Saturday, December 19, 2009

Gilmores celebrate an early Christmas in Fresno with Mom & Larry

We celebrated Christmas a week early with Ericlee's parents this year to allow for some travel time. Nama Chris prepared a fabulous Armenian American dinner for us complete with her famous pilaf, kufta and souberag. After dinner we dug into the mountain of presents Mom spoiled us with. I made Grandma this special photo cube for her desk to hold memos and pictures.

Meilani ripped into her first (and most exciting) present, which was a set of twin dolls. Now Meilani girl can mother her babies just like mama takes care of Giada and Nathanael. The babies came with a crib, car seat carrier, seat for the table, front carrier and several sets of clothes. Such fun!

Giada mostly enjoyed tearing through the paper and eating the bows but she did take notice of a few gifts like her first Bible from Nama.

Daddy Santa enjoyed a night of reading his new sports book and the little testament.

Meilani and Grandpa bonded over a new food-making Play-doh set. Grandpa totally dug his new U2 360 CD. We were very blessed by some family time together with just the six of us.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Christmas in Community: Traditions for little ones

This year we tried to incorporate some new traditions and old traditions to celebrate the season with our girls. We started out by following an advent calendar. In my MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) group at church we made a special advent calendar with envelopes for our kids to open every day for the four weeks before Christmas. We hung a felt Christmas tree on our refrigerator and each day Meilani opened an envelope, which contained a felt ornament that symbolized a different part of scripture. She really looked forward to opening the envelopes and reading the Bibles stories as a family as we anticipated the birth of Jesus on Christmas Eve.

Our traditions also included going out to Cobbs Ranch and cutting down a tree. Meilani's favorite part of Christmas decorating is setting up the nativity scenes. She helps with Nana Maria's collection and this year she helped with our (breakable) one. She loves arranging all the people and making up stories about how they all arrive at Bethlehem. One afternoon I found her on the kitchen floor with our (kids) nativity pieces piled inside trucks and cars in a long parade. I asked her what she was doing. "Mom, the nativity are riding in their hybrids to Bethlehem." If only Mary would have had that option.

Giada loved all the Christmas wrap and bows. She also marveled at each and every ornament she could get her hands on. She experiences the world through her sense of taste right now. We giggled at her *tasting* the ornaments and made sure to put the breakable ones up high.

We also started a tradition my sister did through the years with her kids. We wrapped all of our Christmas books and then starting December 1st each night before bed we would open one and read it together. Since I'm such a lover of kids picture books this was a real joy for me to share with my girls.

Giad even got in on the action of opening some of the books. She has taken a real interest in books lately and loves to page through them herself. We may just have another reader on our hands!

This year we continued several family traditions. We extended our usual Walk Down Christmas Tree Lane in Fresno to five of the families we are closest to through our church. We hosted a Soup & Salad party at our house before hand. Everyone brought something to share and we stocked up on hot beverages before heading out for the walk together. What fun to have all these little ones in the same buzzing house!

I'm posing here with my friend Brandy Freeland. I actually have known her a few years through other moms but we had the chance to travel to Haiti together this summer and all those bumpy truck rides cemented our friendship. She is the mama of five and married to Nathan. Their family has been a gift to us as we continue to journey through life here in Fresno. We especially appreciate their heart for adoption and the needy. They have a daughter, Aeniah, who is Meilani's age and adopted from Russia. The Freelands have encouraged us as we are pursuing adoption from Haiti.

Meilani loves hanging out with the Freeland five. Here she poses with Ashton, who has a special heart for my girls. He loves playing with Giada and taking Meilani under his wing. He's like a big brother to her.

The other families included the Fords, the Vasquezes, the Puseys, the Schmidts and the Benedicts. We are so blessed by a community of friends who are like-minded and raising their children in ways we admire. Meilani rode in a wagon with her friend Josiah Ford and oohed and ahhed at the lights. How these two have grown since last year!

