Thursday, March 21, 2013

Pinewood Derby Time

Last weekend was the big race. You know, the one that every cub scout and their families live for every year: The Pinewood Derby.

G-man is our only cub scout (Little E has graduated to 11 year old scouts working on his Tenderfoot at the moment), and this year he knew exactly what he wanted his car to be. A pencil. That's right. A writing utensil. At first both Big E and I were a bit cockeyed about his choice, but as Big E and G-man worked on the car, I realized that it was a pretty darn cool idea.

The pair worked together for a week to make it to perfection, including a real eraser on the end and melted led in the tip. (Yes, you can write with it!) All in all, I think it turned out awesome.

It was a crowd favorite, but unfortunately G-man's car only won its first race against the Cub Master's contraption. Big E said it was because they didn't do good job of distributing the the weight and they didn't use graphite on the wheels. Oh, well. Next year.

G-man did, however, win "The Most Scholastic."

One of the guys in the ward races sprint cars and brought his for the boys to sit in. They also got to sign the front of it. G-man and Little E were very impressed.

Hard to believe these little cars can go over a hundred miles an hour!

And finally, that same night we had a spaghetti dinner and dessert auction fundraiser for the scouting programs. My mother is staying with us and even she got in on the action.

Isn't she beautiful?

Before I go, I thought I'd share that I've resurrected my fitness blog, Run and Not Be Weary. Now that I've gotten into better spiritual shape, I figured it's time to get into better physical shape, too. Feel free to follow my journey, if you'd like.

Many happy returns!

Monday, February 18, 2013

Boo-boo's, Snuggles, and Crazy Hair

It's been a while since I updated the family part of this family blog, so I'm going to catch you up on the latest happenings in Chez Anderson.

First, last month Big E was gone for a week for training--at a ski resort. Yep. He spent a week skiing. Lucky dog. The night before he was to return home, C-bear was running circles around our breakfast counter on our hardwood floors and did a spectacular face-plant. If face-planting were an Olympic sport, she'd have been a medal contender. I'm pretty sure her screams could have shattered crystal.

Her poor little face was so swollen, she almost resembled the Who's from The Grinch.

Her little face is just fine now--though it took a few days for the swelling to go down. Unfortunately, it appears that she's broken both of her front teeth as they are becoming discolored. Looks like Mommy's got to take her to the Doc to make sure it won't affect the growth of her permanent teeth later.

The next day, Big E returned from his oh-so-arduous training and he showed me his swollen thumb. He thought he might have sprained it. Before returning to work, he swung by the doctor's office, thinking he'd get a brace or an ace bandage.

This is how he came home from that appointment:

He didn't sprain his thumb; he broke it. Fortunately, he didn't need surgery. Unfortunately, he had to sport the cast for a month. (He's since graduated to a brace and physical therapy.) This is a milestone for him: his first broken bone! (I, personally, have yet to experience the pleasure.)

Now onto happier moments!

The other day, I walked into the living room to find a random moment of affection between my two youngest daughters. Don't get me wrong, they are really good friends, but the manner in which they were watching their movie was extra sweet. I had to capture this magical moment on film (or SD card, rather).

I love moments like this. They make my mommy heart go pitter-patter.

Finally, some humor.

Yesterday, Banana did an elaborate twisted bun in Princess's hair. She used smaller hair parts (unlike the tutorial I linked in my previous sentence) and made tiny spiral twists. It was adorable--and sadly I neglected to photograph the finished 'do.

Princess slept with it in her hair, and Banana undid it for her this evening. We all could not stop laughing at her white-girl afro. Princess took it in stride and happily posed for photos. (And boy, did she strike some poses!)

We joked that her hair looked like some of the crazy styles you see in high fashion photos. For fun, Banana threw in a couple of braids to make it look like this hilarious accident was on purpose!
Princess posing with her "stylist," Banana.
Princess's hair was fluffy and soft, but even after having her hair washed twice--with loads of conditioner--it was a lot of work for Mommy to brush out all the tangles. Needless to say, Mom is rather hesitant to let Banana do another twisted bun on either of her little sister's hair.

That's the latest and greatest from our crazy little brood. I imagine our next update will be Banana's 13th birthday at the end of this month. (Two teenagers in the house instead of one--OY!)

Until next time!

