Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Christmas morning

Sorry to be posting late, but here is my update on Christmas morning.

The boys first woke up at 5 a.m., but since we were at Dan's parents' house, we had them go back to bed until 7:30 a.m.

Santa left the boys a nice note thanking them for being good this year and for the pumpkin bread for the reindeer.

Among the highlights of the morning were the new Nintendo DS game systems, DS games and, believe it or not, a Ben 10 toy microphone that makes your voice sound like an alien.

The pretty tree before the mayhem began

The boys opening their Nintendo DS games

Brett with Froggy, his new Webkinz

Casey with his "Mars Mission" Legos
(He's been really into space and the planets lately)

As the boys were opening their gifts, I, of course, was taking pictures. I was really proud of Brett, because when Dan and I opened a gift, he grabbed the camera to take photos of us.
I think they turned out pretty well.

Me and my new black patent leather purse
(Like my new SpongeBob pajamas?)

Dan and the John Grisham book I bought him

Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas eve

After a last minute meeting with Santa at our friends' the Copelands house, the boys came back to Nana and Papa's to get ready for Santa's arrival.

Casey with Santa

Brett with Santa

Checking Santa's progress on the computer

Earlier we had gone to dinner at Nana and Papa's neighbors' and Casey had gone nuts for the pumpkin bread served on the dessert table. He asked for a doggie bag so he could leave some out for Santa and his reindeer. (We had to convince him that the reindeer didn't need a glass of milk of their own.

Casey and Nana get Santa's treats ready

Brett helped Casey write a letter to Santa explaining that he was to share the pumpkin bread with them.

"Dear Santa, give the bread to the reindeers please. Love Brett and Casey. PS We love you Santa."

Brett writes as Casey dictates the letter to Santa

We finally got the boys to bed at around 10 p.m. They can barely wait to see what Santa brings.

Wonder what they're dreaming about...

Fun with the cousins

We took the kids (our two boys and Dan's brother's three girls) to have a group photo taken as a Christmas present for Dan's parents.

We dressed them in red, black and white, and they turned out pretty well.

Casey, Lily, Maggie and Brett
clowning around at the photo studio

After the photo shoot, we all went to lunch at d'Bronx, a restaurant in Overland Park, that is the closest thing you'll find to an East Coast deli in the Midwest. Their chicken soup comes in a huge bowl with a matzoh ball.


Lily and her chicken soup

Dan's Reuben sandwich

Pepperoni pizza for the kids

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Christmas at Grandma's

We are at Grandma Harla's house for the holiday. It snowed yesterday, so Papa Frank had to get out the snowblower today to clear the driveway.

Notice his shorts and crocs

This afternoon, we exchanged gifts with Dan's parents and brother and sister-in-law and our nieces. It was Christmas-Round 1.

Casey and Brett tearing into Guitar Hero for their Wii

Dan's mom got Dan and his brother Rubik Cubes

Maggie and her new Webkinz
She named it Stitch

Sophie opening her gift

Lily opening her iPod
a combo Christmas and birthday present

Nana Harla opening her new scanner
from Papa Frank

Papa Frank opening his gift

Levi, Nana and Papa's dog
modeling his new elf outfit we bought him

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Gift giving

Today we gave the boys' teachers and day care provider their Christmas gifts. As you can see, they must have liked them!

Brett and his teacher, Mrs. Clynch, who was the proud
recipient of a basket from Bath & Body Works

Casey and his teacher, Mrs. Daray, who I
understand loved her alphabet coffee mug

At the end of the day, we gave our daycare provider, Donna, her gift. Donna and her family are HUGE Wichita State fans, so we gave her a Shocker hoodie.

Brett, Casey and Donna who is holding her dog, PJ,
named for WSU basketball player PJ Cousinard

Donna and her new hoodie

Girls' lunch

When my friend Amy (star of "The Family Wire" blog) got married, she asked me and four of her other good friends to bridesmaids.

Me and the other girls became friends during the planning of the event, and have tried to have girls' nights out every now and then.

Because everything has been so hectic with the holidays coming up, we decided to meet for lunch today. Amy has been very busy lately with her first baby, Natalie, who was born in October.

Jenny Noone gave Amy a really cute "new mom" wine glass with lots of funny sayings painted all over it.

We loved the "Nurse This!" saying

The bridesmaids
Jenny Noone, Jenny Ridder and Kendra

Me and Amy with her new wine glass

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Brett's Christmas project

Thought I'd share a photo of the cute project Brett's second grade class made for Christmas.

It's a toy soldier made out of a Pringle's can.

