Tuesday, December 28, 2010

A job well done!

As mentioned in a previous post, Neil has been hard at work in the garage for the last several weeks preparing for Christmas morning. Santa gave him quite the assignment this year: 3 bookcases and a train table! But Neil, being the hard worker he is, conquered his task like a champ. Even with a slight interruption, which I'll talk more about in a minute, he met his deadline a day early, and Christmas morning the kids were presented with a much better functioning (and looking) play room!

Around mid-November, as we were examining our loft, we decided the first thing it needed was some kind of storage system. The toys and books had no shelves or bins to call home, and Chloe was using a large tupperware container as her coloring/"restaurant" table. Classy, I know.  Besides that, the area was just huge and needed some space fillers. In our last house the kids' toys were scattered between their bedrooms, and it worked just fine. But because we had a designated play area in the new house, we really wanted to utilize it and keep all the toys there.

After some searching, I tracked down some bookcases and a train table I liked. Neil looked them over in the store, drew up plans in his head, and made a Home Depot run for wood and supplies.  By Thanksgiving, he had made decent headway with the bookcases, and was on his way to finishing everything well before Christmas.

Then, he did what he does every Thanksgiving morning: played football with the boys.

About 5 minutes into the game, this happened:

He caught his right ring finger in someone's pocket, and CRUNCH!  Pretty much shattered it from the knuckle down.  He thought he had just dislocated it, so he stood on the side lines for a few minutes while the guys started playing again, trying to pop it back into place.  After a few more minutes he concluded the pain was not going away and he needed to call it a day.  I felt so bad for him when he walked in the door only 30 minutes after he'd taken off to go play.  He was tough though, hardly complained, and simply wrapped it up against a popsicle stick.  I wish I'd gotten a picture of it those first few days.  It was pretty ugly, swollen and bruised.  I guess it just didn't occur to me since Neil wasn't making a big deal of it.  Well, a week passed, then another.  The finger wasn't getting any better.  He couldn't even begin to bend it, and it was still hurting a lot.  Finally, he went in for an x-ray to see what the trouble was all about.  Within 48 hours, he was scheduling surgery!  Crazy.  And all because of a harmless game of Thanksgiving flag football.

Surgery took place December 10th (my dad's birthday).  They actually had to put him under for it, which he wasn't too thrilled about.  Here he is shortly after he came out of surgery. 

The surgeon told us that he had to re-break the bone because it had started fusing back together on its own. Apparently Neil went a little longer than he should have between the initial break and the surgery.  Ouch. The surgeon also placed 3 pins in the bone to ensure it would heal properly.  Double, or should I say triple Ouch! (1 for each pin - get it?).  Neil went back last week to have his stitches removed, and goes back again next week to have the pins removed.  They are underneath the skin, so I'm sure that's going to make for a fun doctor's visit.  It will probably be a while before things are completely back to normal.  Neil says what drives him the most crazy is that he can hardly bend his finger.  He has been working at it, but it's definitely going to take some time and patience.  Especially considering the break was on (and just below) the knuckle.

So back to this Christmas assignment!  This finger business naturally slowed Neil down.  But I was really amazed at how quickly he was back out there working, despite his fat, dysfunctional finger.

Here are some pictures from along the way.

These were taken December 1st, just before Neil's surgery.  The bookcases were fully assembled minus the back (beadboard panels), which Neil didn't screw on until just prior to the final coat of paint.

December 4th - Neil started the train table while I sanded down the bookcases.  What a job that was!  Thank goodness for an electric sander!  Thank you, Dad and Mom Halliday for the early Christmas present!

December 23rd - Neil adding the back paneling to the bookcases.  You can see the train table in the back.

And then below is sweet Ryan inspecting Daddy's work while enjoying a sugar cookie!

We did the second and final coat of paint that same evening.

Thank goodness for a sprayer too!  That made this process so much easier (and faster)!  And the finish couldn't have been more perfect.  We did a little research before starting the project and found some very helpful tips for achieving that smooth, professional finish.  It really worked!  They turned out so beautiful!

So here is the finished product (inspired by this).  I am planning to break up the monotony of toys and books with some baskets, and I'm envisioning a canvas United States map up on the wall centered above the middle bookcase.  Thoughts?  I'm not a decorator by any means.  It's just what I have in mind.

