Thursday, December 31, 2015

Christmas 2015

Christmas this year was FANTASTIC.

Kate insisted on wearing her "pretty dress" before we could even go to the living room Christmas morning

It was very different from Christmases in the past.

First of all, Jon and I were in classes up until December 18th, so it kind of squishes the month down, with finals happening so close to Christmas.

Because of that, though, I did not have time to worry about Christmas. We majorly simplified, and just did what we could. The result was that the most important things were done (spending memorable moments with our family and friends) and the other stuff did not happen (wrapping paper was not bought, so some presents weren't wrapped, dinner was uber-casual buffet style with paper plates, the tree was set up the week before Christmas, I did not do an advent calendar, paper snowflakes, sugar cookies, or any crafting or sewing that I had originally intended to.)

AND, it was the best Christmas that I can remember.

Kate is finally into holidays and birthdays, so she gets really excited about everything that is happening. Edwin gets excited right along with her, even though he doesn't really know what's going on. They each got two or three presents from us, and a pomegranate and marshmallow tree was all that was in their stockings--AND THEY LOVED IT.

"There's a hole in this cake!"

We opened gifts (after the kids slept in until 9:30am) and then my mom came over and we exchanged presents (which Kate and Edwin really enjoyed helping with!)

and we got to watch The Santa Clause as a family.

The entire living room floor wasn't covered in a cascade of overflowing presents from the base of the tree, but we were very spoiled by friends and family sending us packages. We received so much that we wanted and needed, and are extremely grateful!

opening gifts with Gram

Christmas away from our big family groups is definitely not the same. Alston/Joyner MexItalia feasting on Christmas Eve just doesn't taste exactly right without 25 people running around singing Christmas carols and re-enacting the nativity. But we have been able to start new traditions, and Christmas is still beautiful in our wintry white Idaho wonderland.

Jon had to work on Christmas Eve, but came home on his lunch break so that we could do our family tradition of raviolis and spanish rice with refried beans and ceasar salad. ;)

That evening we went to the Thomas' house (a friend that Jon works with is also the son of the professor I TA'd for last Winter semester) and they included us in their Swedish Christmas Eve dinner with grandparents and neighbors. :) After Babushka's story of looking for the Christ child, we headed home in the snow. Kate and Edwin both fell asleep in the car, so Jon and I took a detour into the neighborhood across the street from our place and watched some dancing Christmas lights set to music, then read the story of Christ's birth from Luke 2 and went home.

The children were nestled all snug in their beds, while visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads!

Kate and Edwin each got a Family History coloring book, a traditional toy (colored building blocks for Edwin and a wooden tool set for Kate--because she loves helping Jon with his tools at home), and a homemade gift (pretend make-up kit for Kate, and hand burned alphabet cube blocks for Edwin).

Friends and family gifted us some really awesome and thoughtful things!

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Mug for Jon's stocking, to add to our collection

love love love love love!

We also got to Skype with Jon's family. It's the last time that a big group of the Alston's will be together for Christmas for a couple years since Jon's parents leave for their mission in England next month!

Best of all we were able to spend Christmas dinner with my mom and great friends from the ward who stayed in Rexburg for the break:

It's so great to have awesome people around us wherever we go. :)

Overall, I felt like this Christmas couldn't have been any better. I didn't worry about who got how much of whatever. I didn't step foot in the mall once. I didn't stuff our stockings with junk. Did I feel a little bad that I wasn't able to put everything in Jon's stocking that he had traditionally as a kid? A little. Was I hoping to pull more than half of the Christmas decorations out of the storage tub? Yeah. But when I asked Kate what Christmas was, she told me it was Jesus' birthday. And I didn't once worry about doing enough or being enough. I wasn't up late stressed about wrapping presents that were only going to be unwrapped anyway. Half the Christmas cards were sent out Thanksgiving week, and the other half were sent out a few days ago. HAHA. I wasn't stressed leading up to Christmas day, and our holiday was relaxing and full of laughter and excitement and movies and food and friends. I was able to see just how blessed we are, and I didn't have to force any of it to try and be magical. The important things were taken care of.

