Thursday, December 31, 2009

Analyze This

I installed Google Analytics on my blog yesterday, just for kicks and giggles. I guess I didn't think I spent enough time analyzing sales data at work, creating spreadsheets with more colors than a 64-count box of Crayolas, and organizing/analyzing every aspect of my life down to the finest minutia of my spending habits. So, I now have untold amounts of data about how many people view my blog, how long they spend and how they arrived on my site.

I don't have a lot of data so far, but I couldn't help but laugh that in the first 24 hours of data, I had 13 unique visitors. Ten typed in the URL directly (or had it bookmarked more likely), 2 entered from the blogrolls of my sister or co-worker, and one landed on the UUHH...WHAT? blog by typing the following search into Google:

"almond bark not melting right"

How fitting.

Monday, December 28, 2009

It's, like, Christmas Every Day!

On Tuesday Adam and Ryan spent the day with his family while Kim and I worked, then we all got together at night for more food (who would have guessed), presents, and a rousing game of Chinese Checkers.  Ryan was so sleepy from his big day that we only had a tiny window of wakefulness in which to snap a few photos. Thanks to neighbor Nancy, we even got a picture of the whole family together.

We again had a really fun night and again decided to spend the night so we wouldn't have to go home late and then turn right back around to come to work in the morning. We are thankful for parents with big houses, extra rooms, and cribs just for grandkids!  It turned out to be a good (and necessary thing) to have two vehicles in town because I don't think we could have fit all the gifts (plus the kid and the dog) in one. Our Christmas parties are now officially over and it's time to ride out the rest of the week until New Year's!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Monday Christmas Madness

We postponed my family Christmas until Monday when my sister and her family could make the trip but this meant I had to work all day while everyone else hung out with the kids (well, my dad had to work on the farm of course and Adam and Wade went ice fishing, but I wasn't jealous of them, I think I'd rather work). We all ate lunch together and then had our traditional bread bowl soups at night. We also had the largest spread of junk food snacks I'd ever seen for only 8 adults. But I shouldn't have been surprised by that. Ryan had a big day so he conked out and slept through all the presents at night.  Here's a few pictures from the evening. I don't have a picture of Wade's awesome Christmas sweater, but when I get one, it might deserve a post of its own.

Our first Christmas as a family of three!

Auntie Abbie loves holding Ryan...

...Emily, not so much.

She was better at opening everyone's presents for them.

We tried to get a picture of all three little ones with Grandpa and Grandma.

That went over like green ketchup.

After all the presents and the eating (oh, the eating), we decided to stay overnight since I had to work in town in the morning. It was an interesting night spent in my old bedroom in the basement...2 adults, 1 baby and 1 dog in a room with a double bed and pack & play, but it was a cozy Christmas and I was so happy our whole family could be together.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Sunday Snapshots

Lincoln and Emily with Grandpa and Grandma

Ryan opening his tractor from Great-Grandma Boote. Adam is pumped about playing farm!

The Boote grandchildren/great grandchildren (minus 11 who couldn't make it). This is the only picture where Emily is not burying her head in her hands. Of course Lincoln couldn't be looking in the same shot.

Holding my nephew, Lincoln. (7 months and only 2lbs heavier than my 3-month-old).

Ryan with Great-Grandpa Vander Kooi

Milo is just Lincoln's size!

'Tis Better to Give than Receive

The old adage sure rang true this year as I looked forward to watching other people open their gifts more than I anticipated what I would be receiving. I was very excited to get together with my dad's extended family on Sunday after we had to postpone our annual Christmas Eve get-together. I couldn't wait to give my Grandma the present all the grandchildren contributed to. Each grandchild (15) and great-grandchild (6) submitted a few photos and a favorite memory shared with Grandma B. Then I made them into a book and printed it from winkflash so should could see and read something from everyone, even if they couldn't be there for Christmas. Since I don't want to post the full names of all my cousins without their permission, I'll just post the pages I submitted along with the poem I wrote for the back, combining all the memories people had submitted. If you want to see the whole book, email me and I'll send you the link. Grandma really liked the gift and I was so happy we could find something to show how thankful we are for her generosity to us!

Friday, December 25, 2009

Snow, snow, go away...

Merry Christmas!

We enjoyed a relaxing Christmas at home, just the three of us. Adam blew out the driveway and sidewalks this morning and it subsequently blew back in. We missed our big family Christmas meals, but I tried to make up for it by having some of our favorite things.  We also got a few things done. Adam couldn't stand my side of the closet being more organized than his (for once) so he did a purge and sort. I worked on our checkbook and other computer projects.

