Sunday, November 25, 2012

In Pursuit of Noble Perfection

The Sunday after Thanksgiving is traditionally when the Rileys go to get their tree.  Likewise the Schillings - so at about noon, we parted ways - us heading back down to Eugene to unload the vehicle and gear up for a trip to Carroll's Country Christmas Trees.  (And, the Schillings went to Bigfoot Tree Farm in Dallas...)

This is not the tree we chose - just one we posed in front of after ours were being hauled back to the parking lot.  

We were able to pick out the BIG tree we wanted for our living room in a hurry, but the kids hemmed and hahhed over every tree in the tree farm regarding the little one for the bonus room that they decorate.    Eventually, we all decided on a sweet tree left by its lonesome, ready to be adopted...and Brayden had the honor of sawing it down.

Likewise, I had the honor of sawing down our really BIG tree.  Because of John's cornea transplant, he's not supposed to have his head below his heart of doing anything overly strenuous for a while.  Since sawing down the tree involved both of those risk scenarios, I got the job.

And, it wasn't easy - it took forever - 

Carroll's Country Christmas Trees is a WONDERFUL place to get trees - full of decor spattered here and there to pose with and around.

The place is owned by longtime family friends - and they employ high school students eager to earn money for the Mexico Mission Trip our church runs at spring break.  

The kids busy at work putting the family ornaments on the bonus room tree.

Each year, the kids alternate on who gets to put the angel on the top of the living room tree - and this year it was Brayden's turn - probably best as this was our tallest tree so far and we needed the extra few inches he has over Mikayla to reach the top.

The finished project - it will look better as the other couch is scooted over - and of course, with presents beneath it....but, it sure makes me plenty happy as it is right now....and oh, the smell....Christmas is here!

The Civil War

This is the first year we've had a Oregon vs. Oregon State Civil War in which both teams have been ranked in the top 25 for as long as I can remember.   It would seem that that would mean both teams have a lot on the line for the win of this game, but thanks to the Duck loss last weekend, much of the aspirations for any major bowl was instead reliant on the wins or losses of other teams across the country.  Still, of course, we were rooting for a Duck win - and of course, the Schillings were rooting for a Beaver win.  We had all admitted that based on last week's performance of both teams (Ducks not good at all, Beavers outstanding) the game could go either way depending on which "team" showed up to play.

As is tradition, our guys attended the game in person at Reser Stadium (along with Travis and Brian) and we stayed at home to watch it.  Here's a pic of us before the game demonstrating our rivalry (note the #1 sign I subtly pointed with).

Michele was not very pleased with her team's performance and was down about the Ducks scoring drives until it came to Kenjon carrying the ball and she changed her tune.  Last week was a downer for everyone regarding the Ducks, Stanford effectively shut us down.  It was good, as a Duck, to see our boys come out strong again and to see our Kenjon come out and run for 198 yards (which was really only done in about half of the game due to what appeared to be a rib injury).

So, the Ducks took the win, 48-24.  Based on the outcomes of yesterday's games (none of which were favorable to us....really UCLA and USC?!!!....that's the last time I root for Southern Cal teams....they both totally let us down.....) - it appears the Ducks will be headed to the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 3rd (vs. perhaps Kansas State or Oklahoma) and the Beavers may be playing the Holiday Bowl on Dec. 27th (vs. perhaps Texas Tech or Baylor).  That's a perfect game for us all to watch while we are cozy in Sunriver, so I'm thrilled with that (and, for the record, at that point, we'll all be Beaver fans!).

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Black Thursday/Friday

There's so many negative statements all over social media in regards to "Black Friday".  It's contributing to greed, hoarding, and over-consumption; it's cutting in to Thanksgiving and the importance of family time; it brings out the ugliest of human nature; and it's forcing employees to be up all night working away in the stores selling "slashed-price" products (and don't even get started on the people killed in year's past from a deal-hungry stampede).  But, for our family, it's a tradition - and as such, one of the most cherished days of the year.  It's not that I don't recognize some of the arguments listed above, but everyone bashing on partaking in the event's festivities, I want to just say, "Do you not know that it is on this special evening that my mom, my sister, and I laugh more in 18 hours than we probably do all year?" -(For sure that's true if you count the time laughing in the same company.)  For our family, it is a WHOLE LOT OF FUN!! =)