We are most grateful for the little family thousands of years ago that lived humble and simple lives, so that we could have SO much. Honoring our Savior's birth is the most important thing of all.

#ASaviorIsBorn -- click the picture for more!

We hope that you all had a very Merry Christmas and will have a Happy New Year's eve and start to 2016!

Love, The Alston Family

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Children of Alstonia

Edwin is getting the major independence, spunk, and attitude of being almost 2.

Hello, Handsome!!

He is the sweetest and most thoughtful little kid. He is so much more naturally giving than Katherine. Edwin is always thinking of others, and when he sees something that belongs to another person, he will immediately return it to them. A few days ago Kate was taking a nap, but she had left her Christmas blanket in the living room. Edwin found it on the couch, said, "Kate!" and immediately picked up the blanket and toddled it into their room where he piled it on top of his sleeping sister. It just melts me to see him love others so much!

Edwin is saying lots of words, and starting to string together two or more words at a time. His favorite phrases are, "Let go!" and "Don't count!"
His is also really good at yelling, "No!" "Wait!" and "Lights!"
Edwin says, "gekku" (thank you), Margo, Kate, Cheese, baby, Milk, "watta" (water), "beekee" (blanket), door, car, truck, hello, and bye-bye. He knows lots of body parts and regularly points out our eyes, ears, "mouse" (mouths), and cheeks. He also says, "gassy" for glasses. :)
One of the cutest word mix-ups that Edwin does is moving S sounds from the beginning of words to the end. Like instead of STAR he says "tars", and instead of SNOW he says "nos".

Edwin will urgently get my attention for things that he MUST show me right away. He will wave his hand toward me wildly, yelling, "MOMMY! MOMMY! MOMMY!" and then when I say, "Yes, Edwin. What do you need?" He will point to the Christmas decorations and say, "Tree!" :D or he will point to his toys and say, "Legos!"

He also is a spontaneous hugger. He will come up to me and Jon while we work in the kitchen and hug us around the knees from behind, or really anywhere he can wrap his little arms. I just love this kid! He likes to be everywhere that I am, even if that means lying on the floor next to my feet while I do the dishes.

Edwin still sucks his thumbs quite a bit. We haven't found out how to break that habit entirely, but our pediatrician also said not to worry too much unless he does it past four years old.
Edwin has also entered a phase of licking things for fun... my pants, the wall, basically everything.

He likes to do things for the "gross-out" factor, and when he knows I think something is yucky he will giggle his little head off and do it over and over again just for my reaction. I try to ignore him, but seriously how can you not say, "eww, stop!" when he licks lotion off his hands or tries to pull used food (or worse) out of the trash?? He also thinks it's fun to put all sorts of things in the toilet... *sigh*

Edwin can run, stack blocks, LOVES to dance, and carries his baby blanket around with him everywhere.

He just could not possibly get any cuter. He loves to laugh with Kate and look at books (especially at bedtime.)

He is starting to get a good sense of humor, and we're getting better at finding out what makes him laugh most. That little smirk in the picture at the top? Is because I got him to say the word "toots" HAHA.


Kate is a crazy little 3.5 year old!

She is almost done with nursery and will be starting Sunbeams in January. It is the first Junior Primary class for the kids at church turning 4 years old in the coming year.

Kate is a chatterbox! She loves to tell me stories, she is getting a great imagination, and she confidently introduces herself to everyone we meet. She is even brave enough to talk to the cashiers at stores we visit because she wants to get treats. ;) I love hearing her conversations with Edwin. Usually she asks him ridiculous questions and he just answers, "yes" to everything she says. HAHA

Kate entirely dresses herself (with minimal occasional help) and still lets me do her hair.