Adam and Ryan spent some time reading on the floor.

Ryan kept an eye on the weather for us. Maybe next year he can go out and play!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Ryan

"Why, hello there everybody! Merry Christmas Eve!"

"Ooooh, pretty... ... ...pretty round cheeks, that is!"

"I like the lights on the tree!"

"Daddy made me look like an elf at bathtime!"

"I thought it was Santa who was supposed to have a bowl full of jelly for a belly."

"Mommy put me to bed so visions of sugarplums could dance in my head!'

Christmas Eve is for Cleaning Closets

I was determined to get something done now that we were home, so as I unpacked my suitcase, I decided it was time to reorganize my closet for a couple reasons.

  1. It was a mess. 
  2. It was time to sort out and return all the maternity clothes I borrowed. (Hope you have room in your van, Megan!)
  3. Since I am now back to work full time, I needed to reassess my work wardrobe to see what would still work with my post-pregnancy body. You may be seeing me in the same sweater about twice a week for the duration of the cold weather.
  4. I was bummed about not being with my extended family for Christmas and needed to take my mind off it. Here are the results with some additional boring commentary:

I sorted my t-shirts into 4 piles, from left to right:

  • shirts I will actually wear in public (most of them less than 3 years old)
  • shirts I will only wear to bed or to work out (many of them at least 9 years old)
  • shirts that are too small now and may never fit again, but I have too much hope to throw them out. It's the season of Hope, right? Plus, you will pry my green Detroit Thrashers Roller Derby shirt from my cold dead hands. It has been with me longer than Adam (in fact I'm pretty sure I bought it before I started dating, period).
  • shirts that have received a long-overdue demotion to cleaning rags/garbage. 
Notice the sad supply of "public" shirts.

Adam also sorts all of his t-shirts into 2 shelves. One is for school t-shirts that actually have the name of the school or mascot on it (Numbering in the dozens). The other is for t-shirts that do not have the name of the school or mascot on it. Most of these are from football camps so they have the name of someone else's school or mascot on it.

I also noticed that all of my hooded sweatshirts are colleges, only 2 of which I actually attended:

I suppose I should also add some semi-helpful hints, so I think the key to good closet organization is to use space-saving devices that may or may not have been bought at Bed, Bath and Beyond. For example, I have a rod-to-floor shoe bag where I can fit all of my summer sandals so I can just keep regular shoes on the shelf. I also have a skirt hanger where I can hang up to 8 skirts with one hanger. Since I wear skirts about every 3 months, this means I can store approximately 2 years worth in one compact space:

There were 2 garbage bags worth of casualties from the hour of sorting. The first bag was either summer clothes or things that aren't fitting right now but since I'm feeling all charitable and think Christmas is a time of forgiveness, I will give them a second chance next summer. But if they don't fit by June, they are dead to me. The second bag went straight to the trash can. And before you tell me I should have consigned or given away those things, let me tell you that most of it was either underwear and/or in this type of condition:

And I do mean and/or.

And since it is almost 11:30 on Christmas Eve and I have nothing better to do with my time, here is a special poem I wrote, just for you. I think it will soon start outselling the original:

'Twas the Night Before Christmas, and in Courtney's closet
It was a picture of disorganization, a messy composite
Nary a shirt was hung on its hanger with care
And she was sick of never finding anything wear

The baby was nestled all snug in his bed
And visions of "Clean Sweep" danced in mommy's head
With one look at the mess, she decided in a snap
She'd get started right away, before Ryan woke from his nap

She sorted and purged and folded and hung
And picked up from the floor all that had carelessly been flung
She made sure all the hanging clothes faced the same way
Knowing it wouldn't last longer than a day

Now wool pants! now, khakis! now, black pants and skirts!
On sweaters! On polos! On button-down shirts!
To the white wire shelves! To the long metal pole!
To stay organized is our ultimate goal!

Some clothes were demoted, to the basement were banished
Some clothes were lost causes, to the trashcan they vanished
But from every wrinkled collar to every long sleeve
I'll never forget this closet-cleaning Christmas Eve!

