Monday, November 28, 2016

First Snow

Looking north up the road in front of my house on the way to work this morning.
November 28, 2016

We finally got our first snow of the season! It started last night not long after dark. The snow was fairly light, but it was steady, and we had about an inch of snow on the ground by the time we woke up this morning. Not quite enough to call a two-hour delay for school, darn it, but very beautiful nonetheless. Having to clean off your car when the temperature is below freezing isn't much fun, and yet we find ourselves looking forward to the magic of that first snowfall every year.

Icicles on the bottom of my car after school.

I thought the storm would move on and the snow would melt off by afternoon, but it continued off and on all day. By the time I left school at 4:15, the light but steady snow had resumed. I found my car covered in snow, and icicles had even formed along the bottom.

The temperature when I started my car about 4:15 this afternoon.

Mark and I left the house around 4:45 to run some errands, and the snow continued on. We stopped by Walmart and then we went to Lowe's to look at artificial Christmas trees. I don't care for fake trees, but after years of tromping through mountain snow to locate and cut our own trees, I've decided my knees just aren't up to it anymore. Time to get a really nice, really realistic artificial tree with sturdy branches and colorful lights already in place. We'll leave the tree-cutting adventures to the youngsters!

I didn't like any of Walmart's fake trees because they look, well, fake. There were a couple at Lowe's I thought were passable, but I decided to check out Home Depot's trees before I make a final decision. And Mark and I agreed that Home Depot can wait another day or two. An icy wind outside was chilling us to the bone, so we headed back to the warm house. By the time we got home around 6:00, there was another inch of snow on the ground.

Luckily, the pebbly snow on my window wasn't frozen on.

This story has a happy ending. Ten minutes after we got home from shopping, I got a text from my principal notifying me that we're on a two-hour delay tomorrow morning. That's right, I get to sleep in until 8:00! Woohoo! Life is good!

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Finally, Thanksgiving!

Everyone looked so nice in this photo...and then Chris started to cough!
(He did turn his head away before the cough actually came out.)
Saturday, November 26, 2016

At last, we were all able to get together for a Thanksgiving feast on Saturday evening! We enjoyed several hours together, preparing the meal, watching Christmas movies, setting up a new Christmas decoration, and eating pie that we really didn't have room for yet. It was a wonderful time.

Our second try, this time without the cough.

As every mother knows, the Thanksgiving feast begins long before the actual meal. That's especially true for those who bake their goodies from scratch. For my mom and sister, the baking of just the pies alone began days before the holiday. Not so true for me, I'm afraid. I used to love baking, although I never really got my mother's knack for pie crust. I always pictured myself as the quintessential homemaker who baked everything from scratch, from whole-grain bread to cinnamon rolls. Then I started college, full-time, while working. Then I got married and immediately started a family while beginning a career as a teacher. Baking became a distant, hazy memory. Maybe I'll rediscover that small joy after retirement.

One cherry, one apple, one razzleberry pie.

For now, though, my holiday pies come from the frozen food aisle. Even so, my day began early. I was up at 5:30 to drive Mark to work, and when I got home I plunged into the day's chores. I washed a load of laundry and then started in on washing my bedding. With a king-size bed, that takes awhile since you can't just throw every bulky, king-size item into the washer at the same time. Plus it's finally time to add the extra winter blanket on the bed (it comes off again in early May). It's been getting down into the 20s at night and, in fact, we're supposed to get our first snowfall tonight. The winds that have been blowing the storm system into town were so strong last night that it sounded like the roof was being torn off!

The potatoes, all scrubbed and ready to boil for mashed potatoes.

Once I had the laundry going, I began prepping everything I could for our dinner. I baked the pies, scrubbed the potatoes (I never peel them since all the nutrition is in and directly beneath the skin), and got the green bean casserole ready for baking and into the refrigerator. As it turned out, I wasn't as good about cutting carbs for Thanksgiving as I'd intended (pretty much the same as last year), but the low-carb green bean casserole was a success. Better than the original! For anyone who's interested, the recipe is below.