Currently her favorite movies are: Home, Robin Hood, and Alice in Wonderland
She is a voracious reader and has "Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?" memorized. She knows her whole alphabet and can spell out words. It's been amazing to watch her grow! She gets really excited reading every letter she can find.

Kate's latest funny phrases include: "Dang it!!", and "That's my favorite!"

She is still super into everything artistic and loves to color every day. Sometimes on things she shouldn't...

Can you see the hand-tracing?? It is simultaneously frustrating and also makes me really proud HAHA

Kate loves playing with her friends and gets really excited when people come over. She also loves watching it snow, and asks if we can go play outside every day. She wants to build snowmen, and make snowballs, and walk in the crunchiness.

Since finals ended last week, our major project is POTTY TRAINING. We signed Kate up for preschool which starts in January, and she is so excited! She tells me that she is going to "little school" and that Edwin is going to "little work". :D We're definitely in the big girl phase, and hoping that she will soon be a responsible big-girl-underwear-wearer as well.

UPDATE: So far this week has gone well! (knock-on-wood) she has only had a couple accidents and is consistently in big girl underwear all day. :D Fingers crossed that it just keeps getting better from here!

Kate is very aware of Christmas this year and keeps asking how much longer until we can open all the boxes under the tree. We have been so blessed by friends and family shipping us fun things. Kate and Edwin run to the door every time they hear a package drop and diligently put it right under the tree. It is so fun to share the holidays with them. :D

We are so thankful for these bright and wonderful kids and all they teach us every day! 2016 is going to be THE BEST!

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

All The Bread

Many have asked about the bread recipes we use, so I thought it would be easiest to post them in a follow-up to our food post from last week. :)

Assortment of rolls from The Bread Bible

We use both of these recipes below on a weekly basis:

Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread
This recipe originally came from our good friends, The Hammari's, but Jon has adjusted a few of the ingredients for our family as we've worked with it for the past year. It can be a bit crumbly, so we are going to keep experimenting, but overall this bread is easy to make, has great flavor and the kids love it! Also, if you aren't used to making bread already, whole wheat bread is a combo of wheat and white flour. If you use ONLY wheat flour it will be incredibly dense. Trust us. Just don't do it.

2 cups white flour
2 cups wheat flour
1-3 Tbsp sugar (depending on preference)
1-2 tsp sea salt
1 Tbsp active dry yeast
1.5 cups warm water
1 egg
2 Tbsp oil
optional ingredients: 1/3 cup chia seed, 3/4 cup oats

Mix all dry ingredients together (including yeast).
Add in wet ingredients all at the same time.
Knead by hand (or with machine, like your Kitchen Aid mixer) 5-10 min on a lightly floured surface until ingredients are fully integrated. Be careful not to overwork the dough! When it looks like things are good and combined, stop and coat the big ball of dough with oil or butter.
Jon typically leaves the dough in a mixing bowl to rise for 40 minutes. On a warm stove-top is ideal. Place a damp towel over the top of the bowl so that the dough doesn't dry out.
Take out dough and shape it into a greased bread pan.
(This makes 1 large loaf)
Let this rise again for about 25-30 minutes. Place the damp towel loosely over the top again while it rises. When the dough is done rising, lift the towel off gently so that it doesn't flatten your bread.
Bake at 350 for 30 minutes.
Top should be golden brown, and the bottom of the bread will sound hollow when it is tapped.
Cool in the bread pan for about 10 minutes and then transfer to a cooling rack.
I LOVE eating this bread hot out of the oven!


Hamburger Buns recipe click here!

These aren't the hamburger buns, but these rolls are still freakin' delicious :) Get a bread recipe book and go crazy!

We hope you have a fantastic winter indoors with your house smelling of successful baking experiments! :D

Monday, November 30, 2015

More than 27 dresses

So, as you may already know, I am a dress collector. Well, dresses and skirts. Basically, I love how classy and feminine they are. Plus they are more comfortable than pants.

