Saturday, May 10, 2014

Things I Wanted To Tell You

It's been crazy around here.  What I used to think was crazy life now seems like a nap compared to our current life.

So let's play a little catch-up.  Here's a rundown of some of what's been happening 'round these parts.

Scott Altman

The astronaut Scott Altman came to my boys' school.  Let me remind you that they attend Scott Altman School.  Nora and I got to sit in on the school assembly where Scott gave his motivational speech.  Then each class got their picture taken with Altman, and Nora and I got our picture taken with him.

I admit I was a little starstruck (pardon the pun).  I knew Scott Altman was from Pekin, Illinois (our hometown), and that he was an astronaut.  I didn't realize that he was in the Air Force first (apparently all astronauts start out as pilots), and he flew the planes in the movie Top Gun.  He talked about some of the tricks they did in the movie.  How cool is that?!

Scott Altman and his family (plus lots of important people in suits) were at the school to dedicate this new bronze bust of Scott.  Pictured above are Scott's wife, his mom, him, and his dad.  I had a nice chat with his parents while he was taking pictures with all the classes.

You may remember that I found a recipe by Sharon Altman (Scott's mom) in my grandmother's recipe box.  I wrote about it here.

New Nephew

I got a brand new nephew!  My brother and his wife had their third baby, a beautiful boy named Harvey.

He is seriously so cute.  And he was born on my brother's (his daddy's) birthday!

The Birds

We had two bird nests on our front porch this spring, one belonging to a Sparrow family and one belonging to Mourning Doves.  Both nests were on top of the columns of our porch.

Jared giving Nolan a peek at the Sparrow nest

The Sparrows had three babies hatch, and two of them died before they were fully grown.  There was also a Robbin egg (at least it appeared to be) in the nest that never hatched.

The Mourning Dove laid two eggs, and one never hatched.  Her baby seemed to be doing well until one day I found it dead in the nest.  That was the end of our fun little bird adventure.  Jared removed both nests that night (the Sparrows were already gone), and we still need to power wash the bird poop off our porch.

Homecoming Outfits
I had the privilege of helping my friend Megan make outfits for her kids to wear when they welcomed their daddy (Megan's husband) home.  He has been deployed with the Air National Guard for more than two months.

These little cuties are the kids who call me "Uncle Jessica."  It's projects like these that make me so grateful that I know how to sew and can use that to bless people.  I really enjoyed forcing teaching Megan to do the sewing herself.  And I get choked up every time I think about this family being reunited!

Jungle Theme Baby Shower

I host church bridal and baby showers along with two other ladies.  Our most recent shower was a baby shower for a friend expecting a baby boy.  The baby's nursery is decorated in a jungle theme with neutral colors, so we wanted to use that theme for our baby shower.

I was super excited to find a great set of baby shower supplies at Hobby Lobby that matched our theme.  One of my jobs was to make and decorate cupcakes, so I bought cute cupcake liners.

I bought one package of the matching cupcake toppers, but I didn't like that they only featured two of the jungle animals.  Plus I knew I was making 48 cupcakes, so I made the other 24 toppers.

For the homemade toppers, I bought the round stickers from the baby shower section.  Then I cut out circles of leopard print paper and zebra print paper.  Then I cut out slightly larger circles of green paper.  I adhered them all together and hot glued them to lollipop sticks.

Glow Sticks

While I was at Hobby Lobby getting baby shower supplies, I spotted my favorite ever glow sticks.  I snagged a box at 40% off.  These babies will be tucked away until the 4th of July.

These glow sticks are super bright, and I don't think we've ever had a "dud" with them.  Plus they come with connectors to make glowing glasses and bunny ears (as well as the usual bracelets and necklaces).

New Camera

I got a new camera!!!  One of my goals for this year was to learn about my camera settings and work on taking better pictures.  I haven't been able to work on this goal because my camera has had an issue with not focusing for quite some time.  I've been extremely frustrated because I can't ever take the pictures I want due to my camera not working correctly.  I told Jared the thing I wanted most for Mother's Day was to get my camera fixed (if possible), so you can imagine how ecstatic I was to receive a brand new camera!

