My 3 Monsters: December 2013

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Something to Do for New Yea'rs Eve:
Favorite Netflix Documentaries

It's New Year's eve, and from the looks of things on Pinterest, everyone in the world is going to be partying down tonight with sparkly clothes, delicious food and games galore.  I plan to ring in the New Year tonight {and most of the day tomorrow while my husband and boys watch football and play NBA on the PS3} by watching a marathon of documentaries.  I know they're not for everybody, but I love documentaries more than any other film genre.  Something about listening to people talk about themselves is very soothing to me.  Is that weird?  I can't possibly be the ONLY ONE who loves a good documentary . . . or ten. Whether you're already a fan like me, or you just want to give one a try, here are several of my favorites {for any mood you might be in} I've watched on Netflix this year.

If you need a wake-up call about your health:


Synopsis:  "Focusing on two men whose bodies have been trashed by steroids, obesity and illness, this documentary chronicles the rigorous healing path -- including a two-month diet of fruits and vegetables -- that both attempt in a bid to rescue their health."

This is the reason we got a juicer for Christmas and will be drinking green drinks every single day!!

If you need a wake-up call about finances:

Synopsis: "With sobering facts, this thought-provoking documentary unveils the consequences of Americans' collective addiction to plastic debt -- including its contribution to the vanishing of a once-robust middle class. Investigating personal debt, the U.S. government's out-of-control national debt and those who prey on the poor, this film explores the staggering financial burden people live with every day, which has driven some to extreme action."

If you wanted to be a ballerina when you were a kid:

Synopsis:  "Follow dancers training for the Youth America Grand Prix, one of the world's most prestigious ballet competitions. The stakes are high: their performances will determine the success or failure of their dreams."

If you loved the TV show Fame:

Synopsis:  "This coming-of-age chronicle captures a year in the life of students at the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts, also known as "Fame High" -- the alma mater of well-known alums like Josh Groban, Corbin Bleu, Anthony Anderson and Jenna Elfman."

If you want to restore your faith in humanity:

Synopsis:  "Setting out to explore whether America still has a sense of community where people help each other through hard times, 29-year-old Joseph Garner spends a month depending on the goodness of Craigslist posters for his survival."

If you think your life is hard and you need some perspective:

Synopsis:  "Happy takes viewers on a journey from the swamps of Louisiana to the slums of Kolkata in search of what really makes people happy. Combining real-life stories and scientific interviews, the film explores the secrets behind our most valued emotion."

Favorite quote from the movie:  "I like to think of my life as a loan from God that I will pay back with interest."  Mmmmmm.  Good stuff!

If you want to teach your children compassion and/or don't mind having a good cry:

Synopsis:  "Exploring the subject of school bullying from a personal angle, this eye-opening documentary tracks the stories of five different families whose children are struggling to defend themselves on a near-daily basis."

Hard to watch, especially when your baby is having a hard time in school, but so necessary.

If you want to see life from a different viewpoint: 

Synopsis:  "Documentarian Alexandra Codina explores the nuances of love and commitment in this cinematic portrait of a soon-to-be married couple with Down syndrome, and the proud but protective mothers who have long shielded them from life's cruel realities."

I LOVED THIS MOVIE!!  All couples should be as purely and innocently in love as these two are!

If you have ever run {or think you would like to run} a long distance race:

Synopsis:  "Filmmaker John Dunham follows six runners from vastly different backgrounds as they train for the Chicago Marathon, exploring the history of marathons and the appeal of such an arduous challenge."

If you want to see how "the other half" live {for better or worse}:

Synopsis:  "Meet the Siegels, glitterati who made a fortune in the time-share business, only to see it crumble in the 2008 financial collapse. The site of their rise and almost-fall is their home (America's largest), a gaudy replica of the Palace of Versailles."

Spoiler alert:  Things are not necessarily better or easier for people who have a lot.  I wouldn't trade lives with that woman for all the tea in China!

If you're fascinated by killer whales and/or need a reason to not go to Sea World: 

Synopsis:  "This fascinating documentary examines the life of performing killer whale Tilikum -- who has caused the deaths of several people while in captivity -- and questions the safety and humaneness of confining these intelligent creatures."

