Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Twelfth Day of Christmas: 12 Traditions of the Lazo-Gilmore family

We had great aspirations to share one tradition every day for the last 12 but we were too busy actually doing our traditions and not writing them out on the blog. We decided to still share the whole list. We're interested to hear about your family's traditions. What is something you do every year with your kids or spouse? Pass it on.

(Commence singing 12 Days of Christmas here...)

1st Day of Christmas: Take Walk Down Christmas Tree Lane with friendsThis starts off our Christmas season. We always take a stroll down the famous Christmas Tree Lane right here in our Fig Garden neighborhood. Thousands (literally) of people walk this lane to see the fancy houses and lights and get out into the community. It's great fun with friends!

2nd Day of Christmas: Make Christmas Cookies
Every family has their favorites, we know. We love to make Pizzelle Cookies, which are Italian cookies that look like snowflakes and are made with a special waffle-like iron. We also make at least one batch of cookie cutter cookies. This year we tried them with whole wheat pastry flour and some "healthier" toppings - dried cranberries, chocolate chips, unsweetened coconut and more.

3rd Day of Christmas: Fill a Christmas box for a child in the Developing World and Pick Out a World Vision Gift
We want to instill in Meilani the idea of giving gifts to others. These are two ways we share Christmas spirit with people less fortunate than us. This year Meilani helped pick the gifts for the little girl who would receive our Christmas box. She also picked two chicks to send to a child in the Developing World.

4th Day of Christmas: Pick out a Christmas Tree & decorate with ornaments. (Share stories of ornaments we've received and made through the years.)
Of course, we do this one the day after Thanksgiving but it's on our list of Christmas traditions. We pick out our tree from a local lot, put it up and hang the lights and ornaments. Meilani especially enjoyed hearing all of Daddy's stories about his ornaments. His mom has given him two special ornaments every year since he was a kid - one to represent Christmas past and one to represent the Christmas present.

5th Day of Christmas: Read Christmas books throughout the month
Dorina's sister started this tradition with her kids. She wraps up all the family Christmas story books (old and new) and let's the kids open one each night to read throughout the month of December.

6th Day of Christmas: Make Pita Piatta
This is a special Italian pastry made in San Giovanni in Fiori, where Nana Maria's family is from. We make it each year and send it around the country to friends as gifts. It takes several hours to make and each person in the family has a special job. We enjoy the fellowship and time cooking together!

7th Day of Christmas: Attend a Christmas musical
Each year we look for a special Christmas program to attend to help celebrate the season. This year our church provided and excellent production called "A Christmas Tale" with some modern versions of Christmas songs and a very contemporary way of telling the Christmas story. Meilani was a big fan!

8th Day of Christmas: Christmas Carol to the Neighbors and Bring Homemade Granola
We know lots of families deliver special cookies or gifts to neighbors. Last year we decided to share our famous Peanut Butter Granola with our neighbors and deliver it with some holiday cheer by singing to them.

9th Day of Christmas: Make Homemade Cinnamon Rolls
This is one of Ericlee's favorite traditions we started when we first got married. Dorina makes homemade cinnamon rolls to enjoy Christmas morning while we are opening our gifts. We can smell them rising through Christmas Eve. Yum-o! We've even adapted to a whole wheat version - still yummy and slightly healthier.

10th Day of Christmas: New pajamas on Christmas Eve
Our friends started this tradition and we thought it sounded fun. Meilani will open a new set of pajamas every Christmas Eve.

11th Day of Christmas: Roll Homemade Ravioli & Mix up Italian Fish Soup
Nana Maria always makes a traditional tomoato fish soup for our Christmas Eve meal before the church service. Our brother-in-law Steven instigated this tradition of making homemade ravioli for Christmas Day. We mix up the dough, use our special pasta maker to flatten it out into long strips and cut it ourselves with a special ravioli cutter.

12th Day of Christmas: Give three gifts like the Three Wise Men
We are just starting this tradition with Meilani. We always wondered where was a good limit for Christmas gifts and she will obviously get a lot from other people. This year we decided to get her three gifts from Mama and Daddy and use it as a way to talk about the Wise Men and their special gifts to Jesus.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

12 Traditions of Christmas: Gilmores take two walks down Fresno's Christmas Tree Lane with friends

Our family is big into traditions. Ericlee's mom had a host of traditions with him as he was growing up and the Lazos had many too. We thought we'd share 12 of our favorite traditions with our readers - one for each day before Christmas.(Commence singing the song here. You know the one.) One tradition we started a few years back is walking down Fresno's Christmas Tree Lane with friends. Each year it turns out to be a little different crew. This year we actually did it twice with two different groups of close friends. We started out last Tuesday with our small group: Cori & Darrel Schmidt, Troy & Allison Vasquez with Mia, Matt & Bev Ford with Josiah and Bethany, our growing fam and Stacie & Forest Benedict.

