He who fears the Lord has a secure fortress and for his children it will be a refuge.
Proverbs 14:26

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Mountain vacation part 2: sledding and other fun

The girls talk all year about "going to the snow" and they were so exicted to finally be there.  It still amazes me that we can drive from our house where it's in the 60's and very pleasant up to this winter wonderland just 90 minutes away. 

The first day that we drove up to the slopes it was actually pretty overcast, but still not that cold thankfully.  We had to hike a good bit up the mountain to get to better sledding snow but it was definitely worth the walk. 

Naomi tried her best to make snow angels but it just wasn't quite powdery enough.

Perfect for a snowman though!

Abbey is surprisingly the timid one when it comes to sledding, but she got over it pretty quick.
It was a hard climb, but Maddie was determined to get as high as she could before flying down the mountain.

Naomi was not the least bit afraid and was determined to do everything herself.

Even climbing up the hill.  She would not let us help her.

 But it was worth it!

Day 2 was a lot sunnier and we actually ended up getting hot by the end of the day with all of our layers.  When we got up to the top, I sent Jason back to the store to get sunscreen for Naomi.  We scoped everything out and decided to head a little farther up the slopes to find longer, steeper hills for sledding.

It was worth the hike!  In the picture to the left that blob on the hill is Maddie hiking up the hill.  Naomi and Abbey are preparing snowballs to hurl at her on the way down.  (we weren't too worried as their aim was really bad and Maddie was going really fast...)
 Jason and Naomi flying down the hill.


Abbey and Naomi

 Naomi remained just as determined to do everything herself...

Abbey after a great run including spins and flips...

I didn't get any pictures of Jason and I sledding, but we loved it just as much as the kids.  This was like the dream sledding place- sharp steep hills or long steady stretches.  It was so much fun. 

We headed back to our hotel each day to dry out and relax.

Maddie and Naomi cuddling.  Side note- Maddie is playing a game called "Doodle Jump" on Jason's I-pod that we have all become addicted to.  Jason and I can't seem to get anywhere near Abbey's high score of 38,000

I forgot to mention that we had a balcony that wrapped all the way around our room that Jason and I both really enjoyed.

And no Cox vacation would be complete these days without several highly competitive games of Settlers of Catan.  And again, Jason and I seem to be having a hard time beating our 10 and 8 year old daughters!

Mountain vacation part 1: the setting

For three years in a row now we have driven about an hour and a half out of Beirut up to a village in the mountains called Faraya for a little mini vacation after Christmas.  From Faraya, you can drive another 20 minutes around windy mountain roads and be at the ski slopes.  This time of year it is always iffy as to if there will be enough snow yet or not.  In years past, it has been right around Christmas week that the slopes have been ready for skiing.  This year it's just been too warm, but there was still plenty of snow for lots of fun sledding and a beautiful mountain escape. 

The hotel that we stay at is one that we discovered at least four years ago on one of our Sunday afternoon "explore Lebanon" drives and we have gone back to it ever since.  I don't even know the name, we call it "Joe's place" as Joe is the man we always call to make our reservations.  For $80 a night, we got a one bedroom suite with a living area with fireplace and kitchenette, a loft, and a bedroom with a double bed and bunk bed.  Not a bad deal.  Plus, down in the courtyard area (see picture) where the kids are playing is a snack area where you can help yourself to unlimited soft drinks, bags of chips, and you can even put in a request for hot chocolate, hot tea or Nescafe.  Also, on the house, they will make you "saj" at any time of day.  I forgot to take a picture of this but it is basically flat bread that they cook sprinkled with cheese and/or zataar ( a delicious mixture of olive oil, thyme, lemon juice and sesame seeds).  They roll it up and you eat it sandwich style.  It's a typical Lebanese breakfast but they'll make if for you at any time of day.  Did I mention that if you are staying there, you don't have to pay for any of these extras?  Love that Lebanese hospitality!  You are there guests, why wouldn't they provide such things after all??  

The girls loved our cozy little apartment- especially the loft. They played up there but we were a little nervous to let any of them sleep there as it was only accessible by a somewhat precariously placed ladder, and if you happened to scoot down to the end of the mattress, you would scoot right over the edge.  Ok, so the Lebanese have hospitality down to an art- safety regulations, not so much...