I know this was pretty one-sided, but I was SHOCKED by the misinformation Sea World has taught their trainers and tour guides to share with the public about these creatures, and how an Orca that has killed THREE people is still being used in shows.  SHOCKED!!  

If you have ever wanted to meet people who share your name:

Synopsis:  "In this humorous and touching documentary, award-winning independent filmmaker Alan Berliner tracks the lives of several other men who share his name and deftly explores the relationship between one's moniker and the way it shapes identity."

There was another Amy {no middle name} Hughes at BYU when I was going there.  I always wished I had the courage to give her a call and meet up.

If you want to watch adorable Chinese children experience democracy for the first time: 

Synopsis:  "Though China's government is Communist, the third grade election for the prestigious position of Class Monitor at the Evergreen Primary School in Wuhan is being decided by a democratic vote. In this enlightening documentary, filmmaker Weijun Chen captures all the action as the three candidates -- two boys and a girl -- go all out to win: performing in a talent show, debating each other and delivering speeches to their classmates."
 If you just want to be entertained and you like Jason Bateman: 

Synopsis:  "This raucous but thoughtful documentary examines what defines masculinity in our modern culture of male grooming products and suave celebrities."

Never knew what "bat wing" was until I watched this.  Will be buying my husband a case of Fresh Balls at my earliest convenience.  Sick!

If you just want to be entertained and you like senior citizens doing hip hop: 

Synopsis:  "Dori Berinstein's inspiring documentary chronicles the adventures of the first-ever senior citizen hip-hop dance team for the New Jersey Nets basketball team, from auditions to center-court stardom."

If you just want to be entertained and you like ventriloquism:

Synopsis:  "What may seem to be an obsolete art -- stage ventriloquism -- is found to be alive and well in the United States in this affectionately wacky documentary that follows five ventriloquists, starting with their annual gathering at Kentucky's Vent Haven."

These last three are a few of my favorite documentaries of all time, but they're not available on Netflix at this time.  They are, however, all available to stream from Amazon last time I checked.
If you just want to be entertained and you like synchronized swimming:

Synopsis:  "A humorous and poignant film about a group of middle-aged men who find unlikely success as members of Sweden's all-male synchronized swim team."

If you just want to be entertained and you like crossword puzzles:

Synopsis:  "Witness the inner workings of Will Shortz, NY Times Editor and NPR Puzzle Master, and his brilliant, entertaining and often hilarious contributors as well as surprising celebrity fans. Wordplay takes us through the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament where almost five hundred competitors battled it out for the title "Crossword Champ"."

Brent and I spent every evening doing the NY Times crossword puzzle while we were dating so this was right up our alley!

If you just want to be entertained and you like video games and/or underdogs:

Synopsis:  "A humble novice goes head-to-head against the reigning Donkey Kong champ in a confrontation that rocks the gaming world to its processors!"

You will want to kick Billy Mitchell in the teeth by the time this is over.  Does he not know what a dork he is? Really?!

There you have it!  If you have a favorite documentary, share it in the comments.  I am always looking for a new one to watch.  What will you be doing to ring in the New Year tonight?  Whatever it is, I hope that you are safe and happy that 2014 brings us all a lot of luck and happiness.  

Happy New Year, friends!!


Swedish Tea Ring

Swedish Tea Ring Recipe at /
One of the first things that comes to mind when I think of Christmas Eve is my mom's "famous" Swedish Tea Rings.  What's that you say?  You've never heard of them?  Well, they may not be World Famous, but if you were ever lucky enough to be my mom's friend, you looked forward to one these every December.  At some point in the days leading up to Christmas when I was a kid, I could always count on every surface in our kitchen and dining room being covered with these deliciously sweet cinnamon wreaths.  After a long day {or two} of baking we would help mom load them all in the car and spend an evening dropping them off to everyone we knew.  Those are some of my happiest childhood memories.

So, what exactly is Swedish Tea Ring?  They're basically cinnamon rolls.  Not the super ooey-gooey, get it all over your face, Cinnabon-style cinnamon rolls.  They're more like the sophisticated older cousin of the Cinnabon.  You know -- the one who went away for study abroad and came back all grown up and fancy.  No?  Ok.  Weird metaphors aside, these are some of the prettiest, most impressive-looking cinnamon rolls you can make.  Your friends will be jealous.  But guys, they're delicious, too, and soooo easy to make you won't believe it! 

