Saturday, December 31, 2011

Home Again

I just got back from a bicycle run to SuperTarget... on New Year's Eve in Minnesota!  This continuing warm weather might be a sign that I'm not meant to stop exercising.  It felt great after the 19+ hours we just spent in the car.  It's always hard to leave my sister and the mountains of Montana and watch our vacation come to an end.  We rarely roadtrip in the winter, so we were very thankful for the exceptional weather both on the way out and on the way back.  As my dad says, "It would be bad to have to white-knuckle it that far."  After we left light fog and rain in the western mountains of Montana, we had dry, warm weather the rest of the trip.  Billings was the warmest at 57 degrees! My dad remarked, "Pretty soon we'll have to stop to scrape bugs off the windshield."

Sun Setting in the Badlands of Eastern Montana

We stopped for dinner at Montana's Rib & Chop House in Miles City, MT.  We lucked out and got a table before the Friday night rush began, but even at 5:30, it was busy.  The tables were covered in paper the kids could color on. I lost count of how many games of tic-tac-toe we played, but just as we switched to hangman, the food arrived. My charbroiled burger was amazing, the kids menu food was great, and the prices were reasonable.  One of the best roadtrip dinners I've ever had!

After dinner we headed into North Dakota.   My sister laments that so many good people have left Montana (even far western Montana) to find work in North Dakota.  I was curious about the changes from the recent oil boom, but we crossed the entire state in the dark of night.  All I know is that when we were in Montana, gas was $2.99/gallon, but went right up to $3.29/gallon when we crossed into North Dakota.  I wonder if there is a gas tax difference or if it's just that demand is high with the huge influx of workers needed for fracking. 

Well, back to life in Minnesota!  Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Flat Anna

Anna's Kindergarten teacher has been reading Flat Stanley to the kids.  Each kid made a flat version of himself or herself.  The flat version was to go on an adventure (usually by mail) to somewhere far away.  We took Flat Anna to Montana with us.  Here she is with cousin Elsie.

Flat Anna has a lot to tell the class about her Montana adventure.  I wonder where all the other Flat kids went?  It will be fun to see the photos and learn about the places they traveled when they are all posted at school in March!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Sledding Come Snow, Sleet or... Rain?

We had so much fun the first time we went sledding that despite mist and sleet, we decided to do it one more time.  Up to the mountains we headed.

And down the hills we sledded.

Or in some cases,  flew.

Christian about to crash

Super Anna

It was warm snowman-making weather. 
Christian made this cute baby snowman to give to Anna.

We got out the kids' snowmobile for a few rides.

But alas, when the mist

turned to rain, we decided it was time to go.

Wetting a Line

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Food with Friends

On Christmas Day evening, my sister gathered family and friends for a special dinner.  We started  with oysters, some raw on half shell and some grilled.

The table is set.

Electrical work was traded for a huge prime rib, and we family and friends reaped the benefits. 

Family and friends filled the dining room.

After dinner we had a little fun marking our heights on the unfinished beam in the new kitchen.  Notice Elsie is just below Gail.  I wonder where she'll be next year?

Christmas Day Sledding

Christmas Day brought fog and a thin covering of snow in the river valley.

But further up in the mountains, the sun was peeking through and there was plenty of sledding snow.

It was a perfect calm thirty-degree day, warm, but cold enough for good sledding snow.  Here's my nephew Ethan catching some air.

Everyone got in on the sledding fun. 

There was racing, crashing and even some white-washing.

When everyone was tired, the sleds were abandoned,

and the kids joined Grandpa and Grandma at the fire for some hot chocolate and roasted cheese wieners.

I hiked in the snow

And noticed these beautiful Kinnikinnick berries peeking through the snow under the pine trees.

It was a day to remember.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas Eve

After breakfast, the kids each got to open a Christmas present early.

Elsie, Ethan, Ehren and Christian all got a bow and arrow set. Elsie and Ethan completed a bow-hunter education class this year, so they each got a real compound bow.

Ehren and Christian inherited Elsie and Ethan's old toy bows from Cabela's.

Anna got a set of snap beads to play with during the day.

The dads and all the kids except Anna hurried over to the local sporting goods store so that Elsie and Ethan could get fitted for their bows before everything closed for Christmas.  Meanwhile, Anna and the moms worked on preparing Christmas food.  Anna learned how to make cream cheese onion rollups.

She made a whole plateful of cream cheese rollups.

Later in the afternoon, Elsie and Anna made a birthday cake, a recipe that Jenna learned in Germany when she was an exchange student.  You layer store-bought biscuit cookies with a chocolate sauce.  The chocolate softens the biscuit cookies.

Here's my mom taking a break from kitchen duties.

In the evening, we went to a cozy Christmas Eve service at my sister's church. We returned to listen to my kids recite the Christmas Bible readings they learned for their school program. Then it was finally time to help ourselves to Christmas food (a buffet of delicious snacks) while the kids opened presents.

Here's our whole group posing for a picture in front of the beautiful native-stone fireplace.  In addition to my sister's family and my family, our group included my parents, JB's parents, and Kathryn, a wonderful woman who works at my sister's office.