First, I'll address the guys' Black Thursday/Friday choice of activity - The Woodburn Company Stores.  This year, (as in years past), John and Brayden joined Travis and Kristen & Brian (Travis' sister and bro-in-law) to drive up together and cruise the 9pm opening outdoor outlets.  Word is, they had a lot of fun, scored some great deals, and enjoyed each others' company immensely.  In fact, at one point, while eating at Jack in the Box, John and Brian were laughing so hard Brayden said, "If I didn't know better, I'd totally guess that you two were drunk".  =)  Nope....just happy!  Following their adventures, John and Brayden headed to the Schillings where we'd all end up for the rest of the weekend.

Now on to the girls' adventures-
I was left with a bit of a quandary.  Many of the most significant deals I was looking at occurred at Walmart beginning at 8pm.  Having dealt with their unique "already open" scenario, I kind of knew what to expect, that I'd be stationing myself in front of the pallets of merchandise that would be opened at 8pm.  As Michele would be driving down from Dallas, her arrival time wouldn't be until about 8:30.  This was a bit of a problem as Michele would also bringing Nati and Ellie with her, the cousins Mikayla would be hanging out with through the night while we were out shopping.  Hmmm, what to do with Mikayla in the meantime so she wouldn't be hanging out alone while I saved our place at Walmart?  Well, per her enthusiastic request, she came along.  There'd been discussion in the past of her wanting to be a part of Black Friday, but her lack of perseverance in staying up along with the "adult only conversation/humor" that Mom, Michele and I share were all major deterrents.   So, this was the perfect compromise.  One store, special time between just her and I - ideal.  And, yes, for the record, we did dress alike on purpose....why not!?!  =)

A little after 8:00pm, Mom joined us - and then Michele - and after getting through the check-out line, we dropped off Mikayla with her cousins and headed to Target for their 9pm opening.  Even though we arrived about 20 minutes after opening, they were still filtering the line through single file (I really admire the way Target handles the crowd and is so organized), so it was worth it for us to file in at the end instead of waiting for it to completely dissipate like others in the parking lot were doing.

It was at Target that we experienced one of our only "ugly happenings" of the event.  We were filtering through the store long check-out line (which always moves surprisingly swiftly at Target and maneuvers you through the aisles where you can conveniently stock up on needed necessities....there's no marketing ploy there, I'm sure!).  We were positioned behind a woman that was trying to handle a large tv in her cart so she appreciated our help as we moved along.  At one point, as we rounded a corner, us girls were lolly-gagging and a rude gentleman decided he'd use that opportunity to cut in front of us with his couple of items he was holding without a cart.  I saw it happen, but was in no mood to be confrontational, so I merely passive-aggessively commented on it loudly to Michele and Mom.  Well, the woman in front of us WAS in the mood to be confrontational - and she nailed him and when she discovered his presence behind her (on her own, she didn't hear me).  She made it clear that he had cut and that we were in front of him, and even grabbed our carts to move us in front of him.  She accused him of lying when he said he'd been there all along and he of course denied any deceit.  (What a jerk!).  It was one of those scenarios where you just felt so awkward, and tried to do anything to avoid eye contact.  Eventually, he positioned himself behind us and ended up calling the woman some very unkind names when he got on his cell phone with a buddy.  Of course, those names became fodder for some laughable moments later in the evening between us three girls, but at the time it was mighty uncomfortable.

After Walmart and Target, we waited a very long time for coffee at Dutch Brothers and then placated Michele with a stop at Shopko.  Traditionally, this store is the antithesis of Target (as Michele said, "Where Target's line moves like a freeway, Shopko's moves like a back-country dirt road") - we waited over an hour in the car for Michele to purchase about $20 worth of merchandise.  While we verbally gave Michele heck for her making us wait, I will say the conversation with Mom in the car was extra enjoyable...definitely not anything I can repeat, though! 

