Sunday, December 28, 2008

Christmas Day 2008

Our Christmas was wonderful - how could it not be with kids around? They have so much enthusiasm and excitement, and it's definitely contagious. We omitted or changed quite a few of our family traditions this year because I just wasn't up to it, but to be honest I don't think the kids noticed at all. They opened their Christmas Eve pajamas, set out cookies for Santa, and fell asleep surprisingly fast. Rob and I had everything set up and ready for the morning by 9:00 pm. And then the kids slept in until 8 in the morning! That was a great present in itself.

It was so fun to watch the two of them react so differently to their Santa presents - Haley stood back with wide eyes and took it all in, while Jake ran straight for toy after toy, exclaiming over each one. We spent a relaxing day playing, eating orange rolls, and having a family Nerf war. Thanks to all of our generous friends and family who helped make our holiday so special!

Minneapolis Winter Road Trip (Warning - Long Post)

Last weekend we were so excited to drive down to Minneapolis to meet our good friend Bill, who was flying through on his way home from Iraq. What a great excuse to get out of town and take in the big-city-at-the-holidays sights! Only when I got back did I realize I'd taken a total of 6 pictures - and NONE of them were of Bill. Sorry, Bill! Now you'll just have to come back and visit again....

We had planned to leave on Saturday morning, but with (another) blizzard warning given for that time period, we scurried around all day Friday and left as soon as Haley finished with school at 3:00. We were so fortunate to beat the storm completely and had a safe drive - until we were within 50 yards of our hotel. Then suddenly the car started acting funny and felt like it was going to stall out. Rob spent most of the next day at the repair shop while the kids and I swam, hung out at the hotel, and ensconced ourselves in the nearby Barnes and Noble while the blizzard raged outside. I felt so very grateful that we had made it down safely; it could have been so much worse!

Before Bill got into town, Rob and I took turns venturing out into the pre-Christmas crowds to shop. He went to REI and several guitar stores; I hit the high-end Shoppes at Arbor Lakes down the road from our hotel. The kids spent a lot of time in Pottery Barn Kids - we'll take one of everything, please! On Monday we braved the traffic and went to the Mall of America, along with millions of other shoppers. The traffic was bad, the crowds were big, and I'm afraid Bill had to witness a major disagreement between Rob and I. But by the end of the day the kids had ridden the rides for hours, we'd made a few laps around the mall, and were stuffed from a most delicious dinner at Tucci Benucch to celebrate Bill's birthday. We were all tired from the weekend, but the kids had SO much fun with "Uncle Bill", and he spoiled them (and us) with gifts and attention. Thanks, Bill, for stopping in our chilly neck of the woods! We miss you already.

I know this is a long post - more of a journal entry, really - but I have to mention how much we LOVED our hotel. We will stay there every time we go to Minneapolis from now on; we're calling it our "city house". It's the Staybridge Suites in Maple Grove, and while of course it doesn't compare to the grand old hotels in big cities, I absolutely loved it for its family-friendliness. It has a nice pool, a huge, free breakfast, a kitchen in every room, and our room had doors that closed off the beds from the rest of the room (so nice when you have little kids!). Not to mention that it was all decorated for the holidays and had several feet of snow outside. I'm not sure if all of their properties are this nice, but I hope so because we'll be looking for them from now on when we travel!

More About Baby

For those who are just dying with curiosity (namely, the grandmas-to-be), here are some more details about Baby 3.

The baby is due around July 22nd. I haven't had my first doctor's appointment yet, so the date is not official. I'm about 11 weeks along right now and the baby is the size of a "large lime".

I've been pretty lucky morning-sickness wise. It kicked in right before Thanksgiving, but was only really bad for a few weeks. I'm fortunate to not get super-sick, I just feel nauseous a lot and can't stand the thought of many foods (especially onions and the entire food court at the mall). Hopefully in a few weeks I'll have my energy and appetite back.

Whenever I ask Jake where the baby is, he replies, "I'm right here!" I'm predicting major sibling rivalry this time around.

Haley is fascinated with the details of the baby's growth (may I say, ahem, even more than Rob is...?). She loves to get out the Your Pregnancy Week by Week book each Sunday and look at the pictures to see how big it's gotten. We've gone from "Ew, it looks gross" to "Wow! Look how big it is!" It's fun to have her old enough to understand what's really going on (well, mostly).

Jake thinks it's a boy, Haley hopes it's a girl. Big surprise.

Thanks, everyone, for your congratulations and good wishes!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

One More Present...

Hope you enjoy the video! We'll talk to you soon, I'm sure.

Merry Christmas!


Valarie, Rob, Haley & Jake

Clarifications: "She" at the end refers to me...we won't find out for a few more months!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

More Holiday Fun

This past weekend we went to our local Macy's store so the kids could mail their letters to Santa in the big red mailbox. They were still dressed up from taking pictures and got a lot of comments from passersby as they excitedly dropped their letters in the slot.

