Wednesday, February 16, 2011

I Forgive You Colorado.

The family, Copper Mountain 2011

I forgive you Colorado. 

You see ... we just returned from a family vacation to Copper Mountain, Colorado with some friends. It turned out to be a very fun week. Why wouldn't it be? A family vacation in a swanky condominium, along with friends and lots of fresh snow. Brayden found his ski legs ... Easton really got his snowplow and turns down on the green hills ... I even tried a few of the steeper blue runs and Nolan was pretty mellow just hanging out at the condo and taking a few stroller adventures with me out and about in the afternoons and Jeff just loves the mountains and also skiing.

But you see ... I've been hauling around "a ghost" for about four years from our FIRST trip out to Colorado to the very same spot with many of the very same people in 2007. It was our first family vacation, apart from visiting Jeff's family in Minnesota (which is questionably called a vacation but more of a extended long visit to family.) I had such high hopes for that ski trip ... and a few hidden fears ... but nothing imaginable to what was waiting for us.

I do want to say at the outset that no one was hurt physically during this adventure ... and that is part of the lesson that I took away from it all. Things are just things. But I do want to post about it so that the ski adventure of 2011 can be appreciated in its fullness.

As I look back, that first trip in 2007 was strewn with hurdles. A busy husband that left all the packing to me (kinda the norm now,) the mom of a busy 3.5 year old and 18 month old at the time ... and an approaching huge ice storm that was hounding down on the Midwest and our departure time. Me with lots of doubts as to how the kids would travel let alone get along with other people for an entire week. As it turned out, I was able to get us packed, Jeff was able to tie up loose ends at work and squeaked out around noon and we were on our way West JUST sneaking past that storm front that literally swooped in at our heels and shut down the Midwest for about a week right behind us, closing interstates, snapping power lines, leaving thousands without power for days and days on end and pretty much paralyzing the mid-section of the country!

We had made super time to the suburbs or Denver, the kids traveled well ... we pulled into our hotel weary and exhausted around 11:15 pm that night. I grabbed my overstuffed overnight/diaper bag ... the kids' shoes ... but nothing else. No coats, no suitcases ... no pillows or teddy bears. Well, I know in retrospect it seems somewhat lazy. But we were tired. REALLY tired! (Consider entertaining kids for 10 hours straight after being a marathon worrier/packer.) The kids had fallen asleep and woke up grumpy ... we really just wanted a bed. And carrying the kids in with what we had seemed challenging enough. Jeff circled the lot with the truck a couple of times, found a lighted spot RIGHT out front. We checked in ... Brayden wanted his special silky blanket and Goldie-Bear ... which I had left in the truck fearing that these treasured possessions might get lost in the hotel during our short stay. I even wrapped them in my coat to "keep them warm." I considered going out to retrieve them when he begged... but I was shot and I just reassured him that we would be fine for one night without them.

Fast forward through the night ... we decided that with our great early arrival we'd take advantage of our extra time and spoil ourselves in the hotel pool. Thinking ahead I had put the kids' swimsuits in my overnight/diaper bag along with my own when I packed. Jeff ran out to the truck to get his trunks. And we waited ... and waited ... and waited for him. When Jeff returned he looked as white as a ghost and said those fateful words ... "Val, the truck is GONE. I even circled the building thinking that maybe I'd gotten turned around and it was on the opposite side of the building ... but it's simply not out there!"

So began the  new adventure. We called the police and things started unraveling. All our ski equipment, hockey equipment, enough toys to keep 2 children under the age of 4 busy on  a 14 hour car trip AND during a week at a condo ... and of course all the stuff we had packed to wear and keep us comfy and warm for a week ... including diapers, the pack n play for baby Easton, their car seats, boots, hats, mittens, snowpants ... and don't forget ALL of our coats ... GONE!

It's not like we left our stuff out in the open, everything was tucked organized into totes or bags and down on the floor. (So handy for the thieves.) The topper to the truck was locked as was the truck which was parked IN FRONT of the hotel under security lights. We definitely had overpacked and it's shameful to think that I felt we "needed" ALL this stuff for a simple week away. And in retrospect it was a blessing that I was in sole charge of packing everything because I had made a detailed checklist of everything I had packed ... I know it sounds so bizarre ... but I didn't want to forget anything and let me tell ya, I didn't! In our abundance ... we were drowning.

