Saturday, January 30, 2016

Panthers Rally

While I'm not a big football fan, I am a born and raised Carolina girl, making me a Panther's fan by default. I've more or less grown up surrounded by Panther's fans and have stayed familiar with scores and players. With a current record of 17-1, it's an awfully exciting season to be a Panther's fan and to live in Charlotte. The team is heading to California to prepare for the SuperBowl next Sunday, so the city celebrated with a "pride rally".. 

I talked myself into attending the Panthers Pride Rally yesterday. I was hesitant to go because I didn't want to keep Jackson out of school, especially since it was only his second day of school in nearly two weeks. (MLK Day, scheduled workdays, and multiple snow days add up.)

They were closing some of the roads, so I made sure to park somewhere cheap and easily accessible. I took the kids to Discovery Place for an hour, before walking a few blocks to the park. The museum was insanely crowded with multiple school groups attending. We only explored the first floor because it was so chaotic.

Discovery Place has two branches. The kids version targets birth-age 5, and the museum uptown has an older audience. However, the museum uptown has a great room for younger children. Unfortunately, this space was overrun by older elementary aged children who were not properly supervised. Amelia tried to join them and I had a brief moment of panic when I couldn't find her. I grabbed her before she left the area altogether.

I was unsure of what kind of crowds to expect at the Panthers Rally since it was scheduled for noon on a workday. There were several thousand people in attendance. Here's an aerial photo I found online. I drew a red circle for where we eventually stood during the program. It was in one of the few patches of sunshine. 

The kids were initially excited. I let them play in the rocks and run around the park.

There was a DJ maintaining good energy, and we danced, sang, and cheered.

As we got closer to the actual stage, the excitement turned to frustration.  It was colder and windier than I expected. The music was too loud. There were too many people. We had already exhausted ourselves at the museum, then spent an hour at the park waiting for the actual event to start. I fed the kids lunch to try and keep them occupied and content.

Jackson sat on my shoulders so he could see the action on stage. He kept whining, "I'm ready to go now". James and Amelia alternated crying. Maddie continued to eat graham crackers and happily point out every dog or balloon she saw. I was able to meet up with a friend from college, which was a highlight.

The program itself was a bit disappointing. Most of the time was spent listening to politicians and awkward cheers from the mayor, and none of the better known athletes made an appearance. Hopefully we'll be able to celebrate with a much larger event when the players return home as SuperBowl champions.

We rushed (as much as possible with thousands of other people) back to the parking deck so we could come home for a play date. We were running a bit late and our friends were already parked outside the house. Oops.

The toddlers were too distracted with company to nap, but all six kids quietly played with MagnaTiles and play food. People often feel like they would be imposing for us to watch their kids, but it's almost always easier for me when the kids have friends to play with. It's a win-win!

After all the excitement from our Friday, the kids and I were totally exhausted. As much as I love being around people, being in crowds of that size without having any down time drains me of all energy. Jesse suffered through grumpy kids with me, then we all had a much needed early bedtime.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

2015 Digital Family Yearbook: A Labor of Love

The ice still hadn't melted in remote areas of the county, causing school to be cancelled Monday and Tuesday. The roads were perfectly fine near us so we drove around and ran errands during these "snow days".  We also had plenty of down time at home.

The timing was perfect because MyPublisher, my favorite photo publishing company, was running their "Free Extra Pages" deal. I was able to create and order a 100 page photo book for the same price as a 20 page photo book. 

Unfortunately, my little notebook laptop could barely handle the project. I've created multiple 80 page yearbooks on this laptop with no problem. Apparently, the last 20 pages or so proved to be too much. There is very little hard drive space on a notebook so I kept having to delete and uninstall programs just so I could finish the photo book. I should have created the yearbook on Jesse's computer, but everything is done offline so I would have had to start completely over if I changed computers. After finishing 80 pages, starting over was not an option.

I spent 20+ hours going through over 10,000 pictures from the past year, arranging them in a custom photo book, writing captions, and waiting for the order to process. I would have liked to go back and delete some of the earlier mundane pages because there were at least a dozen photos I wanted to include from December but I simply ran out of pages. By that point, my computer was running so slow, my eyes felt like they were going to dissolve in my head, and the Free Extra Pages deal was going to expire in a few hours. I was over it! The program kept crashing because I had no disk space left on my notebook. Finally, after lots of cursing and Jesse's assistance, our 2015 yearbook was processed. It should arrive in 8-10 days. 

You can view our 2015 yearbook here

As I was getting frustrated, Jesse kept saying, "You don't have to do this. No one is making you do this." Of course he is right, but our family yearbooks are the most valuable material possessions I own. The photos tell our story, sharing the highs and lows of each year. They even help the trio communicate. All four of our kids climb on the couch and look through the yearbooks every single day. It's true that I don't love making the books, but we all love looking through them.

