Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Resolution Revolution

I don't really care for the idea of New Year's Resolutions. Too binding. I prefer a little flexibility in my goal-making. Can I call them Areas of Focus instead? It's my blog & I can if I want to.

Areas of Focus for 2009
(aka the More/ Less List)
  1. More Health & Wellbeing/ Less Couch - This is not just for me, but for our whole family. I want to learn how to cook more healthfully, add more vegetables, reduce our meat consumption, and be more diverse in our food selections. I also want us to all move it, move it, a little more often and on a regular basis. If I can accomplish all this perhaps I will become reaquainted with my old friend Skinny Jeans.
  2. More Kindness/ Less Frustration - A kind word or a smile goes a long way. This isn't just for strangers or friends, but for me, too. I will be a little more accepting of myself, a little more understanding of my failures and foibles. With acceptance comes understanding, and hopefully a little insight.
  3. More Creativity/ Less TV - I've enjoyed busting out my sewing machine and making some simple handmade gifts, and want to gain some momentum in this. I also want to learn more about photography this year, and perhaps even make a tremendous jump forward in camera equipment to leverage that knowledge. It's amazing what I can get done when the TV goes off.
  4. More Organization/ Less Stuff - I am a recovering Pack Rat. (My husband would vehemently debate the recovering part). Recovery is a long process, with many bumps in the road. But with a little dedication and some Sterilite containers, I hope to lead a less cluttered existence in 2009.
  5. More Family/ Less Everything Else - I want to be a better wife, mother, and friend (in that order).

Happy 2009 to you and yours. What are your Areas of Focus for the year ahead?

Reflections On A Year

I've spent the day thinking back over the events of 2008. It seems like January 1, 2008 arrived much longer than just 365 days ago. Here is what I remember from this past year:

January: A busy month, filled with travel (to Nevada), and lots of work. I vividly remember Big Daddy's birthday, as I was desperately sick with the stomach flu. Sorry you had to make your own cake!

February: Big Sis turned 4, began ballet lessons and started preschool. My girl is growing up so fast.

March: Big J arrived! We became a family of 4, and it's been full speed ahead ever since! We also sold our house & breathed a huge sigh of relief when that trial was over with.

April: My maternity leave ended all too soon, and it was back to work for me. Grandma & Grandpa H also came for a visit, and we had a great time catching up with them and passing around Big J.

May: Finals time, and preparation for Big Sis' ballet recital.

June: Grandma & Grandpa E came to visit & we had lots of fun with them. The Iowa floods came, and we took a long weekend to go to Chicago. We visited with family, enjoyed the zoo and the aquarium, and ate delicious Chicago-style pizza.

July: A wonderful 4th in Des Moines - a neighborhood parade, fireworks, and time with friends. I also started my Baby Bootcamp exercise class & began travelling the road back to better health. Big Daddy also went back to school after an all-too-short summer break.

August: A birthday for me. We also spent lots of time outside, enjoying the mild summer weather.

September: Back to school for Big Sis, and training to run a 5K for me. Big J cut his first tooth.

October: A trip to Nevada to see Grandma & Grandpa E. Ran the Race for the Cure and raised $500! Caught walking pneumonia.

November: Weaned Big J, and I left him in Des Moines while I spent 2 nights in New York City. It was the first time I left him for more than a few hours & it was HARD. My car attacked me & I have the scar to prove it. Bought a new car.

December: Lots of preparation for Christmas & travelling. Excitement getting to Oregon & an enjoyable Christmas with Grandma & Grandpa H.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Christmas gifting


After we tucked these monkeys into bed on Christmas eve, there was much to do. Superhero capes to make (nothing like waiting until 9pm on Christmas eve to finish your gifts!), gifts to assemble, presents to wrap, cinnamon rolls to make, and stockings to prepare. We collapsed a little after 1 am.


Big Sis L-O-V-E-S her robe from Santa.


Big J got not one, not two, but THREE trains.


Tutu and hairbow a la Mama.

And finally...... yes, she is her father's daughter. (Weapon courtesy of her cousins).

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Photography a la Big Sis

She has been fascinated with our camera this week, grabbing it at every turn, and begging to take "just one picture". She was quite prolific on Christmas day. Perhaps a camera will go on her Birthday wish list.....