Mix 4 cans French-style green beans (drained) with 2 jars mushroom Alfredo sauce.
You can half this if all you want is an 8x8 pan.

Top with 1/4 cup minced dried onion, 2/3 cup coarsely ground pork rinds,
and shredded Parmesan cheese (as much as desired). I wait to add these 
right before baking so they'll stay nice and crisp. 

Bake 40 minutes at 350 degrees, until browned, bubbly, and delicious!

Around 10:30 I was able to jump in the shower and then be out in time to wrestle the turkey into the oven. This was the first Thanksgiving in which I had to prep the turkey by myself. In the past, my kids--especially my boys--were around to help me handle 22-24 lbs worth of slippery raw turkey. This time, with the kids all on their own and Mark at work, I got to clean the turkey, wrestle the big guy into his roasting bag, baste him with butter, and load him into the oven all by myself. Good times.

Sarah cuts up the potatoes.

Luckily, I didn't have to do everything alone. Sarah picked up her dad from work and then came over to help cut up potatoes, mix up the beverage (cherry limeade with 7Up, all sugar-free), and prepare the dinner rolls. Mark threw the pork rinds into the food processor and ground them up for me, as well as preparing the stuffing and carving the turkey. Tons of meat on that critter!

Mark does the honors.

Dinner is served!

None of us ate as much as we'd anticipated. I didn't even have seconds because I was barely able to finish my firsts. The pies were hardly touched, although we did manage to finish off the chocolate cream pie brought by Dylan and Jake. So it looks like we're also having Sunday dinner this week, after all. The kids are coming over again tonight for leftovers.

Dylan, Mark, and Chris try to figure out the Star Laser.

After dinner, we gathered in the living room to watch two of the kids' favorite old Christmas movies, first The Polar Express and then Elf. There was also a little carb-crash-inspired dozing going on. When it got dark enough, we went outside to set up the Star Laser Mark had seen advertised on TV and decided he wanted to have. Luckily, we found it on sale, leftover from Black Friday, marked down to $18.88.

The Star Laser flickering on the ground was driving Diego crazy!
He's actually in this picture, attacking the lights; you just can't see him.

We thought it wasn't working right at first. Mark had it set to project both red and green lights on the front of the house, but only red lights were showing. Then Dylan read the instructions, which said it had to warm up before the green became bright enough to see. We went back inside to watch our movies, and when we went back out an hour later, the house appeared to be bursting with bright red and green lights. I tried to film it to share it here, but it just didn't come out.

The lights were flashing outside the door. They even pierced the cracks
in the blinds, casting little red and green lights on the walls inside the house.

I got about half the dishes washed up early this morning.

As with all good things, our Thanksgiving holiday came to an end and everyone returned to their homes around 10:00. Then, as predicted, I spent two hours this morning cleaning the kitchen and washing up about half the dishes. It's times like this that I really wish I had a dishwasher. Still, the counters are clean and the extra table and chairs are put away and the remaining pots and pans are soaking. And you can bet that tonight's leftovers will be served on paper plates with plastic utensils and cups!

Thanksgiving is a fun holiday that helps us stop and remember how much we have to be grateful for every day of the year. My life is richly blessed and I am thankful for so much, but none of it would matter if not for the people in my world. Above all, I am so thankful for the family and friends who enrich my life every day. I love you all!

I couldn't even fit all the dirty dishes onto one counter.

And now, if you'll excuse me, I have a date with a tall stack of pots and pans...

Friday, November 25, 2016

Fantastic Beasts

My new CDs from Nashville Tribute Band

As I mentioned in my last post, I got a lot of things done on my day off this Wednesday. Some were things I just hadn't found time for and some were tasks I'd been battling to get done for quite awhile. The very first thing I did, of course, was head to Book Barn to buy Nashville Tribute Band's two most recent CDs. Spending most of Thanksgiving Day alone (and also getting a bunch of stuff taken care of, which is so satisfying), I had plenty of time to listen to both albums more than once. Both are awesome, but I particularly love Merry, the Christmas album. It will get a lot of play during this coming month! I'm listening to it right now, in fact.

