Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Fondue Dipper Ideas & My Birthday

Today is my birthday. I am turning 44. I don't usually celebrate my birthday, but this year it is a little bit different. I am using my birthday as an excuse to host a fun girl's night out party. A bunch of my friends are coming over to have a fondue potluck and then we will watch "Mama Mia." Some of us will sing along. I am going to use our digital projector and show the movie on the big screen we use for slides. It is a little dorky, but I am really excited.

At this point I am dithering between whether I should use my nice holiday dishes or if I should make clean up easier and go with plastic plates. Right now I am leaning towards easy. I have also decided to remove the Christmas table clothes and put some other print out. I might even pull together some party prizes. We'll see what time allows for.

Doug, Laura, Don, Eleanor, Truike and Jan called me to sing happy birthday. That was a really fun surprise. Ethan, Larr and I started the day off with Starbucks. Later in the day I had a wonderful, long visit with my dear friend Natalie. Perhaps there will be more fun in the works.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Candy Sushi and Fun with Laura

Last weekend we had a holiday party to go to. We could bring anything we wanted to bring. I decided that it would be fun to bring something seriously silly instead of the usual main dish - ish kind of thing I do. I got this wild hair idea from a flash ad from Safeway. When I saw the candy sushi I knew I had to give it a go! It was really pretty easy. The hardest thing was to decide which kinds to make.At first I was going to make several different kinds. (If you look at the Safeway link you will see what I mean.) Then I settled on one kind, reasoning that that was enough sugar and money spent on candy for one night at a party. The only challenge was that I could not find any single or regular colored fruit roll-ups. Our candy sushi was going to be wild, baby!
Here's what we started with: You'll notice our lovely assistant, Laura, and Alli.

and then the actual players:

You begin by getting all of your stuff out and buttering a jelly roll pan. I also had the kids pull apart the licorice so it was all ready to roll. You make a quick batch of rice krispies and pat them into the pan. While they are warm you line up the licorice and the gummy worms. Be sure to sort of measure out how wide to make it. This is based on the width of the fruit roll-ups. Do this part quickly. Have another person hand you the fruit roll-up part and begin to make the rolls.

I found that I had to squeeze the rolls once the fruit roll-up was on it. It helped it stick better.

Then we cut them. We found it was best to cut straight down instead of a sawing motion.

The kids loved it. My candy sushi was not as pretty as the ones the pros made, but it was still a big hit!

If you decide you want to give it a try you can find lots of cool variations by Googling it.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Christmas with Eleanor

We got a late start on Christmas this year. We were busy with Nationals, work and life in general. It seemed to get underway when we went to our annual Christmas concert with Don and Eleanor. This year we enjoyed the symphony orchestra with the Colorado Children's Chorale singing. One of the highlights of the concert this year was when the man who was the Love Boat captain read "Twas the Night Before Christmas" to music. He did a really lovely job.

The concert was both enjoyable and very hard for me. I silently cried through most of it. Even writing about it now chokes me up. I could not help but think that next year she would not be here. I am amazed at the grace with which she is able to handle all of this. I hope that when my time comes I have such dignity. We had a party earlier in the day and Eleanor was very tired. She had tried to give her ticket away, but in the end she attended. Larr drove us down in the van, dropping everyone off on the main level. Ethan and Don helped her walk without falling on the ice. Ellie opened doors and did what ever else was needed. My heart is so thankful that my children are those kinds of people. I went home and thought about it all for a while before going to bed. I had to find a way to enjoy the holiday without crying my way through it. Ironically, it is Eleanor that gave me the strength to find a way to do it.

When we first found out that Eleanor had cancer we asked her what regrets or wishes she had. She said she has had a wonderful life and does not have many regrets. One of her hopes was that she would make it to Christmas. With each passing week we were encourage. Perhaps, it seems, we had caught the cancer on the earlier side. Family near and far made plans to come for the holidays. Shuttling people to and from the airport were planned. Snow stones around the country got in the way a bit, delaying some arrivals. Caroline and Marty came from the Thursday before to the Saturday before Christmas. Doug arrived Saturday. Truike and Jan made their way from the Netherlands to Denver on Monday. Rex arrived Perrin, Anne and Calvin flew in from Jamaica on Tuesday. Laura was stuck in Seattle and finally arrived on Christmas day. Once everyone was here we felt more at ease.

On Christmas Eve (Wednesday) Rex and Doug went with Don and Eleanor to a doctor's appointment. The doctor gave Eleanor a new pain medication to try. It did not work out well and the day was not a good one. We all worried that Christmas day might not be a good one as well.