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Spinach Feta Turkey Burgers

One of the biggest surprises in my journey of self-rediscovery is finding out that I love to cook. This new interest, like enjoying--really enjoying--keeping a clean and organized home, is one I never ever thought I would acquire. And while I love finding new recipes for more traditional meals, I'm discovering a passion for more gourmet-esque faires--especially if they are (very, very) healthy.

So, I figure I'd share with you some of my discoveries from time to time, since this is a rather homemakery blog.

Today's successful attempt: Spinach Feta Turkey Burgers. (Original recipe)

This is a rather simple recipe with lots of taste (serves four, by the way). Prep time is roughly 10 minutes; cook time is under 20 and it has only four ingredients. You read that right: four.

(Forgive my less-than-stellar photos. I didn't have access to my regular camera while I was cooking.)

You'll need:
  • 1 lbs ground Turkey breast
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 5 oz. frozen chopped spinach, thawed
  • 3/4 cup non-fat feta cheese
  • Optional: salt and pepper to taste
Throw it all into a bowl and mix with your hands until well blended.

Next, divide into four portions and make patties. Cook on a lightly oiled skillet (I used olive oil) for roughly 6 minutes on each side, depending on the thickness of your patties. Make sure to cook them all the way through!

Then serve!

You can certainly eat them like a regular hamburger--with buns, lettuce, and tomato. Either way, these are yummy and packed with healthful lean protein!

Bon appetite!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Sometimes, It Is Different

Today, I had a fabulous (and long overdue) conversation with my other mother. (I loathe the term "step-mother" and all the negative connotations it conjures.)

We spoke of the upcoming trip home our family was making this summer, and she asked if we would still make the (very) long drive if Big E was deployed. I was taken aback by the question, now being fully acclimated to military life. I'd forgotten that in the civilian world our plans were dependent on work schedules. Those were the days.

Now, we make plans and just hope that Big E can be there. The military is full of so many surprise work hours, trainings, and deployments that if you stubbornly attempt to plan around them, your life will remain on hold indefinitely.

People ask me what it's like, being married to a soldier--especially when we made the transition to the military after being married for 13 years. Civilians have these perceptions of how our day-to-day lives are like, a conglomerate of movies, films, books, newscasts all tangled in their imaginations. And the truth is, in many ways our lives often are very similar to anyone else's.

But sometimes, it is different. Very, very different.

I remember a phone call with a family member who was struggling because her husband had been gone for nearly two weeks to help his brother with a remodel. She had reached her limit of being a single mother to their then two young children. At the time of this conversation, Big E had been gone for over two months and the only communication we had with him was a seven minute phone call on Sundays. And sometimes, we didn't even get that. On top of taking care of our six children by myself, I was also doing part-time childcare in my home.

Sometimes, it is different.

I'm not super human. I don't have some hidden reservoir of strength that non-military wives lack. I miss my husband when he is gone. I have rough days and wish I had another parent to take over when it gets to be too much. I get cranky at times when the military interferes with our plans.

What sets us military spouses apart is not a special courage, but that we already made our choice and after signing on the dotted line, there is no turning back. Big E enlisted with my support, and I knew there were sacrifices ahead for us. The choice was made. We gave our lives over in service to our nation. And now, I either make it work or wallow in self-pity. I choose the former.

It's the same answer I give when asked how in the world I handle having such a large family.

It seemed apropos that when I was perusing some of my old poems tonight, I came across this piece I had written a couple years ago (and had completely forgotten!) about what it meant to be a military wife. The words still ring true:

The Proud Wife

She understands that she has only part of his heart.
She watches while other women complain
that their husbands work too much.
that their priorities are askew,
And their marriages suffer.
But she knows that his loyalty to his job
doesn't replace his loyalty to her.
When duty calls him away from her
She never thinks to ask him to choose.
She knows that as deeply as he loves her,
He loves his duty as well.
She cries sometimes when he is gone,
but she understands.

She understands that he gives her as much as he can.
She watches while other women complain
that their husbands don't do enough,
that they don't bring flowers,
but instead merely watch television every night.
But she knows what a precious gift it is
to have him home each evening.
She understands how he can woo her
from halfway across the world,
Sometimes with little more than
a piece of paper and a pen.
She knows that while he is her life,
she can still find happiness alone.
She talks to his empty side of the bed sometimes,
but she understands.

