Thursday, June 30, 2011

Guess Who's Back...

Brandon got home last night from a 16 day trip to Kenya, and a few people were pretty happy to see him.

As soon as I lay hands on some pictures from his trip (Who goes to Kenya and doesn't take a single picture? My husband, that's who.) I'm going to spend a couple of posts sharing with you exactly what his trip entailed. Several people who read this blog contributed financially for Brandon to make the trip, and I just wanted to take a minute to say Thank You. From the bottom of our hearts, thank you. Our church ponied up about $24,000 and some change to send this group to serve, and the participants, including Brandon, raised the remaining amount themselves.

Beaded necklaces made of magazines

He has too many stories, about too many people, for me to tell today, I'm hoping I can convince Hot Brandon to guest blog a bit next week. One thing he did a lot of in Kenya? Shopping.

He may have done it under the guise of "supporting local small business owners", but non-the-less, Brandon came home with a brand new suitcase filled with beaded jewelry and purses for his girls, and bows and arrows, spears, shields, and swords for his boys. All four of the kids got drums.

All four of the kids got drums.

Brandon's officially never leaving the country again.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Harper Chicken Finger

A couple of weeks ago we loaded the kids up and headed around the corner to our new favorite blackberry farm.

Unfortunately for us, the heat combined with lack of rain and a wicked flock of birds made for a very short blackberry-picking season for the little farm, but we picked enough for a cobbler now and some berries in the freezer for cobbler later.

I mean, we picked enough for healthy blackberry snacks now and froze some to use in lowfat breakfast fruit smoothies later.

Yeah, that's it.

The kids watched the chickens for a while, where Harper developed her "Harper chicken finger, bunnies so soft" story that we still hear multiple times a day.

Her finger resembled a little worm by one of the hungry chickens, and she got nipped. It made quite an impression on the little lady. She looked at us with this big pouty lip, and with tears in her eyes, said "Harper chicken finger!" It's never too young to start tattling on barnyard animals.

But the bunnies? The bunnies were so soft. And so seemingly innocent right up until the moment when one of them backed up in that cage and peed all over Harper's stroller.
It's like he was aiming for it.

Seriously. Who goes to pick blackberries and ends up getting peed on by caged bunnies?

Our family, that's who. Animals have not been our friend lately.

When we got home, my little helper and I whipped up a quick blackberry cobbler to enjoy after dinner.

Can you tell she is a little proud of her little pink apron?

See you next year, blackberry farm!


Sunday, June 26, 2011

Because Sometimes I Need a Reminder

I am thankful that my husband has had the amazing opportunity these past couple of weeks to serve in Kenya, and to see the big things God is doing in the church in Nairobi.

I am thankful that every chair at my kitchen table has a person to sit on it.

I am thankful that every bedroom in my house has people living in it.

I am thankful that every bed in my house has someone to sleep in it.

I am thankful for two brothers in their new bunk bed who read stories in their beds at night.

I am thankful for two busy little sisters who play together and climb on the dressers after lights-out at night.

I am thankful for Emerson, and I am thankful that she is in our home and not in China anymore.

I am thankful for summer camp for 2nd graders.

I am thankful for swim team being over for the year.

I am thankful for grandmas who come and help with the kids while Hot Brandon is in Kenya.

I am thankful for grocery stores that offer free childcare.

I am thankful for laundry to wash, toys to step on, and a lawn that needs mowed because it rained.

I am thankful for international phone calls.

I am thankful for good books and good friends.

I am thankful for sprinklers and kiddie pools and patio furniture.

I am thankful for summer camp for 2nd graders.

And I am thankful that my husband comes home in three short days.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

How a Princess Became a Queen

Once Upon a Time, in a home a long, long time ago, a cute little chubby-legged girl playfully crawled all over her house making mischeif where ever she went. Her parents thought she was so cute, pulling up on the coffee table and digging around in the Christmas gifts. What a little trouble maker! Nudge nudge, smile smile.