Here's the train table (inspired by this).  Ryan has been glued to this thing since Christmas morning.  He is absolutely, positively smitten.  And I love it.  I get so much pleasure out of watching his excited little face beam as he pushes the trains along the tracks while repeating the same 3 things over and over again:  "Tug, tug!" (chuga chuga), "Too too!" (choo choo), and, my personal favorite,  "Ahh-bort!" (all aboard).  He is most certainly a boy who loves his trains.  And that is exactly how it should be!

Neil did such a wonderful job.  He has no idea how much his efforts and hard work have meant to me.  I am so blessed to have a husband who not only has these amazing skills, but who actually enjoys putting those skills to work to create something so beautiful and useful!  And to think of how little we paid compared to what we would have spent had we purchased this stuff at Pottery Barn!

So this is what the loft is looking like now.  It doesn't feel complete to me yet, but these additions went a LONG way to help!  Do you like the red and blue slide?  I think it's a bit of an eye sore, but the kids love it, and there's certainly room for it in there. :)    

There are still a handful of things I'd like to do to complete this room (throw some color in, window treatments of some kind and something for the wall), but we'll get to it in time.  Chloe has a play kitchen that she has loved and used faithfully for over 3 years.  It has seen better days, but has held up really well overall.  I recently had an idea to build an extension of hers since we have the space and since it's been such a popular "toy" for both her and Ryan over the years.  As I got to searching around online, I fell in love.  Just look at this!

photo and creation courtesy of Crafting Chicks.

and THIS!
photo and creation courtesy of Blue Eyed Yonder.

Aren't they both adorable? I'm kind of leaning toward the second, though I love them both.  Believe it or not, I'm planning to tackle this one on my own!  Found some plans for it online, and it's a reasonably inexpensive project.  Neil says he'll help.  Should be interesting.  Not sure when we'll get around to it, but hopefully by summer.

Anyway, hats off to Neil, who truly outdid himself with all of this.  I really am so proud of him, especially given the circumstances with his finger.  Thanks again for a job well done!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A "dance" down memory lane...

Last Saturday I had the pleasure of taking my Chloebug on a date to see the Nutcracker Suite performed by Vacaville Ballet, the very company I danced with until 2001.  To say it was a special day would be an understatement.  It was one beautiful dance down memory lane!  Being back in Vacaville, seeing my old instructors who I hadn't seen since I left the company, being back in the theatre I knew so well, watching the young dancers and how so many of them have grown in the 9 years I've been away, recognizing costumes and choreography from when I was up there on stage...  It was all just so, so cool!  Chloe loved it too.  Her favorite dance was Waltz of the Flowers, though she was kind of head over heels for the Snow Queen too.

During intermission we went backstage so I could hug everyone and introduce Chloe.  I think Chloe was a little freaked out by all the excitement initially, but she quickly warmed up. 

Here we are with Miss Heidi, who was my instructor all those years, and her mom, Miss Cheri, who helps run the Academy, designs the costumes, and used to teach the little ones.  I've known these two ladies for as long as I can remember.  They may as well be my family.

{Sadly, this was taken before Chloe decided to warm up.  And Cheri had just come from a local Fire Department Christmas event where she played Mrs. Claus, hence the white wig.}

Then Margene, who is one of the Academy's seamstresses (and mom to a company dancer), suddenly poked her head out of the costume room.  Margene is in my home ward, and holds a very special place in my heart (and my mom's too).  She was Young Women's president when I was baptized, and was very instrumental in that whole process.  It was also around that same time that she announced she was pregnant with this sweet girl, Kimberly (and Kimberly's twin brother, Jared).  I love Margene, and was so happy to see her and Kimberly, who has grown into such a beautiful young lady and dancer.

We all got a little carried away jabbering backstage and before long the second act had started.  Chloe and I watched from side stage for a few minutes before returning to our seats.  It was all so cool, and brought back countless fond memories.  After the performance all the lead roles came out in their glittery tutu glory to greet the audience members and sign autographs.  Chloe was in absolute heaven and wanted to get a picture with each dancer.

{Waiting for the dancers and beaming with excitement and anticipation}

{Chloe with the Doll}

She pretty much couldn't get enough of the Snow Queen.

And it just so happens that this Snow Queen was once a tiny little dancer just like Chloe.  In fact, she was in one of the classes I taught at the Academy!  Crazy what a decade can do!