We started out at our house for a Taco Soup dinner made by Stacie with all the fixings from the rest of the crew. Meilani was especially excited that her friend Josiah Ford joined us for the festivities. The two of them love to run, play, rough house and sing together. Their a perfect match.

After a warm dinner and filling our thermoses with hot apple cider, we headed for Christmas Tree Lane, which is right here in Fig Garden where we live. This tradition of walking the lane is shared by hundreds, maybe thousands of other Fresno families. Meilani and Josiah decided to stick together and hold hands even in their separate strollers. So cute!

Forest posed with one of the wild Christmas decorations. Who is more buff?

One of our fave parts of Christmas Tree Lane this year was a jazzy band from University High. Those high school students were talented. We loved their jazz renditions of some traditional Christmas carols to round out our evening.

This Wednesday, we headed to our friends Jessica & Billy McGowen's house for a Christmas party. They called it "So you think you can Cook?" and hosted a fun cooking contest. All the guests had to bring a dish - appetizer, side dish or main dish to enter in the contest that would be judged by the kids.

Peyton McGowen knew his vote right away. Amy Tosland's super nachos complete with homemade guacamole, salsa and sour cream. Prego Mama Dorina couldn't get enough of those either. (Yes, I'm still a nacho freak!)

Meilani and I had spent the afternoon rolling out homemade Butternut Squash Ravioli in the shape of Christmas Trees. In the end, our dish won the contest by one vote! We had fun adding a mascarpone cream garnish and decorating it like a cake. (We didn't tell the kids it was filled with vegetables!)

The whole group couldn't stay together for the whole walk because there were hundreds of people on the Lane. We hung out with our friends, Josh and Amy Tosland, and their boys, Isaiah and Luke. We haven't had quality talking time with them in a long time so it was great to connect while the kids oohed and ahhhed at the lights.

We love this tradition because it's about getting out into the community, connecting with friends and even exercising together.

After the walk, we warmed our toes at the McGowens place and indulged in some chocolate pie and hot cocoa. (Ok, and a few more nachos!) Here Jessica, Amy and I are posing by the tree. (You have know idea how much effort it took to get a "just mamas" photo and keep all the crazy kids out of it!) Good times.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Ericlee laid off from Fresno Christian

Admittedly, it's been a long week. Last Wednesday we received the news that Ericlee, along with four other teachers from Fresno Christian Schools, was laid off. The school has been experiencing a lot of financial trouble (like so many other private institutions across the country) and needed to make cuts. P.E./Health and Drama were the first to go. We knew enrollment was down 15% this year but we really were shocked to receive the news Wednesday. His last day was Friday.

We have been absolutely floored by the support and encouragement we have received from our family, friends, church and families at Fresno Christian. This is what helps us move forward in these difficult circumstances. We rest in the truth that we may have been surprised by this timing, but God certainly was not.

One blessings in the midst of all this is a severance package that will cover us for at least a few months and an extension on our health insurance until April 30. This was such a huge stress relief, especially with Baby Giada coming in late February.

Now that we've had a week to mourn, process and digest, we are praying and pursuing doors God is beginning to open for our family. We would appreciate your continued prayers as we walk the journey.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas

If you haven't already heard the Christmas carols playing in the stores and on the radio, you should come on over to our house. We have been gearing up for Christmas since...October. We sing carols before bed and Meilani is already playing with her Nativity set. We also went down to our local tree lot to pick out our Christmas tree.

This year, more than the past two, Meilani was really excited about picking out the tree. Her eyes were wide when we arrived at the lot and began to peruse the rows of evergreens and firs. Although there were lots of choices, we actually bought the first one we saw because it was a perfect little tree for near our fire place.

We had such fun bringing it home and hanging the lights and special ornaments. Meilani heard Dadddy's stories of each of the ornaments we have received through the years and the memories they hold. Surprisingly, she recites these same stories to anyone who comes to visit. What a grand time of year to celebrate family, memories and Christ's birth!