Swedish Tea Ring

2 C. milk
1 stick {1/2C.} butter
4 eggs
1/2 C. sugar
2 tsp. salt
2 Tbsp. yeast, dissolved in 1/2 C. warm water
8 C. flour

1 C. melted butter
sugar, to taste
cinnamon, to taste
cinnamon chips, nuts & raisins {optional}

1 C, powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
3 Tbsp. milk 

Melt butter and warm the milk together in a pan over medium heat.  Do not allow to boil.  Allow to cool a little until you can comfortably touch it.  In the bowl of a mixer, beat eggs with paddle blade.  Add sugar and salt. Mix well.  Add yeast and milk mixture to egg mixture and mix until incorporated.  Add 4 cups of flour and mix well.  Switch to the dough hook and gradually add the last 4 cups of flour.  The dough will be a little bit sticky.  Do not add too much flour.  

Cover and let raise until double in bulk.  Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and divide in half.  Each recipe will make 2 rings.  Roll out each piece of dough about 1/4 inch thick.

Swedish Tea Ring Recipe at /
Pour 1/2 C. of melted butter on each piece of rolled out dough and spread to edges.  Sprinkle on cinnamon and sugar and other fillings until it looks good.  There are no rules here.  the more you put, the gooey-er it will turn out.  We made our first ring with white sugar, cinnamon, and cinnamon chips.

Swedish Tea Ring Recipe at /
The second ring got brown sugar, cinnamon, and chopped pecans -- my favorite combo!

Swedish Tea Ring Recipe at /
Roll the dough up into one long roll, then transfer it to a baking pan, laying it in a circle.  I like to overlap the ends a little since they end up a little smaller than the center of the roll.  This keeps the ring more symmetrical.

Swedish Tea Ring Recipe at /
Using a pair of kitchen scissors, snip the dough 3/4 of the way through in roughly 1 inch increments.  Twist the slices of dough to lay flat, alternating sides to form the pretty wreath shape.  Cover with a light towel and allow to raise again until double.

Bake at 375 degrees for 20-25 minutes, until golden brown on top and dough is cooked through.  Turn immediately out onto a clean cookie sheet.  If you will be delivering your Tea Rings to friends, cover the bottom of the ring in foil, then flip right-side-up again.  Crunch the edges of foil around the ring to form a "tray" and allow to cool.  Otherwise, just flip it right-side-up onto a platter for serving.

Swedish Tea Ring Recipe at /
Once the rings have cooled, mix up the glaze and drizzle over top of the rings.  Garnish with maraschino cherries and enjoy!

It just wouldn't be Christmas to me without leaving a slice of Swedish Tea Ring and a cup of egg nog out for Santa at bedtime.  I've always been convinced that's why he leaves us the best presents.  Try it at your house and see if it works for you, too!



Cream Cheese "Christmas" Pie

Cream Cheese "Christmas" Pie at /

Christmas Pie is another of my family's delicious traditions.  We also eat it for Thanksgiving, but I have always called it Christmas pie.  I don't know why.  It's probably my all-time favorite pie.  In fact, it's probably in the top 5 of my all-time favorite desserts, and I don't particularly care for most pies.  It's that good.  A little tangy, a little fruity, all refreshing.  There's nothing not to like about it, in my book.  But that's just me.  See what you think . . . 

Christmas Pie

1 baked 9-inch pie shell -- pastry or graham cracker, both are good
1 {8 oz.} brick of cream cheese, softened
1 can sweetened condensed milk
1/3 C. lemon juice
1 tsp. vanilla
1 can fruit pie filling

Whip softened cream cheese in a mixer until light and fluffy.  Gradually beat in the sweetened condensed milk.  Add lemon juice and vanilla.  Pour into pie shell and spread evenly.  Chill for several hours.  Top with fruit pie filling before serving.