{Chloe stealing one last squeeze from Miss Heidi before saying goodbye}

{And here's one last shot of Chloe and me getting ready for our date}

What a neat day.  Certainly one I'll never forget.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Christmas cards, Christmas cards, it's that time of year!

There are many things I love about the Christmas season.  Of those things, checking my mailbox each day to see which Christmas card is waiting to be opened has to be near the top of the list!  Not only reading updates about all of my favorite people, but seeing their pretty pictures of them looking their best - there's something simply satisfying about the whole shebang!  Then there's decorating my pantry door with said cards, hoping that by Christmas Eve the entire door is covered!  Love it all. 

Just as I love receiving Christmas cards, I love giving Christmas cards!  Each December brings that afternoon where I sit down at my computer and peruse the various photo card options online, select my favorite and submit my order!  It never gets old, and as long as I live, I will probably always mail out Christmas cards.

This year Shutterfly is offering a promotion for bloggers to receive 50 free Holiday cards.  Yes!!!  I am particularly excited about this promotion after looking through Shutterfly's 2010 Christmas card selection.  There are so many I love that it's difficult to narrow down a favorite.  I especially like this one though, and the variety of photo slots it offers:

 Aside from traditional Christmas cards, Shutterfly also provides countless other photo sharing options and gifts like personalized calendarsphoto books, and thank you cards.  Check them out!  And to find out more about Shutterfly's promotion, go HERE.

Happy Christmas card shopping/creating/giving/receiving season to all!   

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Better late than never

Happy Birthday last Thursday to my sweet little nephew, Grant, who turned 2! 

{June 2010 - Colorado Springs, CO}
Sorry you're getting this wish 3 days late, but I hope you had a marvelous day!

And, while we're on the topic of birthdays, here are a few other belated wishes for:

My brother, David, who celebrated a birthday October 21st
{August 2010 - Colorado Springs, CO}

My brand new niece, Katherine, who was born September 25th
{4 days young - Fort Collins, CO}

My sister-in-law, Courtney, who celebrated a birthday September 14th{May 2010 - Colorado Springs, CO}

My best friend and cousin, Wendy, who celebrated a birthday September 4th
{July 2010 - Salt Lake City, UT}

...and who also gave birth to this sweet little angel, Emma on August 31st
{September 2010 - Salt Lake City, UT}

And going even further into August (sheesh!), my dad-in-law, David celebrated a birthday on the 19th
{May 2009 - Nashville, TN}

And last but not least, Grandma Jean celebrated a birthday August 16th
{May 2009 - Nashville, TN}

Wow, that's a lot of birthdays.  Hopefully I can keep up better from now on!  Happy Birthday to all of you!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Funny Chloe & Neil's latest project

As long as Chloe has been around, the one thing she has known about her father is that he can build pretty much anything.  These recent weeks as we've made plans for the new house, Chloe has overheard a lot of our discussion and has seen Neil start to put our plans to work in the garage.  I suppose that explains the reasoning behind this conversation she initiated over dinner the other night:

"Mommy, did Daddy buy you that wedding ring?"

(a bit puzzled)

"Because he doesn't know how to build rings?"

Classic.  Neil and I both laughed.  Out loud.  For a good minute and a half straight.  No wonder she'd think something like this up after she's watched her daddy build and fix so many things over the years.  What's really funny though is that Neil did, in fact, "build" us matching titanium rings during his senior year of college, just after we got married (in one of his engineering classes).  So to answer Chloe's question, "Yes, Daddy can build rings!  In this case, he simply chose to buy one for Mommy instead!"  :)

Here's Neil's current project.

{photos courtesy of Pottery Barn Kids}
We have a large blank wall in our loft/play area upstairs begging for book shelves, so Neil is in the process of building some. He examined these in the store and then wrote up his own plan of attack.  He is building two of the tall skinny ones and one of the short wide ones, though the short wide one will be about a foot wider than the one pictured above (to more precisely accommodate the wall space).  He is just about finished, and then we can sand and paint.  I cannot say enough how amazed and impressed I am by Neil's ability to see something and recreate it, just like that.  He really has a gift, and I am grateful for it and for his passion for wood working in general.  I'll post some pictures once the shelves are complete and the loft area is a little more put together.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


5 years ago on this night, God sent us an angel.

