19 January 2018

How We've Grown

Look how we've grown!
It's no secret that winter isn't my favorite season. The endless frigid temperatures, bleak landscape, frozen water troughs, dirty snow, and short days leave me dreaming of all the other seasons I love better. Truly, one of the blessings of a winter wedding has been looking forward to our anniversary every year. Its a reason to celebrate and as our family has grown, we get to celebrate together. This year, we're all the way to number eleven!
Baby-faced and newly wed.
Last year, Jack and I escaped to the Bahamas for our ten year anniversary without the kids. It was so great to go from cold and snowy to sunshine and warm beaches. However, if we could have afforded to take the kids with us, I would have strapped them in the airplane in a heartbeat.
Thank you, GPS for taking us through the scenic, hilly route when the roads were horrible.
This year, Jack decided to surprise everyone with a different kind of tropical retreat. In the middle of a icy snowstorm that resulted in a snow day for the kids, we hopped in the car, drove very carefully (I love you, 4-wheel drive and anti-lock brakes!) a couple of hours south.
Thank goodness we were going slow to begin with. Deer galore!
Nestled in a valley between forested hills are the historic towns of West Baden and French Lick (Jack asked if that's some sort of French kiss, hahaha). Originally, it was a popular getaway known for its mineral springs. Today, it's still a very touristy area that has some really great history and was very charming, even while draped with snow.
There, he'd made reservations at a family-friendly hotel that had a big indoor water park. If we ever want to make the children happy, we simply have to mention "hotel" and "swimming" and their month is made.
Claire testing out our bed's buoyancy and Kate peaking out from over the top of the bunk beds.
We arrived early enough to get to our room, share some pizza, then go swimming for a couple of hours. When we were all tired, we went back to the room and got everyone into their pajamas. Then, Jack and I managed to escape for a five minute and twenty-two-second date when we walked down the hallway to get super sugary slushies and play one game with a token we found on the floor.
We ended up letting the kids finish the cough syrup-y drink for us.
 And, if there was ever a gift that makes me go ga-ga, it's not having to cook or clean up once in a while. The breakfast buffet was a hit because everyone got to eat whatever they wanted and I didn't have to hear any complaints!
We wasted no time changing into our cold, damp swimming suits and running over to the water park the minute it opened.
So much to see and do!
The awesome thing about the hotel was it was obviously geared towards families. I'd never seen so many children at a hotel in my life. Because of that, there was something for everyone to do.
Sliding down the shipwrecked rowboat.
Henry spent countless hours going down the same yellow slide, running to the top, patiently waiting his turn, and coming back down. He made a few friends there by inadvertently joining a train of children who all came down the slide at the same time. No one can resist Henry's smile and contagious laugh.
The girls alternated going down the bigger slides with Jack and me. Their favorite by far was one they dubbed "the toilet bowl." After being "flushed" down the first slide, they'd spin around the bowl a couple of times before descending down the second slide.
It's pretty impressive watching how much speed they'd get going around and around.
When they were ready to take a break, we all headed to the deeper pool where we bobbed in the water and took turns trying to cross the wobbly water bridge. Claire (as no surprise to anyone) made it across first.
Not to be outdone by her little sister, Evelyn quickly followed successfully.
Kate tried her own tactic and though she was able to make it to the first pad, even standing for a few seconds, she couldn't make it to the second without the help of the overhead net. With her balance, she should really consider taking up surfing.
Jack tried his own Ninja Warrior tactic but all he managed to accomplish was elicit some laughs from the kids.
Better luck next time, Jack.
When we'd worn ourselves out and it was time to leave, we toured the area and enjoyed the scenery. We spotted more deer and imagined that the place is probably breathtaking in the spring, summer, and fall.
I think we counted six deer hanging out in that spot.
Naturally, we worked up quite an appetite with all the swimming and in keeping with our tropical-themed anniversary, we went to a Hawaiian restaurant and enjoyed some sushi, shark, and barbecued chicken.
Jack loves his sushi! Me? Not so much.
 It was Kate's first try, and she enjoyed the raw fish, rice, and sea weed...
Kate also likes hot sauce and Greek olives...the girl will try anything.
 ...but Evelyn took one nibble and wasn't fooled. Sushi isn't as good as everyone claims.
On our way out, we decided to stop by the historic West Bayden hotel. It was the first thing we saw coming into town and very much looks like a grand palace on the outside. Inside was worth the tour! The entire hotel had been renovated back to its original beauty and it was all mosaic tile floors, enormous pillars, marble sculptures, and breathtaking artwork. Maybe we'll stay there next time we visit...
It was HUGE inside.
When we couldn't take any more fun and excitement, we packed up and headed home.
All worn out from so much fun!
Though it is so much fun celebrating our anniversary and the official start of our family, I
still treasure the day to day thrill it is to live with Jack.
Jack is one of the few people who can genuinely smile while crammed in a crawlspace.
He can make chores exciting, challenges manageable and can make anyone smile, finding teaching moments in the most mundane tasks. Nothing is insurmountable with him and Heavenly Father on my side. Because of them, every day is a new and uncharted adventure.
I don't know what will come next in the coming days...years...decades that our family will go through together but I am extremely pleased to be with Jack through it all.
How little we knew about what joy lay before us!
Happy Anniversary to Jack and me!