However, she went back to the original medication and had a better day on Christmas. The house was full with 18 of us. Everyone enjoyed the company of the others. Doug, Perrin and I cooked up a veritable feast. We saw a slide show of life in Jamaica. We showed a slide show of our year. We previewed Jan's movie of the trip Don, Eleanor, Doug, Laura, Truike and Jan took in 2007 and we watched a movie about Holland. We opened presents. Then my mom, Aunt Kathy, cousin Marianne, Evan, Lilia and Mark joined us for a wonderful dinner. After dinner we chatted for a long while. At one table we told silly stories about bad things we did to our siblings. My mom and my aunt have some of the most side splitting stories that I will have to recount for you another time. Everyone had fun. Even Eleanor told some quiet jokes and was in a silly mood. Most of the time she just sat back and took it all in. I am thankful that the day went so well. Our holiday cheer continues the for next few days. Each one seems like a bonus from what we had hoped for. I even made it through the day without crying too much.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

In the Mood for Folksy Music - New Finds & Links

I LOVE Itunes, but it can also be a bit additive. Time can slip away like a cat on soft, padded paws as I follow the "If you like _____ then you'll like _____" links. Now that I am on winter break I have allowed myself a bit more time to enjoy it. I take small breaks between working on Christmas gifts (photo retouching - my gifts are all about photos this year) and cleaning. I received an Itunes gift card from Connie and have already spent nearly all of it. Here's what I am downloaded so far:
Cinnamon & Chocolate by Butterfly Boucher
No Christmas for Me by Zee Avi
Tiger Mountain Peasant Song by Fleet Foxes
Never Leave You Heart Alone by Butterfly Boucher
All the Pretty Little Ponies by Kenny Logins
Fidelity by Regina Spektor
First Day of My Life by Bright Eyes (Conor Oberst)
Samson by Regina Spektor
Hands in Pockets by Laura Gibson
and...The fun continues. I can hardly wait to see what else I will select!

I actually started out wanting some new Christmas music. I found wonderful playlists to enjoy for free on You find them by going to Programs>All Music Considered and search for Holiday Music. If you like traditional music you'll love the Choirs and Carols playlist. If you want something a bit more upbeat and contemporary you can find some fun stuff by listening to Holiday Music (2008) or A Holiday Mix (2007). If you are in the mood for a lovely story and some great piano music listen to A Holiday Gift from Marian McPartland to hear "The Gift of the Magi." There are others worth listening to that I have yet to download. I think you might enjoy it, too.

The Marian McPartland reading made me think of the year that I found one of my favorite pop-up books, The Gift of the Magi ruined by water and heat that had invaded our boxes of Christmas decorations. The find had stunned me. I had wrapped it carefully in plastic which later proved to only hold in the moisture and cause the book to mold as well as decay. It left me sad, so sad that I had to stop decorating for a while. I love my beautiful pop-up books. My mother had given that one to me many years before and I had displayed it each year on the top of my bookshelf. That year Larr searched high and low for a replacement. I think he might have even gone to the trash and copied down that information. But, as usually happens with pop-up, it was no longer available. He found another edition of the book. It was not a pop-up, but the illustrations done by Lizbeth Zweger, one of my favorite artists. The gift took me by surprise. It was one of those times where I felt like I had been really seen and considered. The gift, humble as it was, really touched me. As I listened to Marian McPartland read the story I felt a rush of that emotion and love. We are way behind in putting out our decorations, but you can be sure it will be on the shelf proudly displayed with my other lovely favorites.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Of Wind, Birds, Snacks and Books

Last Saturday we somewhat reluctantly headed home. We really, sort of, kind of wanted to watch the weekend races. Each one was sure to be more intense, sort of like the Gladiators of Cyclocross. However, Old Man Winter was stomping across the country and the next stop on his dance card was Kansas. As much as we would have liked to watch the races, it was not as much as I wanted to miss the storm. The wind across Kansas is wicked enough without adding snow, sleet, rain and ice into the mixture.

After a quick bite to eat we were off. The kids continued to play musical cars. I started out with the young ones. They wanted to watch a movie and I have seats that are next to each other as well as the ability to play the soundtrack through my speakers. The kids and I enjoyed "Cars." It was funny to drive and listen to a movie at the same time. It did make the time pass by quickly. That was followed by a few mad games of "Speed" and other card games whose names I forget. From time to time we would stop for gas or to use the bathroom. One kid would try and guard the van so the older boys would not take their place. Later the older ones got their turn in my van. That section of the trip was complete with a lot of rowdy bathroom humor (I thought they were supposed to grow out of that - looks like they did not get that memo!) and loud music. They seemed to eat the entire time. Eventually we had to make an emergency stop since we could not make it to a bathroom quickly enough. It turns out that the boys learned that you should not drink four energy drinks in one day.