Jake worked very hard on his letter, but in case you can't make out what he wrote, he asked for:

-Flying reindeer for each member of our family, with switches on them to make them fly.
-A big motorcycle with a switch.
-Roller skates.
-He also said, "Maybe Santa will bring me my own lots of babies..." Santa had better ask mom and dad about that one first...

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Little Boy Blue

"I WANT THE BLUE CUP!!!"...At least 7 other people in the world will remember this phrase all too well. While my 5 siblings and I were growing up, we used a set of plastic Tupperware tumblers that came in assorted colors. For some reason, there was only blue one, and THAT was the one that we all wanted. Who knows why, but it sure seemed important at the time. I'm surprised mom or dad didn't throw the darn thing out when we weren't looking. (Or did you...?)

Lately Jake has taken a shine to the color blue - and that's putting it mildly. He wants to dress in head-to-toe blue, use only the blue plate, cup, and fork, and lays claim to anything in the cerulean color family. We honestly haven't pushed the blue/pink divide on our children - quite the opposite actually - but somehow they've picked up on it anyway. I'm sure he'll grow out of it someday, and when he's in his "all-black" phase as a moody teenager I'll look back on this time with great least it complements his eyes!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Christmas Picture Outtakes

I had planned to take our family Christmas picture last weekend, but still wasn't feeling well and so we postponed it until today. Of course I wasn't counting on a blizzard being forcasted for the weekend... Still, we're hardy North Dakotans now and a little blizzard wasn't going to stop me from taking the quintessential front-porch photo.

It's hard enough to get a perfect shot of four people, but try doing it with wind-chill temperatures at -7 degrees! However, the kids were troopers and Rob was very supportive; we would take a few shots and then go inside to warm up. When I told the kids to say "strawberry" instead of "cheese", Jake disagreed, then thought for a moment and told us, "Say cranberry!" What a funny kid...he also seems to be the most sub-zero photogenic; check out the slide show below.

Easy Cinnamon Ornaments

The kids and I made these ornaments today - they are pretty easy to make and the kids felt like they were making cookies -minus the sugar high. Clean-up is super fast if you roll them between sheets of waxed paper. And your house will smell like cinnamon for hours after they're done baking. (Heather B., this one is not for you!)

Cinnamon-Applesauce Ornaments
1 cup ground cinnamon (I use the Sam's Club containers - a good way to rotate your stock)

3/4 cup applesauce

1/2 teaspoon cloves

Combine ingredients to make a stiff dough. Roll out to 1/8" thick between 2 sheets of waxed paper. Cut out shapes with cookie cutters; re-roll scraps and repeat until dough is used up. Place on cookie sheets lined with parchment or waxed paper (or a Silpat, my favorite). Don't forget to make holes with a straw or skewer for hanging them.

Bake at 250 degrees for 2 hours, then turn off oven and leave cookie sheet in for 4-5 hours. Once cool, decorate with paint, glitter, or leave plain, and thread with a ribbon for hanging.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Christmas Preparations

It's been a busy few weeks as we prepared for the holidays. Our Thanksgiving is kind of fuzzy in my mind - I'm sure the food was good, but I was sick and couldn't taste most of it anyway. However we did enjoy the company of a friend, Tom, from church, and enjoyed pie with some friends that evening.

The next morning we jumped right into Christmas preparations with some Black Friday shopping, and on Saturday brought home the Christmas tree. Now the halls are decked, the shopping is almost all done, and I'm looking forward to just enjoying the season for a few weeks!
We have to create our own fun in the wintertime, and one of Jake's favorite things lately is to have someone bury him in the box of blocks. It was fun the first dozen times...
One afternoon Haley decided to set up a "photo studio" in her room - she hung a quilt for the background, set up a little chair, and asked us all to come pose. Here are the results:

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Only in North Dakota

There are many things this post title could allude to - the frigid temperatures, fields of sunflowers, or homemade lefse at the farmer's market - but I wanted to give a shout-out to the people of this state. They are known for being friendly, honest, and hard-working.

When we moved here, Haley was 4 months old and we had to stop every few hours to feed her. Somewhere in the deserted middle of the state we pulled off at a seemingly empty exit (hoping for some privacy, you know?). In the 30 minutes we were there, about 4 cars stopped to ask if we needed help. Coming from the crowded, anonymous north-Seattle neighborhood we'd been living in, we were very surprised. It was only the beginning of what we'd learn about our new fellow North Dakotans. When we saw the following story in this Sunday's newspaper, we just shook our heads and said, "Only in North Dakota!".