Change of Plans

The weather has been seriously cramping my style lately but we have been trying to make the best of it. Monday night I stayed around after work because I had to finish teaching a show choir song at 6:00.  It started raining ice chunks in Hometown and snowing heavily at home, so Ryan and I decided to hunker down and spend the night at my parents. I didn't work Tuesday as it was my last scheduled day off for maternity leave, so he and I headed home at noon and spent the afternoon wrapping presents and packing for the impending snowstorm. We tried to plan ahead as best we could to make sure I could be at work both Wednesday and Thursday. So, Wednesday morning Ryan went to my mom's and I went to work. Adam spent the morning running errands and cleaning the house before heading to Hometown with Nika after lunch in order to beat the snow. Since I was staying overnight in order to make sure I could work on Thursday, I didn't go home when all the "out of towners" left early. Finally a little before 5, they decided we were going to be closed on Thursday and I wasn't allowed to come into work even if the roads were fine...I would have to take an unpaid day or dip into next year's vacation. Terrific. By that time it was snowing and blowing too hard to go home, so Adam, Ryan and I spent the night at his parents.

It was a nice time spending the evening together and Ryan got to spend some quality time with Grandpa and Grandma Boone. He also slept great (12 hours) even in an unfamiliar crib. Adam and his parents got up early to scoop, but I was blessed with being able to sleep in! Merry Christmas Eve to me! It was perfectly fine out at 8 so it would have been no problem to drive the 3 blocks to work, but I guess it wasn't my call, so I decided I better change my attitude and think of it as a blessing to be able to spend the day with my husband, son, and in-laws instead of at work. We had a good morning and agonized over whether to just stay in town for the rest of the week or make a run for it before it got bad out again. Since our 3 family events that were scheduled for Thurs/Fri. got rescheduled and the weathermen keep extending the blizzard later and later, we decided if we didn't leave this afternoon, it would probably be Sunday before we could go home again. We could have made it work because we packed a lot, but I wasn't sure it was best to spend 5 nights away from home, getting absolutely nothing done at home, and imposing on others for food and shelter (even though they wouldn't mind).

The roads were pretty much fine at 2:00 (when I would have been coming home from work anyway) and we were surprised to find someone had blown out our driveway for us (Thanks, neighbor!) Adam did a little more blowing on the sidewalks just to get ahead of the additional snow we are expecting.

I'm still not sure we made the right decision because I was looking forward to spending time with our parents and siblings, but now that I'm home I will just have to live with it because from the looks of it we will be here for a while. Hopefully I will get some things done that I have been putting off and we will try to have a nice Christmas, just the three of us.

I'm just glad my little snow bunny is safe and warm and his first Christmas will be one to remember!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

How Not to Make Peanut Butter Cup Cookies

Reminder: you are not supposed to shape the peanut butter cookie dough into the mini muffin tins. You're just supposed to put the round balls in the tins. If you shape the dough into the tins, they look all pretty until you try to pry them out, then they crumble and break leaving you with muffin tops and melted peanut butter cups that fall through the bottom. Not that I would know.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Office Party

"Office Party" to most people means a gathering of your co-workers, but to us it means a gathering of people to watch The Office and/or play The Office trivia games. Our friends, the W's are avid Office fans and they came over on Saturday night with their season 2-5 DVDs. After some excellent homemade pizza, we decided to watch some Season 5 episodes instead of playing the trivia game because last time Adam was still stuck in the green office with Michael while the rest of us had collected almost all of our Dundy awards. It was time for him to brush up on some important facts such as "What is the name of the cake Andy requested when Jim decided to combine all birthdays into one party?" Answer: Fudgie the whale.

It was their daughter Allison's first birthday on Saturday and she seems to be comparing her relative petiteness to the solid (although sitting) stature of our son. She goes to the same daycare as Ryan, although they'll probably be in different rooms now that she is walking, but we are hoping they will become friends. Maybe they'll even be the next Jim and Pam (JAM), although we may need to find a new name-combo because RYLLISON doesn't really roll of the tongue and people might be confused if we start calling them ALAN.

Peanut Butter Sandwiches (Part 3 of 3 in "Almond Bark" Series)

The chocolate-dipped-cracker-peanut-butter sandwiches have always been a favorite of mine. Except the name...we should come up with something shorter. Like CDCPBS, or maybe just PBS. We could even come up with a cute logo for it--maybe something that looks like a sandwich with some light-colored outer crackers with a stripe of dark peanut butter in the middle. If we are feeling cute, maybe we could even personify the logo by making it look like a person. Maybe something similar to this:

Of all the almond bark-dipped products, this one turned out the best. I was feeling all "gourmet chocolatier" as I delicately dipped, smoothed, and set each precious piece. Then I remembered I was dipping Town House crackers and peanut butter in cheap bark, not 60% cacao milk chocolate from Peru. My fantasy was burst, but not my desire for these holiday staples. It is taking all my willpower not to go eat one right now (11:14pm) but I think I will save it for breakfast.