The actual driving was sort of mixed. I loved the country side. One of my favorite things was seeing the hawks and falcons that seemed to act like sentries, sitting on the fence posts every mile or so for much drive. A few of them also seemed to enjoy playing in the wind. We also enjoyed the wind farm that we past about half way through the state. The kids tried to count them all but could not complete the task since we were driving so fast. The hard part of the drive was the wicked wind. It seemed to want to blow everything off of the road. Just ahead of me there had been a semitruck. He struggled to drive as the wind kept pushing the back end of the trailer off into the side of the road. I scurried around that rig as quickly as I could. Poor driver, what a day he must have been having. My car was punished as well. We noticed at one of the stops that the Thule box on top of the car had been pushed over, stopped only by the bracket that holds the whole rack onto the roof of the van.We were happy when we pulled into Denver just as dusk was settling into nighttime.

Here's what I am reading now:
This nonfiction book will be a wonderful read.

I always love a good Neil Gaiman novel. This one is a collection of short stories. I think Neil would be such and interesting neighbor, friend or dinner guest.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Race, Mud, Ice, a Battle and a Medal

Thursday evening we drove home from the Mud & Blood Ball as the rain turned to sleet. Ellie was keyed up from the entire trip, but tired from having practiced so much. I wondered how well she would sleep. I imagine the pressure was high. My goal was that she have fun and feel good about how she performed. She fretted about the competition. We had not seen many of them on Thursday. She was tired enough by the time that we got back to the hotel that she crashed and was sawing logs very quickly.

Friday dawned a cold and beautiful day. The sky was a brilliant blue, the trees glistened with ice and the mud was frozen into ruts. Ethan had gone down to the main tent to see if they needed him to help. He happen to strike up a conversation with the guys from Zip Wheels. Soon after, Ethan called Ellie to tell her to come down. They were going to lend her a set of the wheels. Now, this is a BIG DEAL. The wheels run about $2,800 for last year's model and many of the pro racers use them for every race. I was excited for Ellie, but also concerned that she would wreck them if she crashed. Also, Coach Bill had set her up with a set of his wheels. By the time I got down to the tent the wheels and cassettes were traded out and Ellie was ready to go. When she was in the start line the girls around her gave an appreciative "ooohhh, she has Zip Wheels." She simply sat there, quietly waiting to begin. When the girls raced at 9:00 a.m. it was a mere 7 degrees. The race organizers had painted a grid on the road. It made the start less crowded. Ellie was in the back. She was fine with that. From our practices the day before we knew where the difficult sections were. Ellie got a great start, navigating the slick and steep sections like a pro. Three of the girls were within 100 feet of each other, each taking the lead from time to time. Mina broke free from the pack and headed out. Ellie and the others battled for two more laps. At one point Ethan rode his mountain bike next to her, cheering her on. The girl just behind Ellie did not like this and hissed remarks at him as she passed him. When they entered the section of the laps where there was pavement she put on serious speed. Coach Bill eagerly watched from the pits with a spare bike ready in the event that she needed it. (Many kids had to trade out bike because of mud & grass build up, broken derailleurs and flat tires. One poor soul had his tire come free from the wheel just out of the pit and had to run the entire next lap of nearly four miles.) But, I digress, back to Ellie's race. My heart was thumping, I was cheering, taking photos and anxious. She broke from the pack towards the end, going strong in second place in her division when a girl from the older group crashed in front of her, blocking the way. Ellie maneuvered around the crash, speed up and came in fourth place, missing third by just under two seconds. She was only 43 seconds behind Mina who won the race. We were thrilled with her performance. She was happy, after a while. She had the taste of second in her mouth much of the time and had to adjust to winning fourth. Other racers told her it was remarkable that she made it to the podium her first time at Nationals.

It was exciting to see her on the podium receiving a National Champion medal. She was pretty cool about the whole thing. She kept the medal on for about 15 minutes, then tucked it in her pocket. Later I got it from her so I could admire it and keep track of it. After the adrenaline calmed down we found the other Colorado kids, shared cookies, took photos, consoled those who were unhappy and had a generally great time. After lunch we watched more races. Ellie bought cow hats for herself and Stephen. They tied on as many cowbells (cowbells are used to encourage the racers. They are a big party of the fun atmosphere of the sport.)as they could find and walked around mooing.