Grandpa in the kitchen.



Christmas fire.



Skippyjon Jones book set for Big J.


Ribbon on the Christmas tree.


Christmas tree.


My Little Pony hindquarters.

Shirt/ feet? Creativity at work.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Christmas Chaos, Part II

A shot of downtown Portland, near the river front.

So we had finally made it to Oregon. We woke Tuesday morning, and set ourselves on another crazy course of events.

We're in Corvallis, which is in the Willamette Valley, south of Portland. The weather was fine here - the usual cold, rainy December we fully expected to see. We heard varying reports of the conditions north of us, but couldn't get a real sense of what things were like.

We needed to return the rental car in Portland, and knew there was another storm coming in on Wednesday. It was going to drop another 4-6" of snow in Portland, meaning that the road conditions were only going to worsen in the next 48 hours. I made the executive decision, and we saddled up the family truckster and the rental car, put Big J in his car seat, and hit I-5 North towards Portland and the airport rental car facility.

Note of explanation: Western Oregon doesn't usually see snow. If there is more than 1/4" of snow, cities shut down and the residents go into panic mode. There are few snow plows, and because Oregon is so environmentally focused, the plows use rubber-tipped blades to protect the roads. They also don't use a standard salt or ice-melt, but some concoction which is only marginally effective but safer for the environment. We knew the plows had been out (the few Portland has), and they were making a concerted effort to keep the roads clear, but didn't know what that meant.

The first 20 miles of I-5 were fine. We approached Salem and started to see snow accumulation on the side of the freeway. Mid-way through Salem, traffic slowed down as big-rig trucks were pulling over to put on their chains. A few cars were doing the same, but we kept on going. The roads weren't too bad - mostly packed snow.

About 3 miles outside of Salem it all fell apart.

The roads turned into a solid sheet of ice, with packed snow on top. The ice varied from 2-5 inches in thickness, and was often rutted out by the traffic. Some spots were totally clear, then turned suddenly into ice. Others trapped you into deep, icy ruts forcing your car into one place for miles. People were criss-crossing the icy road, and creating their own lanes.

As we approached Portland, the roads got worse and worse. We slowed down to 30, then 20, then 10 mph. Traffic began to back up for miles. At one point, there was a gentleman who proceeded to ride his bike onto the freeway onramp, and he outpaced traffic for several hundred yards. Portlanders are crazy about biking.

Merging onto I-205 took most of an hour. It then took another hour to go 6 miles. The conditions were worse here, and it appeared that the roads had once been plowed to the point where the ice accumulated and froze into several giant speed bumps. Once we passed these glaciers, the roads were clear to the airport. In all, it took us 4 hours to make what is normally a 1 hour, 45 minute trip.

I-5 Southbound. This looks about 9,000% better than it was on Tuesday's trip.


After dropping off the car, we heard a news report stating that I-5 southbound would be closed for 1 hour for plowing. This was the perfect chance to stop for food, a diaper change, and gas before trying to make our way home. The side roads were terrible - mostly unplowed, with the majority of cars using chains and sliding through intersections. Parked cars were buried under accumulated snow & what the plows had thrown on top. Many, many people were walking, as most public transportation had been shut down that day.




We gave it a little extra time, and hopped back on the freeway at 6:15pm. The first 4 miles were fine, then traffic stopped completely. After travelling 4 miles in 2 hours, we had heard no updates on the radio and calls to friends and family yielded no updates from ODOT. Finally, we used the GPS to plot a route which would get us to I-5 via side streets. We rode the shoulder to an exit, and took off down dark, unplowed, mostly uninhabited streets.

Other cars had decided to do the same, so we were not alone. At one point we were trapped in a rut heading into oncoming traffic, and Big Daddy slowed down to try and wrench the car out and get us safely back into our lane. It was then that we realized the side roads were also completely coated with ice under a thin layer of snow.

We fishtailed back and forth, launched down a snowy embankment next to a field, and landed on top of some snow covered bushes. We missed an electrical box by about 12 inches.

Everyone was fine, including Big J - who didn't make a peep.