Purse, $2,500 is returned:

A Bismarck woman who lost a purse containing $2,500 in cash at a local Wal-Mart got it back - with all the money still inside. Ruby Hebert, 75, said the purse also contained credit cards and her identification cards. She had withdrawn the cash for Christmas shopping because she had run out of checks. Hebert said she can't describe her appreciation for the honesty of the woman who found the purse and turned it in to store officials.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

The Bright Side

A few days ago while eating lunch with the kids, I asked them what their favorite autumn-time things were. Of course they said Halloween, pumpkins, and walks to collect leaves...then Haley piped up and said, "The snow!" Yes, snow is part of autumn time here, and now that our daily high temperatures are in the 20's and 30's, we've gotten all the cold-weather gear out. Instead of a long, whiney, darn-it's-cold-here post (see posts from this time last year), I decided to express my gratitude for the many luxuries and tools that make winter here a less-miserable experience. If you live in a similar climate, please share your tips/tools with us! If you live in a warmer climate, try to not gloat TOO much...

"Cats" - Rob and I have called them this forever because we've never had pets and they keep your lap warm, but they're actually "rice comfort bags" on the internet. Small pouches filled with rice that you heat in the microwave, they stay warm for more than an hour and are great for warming up toes or soothing a sore back. You can also add herbs or scents so they smell good (lavender is my favorite). I often heat a few up to give to the kids in the car, since they don't have...

...Heated leather seats. I am totally spoiled, I know. Our Subaru came with these and I love them! Nothing like a toasty-warm backside. And they'll be all warm and waiting for you if you also have a...

...Remote-start feature on your car. How did I ever live without this?!?! With the press of a button, you can start your car from inside the warm house, store, library, etc. It runs for up to 20 minutes, while the car remains locked and secure. Our remote is currently worn out and needs to be replaced - I've had to actually go out into the garage and start the car by hand! Poor me, I know, although while doing so I'm grateful that I have a...

...Down coat. We have a WIDE assortment of coats and jackets in our house (and a sad lack of closet space for them), but when the seriously cold weather hits, we all rely on our down jackets to keep us snug. I don't know of anything else that can compare! And since the coats don't reach all the way to our toes, we are also in love with our...

...Uggs/sheepskin-lined boots. Rob gave me a pair for Christmas 2 years ago and I couldn't believe that I'd lived in North Dakota without them for 3 years! I know the Ugg fad has passed, but you wear them here whether they're a fashion statement or not. They are uber-comfortable, incredibly warm, and Jake can put his on by himself. I pretty much wear flip-flops until it snows and then wear my Uggs until thaw in the spring (sorry, Stacey and Clinton!).

We hope you're all toasty and warm, wherever you might live!

Monday, November 03, 2008

Moon Afternoon

One afternoon last week, inspired by a book we'd checked out from the library, I planned a "Moon Afternoon" with the kids. We read stories about the moon, made moon cookies, created full-moon window decorations, learned about the moon on the internet, and listened to one of our all-time favorite CDs, Catch the Moon by Lisa Loeb and Elizabeth Mitchell. We all learned so much and had a fun time doing so! Here's what we used:

Catch the Moon book/CD by Lisa Loeb and Elizabeth Mitchell
The Moon Might Be Milk by Lisa Shulman.
Goodnight, Moon by Margaret Wise Brown
The Going To Bed Book by Sandra Boynton
We also should have included one of our other favorites: When The Moon Is High by Alice Schertle.

For the project, we traced simple bat shapes on black construction paper and glued them to yellow-construction-paper moons that the kids had cut out. Not the craftiest of projects, but simple enough for Jake to do and they made good Halloween window decorations.

The "moon cookies" are my mom's Snickerdoodle recipe - yum!

Grandma Ann's Snickerdoodles:


1/2 cup shortening

1/2 cup butter

1 1/2 cups sugar


2 eggs

2 1/2 tsp. baking powder

1/4 tsp. salt


2 3/4 cups flour

Roll into balls; roll balls in cinnamon sugar. Bake at 400 degrees for 10 minutes.

Some great websites for teaching kids all about the moon:

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Of Witches and Dragons

Halloween was great this year - warm weather, not on a school night, and both kids could walk on their own and knew how the "trick-or-treat" game works. In fact, they seemed to have quite the system down: Haley would race ahead to knock on the door, Jake would get there in time to say, "Twick or tweet! 'Appy Awoween! Rooaaar!", and then they would both stand there and chat and charm the socks off of our neighbors, who wound up throwing in a few extra goodies for them. They both made off with quite a haul. The highlight for Haley was getting to stop by her kindergarten teacher's house...the blessings of living in a small town!
Meanwhile, Rob did a very believable Slash impersonation and had a great time doing so. (All the 40-something moms answering doors recognized his character right away.) I think he's found his new favorite costume...

Happy Halloween, everyone!

I love these super-warm costumes from Old Navy!

Rockin' out with dad - could there be anything more fun?!

Jake the Dragon prepares to dig in to his prey. DIBS on those Reese's....

Haley didn't mind digging in to get the "guck" out, despite her grimace.

Jake refused to touch any of the pumpkin innards - who'd have thought he'd be the squeamish child?

Ta da! This year's masterpieces.