Driving home she and Ethan began to talk about going to Nationals next year. I guess I will have to start planning and saving for that. It was a great way to end the Cross season and begin thinking about Christmas.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

KCCX Cross Nationals 2008 - A Day of Getting Ready

Yesterday we had an uneventful drive from Denver to Kansas City, MO. We left at 7:15 in the morning. We made stops about every 150 miles and had lunch at Subway. We arrived around dinner time. We unloaded our gear and had dinner at the Smokehouse restaurant. Ethan loved BBQ and that is what Kansas City is known for, so it was a natural choice. We then relaxed in our rooms at the Microtel Hotel. It was an excellent choice with a reasonable price. We have two large, comfortable beds with down comforters, a microwave, refrigerator and a large HD t.v.

Today we got up early sot hat we could be at the course when it first opened. This would allow the kids a chance to ride the course in conditions similar to what it should be tomorrow. It also meant that we got to watch assorted races. Coach Bill and racing kids made about 7 rounds on the course. Ethan and I volunteered to help make the race run smoother. We ended up being Ped. Crossing guards. We got our special shirts, special edition winter racing hats and big badges. It ended up being a fun job. We were stationed at a great location where we could see most of the course. We were able to learn where the difficult spots are and how to best navigate them. Ethan was also a Ped. Crossing guard, but he actually spent most of his three hours fixing spots on the course where racers crashed into the fence and took out the tape marking the course. Midday we were able to get on the course again. By that time the day was warmer and the frozen mud became slippery. We watched more of the races in the afternoon, cheering for everyone we knew or we could tell was from Colorado. It was a lot of fun. We also got to visit with many of the people from KC. We find that they are a friendly, welcoming group. And they run a great race! At the end of the day they got onto the course one more time. By then it had dried out a lot and was easier to navigate. After cleaning the bikes we went back to the hotel. This evening we cleaned the bikes, prepped the gear and went to the Mud Blood Ball.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Illustrator Class Poster Project

I've always loved the National Parks poster series. If I had the right style of house I would buy a bunch of the posters and frame them. Perhaps I will do it some day.
In fact, the posters were part of my motivation for taking Adobe Illustrator I. I've really enjoyed the class and the assignments. I had hoped to take the next level in the spring but the schedule for the class clashes with my own. Besides, I would do better to practice a lot more before I try to learn more. Very little of it is automatic.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

A Relaxing Weekend Cooking, Packing & Surfing

Saturday found Ethan working the concessions booth at a local model train show. Ethan has always loved the model train, but he has not spent much time around them. He was lucky enough to be able to spend time with the people who set up their trains, interview Stan who had been a train conductor for 40 years and others. Through the course of the day he earned his Railroading badge. The train sets are so different. Some are very basic. Other men put up a whole town. The father of one of our former scouts, Tim, set up an entire Christmas village for his train to circle. It made me wish we could set up our village, but that will not happen this year. The kids and I all agree that the kitties would be so curious that parts would get broken. This year we will have to enjoy the villages of other people. It is a reasonable trade off for having young, silly kitties again.

Ellie went on an urban bike ride with Arianna and Carrie, her mother. They had a grand time going around downtown on the bike paths and eating lunch at The Market Place. They had bagels that were heaped with a mountain of cream cheese. They enjoy Mango Smoothies and shared a giant cinnamon roll. It was a perfect day for the ride. Larr and I mostly puttered around home. We waited for the Qwest man to come and hook up high speed internet. Up to this point we had been lost in dial up land. We celebrated by looking at sites that we previously could not load. It sounds dorky, I know, to be excited by such small things, but we celebrate what makes up happy. I spent much of the time cooking and baking.

Our coach,Bill, has tuned up Ethan's and Ellie's bikes so that they will be fully ready for Nationals. We will be caravaning to Kansas City, MO on Wednesday. When we went to pick up the bikes we talked about getting ready for the races. During the conversation we talked about the post race snacks. The coaches and the kids look forward to any goodies I bring with us. I reassured them that we had already made two batches of Toll House chocolate chip cookies. This batch was better than the rest since I reduced the salt by half and used butter as well as Crisco. This resulted in a nice, crunchy cookie. Ellie and I decided that we needed a bit of variety. On Sunday we made Snickerdoodles and Peanut Butter cookies.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Starbucks & Martha Stewart - A Great Way to Start the Holiday Season

My entire family had the day before Thanksgiving off. For us, it was the start of the holiday season. To celebrate we had a fun time at Starbuck's across from the lake. The kids were silly as they sipped their frappacinos. Ethan's friend, Brandon stayed the night with us. He and Ethan are like Laurel and Hardy - just so, so silly. You can kind of tell that from the photo here.