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Lazo-Gilmores escape to mountains for family time

After Thanksgiving, the Lazo-Gilmores decided to ditch the shopping mania and head for the hills - literally. We piled in two cars and drove up to Yosemite National Park where we met Michelle's sister and new brother-in-law for a hike.

The weather was a bit more nippy than our balmy Fresno so we bundled up with winter layers and new hats. The group wanted to do some hiking so we chose the Vernal Falls hike. Yes, this one is shorter but still a hefty hike.
Mama Dorina and Meilani walked all the way to the bridge with the group. Then we decided to head back down with Ericlee and Nana Maria to check out some sites in the valley while the others continued to the top of the waterfall. We decided this was enough for Baby Giada's first hike. She still got to see some great views...

Meilani had fun singing and rock climbing along the route. At two and a half, she still loves to climb like she did when she was a baby. (Oh how we remember the days when she was 8 months and crawled out of her crib for the first time!)

We ducked inside the Yosemite Valley museum to learn more about the terrain and landscape. Meilani hung out with the infamous John Muir. We even found a cool art gallery/bookstore to warm our toes and read some fun nature kid books. We concluded our day with the whole family digging into pizza at Curry Village and playing some cards.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Giving Thanks for Family

This Thanksgiving we were reminded again of the biggest blessing in our life: family. We had the privilege of celebrating this holiday with Ericlee's parents, Chris and Larry, my parents, Maria and Doug, my brother and his wife, Paul and Michelle, and their baby, Cynthia. And we can't forget Buster the dog (aka Bumper). Our festivities always start Wednesday evening when we begin cooking our feast. Meilani helped Nama Chris stuff our bird.

She also took a turn tasting ingredients - just to make sure everything was up to par. Only the best for this family!

Our meal was a blend of classic Thanksgiving and new, healthy recipes. We had Nama Chris make her classic turkey with stuffing and Armenian pilaf. We added a Wild Rice & Italian Sausage Stuffing and Mashed Sweet Potatoes with Crusted Pecan Topping.

Nana Maria was in charge of the homemade crescent rolls and some new "healthier" pies. Meilani pitched in to make the whole wheat crust for Apple Nut Crunch Pie and Blueberry Pie.

Ericlee is always a great sous chef and help me chop up the veggies for our first course, the famous Butternut Squash Soup. We also tried out a Homemade Green Bean Casserole recipe this year. We ditched the traditional recipe with canned mushroom soup and made our own. Yum-o!

Thursday morning we continued our family tradition participating in the Fresno Turkey Trot. We met up with Ericlee's Cross Country team and cheered on the dads and daughters who staged their own little competition.

Mom, Ericlee (who had a nagging injury), Meilani and I walked the 3.1 hilly course through Woodward Park. Dad/Papa, the big stud, ran. (Not bad for a senior citizen!) We were so proud of him.

After the race, we trotted home to get our feast in the oven. Our friends, Mary and Antonio Andrade and their sweet little one, Olivia, joined us too. In Fresno, our close friends are always considered family. Tonio helped Uncle Paul with the deep-fried turkey - an alternative to the classic one Nama made. (Yes, we still have two turkeys at our feasts. It's all about the leftovers.)

Mary helped Michelle and I in the kitchen. The girls added the final touches to the menu, making deviled eggs, artichoke dip and a Gorgonzola and Pear Pizza appetizer.

Meilani provided the kitchen entertainment. She regailed us with her renditions of different showtunes in her questioning, "Is our turkey done."

Paul and Tonio's turkey was, indeed, the first bird onto the plate.

We all fought Mom for an extra crescent rolls. (Bye Bye Pillsbury. Homemade is what it's all about!)

Aside from stuffing ourselves, we also spent some time reflecting on the myriad blessings we have. We brought back a retro family tradition. When Paul and I were growing up, we would pass out paper and art supplies after dinner and make paper turkeys. Everyone made their own turkey and then we passed them around the table and wrote "thankful notes" to each other. We thought it would be fun to bring this tradition back now that we have little creative ones in our midst. We truly are thankful for circle of family we have so close by.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Friday Field Trip: Kids check out the animals at Fresno State's farm

On Friday, we piled in the car for another Friday field trip with our Mothering & Playing group. This time our destination was the nearby Fresno State farm for a tour. This was a little different from other farms we've been to since we had a student tour guide and there was a focus on sheep, cows and pigs. Meilani loved the little lambs and the chance to sing "Mary Had a Little Lamb" at the top of her lungs. The fuzzy guys let us get up close and pet them.