Eggs in the Garden

On Christmas Eve morning, my mom taught my sister how to make "Eggs in the Garden" for breakfast.  Since you can use many different ingredients, it's really more of a technique than a recipe.  First, we chopped a variety of fresh vegetables that were on hand.  On this day, it included sweet red pepper, green pepper, red cabbage, spinach and onion.  In my opinion, onions are essential.

Then we chopped some ham.  Any meat, or no meat is fine.

The veggies and ham are browned in butter.  Beans are added (in this case, canned black beans).  Seasoning is added (in this case, a delicious Tuscan seasoning blend from Oil and Vinegar).  The sauteed ingredients are pushed to the outside edge of the pan, leaving an empty circle in the middle.  Crack an egg into the circle and cover the pan until the egg is cooked.  Your egg is in a garden, get it?  Slide the cooked garden and egg onto a plate and enjoy. 

We also made a Mexican version that was seasoned with taco seasoning and topped with fresh avocado, salsa and sour cream.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Getting to Christmas

It took a marathon drive to arrive at our Christmas destination this year.  On Thursday, we picked up the kids (except Christian, who was at home because of a low-grade fever he woke with) from their school Christmas party, and were on the road by 5:00 pm.  With the help of my dad, who was traveling with us, we were able to drive through the night with only bathroom, gas, and snack breaks.  The roads were perfectly clear, and the mountains of Montana came into view just as the sun was rising.

We made it to my sister Jenna's house about 3 pm on Friday.  Jenna and her husband have been building a new house for two years (while staying first in a large shed with living quarters, and then in a small camper trailer).  They finished it just in time for our visit.  The final result was worth the wait.  They designed and built most of the house themselves, and it really is a Montana dream home.  The 27-foot ceiling in the living room is a bank of windows overlooking a river.  The Christmas tree they cut this year was 24 feet!

After oohing and ahhing over the house for awhile, my parents, Jenna and I went to hear some Christmas music.  Jenna knew all of the musicians.  One of the violinists, who was a former member of the Seattle Symphony, was my niece Elsie's violin teacher.  Another was a semi-retired music producer who produced records for the likes of Johnny Cash and many others.  Quite a lot of talent for a town with fewer than 300 residents.  We realized later that this was the first time just the four of us have been anywhere together since 1994.  Even though I look a little bleary-eyed from lack of sleep, it was a lovely evening.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Merry Breakfast

We had a very merry breakfast this morning: Chocolate chip oatmeal pancakes with sliced bananas, whipped cream (actually Cool Whip leftover from Thanksgiving), and Christmas sprinkles. 

Christmas is coming!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Christmas Program

This year's school Christmas program is the first time our three kids have been in a school program together.   It was a smashing success!  I am so proud of all three of them.   It was by far the boys' best ever public performance.  Check them out singing in the front row (lower right).

The school Christmas program is an all-day event for the kids.  The program was about an hour and fifteen minutes long.  The kids did two back-to-back performances, one at 1:00 pm and a another at 3:00 pm.  What a marathon!  Anna and Ehren both had a hockey scrimmage the night before, followed by 7:00 am practice the morning of the program.  Poor Anna was so tired, she could barely stay awake for the 10 minute drive to school for the program.  I don't know how she lasted through two performances.  Here she is with Dad after the first performance.

I am so thankful to all the wonderful staff at our school who made this a truly beautiful program.

Thursday, December 15, 2011


I don't love pink, but Anna loves pink, and I love Anna.

Her love of pink may have started with our German au pair Marina, who came to live with us when Anna turned one.  Marina loves pink.  I suspect her love of pink has left a lasting impression on Anna.

Anna's room has been a gray-green color since we moved into our house almost two years ago.  So on my free day last week, off I went to Sherwin Williams.  The Christmas cards could wait.  I was going to paint.

Normally, I have a very earthy sense of style, but there's something about going into a paint store that makes me want to do something bold. When you're staring at that huge palette of colors, something overtakes you.  You don't want to pick something boring, right?   Just ask Dan about the creamsicle-colored room Anna had in our old house {but he'll still say he liked it}.  I chose "Dragon Fruit" pink.

Shortly after the first few brush strokes of that non-returnable, custom-mixed paint hit the wall, panic starts to set in.  This time was no exception.  The first coat of Dragon Fruit over the previous gray-green looked hideous.  At this point I was in full-on panic mode, What have I done?

After the second coat, I still needed sunglasses, but it was more bold than hideous.

All the while I was working on this {from Thursday morning to Saturday night}, Anna was not allowed in her room.  She had no idea what I was doing in there, only that there was going to be a big surprise.  So, when she got home from hockey practice on Saturday evening, she finally opened the door.

But things quickly degraded when she realized that a) there was no toy in her room, and b) she didn't get to help paint.

Apparently she believes I'm an elf capable of making an amazing toy in three days in her room {I guess the hammering and power screw driver noises threw her off}. She really thought there was a new toy in her room.  Plus, I forgot how much she loves to paint for fun on the walls before we start any real painting project {we usually let the kids do this}.  It wasn't the magical moment I was dreaming of, so my over-tired girl went to directly to bed, while I looked for some reading materials on raising a grateful child.

However, after a good night's sleep, her outlook was a lot more rosy {pun intended}, and now I think she's really enjoying her new pink room.  As for me, I am enjoying Dragon Fruit pink a lot more by the soft glow of the Christmas lights I strung up in her room this week {you can almost leave the sunglasses behind}.