Sunday, November 28, 2010

O Christmas Tree

Just took a deep breath, and oh....the house smells so good, especially sitting right next to the tree. Contentment. =)

Yesterday we begged, pleaded, and pulled some strings to finagle the Schillings to hang out with us for another day. It worked, they stayed and it was a super cozy day. Michael even patched the front entry panel of switches that got redone when we remodeled the exterior of the house - all on his own motivation. That's not the first time Michael has come in to "solve problems" in our home....such a gift. Unfortunately, when it came to Beaver game time that evening, we weren't as thrilled with the outcome as we were the night before. Their team got beaten up pretty bad by Stanford. The Beavs are the only team that stands in the way for us to play for the national championship, and a win against the Ducks is the only way the Beavs will qualify for a bowl game. Game on next weekend! ESPN's College Game Day has decided to show up in Corvallis for that event - Michael and John will be there for sure (and perhaps even Michele). As for me, I'll be sleeping in at Michele's cozy house....and watching the Civil War on tv there.

So, that led to getting our Christmas tree today. We opted this year to go to Carrol's Country Tree Farm. The Carrolls are close family friends of ours - with Sharon Carroll being a friend of ours since I was about three. Their tree farm supports our church's high school group working to earn money to attend the annual spring break Mexico mission trip. I've hesitated going there in the past just because I didn't think they had the kind of trees we usually pick, but after a little Facebook conversation, we were encouraged and made our way out there. A very great decision!

We could have ridden in the hay wagon, but no one was in the driver seat when we walked by, so we opted to walk (after taking a couple of pics in the empty wagon).

After choosing the "big tree" to go in our living room, the kids picked the tree for the bonus room. They kept aiming for taller than we needed, but we eventually relented and said "okay" to this one.

Back at home, the kids decorated the tree in the bonus room while I went to work in the living room.

Because we were "living way too close to the edge" of burning our house down with the "outside lights" we put on an inside tree (the needles closest to those hot lights would actually turn brown!), we purchased some pricey "warm" LED lights this year. John put them on the tree and when I walked in to see them, I felt so let down. Despite the "warm" label, the color of the lights looked a neony-blue. Very cold. Not at all cozy. I decorated the tree anyway as John said he thought it looked fine, but I felt very discontent. (This picture doesn't do justice to the blue hue).

While I went about decorating, we had a very special treat with a visit from our sister-in-law Mary Beth and cousins Ali, and Andie. We haven't seen them since last January, so it was so great to catch up. The girls are growing up so fast, and Ali is so personable - hanging out with "us adults" while Andie gleefully went to play with Mikayla. We're always able to pick up right where we left off with Mary Beth - she's so enjoyable to be with.

After they left, I had had it with our tree lights. During the course of their entire visit, I had been facing that tree, and I couldn't get over how much I hated those cold lights. So, I got in the car, headed down to Home Depot, and picked up about a down boxes of traditional white lights. We desperately need that tree in its corner to shed light - as it fills the vacancy where a lamp usually sits. So, I figured if I can't put big bulbs on, and LED's won't work, then I'll just fill the tree with strand upon strand of safe little ones.

Since I had already completely decorated the tree, it was not an easy project to remove all of the strands of LED lights, put them back in their boxes with their labels and extra lights, and then put all of the new lights on, but it was so worth it. I'm VERY HAPPY with our trees now - both of them. It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas (and smelling like it too!).

Friday, November 26, 2010

Black Friday Fun

This picture was taken at about 3:30 this morning, in front of our local Target. This merry trio was working off a combined total of about three hours of sleep - (just Michael got a little shut eye after driving down to Eugene late last night). Travis and John had been partying it up at the Woodburn Outlet mall with Brayden until returning to Eugene around 1:00 - where they then changed into even warmer clothes, dropped off Brayden and found their place in line.