And the Princess of Destruction was born.

Fast forward a year and a half. The chubby-legged baby is now a skinny two year old. A very strong-willed two year old, who, every now and then, makes me long for the days when Aidan was two. In the last two weeks, Harper has:

-climbed out of her crib every night, multiple times at bedtime. I spend about an hour putting her back in her bed every night before she finally falls asleep.

-woken up, almost daily, before 6am. It is not unusual for me, lately, to wake up to a little voice next to my bed saying "Good morning, Mommy. Harper get out of bed."

-climbed out of her bed at night and eaten half a tube of Desitin cream.

-climbed out of her bed at night and, with Emerson, unwrapped and used an entire package of bandaids all over their bodies.

-climbed out of her bed at night, stripped her clothes and diaper off, and smeared an entire tube of Boudreaux's Butt Paste all over her naked body, face, and hair.

- climbed out of her bed, changed out of her pajamas and into a sundress and sandals, and then climbed back into her bed.

-woken up pre-6am, gone down to the pantry, and poured an entire bottle of dried oregano all over the floor, herself, and her beloved blankie. My vaccuum now smells like oregano FOREVER.

- Done all of this while her Daddy has been out of town, leaving her Mommy and her MoMo to deal with the carnage.

Keep in mind, my house is covered in all manner of baby gates and child-proof plastic doorknobs. They are no match for this girl. Unless my memory decieves me, I just don't remember the boys being like this. I even looked back at the blog from 2008, and chuckled at how I thought the boys were so crazy because they ate M&Ms one morning before I woke up.

I feel I should somehow go back in time and warn the Mandy of 2008 what's in store for her.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

What's Going On?

I haven't blogged in a while.

I don't know what's happened, but I think it has something to do with:

1. It's summer.
2. Four children are now at home every day, and they think I am their cruise ship director.
3. Harper climbs out of her crib and comes downstairs every morning at approximately 5:56am, on a good day, greatly cutting into my "sit at the computer with my coffee" time.

We've been busy little bees around here, and summer is already kicking my hind-quarters. I was unprepared for the schedule upheaval the month of June has brought. Brandon and I went out of town for a few days, and returned to a heavy work week for both of us. Throw in swim practices, babysitters, rabies vaccinations (still), a wicked toothache, and a couple of kids with fever, and you can kind of understand why blogging has taken the backseat lately.

And did I mention that we're only about 3 weeks in to summer, and I'm ready for school to be back in session? Dane and Aidan have developed a love/"I'm going to try to kill you or just maim you really bad" attitude toward each other as of late, and it's giving me glimpses into our future 10 years from now. The other day Dane came running in the room crying and sobbing, pointing to an already-nasty-looking bruise on his hip, reporting "All I did was punch him three times in the stomach and he threw me into the wall!" Meanwhile, Aidan, in the other room, is screaming "HE WAS TRYING TO KILL ME!" Apparently, this is what happens when I task my boys with hanging their clean clothes up in the closet. MAYHEM, PEOPLE.

Aidan and Emerson had their last soccer games of the season last Saturday. I, as I have been the past few weeks, was with Dane at his swim meet, while Brandon took the other three kids to the soccer fields. Emerson came home boasting about her "medal and trophy and Emerson pizza, no Harper pizza." And Aidan declared the season a success, finally winning "the big trophy".

I had every intention of posting a picture of Emerson and Aidan at the soccer field with their trophies, but it is now creeping precariously close to my bedtime, and I am just too lazy at the moment to transfer the picture from Brandon's phone to Mac, edit it, then post it to the blog. Picture an unkempt-looking Emmy with hair in her eyes, and a red-faced Aidan, both smiling proudly with their new trophies.