Maybe she didn't enlist, it's true.
Maybe she didn't choose to fall in love
with a man whose heart is sworn to millions.
Maybe it would have been easier
for her to settle with an ordinary guy.
But if anyone asks,
If anyone cares to know...
She'd rather have this life with him,
She'd rather have the sacrifice,
because she understands.

~Randi Anderson

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Family Home Evening

We haven't been all that great about holding family night in the past, I'll admit. (Truthfully, I hadn't been very motivated to do much outside of being on a computer with a good internet connection for a long time.) But we're doing it now, every week.

It never ceases to amaze me how adaptable my kids are--even my pubescent "experiencing hormonal mood swings like never before" children. When Big E and I decided to make family night a priority, the monkeys didn't just roll with it, they cheered. (They are less cheerful about our nightly scripture study, but I guess that doesn't have a sugary treat attached to it like family home evening, or FHE.)

(Yes, I'm going to be very Mormon in my post today.)

Because there are eight of us, and because everyone wants a job, I had to split things up. We don't just have someone who is in charge of the music for a particular week--we have one who is in charge of our opening song and another in charge of the opening prayer. We don't do the optional "lesson or activity," we do both a lesson and an activity (with the caveat that both can't be more than 30 minutes long--otherwise FHE devolves to boredom which leads to Family Fight Night, which is not really as fun as it sounds).

And unlike the majority of LDS families, we don't hold our FHE on Monday nights because of Big E's sometimes wonky work schedule. Sundays tend to be safe, so that's family night for us. Last week, we kicked it off with just Big E and I in charge. I taught the lesson (on forgiveness--using rocks and a backpack; it was quite ingenious), and we played the color game which involves a squirt bottle and getting a little wet (ask me about that later). I also made pudding for dessert. Big E handled the conducting, the music, and assigned out the prayers. The kids felt a little jilted because when we held family night sporadically in the past, everyone had a job. So, they were quick to tell me what they wanted to be in charge of for this Sunday.

And for the most part it went swimmingly. I even got to try something new.

G-man was over our refreshments, and I had forgotten to ask him if he needed me to pick up anything from the store yesterday. (We try to avoid shopping on Sundays, unless it's a real emergency. FHE treats do not constitute an emergency.) So, on the way home from church, I rattled off some things we could make from scratch. He chose cinnamon rolls. I have never made them before.

Shall we do a mini-bullet presentation about the making of cinnamon rolls like I did about Christmas card-making a few posts back? Yes, let's.

Things I learned about making cinnamon rolls:
  • Bread flour is awesome. I picked it up after my less-than-impressive tryst in the world of french-bread-making last week (that's a whole 'nother ball-o'-wax). I will never use all-purpose flour again if I can help it when I'm making any yeast bread recipe.
  •  I really, really need a proper mixer. (Yes, I'm eyeballing you, KitchenAid. One of these days...) My poor hand-mixer tried its best, but it didn't quite make the cut.
  • Living at a ridiculously high altitude and in a ridiculously dry climate (seriously, it can mummify the living if you don't drink enough water), has a surprising and frustrating affect on how bread dough rises. (Yeast is strangely fickle in this environment.)
  • It's always good to have a friend who is far more experienced in baking and cooking a mere phone call away. (If you're reading this, Andrea, I mean you.) Especially if the dough is not rising like the recipe (written for people who live at sea level with proper humidity and a warm climate) says it should.
  • And I'll never get over how much more fun baking is with little people in the kitchen. I seriously don't know why I used to keep them out all for all those years. I should have taken more photos.

G-man getting his bake on. He's melting butter and sugar in milk.
The rolls before they went into the oven. This round of rising took forever! (Apparently because it's so cold and dry here.)
As the rolls were baking, we had our FHE. Little E was conducting this week. (Basically, he welcomes everyone to our gathering and announces who is doing what.) Princess was in charge of our opening song--which she chose to be "Scripture Power." I said our opening prayer--or "invocation." (Yes, we totally use proper terms!)

Banana gave our lesson this week (she requested that job!). I was impressed with how much work she put into it. She taught us about faith using stories from the scriptures. (Daniel and the lion's den, and Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego from the Bible, and the brother of Jared in the Book of Mormon.)