And so, Wednesday was a good day. And that night, when our family got together to go see a movie, it was even better!

The interior of the new Firehouse Pizza in town.

Being a family of Harry Potter fans, we've all been anticipating the screening of a new film--from a screenplay by J.K. Rowling and set in the wizarding world--called Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Based on a tiny, humorous little Hogwarts "textbook" of the same name that Rowling wrote long ago as an addendum to the Harry Potter novels, this story takes place in New York in the 1940s, long before Harry, Ron, and Hermione were even a gleam in their daddies' eyes.

The movie came out last week but, as usual, our assortment of odd and overlapping work schedules prevented us from seeing the movie together until Wednesday evening. As it happened, Mark, Dylan, Jake, and myself were all off work that day, and Chris decided not to go with us. Sarah did work, until 4:00, but that just meant we had to go to the 6:45 showing. We all managed to get to the theater that night to enjoy the film together.

Inside Firehouse Pizza.

On our way to the theater, Mark and I decided to stop for dinner at one of the newest eateries in town, Firehouse Subs, and give it a try. The decor inside the restaurant was very cool and the food was pretty good. Mark was disappointed in his sub, the "Hook and Ladder," claiming it had more tomatoes in it than meat. I ordered the "Firehouse Hero," which was packed thickly with roast beef, ham, turkey, and provolone, and I found it to be very tasty. I thought that the prices were relatively high for the size of the sandwiches, in contrast to Subway. However, I'd say the quality and taste of both sub shops are comparable. The Firehouse sandwiches are definitely more juicy and drippy, but I liked that.

Movie poster outside the theater.

From the sub shop, we headed on down the highway to the theater. We were there early enough to have our choice of seats in the empty room. We didn't have to wait more than a few minutes before our kids arrived to join us. Then it was a little mini-reunion while we chatted for half an hour, until the movie began. After all the trailers played through, of course.

Dylan, Jake, and Mark before the movie started. Like father, like son.

How was the movie? In a word, FANTASTIC! We all agreed it was amazing. For the first twenty minutes or so, I was thinking, "What the heck!" as we met the new characters and absorbed the differences between the eras and the nations of this film and the original stories. Apparently the rules and terminology for magic are different for American and British wizards and witches. For instance, rather than being called "muggles," in the United States, non-magical folk are called "non-maj." Apparently, Rowling doesn't think we Americans are too creative.

After that introductory phase, however, the movie took off and we were swept into an amazing world of fantastic beasts and magical mayhem.  I've heard that as many as four sequels are set to follow, and we can't wait!

Mary and Sarah before the film commenced. It's getting chilly!

Thursday, November 24, 2016

No Thanksgiving...Yet

The menu is set, all the shopping is done, the 22-lb turkey is out in the
big freezer. All we need is a day when everyone can meet to feast!

So here I sit alone in my house on Thanksgiving morning. Not that I mind the quiet and the opportunity to get a lot done. In fact, I rather enjoy it. Still, it is Thanksgiving Day. As usual, our family won't be having Thanksgiving on the day when most of the nation will be feasting with their loved ones. Since everyone in my family works in retail, the hospitality industry, or as a caregiver (except me), we don't have a single day this long weekend when everyone is off work at the same time. Here's a look at our schedules for Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday:


It's looking like Saturday is our best bet, and Dylan thinks he may be able to get off a couple of hours early. Then we could plan to eat around 4:00, and still have room for pie by about 8:00!

Did you know you could buy cauliflower already riced and/or mashed?
I didn't know that!

At least all my shopping was done a week in advance, so I don't have to go out today or tomorrow. We actually have three days off from school for Thanksgiving this year, so I have Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday to accomplish whatever I choose to do before we even get to our feast day. I actually did get a lot of errands done yesterday, while stores were still open. (And then, of course, I'll spend all morning on Sunday doing dishes! Still no dishwasher...)