Cream Cheese "Christmas" Pie at /

I made this particular batch with lime juice instead of lemon juice {just because that's what I had in the refrigerator} and raspberry topping.  They're pretty much interchangeable, but I really liked the slightly different flavor the lime juice gave it.  My favorite topping is blueberry, but the raspberry definitely looks Christmas-ier.  Either way, it's a must for our holiday celebrations.

What's your "must-have" traditional dessert that you make for the holidays? 


Giving Myself the Gift of Peace of Mind

This post brought to you by Zubie. All opinions are 100% mine.

If you follow me on Facebook, you know that this has been a MAJOR MILESTONE week in our home.  My oldest child is DRIVING!!!!  She got her learner's permit and, while I am being a really good sport about it on the surface, I am secretly freaking out.  Sure, she has to have either me or my husband in the car with her NOW, but in six short months she'll have a level of freedom that she's never had before.  Not to mention, the most expensive item we own as a family -- our car -- in her hot little hands.  I trust her.  I do.  She's a great kid, and very responsible, but still.  It's a lot to deal with as a parent.  Luckily, we're not it alone any more, you and I, like our parents used to be.  We have Zubie.

What's Zubie, you ask?    Watch this:

So, I feel good about being able to monitor my daughter's driving remotely.  That should be lots of fun -- for us both.  But there's also this -- the maintenance aspect.  My husband and I are NOT mechanically inclined.  I have often wished I could read my car's mind and know what it wanted from me before it had a total meltdown.  Now I have Zubie for that, too! It will alert me to car problems, like a Check Engine light or a dying battery, before they leave me stranded.  Zubie will tell me what the Check Engine light means {in plain English} so I can avoid unnecssary trips to the shop and save a little cash.  If I do have to take the car in, I will know what needs to be looked at, how serious the problem might be, and have an idea of what I should expect to pay.  That kind of information is priceless.

I think Zubie would make an awesome Christmas gift for those car lovers, tech heads, families of teen drivers and anyone who drives.  Right now use code SAVE20DEC and SAVE 20% on your Zubie Key plus one year of service. {Offer good through January 31, 2013. Shipping charges apply. }  It's a gift that will keep on giving all year long.  I will be receiving a key to test out Zubie and will share my experiences with you in a couple of upcoming posts.  I cannot wait to see how the real-time location tracking and alerts work and learn how we can improve our driving as a family.  2014 is going to be an exciting year in the Gregson home!

For more info and updates Like Zubie on Facebook, and Follow @GoZubie on Twitter.

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Christmas Eve Dinner Tradition:
Crackers & Cheese

Holiday traditions can be a little bit tricky when you get married, especially if you both come from great families with very different traditions.  It has taken us years to reconcile the great "What do we do on Christmas Eve" debate.  You see, my husband's family has their big, delicious dinner on Christmas eve.  His mom pulls out all the stops and it is WONDERFUL.  That way, in theory, she can relax on Christmas Day. {I chuckle a little as I write that because does any mom really relax on Christmas Day?}

In my family, we always had our big Christmas dinner on Christmas Day, which was also WONDERFUL, and we had crackers and cheese for Christmas Eve so my mom could, in theory, relax and gear up for the big day.  Also, I'm pretty sure, in the younger years, we were all too excited about Santa coming and opening presents to eat much dinner anyway.  Neither tradition is righter or wronger than the other, just different.

I'm certainly not cooking TWO big dinners, and I don't think I could get away with doing NONE either, so some years we do it my way and some years we do it his way.  Either way, we have a delicious meal of crackers and cheese at some point in our holiday festivities.  It might be my favorite meal of the whole year!  {I'm a finger-food kinda' gal.}  I always serve a nice variety of crackers, sliced cheeses, and deli meats, but the hit of the show is ALWAYS the Cheese Ball.  I usually just pick one up from the deli, but I thought it might be fun to try and make one this year.  I've rounded up some fun cheese ball recipes from all over the internet that I am excited to try {not all at once -- that's a lot of cheese}:

Cheese Ball Recipe Roundup at /

Leave it to Betty Crocker to make the cutest cheese ball in the world.  This one has basil pesto and yellow mustard in it and no nuts, which would be a hit with my family. 

Cheese Ball Recipe Roundup at /

This Gorgonzola and Cranberry version from Sam's Club makes my mouth water.  It also has minced celery and red and green pepper in it.