Lee-Lee selected our activity this week: a round of Uno. The rolls came out of the oven about this time, so G-man split his time between the game and helping me whip up a quick glaze for the rolls.

The fam enjoying some friendly competition. (G-man and Mommy not pictured.) From right to left: Little E, Big E, Lee-Lee, C-bear, Banana & Princess. When I joined the game, I ended up helping C-bear while Banana helped Princess. It was a close game, but Little E eeked out the win in the end.
After the game, C-bear chose our closing song ("Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star"--yes, we really sang it) and Big E gave our benediction, blessing our refreshments.

The finished rolls.
G-man's treat was a huge hit. Banana could not stop raving about how good they were, and since one of my "love languages" is Words of Affirmation, I was grinning like an idiot to have had a huge win as Suzy Homemaker. Big E is taking the left-overs to work tomorrow to share with his battle-buddies. That's a ginormous compliment from him.

Maybe one of these days all this stuff will be old hat to me and I'll stop being constantly astounded by how amazing being "just a mom" and "just a homemaker" is. I hope not, though. I hope I never take any of this for granted ever again.

I love my life.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Lee-Lee Talent Showcase

My oldest daughter, Lee-Lee, has always wanted to be a singer--since she was a tiny tot. Up until the age of about 10, we'd pat her head and say, "That's nice, dear." She wasn't a bad singer, just not really remarkable in any way either. But then, overnight something happened. I remember hearing someone singing in our house and being floored with the beauty. It was Lee-Lee. She had gone from being a pretty good singer to having real potential. And she's only grown from there.

She was asked to give a performance last Sunday during our Sacrament meeting at church. (For you non-Mormon folk, that's the general congregation meeting, usually held before Sunday School.) Now, we're unable to record--either video or audio--during the meeting (we consider it sacred), so I recorded one of Lee-Lee's rehearsals.

Keep in mind that this was a rehearsal--and she is only 14 years old without any formal voice lessons. (I also had to use my cheap digital camera to do the recording.) It doesn't fully reflect how the actual performance went (I totally cried). There is something very special that happens when Lee-Lee performs in front of a proper audience--everything comes together perfectly.

She chose the song herself--"Virtue" by Jenny Phillips. And if you're interested, these are the lyrics:

Because I love the Father,
I want the minds of men
to be lifted when they look at me.
Because I am His daughter,
I want my devotion to Him
to be what they see.

I don't need the attention of immodesty.
I am confident in my divinity.

I didn't come to Earth to compromise.
I came here to hold up my light.
No matter what the world may do,
I'm a daughter of God,
and I'm holding on to virtue.

I want to lead a life
that is full of so much good
it attracts the light to me.
So I'm trusting in my Father
to magnify the beauty
He has placed in me.

I am confident in my divinity.

(Repeat Chorus twice.)

Big E and I are rather proud to be Lee-Lee's parents. She's turning out to be an amazing young woman.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas...


Okay, before I delve into the details of this year's festivities, I should probably tell you that I used to be pretty darn Scrooge-y about the holiday. Last year, if you asked me what my favorite part of Christmas was, I would have said, "When it's over." I have, in fact, uttered those words before. Yes, I am ashamed.

Last year, we didn't put up our Christmas tree or decorations until December 23rd. No joke. Last year, I did our Christmas shopping around that time. I'm serious. Last year, the Christmas tree came down on December 26th. Yep.

I was that bah-humbuggy.

This year, however, all the decorations went up the weekend after Thanksgiving. I actually did most of the Christmas shopping on Black Friday. (Yes, I braved the chaos, because I couldn't wait a second longer to start on the holiday fun.) I have had a total turn around about the holiday, just like Ebeneezer in A Christmas Carol. My house has been blasting holiday music since Thanksgiving. Holiday movies have been our source of entertainment since the first of December. My refrigerator has been stocked with Egg Nog all month.

Ask me what my favorite part of Christmas has been this year. ALL OF IT. I'm almost sad it's nearly over.

I wasn't able to do everything I had hoped to do: homemade tree ornaments, holiday baking extravaganza, hardcore exterior decorations (though we did have some), etc. But there's always next year, right? And I was pleased with how things turned out.

Now, onward with the photographic depiction of our Christmas!