Thankfully we had our cell phone and AAA and I called my sister back in Iowa just in case she were to be contacted by someone with information about our truck ... both she and my brother wanted to drive out and help us any way they could ... but remember, they were trapped in the Midwest without ANY heat, water or anywhere they could go because of a HUGE ice storm that had hit just as we had left. Literally they could only talk on the phone. At one point Jeff asked me if I just wanted to turn around and go home and I admitted that YES  I did! But that was the thing. It wasn't an option ... it was clear that we were not about to be side stepping this. We were meant to go THROUGH it ... together. Pretty or not.

And if there can be a bright spot, here is perhaps where it can be found. The children's books that we took were mostly all Bible stories as they were paperback and therefore lighter and skinnier ... our clothes replaceable as were the skis and skates, the pack n play, the toys,  our video camera with footage from Christmas, even the Bible that they stole from Jeff, my women's Bible study workbook. In all the stuff that they took ... I hope (I know it's a glimmer that probably escaped them) that they were impacted by the fact that they were stealing from children, their Leapster and stuffed animals and books and cars ... and that this was a family who has a God who was looking out for them ... and that He was there for them as well. If they would allow Him in and turn from this life. Maybe they desperately needed the items to pay for food or the clothing ... but I think it was probably pilfered through and sold for drug money. I hope that at least some of the children's books fell into the hands of children who will be impacted in a positive way especially if they are caught in an ugly web of their parents' bad decisions. I pray that the Bibles that we lost stayed with the people instead of being chucked into a dumpster as the local police said would probably happen to most of our clothing and stuff (they actually suggested we drive around in our rental car looking for our stuff in garbage dumpsters.)

The family that we were meeting up with had arrived into downtown Denver the night before as well and were able to double-back with only minimal hassle (and maximum disbelief probably!) for us to drop us off to get a rental car ... they even had a friend who lives in Denver that provided us with 2 car seats for the boys for the week! The provision ... wow ... I wish I would have savored it more at the time instead of so much in retrospect.

We went back to the very nice hotel they had been staying at with the rest of the skiing party members ... to hang out in the lobby and collect our thoughts. The kids played, the adults consoled our swirling minds ... and then it was time to move on ... I went to find Brayden and his friend Gabe. I spotted them down the long hotel hallway. And that's when I saw Brayden ... being ALL of a mischeivous 3.5 year old boy ... reach up and PULL THE FIRE ALARM IN THE HOTEL! Oh yes ... as if we hadn't been through enough that day already (I don't even think it was noon yet.) I'm not sure what possessed that child to do that ... but I'm thinking it was the devil himself just trying to see how close to the edge we were. At that point it really swirled into slow-motion. About 5 fire engines showed up at this downtown Denver hotel ... the hotel fire alarms were going off FOREVER! The desk clerk couldn't turn them off, she couldn't field the phones fast enough from worried hotel guests ... we were not allowed to leave as the person who pulls a fire alarm is required to have a 30 minute session with the fire fighters and potential fines... luckily having heard our story of what had already gone on for us already that morning they let us leave without further agony. (I think they were probably just afraid of what else would happen with us around!)

We had gone from a huge diesel truck crammed with everything under the sun to a small economy family car with nothing packed and a sinking hope in a matter of hours. Our happy disposition was gone and replaced with a veneer of "it's gonna be  okay." I went shopping with my husband for everything from ski mittens to coats to underwear and deodorant ... I don't like to shop by the way and when I do, I like to go alone ... so this was a MAJOR undertaking to take a shell-shocked family on such a trip together. We piled our things into the conveyor belt at Walmart. The boys found the two coats amazingly in their exact sizes on the clearance rack and instantly became Denver Avalanche and Nuggets fans per their coats logos. Jeff looked at me and simply said, "We are such white trash." I know it sounds harsh  ... but if you only could have seen the variety of EVERY BASIC THING in our cart. It was intense like we had just gotten a paycheck and blown the entire thing on a trip to Walmart. AND that was only half of it. I went out again alone after getting everyone tucked into bed for socks and a curling iron ... a hairbrush ... toothbrushes ... things that you just forget that you kinda need. I even kinda felt like I knew the roads of Denver amazingly without ever having been there before. Something of a blessing of stress and adrenaline and grace from God.