We were not getting out of this by ourselves. We were dozens of miles from family or friends, surrounded by ice, snow, freezing temperatures, dangerous roads, and minimal drive-by traffic. Several people stopped to ask if we were OK, but moved on after a moment.

A man driving a large Ford truck stopped to check on us. He started talking to Big Daddy, and offered to try and tow us out. We had nothing to lose at that point, so we we agreed to give it a shot. On the third try (with many prayers and a careful application of the gas pedal while in reverse), we were back on the road. He pulled over with us as Big Daddy put on the chains, and I talked with him and his wife for a minute. They were out with their two teenage sons, and had been making their way home after getting out for some groceries. I truly do not know what would have happened to us if they had not stopped to help. If I ever needed evidence that the Lord both hears and answers our prayers, I received it that night.

We slowly made our way back to I-5, and although the road was not good, the freeway was in far better shape than the side roads we had just travelled over. We took off the chains in Salem, and the rest of the trip was speedy and uneventful.

Damage to the car was limited to the front bumper, and even that was far better than either of us anticipated.

We arrived home at 2am - 15 hours after setting out that morning.





Note II: We later heard that the National Guard was called to some parts of the Portland metro area to reach areas that were "too remote" for standard emergency vehicles. This is the most snow that Portland has received in 40 years. The city has spent over $2 million dollars in the last two weeks trying to keep things under control. The weather is warming up this week, and the city's advice to its residents is: grab a shovel & start digging.

Christmas Chaos, Part I

It's been an eventful week.

We spent all day Saturday preparing for our trip to Oregon. We washed, dried, folded, packed, wrapped, and piled up the necessary items for a cross-country trip with 2 young ones in tow.

We rose at 4:30am to bundle sleepy children into a waiting cab, driving in sub zero temperatures (-3 outside with a wind chill of -27) to the airport. We made it to our gate and enjoyed a few quiet minutes in the terminal while the crew worked to defrost our plane and make sure we could get off the ground.

Our flight was uneventful. We landed in Denver and de-planed.

And then the chaos began.

At our next gate, we were told that the Portland airport had been shut down until at least 6pm PST (it was 8am). We were instructed to go to customer service to figure out our next move. The line of angry travellers stretched down the terminal.

I took my place in line, and dialed customer service while I waited to talk to someone in person. On the phone they told me they could do nothing to help us, as I could only be rebooked in person. She also told me there were no available flights into Portland until WEDNESDAY.

After an hour and a half, I reached the head of the line. And then they announced that they could do nothing for any Portland passengers, and that we should go get our luggage and call customer service. Direct quote: "We have other customers to deal with, and will not spend any more time trying to deal with people going to Portland or Seattle". Thanks United!

As it was a weather delay, they would not offer food vouchers or pay for a hotel. Because it was such a heavy week for travel, there was no way to be immediately rebooked to fly into LA, San Francisco, Sacramento, Salt Lake, Boise, Reno, or Phoenix. Seattle was also shut down.

These were our options:

1. Turn around and fly home. It probably would have been a day until we could get onto a flight back to Des Moines. We're not quitters, so this was put at the bottom of our list.

2. Re-book onto the first flight into the Pacific Northwest. This would get us into Seattle at 1am on Christmas Eve (after spending 2 nights in a Denver hotel). This would also mean that we would either rent a car, or have someone drive at least 10 hours round trip to pick us up. As I-5 from Seattle south to Salem, OR was packed with ice & snow, it was doubtful anyone would be able to get to us until after Christmas. Meaning more hotel time in Seattle. Kind of defeats the purpose of taking a trip to spend Christmas with family.

3. Take the train. Not a real option, as they shut down the tracks between Northern California and Seattle. Too much ice & snow.

4. Take the bus. Again, not a real option with 2 young kids.

5. Rent a car and drive the rest of the trip.

Yep, we rented the car.

I almost cried when I found out how much it was going to be, but I just laid down that credit card and peeled out of the parking lot.

We drove North out of Denver, turned West at Cheyenne and floored it. The freeways were clear until we crossed into Idaho, and we finally stopped in Burley at 2am to get a few hours of sleep and let the snowplows hit the road.

On Monday morning we purchased snow chains, more diapers, baby food & formula, then got back on the freeway. We made good time until Boise, where the freeway backed up due to an accident. 3 hours later we took it back up to 65mph.

