Thursday, August 30, 2012

A Give-Away To Celebrate My New Look!

Notice anything a little different here??  I had a makeover!  Well, my blog had a makeover, but I love it so much that I think I look 10 years younger!
The fabulous Gina did all this and she is just an amazing lady with an amazing talent for design.  I'm so thankful to have a little touch of Gina make this blog more like me.  It has made me smile from the first moment I saw the preview!
I'm so excited about the new look, I thought maybe it was time to spread a little love and excitement around.
And we are right on the edge of Labor Day weekend, the official end of summer.  My work year is back underway, and all the kids join the fun this coming week.  When a season shifts, it's a good time to reflect on it, right?
So for a fun give away, leave a comment answering one of these questions:
1.  What was the single best moment of this summer?
2.  If you could have one extra day of summer to do anything, what would you do?
For the winner:
2 kitchen towels that pretty closely match my blog colors, chocolate chips (of course!) and a $10 Starbucks card to enjoy a new Fall beverage with a friend!  (I used my personal card for the picture, but I'm not giving it up.  Yours will be whatever I fall in love with when I go to Starbucks!)
Feel free to also tell me (and Gina) how much you love the new look!  Compliments gladly accepted, although it will not increase your chances of winning.  That will be done by random draw.
And speaking of random, because I often do, here's a couple random items for you:
1.  A sign hanging on a restaurants wall caught my eye and made me ridiculously happy, I excitedly went around the counter and right up to it, inspecting it to see how much it was.  One of the employees had to tell me that it was part of their decor, and wasn't for sale.  I humbly sat down and ordered food, which they were selling.
2.  I'm over-the-moon in love with a basset puppy I have never met.  Brad's co-worker has one, and he keeps sending me pictures of this sweet pup.  I think there might be a basset in my future.  Distant future.  But, yes, I'm in love.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

It's List Time's officially time for list-mode.  Back to work yesterday, a class all day today, creeping closer to the 1st day of school, summer winding down, cheer in full-swing, my baby boy starting his senior year, my little Brenna starting high school, my ittiest-bittiest starting middle school, my son starting his first job this week, cross-country season...I'm a little pressed for time these days.  A little frazzled, truth be told.  So, time to be efficient!

1. Brad has finished his annual camping trips with the kids.  I love that they have this time together, without me.  I'm not a camper.  And I make no apologies for it.  Camp-away, my family! 

First up was the father-son trip.  This year they hiked into FlapJack Lake.  They had a great time, made some more memories, and had to do all sorts of ridiculous things so as not to attract bears or goats. 

Next up was the father-daughter trip:
They had a bit of a more "civilized" camping experience at their favorite locale: Rainbow Falls.  They apparently have a bathroom there with GREAT acoustics, and the girls spent almost an hour "harmonizing" in there!  Great memories with this trio, someday those girls will know how blessed they are to have this man as their daddy!
3.  The cheer season is well-underway now.  It's strange having just one daughter cheering, now that Brenna has "aged-out" of the program.  But the fun of that is she is now a junior coach for Beth's squad.  So I get both my daughters at one location!!
This past weekend was Jamboree, a day that is a mix of fun and chaos.  The girls have the fun.
And these 13 girls?  About as precious as they come.  Getting to work with Stacy and hang out with my buddy 3 times a week is pretty special too!
4.  Last weekend was also the Portland to Coast High School Cross Country Challenge!  131 miles, run as a relay with 12 guys, completed in 13 hours and 38 minutes!!  They shaved well-over an HOUR off last year's time, coming in 1st (both years!) among 50 teams!
Proud of these guys!!
Even got a little press interview after the victory!
5.  And on the very next day...this man swam again in the Park-to-Park swim across Lake Washington, a fundraiser for Children's Hospital!  Love his dedication to the sport and the cause.
Somewhere out there, I'm sure!
My man is the one in the green cap.  Phew.
6.  And also this week, Alex started his first job! (I'm not counting teaching music lessons or being paid for playing music.  Like his first job where he'll have money deducted from a pay check and other real life job stuff!
And it's a funny story:  since he was so young, like 7 years old, he would bag my groceries for me, even figured out where the button was to make the conveyor belt advance.  He loved the idea of working at Safeway and bagging groceries!  (Maybe it was surrounding himself with the food???)  We happen to know the manager of our local store, and he started telling Alex when he was about 12 that when he turned 16 he would find him a job.  Well, at 17, Alex was ready.  A blessedly smooth process led to this:
Isn't he cute in his apron?!  So his first day was 4 hours of training and then they let him bag up some groceries for an hour!  So far so good, and they invited him back!!
7.  This is a good place to end.  Too tired.  But, I am so very excited about something that's coming soon!!  I need to tell you stay tuned and check back soon!!!  I wish I could say more.  Not really.  I kinda like a good tease.  (when I'm the one giving it, anyway.)