We trekked out to see the cows in the pasture and hear about the whole milking ordeal. Let's just say we saw the biggest "milk pump" you can imagine. Preston McGowen was checking out this "fellow milker." We saw mama cows, baby calves and daddy bulls.

Next stop: to see the horses. Fresno State has a great Equestrian team and the horses are well taken care of. Our tour guide was part of the Varsity team. Our friends, Isa and Terry, pose just beyond the horse stables. (Meilani took this pic!)

After the tour, our group settled in for an afternoon picnic in the park across from the farm. Meliz (the big sis of our group) smiles for the camera with Preston aka Phatty.

After lunch in the shade of the fiery-colored trees, the kids found a platform/stage and started performing. Guess who started that brigade? Yes, Meilani was singing her favorite show tunes from "Sound of Music" and more. The other kids started dancing. (We're going to need to build one of those stages in our backyard or something!)

We missed the group pic since prego mama was in the bathroom but here's a celebration of all our mommy and kid friends plus one dad from Play Group. What a fun way to spend an afternoon. And Fresno State's farm is right down the street!

Meilani and Milani say goodbye to the farm...

Monday, November 10, 2008

Taste of Friendship: Dorina cooks for audience

Move over Rachael Ray. Dorina is on the job. (Well, not quite but it was fun to pretend.) On Saturday our church, The Bridge, invited me to speak at women's event called "Taste of Friendship." The event was designed like a cooking show with a kitchen stage and everything.

I started the morning sharing my passion for healthy cooking (and eating!) and demonstrating our Peanut Butter Coconut Granola. This is a recipe we use frequently at our house. Meilani helps me and we make a weekly batch for Daddy's cereal and snacks. The granola can also be made into granola bars. I shared about the book, WHAT THE BIBLE SAYS ABOUT HEALTHY LIVING, and how that book prompted us a year and a half ago to change our lifestyle and really start eating foods that God created. The ladies numbered more than 120 and they were very responsive. I got some great questions about how to make meals more healthy on a budget.

After my morning the demo, the ladies were divided into four groups and they went to various rooms to watch other mini-demos. The four chefs included my mom, Maria Lazo, demonstrating Italian Pizzelle Cookies, Marie Kenyon demonstrating Roasted Tomato Soup, Anne Ogden demonstrating Empress Hotel Scones and Pastry Chef Willy Bezemer demonstrating marzipan roses for cake decorating. We had so much fun learning and tasting these new recipes as well as sharing cooking tips with friends.

The afternoon culminated with one final demonstration I did for lunch. I did a talk about "The Gift of Hospitality" and sharing cooking traditions with family. I demonstrated my own recipe of Spinach-Stuffed Manicotti (recipes in sidebar at the right) served with my mom's Tomato meat sauce. The ladies were also served one of our favorite salads, which included baby greens, feta cheese, dried cranberries and walnuts.

One of the most exciting parts about being involved in this event has been hearing all the stories afterwards from ladies who attended with friends and how they are trying new recipes at home. Many have shared ways they are incorporating healthy foods into their diets now. And the best part is their families are still being served delicious food!

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Fridays are Fun Days with Friends

On Friday, we went on a field trip with our Mothering Play Group to Me & Ed's Pizza. The kids got a tour of the restaurant and kitchen and a chance to make their own personal pizzas with the toppings of their choice. Meilani was stoked to go to the "pepperoni store."
Our new friends, Terry and Isa, joined us for the pizza party.
Milani and Peyton McGowen had big fun with gobs of toppings. Canadian bacon, pepperoni, olives, mushrooms and pineapple!

I spent the entire afternoon Friday making Stuffed Manicotti for this big cooking event I did on Saturday at our church. After making 150 manicotti (and 12 batches of peanut butter granola the day before) we opted for dinner out Friday night. Our friend Shawn Young was in town for the weekend and Mary joined us with Olivia. We checked out a new restaurant on the corner by our house - Thai Kitchen.
Let's just say that bringing a 2 1/2-year-old and a 6-month-old to a nice Thai dinner at a new restaurant was an adventure. We thought it was time to school Shawn in the "life with kids" scenario. We'll spare you the details of the blowout diaper and the Thai chili sauce. Good laughs! Olivia's face just says it all.

Nice purse, Shawn!