First, we made an executive decision not to put the presents under the tree right away. Why? Because Princess and C-bear have a little trouble letting wrapped gifts go untouched for days on end. It's best to keep temptation from them as long as possible.

C-bear had a problem with how barren it was beneath our tree, so she took matters into her own hands.

Look at the the pretty presents!
They were good place-holders until we finally got the real gifts under the tree (which, unfortunately, I forgot to take a photo of).

The the eve before Christmas Eve, we had a wrapping party in my bedroom. All the kids were so thrilled about the gifts they had gotten each other. In the past, they all got gifts for every sibling, but with our budget, that meant dollar store gifts. This year, they drew names and they were able to get something a little nicer for their recipients.

Every year, Scrooge-y Mom or not, we open all of the family gifts on Christmas Eve. It's a tradition from my husband's Norwegian side, and we've chosen to carry it on with our family. But, before we tear into the wrapping paper, we go caroling. Yes, we travel about to the homes of loved ones (who are home that evening) and sing to them--right after our Christmas dinner. We've done it since our oldest two were little monkeys.

This year, we added cyber caroling to our repertoire, serenading via webcam family members who live too far for us to knock on their doors. Gotta love the age of technology!

And then, it's finally time to open gifts. Now, you'd think with a family of eight that would be utter mayhem, but we've got a tradition there as well (also stolen from my husband's family). We take turns opening gifts--one person and one present at a time. It makes it more of a family experience, with the kids being just as excited to watch their siblings and parents open the presents they've carefully picked out for them as they are about what they receive.

Here is the Christmas booty:

Big E was happy with his Oregon Ducks themed gifts. From me: the very nice (and far from cheap) watch. From the kids: the vertical flag and sunglasses.
Lee-Lee's bounty! (And yes, she did chop all of her hair off--inspired by Natalie Portman's 'do in Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium.) From Mom & Dad: Christmas PJ's and Sims Medieval. From G-Man: The Trylle Series novels and City of Bones. Lee-Lee is a hardcore bookaholic.
Banana's haul. From Mom & Dad: Christmas PJ's (with lime green fuzzy pants--her favorite color), art kit (markers, pencils, oil paints), and painting canvases. From Little E: Make-up and a make-up box.
Little E's stuff. From Mom & Dad: Christmas PJ's (Star Wars, of course!) and Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II video game. From Princess: Light Saber that goes all the way in (from Little E's Christmas Wish List) and a small Star Wars Lego set.
G-Man's take. From Mom & Dad: Ninjago Christmas PJ's and a Ninjago Lego set. (We're very keen on Legos in this house.) From C-bear: Let's Go Fishin' game, Hot Wheels set, and Angry Birds Hot Wheels launcher.
Princess's goodies. From Mom & Dad: Disney Princess Christmas PJ's and a girly basic Lego kit. (Her big siblings won't let her play with theirs, so we figured she ought to have her own.) From Lee-Lee: Princess Barbie and Disney Princess coloring kit.
C-bear's gifts. From Mom & Dad: Tangled Christmas PJ's (her favorite Disney film) and Tangled doll. From Banana: Cinderella play-doh kit, more play-doh, and animal play-doh kit.
My gifts? The entire holiday, and even better, the joy my family had during the entire season.

Christmas morning is Santa's big show. This year, Santa was played by Mommy, Daddy, Lee-Lee, and Banana when it came to filling the stockings. And for the presents under the tree (or in our garage), Santa was portrayed by generous and anonymous folks who like to bless military families during the holiday season.

But first, this is what we woke up to this morning:

Again, as a reformed Scrooge, I was ridiculously excited to have a true White Christmas. I'm probably more thrilled than the kids!

I didn't take any photos of the Santa gifts, but I can tell you what we received (aside from the candy canes, chocolates, and clementines in our stockings). All of the children received brand new bicycles and helmets.  I recevied a gift card to Target. Lee-Lee got a gift "card" to (so she could buy more books!). Banana got a gift card to Famous Footwear (and is already pestering me about going). Both Little E and G-man received Lego sets ("City"), and the littlest girls got Barbies.

This has been one of the best Christmases I've had since being married. I'm already counting the days until next year--where I plan to top this one.

I hope those of you who have meandered to this blog have had the happiest of holidays. Merry Christmas!