Larr worked on a business plan for a new idea he is working on. I broke out the newest Martha Stewart magazine. It is how I start many of my holidays. I anxiously await the arrive of the issue each year. Some years I even break out the issues from past years as a way to warm up. That day was wonderful, cozy and calm.

As I look around blogland I find that many people decorated for Christmas that weekend. We haven't pulled out any of the boxes yet.I haven't even thought about Christmas cards in any serious way. We were simply too busy with bike racing. I would normally be chomping at the bit to decorate by now as my husband makes me wait until past December 1st to decorate. This year we are behind and we will do a bit less. The kids pointed out that our tree should only have lights on it as the kitties are expected to go crazy once it is up. If we put our beautiful ornaments on it we would find them batted into corners, under the couches and unintentionally broken by the furry adolescents we share our house with. Perhaps we can pull some of them out this weekend. We will just have to wait and see since the main goal of the weekend will be getting ready for Nationals. Ellie counting down the days until we leave on Wednesday.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

We are Noodle Folk...

Ethan has always loved to cook -it is one of the many things I love about him. We have been cooking together in earnest since he was three years old. From time to time has has asked for cooking related supplies for his birthday. He creates special recipes for special days. He is especially happy when it can involve chocolate.

His latest cooking venture is making pasta. It all began with a movie, "Kung Fu Panda." While many kids would be taken with the panda and tiger doing Kung Fu, Ethan was smitten by the goose who owns a noodle shop. The goose is the father of the panda. One morning the panda tells his goose dad that he had a dream about noodles as a way to avoid something else. The goose dad became excited about the noodle dream. Ethan loves when the goose dad says, "We are noodle folk. We have broth running in our veins." Ethan watched this movie three times and became adept at saying that in the very way that the goose dad does. Then he began to ask me about how pasta is made. I pulled out the pasta machine and the semolina flour. Then he was off, making noodles faster than we could eat them. At first he made semolina noodles. That provides a sturdy noodle with good flavor. Once he ran through all of the semolina in the house he switched to white flour noodles for a batch or two followed by an experiment with whole eggs versus yolk only pasta. He was delighted when he found he could make very thin pasta. Unfortunately the ultra thin stuff turned into a gluey matter once added to the water. He is now looking into selling freshly made noodles to his friends. First he needs to make a noodle rack for himself. I love when he gets this way - focused and innovated!

Monday, December 01, 2008

Being Thankful for So Much, Especially Our Family

A large local church, CrossRoads Christan Church, sort of adopted the school that I work at. They help the needy kids, they send people to cheer at our sporting events and they do what they can to support the staff. One way that did that this year was to give 30 staff members a fully cooked Thanksgiving dinner for eight and I was one of the lucky people to benefit from their generosity. They teamed up with restaurant owners around town and came up with over 250 such sets of full 8 person dinners. I was humbled. I wanted to give it to some of the kids from our school who could not afford to have Thanksgiving, but they insisted that they go to the teachers, so we really enjoyed it. We went to the Level C restaurant in Arvada to pick up the food. The operation was amazing.There were turkeys in bags, tons of containers of side dishes and boxes of pies. They were still getting set up so Ethan and I schlepped many, many loads of turkeys and boxes of pies from the freezer trailer to the bar. We were rewarded with a smoked turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, sweet potatoes, stuffing, salad and a pecan pie. We could not express how thankful we were. The people who put it together seemed happy to share. I am going to make a point of sending out thank you notes this week. It was really nice to be thought of.

We are so thankful that we still have so much family with us to celebrate. We included my Uncle Joe (who has been gone about a year and a half) by using some of the silver goods (like a bowl) that he won playing tennis. Eleanor is still feeling good, but I had to block my thoughts of what next year might be like without her. I simply could not let myself go there. So I decided to be thankful instead. Mark and Lilia were in town to join us. Aunt Kathy took a break from unpacking her new apartment to join us. Carrie and Ariana joined us at the last moment. Their trip was canceled so they added to our fun. Ellie really loved having a friend join us this year.

We visited, we ate, we drank and we enjoyed a day of calm. Ellie and Ariana were especially happy when the snow began to fall silently outside. They ran out, jumped on top of the picnic table and proceeded to catch fat, fluffy flakes on the end of their tongues. Ellie had been hoping for a snowy weekend and she got her wish.

The kitties certainly had the right idea on how to end the day.