From Shopko, we ventured back over to Kohls' midnight opening and made our way through there with surprising efficiency and success.  After Kohls we went to the Valley River Mall where they were having their Midnight Madness event.  This picture was taken after purchases at Macy's - when we wandered in to the Calendar store (at this point, all urgency was gone).  Michele tried unsuccessfully several times to take our picture with her arm extended.  Eventually, an employee took pity on us and took the picture (I'm sure in an attempt to get the crazy ladies out of his store that much quicker).  We were so "punch drunk" at this point, everything was making us laugh - A LOT! (Which doesn't look like the case with mom's expression - ignore that, she was having a blast!)

We cruised through the mall, made a few more stops, and then ended up in the food court eating Arby's and Panda Express at 3:30 in the morning.  Oh, how our digestive tracts are hating us this weekend!  The punch-drunk euphoria was ebbing into zombiness, so Mom and I didn't argue when Michele suggested we return to Walmart to let her shop for a while and us nap in the car until the 5am opening of Bi-Mart.  Even the napping was laugh-worthy between Mom and I, trying to find comfortable positions to sleep and not even having the clarity of mind to determine the most obvious solution to the problem.

By the time we got to Bi-Mart, we were done in.  I couldn't even park the car I was laughing so hard at my ineptness.  We were wandering aimlessly through the candy aisles trying to select stocking stuffers and decided it was time for a real nap in a real bed.  

Ten minutes later, we were opening the door to my house, only to be greeted at 6am by three very exuberant girls.  They had stayed up all night!  (To their credit, Mikayla had texted asking if they had a certain bedtime and we had said, "no").  They were SO EXCITED, having felt like they'd crossed off a "Bucket List" goal.  I guess that throws my reason for not taking her out on Black Friday out the window. 

This was the scene in the living room as we went to the bedroom to get some much-needed shut-eye, girls still going strong:

And, this was the scene when we woke up 3 hours later.  Poor Mikayla appeared to be the last hold-out, literally falling asleep with her hand on the computer.  (Also for the record, they did a lot of playing off the computers through the night - Barbies, Wii, etc....)  I moved her to a more comfortable location and she was so disoriented - staying up all night WRECKS your mind and body!

Mom had napped at my house, but because of a lack of communication about when we planned on waking up, took off about an hour before us to go to the 9am opening of Costco.  We ended up meeting up with her there - and then she went on her own way home.  It was necessary for her to get some real sleep as she had the "Festival of Trees Gala" to look presentable for later Friday night.

While we were at Costco, we ran into Kari and Kristi - high school buddies of ours and fellow twins.  As Michele captioned on Facebook, we couldn't help but take the "Double Stuff Oreo twin pic" with them.

Michele and I then shopped hard at Michael's, Starbucks (got a not-so-great deal on Salted Caramel Mochas (new favorite!) and coffee cake), Ben Franklin, Bed, Bath, and Beyond, Old Navy, J.C. Penney, and finally JoAnn Fabrics.  We didn't return home until about 3pm - where we found all of the girls still asleep.  (Later on, in the car on the way to Michele's Mikayla proclaimed "Mommy, I never saw the sun today" - and then they all chimed in saying they are now nocturnal).  We unloaded, cleaned up the house, and packed to return in Michele's car with Sydney to join the rest of our family for the weekend.

I was "shot" by the time we arrived - and headed to bed around 8pm.  There's just no use trying to do anything at that point but sleep.  And what do you know, but by 6am this morning, I felt like a brand new person again.  Ready to take on Saturday's event....The Civil War....

Friday, November 23, 2012

Happy Alternative Thanksgiving!

Every other year, we celebrate "Alternative Thanksgiving" - on the years that Michele's family celebrates the holiday with Michael's side of the family.  Two years ago, we went to "Hole in the Wall BBQ" - and enjoyed not only the food but the atmosphere and how efficient we could get in and out.  So, that's where we planned to go this year.  Leona wasn't in attendance this year (as she usually is on "Alternative Thanksgiving") - we chose to forgo our disappointment in her not being with us knowing she was down in Medford with Mary Beth, Alex, and Andie making the girls' holiday by being with them.  