I know all too well that photos help preserve memories, and one day, our photos will be the only tangible thing for the kids to hold onto. That is why I will continue to take so many pictures, and spend so many hours blogging and creating photo books for our family.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Pretty Pretzel Rods

Dipped pretzel rods are so easy it seems silly to dedicate a whole post to them. However, anytime I bring dipped pretzels to an event, people ask, "You made those?" They look fancy and are so cheap, easy, and only require a microwave.

The only ingredients are pretzel rods, sprinkles of your choice, and candy melts or almond bark. 

The set up includes a glass of candy melts, sprinkles, and wax paper to place the dipped pretzels.

Whether I'm using candy melts or almond bark, I just fill half a glass and microwave 30 seconds at a time, stirring after every increment. It usually takes 90 seconds or less. Then I tip the glass, dunk a pretzel rod, and roll it until it's evenly covered.

Shake the excess candy off, then lay it on the sheet of wax paper. If you're adding sprinkles, immediately sprinkle them on the wet pretzels. The sprinkles will not adhere once the candy begins to dry and harden.

If you have colored sugar or very fine sprinkles, you could pour the sugar on a paper plate and roll the pretzels in the sugar.

If you want to drizzle melted candy/bark on the pretzels, you'll need a squeeze bottle, piping bag with narrow opening tip, or a good ol' fashioned ziploc bag with the corner cut off. I normally used a ziploc bag, but I bought a squeeze bottle for 50 cents. I found it hard to pour the melted candy into the small opening of the bottle, and I wasted a fair amount of candy because it hardened along the bottom of and sides of the bottle. I think I'll stick to ziploc bags.

After drizzling candy back and forth, it will harden like the photo below. Once it's completely cooled, I use a paring knife to cut the excess.

Because I don't like to waste any, I melt and reuse all the scraps.

I used a variety of sprinkles, dipping, and drizzling techniques. It only takes a few minutes for the the candy to harden. You can store them at room temperature or keep them in the refrigerator if it's especially hot in your house.

These particular pretzel rods were for a baby shower, To add a slightly nicer presentation, I stuffed them in a large vase and put one of the girls' elastic hairbows around the bottom. Simple, easy, and pretty.

I looked at multiple Etsy shops and every single shop sold pretzels rods for $1+ each! I made 42 pretzel rods for a mere $8. I love creating attractive food on a budget! 

Saturday, January 23, 2016

First Snow of 2016

While the rest of the northeast is getting slammed with a blizzard, we received just enough snow to have plenty of fun without being a total nuisance. The city was basically shut down on Friday and Saturday, due to ice.

We awoke to a snow covered lawn on Friday morning. Once we finished breakfast, we suited the kids up in miscellaneous winter wear and explored the back yard.

Jackson was the first to run out in the snow.

Amelia excitedly showed us the snow on our gloves.

James loved the snow and shook everything he could to make snowflakes fall.

We don't own any proper gloves so I wrapped my hands in washcloths and saran wrap.

The kids briefly enjoyed the snowballs.

Jesse and the girls had a mutual annoyance with playing in the snow.
 Jesse took the trio inside while Jackson and I played in the front yard.

Jackson wanted to build a snowman.


My favorite association with snow is making snow cream.

The girls helped.

The six of us consumed an entire bowl of snow cream.
We stayed indoors the rest of the day, playing Candyland, building blocks, watching TV, and cooking. 

A friend posted photos of her kids "coloring" the snow with dyed water. I thought the kids would enjoy this so I dug through the cabinets and recycling to find miscellaneous squirt bottles. After a few drops of food coloring in each bottle of water, we were ready to paint the snow.

I tried to line the kids up for a photo before giving them a bottle, but James was way too antsy.

Coloring the snow was a huge success. Everyone had lots of fun.

Zelda joined in on the fun. She even surprised us by climbing to the top of our neighbor's tree.

We had left our only sled with our inlaws over a month ago, so sledding was a bit of a challenge. I tried pulling Jackson on a tarp yesterday but it wasn't very effective. Today we used a blown up kiddie float.

Amelia and Jackson were the only two willing to ride down the hill. They each got a few good runs in before the float lost air.

Our second day in the snow was much more fun for everyone, including Jesse.

The front yard was so serene. No other people were outside, so it felt like we had an entire winter wonderland to ourselves. It was pretty icy, so we didn't even leave footprints in the snow.

After an hour, Amelia and Maddie were losing interest in the snow. Jesse took them inside.

Jackson and James happily demolished the pirate snowman.

James sat on the ground and threw snow all over the place, just like he sat on the beach and threw sand. 

I love the snow so much, likely because it makes me think of my college years. I'm so glad the boys enjoy the snow as much as I do.

We went for a walk to the top of the street to check out the road conditions. Jackson was protective over James with the ice. They shuffled together like little penguins.

When we returned back inside, Jesse and the girls were wearing pajamas and drinking hot chocolate. I guess they bond over snow days in a different way.

We haven't had any more precipitation in several hours, but it barely reached above freezing so the roads are still an icy mess. Church has already been cancelled tomorrow morning and I have a baby shower to attend in the afternoon. I've really enjoyed our snow days together, but I hope we can get out tomorrow and resume a normal week of school on Monday.