After listening to weather reports and checking the ODOT website, we learned that our current route would take us on I-84 through the Gorge, which was closed for a 50 mile stretch (more ice & snow). So we took another chance, and turned onto the 20 at Ontario, right on the Idaho/ Oregon border.

The sun was setting, the Eastern Oregon high desert scenery turned desolate, and the roads were packed with ice & snow. I putted along at 30 mph, and we passed through Burns then a very snowy Bend, at 11pm.

We summited Santiam Pass at 12am, and made it to our final destination at 1:30 am. Needless to say, we all collapsed into our beds.

Total travel time: 43 hours. Total time on the road: 36 hours.


This is approximately what we drove through.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Food, Wonderful Food


It's true what they say about having multiple children. With the first, I was super concerned about what she ate, when, how much, for how long, what she did & when, and how she measured up with other kids. I haven't completely relaxed with #2, but the rules are much less stringent or strict.


At 4 months he had a taste of chocolate ice cream (that one was courtesy of Big Daddy). I think someone has snuck him a sip of root beer. And recently his diet has expanded tremendously. In the past few days he has sampled steak, chicken, turkey, fried rice, cream of wheat cereal, croutons, and chocolate chip cookie. He's been refusing his baby food, so not only does he need to try new things, but he also needs to get some chow in his belly (other than the ever-popular graham cracker).


I'm still against juice for babies. I almost lost my mind when I discovered my MIL giving juice to Big Sis when she was about 6 months old. It wasn't her fault - I never outright stated my aversion for babies having juice, nor did I even realize I felt so strongly about it until the incident occurred. I think it has way too much sugar for tiny bodies, and lays a foundation for craving sugary drinks in the future.



Big Sis has expanded her drawing skills recently, adding butterflies, flowers, trees, and now houses. Note the stairs in pink and blue.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Ward Christmas Party

I'm on the Activities Committee.

I haven't done too much to help out just yet - mostly shown up when & where told to.

We have a wonderful leader, and she wisely decided that we should all share the work load by having each of us lead an Activity.
I got Christmas.

We decided this back in September, and it didn't seem like a big deal at the time.

Fast forward to mid-November, and here's what I started to look like:


OK, I shouldn't complain. It all went quite smoothly. We planned a family-style dinner, a photo-taking area, a service project, and ended with singing, storytelling, and a brief slideshow for entertainment.

I farmed out responsibilities, and took on the food and some of the decor.
With the help of a WONDERFUL food committee, we had a delicious meal of Artichoke dip + tortilla chips, ham, roast turkey, corn, tossed green salad, and rolls. Dessert was a potluck, and the Ward came through with two tables groaning with delicious treats. I've never had to plan or prepare food for 140 people, but with some strategic planning and helping hands, it was smooth sailing.

The decor was a little touch and go, but it all came together at the end.
As I told a friend, in my experience with different meetings and events, there isn't much that either a few phone calls or a little money can't fix. We didn't have to resort to either.


The entertainment was really nice. We created a little area in front of the stage that looked like a living room - couch, chairs, rug, lamp, fireplace, Christmas tree. The children gathered around a 'grandma & grandpa' who read a few stories, ending with the Nativity story from Luke. On the stage above we set up a barn backdrop with a manger, and had Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus, and a few shepherds to create a live-action tableau of the beautiful story. We ended with a slideshow set to the song Mary Did You Know? There were a few technical difficulties during the set up, but all was resolved by show time.

It was a pleasant evening for all, with a few (minor) lessons learned. But I am still glad the Christmas Party only comes once a year. It may be another 12 months before I can even think about cooking a ham or a turkey. But I'll take seconds on that artichoke dip.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

9 months already??


Big J, are you really 9 months old today? It must be true; the calendar doesn't lie.

You are such a joy to us, and we love watching you grow and change every week. It is amazing to me that you have 7 teeth now, are getting ready to crawl, and are sleeping through the night (once in a while).

Your new favorite food is pancakes, as discovered this morning.

You also love graham crackers, goldfish, chex, and more graham crackers.

Perhaps all those carbs are affecting your boyish figure - but around here we love our boys with a little extra meat on their baby bones.