I can give you all of this information now, but in the midst of those hours, it was a big ol' blur for me as I tried to get a few hours of sleep before I partook in the fun. Unfortunately, that "revolving door" of coming and going wasn't exactly conducive to REM sleep - especially with the introduction of the Schilling's dog, Baxter. Apparently, he begins shaking in the car about a block away from arriving to our house with each, there's no surprise that he's just so excited he can't settle down upon getting here. (Hey, buddy, I know how you feel, Black Friday is exciting, but it's even better when you've had at least a few hours of sleep!)

So, by 2am, when I gave up and got up, it was with a little concern that I found myself trying to find my family members in various locations of the house, only to discover Michele was missing. A quick phone call to her cell confirmed that she'd never returned from her 11pm trip to Toys R Us. Poor thing, she spent a big chunk of that time outside and ill-prepared for the cold - as Toys R Us opened at 10pm so she had every expectation to be able to walk right into the store. No, apparently, they restricted the number of people inside the store, so half the time was spent outside - and half in line to pay for the few purchases that were only supposed to be a quick run in and run out. Fortunately, by the time I called, she was nearly on her way back to my house, so we were able to hop in the car and join the guys by about 3:15.

The big "door-buster" purpose for this extraordinary effort was a 40" tv for less than $300. (Even more by the time you throw in Michele's 10% - and the $10 gift card for spending over $100). This picture shows we weren't the only ones eager to get into the store... So, long story short....our trio of husbands missed out on the tv deal by about 3 people. Yes, the "allocated 15 per store" (are you kidding me?!) ran out right before they got theirs. HOWEVER, just as they were dejectedly turning their carts in a different direction, a gentleman sheepishly approached Michael and offered him his tv. He explained his wife had already snagged one, and you can only get one per family. Of all three of the guys, the tv deal was most significant to the Schillings. Travis and John were disappointed, but DEFINITELY reported that it was so worth it - they all had a ton of fun together. I love those three together, it just makes me so happy to see them being goofy and manly, and silly - and ultimately, they make each other better men. We are so blessed.

Meanwhile, at about the time the last tv was handed out, Mom arrived, and the three of us began our annual adventure together. Something that I really noticed this year from folks on Facebook is that if you aren't actively involved in a Black Friday excursion, it seems to be the thing to do to "bash it". I'm not sure if it's an anti-commercialism statement, a defensive statement as to why they don't participate, or what - but, it's kind of a downer to me as this is truly one of my favorite days of the year. Absolutely, it's Michele and I's favorite day of the year with our mom, having done this together for over 25 years. (And as far as those ornaments we pulled from the Giving Tree - and being able to provide twice as much for those two kiddos as we would have been able to if it weren't the deals found on Black Friday....let me just say, for us it is worth it!!!!!)

Alright, putting aside my own commentary (yes, I'm a bit defensive...I felt picked on reading Facebook earlier) - we just had a lot of fun today. And, due to our early start, by 1pm we were done. This picture was taken around 10am - when the pumpkin pie, whip cream, Diet Coke, and peppermint-chocolate bells had already been eagerly dug into. (The random guy that we asked to take this picture of us must have thought we were so crazy...but sleep deprivation can be a bit like excessive alcohol consumption - it really loosens your inhibitions- none of us had any problem with posing for this!).

So, after having not slept for about 31 hours, Michele decided to "just close her eyes for a bit" while trying to sort through and allocate the presents. Had I not woke her up, she might have stayed there until tomorrow morning. But, the kids were itching to get let back into the bonus room, and with the Duck game starting at 4, we were eager to get them out of our hair so we could watch it in peace. Sorry, gotta wake up, but for sure, the hard part of the day is over!