When I had my Etsy shop, I used to sell fabric-covered padded camera straps.  I think I may still have one of the fancy cushy camera straps around here somewhere, so I'd love to cover it with pretty fabric and finally have my own pretty, comfy camera strap.  One of these days.

I've already read half of the camera manual and fiddled around with different settings.  I'm still holding out hope that someday I'll figure it all out and be a better photographer.

Spring Dance Recital

Nora had her spring ballet recital.  It was a fairy tea party theme.

The recital was on a Sunday afternoon (really?!) that was already a crazy busy day for us.  Once I saw my girl up on that stage, I managed to relax and enjoy every second. :)

Nora's best friend Dakota was in her ballet class.  You may recognize Dakota from the Homecoming Outfits picture.  I love these two girls together!

Sick Week

We had a rough week with Nolan being super sick.  He had Fifth Disease, which is a common childhood illness with a characteristic rash.  After his little body had been busy fighting the Fifth Disease for about a week, he also picked up Strep.  That caused a secondary rash.  He had a horrendous headache for a week and was generally run down.

He cocooned himself in his favorite blanket, asked me to come sit by him, and he drifted off to sleep. 

We had multiple visits to the doctor, far too many trips to Walgreen's, and almost a week home from school.

Nolan learned a very painful lesson during his sick week:  people can be cruel.  Once Fifth Disease progresses to the rash stage, it is no longer contagious.  Strep is contagious, but after he was on antibiotics for 24 hours, he was no longer contagious.  We had to go shopping for things Nolan needed, and we had to take Griffin to school everyday and pick him up.  Everywhere we went, people stared.  Many people also asked questions, made comments, and expressed their disgust at Nolan's rash, even after we explained that he wasn't contagious.  I was surprised by people prying and basically wanting to know Nolan's medical history.  Nolan was upset by people being scared of him.  We discussed how this was a learning opportunity for us, to help us be more sensitive to other people who might not want to be stared at or made to feel bad for looking different.

Family Visit

Jared's brother Kevin and his family came for a visit.  Kevin is in the Air Force and hasn't lived near us in at least 10 years, so we only get to see him and his family every year or two.  Kevin's family arrived the day of Nora's dance recital and were here through Sick Week.  We still made the most of their visit, and our kids absolutely loved their time with their cousins.

You can imagine that it's not easy to get a picture of Kevin's four children and our three children all together, looking at the camera, and smiling.  We did our best.  I took tons of pictures over the week, but I'll just share a couple here.

Our 3 kids, Kevin's 3 girls (in matching outfits) and 1 son (in the plaid shirt), and our niece Addison (Jared's sister's daughter)
Jared and his kids with Kevin and his kids

We really missed Jared's other brother Joel and his wife and two boys.  Can you imagine trying to get more kids in the pictures? :)

I think this pretty well catches us up for now.  Today is Nolan's 8th birthday party, so I should have a blog post about that some time in the next month or so...


Friday, May 2, 2014

Easter 2014

I hope you all had a wonderful Easter.  My family had an amazing Easter weekend.

First, Jared was supposed to leave on Easter Sunday to go to Ecuador on a business trip.  His trip was cancelled!  That never happens (other than in my wishful imagination...), and I was ecstatic.

Second, we got to enjoy lots of great time with our little family as well as with some extended family.

Third, we ate some great food!

Wanna see?  Super.

We had Jared's dad over on Good Friday so we could eat a big dinner and then color Easter eggs.  I already showed you how I made Layered Jello Eggs.  I am also very pleased to tell you that I made my first ever ham!

I think the ham turned out well.  Everyone--even my kids--ate it and seemed to enjoy it.  This ham lived a good little life.  First, it fed us at our Good Friday dinner.  Then we took leftovers to Jared's mom's on Easter Sunday, and it fed the crowd there.  Then on the Tuesday after Easter, I used the remainder of the ham to make Ham Loaves.  Waste not, want not. :)

Back to our Good Friday food.  We had the Jello eggs and some fruit salad (more on that in a minute).

Nora and Grandpa had been playing Uno while I prepared the dinner.  I forgot to move the cards before I took the picture. :)

We also had that infamous ham and some scalloped potatoes.