When we weren't breaking up wrestling matches in the closet, shuttling kids to athletic activities, or subjecting ourselves to multiple series of rabies vaccinations, we were finalizing preparations to send Brandon off to Kenya. Brandon left Monday evening for Kenya, where he is leading a group of students on a trip to visit and work with a missionary team we support. He'll be back in 16 short days. You can follow along for updates on our church's mission blog, though updates may be short and sporadic due to iffy internet connections. Please pray for Hot Brandon and the rest of the group that are in Kenya this month. And while you're at it, a prayer would not be wasted on the wrestle brothers or their non-sleeping sisters. Or their mother.

And while the husband is gone, the wife will play. Words with Friends, that is. Brandon left his droid with me, and I have found out just how addicting WWF is to play. I may have to get a smart phone just so I can play Words with Friends.

And completely unrelated to any of the above unrelated tidbits of information, I love checking out my blog stats. Someone googled "heartwarming father's day stories" and instead were probably directed to this unfortunate story involving little boys and public bathrooms. I hope it warmed your heart.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

San Antonio

Brandon and I got out of town for a few days last week and headed to San Antonio for a little R&R. I had intended to recap our vacation here, but I'm afraid my "vacation recap" is going to read more like a "restaurant review". It's funny what Brandon and I, as busy parents of four small children choose to do when we go on vacation for a few days. We sleep in, watch mindless reality TV from our bed in the mornings, eat at sit-down restaurants, and see movies. Riveting stuff.

We decided on Monday last week that San Antonio would be our destination of choice, so Brandon started looking up yummy places to eat, starting with the Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives list. So on our way into San Antonio, we stopped at Texas Pride BBQ.

We drove 6 miles off the highway to find this gem in the middle of nowhere. The food was to die for, and the atmosphere was unapogetically low-maintenance. Food was served on wax paper in a plastic crate, and it was bus-it-yourself tables when you were finished. And we decided after dessert that the place needed to be renamed "Texas Pride Pecan Cobbler" because oh my word. The Pecan Cobbler was slap-yo-momma good. (You have to use phrasing like "oh my word" and "slap yo momma" when describing Texas BBQ or Pecan-themed desserts. It's just the way it is.)

We arrived at the Marriott on the Riverwark to discover that they are very proud of their parking garage to the tune of $33 per night. Seriously?? But they partially made up for it by being right across the street from a $4 per person movie theater, which we frequented two days in a row, and were recognized by every staff person we encountered. (Hey, weren't you just here yesterday? Yes, yes we were. We're on vacation sans children and we can DO WHATEVER WE WANT, even see movies IN A THEATER two days in a row. We walk on the wild side, yes we do.)

We topped off The Best Wednesday Ever with a little Mexican food at La Fonda on Main. The restaurant is in a little area with a bunch of big, pretty old houses that one sometimes finds in older parts of town. The food was delish, and the yummy frozen beverages were flavored with "cactus pear", which apparently is hot pink in color and tastes yummy and sweet. If that's up your alley, and I was on vacation sans kids (have I mentioned that), so it was ABSOLUTELY UP MY ALLEY.

Thursday morning I crawled out of bed at a leisurely 9:30am and we headed to El Mercado (spanish for "The Market") on Market Square to pick up a couple of souvenirs for the kids. We found cute Mexican dresses for the girls, and wrestling masks with attached capes for the boys. But of course. Nothing screams Latin culture to me like professional wrestling attire. Dane has already worn his mask/cape combo with his tighty-whities and christened himself "Captain Underpants". My kids are so weird.

We lunched at Mi Tierra at Market Square, where I reignited my love for the chicken taco and drank a real coke with lunch. Livin' it up, I tell you.

After we finished shopping and going to the movies, we hit the riverwalk. Apparently they don't let you into San Antonio unless you vow to visit the Riverwalk. Due to the 99 degree heat, we decided the Riverwalk was best explored via boat, and spent the next 35 minutes listening to a lovely tour guide tell us about the architecture of the Hyatt hotel and picking a dinner restaurant based on how cute their outdoor umbrellas were. We disembarked from the boat, and headed for what turned out to be a completely unremarkable hamburger place on the river, who happened to have very cute Texas-state flag pattern outdoor umbrellas. We topped dinner off with sweets from a little ice cream place, where we spent every quarter in our pockets doing this:

Yes, we ate A LOT in San Antonio, and are making up for it this week by only eating grilled chicken salads.