Your first word is 'Mama', spoken today while pinning me with your lazer-like blue eyes.

You are surviving your first ear infection & lived through your first big fall (courtesy of Mama's clumsiness and a good dose of Des Moines ice).

You are curious in spirit and sweet in character. It warms my heart to see you cradled in our friend's arms, scrutinizing their faces as if determining the nature of the universe.
When you smile, your whole body exudes happiness - back arched as you clench your fists in joy. Your laugh is hearty and bodes of many good times (and lots of tickles!) to come.

We love you so very much.

Friday, December 12, 2008

A Minor Gripe

PEOPLE!

If you are going to build a website and/or blog wherein you expect to sell a product, promote yourself or your skills, or in any way get people to view your web page more than once, I have two words for you:

SPELL CHECK

Now, I don't want to present myself as the English Nazi, but misspellings and misuse of grammar is a serious pet peeve of mine. Seriously folks, the spell check button is there for a reason.

If you're still using a Cray-2 Supercomputer sans MS Word, then consider having a friend/ relative/ English teacher review your e-comm site before sending your purses/ blankies/ earrings out into the interwebz.

Jeez-O-Peet.

You may have the cutest product out there, but you lose at least 15 cool points (and more than likely, a customer) when I see words like "their" misspelled.

Heil,
Your Friendly Neighborhood Spelling Nazi

Blatant Promotion

Because I love mockery AND giveaways, here is my blatant yet righteous promotion of TAMN and her fun-o-rama blog:

Click here for a chance to be a winnah!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Trauma-riffic


This is Big J. He had an 'exciting' day today.



Maybe exciting isn't quite the word for it.

Exhausting?

Traumatic?

Disturbing?

Perhaps I am confusing my own set of emotions with his.

After we both fell on the ice yesterday, we came home & tried to recover before scurrying off to ballet. He seemed a little out of sorts, but he'd just been traumatized, so I chalked it up to that.

He had little interest in dinner, and wanted nothing to do with his bath - both of which are usually in his Top 3 Favorite Things to Do.

This morning we discovered a crust around the inside of his right ear.

We spent the remainder of the day running from the doctor's office to the radiologist to the pharmacy.

Thankfully, he does not have a skull fracture. He does have a massive ear infection which burst through his eardrum. That's what is making it's way out his tiny little ear.

10 days worth of pink antibiotics squirted down his throat twice a day and he should be back in tip top form.

My maternal guilt got the best of me tonight, and he has a new toy waiting for him when he wakes up in the morning.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

One more project off the list


Friend gifts are all done. I took a page from the blog of Nie, and recycled some empty canisters by covering them with wrapping paper. Filled with edible goodies, I think they are a sweet gift.

And PS - I now know not to speak ill of our friend Jack Frost. I took a tumble on the ice today, taking Big J with me. We are both a little battered, but no blood was spilled.

Jack Frost Calling.....

I don't really mind the cold & snow.

If I can see the sun every few days & don't have to do too much driving on snowy roads, I'm good.

Sure, I miss taking walks (I have been a TOTAL vegetable lately & am extremely frustrated with myself & my schedule), wearing flip flops, and eating watermelon, but I know summer shall return.

Eventually.

But today we woke to the special treat of ice, ice baby.

It had warmed up last night & actually rained a bit. And that meant big trouble this morning.

I didn't realize it until we headed down to the car & preschool. 80% of the car was coated in ice. It was nearly impenetrable, and took at least 20 minutes to warm things up enough to chip away a little peek hole in the windshield.

The roads were slick, and our steps were treacherous. It was extra fun with a 20+lb. babe in arms.

Ice, ice, go away, come again another day (never).

Monday, December 8, 2008

Catching Up on the Interwebz

Sometimes I get caught up doing the same ol' thing online - check my email, check ebay, check my blogs, get bored.