Our menu: 
Turkey and stuffing (Half of us don't care for stuffing, but Mark, Chris, and Jake do.)
Mashed potatoes and gravy
Buttered corn-on-the-cob (to be provided by Dylan and Jake)
Green bean casserole
Dinner rolls and butter (to be provided by Sarah and Chris)
Beverage (to be provided by Sarah and Chris)

And, of course, the all-important pies:
Oreo chocolate cream pie (to be provided by Dylan and Jake)
Razzleberry pie
Cherry pie
Apple pie
Whipped cream
(Except for Jake, none of us are that fond of pumpkin pie.)

Although I do plan to cheat a little on pie--my particular favorite is razzleberry--I am going to cut carbs wherever possible. Turkey is safe and I don't like stuffing, so that's easy. I plan to thicken my gravy with coconut flour, which has half the carbs of regular white flour (and is non-gluten). We always make our mashed potatoes with the skin on, which is slightly more healthy, and I use cream and real butter instead of milk and margarine. But this year I plan to mix my serving of mashed potatoes with mashed cauliflower to cut the carb count in half. Many low-carbers swear they like mashed cauliflower as much or more than real mashed potatoes. However, even though I like cauliflower, I think it's pretty nasty mashed. I'm hoping it will be overpowered by the taste and texture of the added potatoes.

There's not much I can do about the corn. I haven't decided yet whether I'll abstain or splurge. I really love corn, though, so we'll see... At least it's a natural, non-processed food. As for the green bean casserole, I found a low-carb version that's even better than the original. Even my kids like it better. And dinner rolls are nearly impossible to say no to, so I'm going to bake myself an alternative: homemade cheese rolls made from coconut and almond flours. Healthier, with less than half the carbs.

Just two more days until our family feast!

We even have the sparkling cider all ready to toast the New Year!

Then, of course, after surviving the foods of Thanksgiving, we'll be inundated with all the tempting goodies of Christmas and New Years. I know better than to try to be perfect, because it just isn't going to happen, but I'm going to do my best to limit the cheats. And then it's clear what my New Years resolution will be...again...

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Gimme a Break

Confiscated cell phones in my desk drawer yesterday.

Today is the first day of the rest of my...five-day weekend! It's the first time ever that we've been given three days off for Thanksgiving break. Oh, we often get a half-day on Wednesday, but this year they actually gave us Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday off. It was, frankly, unbelievably awesome to have only a two-day work week.

Not that those two days were totally pleasant. Students are always so squirrelly right before a holiday break. They can't seem to focus and they're convinced there's some law stating that they shouldn't have to do school work, but instead enjoy free time, or at least a movie, on the last days before a long weekend. The final week before summer break is the worst. Every student insists that the school should just cancel the last week of the school year. They don't quite comprehend that there will always be a last week, no matter when it happens.

So yesterday was a challenge, and I was exhausted by 3:20. I spent a lot of time taking away cell phones and hidden sodas and bags of chips and candies. If I'd decided to issue referrals for every infraction, I'd have done nothing else all day. In the end, though, we all survived it.

The best project of the day! A diorama scene from the novel Code Talkers.

To make the days a little more palatable, we spent two days last week and both days this week working on and presenting projects related to the novels we've been reading: Summer of My German Soldier for freshmen and Code Talkers for sophomores. The students were given a list of more than a dozen possible venues to choose from, everything from writing a song or poem about the story, to creating a diorama or shadow box, to making a poster or collage, to acting out a scene (several performances of which were uproariously hilarious). One of the poems about the Navajo code talkers, written together by two Apache girls, was so deeply moving that I told them they should have it published.

Just this school year, the district office was moved into my building, right down the hall from my classroom. Before we started the presentations, I allowed one group to go into the hall to rehearse their scene, in which Jewish girl Patty is being beaten by her father, and German soldier Anton rushes out to defend her. When I walked out to check on them, Patty's "father" had whipped off his belt and was pretending to beat "Patty" with it. Then I looked back toward the district office and saw that three people, who were waiting to meet with district staff, were staring out the office window at the tableau of domestic violence being enacted before their startled eyes. I can only imagine what they thought!