Cheese Ball Recipe Roundup at /

I know Bacon Ranch Cheese Ball from CentsLess Deals would be a hit with every member of my family -- again, no nuts!

Cheese Ball Recipe Roundup at /

The Happy Tulip has two different versions that both sound yummy -- a classic cheese ball recipe and a green onion & bacon cheese ball.

Cheese Ball Recipe Roundup at /

So, this isn't a cheese ball per se, but don't these Party Cheese Ribbon Slices at Made from Pinterest sound delish?!  OK, now back to the balls . . .

Cheese Ball Recipe Roundup at /
Have I been living under a rock all this time?!  I had never heard of sweet cheese balls!  This Chocolate Chip cheese ball with brown sugar and pecans is headed straight for my table.  Maybe today.

Cheese Ball Recipe Roundup at /

Or maybe a Peanut Butter cheese ball, like this one from Buns In My Oven . . . Mmmmmm.

Time to buy stock in Philadelphia cream cheese, because mommy's gonna' try 'em all!  I know, in my heart of hearts, it doesn't really matter what we eat and when we eat it.  That's not what Christmas is about. What matters is that we gather as a family, express love, and give thanks for our blessings, not the least of which is the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ.  How do you and yours celebrate Christmas?  Any fun traditions?


Tortellini with Pancetta and Peas

This post is part of a social shopper marketing insight campaign with Pollinate Media Group™ and Barilla, but all my opinions are my own. #pmedia #JoytotheTable

Tortellini with Pancetta & Peas at /
Twelve years ago this Christmas I did something revolutionary.  Something that no woman in my long family line had ever done before.  I served pasta for Christmas dinner.  {*minds blown*}  I was two weeks away from giving birth to my youngest child.  I already had a busy three-year old and an 18 month old.  We had just moved here to Arizona and were still settling into our new house. I had already cooked a turkey dinner for Canadian Thanksgiving in October with our old friends before we moved and then cooked another one in November to christen my new Arizona kitchen.  I was EXHAUSTED and couldn't bear the thought of preparing another big meal.  And so we had pasta.  It was delicious and -- AND -- the world didn't spin off its axis.  Life continued as usual.  Christmas wasn't ruined.  And a semi-tradition was born.

In the following years, I returned to cooking a big, traditional Christmas dinner, but in the days leading up to the Big Day, I always to serve a yummy pasta dinner.  Every single member of my family likes pasta and it's quick and easy to whip up.  When I'm in the middle of my holiday wrapping and baking whirlwind it's nice to have a really easy, super yummy meal that is going to be a hit with everybody. 

Tortellini with Pancetta & Peas at /

 Barilla Tortellini with Pancetta & Peas

1 pkg, Barilla Three Cheese Tortellini
1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
3-4 large scallions, chopped
5 oz. cubed pancetta
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 C. frozen peas
1 C. half and half
1/4 C. butter
1/2 C. Parmesan cheese, grated
salt and pepper to taste

Put a large pot of water on the stove to boil.  Cook the pasta according to the directions on the package and drain.

Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a large skillet.  Add scallions and pancetta and saute over medium heat for 3-4 minutes.  

Tortellini with Pancetta & Peas at /
Add frozen peas and garlic and saute another 3-4 minutes.  Add half and half and butter.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Simmer 8-10 minutes.  Sauce will thicken up a little.  Stir in the Parmesan cheese before serving.

Tortellini with Pancetta & Peas at /
Serve sauce over pasta and enjoy!

Tortellini with Pancetta & Peas at /
This dinner got RAVE reviews from everyone.  I had only ever used frozen tortellini before, but this Barilla Three Cheese Tortellini will be my new go-to pasta.  It was delicious and full of cheesy flavor that complimented this Parmesan cream sauce perfectly.  I made a double batch because I really wanted to have leftovers for lunch the next day.  Turns out there was just a small bowl of pasta left over and I didn't get any of it, but that's OK.  I'll just have to make it again.  Soon.  Very, very soon.  Right now at Safeway you will get $.75 off of ONE package of Barilla® Tortellini with their special in-store promotion.  

