sing carols and then we split up into groups of about 10 people and go out into the neighborhood to share those carols.

Jeff Zimmerman, the Junior High pastor at our church, led our group. We had fun moving along Ashlan and Bond streets, singing at each house. Theresa and Amy Crockett were also a part of our team. A favorite song was "Hark the Herald Angels Sing." Ericlee got the award for the loudest singing - not always on tune though.

Naomi, who is 3, served as our team's expert stocking deliverer. We handed out stockings at each door after we caroled. The stockings included some Christmas goodies and an invitation to our church. Naomi won their hearts with the cute factor. One family just moved into the neighborhood and they were so excited to see visitors at their doorstep. The Dad had a winner smile and thanked us profusely. He made the whole night worth it.

Our friends Stacie and Forest were also on our team. They helped us entertain Meilani on the cold walk and we could chat in between singing. Here Stacie shows off her new Christmas 'do if you can see her hair under that striped hat.

Meilani was pooped after we completed our 20-some houses and called it a night. She was ready to get "DOWN!" from her post in the hiking backpack. After the singing, we met up with the other groups back at the church for some hot cocoa and a buffet of homemade cookies. What an enchanted evening of old fashioned Christmas caroling!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Christmas Tree Lane: Continuing a Tradition

Tuesday night we walked down Fresno's Christmas Tree Lane , which just happens to be in our neighborhood, and continued another cherished Christmas tradition. Two nights each year are designated just for walkers to enjoy this extravaganza of lights and people who converge on Van Ness Avenue. And when we say people, we mean lots of people. One source said 10,000 made it down the lane in that one night.

Meilani and I took Papa since Ericlee was at a basketball game. This was not Meilani's first experience on Christmas Tree Lane. We took her last year when she was six months old, but as you can imagine, it was more meaningful this year. She was saying "Hi, hi, HI!" to all dogs, snowmen, babies, santas and even horses we saw strolling down the lane.

One of her fave displays was this moving life-size diorama complete with Raggedy Ann and Andy puppets and a rocking Grandma. When the dolls would move up and down, Meilani would smile and say, "UP!" or "Dow-" She embraced the experience with such enthusiasm.

This is the 85th year the Old Fig Garden neighborhood has hosted the Christmas Tree Lane and we paused here to help celebrate. We've discovered that walking nights are not only an opportunity to see all the dazzle-me displays. It's also a chance to check out everyone and their mother in Fresno. It's like cruising without cars.

We met up with this cute hunk, Corban Pusey, who was dressed for the cold (Ok, 40s is cold for the Valley. Sorry, to you Chicagoans.) We were proud he fit into the hat and mittens we gave him when he was born. What a cutie! It's a good thing he was so bundled because we did see snow halfway through our walk. (We also spied the snow machine - This truly was a Hollywood experience.)

Meilani enjoyed hanging out with Corban's new foster brother, Angel, who took her under his wing. Meilani loved "Duck the Halls," which is no surprise to those in the audience who know her favorite animal is the duck.

Angel and Meilani investigated the life-size displays along the lane together, including this one with pirouetting penguins and dancing snowmen. The two snuck in for a closer look. They also saw characters like Spiderman, Shrek, Little Mermaid, Santa's elves and even a Christmas cowboy - to name a few of the features.

The most well-known display - probably worth a pretty penny in PG&E bills - is the house, featuring a Disney train, a clock tower, a toy soldier who emerged from his box and a walkway for viewers to stroll through the maze of lights. We're talking thousands of lights!

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Meilani discovers Christmas ornaments

We tried our hand at this video thang. We have a little video device on our digital camera so it's not the best quality but we thought it would be fun for some of you to actually see and hear Meilani in action. This one is especially for family and friends we haven't seen in a while. Meilani is certainly drinking in the sights, smells and wonder of the season. Enjoy!

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Pizza Party at the Gilmore Filling Station

This week Meilani and Mama enjoyed some visits from a few of our favorite friends. Meilani is really into "babies" right now. Maybe it's because most of the people we know have newborns.

Our friends Christine and baby Caleb stopped by Tuesday for lunch. Caleb is three months now and he getting to be a big boy. He's going to be a cute blond when he grows up. Meilani followed him all around the house saying, "BabybabyBaby!" We're not sure if that was her pick-up line but she was quite enamored with him.
Our friends Allison and baby Mia surprised us Wednesday with a little visit. We fondly call our place the Gilmore Filling Station because all the mommies like to come over and breastfeed on the big red couch. Meilani got to hold baby Mia for a few minutes. Mia is also three months and growing as well. As her face reveals, holding babies is serious business for Meilani.
On Thursday, our new neighbor, James, came for a visit while his mommy got a few hours to herself. Meet Iron Chefs James and Meilani. This week's secret ingredient: pizza. They helped me roll out the homemade pizza dough, top it with sauce, cheese, pepperoni and mushrooms.
James really threw his muscle into the business of rolling. (Love that face!) James is 3 so Meilani got a taste of hanging out with an "older" kid. He was very concerned about the fact that she does not say the train noise, "Choo! Choo!" correctly. Meilani kept doing her sign language and saying "TooTooToo!" much to his dismay. Kids are such a riot. After we got over that, the two of them had fun playing "Bumper Ball" with our exercise ball. They would throw/roll it at each other and try to knock each other over. Thank goodness for our new carpet in the office/playroom!