Since I wear skirts and dresses at least a few times every week, I occasionally have co-students ask me why I'm dressed so fancy. Tuesdays at school are pretty common to see people in church dress, because we have a weekly devotional in the I-Center. But when I wear dresses and skirts on other days, people seem surprised.

I made a comment to a friend a few weeks back that I could probably wear a different skirt or dress every day of the month (haha), but then I actually counted how many dresses and skirts I own and accepted my own personal challenge. November 1st began the month of dresses:

Day 1
Shirt and Skirt: Target, Cardigan from H&M

Day 2
Skirt: thrifted (DI, Sacramento CA), Shirt: thrifted (EcoThrift, Orangevale CA)
These fantastic cozy grey boots ^^ that you will see in tons of the following pictures are Bearpaw boots, which were gifted to us by some amazing friends when we moved out to Idaho. I LIVE in them. 

Day 3
Skirt: handmade by Jon Alston, Boots: thrifted (DI Sacramento CA), Shirt: hand-me-down

Day 4
Dress from Nordstrom (has sleeves!) / Cardigan from JC Penney

Day 5
Skirt: hand-me-down (RMS 28th ward friend), Sweater: Target

Day 6
Dress: Charlotte Russe, Cardigan: H&M, Earrings: Charming Charlie's

Day 7
Skirt: Old Navy, Shirt: hand-me-down, Boots: thrifted (DI, Sacramento CA)

Day 8
Dress: handmade by me

Day 9
hand-me-downs (skirt, shirt, and cardigan from friends at SuiteAmerica and RMS 28th ward)

Day 10
Skirt: thrifted (DI Sacramento, CA), Shirt: H&M

Day 11
ruffle skirt: yard sale in Loomis CA ($2!)
Also, how old does Edwin look in this picture ^^ ??

 Day 12
Skirt: thrifted (DI, Sacramento CA) - fun fact; this is the same skirt I wore the day Jon and I got engaged in 2005.

Day 13
Polka dot dress: ModCloth (has sleeves!), shoes: Charlotte Russe

Day 14
Skirt: thrifted (DI, Sacramento CA), Shirt: thrifted (DI, Rexburg ID), owl necklace: Charming Charlie's

Day 15
Dress: JC Penney, Shoes: Charlotte Russe

Day 16
Skirt: from a wonderful little shop in Utah. I got it back in 2004!

Day 17
Dress: ModCloth (has sleeves!), Cardigan: JC Penney

Day 18
Anniversary day! Dress: thrifted (Roseville CA), Cardigan: gift from my mother-in-law a few Christmases ago

Day 19
Dress: ModCloth (has sleeves!), Boots: DSW (Roseville CA), Flowers: anniversary spoils from RMS 28th ward friends

Day 20
Dress and cardigan from Target

Day 21
Birthday dress 2014 sent to me by a friend - From ModCloth! (but I added the red ribbon)

Day 22
Dress from the same friend who shipped me that ModCloth beauty above ^^

Day 23
Shirt: from a friend in the RMS 28th ward, skirt: BEBE (thrifted)

Day 24
pic credit goes to Kate (HAHA!) Handmade birthday dress by Jon

Day 25
Dress is from Nordstrom, earrings from Charlotte Russe, and shirt from DownEast

Day 26 - Thanksgiving day!
Dress from Nordstrom - it has sleeves!
(Fun fact: this was also the dress I wore to my Senior homecoming dance with Jon in 2004)
Day 27
Ignore the weird face I'm making...
Dress is from a friend in the RMS 28th ward. Cardigan from H&M

Day 28
Dress: from the same friend who gave me the green sparkly dress. I love that it has sleeves! I layered up underneath because it is COLD in Idaho this week haha. Tights and tank top are from Target. Hat from Charlotte Russe

Day 29
Dress: JC Penney, Boots: DSW

Day 30!!
Dress: Charlotte Russe (Jon got it for me on my 19th birthday), Cardigan: Target

I was kind of proud of myself for having exactly enough dresses and skirts to make it through the month! Maybe I need to part with a few :'D Who needs pants anyway?