So, tell me, would you ever serve pasta for Christmas dinner?  Or have you ever had a holiday meltdown that caused you to break from tradition?  Please tell me I'm not alone!

Find Barilla on Facebook.

This post was sponsored by Barilla.  As usual, all opinions are 100% my own. 


They're Back!!
{KING'S HAWAIIAN Roast Beef at Arby's}

This post brought to you by Arby’s. All opinions are 100% mine.
I mentioned a few days ago how one of my favorite Christmas traditions is my shopping day date with my husband.  For years when our kids were young, he worked for a company that didn't hand out Christmas bonuses until December 7th.  We always waited until then to start our holiday shopping, then we would hire a babysitter and spend an entire day picking up everything we needed.  Waiting for the bonus money isn't exactly a necessity anymore, but it's still one of my favorite days of the year. Our kids are more than happy to escort us out the door, knowing they will be the direct beneficiaries of our efforts.  Brent and I grab some lunch to break up the marathon shopping day and usually see a movie in the evening to celebrate our success.  It's good fun!

This year we decided to have lunch at Arby's because it is one of my favorite guilty pleasures.  {Remember my birthday lunch?} Plus, the KING'S HAWAIIAN Roast Beef Sandwiches are back for a limited time!  You can't miss that, right?!  I got the plain roast beef -- a slightly sweet KING'S HAWAIIAN bun piled high with yummy roast beef, which I smothered in Arby's sauce -- and Brent got the KING’S HAWAIIAN Roast Beef & Swiss -- which is the same as the regular, but topped with Swiss cheese, pickles and a Dijon sauce.  You can't go wrong either way, but  Brent's was my favorite.  By far.  Something about the tangy pickles and Dijon against the Swiss cheese and sweet bun . . . . mmmmmmm. . . . makes my mouth water just thinking about it.

There was so much meat on that sandwich, neither of us was able to finish it.  {We dropped by the house to give our leftovers to the boys, who were thrilled to finish them off for us.}  I love Arby's -- y'all know I do! -- but the KING'S HAWAIIAN Roast Beef sandwich takes it to a whole 'nother level.  It was the perfect pit-stop in the middle of our gift-buying bonanza.  Good food, super fast, and we were back to work with renewed energy.
Find an Arby's near you and drop in the try a KING'S HAWAIIAN Roast Beef ASAP, folks.   Comment and tell me which one you are most excited to try!
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Easy Bubblegum Bead Necklace

Easy Bubblegum Bead Necklace at /
I love these necklaces because the beads look just like little gumballs to me.  They're bright and fun and a little bit preppy, like a more modern take on a classic string of pearls.  Plus it's easy to throw on one of these with jeans, a t-shirt, and ballet flats and look "done-up".  You can whip them up in just a few minutes, too.


Easy Bubblegum Bead Necklace at /

12-14   1/2-inch round beads
beading string & needle
2 large jump rings
about 1 yard of coordinating ribbon
E6000 glue {optional}

STEP 1:  Tie the end of your string to one of the jump rings.  Knot it several times so it won't come loose.  I even put a dab of E6000 craft glue on there so it wouldn't come undone.  String your beads and knot the other end around the second jump ring, just like the first.  You'll end up with this:

Easy Bubblegum Bead Necklace at /

STEP 2:  Cut a piece of ribbon 6-8 inches long, feed the end through one of the jump rings and then knot it.  Pull the knot very tight and add a tiny dab of E6000 glue if you want, just to be safe.

Easy Bubblegum Bead Necklace at /
Cut a second piece of ribbon 18-24 inches long, depending on how long you want your necklace to hang.  Do the same thing as before to knot it to the other jump ring.  It should look like this when you're finished:

Easy Bubblegum Bead Necklace at /

Step 3:  Tie the two ends of the ribbon together into a bow so that necklace hangs at the desired length.  Trim the ends if you need to. 

Easy Bubblegum Bead Necklace at /

That's it!  Really, it only takes about 5 minutes once you get the hang of it.  Think of all the fun color combinations you could make!  Here are a couple of other ones that we made:
Easy Bubblegum Bead Necklace at /

Easy Bubblegum Bead Necklace at /
They're easy to make and inexpensive, so you can make a bunch and have one for every outfit!  Have a great day, friends!

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