A little "Oh Happy Day" postcript.....Our Ducks just beat Arizona. We are for sure the undisputed Pac 10 champions (second year in a row) - and if we can beat Oregon State next week, we will be playing for the NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP!!!! Wow! Due to the whole fatigue-factor of the day, I opted to pass my ticket on to Brayden for him to go in place of me. However, because he's been feeling sick (and sitting in the rainy 40ish temps wouldn't help that), he opted out as well. As it turned out, John ended up taking Travis' brother-in-law as his guest, while Travis (two rows up) took our brother-in-law (Michael) as his guest (Stephie, still recovering from her back surgery, was happy to extend the ticket to Michael once we found out he was coming down with Michele today). So, us girls watched at home, while the boys were at Autzen. The first half was NOT pretty, but the second half returned us to our beloved "get-it-done" Ducks.....end score: Oregon 48, Arizona 29. GO DUCKS!!!!!!

Happy Thanksgiving!

What do you think of my first attempt at making my own turkey?

Nahhhhh.....that wasn't made by me! I just couldn't resist. =)

Because it was the "every other" year in which the Schillings were with Michael's side of the family, we decided again to dine out - with Mom, Dad, and John's mom at "Hole in the Wall BBQ". Talk about "alternative", huh? But, as for the Rileys, we actually like the fare that we'd find here more than we would a more traditional route.

That might explain why Mikayla has ribs on her plate and not turkey!

We arrived even before they opened, and were among the first to take from the amazing spread that they provided - this is a snapshot of the desserts.... =)

We were seated in the back room which we refer to as the "waterfall room" because of the water feature in the back of the room. It makes for some great ambiance, although Mikayla sadly reported after posing for these pictures that the smell of the water reminded her of the smell at "Splash Mountain".

Next up for the fun of the holiday was to take in a movie. We chose "Tangled" - the newest animated Disney release, and boy, did we nail that decision. I LOVE, LOVE, LOVED this movie. It didn't hurt at all that the voice of the Flynn Ryder is Zachary Levi, aka "Chuck" - from the NBC show. I kind of have a celebrity crush on him (don't worry, John is fully aware of this....he's got the whole Carrie Underwood crush, and I have the less obvious "nerd" guy that I think is sweet!). Even if it that weren't a factor, the movie is absolutely enchanting, and the 3D effects are so dazzling - that perfect mix where you forget it's a factor and then you find yourself dazzled. I will gladly go see it again if given half a chance - it was that fun.

We asked Leona when the last time she'd seen a movie - and it had been a while (maybe even the Thanksgiving we saw "Madagascar 2" two years ago). This was her first 3D movie, so we took a pic of her sporting the cool glasses with the kiddos.

Not great picture quality as it was taken with my phone, but I had to capture a pic of my mom and dad both sporting their matching leather jackets. =)

And, of course, no Thanksgiving is complete until we've mapped out our plan for Black Friday. When this shot was taken, I was chatting with Michele long-distance, working out our strategy. Sydney had the best plan, though, get a nap now, because come (VERY EARLY) Friday morning, you'll wish you'd gotten all the sleep you could!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Motto for Tuesday: Go with the Snow!

I found out why it took us so long to determine whether or not school was going to happen yesterday. Apparently, "" - the website the schools use to alert the media of closures crashed. No wonder it wasn't refreshing when I was trying to use it...

The kind of snow we got was very icy - not the kind that made for snowman making or snowball fights - as if we even had enough to do all that. However, it was just enough to make Sydney super happy (once she got brave enough to go out into it) - racing around the yard, and joining the kids on the trampoline to play.

As it was quite cold, the kids didn't take long to return inside for a little bit of this, while Mommy made Cocoa Candy Cane cookies, and we listened to Christmas music. As I posted on Facebook, with them harmoniously putting together a Christmas puzzle - it felt like the start of a Norman Rockwell day, for sure!

And, you know what? The day actually got better from there! Michele and the kids braved the "big, bad scary roads" (note the sarcasm, but hey, I'm not complaining) and joined us around noon. From there, Michele and I took off for some pre-Black Friday errands - and even as we drove around town, I told Michele, "We're going to look back on this day and remember just how fun it was". Snow on the ground two days before Thanksgiving, that just doesn't happen here!