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11 January 2018

Cinnamon Roll Pancakes

Saturday mornings are one of my favorite times of the week. We get to sleep in (hahahaha...everyone except me and Zoey, who hasn't yet discovered the appeal of late mornings) and before we go out to work hard and play hard, we usually share a special breakfast together. This week, Claire wanted to make everyone some cinnamon roll pancakes. The original recipe took a bit of tweaking to get right but eventually, we got the hang of it and they were a hit!

Ingredients:

Cinnamon Mixture
1/2 cup butter, melted
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 Tablespoon ground cinnamon

Pancakes
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups milk
2 Tablespoons canola oil
2 large eggs, lightly beaten

Cream Cheese Glaze
4 Tablespoons butter
2 ounces cream cheese
1 1/4 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

First, make the cinnamon mixture by thoroughly combining the butter, brown sugar, and cinnamon. Place in ziplock bag and place in fridge for at least 20 minutes to chill. Meanwhile, mix the cream cheese glaze ingredients until smooth. Set aside. Make pancake mixture by sifting flour, baking powder, and salt. In a separate bowl, combine milk, oil, and eggs. Combine ingredients and mix until lumpy. Heat a large skillet on low (these pancakes take time!). When the skillet is warm, place 1/4 cup pancake mixture in the center, then swirl the cinnamon mixture over the top by snipping a small hole in the corner of the baggie. Cook for one to two minutes, until bubbles begin to appear and the pancake is 80% cooked. Gently flip and cook for another thirty seconds to one minute. Remove promptly to avoid burning the sugar. Top with cream cheese glaze and any extra cinnamon mixture.
Enjoy!


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06 January 2018

Work Hard, Play Hard

Getting the chores done.
Though we'd love to stay snuggled up inside all winter (human hibernation, anyone??), alas, farm life doesn't stop with the bad weather. That means animals still need to be fed and watered, stalls need to be cleaned, hay needs to be moved.
Henry is more than happy to help if tools are involved. 
Usually, we wrap everyone up but since we needed to do some catching up on our chores and it was still well below zero today, we waited for Henry and Zoey to take their afternoon nap before heading outside with the girls.
First of all, thank goodness for our well-used, well-appreciated tractor. Remember how we used to have to push the hay bales into the horses' pasture? I am soooo glad we don't have to do that anymore.
Filling up on gas.
Once the cows had a fresh bale of hay, we cleaned out their stall which, after a week of frigid temperatures, was easier said than done. Literally, I took a pickax to some of the frozen cow pies just to get them unstuck.
A few bucketloads of clean shavings and topping off their water and voila, the cattle were content again.
The chickens are displeased as anyone about the weather but Cotton almost seems to be enjoying herself. Since she can't go safely back to the flock (believe us, we tried...stupid rooster), she's made herself at home on the deck. It makes it easier to get her fed and watered but she has been leaving frozen chicken turds all over, especially in her favorite spot...in front of the door.