And we had corn and some rolls.

And the most important part of the meal:  dessert.  I made the desserts earlier in the day.  Ok, to tell the truth, I woke up so excited about hosting the dinner that I started on the desserts that morning.

First I made bird nest cookies out of chow mein noodles, butterscotch chips, and egg-shaped candies.  These are not hard at all.  Click here for a recipe.  Some of our nests had Cadbury Mini Eggs (my personal favorite) and some had Mini Robin Eggs.

The other dessert was an egg-shaped fruit pizza.  I got the idea here.

I bought a package of Pillsbury sugar cookie dough that comes in pre-portioned clumps (not the tube, although that would also work).  I started by laying the dough clumps in a rough egg shape.  I used my fingers to press the dough together and shape my egg.  Once I was happy with the shape and thickness, I used my rolling pin just to smooth it out.

I was working on my Silpat mat on my largest baking sheet.

I baked my giant cookie.  Unfortunately, the tip browned before the middle was done.  And I overbaked my cookie.  I was afraid of it being too soft since it would be covered with cream cheese frosting and moist fruits, and I accidentally let it get too done.

By the way, when I served the finished fruit pizza, no one except me even knew that the cookie was supposed to be softer.  Everyone gobbled it up as if that's exactly how it was supposed to be.  I told myself this was a "thin crust" fruit pizza.

I mixed cream cheese and a little sugar to make the frosting and spread it on the cookie.

I had already purchased, washed, and chopped (when necessary) my fruits.  So this was now the fun part.

I started by outlining the egg with blueberries.

Then I added a bold center stripe of strawberries lined with blackberries.  I curved the lines a bit to look a little more like a 3-D egg.

Then I had fun filling in all the other stripes and designs.  I used grapes, kiwi, bananas, and mango.

I finished it off with an apricot jam glaze.  You can see it in places on the pizza (like between the kiwi slices), but I didn't mind.

I combined all the leftover fruits and the leftover apricot glaze to make a fruit salad for the dinner.  That was an unexpected bonus!  My giant pretty silver baking sheet wouldn't fit in my fridge, and the fruit pizza needed to chill until serving time, so I had to transfer it to my very loved but very ugly second biggest cookie sheet.  That's why it looks so bad in the above side-by-side dessert picture.

After we cleaned up dinner, we set up for coloring eggs.  The kids were so excited!  Nora asked all day long, "How many more minutes until coloring eggs?"

I always cover my table with multiple layers of newspaper.  We have enough cups of egg dye that no one really has to wait (or at least not long) for a color.  I wash and reuse my little dye cups and egg dippers every year, and I save the white crayons as well.  I also buy egg dye kits on clearance after Easter and put them away to use the next year.  So this year we were excited to pull out the Easter bin and see what kind of dye kits we had!

The adults have as much fun as the kids in our house.

Griffin's finished eggs

Jared's finished eggs

My finished eggs

Nolan's finished eggs

Nora was the last one at the table working on eggs.

Nora's finished eggs

On Saturday Jared and I hid candy-filled plastic eggs in our back yard and let the kids have an egg hunt.  Everyone had lots of fun!  Our next-door neighbors even came out on their deck to watch for a bit.

The kids with their buckets full of eggs

I got pictures of the boys while we were outside, but Nora was too busy checking the contents of the Easter eggs.

We got dressed up for Easter Sunday, but this year I decided not to stress about making our whole family match.  I actually got a new dress (woohoo!), Nora and I finally found a dress for her that we agreed upon (from Kmart), I ordered matching ties for the boys and the rest of their outfits were clothes they already had, and Jared wore a new shirt and tie that I got him for his birthday.

Every year on Easter, we set up the tripod to get a family photo.  Every year there's at least one shot like this.

I finally got a picture of Nora!
Oh, and Nolan also lost a tooth during the fun Easter weekend.

Dear Tooth Fairy, I lost my tooth!  How have you been doing?  What is your best friend's name?  Have a good day!  From, Nolan...P.S. Have a good spring
Sometimes it's just awesome to be my kids' mom.  Easter weekend was full of those moments!