And our lives have been blessed every day since.
Happy 5th Birthday, precious Chloebug!  We love you!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Quick glimpse

We've had lots going on.  I think the last of our boxes were finally unpacked on Saturday, which felt really good.  As we've now lived in the house nearly a month, we've grown aware of so many things we want to change.  It's a great house with a lot of potential, but so many things were poorly planned out and cheaply/sloppily done.  In time we'll get there.  In the meantime we are just getting used to this new California adventure and looking forward to gradually making this house feel like home.

Here's a quick glimpse into our lives over the last few weeks:

Neil's first house project
We have this funny cut out in the wall intended for an entertainment center and TV.  I wasn't a big fan of it because it was the type of opening that I felt needed a very specific sized entertainment center and TV to look at all decent.  Anything too small would just look dumb, but obviously anything too big just wouldn't work at all.  We do still plan to one day find the perfectly sized TV stand eventually, but for the time being, Neil threw together this built in a couple weekends ago. 

I'll be honest.  I was not optimistic when he described what he had in mind.  The idea of having our speakers and everything else just out in the open for everyone to see didn't sound very pretty.  But once we painted the wood white, found baskets to fit in the cubbies, and got everything placed just right, I'll have to say I really liked how it turned out.  Neil is so amazing with the ideas he comes up with.  It was even his idea to find baskets to hold our DVDs.  A very inexpensive solution to what seemed like an impossible dilemma.

Someone had a birthday!
That's right.  Our sweet little boy turned 2 on the 9th. 

He was VERY excited to see Thomas the Train on his birthday cake.

Playing with his second favorite toy, "Oody".

It is still so strange for me to say, "He's 2" when people ask how old he is.  I have another post on Ryan in the making along with plenty more birthday pictures.  Hopefully these two can tide you over until I get to it.

Jr. Kindergarten
So here in California, Chloe does NOT miss the cut off for kindergarten, which means we technically could have enrolled her when we first got here.  We decided to wait until next Fall though, just because we felt like all the recent stress of having her dad gone and then moving away from everything and everyone she knew was enough for her little 4 1/2 year old self to handle.

I've been looking into preschools for the last couple of weeks, and finally got her enrolled this week at a Christian school in Manteca.  They call the program she's in, "Jr. Kindergarten", as it's primarily for kids of her age group who have later birthdays.  She started today and goes Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 8:30-12:30.  She seemed to really enjoy herself today, and I'm looking forward to being back in a routine and preparing Chloe for the Fall when the real deal begins.

Here's our proud "Jr. Kindergartner", sporting her new backpack from Uncle Jim and Aunt Karen, which she's been anxiously waiting to use since last Christmas!  Can you believe she's turning 5 TOMORROW?

New Callings
The very first Sunday we went to church we were extended callings.  The Bisphopric didn't waste any time!  Neil is in Primary teaching the Valiant 10 class, and I am back in Young Womens again teaching the Beehive class (12-13 year old girls).  This is the third time I've had this calling in the eight years Neil and I have been married.  I keep thinking there must be something for me to learn if I haven't already learned the two other times I've worked as Beehive Advisor.  I really love my girls already (all 5 of them!), and have felt an immediate connection to each one.  I am so impressed with the youth of our ward in general.  They all seem so grown up and solid.  It makes me very happy and proud to be working with such strong young girls.  I taught for the first time on Sunday, and they were so responsive and eager to participate in the lesson.  Always a very good thing!  It's a great group as a whole (all the young women and leaders), and I look forward to getting to know everyone better.  I do miss Primary, where I was in our last ward, but I think this is where I'm supposed to be right now.

Gradually Ripon is feeling more like home.  I have good days and I have blue days.  This has been a much harder transition than I ever dreamed it would be.  Everyone keeps telling me to give it a year, so that's what I'm doing.

More pictures and updates to come.  Just wanted to share a quick glimpse into what's been happening 'round here.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

A solution to an indulgence

I really hate spending money on frivolous things.  And I especially hate the guilt that consumes me after I've given in and done it.  Food is the worst!  Do you ever find yourself out and about and pass that fast food restaurant that has your favorite such and such?  Or walking through the mall just long enough to catch a whiff of something that suddenly convinces you that whatever it is would really hit the spot?  You want it so badly, yet the pleasure only lasts as long as it takes to eat it.  And then you're $XX.XX poorer and feeling guilty that you gave into such an impulse.  Starbucks' Caramel Apple Spice is and has been my greatest weaknesses for months.  And especially this time of year when it flows with the season. 

