Thursday, December 11, 2008

Gingerbread House How-To

So, every year we make a gingerbread house, and every year I turn to my binder of recipes and first see this Gingerbread House nightmare recipe from a woman who is trying to be reassuring about the difficulty of making a GH, and then says you have to be prepared, have 4-5 batches of icing ready, and set aside the entire weekend. And then she includes a picture of her finished house.
Um, no thank you. If it really was that much work, to make something that looked that bad, I would never make one. So here is my recipe and my tips on making a gingerbread house. I won't pretend our finished house is brilliant, but I think it's pretty cute and it only took an evening.
First you need a couple of helpers standing on a chair, blocking your access to measuring cups, baking sheets, and anything else you might need handy. It helps if they have cute helper poses.
Gingerbread recipe
5 cups flour
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup shortening
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup molasses
2 eggs
Combine first 6 ingredients in large bowl and set aside. In mixer bowl, beat shortening and sugar until creamy. Add the molasses and eggs and beat until well combined. Slowly mix in flour mixture until smooth dough forms. Divide into 3 balls. Roll out dough on foil lined cookie sheets, cut out your pieces, and bake at 350 for 10-12 minutes. Cool on sheets slightly, then move foil to cooling racks to cool completely.
I've made this every year for the last 3 0r 4 year and it has worked every time. In my Kitchenaid, the dough didn't really come together, but I dumped it out and kneaded it and it was just fine. Now, I don't ever eat this gingerbread, so I'm not really shooting for taste in this recipe. I'm mainly extolling its virtue for ease of use, good smell and sturdiness. Chloe thought it tasted really bad. I couldn't get Addie to stop eating the dough. She may look like it tastes bad in this picture, but let me assure you, she loved it.
To roll out the dough, I line my cookie sheets with foil. It makes removing the pieces so much easier, and it enables you to do stained glass windows. Basically, roll out each ball of dough to about 1/4-1/8 inch thickness. If you roll it out in a jelly roll pan, or lipped cookie sheet, your rolling pin will naturally rest on the edges of the pan ensuring that your dough is evenly rolled out and of a uniform thickness. Cut out two large pieces from each roll out, ie 2 walls, two roofs, one back and one front. Make sure that you leave space between each piece as you cut or they will take longer to cook and might not separate easily. After cutting, remove any excess dough. I didn't use a pattern, just cut out 5 x 4 inch walls, 4 x 5 x 3 inch front and back, and 4x7 inch roof pieces. You can find lots of patterns online, or just come up with something on your own. Just make sure the sides of the walls match up, and that the roof is big enough with some overhang. I then cut a door out of the front piece, and used a small cookie cutter to cut windows out.
If you want to do stained glass windows, just fill each window with broken hard candy pieces, or even whole hard candies. When you bake the pieces, the candy will magically melt. After the pieces have cooled, you can just peel them right off the foil and the windows will stay intact. If you don't use foil, you will not be able to get the candy off your cookie sheet and will have to soak it in the sink forever and start the whole project over. I then gather all the scraps, roll them out again, and cut out trees and snowmen, a chimney, and any other decorations I want. The dough will still seem a little soft when you remove it from the oven, but it is a good, dense gingerbread, and it will be plenty sturdy.
Icing glue
3 egg whites
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
4 1/2 cups powdered sugar
Beat egg whites and cream of tartar until foamy. Gradually add in sugar and beat until combined. Fill pastry bags and keep remainder covered tightly with saran wrap or a wet cloth until ready to use. If you're planning on eating this and are concerned about salmonella (ignoring the dust and spider webs that often accumulate throughout the month) use powdered egg whites instead of fresh.
This stuff sets up like a rock, and quickly, so you don't want to leave any you're not immediately using exposed to air. Most recipes call for only 3 1/2 cups of sugar, but I think that's way too runny and I don't want to have to wait for it to set up. This recipe works really well for me, and gives me just the right amount of time to set up and decorate the house.
Usually I use a piece of cardboard covered in foil. This year I used my nice cake plate. Which will have to sit in the sink for days after Christmas is over in order to soak all the icing off of it. Not my best idea. It's good to use something disposable so if you want to destroy it with a hammer or maybe fireworks, or even just throw it away, you can.
Anyway, decide where you want your house to sit, then pick a wall piece and pipe a good amount of icing along the bottom. Try to stick it to the base, but don't worry if it falls over. Do the same to an adjoining piece, but add another heavy bead down the joint. Stick it to the base and hold the two sides together until it sets. Add more frosting to seal the joint. Repeat with remaining side pieces. Once they are all connected and stable, let it set for a few minutes. Then add the roof. Fill in any gaps with icing. Let the house set up undisturbed while you distract the kids from touching it by filling bowls with candy and telling them not to eat them yet.
Once the icing you glued the house together with feels firm to the touch, start decorating. It seriously will set up within minutes, and you won't have to worry about the house collapsing as soon as you slap the first m&m on.
And here's our finished product. I think it's pretty cute, and only took about 3 hours start to finish. I love the necco wafer roof, though frosted mini wheats are cute, too, and I've heard good things about golden grahams. I usually add the chimney after the rest of the roof decoration is on. As far as candy options go, we always use necco wafers, m&m's, gumdrops, candy canes, licorice all sorts, and a variety of boiled sweets. And a warning, if you live in CA or somewhere else humid, you will lose various pieces of candy off your house throughout the holidays. The hard candies tend to go first, so if you're not concerned about edibilty, try some hot glue.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Credit where credit is due