Oreos (Part 2 of 3 in "Almond Bark" Series)

With the last bit of vanilla almond bark, I dipped 11 Double-Stuff Oreos and topped them with chopped candy canes. I had chopped the candy canes a few days ago using my Pampered Chef chopper when I was making some peppermint hot chocolate mix. The chopper works great for all kinds of things, especially chopping Oreos. But I did not chop the Oreos this time, I dipped them. I chopped the candy canes. And put them on top of the Oreos. I'm glad we have that straight.

Pretzels (1 of 3 in "Almond Bark" series)

I picked up some holiday shaped pretzels at Pamida last night to make these extra festive. Since I didn't know if/when Ryan would wake up and need attention, and was multi-tasking laundry and making chili in the crockpot during all this, I decided the best method for melting the almond bark would be to use a double boiler so it would stay liquidy even if I had to take a break from it. It would have been a great idea if I owned a double boiler, which I don't. I made several poor attempts to rig one by placing various sizes of glass bowls in a pot of boiling water.
TIP: while the water is boiling is not a good time to figure out if the bowl size will float, fall in, or not sit in deep enough. Or cover just enough surface area to force the boiling water and steam in a stream directed at your face.
I know have made this work one time before and I eventually did get the right pot/amount of water/glass bowl size/stove temperature combination and melted an entire package of vanilla almond bark. It was terrible. I know I may offend at least one person (Cheri Meyn) by using this word, but it sucked. It was not thin enough to drip off the pretzels--it was just plain globby. I added a little Crisco, but could never get it right. My guess is a little steam from the boiling-over episodes make the inside of the bowl slightly damp, which all good bark-dippers know is cardinal sin #1. I forged ahead, however gloppy, and managed to coat 3 pans of white pretzels by dumping them in the bowl, fishing them out with the tine of a meat fork, scraping the excess off with a wooden spoon, and depositing them one-by-one on waxed paper-lined cookie sheets.

I learned a little bit from the Great White Mess of 2009 and decided to use the microwave for the chocolate almond bark. Since this went much better, I will give you my tips on melting:

  1. Chop almond bark using a (fake) ULU knife purchased from a cheap tourist shop in Anchorage.
  2. Place in 4-cup Pampered Chef batter bowl you got as a wedding gift along with a knife-full of Crisco. Use a knife instead of a spoon because a clean one is lying approximately 2 feet closer to you.
  3. Place in your Samsung microwave you bought from Sears 6 years ago when you graduated from college using the money your grandparents gave your mom to buy you a Christmas present from them with.
  4. Use the "Handy Hints" button for "Melt Chocolate". It will beep at you half-way through the 2:30 time. Stir with a wooden spoon, then complete the time. Then, put it in again and do "Melt Chocolate" again, but this time take it out halfway through. Maybe the Samsung people never thought anyone would melt that much chocolate at a time, but they should really think about making the melt chocolate cycle work in one cycle instead of 1.5.
  5. Now you have beautiful, thinner chocolate that is ready for dipping! Aren't you glad I provide such helpful hints that everyone can follow? You're welcome.

Since the mess of the white pretzels wasn't anything a little lot of chocolate drizzle couldn't hide, I drizzled all the white pretzels, then dipped some plain chocolate ones. I did not drizzle the chocolate ones in white because I wanted them to be a little more understated. Also, I had used the entire package to do the first batch of pretzels, plus some Oreos (see next post).

I ended up with about 5 cookie sheets of dipped pretzels and they taste pretty good. I put some in a small box for Adam and I to eat and the rest will be coming to a holiday platter near you!

Almond Bark (Series Introduction)

During my Friday night Fareway run, I had a sudden urge to do all sorts of holiday baking. And by baking I mean dipping everything in sight in almond bark.  That may not be gourmet holiday fare for some folks, but 'round these parts, it is prime time holiday treat. Almond bark-dipping is to Christmas as deep-fat-frying is to State Fairs. Anything goes.

This baking spree could have gone very, very badly if Ryan had been as crabby as he was while trying to do the apricot cookie strips, but bless his heart, he seemed cooperative...

...and the dipping commenced.

Since there are really no "recipes" to this, I'll try to just illustrate in a few poorly lighted photos and comment if I have any tips or tricks used for each technique. Use them at your own risk.