Friday we hopped in the car and headed up to New Braunfels to walk around a few shops that didn't necessarily carry sombreros and tortilla warmers. We shopped a bit in the little town of Gruene, Texas (pronounced "green", not "groon"), poking our heads into antique shops, general stores, and sampling tastes of homemade salsa and various flavors of jams. It was in one of these little shops where we picked up this item of ingenuity:
Is it underwear? Is it a cap? Why must it distinguish itself as one or the other? (Side note: I understand that Brandon wore the undercap around the office today. God bless his coworkers.)

And sandwiched in between the marbles and candy sticks at the Gruene General Store we found these gems:

Are we the only people in the world who can walk around little cute-sy shops filled with homemade jams and specialty scented candles in a little small town and walk away with adhesive mustaches and an Undercap? Me thinks so. Just another reason why I love my husband.

After we had worked up a little appetite with all of our shopping, we headed across the street for yes, more Mexican food and my second round of chicken tacos for the week. Brandon had fish tacos which he declared "would have been the best fish tacos I have ever eaten if it wasn't covered in mayonnaise sauce". My husband has a disdain for mayonnaise or any mayonnaise-based sauce. I'm not sure if this stems from a traumatic event from his childhood or not. So if you're in Gruene, Texas and craving fish tacos, just have them 86 the mayonnaise sauce.

Because he loves me very much, Brandon drove me up the road to San Marcos so I could pop into a store or two just real quick. You guys. I had no idea. My outlet mall experience these last several years has been sadly limited to the little strip in Conroe of dying stores and empty parking lots. So imagine my shock when I pulled up to this alternate universe of discount savings. The place is HUGE. True to my word, I went in three stores only, two of which I was so fast that Brandon just waited in the car for me. I am nothing if not an efficient shopper. I did, however, vow to someday return to this Mecca of Outlet Mall shopping someday with a couple of girlfriends and a sizable budget in tow.

When we got back to San Antonio we unpacked our goodies and watched fluffy shows on TLC until we were hungry, and then headed out to dinner. For the record, from now on, Brandon picks all of our restaurants when we're traveling. He did not go wrong. We ended up in a non-descript strip mall at a little pizza place called Dough Pizzeria Napoletana. It. Was. Amazing. The place was packed, with enough people waiting that they had a separate outdoor waiting area, filled with tables, a bar, and with its' own wait staff offering limited appetizer menu and wine selection to those of us waiting for a table. Ever since our New York trip a few years ago, I've become quite the sucker for thin crusted pizza with fresh mozzarella and meat that didn't come presliced. Brandon and I embarrassed ourselves by ordering too much food, then embarrassed ourselves further by finishing all of it. Dessert did not disappoint, in the form of a Nutella panini. Yes, you read that right. Turns out, nothing follows delicious pizza better than a grilled Nutella panini covered in powdered sugar.

The next morning, we rolled ourselves out of bed to go back home, kiss our babies, and rescue MoMo, who graciously spent the better part of a week with all four kids. Thank you, MoMo!

And if you're ever thinking to yourself, "I really want to go to San Antonio and instead of seeing the Alamo and visiting Sea World, I'd rather just eat at restaurants and see movies the whole time", then you know who to call. :)

Sunday, June 5, 2011

You're Four Now

Dear Emerson,

Happy Fourth Birthday to the little girl I never imagined would be my daughter! You are such an incredible little person at age four, and there's a few things I hope I never forget about you right now...

You love, love, love princesses, dolls, dress up clothes, and your brothers and sisters. Daily, I look out in the backyard to see you and Aidan playing together on the swing set.