Our double jogger was awfully popular - even with the older kids who kept switching and pushing each other in it. Meilani and Giada (our social butterfly girls) loved being surrounded by so many friends.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Sixth Annual Cooking Club Christmas party goes Green

This past weekend we hosted our 6th Annual Cooking Club Christmas Party. There are 10 families in our group and we meet monthly to cook, eat and fellowship together. Our annual Christmas party is the only "adults only" event of the year. This year the theme was a "Green Christmas" and we tried for a menu full of local and organic specialties.

Our past Christmas party themes have included Italian, Mexican, Chinese, Mediterranean and French cuisine. I had a tough time brainstorming a new type of food our group has not tackled before. Then I thought of a very obvious choice: Our family has been on a healthy living journey for the past couple of years. We've spent a lot of time changing our lifestyle to avoid processed foods and incorporate healthy choices like local and organic fruits and vegetables and even meat. This theme seemed natural for us.

Dorina Gilmore, Cori Schmidt, Shawna Thiessen, Christine Johnson
Stacie Benedict, Brandy Freeland, Allison Vasquez, Mary Andrade
Susan Holman & Marcy Pusey

Our menu included:
Sleigh Driver Punch
Organic Spicy Greens, Fuyu persimmons, Feta cheese
Sweet potato and Red Onion Galette
Oven-roasted Butternut Squash with Garlic & Parsley
Pomegranate Beef served over Quinoa
Upside-down Gingerbread with Cinnamon Whipped Cream
Enjoy the recipes!

The fun part was we bought most of our ingredients at the local farmer's market or gathered them up from our own gardens or local farms.

Susan and Antonio get props for tackling the toughest job - prepping the butternut squash.

Stacie is always a wonderful sous chef. You can put her to work on anything. She helped this time peeling pears for our Pear Gingerbread dessert. This one surprised us and stole the show. We all were scrambling for seconds.

Nathan, Forest and Chris helped with setting the table and, of course, chipped in with clean-up along with the other men. Meanwhile, the ladies snuck in a few rounds of Scattergories.

All the guests brought new or used cookbooks wrapped in something recycled. This is our second year bringing cookbooks. It's not surprise that the girls get really competitive with this gift exchange. There is a certain strategy to getting the cookbook you want when your man is sitting next to you.

Nathan & Brandy stole the much-coveted subscription to Eating Well magazine in a recycled lunch bag.

Troy & Allison somehow pulled off taking home three cookbooks.

Cori & Darrel scored the vintage French Chef Cookbook by Julia Child. Bon appetit!

Ericlee and I enjoyed a grand evening celebrating local food and community. Ericlee asked each person to share one specific way God has blessed them in 2009. We were blessed to hear all the stories of God's provision, new jobs, new babies and more.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Christmas carols: A sign of the Season

One of our favorite signs of the Christmas season is the Christmas music we hear everywhere. We have been singing Christmas carols each night with our girls since November to gear up for the caroling. Meilani's Preschool Sunday School class performed at our church the first Sunday in December. She diligently practiced the songs for weeks.

Meilani has become increasingly brave about singing on the stage. Her first year she was struck with stage fright and just stared at the people. The second year she eeked out a few words after much prompting from mama. This year, she led the line for her class and belted out the words for "Joy to the World," "Silent Night" and "While by My Sheep" (complete with the Baa-baa from the sheep).

In her mothering way, Meilani also showed great concern for helping her friend Mia get on stage with her own paper sheep. It was very sweet and they both got in some baa-baa-baas just in time. We're all ready for Christmas caroling on Christmas Eve with the family.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Girls Night Out: A New Christmas Tradition

This Christmas Ericlee and I have been brainstorming ways to make our giving more intentional. For our kids, we are starting a "Three Gifts" tradition. Just as the three kings or Magi brought three gifts to Jesus, we plan to share three gifts with our girls. Looking around our office/playroom and digging in our closets, it's clear these girls don't really *need* any more toys or clothes.

