Thursday, December 29, 2011

Christmas Eve at Our House

Christmas Eve has become our family's favorite day of the year!  Why?  Because not only is it overflowing with all the anticipation and excitement of Christmas, and rich with many family traditions, but it also holds the most anticipated event of the year --  our Annual Sibling Gift Exchange!

This year, there was an extra measure of anticipation as we all waited for Taylor to arrive home from college, and for Ashlyn to arrive from SC with my niece, Amber, who will be living with us for a few months.

Much of the day we kept busy with last minute errands, cleaning, cooking, and delivering goody trays to neighbors.  At 6:00 pm, we went to the Christmas Eve service at church, and then hurried home to finish putting together our traditional party supper.  Ashlyn and Amber "rolled in" the same time we did and set right to work helping us get the food arranged!  (Is it just my imagination, or does Amber look a little bewildered by all of the hub bub??)

Here are pictures of our spread!  :)

Don't you like Tiffany's Pinwheel Christmas tree?  She found the inspiration for this on Pinterest, and she and Amber worked to make it happen.

Peppermint Punch!  A new holiday tradition!

The dessert table!

The "Bros" enjoying the food!!

Looks like Bethany was enjoying her food too!

Loved watching the older kids hang out!

The "formidable five" -- Ashlyn (24), Tiffany (26), Taylor (21), Joseph (18), and Joshua (19)

Gathering for the annual sibling gift exchange!

We go youngest to oldest, so Bethany opened her present first.  Her gift was from Matt -- who showed the most creativity and resourcefulness of the night!  He had pulled items from around the house to put together a "police uniform" for her!  ;)

Then it was Matt's turn.  He opened a little pocketknife from Joe, much to his father's chagrin!  (Don't worry, I think it's already missing!)  ;)

Luke went next, opening his gift from Bethany -- a Gamecock hat!

Then Hannah opened a CD from Luke, which he apparently bought when they went shopping together!  :)

Chris opened a cool T-shirt from Tiffany.

Then it was Joe's turn.  Chris gave him a book of 365 daily readings from the writings of C.S. Lewis. Perfect!

Josh and Kristi had their names put together this year, so they went next.  (What a good "flex" -- Tay gave them his and hers Gamecock T-shirts just in time for the big bowl game!)

Then it was Tay's turn . . . a Nike sweatshirt from Josh!  (Anyone else picking up on the fact that they both work at Hibbett's Sports Store??)  ;)

Amber is slightly older than Tay, so she opened her gift next.  (Once I realized she would be here for Christmas Eve, I figured out a way to weave her into the sibling gift exchange!)  It was a Dee Henderson book from Hannah.

Next was Ashlyn . . . but alas, I have no picture of Ashlyn opening her gift!  :(  Amber gave her some Paul Baloche CDs.

And last, but not least, here is Tiffany opening her gift . . . a sweater and some other cool stuff from Ashlyn, who branched out this year, after having drawn Josh's name for the last four years!  :)

A surprise visit from Rudolph!  :)

There are always some "unauthorized" gifts -- meaning lots of random giving of gifts to those whose name you didn't draw.  The highlight was this one from Tiffany to Tay and Joe, which was secured with duct tape and had a beautiful duct tape bow!  :)

As you can see, they are overcome with emotion after opening their unexpected gift!

It was the movie, "The Shunning!"  Not exactly what the guys had in mind as a macho gift!  ;)  Actually, it was a joke!  Tiffany bought that DVD for herself, wrapped it accidentally, and decided to turn it into a gag gift!  LOL!

Her real gift for the guys was this DVD -- "Everything in Between!"  -- A perfect gift for some hardcore Tebow fans!!!  

And if that weren't enough, Joe gave Tay this awesome Tebow shirt!!!  Yes, it's Tebow all the way!

It was an epic night  . . .  with Christmas Day still to come!  

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Peppermint White Chocolate Mousse Trifle!

I totally love peppermint with chocolate  . . . almost as much as I love peanut butter with chocolate!  (Buckeyes anyone?)  So, when I discovered this recipe , I couldn't wait to give it a try!!!  The name itself "tastes" delicious!  Say it slowly out loud and savor the words:

Peppermint. White. Chocolate. Mousse. Trifle.

Doesn't it sound simply decadent??  ;)

Fortunately, tonight is our church's Adult Christmas Party, and I needed to make a dessert to take.  Ahhh -- the perfect opportunity to try this tantalizing trifle!  ;)

Of course, I tweaked the original recipe a bit, and I just love the way it turned out!!!  Want to take a peek at it before I share the recipe??  ;)

What do you think??  Isn't it beautiful?!?

Here is a picture of what you'll need:

Here are step-by-step directions:

Step 1 -- Make the Brownies.

Following package directions, make up a 9"x13" pan of your favorite brownies.  I love the Ghiradelli brownie mix, which just happened to be on sale buy-one-get-one-free at Publix this week!  Let brownies cool in pan, then break into small chunks.

Step 2 -- Make the White Chocolate Mousse.

Measure out 2 1/2 cups of heavy whipping cream and bring just to a boil in a heavy saucepan, stirring frequently.  Remove from heat.

Meanwhile, break or chop up a bar of Baker's white chocolate into small chunks.  Then dump the white chocolate chunks into a blender or food processor and pulse until fine.  (I used a food processor.)

Take a mallet or meat tenderizer and smash candy canes into little pieces, then measure out 1 cup of crushed candy canes.

Pour hot heavy cream over white chocolate in food processor and pulse until mixed.  Add crushed candy canes, and pulse until thoroughly mixed and smooth.

Meanwhile, fill a large bowl with ice water . . .

Pour white chocolate/candy cane mixture into a bowl, and sit the bowl down inside the larger bowl of ice water, to quickly chill and set.