I love to watch you learn the English language. You can carry on a conversation pretty clearly these days, though your sentences are usually missing a few words. I love that you have picked up the slang/common words your brothers say at the same pace you are picking up everything else. When we ask you to pick up the playroom, you give us an exasperated look and say, "ALL of it?!?", just like your brothers say, and you still love to tattle on your favorite little sister.

You love to "play school". During this past school year, you noticed Dane and Aidan going to school, and I think you missed them while they were gone. You certainly think you were missing out on something pretty fun when they left. You love to fill your backpack with books and toys, march into the room, give me a kiss, and say "Bye mom, Emerson going to school!" (Yes, you still talk in third person. We're working on breaking that little habit.) A few minutes later, you will come back, saying "Hi Mommy! Emerson home from school. Emerson has homework!" You're going to LOVE preschool next year, and have already told us how excited you are to bring a backpack and lunch box to school.

You are as bubbly and outgoing as ever, and you've developed a bit of a bossy streak. I know exactly what your notes home from your teacher are going to say.

You prepared for your birthday party for several months. Everytime I took you to someone else's party (or bridal shower), you started singing "Happy Birthday", and tried to open their gifts. Needless to say, you were pretty excited at your birthday party.

You love to sing and learn new songs. You love to sing at bedtime, and the other night I climbed into your bed and we sang together. I'm afraid you have your mommy's skills at singin', girlie. We sounded horrible, but happy.

Last weekend we celebrated your birthday in style, with an "Elmo-themed" party with your friends.
You got to wear your special "LaLa Elmo" dress, and the rest of us wore red Elmo shirts.

We endured the heat of the day, playing with all of your friends in the Elmo moonwalk. You LOVED hearing everyone sing "Happy Birthday to Emerson" and you knew right when to blow out the candles.

The party menu consisted of a few of your favorite foods: chips and queso, M&Ms, popcorn, and "pink sticks", similar to a candy you loved eating in China.

After your friends left the party, GG, Uncle Tom, and Aunt Carol came over to celebrate GG and your birthdays with some calzone and (more) birthday cake.

Daddy made lots of calzones, stuffed with everything from lunchmeat and cheese, to grilled chicken, garlic, spinach, and cheese, to sausage and garlic. YUM.

Mommy didn't get an "after" picture of the calzones after they came out of the oven, because they were served straight off the pan and into hungry mouths before I could get a picture.

Emerson, I know today there is someone else, a world away in China, who I know loves you very much and is thinking of you today. My thoughts are with her today, and I pray that she somehow knows that you are part of a family who loves you so, so much. I am so thankful for her, and for the people who loved and cared for you the first three years of your life.
Happy fourth birthday, sweet girl! I cannot wait to see what this year holds for you!

Friday, June 3, 2011

Pregnant Woman Feed

I want to apologize to you.

For three and a half years I have had this blog. You have put up with me rambling on and on about my daughters drinking toilet water, my son smuggling video game accessories in his underwear, and my husband's mild obsession with infomercial products.

But I have neglected to introduce you to these lovely snacks:

The Pickle Wrap.

So simple, yet deceptively tasty.


Claussen pickle spears. Please don't use a lesser pickle
Whipped cream cheese
Cheap, rectangle-shaped ham slices

Step 1: Lightly pat dry ham and pickles.

Step 2: Spread thin layer of cream cheese on ham. Change your mind and add a little more cream cheese.

Step 3: Place pickle at one end of ham, then roll up.

Step 4: Place toothpicks about 1/2" apart or so along roll.

Step 5: Slice between toothpicks. Eat the end pieces, because surely all of this work is making you hungry.

If any of them actually make it onto a tray without being eaten first, place a paper towel on the tray under them.

This yummy treat is very popular with pregnant women, college kids, and anyone watching a football game. So I've heard. I may have made them so many times during my daugher's gestation that they became referred to as "Pregnant Women Feed". My uncle has been known to eat these unsliced, without the hassle of all the toothpicks.

Please make these tomorrow.

I won't tell if you make them for breakfast.