With school canceled, my work day canceled, and volleyball practice canceled - it opened up a whole lot of time. The only thing, in fact, that I had still on the docket was our Bible Study getting together for our own little Thanksgiving potluck feast. I prepared some pumpkin pies - as well as the Coconut Lime Cheesecake. We then spruced up the house to be ready for our guests, only to realize that half of the group couldn't make it (mostly due to the fear of icy roads).

Kimmie and Kaela dared the elements, though - so, with it just being them, we decided to include Travis, John, and the kids on the "party". While I certainly missed the rest of the girls (we were all looking so forward to it), it really turned into an evening chock full of a lot of laughter and smiles. Kaela has been around enough to witness our little "family" in action with each other, but Kimmie hasn't - hopefully she wasn't too taken back by our goofiness. (Pictures to come, they were taken by I'm waiting for her. Have I mentioned before just how much I love the fact that she loves preserving memories as much as I do?)

As for today - well, the roads were not an issue, so school resumed as normal. However, my son woke up sounding like a sea lion with his cough (this happens to him every couple of years), so no school for him. And, you know what? Mysteriously, Mikayla wasn't feeling quite so "well" either, particularly in light of the fact that her two cousins were down for the day. I'm such a bad mom, huh? You know, I just felt like the amount of "education" she'd be getting on this day before Thanksgiving, following a snow day, in third grade.....well, it didn't compare to the joy of having her at home along with everyone else. =) (In case you are wondering, I had to remind myself of that "joy" a few times amidst the arguing among the kiddos this afternoon).

While Michele pitter-pattered around the kitchen, whipping up four pumpkin pies of her own (to share with Michael's side of the family on Thanksgiving), I sat at the bar and took care of a lot of stuff of my own involving our Christmas letter, Countdown Calendar, and typing up labels for the Giving Tree ornaments. It was a very cozy day - throw in a "Three Wishes" holiday movie and the company of Travis and Stephie, and I'd chalk it up to an ideal Thanksgiving Eve.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Recipes Worthy of Sharing

I've been able to try some fun recipes lately, and I've been pleased with the results. First up, another recipe that might be a potential contender for the Harlow Auction. I personally liked this taste better, but, when it comes to cheesecake, I'd always opt for something with a fruit accent versus the richness of chocolate.

So, this came from my new favorite source of recipes (because they have yet to fail), "Our Best Bites". This is the Lime Coconut Cheesecake, and it required putting the cheesecake in a water bath. It sounded a lot scarier than it was. I used a hint that they suggested that instead of wrapping the springform pan heavily in foil to keep the water from leaking in, to use an "oven bag" instead (the kind you'd use to make a roast or a turkey in the oven). It worked like a charm. (The water bath prevents cracking in the center)

And, then, this is the finished product:

In my humble opinion, SOOOOOO yummy!

Lime Coconut Cheesecake
Recipe by Our Best Bites

2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1/2 cup sweetened flaked coconut
2 Tbs sugar
6 Tbs butter, melted

3 8-oz packages cream cheese, softened
1 cup sugar
3 eggs at room temperature
3 Tbs lime zest
1/2 cup fresh lime juice (about 4-5 medium limes)
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1 cup heavy whipping cream
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 - 2 tsp coconut extract (I only used a 1/2 tsp and that was plenty for us)

1/3 cup sweetened flaked coconut, toasted

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cover the bottom of a 9 inch spring-form pan with a double layer of foil. Set aside.

Combine graham cracker crumbs, 1/2 cup coconut, and melted butter and mix well. Press evenly into the bottom of the pan and about 1" up the sides. Place pan in oven and bake for 5 minutes. Remove and set aside until ready to use.

In a separate bowl, beat cream cheese and sugar until creamy. Add eggs, one a time, beating after each addition. Add vanilla, lime zest, and lime juice and beat to combine. Pour batter into prepared crust. Place spring-form pan into a larger pan, such as a roasting pan and place in center rack of oven. Carefully pour hot water into the larger pan until it reaches about half way up the spring form pan. Bake cheesecake for 75-85 minutes or until center is set and the edges just barely begin to brown. Leave cheesecake in oven, but turn heat off and crack oven door. Let sit for 30 minutes and then remove and cool completely on a rack. When cool to room temp, cover with plastic wrap and chill overnight.