Meilani, our 3-year-old, is a quality time girl. She feels special and loved when we intentionally spend time with her. This fall I have been offering childcare for two additional children besides my own. This means Meilani shares my attention and helps out a lot. I decided we needed our first "Christmas Girls Night Out." My friend Allison scored us $10 tickets to the Nutcracker Suite Ballet in downtown Fresno. We dressed in our best "ballerina" fancy outfits and headed out for a night on the town. Meilani just loved all the music and sets. She sat on my lap and together we noticed the nuances of the costumes and the sounds of different instruments. She's been dancing the whole month long like the Sugar Plum Fairies.

We saw our friend Mia at the ballet. After the show, the girls twirled and twirled in their matching fancy dresses. This was Meilani's first special gift celebrating time together with mama instead of more "stuff."

Monday, November 30, 2009

Thanksgiving 2009: A Time To Share

Thanksgiving for the Gilmores was a time for sharing with friends and strangers and giving thanks around the table for God's provision and even abundance in our lives. We started with our annual Wednesday night cooking extravaganza. Each year Meilani takes more ownership on the process. This year she was jumping with delight at the chance to cook with Mama, Nama, Nana and Daddy.
She got her hands right into the stuffing and even into the raw turkey. She was not afraid of the mushy, goopy stuff. Nama led the brigade on making (whole wheat!) stuffing and preparing the (two!) birds. Meilani named our turkey Sally.

Nana Maria is the pie queen. Meilani helped roll out the crust for homemade pumpkin and blueberry pies. They also made whole wheat crescent rolls from scratch. These are perfect for dipping in our Butternut Squash Soup. We all fight of the last crescent roll.

Even 9-month-old Giada got her hands in the dough.

As usual, Daddy was the master chopper for that finicky butternut squash. It's so worth it for the soup that we eat for our first course. Here's our complete menu.

Thanksgiving morning we ran in the Turkey Trot 5k at Woodward Park in Fresno. It's become a tradition for our family. Dad and I ran together. Ericlee ran ahead at his fast pace. Nana, Meilani and Giada cheered us all on. Then we all came home for a brunch and a fabulous afternoon nap and a little football. At feast time, Papa Doug helped watch Giada while we got everything on the table.

This year Ericlee's parents and my parents joined us around the table. Paul and Michelle spent the holiday in Portland with Michelle's family. We missed them!

After dinner, we continued our tradition of making paper turkeys and passing them around the table to write little notes of thankgiving and encouragement to each person. This was a tradition we had when I was a kid. This year Meilani was really into it - decorating her turkey and dictating notes for each person. She even make a turkey for Giada to pass around.

Our greatest joy this Thanksgiving was sharing some of our leftovers with the homeless the day after Thanksgiving. While most people were out shopping, Ericlee piled us into the car with care packages and we delivered turkey dinners to some of the homeless on Fresno's streets. We were blessed to hear some of their stories and see their joy in sharing the meal. We hope to continue this tradition in the future. As we reflect on how much God has blessed us this year even through adversity our desire is to share more with others.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

A Preschool Field Trip: F is for Fire Station

This Fall we started some preschool activities with Meilani at home. A friend turned us on to Brightly Beaming online and we started the Letter of the Week program. Meilani is only 3 but she's hungry for learning and reading so we thought it would be fun to jump into some non-structured, low-pressure education. Each week we champion one letter of the alphabet. We make it fun by creating pictures of the letter in glitter and thinking up words that start with that letter. Nana and Papa help us with ideas when they can. (Papa likes to come up with the advanced vocabulary words, while Nana is great at helping with the crafts.)

We take a weekly trip to the library and look for books on animals, countries and other things that start with the letter of the week. We also print out coloring sheets from the internet and practice writing the letter of the week. I've found that a lot of informal time talking about the week's letter and a little bit of formal teaching time goes a long way at this age.

We have also taken a few field trips to make a certain letter memorable. For the Letter F, I arranged a field trip to our local fire station and invited some of our other preschool-aged friends and mamas to join us.

The firemen crew were super cool and showed the kids all the tools they use to fight fires.

Meilani got to sit in the big fire truck with her friend Sam Brant. They thought they were big stuff up there.