Stir now and then.  After about 15 minutes, place the bowl in the refrigerator for several hours to chill and firm up.

*Note -- if not thick enough when you remove it from the refrigerator, beat it with electric mixer until consistency of homemade whipped cream.  I followed this step, and mine ended up being a beautiful consistency!

Step 3 -- Make chocolate pudding.

Make a batch of chocolate pudding, using either a box of instant pudding mix or a recipe for homemade pudding -- it's up to you!

Step 4 -- Make whipped cream.

Make homemade whipped cream by mixing together 3 cups heavy whipping cream and 1 1/2 cups confectioner's sugar and blend on high speed with hand mixer, until thick and peaks begin to form.

Step 5 -- Make the trifle.

Take a large trifle dish and layer the ingredients in this order:

Brownie pieces
Chocolate pudding
Whipped cream
White chocolate mousse

Repeat layers until you've used up all the ingredients or your trifle bowl is full.  Make sure you save some whipped cream for your final layer.  Then, top with coarsely chopped candy cane pieces.  If you like, try my idea of hanging miniature candy canes around the edge of the trifle dish!  :)

Chill several hours or overnight before serving.  Enjoy!  :)

If this trifle tastes half as good as it looks, this is what I will be serving for dessert on Christmas Day!  :)

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

An Unbelievable Evening -- The Conclusion!

This is my last post about our exhilarating experience of hosting 30 Chinese government leaders for dinner!  If you are just joining in, you can read part 1 about our preparations here, and part 2 about how we came to connect with these people here, and part 3 about how I fed 42 people here.

Before they arrived, I was concerned about how we would fill the time, especially after dinner.  I was worried about how we would entertain 30 people who did not speak English!  I need not have worried!  Our time together flew by, and we certainly found many ways to communicate and connect.  (Apparently, one does not need to know English to enjoy doing Zumba!!)  ;)

As I mentioned in my last post, several of the Chinese enjoyed playing games with the children and teaching them Chinese words and phrases.  They all clapped and cheered each time the children repeated a phrase in Chinese, so it was very lively and fun!

They also took turns playing "hot hand" with Matt!  It must be a game the Chinese play with their children, because I haven't seen anyone play that in years!  However, I do remember that being my Dad's favorite game to play with my sister and me when we were little, so it brought back lots of memories!  ;)

Tiffany had learned from reading about the life of Lang Lang, a famous Chinese classical pianist, that the Chinese love classical music, so she played two of her classical pieces for them after dinner.

She performed Sonata Opus 31, No. 2 "Tempest" Allegretto by Beethoven and Hungarian Rhapsody no. 6 by Liszt.  They were very attentive and appreciative of her talent!

Do y'all notice how Matt is right at home with his new friends?!?  A future diplomat, perhaps?   ;)

I love this picture (even though it is blurry) because of the way they are all lined up taking pictures/videos of Tiffany!  I have never had my picture taken so many times in my life as I did that night!!!!  ;) 

After Tiffany played for us, they began to sing for us!!!  It was so neat!!!  What a blessing!

Guess what?  We captured a little of it on video, so you can be blessed, too!!  The first song is from the Beijing Olympics.  The bad news is that the battery on my camera died at the worst possible moment -- right in the middle of the second song -- a beautiful, Chinese love song!!  :(  Oh well, at least you can hear a bit of it and get a glimpse into our special evening!!    

After the concerts were over, we served dessert!  The Chinese are not very big on desserts (which is probably why they are so slender!)  But, we learned that they do celebrate birthdays much like we do.  Fortunately, Alan had learned prior to their visit that Saturday was Nie Yumxia's birthday, so he had ordered a birthday cake for her.  It was really neat to be able to honor her on her birthday!!  She was surprised and delighted!

Here is a picture of her beautiful cake.  (The Publix bakery never lets us down!)

And here is a picture of the other desserts we served.  Hannah made the banana puddings and my dear friend, Susan, made the pecan pie and beautiful, red velvet cake!  (She knew I had my hands full getting everything ready and no oven for baking cakes or pies, so she offered to help out!!  Thank God for the gift of amazing friends!)

The desserts were all delicious, but if you want a real treat (the kind with no calories!!) watch this video clip of everyone singing Happy Birthday in Chinese!  I challenge you to watch it without smiling!!  :)

Did that not warm your heart?!?  Now, just for fun, any guesses on how old the "birthday girl" was??  Leave me a comment if you have a guess!

Nie Yumxia was very excited and hugged each one of us and posed for pictures with us!

It was funny, because our desserts were very unfamiliar to the Chinese!  They had no idea what to do with the banana pudding -- and most of them spread it on top of their birthday cake!  LOL!

By the way, the man in the orange shirt below was our liaison and translator, as the Director of the International Department for the Carl Vinson Institute.

All too soon, they had to leave.  They all hugged us and snapped a "few hundred" last minute photos and thanked us over and over and invited us to come visit them in their homes in China!  Unbelievably, many of the women cried as they left our house and boarded their tour bus.  It was so sweet!  I don't know when I've felt so loved by so many people!!  :)

Well, that's it!  I've certainly tried, but I know I've fallen short in communicating how special these dear people were and what an Unforgettable evening we had together!  I am still amazed when I think of their warm, loving, joyful spirits!  I am also convicted when I realize that these precious people do not know the  Creator and God of the universe.  They do not have His Love and Joy and Peace in their hearts, and yet, they were some of the most loving and joyful people I've ever met!!  How many times do we who claim the name of Christ fail to demonstrate such warmth, such love, and such joy to others -- when we have absolutely no excuse???

May we all be reminded to share His Love with all those we meet, whether they live down the hall from us, down the street, on the other side of town, or on the other side of the world!!!

~Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.~  John 15:13.
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