When ready to serve, place cheesecake on serving dish. Beat whipping cream until soft peaks form and then add powdered sugar and extracts. Beat until medium peaks form. Spread whipping cream evenly over cheesecake and sprinkle with toasted coconut. Garnish with sliced limes if desired. Slice and serve.


The next recipe was slightly modified to accommodate a food item I found at the grocery store. The yummy bag of "Andes Peppermint Crunch Baking Chips" just begged for me to purchase them, so then, the hunt was on to find a recipe worthy of their goodness.

I found one that I slightly modified - and it was "easy-peasy". There have been some suggestions to keep the chocolate chips in the recipe provided along with these peppermint chips, or maybe add some more candy canes for more crunch, but I'm partial to how they turned out just the way they are:
Candy Cane Kiss Cookies (I renamed mine to Cocoa Candy Cane Cookies)
Recipe by Our Best Bites

1/2 cup butter-flavored shortening
1/2 cup real butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup white sugar
2 eggs
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
2 1/2 cups flour, lightly spooned into measuring cups and leveled with a knife
1/4 cups & 2 Tb unsweetened cocoa powder

(This is where I change things up~
I add 1 bag Andes Peppermint Crunch baking chips instead of:
1 1/2 cup dark chocolate chips
48 Hershey's Candy Cane Kisses, unwrapped)

Preheat oven to 350. Cream together softened butter, shortening, brown sugar and white sugar for 1-2 minutes on medium high speed or until light and fluffy. Add the eggs and vanilla. Meanwhile, combine the baking powder, baking soda, salt, flour, and cocoa powder. Add to the butter/sugar mixture and mix until combined. Mix in the chocolate chips.

Drop the dough by the tablespoonful onto an ungreased baking sheet. Bake for 8-10 minutes or until the centers are set but still soft. (I bake for 7 minutes in a convection oven, so I can do three cookie pans simultaneously). If you are going with the original recipe: top each cookie with an unwrapped Candy Cane Kiss. Allow to cool completely, long enough for the Kiss to harden. If necessary, after the cookies have cooled, they can be placed in the refrigerator or freezer to re-solidify the Kiss.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Snow, Thanksgiving, Black Friday....It's All So Exciting!

Well, the holiday season has certainly hit here, if the excitement level is any indication. It's heightened by a forecast that includes snow tonight - with freezing temperatures for the next two days. Currently, it's raining, so, of course, I'll have to see it to believe it, but I have high hopes for low snow levels - and perhaps some school cancellations. (Very little snow accumulation is expected, but it's all this wet stuff being turned to ice that is the ticket for school closing).

However, it's all a bit complicated given that I'm supposed to be subbing in Springfield tomorrow. (I'd like it to be put on record that I was the teacher for this class last Wednesday when there was a long-range forecast for snow, that initially put the idea in their mind that we could have some of the white stuff....I'm actually quite shocked that it's coming to fruition.) Springfield is a different district than the one my kids are in. Now, generally, they coincide with their cancellation decisions.....but, if they don't, uh oh. We could have a mess tomorrow.

This is fun stuff to have our mind on after a bit of a disappointing Sunday. Brayden's undefeated team lost in their state play-off game, 0-7. Bummer. Brayden's playing time demonstrated he's come a long way, as his blocks on the defensive players are so much more "defined". He did the best he could possibly do to contribute yesterday, and that's all we could ask for. Here's some pictures demonstrating just how miserable the conditions were, yet how many people showed up to be his fan club. Not pictured were Grandma Leona, John's oldest brother, Tom, and Corey Rose - the college pastor we work with.