Below is a view of the living area from the loft.  Poor Jason searched tirelessly for soccer on our TV that had endless satellite channels, but sadly all they were showing was cricket and volleyball of all things.  He was disappointed since Boxing Day is such a big day for Premiere League soccer. 

They came and fixed a fire in our fireplace for us each night and the first night we made s'mores.  Not quite up to American standards as we had to use some sort of Lebanese cookie as a substitute for graham crackers, and the only marshmallows I could find were pink and tasted a little odd, but the kids loved it and didn't know the difference.

Like I said, from our place, it's about another 20 minute drive up to the top of the mountains to a village called Mzaar where all of the ski slopes are.  This year there wasn't enough snow to ski as you can tell, but it was still beautiful and we had tons of fun sledding on the ski slopes.

(village of Mzaar)
Lebanon's mountains are so majestic and beautiful.


Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Christmas morning

Though we definitely don't make it the focus of our Christmas celebration, we are still big fans of the Santa Clause tradition.  We usually do a santa clause gift and a stocking and then have the presents under the tree from each other.  This year we actually managed to hold the girls off until about 8 (and had to wake Naomi up).  We're so thankful to have kids who are late sleepers!  Here they are waiting for Jason and I to go into the living room to check and see if santa came. 

All Naomi has talked about for months when we asked what she wanted for Christmas has been "Buzz Light Year" and "Woody" from Toy Story.  Thanks to Jason's trip to the states in December we were able to make that happen and she was beyond thrilled. 

Abbey and Maddie's big santa gift this year was a Wii.  (and Jason and I are a little excited too...).  Below they are holding the remotes for the Wii.

Cinnamon rolls (Cox family tradition) won out this year over strawberry coffee cake (Cameron family tradition) and Naomi set a place for Woody at the breakfast table.

Christmas faves

Since I'm doing well to get pictures and stories on the blog about the kids, I very rarely find time to put anything about food on here, but I thought I'd share a few of our Christmas faves that have started to become traditions in our family- some new, some old.  The dip to the right is fabulous.  We had it this year at our Christmas Eve party.  I got the recipe from my mom- I"m not sure if she invented it herself (it seems like something she would come up with) or if she got it from somewhere else.   Basically it's just layers- cream cheese, rasberry jelly, chopped green onions, cashews and coconut.  Serve with any kind of party crackers. So good and it's really pretty and Christmasy.

We've always done a birthday cake for Jesus on Christmas Eve and it's usually a coconut cake.  I found a new recipe this year that I wanted to try and it was SO worth it and so easy.  I"ll put the recipe at the bottom of the post.  I changed it a little by adding rasberry preserves to the icing between the layers which also gave it a little Christmas color.  (Naomi was distressed that Jesus' cake was pink and not blue because after all, He is a boy...).   Anyway I think this cake is going to turn into a family favorite.

Groudnut stew is a family fave from Jason's childhood, and for several years now it is what we have had on Christmas Eve.  The original dish is African- it's a chicken/peanut butter stew basically that you serve over rice and eat with all sorts of toppings.  The combination of flavors is beautiful and tastes amazing.  Toppings include onion, bell pepper, tomato, mango, pineapple, banana, oranges, coconut, and peanuts.

I have a few other favorites that I want to share but I don't have pictures so you'll just have to use your imagination.  The first is pumpkin dip.   I got this one from my mom too.  It is terrific, so easy, freezes well and makes a ton.  We serve it with homemade ginger snaps.  Basically you combine one can pumpkin, 16 oz cream cheese, 4 cups powdered sugar, 2 tsp cinnamon and 1 tsp ginger.   Chill and serve with cookies of choice.  (ginger snaps are best!)

Next is one I got from my sister in law, Liz.  I changed it just slightly and I am convinced it is one of the best pies EVER.  Here's the recipe:

1 15 oz. package refrigerated pie crusts ( I can't get these here so I just make a recipe for a double crust pie but roll it into one pie crust)
1/2 cup butter or margarine, melted
1 cup sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups pecan halves
1 cup sweetened flaked coconut
3/4 cup semi sweet chocolate chunks or morsels
1/4 cup (ish) kahlua

Unroll 1 piecrust, and place on a lightly floured surface; lightly brush top crust with water.  Unroll remaining crust, and place over bottom crust; gently roll into a 10" circle.  Fit into a 9" deep- dish pie plate; fold edges under and crimp.   ** I just made one pie crust from a double crust recipe.  Also I use a 10"tart pan as this is almost too deep a pie for the 9" pan.