The best part? The kids filled it with chocolate-covered pretzel rods!


Great job, Brett!

Christmas baking

I have been baking gifts for co-workers, friends and teachers since Sunday. This year, I am giving Christmas bark and chocolate and carmel-covered pretzel bits. Of all the recipes I make, the Christmas bark seems to get the biggest raves.

Tonight, I received several homemade gifts from my friends and thought I'd share the recipes for them with you as well.

I thought I'd provide a visual aid:

From top (clockwise), Janette's Pretzel Mix, Janette's Cinnamon Holiday Shapes, my Christmas bark and Janette's Chocolate Peanut Toffee.

Here are the recipes:

Janette's Pretzel Mix
(3) 15-ounce bags of assorted pretzel shapes (sticks, waffles, twists)
1 tablespoon of lemon pepper salt
2 packs of dry ranch dip (Hidden Valley or Dillons brand)
1 bottle of popcorn oil

Pour the pretzels in a large roaster pan.
Mix the dry dip, lemon pepper and popcorn oil.
Drizzle the mixture over the pretzels, making sure they're well-coated.
Bake at 250 degrees for 1 hour. Stir the pretzels every 20 minutes.
(Trust me people, this one is great!)

Janette's Cinnamon Holiday Shapes
3/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons of cinnamon
1/3 cup melted butter
6-7 Mission brand flour burrito-size tortillas
Holiday-shaped cookie cutters

Using cookie cutters, cut shapes out of tortillas.
Paint shapes with melted butter and sprinkle with cimmamon/sugar mix.
Bake 10 minutes at 350 degrees. Move shapes to wire rack to cool.
(These are really cute and different)

Maria's Christmas Bark
1 sleeve saltine crackers
2 sticks butter
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 bag chocolate chips
Chopped pecans
Parchment paper

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Line up saltines in even rows in one layer (I usually have 5 crackers per row).
Melt butter and brown sugar in saucepan.
Cook for three minutes until bubbling, stirring constantly.
Cover crackers with hot mixture, making sure all crackers are covered.
Bake at 350 for approximately 13 minutes or until golden brown.
Remove from oven and sprinkle with chocolate chips.
Put the pan back in the over for 1-2 minutes for chips to melt.
Spread melted chocolate chips over the crackers.
Sprinkle chopped pecans over the chocolate-covered crackers.
Refrigerate until the chocolate is set.
Break into small pieces.

Janette's Chocolate Peanut Toffee
1 tablespoon plus 1 cup butter, divided
1 cup dry, roasted peanuts, chopped, divided
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
(1) 10-ounce package Nestle Toll House swirled milk chocolate and peanut butter morsels

Double line a 13x9 inch pan with foil.
Coat foil with 1 tablespoon butter.
Sprinkle 3/4 cup peanuts over foil.
Melt remaining butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat.
Stir in sugar, brown sugar and corn syrup. Bring to a boil.
Cook for 6 minutes to about 290 degrees on a candy thermometer, stirring occasionally.
Remove from heat.
Working quickly, pour hot mixture over nuts in pan.
Immediately sprinkle with remaining nuts and morsels over toffee.
Press down lightly before morsels begin to melt.
Refrigerate for 1 hour or until set.
Remove foil. Break into bite-size pieces.

Here is the recipe for the Chocolate and Caramel-covered Pretzel Bits:

1 bag of pretzel bits
1 bag of Kraft Caramel bits (or wrapped carmels)
1 bag of chocolate chips
Chopped pecans

Line a cookie sheet in buttered wax paper.
Melt caramel in microwaveable bowl.
Coat pretzel bits in caramel.
Move to pretzel bits to cookie sheet.
Melt the chocolate chips in a microwaveable bowl.
Once caramel has cooled, repeat the process with the melted chocolate chips.
Transfer pretzel bits to another greased cookie sheet covered in wax paper.
Sprinkle with chopped pecans.

Here is one more bonus recipe from me. My cousin Ruth in New Jersey makes these every year.

Chocolate Chow Mein Clusters

1 cup chocolate chips
1 cup butterscotch chips
1 cup chow mein noodles
1 cup salted peanuts (optional)

Melt the chocolate and butterscotch chips in a bowl.
Stir in the chow mein noodles and peanuts.
Transfer by rounded tablespoons to a wax paper-lined cookie sheet.
Refrigerate until set.

Finally, here is a cute fudge wreath we received from our friends, the Averys. Mike made this one:

Notice the large chunk missing. That's thanks to Casey.