Well, this morning I had a brilliant thought.  I actually have a lot of brilliant thoughts, but this just may have exceeded any brilliant thought I've ever had.  Rather than investing more mullah into this [ridiculously delicious] beverage, what if I just figured out how to make it myself?  Couldn't be too difficult, right?

RIGHT, actually

After checking around online, I found what looked like a legitimate recipe.  For anyone else who enjoys this stuff as much as I do, you know that warm cinammony taste of heaven I speak of.  And if you've attempted to make it yourself, you also know it's close to impossible.  Sure, any apple cider is good.  But there's a key ingredient that makes this stand above all the other apple ciders out there.  And until today, I didn't know what that ingredient was.

So are you ready?  Starbucks' very own Cinnamon Dolce Syrup.  I called the Starbucks here in Ripon to see if they sold it by the bottle, and you wouldn't believe it, but they do! 

So what did I do?  Well, I drove myself right over there and bought me some!

For only $7.95!

Here are the other ingredients needed to finish the job: 

Starbucks uses Tree Top Apple Juice, but Langers is what I had on hand.  I'm sure they also use their own special caramel sauce, but Smucker's does the trick just fine!  So for 1 cup apple juice, I added 3 teaspoons of cinnamon syrup.  Then on went the whipped cream, drizzled caramel sauce, and a perfect sprinkle of cinnamon.  It tastes EXACTLY like the real thing, but doesn't cost you the drive to Starbucks, time waiting in line, or 3 bucks out of your pocket.

Wanna come over and have some?

Monday, November 8, 2010

Halloween festivities

Halloween really crept up on us this year.  On the 28th, amidst the unpacked boxes and junk everywhere, I finally decided it was time to set it all aside and start thinking about costumes.  Since last Halloween, Chloe's begged to be a princess.  That hadn't changed, so princess it was!  And Ryan, well, he's still in that stage where he'll wear just about anything and be happy.  So I made it easy on myself and stuck him in the same elephant costume another cute little someone wore 3 Halloweens ago (see HERE).  He did fight it some, but every time he'd start to pull at it, we'd just remind him that if he wore it he'd get candy.  Worked like a charm.

Here are a few pictures from earlier in the week.  Well, Thursday, Friday and Saturday.  We literally crammed everything Halloween into 3 days.  Under normal circumstances I would have had decorations up well before October 1st, and at least one trip to the pumpkin patch underway by the 15th.  Not this year though!  The only reason I managed to get the few Halloween decorations out that I have is because they were sitting in a clear tupperware container that was easy to spot and access.  Anyway, over the course of Thursday and Friday we did caramel apples and the traditional sugar cookies.

Friday we went to Dell' Osso Farms, where we road the train and picked out pumpkins.
If we're measuring in cuteness, then these two are surely off the charts!

Finding the perfect pumpkin.

Ryan L-O-V-E-D the "choo choo", and did NOT want to get off.  Can you tell?

Saturday evening our cul-de-sac hosted a Halloween party.  Coned off the road and everything!  Apparently it's quite the annual event, and something our neighbors have been doing now for a few years.  They had some activities for the kids, including face painting and a jump house, as well as food, music, and LOTS of people.  It was definitely not a quaint gathering, exclusive to the cul-de-sac residents only.  Oh no!  Over the course of the night I saw well over a hundred people.  We didn't last past 8, but neighbors and friends of neighbors were partying outside our door until midnight.  A friendly group, but I hope these late night parties aren't a normal thing in this neighborhood.  I have a feeling I'm going to make a really grouchy old person.  :)

Anyway, here are the kiddos in all their Halloween glory. 

Ryan was quite a hit.  All the little girls kept hugging him and telling him (and us) how cute he was.

And Little Miss Chloebug, the most feminine and dainty little thing you ever did see fluttered around like any ballerina princess ought to.  She was especially fond of her sparkly silver princess shoes, and pointed them out to anyone who glanced in her direction.

Back in August when Neil was here and we were still in Colorado, we came to an agreement that by Halloween we would be living under the same roof again.  At that point there was no light at the end of the tunnel.  We'd had zero luck selling our home, and the prospect of renting still scared us.  Yet even with everything against us, we were determined to be a family by Halloween.  And we did it!  We even beat our deadline by 10 days!  :)  And all in all, I'd say we had a pretty nice Halloween!