Monday, August 20, 2012

Pinterest Obsession

I knew better.  I knew I'd be addicted.  I knew it.  This whole Pinterest craze...I resisted for so long.  I would just allow myself to peruse the first page that came up, and then walk away.  No longer.  What I knew would happen has happened.  I signed up.  And I'm addicted.  And I love it.

I've found great stuff for just about every area of my life.  I really believe creativity inspires creativity.  When I look at creativity, it inspires me to try to be creative.  And mostly, it's just fun.

Here's some of the fun I've been having:

The caption with this said: "Bored?  Draw some eyebrows on your dog."  I have laughed so hard at this picture.  I'm keeping it forever.  And anytime I find myself in any sort of funk, I only have to look at this to be put back in my happy place.  I mean, really now.  I think if sweet 'ole Archie was still sitting beside me, he'd be sporting some of these fine eyebrows.  How can that not make you smile????

And I was so curious to see if something really worked:  the pin said you could use a Sharpie marker, draw on a plain mug, bake it for 20 minutes at 350 and you'd have a permanently decorated mug (or any dish).  So I got some cheap white mugs, gave the girls a pile of Sharpies and had them design away.  They could wipe off any "mistake" and design to their hearts' content.  And then we baked them:

Totally worked!

And in my last post I went on and on about Hope and Anchors.  It has continued to churn around in me, and then I saw this bracelet:

Inspired me to make this:

I like it.  I added a little "Hope" charm to tie in the whole Hebrews 6:19 vibe.

And don't even get me started on all the food ideas.  Yum.  I'm decorating houses I don't own, I'm getting great ideas for clothes I can't afford, I'm finding great work-out tips I probably won't do, and I'm finding lots and lots of inspiration.

Here's how bad I am:  the first week I started "pinning", I had a dream about it.  In my dream, all the little boxes on Pinterest were portals that I could crawl into.  So if I saw something I liked, I could crawl into the box and check it out in person.  I was totally checking out how a dresser had been re-done, touching the corners, looking at the backside.  And then I went into a portal onto a beautiful white sand beach and checked out a hammock that was all by itself beside a beautiful turquoise ocean.  I've really gone too far, and I'm loving it.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Thinking About Hope

Hope.  That word has been churning in me for awhile lately.  In extra ways. And the last few days, I've had this verse swarming around inside my head:

I've learned over the years that when something gets stuck in my head, it's not by accident.  The Lord plops it in there because He wants me to hear something.

So I've been letting it sit in there.  Thinking about hope as an anchor.  An anchor.  An anchor makes you stay put.  When a boat is anchored, it stays.  It doesn't stop rocking and rolling from the storm, but it stays put.  Secure. 

And I can look back on so many "storms" in my life, when I've chosen to hope.  Choosing hope doesn't stop the storm, but it keeps you anchored.  You may still rock and roll with the storm, the waves may still batter against you, but you are anchored.  You are secure.

When my mom so slowly was drained of life from that ugly brain tumor, and when she died: my hope in the Lord was my anchor.  I was tossed in the waves, I grieved deeply, I HURT, I was angry, I ached for things to be differently.  But I stayed anchored to the Hope that there was a future, that I would be happy again.  It is unfathomable to me how anyone goes through something like that without hope.

And then a few weeks later my first baby was born, a perfect 8 pound 7 ounce package of hope.

When my sweet 5-year old little girl was lying lifeless on a pool deck, then flown across the state on life support, then lying in that ICU, hooked up to so many machines, naked and exposed on a icy-cold cooling pad...we literally were not allowed to touch her.  Not even her cheek, her hand.  We could only talk to her.  She was very fragile.  We wept, we prayed, we clung to hope.  And it anchored us.  The storm was brutal, we were battered in a way I can't even describe, but we stayed anchored. 

When the storm settled and our precious girl was given back to us, we stayed anchored.  To the Lord and to each other.  Tough days followed, tough weeks followed, but that anchor of hope kept us secure.

And last winter, as I was battered from a storm of anxiety, my only anchor was hope.  Dark, dark days.  I truly wondered what my future held, but I never wavered from hope that the Lord held my future.    As that storm quieted and finally left, I was left standing right where I had dropped my anchor:  safe, firm and secure.

Just a few examples of storms I've faced, and I think it's so good to look back and see the faithfulness of God.  When we anchor with hope in Him, our future is firm and secure, no matter what the storm, or what toll the storm takes.

In the midst of those storms, I couldn't imagine the pain being gone.  I was unable to see through it to know that there really would be a day when that pain didn't impact me every day.  But I still had the hope to cling to.