One fireman showed off all the fire gear needed for a fire. The firemen time themselves and race to put all this heavy gear on. We were impressed.

Even us mamas enjoyed this "Letter F" field trip. (Ah, the things we'll do for free outings with our kiddos.)

The fire sirens woke up all the babies and scared some of the kids. But when we got in the car Meilani informed Mama that she was going to be a fire woman when she grows up.
We'll see...on to letter G.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Cooking Club enjoys ethnic food lesson from Ethiopian friends

We just had our October Cooking Club adventure. This month we focused on Ethiopian food in celebration of the adoption of Nathanael Benedict. Stacie's friends, Emebet and Desta, came to teach us the authentic version of these yummy recipes. They even brought some spices all the way from Ethiopia.

Using these "raw materials," we set to work on three vegetarian dishes - a cabbage-vegetable dish, a yellow split-pea dish and a spicy red lentil dish. We chopped and peeled, sliced and diced all the foods first.

Then we moved to cooking the three dishes. Emebet worked side by side over the pots, showing Stacie what to do while Cori and I tried to get all the steps of the recipes typed into the computer. (We wanted to make sure Emebet and Desta didn't sneak in any extra spices in the pot without us knowing.)

As the food was cooking, the rich layers of spices wafted all the way out to the street. Emebet even warned us to close the closets and cover our hair if we didn't want those permanent smells. We loved them! The finished meal was served on injera bread we bought from a woman in Fresno who makes it regularly.

We were so grateful for Emebet, our great teacher. She said she wants to come back to Cooking Club to learn Italian cooking. We're game! For more details and the Ethiopian recipes, click here.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Cooking Club: Picking Pumpkins & Fall Flavors with Friends

Fall is a favorite time of year in our family because it signals the start of "the holidays" and a chance to enjoy traditions. One of our "traditions" is going to a Pumpkin Patch each year to pick out pumpkins. This year we decided to make the trip to the Pumpkin Patch a whole-day excursion and part of our monthly Cooking Club. We had some friends join us, The Freelands, along with Stacie and Nathanael. We jumped in our cars and drove 40 minutes to Reedley to Hillcrest Pumpkin Patch.

This Pumpkin Patch was well-worth the drive. Not only did they have an abundance of pumpkins to choose from, they also had a corn maze, a train, a fish pond, tree swing and more. Meilani poses here with her friend Tiana, who also went to Haiti with us this summer. This was also the first time I got to hold Nathanael! (Note the proud Auntie smile.)
First stop: the train ride. The cool part was this little "boxcar" for the kids to ride in. Aeniah, Ashton and Cale are all smiles that they get to ride like cattle in a boxcar.
The parents actually got to enjoy some adult conversation while our kids (minus the babies) were all caged up. The sun was shining - a perfect day for making memories.

Giada, who is now 8 months and her buddy, Nathanael, who is 9 months, enjoyed their first train ride too. They played in the bottom of our train car and practiced standing up. These two will be walking soon - look out!
The three mamas pose here - Brandy, Stacie and me - with that handsome fellow, Nathanael. I feel blessed to have Brandy and Stacie in my life at this stage as we walk the mama journey together and share a heart for missions and love for orphans.
One of Meilani's highlights was this giant tree swing. "Higher, higher" she would squeal to Daddy who was pushing her. She has that drive for a thrilling ride.
In this family picture, you can probably tell Giada's favorite part of the day was playing with the pumpkins. She tried to pat them, suck on them and carry them herself. Such joy in a little face!
After we picked out our pumpkins, we rode back to the Freelands house where we started a Fall-flavored dinner. The Cooking Club menu this time included: Cheese and Whole Wheat Crackers, Chicken with Cinnamon Apples, Pumpkin Party Soup and Apple cupcakes for dessert. Yummilicious! If you're interested in the recipes from our Fall Flavors Cooking Club, check them out here

We had a few less cooks than we usually do for Cooking Club but Ericlee and Nathan willingly lended a hand with chopping the myriad vegetables for our meal. Giada was "hands-off" while mama led the cooking party.