Mikayla is also showing improvements in volleyball. The games the girls played on Saturday had both Jonna (Kennady's mom and the main coach) and I feeling pretty low. It's such a hard balance of striving for skill development and "proper technique" vs. just getting the ball over and getting points so that they can feel the satisfaction of winning. Sunday's game showed that the girls are getting better with every match, and made us feel like we are on the right track. The six girls on our little team are so sweet - and their parents so supportive, it makes me wish this season was twice as long.

I'm hopeful that the moods stay positive within our family (everyone's much happier tonight vs. last night) - so the next days promising SO MUCH TO BE THANKFUL FOR will be embraced with all of our hearts!

(Postscript at 2:38 am: YES, IT DID SNOW! Not a lot, but about what they predicted - and maybe more still to come. The problem, however, is I'm awake to have seen it, and now I'm just TOO EXCITED TO SLEEP! (Yes, I am 38, not 8 years old...I can't help myself). With temps not expected to exceed freezing I suspect there will be closures, but won't know until they report it between 5-6am. I wonder if I will be able to get back to sleep before this point, it's feeling doubtful!)

(Postscript at 6:38 am: Yeah, just found out (way too late, if you ask me!) - that both the school districts are closed!!!!!! Yip, yip, yippee!!!!!!!)

Saturday, November 20, 2010

A Little of This, A Little of That

Happy Saturday everyone!

I feel it's time for another update, even though I have nothing profound to report. The week is over, the weekend is here....ahhhh, a good feeling.

I got the chance to substitute again on Wednesday - for the same fifth grade class I've been with before. I actually get to see them again on Tuesday of next week and the last two days before Christmas break. It's a very nice arrangement to be returning to the same group of kids, and I think we are all enjoying our time together. I'm glad I can be that "consistent person" when their "real teacher" is absent.

On Thursday......happy sigh......, I spent from 9-2:00 decorating the house for Christmas. Yes, I know it's not even Thanksgiving, but if you knew the joy it brought to our whole family, you wouldn't question my jumping the gun for a moment. It was a great day for me, I was so immersed in getting it all done before the kids arrived that I didn't even eat during that whole time (which is a major indicator I was focused, because eating is not something I forget to do!). No, we don't have our trees yet....those WILL wait until after Thanksgiving.

I also had another perk on Thursday by scoring a free pedicure for Mikayla or I (at the place we've gone to in the past) and another one for over 50% off. I used a group coupon called - and by linking my coupon on Facebook, four of my friends purchased the deal (it was really good - and this place is very popular among my friends). If you have three people use the coupon from your link, yours is free! I feel like I won a raffle or something....very cool!

So, this today and tomorrow for Mikayla for volleyball, and then Brayden's championship game tomorrow for football. There's a small potential for snow, viewing that game will require a lot of layers!

Today, John does the outside lights. Again, a not so great "outdoor work day" - temps in the low 40's with rain......but, he's eager to get it done. It will be a lot easier this year as we now have outlets in our soffits to work with. Glad it's him and not me though!

Whatever you are up to this weekend, I hope it's an enjoyable one. By the way, what are your plans for Thanksgiving?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Gobble, Gobble!

Yesterday, Mikayla had a friend named Ellie over. She's a little cutie and I'm really enjoying getting to know her and her mom. Ellie is on Mikayla's volleyball team and her mom is helping to coach, so it's fun thing.

I saw this little "food project" on this website, and couldn't resist using these two little girls as my "excuse" to make them. (Mikayla had seen the recipe and was so excited).

They didn't turn out nearly as pretty as the ones on the website, but it wasn't like we really needed them to turn out perfect either. I think the worst part of the activity was all of the "food leftovers"....i.e. the Oreos that broke as you tried to insert the candy corn, or the mini Reeses that had to have 1/3rd cut off. A person just can't let that food go to waste, afterall!

Sydney was eager to do her part in keeping anything from being wasted....there was no way you could lure her away from her "post" - right underneath the table.

Some of the "finished project".....Gobble, gobble!!!!!!!