I mentioned in a Facebook post last month that I'd been battling a group of girls in one class who've been chronically rude ever since school started. After things came to a head, I was finally able to make some headway after having a heart-to-heart with the girls outside of class. They are still a challenge, yet I see some effort on their part I wasn't seeing before. This past Friday, two of the girls (the ringleaders) came into my room and asked if they could hang out until reteach was over. Friday is not a school day at the high school. Only students who are invited for remediation or to do makeup work are required to attend between 7:30 and 11:30. They assured me that they'd done the work they were invited for, so I told them they could stay. They thanked me, and then one said, "You're our favorite teacher." I laughed and rolled my eyes, saying, "Right..." Instantly, they both began to protest with utmost sincerity. "No, really, we're being legit,"one girl said. "Yes," agreed the other. "You're our only teacher who doesn't hate us!" Well, I think I'll call that progress!

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Nashville Tribute Band

The Nashville Tribute Band on November 17, 2016,
performing in Show Low, Arizona.

On Thursday night, our whole family went to a concert by our favorite LDS country group, Nashville Tribute Band. This bunch of mostly returned missionaries from various states (but now based in Nashville, TN) tours all over the country, but whenever they're in Arizona they always make time for a stop in Show Low. They's terrible popular in these here parts!

Singing their arrangement of "Feliz Navidad."

They have several albums out, including Joseph: a Nashville Tribute to the Prophet; The Work: a Nashville Tribute to the Missionaries; Trek: a Nashville Tribute to the Pioneers; and Redeemer: a Nashville Tribute to Jesus Christ. They recently released a new album called Merry: a Nashville Tribute to Christmas. In fact, this performance was a Christmas concert featuring songs from the new album. I especially loved their very creative take on the old standard, "Little Drummer Boy."

If you're looking for truly inspiring music on specific topics, I highly recommend this band. I dearly love the songs from both Joseph and The Work, and I listen to them often. I keep meaning to buy Redeemer, but I never seem to find time to stop by Book Barn, our local LDS bookstore. I imagine I'll own it by next weekend, though, since I intend to also purchase Merry to enjoy this holiday season!

Santa pays a visit, gets down with the music, and throws candy into the audience.

Watch a short clip of their final song of the least until they came out again and gave us an encore. They put on a great show! In fact, their concerts are almost like attending a musical fireside, as they share inspiring stories between musical sets. The three men who joined them during this particular song were their opening act, a trio from here in Arizona, called Three2U.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Redneck Wedding

The wedding cake kind of says it all...

Last Saturday, Sarah and I attended the wedding reception of my friend Wyndie's son Evan and his new bride, Makiah. I really enjoy wedding receptions. Not only is it fun to celebrate the start of a brand-new marriage, but I love seeing the decor selected by the happy couple. Each reception is so individual in concept and so revealing of the bride's and groom's personalities.

This display greeted us just outside the door.

Evan and Makiah's reception was decorated in a fun western style. I couldn't wait to capture it with my camera...until I realized I forgot to grab my camera as I left my house! Thank goodness for cell phone cameras in a pinch. The quality isn't great, and I apologize for so many fuzzy shots, but I was glad to be able to get some memories of our pleasant evening.

And this one was right inside the door.

A wagon for the gifts, and a milk jug to hold the cards.
This reception was held at the same building in Snowflake where
my son Jacob and his bride Danielle had their reception in June 2014.

This was a cute idea. Guests wrote their names and a message on 
Jenga blocks and then dropped them in the bucket.

It was fairly dark in the reception hall, which was softly lit by various
candles, lanterns, and strings of lights.

Clever use of a ladder.

Fencing and seating.

Pictures from both the bride's and groom's childhoods clipped on ribbons.