And then sometimes I get swept away in the awesome randomness which is just a click away on my computer. I need to get started on my 'friend gifts' for this year, and know what I want to make for one, but I also like to mix it up & make it more stressful for myself by whipping together multiple creations. In the midst of my search for the perfect, complicated, hive-inducing project, I wandered into OhDeeDoh. I love this site for its mix of high-end nursery design, low-end kid crafts, and everything in between. Plus, I've been obsessing about the possibility of renting a house (more space! more work!) and doing something cute with the kids' room. And today I found this:

This little beauty is by Thorunn Arnadottir, an Icelandic artist. Looks like it's a one-off design, but how cool would it be to reproduce this in a kids' room? Grab some paint, tape, wooden boxes and nails, and you've got yourself a cool, modern mural/ wall storage. I am not always a huge fan of modern design, but I am getting there.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Winter Wonderland


Last Sunday was our first 'real' snow of the season. It snowed from Saturday afternoon until Sunday morning.


Big J tried out the sled for the first time. It did not go well. We'll try again when he's had a nap & a full tummy.
We had some friends over on Friday for a Crafting Day. Here's Big Sis and Natalie helping out by decorating the cupcakes. Good job girls!


I made tutus. It was really easy, but I'm not sure why they won't lay a little straighter. Too much tulle? Strips too small? Strips too wide? Too long??
Regardless, I think they're cute, and I'm going to use the leftover tulle to make little hair bows to match. Or maybe magic wands. I don't know yet. Only 2 more Christmas gifts to go!

Crafting Day was fun. We don't have people over very often, as our apartment is the size of a postage stamp. But I love having company, especially girl company. It makes me feel like I really missed out by not growing up with a sister or two in the house.
In other news: Big J is finally finding his sleep groove. I think he's done teething for a while, and he's been able to get into some good sleep rhythms. On Friday he took a 2+ hour nap! And while he goes to bed between 7-8pm, he's begun to sleep in - sometimes until 6 or even 7 am. You'll still see me yawning throughout the day, though. Now that I am catching up on my snoozing, I think my body is realizing how sleep deprived it's been for the last 8 months.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

An Oregonian No More

I did it. On Monday morning I went back out to the DMV and got my Iowa driver's license.

This was a big step for me. I've been an Oregonian for a long time now, and never had any inclination to make the switch, no matter which state we were in. But we've been here for over a year now, and I like it. I really like it here, and I could even see myself in Iowa long term. I don't think that will actually happen, as there are many more moves ahead of us before we finally choose a place to settle. But it's a nice thought.

I felt elated when I was done, like I made the right choice. I think I've been mentally severing ties with Oregon for a while, and once our house was sold I felt ready to move on. I like Oregon, and am super excited to go back over Christmas break. (Less Cold - yay! Lots of Rain - boo!). But I don't really ever see us moving back there for good. Now that we know there truly are places in this country that offer good livin' at lower prices, we may not always consider ourselves West Coasters.

We shall see.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Almost there....

No, thank you.

I just realized I am nearly done with my Christmas shopping. I have been really busy with work, and started to have a small panic attack today when I thought about everything on my to-do list before we head to Oregon.

But never fear - online shopping is here!

I've been collecting things for the kids for a few months now. Not that they are getting a ton of stuff, but I keep my eyes open for good deals and things I think they would like, and have no problem stashing things for a while. And thankfully Big Sis is not yet to the 'root around mom and dad's bedroom to try and find all her presents' stage'. Yet.

I still need to take Big Sis out to pick out a present for Big J (with my not-so-subtle suggestions guiding her choice). And then the kids and I need to find something for Big Daddy. And I need to pick up a few stocking stuffers.

I just bought 2 more gifts online today, and am wrapping things up for 2 more on top of that. Other than making a few gifts on Crafty Friday, the above is very manageable to me.
I feel so much better. What about you? Are you done with your shopping and shipping? Or are you a Christmas eve shopper? (Personally I can't think of anything I'd want to do less than be at the mall on Christmas eve. Must be from my many years of working retail....)

Monday, December 1, 2008

By Request

Here's the roll recipe mentioned in the post below. I took it off the Pioneer Woman's blog. The recipe is huge, so I easily halved it and still ended up with about 16 rolls. I am lazy, so here is the link: No-Knead Rolls

I am also completely smitten with the cinnamon rolls I made yesterday morning. Many years ago I mocked Big Daddy when I discovered he, as a single man, owned a bread machine. But I take it all back. If that 10 year old machine can still pump out cinna-minny bites of heaven like that, then G.B. technology.