The morning began in one of those euphoric "All is Well" moods.  John and I were up before the kids and he put on another Hallmark movie, "The Case for Christmas" (I've dvr'd a ton of these movies, they are coming in handy!) - and it was so nice.  I looked through the ads at my own pace and set up a possible gameplan for the evening ahead.  The kids joined us - and by 10:15, we were dressed up and out of the house so that we'd be among the first to be seated at the 11am opening of the restaurant.

While waiting, we posed for some family snapshots:
(Sheesh, Steph, could your smile be any bigger?)

Brayden begged John to have him sit on his lap - I love the look Brayden has for John in this pic.

Just as soon as we were seated, Mom and Dad showed up.  

"Alternative Thanksgiving" felt like running for Fast Passes at Disneyland this year.  We had it all planned out with tickets purchased to hustle on over to Cinemark for the 11:55 showing of "Rise of the Guardians".  It afforded little time to eat dinner, but it turned out just fine.  Here's a pic of the kids and John racing towards the back entry of the cinema.  (That will encourage the Thanksgiving meal to settle in a hurry!)

Our movie choice, "Rise of the Guardians".  I thought it was a lot of fun.  I walked away happy and was captivated through the entire movie.  It's not going to replace "The Santa Claus" movies as a holiday favorite, nor will it beat out our last "Alternative Thanksgiving" movie, "Tangled", but it was definitely a thumbs up - a TON better than last year's holiday cartoon, "Arthur Christmas"!!!

Mom and John sharing a laugh before the movie started.  Not shown here, the tub of popcorn.  What does it say about me that I was looking more forward to eating that than I was the Thanksgiving meal?

After the movie, we returned to our house and indulged in the apple and pumpkin pies.  Originally, we had planned for Kenjon to join us after his practice ended at 2:00 (hence the very early meal and movie times), but as it turned out, his dad, Gary, surprised him by showing up to spend the holiday with him.  Again, we curbed our disappointment with his absence knowing he was happy with family.

Mom and Dad took off about an hour and a half later so Mom could prepare for the all-nighter we had ahead and John and Brayden could get ready for their trip to Woodburn.  Phase II of the Thanksgiving experience was about to begin.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Pre-Thanksgiving Fun

Traditionally, the week of Thanksgiving is one of my favorite of the year.  So much anticipation, so much family - and then there's the food, the shopping, the football, the lounging....GOOD TIMES!

This week began with a rough day on Monday (a headache...oh, how that can sap the positive feelings and exciting anticipation completely).  However, Tuesday had Mom meeting up with Whitley and I at my house - a therapy session with her that eliminated the pain - and then some shopping for accessories for her to dress her up for the "Festival of Trees Gala" and other holiday outings.  Whitley was extra special for her "third grandma" - and it was priceless listening to her from the other room while she changed Whitley from her pajamas (Whitley's favorite time).

We ended up scoring some perfect items for her (a pair of silver shoes she had to try on three different times the next day to admire just how cute they were!) at Kohls and finished our shopping earlier than anticipated.  Just a little "pre Black Friday" practice.

On Tuesday evening, Michele and the girls showed up.  It was just in time to join Brayden, Mikayla, and I at our third annual "Family Volleyball Scrimmage" evening of practice.  Michele was reluctant, feeling like reading her Kindle in front of the fireplace might be a more cozy use of her evening, but ended up enjoying it (as she knew she would).  We both played on a team with our girls - along with the Leighton family (Chris, Jonna, Kenady, Annika).  There were three other teams rotating around (including an all-boys team with Brayden on board - and the fifth member of the Leighton family, Luke) - and I think it was indeed another successful night, perhaps marking one of the favorite memories we'll have of this volleyball season. 

Michele had a scheduled hair appointment at Bello early on Wednesday - perfect timing to create an excuse to hang out and bake together for the rest of the day.  The day went right as planned.  Because of our family's "Alternative Thanksgiving" plans, there wasn't a whole lot of food prep I had to do besides preparing the crusts for the six pies Michele and I would be jointly preparing.  I took care of the Dutch Apple Pie, while Michele whipped out four pumpkin pies and a marionberry pie for her Thanksgiving gathering with Michael's side of the family.  (Of course, setting aside pumpkin pies for us to indulge in on Black Friday).