There are so many lessons that were learned and are still being chewed on. The Brighton Police did find our truck by Saturday night. Amazing as they had told Jeff to not hold out much hope of seeing his truck ever again as most car thefts in that area (apparently there are a lot) end in the cars being stripped down and sold as parts for drug runner money.  An off duty police officer who was duck hunting found it abandoned in a muddy field behind an oil well in the middle of nowhere. Apparently the thieves, got what they could get money out of, and tried to hide the evidence of how they got it, went for a joy ride and got it stuck in the mud. And sadly, the police said they were well versed in what they were doing. They had drilled out the door lock AND the ignition ... had taken a baseball bat wrapped in a towel to bash out the back window of the topper. The truck was CAKED in mud inside and out ... it had a very ... mmmm ... Earthy smell. The kids were terrified of the truck now and I was afraid that we'd not get them ever back into it. We were able to drop it off at the local Ford dealer with a note to have it detail cleaned during the week along with the ignition and door locks fixed and that we'd be back down the mountain to pick it up at the end of the week. (Bizarre to just drop off such an expensive item with just a note ... but then again ... the ignition was only hot-wirable at this point! If we were going to have it stolen again the folks of Colorado probably would know how to do it with or without keys we figured.)

But there is one thing that you're still wondering about. What about Silky and Goldie-Bear? Remember those treasured items that Brayden wanted me to take into the hotel and that I instead wrapped into the safety of my coat? The items he asked me to go and get in the middle of the night. I shudder to think what if I would have happened upon the thieves mid way through their stealing? Maybe I would have heroically scared them off ... maybe they wouldn't have touched our truck ... maybe there would have been a more tragic ending to this story? The car thieves took about everything they could, including the spare change in the console. If I only had NOT wrapped Goldie-Bear up in my coat ... he probably would have survived the episode and escaped as Silky (a yellow blankie Brayden has had since birth) did. They did not take any of the pillows and blankets (nice of them ... especially since they had taken our coats.) It was a great blessing that Silkie was there ... he is still a comfort for my tough 7.5 year old (shhhhh!) However,Goldie wasn't spared ... and of course when we received the phone call from the police about the truck it was THE FIRST thing he asked about. I softened the blow for Brayden for weeks (and I'm not kidding) saying that maybe the people who had made the bad choices and took the things that didn't belong to them might bring him back someday ... but seriously after about 3 weeks of Brayden asking and craning his neck as we pulled into our driveway to see if Goldie-Bear was sitting on our front porch I just had to tell him the truth ... that Goldie-Bear was not going to come back ... even if the bad people turned to good and didn't steal anymore. I embellished a bit and said that he was probably skiing in the mountains.

I finally convinced him to pick out a bear of a similar size that was blue from the Post Office ... you see ... Goldie Bear was a gift from one of the church ladies at Brayden baby shower years ago ... I think he may have been a dollar store find and truly was one of a kind. He wasn't like any bear I've ever seen ... he wasn't even that cute ... but he had become cute ... because Brayden loved him. He was just so special and a part of the family in his little stuffed way. It still makes me sad to think about his loss ... and out of everything that is the one thing I miss the most.

The ski trip of 2007 was a memorable one and a watershed one in so many ways. I hate to admit all the materialistic things that had shards of sentimentality impaling themselves into me. It's just STUFF! But I have a huge problem with stuff.
And as I look now at our youngest son's wardrobe, that he is fast outgrowing, all filled with the clothing that my boys gained on the trip ... it is such a reminder of things. Important and not important.

There were so many good memories of the trip ... the kindness of friends ... the growth through struggle ... Brayden skiing down a mountain for the first time ... me trompling around a snowy wonderland all week in just tennis-shoes as my new snow boots had been taken (okay that wasn't a good memory but a frozen toe memory), the new clothes that we all were wearing ... that were chosen not because we loved what they looked like but because they fit and were probably on sale. But it's a thread in the fabric of our family story and it has hopefully grown us to be stronger and wiser ... and more patient and understanding with each other and with situations beyond our control ... and with others.