And yesterday, I cried over a lady's death...a lady I had never met yet was deeply touched by.  She died from the same type of nasty brain tumor that my mom died from.  Seeing her images brought back so many images of my own.  I realized I've blocked out a lot of the images of my mom's face from when she was ravaged by the tumor.  In my mind, and I'm thankful for it, I see my mom in her healthy days, face unchanged by the tumor.  But yesterday I remembered those images clearly.  It hurt my heart.  And then it encouraged me.  I was able to see freshly how much the Lord had healed.  I miss her, that never changes.  But I'm having a very happy life.  I'm okay.  And there were days I wondered if I would be okay.

So my prayers have been strongly focused on that lady's two sweet daughters.  I relate to their pain.  I know they share a strong faith.  I'm praying that they keep hope as their anchor.  Hope in a future.  As unimaginable as it is, the extreme pain of a storm does fade.  I remember during each of those storms having days that I just wanted to not hurt.  I wanted the physical ache of grief to just stop.

I can't speak for every single storm in this life, but I can speak for the same God that offers hope in every storm.  And I know He's faithful and He redeems and He promises a hope and a future.

I'm so very thankful for hope.  Where would we be without it?

My very favorite line ever from a book comes from Have A Little Faith by Mitch Albom.  It's the last line of the book:

"I am in love with hope."

Yes.  Be in love with hope, choose hope.  Let it anchor your soul.

Monday, August 6, 2012

A Fair To Remember ~ With 2 Winning Recipes!

Let's get straight to it, shall we?

This past week, my friend entered her chocolate chip cookies into the Thurston County Fair.  I didn't even know this contest existed, until her husband announced her as a Blue Ribbon Winner!  These cookies are so good, and they already have a reputation around our corner of Thurston County.  Everyone loves Laura's cookies.  Now it's official, though:  they are the best in the county!

Mmmm...can't you almost taste them??

Laura's Blue Ribbon Chocolate Chip Cookies

1 1/2 cups butter, softened (BUTTER!)
1 1/4 cups white sugar
1 1/4 cups packed brown sugar
1 TBSP vanilla
2 eggs
4 cups flour
2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
4 cups chocolate chips

Heat oven to 350. Beat butter, sugars, vanilla and eggs until light and fluffy.  Stir in flour, baking soda and salt. Dough will be stiff.  Stir in chocolate chips.  (I used 1/2 semi-sweet chocolate chips and 1/2 dark chocolate chips.)

Drop by heaping tablespoonfuls onto cookie sheet. (Laura uses x-large cookie scoops to make big 'ole yummy cookies.)  If you make giant ones, only drop 6 per cookie sheet so they have them room they need and the heat can circulate around them and cook them evenly. 

Bake for 11-13 minutes, depending on cookie size, just until they are beginning to turn golden brown.

So after Laura's big win, I started poking around on the Fair's website to see what kinds of things you could enter.  Well, much to my delight I saw there was to be a cupcake contest the next day!  I decided to enter for fun.  I almost chickened out, because as I was baking them I realized that the whole idea of entering something like this is for people to judge you, and I'm so not a fan of being judged. Who wants to set themselves up to be judged and critiqued and analyzed.  Well, apparently a lot of people do because the fair is FULL of entries of all sorts of things.  (A side note here:  did you know that people bring their mommy cows with their new babies and strut them around a ring and people judge the cow on how she looks as a mom????  Can you imagine such a thing in the people world??  Walking around a ring with a newborn babe while people critiqued you on how you looked as a mother, how your body shape looked for birthing and how your...udder...was producing for your baby????  UGH! So thankful I was not born a cow.)

Anyway, with a few jitters and "what in the world am I doing this for???" I dropped my cupcakes off to be judged.

We then had the delight of watching the oh-so-handsome Brayden show his cow and a horse and a pig and a sheep and a goat in something called a Round Robin.  His "reward" for winning Best Showman (I think that's the title?) for showing his cow was to have to show all these other animals and be judged.  Bless his heart.  Actually, he's a stud and handled it fabulously.  I wish I had snapped a picture of that handsome dude doin' his thing.  I think he was the best.  And from the last 2 paragraphs you can probably tell I really am qualified to judge him.  But he still was the best.

So...I sat and watched the three judges judge all the cupcakes.  And in the end?  I took 2nd place!  Well, I'll be.  I lost out to Pumpkin Ginger.  Silly judges.

But, the cupcakes were a hit, I got a red ribbon and a gift certificate for pizza!  I think I might be hooked now.  Perhaps I'll enter a few more things next year.

Without further blabbering, I give you the Red Ribbon Award-Winning Cupcakes:

Leanne's Red Ribbon Chocolate Fudge Salted-Caramel Cupcakes

(adapted from Georgetown Cupcake recipe!)
1 1/4 cups flour, sifted
1/2 tsp. baking soda, sifted
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup butter, at room temperature
1 1/4 cups sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
 1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup whole milk, room temperature
1/2 cup cocoa, sifted
(I used an expensive all-natural cocoa powder. I will try it with my trusty Hershey's Special Dark cocoa next time and see if there's a big difference. I suspect there is.)