It's a really good thing for her that I love animals.
After we finished our chores, Jack asked if anyone wanted to play hockey. Frozen to the bone, I opted to go inside to warm up while Claire chose to engage Jack in a duel.
Twenty minutes later, they were still at it.

While I was inside, snuggling with Zoey after her nap and watching from the warmth of the family room. I think I prefer being a spectator.
Uh oh. The cold might have gotten to Claire.
So, we all thawed out with some hot chocolate.
 And a Harry Potter movie and a shared blanket.
Henry keeping his runny nose from escaping.
 The summary of the weekend? Work hard, play hard.
Claire coming back from a solo sledding excursion.

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04 January 2018

Chicken in Coconut Mango Sauce

I was looking for something a little different than our usual go-to dinners and after perusing what we had on hand, this sweet, spicy dish was made. It was delicious and had just the right balance of bite along with the juicy mango to make it a hit!

Ingredients:

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 1/2 pounds chicken, sliced into 1-inch strips
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 can (13.5 oz) coconut milk
1 cup salsa
1 cup chopped mango
1 jalapeno, deseeded and deveined
3 to 5 Tablespoons brown sugar
2 Tablespoons lime juice
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon salt

In a large pan, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add chicken and brown for a few minutes, until no longer pink. Add peppers and cook for a few more minutes. In a blender, add remaining ingredients and blend until smooth (I'd start with 3 Tablespoons of brown sugar and up it to balance the spice if needed). Pour over the chicken and peppers and heat until chicken is cooked all the way through and sauce is hot. Serve over rice.
Enjoy!

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03 January 2018

The Sledding Hill

Hitching a ride out to the sledding hill.
When we got home from Nebraska, we had a few extra days at home with Jack and though we typically enjoy spending a good deal of time outside, Mother Nature sent winter in with a vengeance. The cabin fever was getting to everyone--me in particular--so Jack stayed inside with Zoey and sent me out with the kids to have a bit of fun.
Raven, for one, was thrilled to have some real time outdoors--lately, she's been limited to quick potty breaks since we don't have a fenced backyard, her leash clip is frozen shut, and no one wants to stand out to watch her. She's one of those dogs that loves being outside, no matter what and the more snow, the better. She sprinted a few laps around us and continued to run and run and run the whole time we were sledding.
Hercules joined us too but he prefers to quietly watch from the sidelines. That's a cat for you.
The hill isn't enormous but that's alright for the kids. They went down time and time again, squealing with glee the entire time.
Though the weather was frigid--we haven't been above freezing for at least a week--the sunshine did make things feel a tad warmer.

Until someone's sled bucked them off and they got a faceful of snow. Talk about instant brain freeze!

Thankfully, most of the spills were met with laughter except of course, when I tumbled off. It seems natural for kids to laugh at each other falling but when it comes to me, they worry that the lady who washes their underwear and cooks dinner for them might be incapacitated. While I lay face down in the snow, laughing too hard to talk, the girls seemed quite certain I was dead and murmured to each other, wondering if I was okay. Eventually, I was able to roll over and let them know I was fine. It'll take a lot more than tipping off a sled to get rid of me!
Henry didn't last terribly long once he got snow in his gloves, so he went inside to warm up, leaving just us womenfolk to play. Even Raven seemed to be helping out, doing her best to keep everyone warm by sitting on laps.
Cozy, Claire?
 We kept sledding until even running up and down the hill wasn't enough to stay warm.
Keeping warm, buddy?
Then, the girls got a ride back on the sled caravan (guess who was the lucky one who got to power it...hint: ME)...
...and we got out of our winter gear and climbed under the blankets, drank hot chocolate, watched a Harry Potter movie and crashed.
Sledding is hard work!
Not to be stuck inside either, Jack roused the girls and asked if they wanted to go back out.

Ice skating, anyone?
Hope you're staying warm this winter and enjoying the weather and what it has to offer!

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