I'll follow up with the new ski story of 2011 later in the week. I just really didn't think I could relay the blessings for the present trip without closing up some lose ends with the ghosts from the past as well as appreciating once again the blessings that were perhaps too lightly noticed at the time. It's amazing to know that we've faced the demons of Colorado-past ... and come through okay on the other side.

Even though you weren't waiting or asking for it ...
I forgive you Colorado.

Brayden's First Mountain Skiing!  2007

Easton (18 mo) and Brayden (3.5)  2007

The family, Copper Mountain 2007
--notice the boys' expressions ... showing the stress that their parents are surpressing.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Yummy Recipes

I received some emails requesting the recipes that I mentioned a couple of weeks ago and then never came through on providing! Shame on me for leaving your mouth watering. 

In my defense we have been on a family ski vacation and are just returning ... SO ... as I unpack and deal with a broken waterheater and a strange buzzing sound coming from our modem (how do things break when we're not here using them?!) I'm going to keep you busy cooking.

Homemade Samoas Bars (AKA: Girl Scout Cookies)
Cookie Base:
1/2 cup sugar
3/4 cup butter, softened
1 large egg
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
First, make the crust.
Preheat oven to 350F. Lightly grease a 9×13-inch baking pan, or line with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, cream together sugar and butter, until fluffy. Beat in egg and vanilla extract. Working at a low speed, gradually beat in flour and salt until mixture is crumbly, like wet sand. The dough does not need to come together. Pour crumbly dough into prepapred pan and press into an even layer.
Bake for 20-25 minutes, until base is set and edges are lightly browned. Cool completely on a wire rack before topping.
3 cups shredded coconut (sweetened or unsweetened)
12-oz good-quality chewy caramels
1/4 tsp salt
3 tbsp milk
10 oz. dark or semisweet chocolate (chocolate chips are ok)
Preheat oven to 300. Spread coconut evenly on a parchment-lined baking sheet (preferably one with sides) and toast 20 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes, until coconut is golden. Cool on baking sheet, stirring occasionally. Set aside.
Unwrap the caramels and place in a large microwave-safe bowl with milk and salt. Cook on high for 3-4 minutes, stopping to stir a few times to help the caramel melt. When smooth, fold in toasted coconut with a spatula.
Put dollops of the topping all over the shortbread base. Using the spatula, spread topping into an even layer. Let topping set until cooled.
When cooled, cut into 30 bars with a large knife or a pizza cutter (it’s easy to get it through the topping).
Once bars are cut, melt chocolate in a small bowl. Heat on high in the microwave in 45 second intervals, stirring thoroughly to prevent scorching. Dip the base of each bar into the chocolate and place on a clean piece of parchment or wax paper. Transfer all remaining chocolate (or melt a bit of additional chocolate, if necessary) into a piping bag or a ziploc bag with the corner snipped off and drizzle bars with chocolate to finish.
Let chocolate set completely before storing in an airtight container.
Makes 30 bar cookies.
Note: You can simply drizzle chocolate on top of the bars before slicing them up if you’re looking for yet an easier way to finish these off. You won’t need quite as much chocolate as noted above, and you won’t quite get the Samoas look, but the results will still be tasty.

CrockPot Yogurt Recipe

--8 cups (half-gallon) of whole milk--pasteurized and homogenized is fine, but do NOT use ultra-pasteurized. (I used 2% milk and added one packet of plain KnoxBloxs Gelatin to help thicken it up after stirring in the yogurt with active cultures. )

--1/2 cup store-bought natural, live/active culture plain yogurt (you need to have a starter. Once you have made your own, you can use that as a starter)

--frozen/fresh fruit for flavoring

--thick bath towel

The Directions.

This takes a while. Make your yogurt on a weekend day when you are home to monitor.

Plug in your crockpot and turn to low. Add an entire half gallon of milk. Cover and cook on low for 2 1/2 hours.

Unplug your crockpot. Leave the cover on, and let it sit for 3 hours.