Five-minute Fudge Wreath
12 ounce package semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup butterscotch chips
14 ounce can sweetened condensed milk (save the can)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
8 ounce can walnuts, plus more for topping
1/2 cup raisins or dried currants (a couple of handfuls)
Candied red and green cherries to decorate top (like holly)
Softened butter to grease an 8 inch round cake pan

Grease an 8-inch round cake pan with softened butter. Pour the chocolate and butterscotch chips, condensed milk and vanilla into a medium saucepan. Put the pan on the stove and turn the heat to low.

Cover the empty condensed milk can with plastic wrap and put it in the center of the round cake pan.

Stir the chips and milk until they melt together, about 3 minutes. Stir in nuts and raisins. Scoop the fudge into the cake pan all around the plastic-covered can in the center to form a wreath or ring shape. Let it be all bumpy on top. Keep pushing the can back to the center if the fudge moves it away from there. Cut the red cherries in half with scissors and the green cherries into quarters. Use the green pieces to make leaves and the red to make holly berries. Decorate the fudge with several groups of holly berry sprigs made from the cherries and garnish with walnuts between the sprigs.

Put the fudge in the fridge and chill until firm. Remove the can from the center, then loosen the sides and bottom of the fudge with a spatula. Cut the fudge into thin slices to serve. To give the wreath as a gift-wrap in cellophane and secure with a bow or ornament.

Thanks Janette, and Mike and Beckie for the great treats!

Teacher gift

I know this might sound silly, but I have to say the neatest gift I bought this year was the one for Casey's kindergarten teacher.

I usually hate to give teacher-themed gifts, but I couldn't pass this one up. I actually spotted it on a counter at Gordman's, as though it was the last one left.

As you can see, it's a coffee mug with all the letters of the alphabet accompanied by a spoon rest in the shape of a bus. Cute, huh?

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Visiting Santa

Here is the photo of the boys visiting with Santa from this weekend. I'd love to know what they asked for...

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Breakfast with Santa

This morning we joined our friends, the Dillons, for Breakfast with Santa at a local country club. It was a fundraiser for Children's Miracle Network, a program of the Via Christi Foundation.

The boys were ready with their lists for Santa (which seem to be ever-changing.)

Caleb, Logan, Casey & Brett bonding over donuts

The boys with the Big Man himself

Winter Wonderland

We got the first major snowfall of the year overnight. Unlike the ice storm they were predicting for Wichita last weekend, this storm really happened.

I love how everything is beautiful and still, but I hate driving in this stuff.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Chuck E. Cheese's

Tonight, Casey was invited to a birthday party for a former preschool classmate. We got to go to Chuck E. Cheese's (yea!), on a school night (yea!), on the east side of town (yea!).

Casey had a lot of fun seeing his old buddies, eating pizza and playing video games.

Casey and friends enjoying the floor show

Casey racing his horse

Mmmm! Cake!

Congrats Peggy

Avid Loving Life reader Peggy Smith was honored for working 25 years at The Eagle. Peggy's main job -- in addition to working on the business team -- is keeping the tummies of everyone in the newsroom full. If it can be baked, she can bake it. The only evidence you need of her mad skillz is the knowledge that I weighed 155 pounds when I started at The Eagle 11 years ago. In case you don't know me, I weigh a little more than that now.

Anyway, in addition to the fancy, schmancy watch that everyone at the paper gets when/if they make it to 25 years, the good folks in the newsroom thought it would be keen to buy her some fancy, schmancy cookin' stuff, you know, so she can continue to fatten everybody up for another 25 years.

I took co-worker Carrie (have you heard?) and her food dude Joey to help me spend the cash at Bed, Bath & Beyond (kinda outta my element there). The result was what you see in the picture: a cartload of stuff, including a 10-piece set of Emeril (BAM!!) pots and pans, and a very happy Peggy.

(Posted by guest blogger, Dan Loving)

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Kindergarten field trip

Today I took the day off to accompany Casey's kindergarten class to a performance of "Toyland" at the Wichita Children's Theater.

The kids loved the show. I'd never been before and it wasn't a bad time for $3.50 per person.

Casey and his best buddy Kole

Casey and his classmates

The cast greeting the kids after the show

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Second grade Christmas project

Last week, Brett brought home a large, white Christmas tree made of poster board that he was to decorate as a family project.

Tonight, he and Casey decorated it. First, they colored it green, then I let them use some of my scrapbooking stickers and embellishments to jazz it up.

It turned out great.

Coloring is hard work

Casey decorating the tree

Brett adding the finishing touches

The finished tree