Utensils wrapped in napkins were placed in wood crates.
Tortilla chips and salsa were served alongside wedding cake.

I liked the little lights on the jar vases
for table decorations.

Last, but certainly not least...the bride and groom:
Makiah and Evan!

Friday, November 11, 2016

On His Own

Dylan and Jake check the mail outside their newly acquired apartment.
May 21, 2016

It's now been more than five months since Dylan moved out, leaving me with an empty nest after 27 years of raising three children. He and Jake found a place back in early May, just weeks before Dylan's high school graduation, and then they moved out during Memorial Day weekend, two days after graduation.

The guys have an upstairs apartment.

I had to bug them for a week or two before we all got together at their new apartment so I could check it out before they moved in. I was pleased to find that it was very nice and fairly roomy. No funny apartment smell. And the best part is that it's only a couple of miles from my house! Of course, the fact that it's upstairs combined with the fact that my knees have been problematic for the past year means that I don't visit them at their place very often. Luckily, they come over pretty regularly and, of course, I see Dylan working at Walmart often!

Dylan and Jake at the top of their stairs.

Naturally, I brought my camera along when I saw their apartment for the first time. My baby moving into his own place for the first time is, after all, a momentous occasion! So here are some glimpses at Dylan's new home.

They have a view of Rainbow Lake from their parking lot, walking distance away.

They also have a clear view of the old Lakeside Cemetery,
right on the other side of the driveway from their apartment.

Living room, with kitchen on the right.

Living room, with balcony beyond.

Jake and Dylan and the relaxing view from their balcony.

Looking into the kitchen.

There are two bedrooms, but I only took one picture since they're fairly similar.

The bathroom is much roomier than the ones in my house.

June 4, 2016: Time to move out, including this vast collection of shoes!

The fact that the guys moved into their own apartment on May 30th certainly does not mean that they were all moved out of my house on that same date. That took a little longer. You'd think an 18-going-on-19-year-old boy wouldn't have that much to move, but you'd be surprised.

You never realize how much stuff you have until you move!

When Jacob and Danielle got married (June 7, 2014) and Jacob moved into their first place in May 2014, it took months to get all of his big stuff out of my house. As for the small things, I was still finding more of Jacob's belongings here and there for the following two years. In fact, I took a bag containing the last of his things to him when we visited them in Utah this past July. At least, I think it was the last of it!

Drawers for Dylan's desk.

Taking so much time to get everything of Dylan's out of my house simply wasn't an option. I was intent on getting Mark (Dylan's dad and my ex) moved into Dylan's old bedroom as soon as possible so I could have my den back. That meant stripping the bedroom and closet down to bareness before moving Mark and his stuff in. We managed to get it all done that very first week. I found a few of Dylan's loose items here and there in the coming weeks, but nothing since. Success!

Don't forget to take all the stuff from the back of the closet...

June 5, 2016: I furnished the boys' kitchen for their wedding gift.

How their living room looks now, all moved in with some furniture.

Now, five months later, their apartment is lived in and furnished with an eclectic collection of hand-me-down, inherited, and newly-purchased furniture. I nagged Dylan for months to send me pictures of the apartment now that they've got it all set up as they like it. My knees (which are finally starting to improve recently) had gotten far too painful for me to tackle their stairs. He finally sent me these shots a few weeks ago.

Looking from the living room toward the kitchen.

I have to say that I'm very proud of my son. Despite his youth, he's very serious about taking care of his life. They own two cars (both paid for) and pay all their bills on time. They perhaps dine out far more often than their mother thinks is healthy (ahem), but they take care of themselves without leaning on us. And Dylan (Jake, too) is cheerfully willing to help out his dad and me in any way needed, whenever we ask. (As is his sister Sarah, I might add, who quickly came to my rescue when I locked myself out of my house two Fridays ago...)

I love these shelves in the hall, where they keep their books, DVDs, and games.

I'm proud of you both, Dylan and Jake!

Master bedroom.

Second bedroom.