When 3 hours have passed, scoop out 2 cups of the warmish milk and put it in a bowl. Whisk in 1/2 cup of store-bought live/active culture yogurt. (**
added one packet of plain KnoxBloxs Gelatin to help thicken if you are using 2% milk.) Then dump the bowl contents back into the crockpot. Stir to combine.

Put the lid back on yourcrockpot. Keep it unplugged, and wrap a heavy bath towel all the way around the crock for insulation.

Go to bed, or let it sit for 8 hours.

In the morning, the yogurt will have thickened---it's not as thick as store-bought yogurt, but has the consistency of low-fat plain yogurt.

Blend in batches with your favorite fruit. I did mango, strawberry, and blueberry. When you blend in the fruit, bubbles will form and might bother you. They aren't a big deal, and will settle eventually. (I added the fruit per bowl to keep it from getting too runny.)

Chill in a plastic container(s) in the refrigerator. Your fresh yogurt will last 7-10 days. Save 1/2 cup as a starter to make a new batch.

**Oh yes, if you prefer Vanilla flavored yogurt like me, you're going to want to add 1 Tbsp vanilla extract and 4 Tbsp. of honey. Also ... if it's still a bit on the runny side you can try adding 1/2 Cup of powdered dry milk to help thicken it up a bit. I'm going to try this with my next batch. 

CrockPot Mongolian Beef
Original Recipe with homemade Hoisin Sauce found here:

Easier Recipe that I used ... found here:

1 lb beef flank steak, sliced thinly across the grain

Total Time: 6 1/4 hrs
  1. 1 Slice the flank steak thinly across the grain - the strips should be 2 to 3 inches long each; set aside.
  2. 2 Combine the onion, soy sauce, sherry, broth, garlic, hoisin, brown sugar, ginger, and pepper flakes, then put the mixture into the crock pot.
  3. 3 Put the cornstarch in a large Ziploc bag; add the sliced beef and toss well to coat.
  4. 4 Add the coated beef into the crock pot, gently pushing it into the liquid to cover; pour the white wine over - do NOT stir.
  5. 5 Cook on low for 4 to 5 hours; an hour before you're going to serve, turn the crock pot to high, add the cut scallions, stir, and cook for an additional hour.
  6. 6 Stir, and serve over white or fried rice or noodles.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Sew What's Up?

So I've been up to a lot lately ... but terribly bad about posting anything. Sound familiar anyone? Ya, I think it's going around.

January and February have been busy with hockey and snow days, some cooking and lots of sewing. In fact, if you have a project on order with me ... I think I've finally caught up! (whew!) Okay, almost anyway.
Not that sales are through the roof and I'm sewing non-stop. I just haven't quite figured out a set production schedule and with my own family's patches and mending, Thanksgiving, the church fundraiser I committed to and then also with Christmas ... well, I got behind. I do promise to get better! Hang in there with me. PLEASE!

Here's a peek at my sewing table (AKA our dining room table) yesterday afternoon. Maybe you'll get a peek at a package arriving to you soon!

One thing I have had the fun opportunity to do is to work on a few American Girls' size clothing! I'm ironing out some kinks and fitting issues to hopefully get things more straight forward in the future, but what do you think? 

This set is for my friend Gretchen in Florida who is organizing an adoption fundraiser for Loving God's They are having their annual Winter Dinner and Auction on Feb. 19th and there looks to be a good deal of BEAUTIFUL things to bid on! And what a great cause! I'm not sure if you have to be there to bid on this ... but if you are interested, email her to find out more! The set includes the lightly pre-loved American Girl Bitty Baby, her outfit and a matching little girl skirt that is 13" in length. (That can fit a 3T on up to a 5T depending on the length your little one likes to wear ... in fact, it can last for several seasons if it is paired with leggings!)

And as for the cooking, I've found a super recipe for Homemade Girl Scout Cookies, a from scratch recipe for homemade yogurt that you make IN THE CROCKPOT! and a Crockpot Mongolian Beef that was really, really good! (Even though my boys STILL don't like Chinese much ... Nolan really liked this, yay!) Maybe I'll post those recipes if anyone is interested.

The family

The family