At one point, I felt like I should be "doing more" - productively whipping through holiday prep and organization - and then I realized, "Stephanie, stop....hold Whitley, and just take it all in".  So, that's what I did, watching the rest of the Hallmark Channel's "The Christmas Song" with Whitley on my lap.  She literally laughed out loud as she watched the movie (not at all a funny part) and it was delightful.  (Face it Travis, that girl is a Hallmark Channel fan....forget NASCAR....this is her favorite!)  A short while later, Michele snagged Whitley and read a Christmas book to her with Ellie at her side.  More pricelessness....

Eventually, the Schilling girls left around 5pm to head home and prepare for their upcoming festivities.  As for our family, we went to bed very early.  We set up a slumber party in the bedroom, watching "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" and by 8:30, I was the last one awake.  A beautiful thing as EVERYONE in the family would be needing all the sleep they could get for the abundantly crazy 48 hours to come.  =)

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Field Trip to Newport

It dawned on me as I was driving home yesterday afternoon, that this field trip I took with Mikayla yesterday could likely be one of the last field trips I take in the traditional sense of what you think of when you consider field trips.  Mikayla will be in middle school next year (Did I just type that?  That is classified under "That which will not be mentioned"!) - therefore future activities run by the school will undoubtedly look quite a bit different than the neon name tags and 3-4 kids assigned to a parent chaperone variety. 

So, for that reason, I'm glad I said "yes" to chaperone the Fifth Grade class trip to Newport, Oregon - specifically the Oregon Coast Aquarium and Mark Hatfield Science Center.  (However, Thursday night, I was trying to talk Mikayla into playing hookey).

I opted to drive despite it being a 2 and 1/2 hour journey each way.  It has some definite windy spots and with Mikayla having a definite tendency towards motion sickness, it seemed like the right idea.  (Not to mention, I didn't want to ride on the school bus either).   We had a good time, lots of Christmas music, admiring the beautiful day and country-side - and a little bit of nappy time for Mikayla.  

Finally, we arrived - a little early than the buses giving us time to pose for a picture together. 

Then, we were off - first stop - the sea otters.  I LOVE OTTERS!  (Even when the male grooms himself and his private parts directly in front of the viewing window).  They make me happy and make me think of Brayden (grooming aspect obviously not included!).  

Alas, the three girls I was in charge of (apparently they were chosen by hair color), weren't content to gaze at the otters for six hours straight, so we kept touring.

The trainers were having the sea lions do tricks.  That would have been cool to watch - but, oh no, the girls wanted to keep going...

Harley, Ellie, and Mikayla - no flare for dramatics with these three at all...

The coolest part of the aquarium (not counting the otters) - the "Passage of the Deep" where rays and sharks swim above and below you.

This exhibit had me thinking of "Finding Nemo"...

...and the game Dory and Marlin played to get through the poisonous jellyfish.

The "touching exhibit" - annenomes, urchins, starfish

I pitched in $2 for the girls to go in the "Hurricane Booth" (shhh, don't tell Brayden, he's always wanted to do this and will be mad....) - Mikayla said it was so fun!

This isn't even all of the fifth graders, some were still gathering....about 120 kids ready to head into the Hatfield Science Center.

Our class got to do the "Squid Dissection" class first.  Ms. Chinn is kneeling between Mikayla and Ellie.  Sadly, she's leaving to teach p.e. at the school she just moved from before coming to Gilham.  This was her last day with the kids.  The teacher that will be replacing her seems like a very, very sweet gal - if Mikayla has to lose her original teacher, she seems like a great choice.  

Those expressions pretty much lasted throughout all of the classtime.  

Then, it was our turn to tour the Hatfield Science Center.  I thought the octopus named "Squirt" was pretty cool.

Another benefit of driving in our own vehicle, we got to leave about a half hour early, bypassing the lining up of 120 kids, bathroom stops, etc.  We ended up stopping off at Safeway to get some groceries and get gas, and still passed the busses again on the final stretch of freeway before Eugene.

This was Mikayla on the way - I beg her to use a pillow, recline her seat, or whatever as it practically gives me a headache just looking at her, but, she resists.  Oh, to be so young and flexible!

A great day with lots of memories made.  Gotta say, though, I was excited it was Friday- and driving back in to town, we were ready to kick off the weekend!