Stir together butter and next 5 ingredients in large bowl, stir well.  Stir in pecans and remaining ingredients. Pour filling into piecrust. 

Bake at 325 for 1 hour and 15 minutes or until set, shielding crust after 45 minutes with aluminum foil, if necessary.  

Here is the recipe for the coconut cake:

Coconut Rasberry Cake 
1 pckg butter recipe cake mix (I couldn't find this here so I used a french vanilla cake mix)
1 16 oz sour cream
2 cups sugar
4 cups sweetened flaked coconut
1 1/2 cups frozen whipped topping, thawed
2 Tbsp rasberry preserves (my addition)

Prepare cake mix according to directions using 2 9" round cake pans.  Slice each cake layer horizontally in half.  Combine sour cream, sugar and coconut in a bowl, stir well.  Cover and chill 1 1/2 hours.  Reserve one cup sour cream mixture.  To remaining mixture stir in 2 Tbsp rasberry preserves and spread mixture between layers.  Fold whipped topping into reserved sour cream mixture and spread on top and sides of cake.  Place in airtight container and chill at least 8 hours.   

The longer this sits in the frig, the better.  I made it on Tuesday before our Christmas Eve party on Thursday.  

Beirut by Bike

I often have to remind myself how incredibly blessed we are to live just about 100 yards away from the beautiful Mediterranean Sea.  Although it's true that Beirut is basically a concrete jungle with very little green spaces and even fewer wide open spaces for kids to run around and play, there's not much that can compare with a walk or a bike ride along the Med.  "The Corniche" as it is called in Beirut (Arabic for boardwalk) is a beautifully landscaped walkway that runs along the Mediterranean Sea for about three kilometers or so.  Beirut is kind of situated on a horn that juts out into the sea so it essentially wraps around the western part of the city.  It's a great place to walk, run, ride bikes, ride scooters etc.  Especially on weekends, it is usually teeming with Beiruti's and other tourists from around the gulf enjoying the beautiful view.  On a clear day in the winter you can see the snow capped mountain peaks and all along the Northern shore of Lebanon. 

There's a place right around the corner from us between our house and the Corniche called "Beirut by Bike".  Basically you can rent bikes of all shapes and sizes for about $3 an hour.  We finally got around to taking advantage of this during our first week of Christmas break last week.  We chose a week day afternoon when it wouldn't be too crowded, because as much as I love the Lebanese people they have zero bike etiquette and I fear for my children's safety if it is too crowded down there and they are trying to get around on wheels!   We're always looking for creative ways to get out excess energy and this was quite a hit!

Naomi tuckered out pretty quickly...

AJ and Maddie could have ridden for hours...


...that is until they found this spot where the waves were splashing up onto the Corniche- far more entertaining

Running from spot to spot trying to get splashed

I'm not sure that Naomi actually knew what all the excitement was about, but she sure was happy to join in!

Say no to crack

My big question in relation to this picture is "why, why, why are the jeans they make for three year old's hip huggers that won't even cover their little booty cracks?   Jason just came back from the states with these jeans for Naomi from target.  Nothing on them indicated "stretch" or "slim fit" or anything to that affect- seemed to be very normal size 4T little girl jeans.

The classic thing about this picture that you really can't tell is that Naomi is bent over here in all of her sweet little three year old glory playing with a hammer and screw driver!

Christmas cookies

In continuation of a long standing Cox family tradition, Christmas sugar cookies are a must in December.  We got a little creative this year and went beyond simply decorating with sprinkles.  This year we also made candy cane cookies and iced some after they had baked as well.  Jason's mom sugar cookie recipe is great and always gets rave reviews.  Here are some pictures of our sugar cookie decorating afternoon.

The little chefs are ready (all wearing aprons made by Memommy)

Such concentration!

Little artists at work...


After we decorated with the traditional sprinkles before baking, we moved on to making candy canes.  We dyed some dough red and some green, rolled and wrapped.  These bake up really big since there is so much dough, but they were having so much fun, I just let them go at it.  We had some really big candy cane cookies this year.  Note that Abbey had lost interest by this point as we were well into hour 2 of cookie making...


Abbey came back when we started icing cookies, and of course the best part of the afternoon was the taste testing...

Yummy!  So worth the wait!