Preheat oven to 350. Line cupcake pans with cupcake liners (will make 18).

Sift together flour, baking soda and salt onto a sheet of parchment paper or waxed paper, or even a plate.

In a stand mixer or with a hand-held mixer, beat softened butter until fluffy.  Add the sugar and beat until well-incorporated.

Add eggs, one at a time, and beat well.

Combine the milk and vanilla in a measuring cup.

With mixer on low, add 1/3 of the flour mixture, then gradually add 1/3 of the milk mixture.  Repeat until you've added all the flour and milk.

Add the cocoa powder and mix until blended well.

Using a standard-sized ice cream scoop, fill each cupcake liner to 2/3 full. Bake for 18-20 minutes or until cupcakes test done with a toothpick or they spring back up in the center when lightly touched with your finger.

Allow to cool completely.  Using a small melon-baller or just the tip of a knife or spoon, remove a little ball of cupcake out of the very center.  Munch on the little removed pieces as you prepare the caramel.

Salted Caramel Frosting

1/2 cup salted butter
1 cup dark brown sugar
1/3 cup heavy cream
1/4 tsp. salt
2-2 1/2 cups powdered sugar, sifted

Melt butter in small saucepan.  Add brown sugar and cream.  Stir constantly over medium heat until sugar is dissolved.  Add salt.  Allow to slightly bubble (not boil!) for about 1 minute.  Remove from heat and set aside to cool.

When cooled, set aside about 1/2 cup of the caramel to use as your filling and drizzle.

To the remaining caramel, beat in powdered sugar, one cup at a time until it reaches the right consistency for frosting.

Place about 1 tsp. reserved caramel into each cupcake hole.  Frost  with frosting, then drizzle with remaining caramel.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Hometown Tourists

A few months ago, I won a raffle (and that is highly unusual for me!) at a charity event.  The prize?  A basket with all sorts of goodies from hometown downtown.  And several gift certificates to stores downtown that I've never been to!  In general, I prefer going to places with parking lots.  Parking lots with slanted parking spaces are even better.  Parking downtown?  I avoid it.  I will walk blocks to not need to parallel park.  But the gift certificates were begging to be spent.

With the little boy gone for the week, the girls and I decided to have a fun girls date.  We thought it would be fun to walk all over downtown and go spend those gift certificates together. 

And, oh yes, it was fun!  I did park blocks away, with the specific purpose of making our first stop Sweet Charley B's.  The girls had not been yet, so we had to get our hands on some cupcakes together.

Next stop was Compass Rose.  What a FUN store!  Lots of great things, from stationary to jewelry to kitchen stuff...more than I can list here.  It was fun to explore that store together.  I will for sure head back to that place.  The girls each got their own beaded bracelet and a leather bracelet to share.

Then it was off to Archibald Sisters.  Oh my goodness, talk about a step back in time!  I remember being their age and going there for the "Rain" lotion, and spending oodles of time smelling all the different scents.  It was fun watching my girls experience that!  We each got a travel size bottle of lotion.  Mine, of course, is Rain.

Then it was off to Wind Up Here!  Such a fun toy store, and they turned into little girls again, looking at all the stuffed animals!  Loved it.  We ended up choosing a game that the whole family can play, and foregoing the "Ugly Doll" that Beth was pulled towards.

We then went to Traditions.  I sorta thought we'd use our gift certificate to have lunch there, but nothing was really sounding good.  Then Brenna spotted this heart-shaped rock from Haiti.  "This would be so great to have as a reminder of our special day together!"  Sold.

So we thought we'd go The Bearded Lady (our last gift certificate) for lunch.  We were there about 7 minutes before they closed, and I learned all they sold were vegan/gluten free baked goods.  We aren't vegan or gluten free, but the sweets sure looked good!  So we gave him our gift certificate and he filled a box for us. I won't give a taste-test review. But hey, they were free to us and beautiful to look at!

Hungry, hungry, we headed down to Farmer's Market to have some lunch.  Corn dogs and french fries! 

On our way out of Farmer's Market, we walked by this band, passionately singing about tomatoes. Honestly.  I gave Beth one of "those" looks and warned her not to laugh or say anything.  But once we were behind them, we all kinda let out a giggle.  They were very entertaining, for sure.

It was a sweet day with my girls.  We looked like tourists in every way...cross-body purse, camera, asking for directions, standing on corners and obviously trying to figure out which way to go.  Touring our hometown was a blast, and it was extra fun doing it all on gift certificates with two of my favorite people on this planet.

And then, to top it off, the girls wrote on the I Love You board after our date!

I love you too, my sweet girls.