You may have noticed I updated the pictures on my blog. My friend Janelle took them for us and did a wonderful job. You can see more of her work here. Amazingly, we actually ended up with pictures that had everyone looking at the camera, and everyone smiling. This first one, while not the best picture of the bunch, is one of my favorites and makes me laugh everytime I look at it. Can you guess why?

Oh, I just love my cute family.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The final scoop

I meant to get right back after the show aired, but somehow, the whole week disappeared. Wow. So, for those who didn't get to see it and have wondered how to see it, I'm working on getting a copy I can somehow share or post or something. Millionaire doesn't provide copies of the show, nor are the available online, so you'll just have to be patient. I'm just not technologically gifted enough to get it together quickly. If anyone wants to come over to my house and show me how to link my Tivo to my home network so I can transfer stuff to my computer, that would be awesome. If not, you might be able to catch it in reruns. Bracken pointed out that thanks to the Gameshow Network, it might live forever.
But for those like my brother Ben on his mission who can't watch it anyway, here's what happened. After the previous contestant went with the audience and got the answer to his question wrong, poor thing, I stepped into the hotseat. I, thankfully, was able to breeze through the first 5 questions. It was a little surreal to watch myself answer them because in my head, I took a long time with the answers, but it turns out I really zipped through them. And I had completely forgotten some of those questions. I'd had a huge fear that I would stumble or need to use a lifeline before the thousand dollar question, and was relieved that I didn't. However, on the $4000 question, I needed another minute to think about whether Barack Obama had won an Oscar, a Tony, a Grammy or an Emmy and asked the audience. Their answer was really mixed, and I didn't trust it, so it went with my gut and said Grammy. Thank Goodness!
About that time in the show, Meredith asked about my daughters and my family, and revealed that they had Bracken and Chloe on the line! I was so surprised. Then this picture flashed up on the screen of Bracken as a pirate and the girls in their Halloween costumes from last year. It made me laugh for two reasons. For one thing, Bracken had been after me to take a picture of him with the girls for a couple weeks, and I hadn't known why. Ooops. It also made me laugh because one of the main battles of our marriage has been over who is funny. I guess he finally settled that arguement on national TV, because he certainly looked like the one with a sense of humor by using that picture. I got to talk to him for a minute, and then Chloe whispered, "I wuv you, Mom," and totally choked me up. I just don't think that was quite fair to do to me in the middle of the show, though it certainly was sweet.
I continued on with the questions, and used my ask the expert lifeline to confirm that MI6 was the British Intelligence Agency. I had a gut instinct, but since it was the $25,000 question, I wanted to make sure I got it right. I then phoned my brother on the the next question because I had no idea that the Toven Specimen was an aluminum penny. Dan came through for me.
And then I got the the $100,000 question. I had no idea how large the Sahara Desert was, but I had my double dip lifeline and I had told myself that I would go for it if I had a chance. After all, I had a lot more to gain than I did to lose. I first tried the Gulf of Mexico, and then Mongolia. Boy, do I wish I had not underestimated the size of that desert. Turns out it is about the same square footage as the good ole USA. I haven't for one second regretted going for it, but I sure wish I had known the answer! Still, I'm grateful for the $25,000 I won, and am so glad that all those months ago I decided to take a chance and try out for the show. I got to visit New York for the first time, had a wonderful time with my sisters, met some great people, and for a very little work, "earned" a nice chunk of change.
However, I still have not seen that chunk of change. I am eagerly anticipating its arrival. It sure would be nice to see it before Christmas. As I wait, I'm figuring out which game show to try out for next.
Thanks to everyone for all your excitement and enthusiasm about the show. It sure means a lot.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Check this out!

I made the local news website. Check it out. If you want to.

Pedicure anyone?

In an effort to increase our family's cash flow, Chloe will now be offering pedicures throughout the holiday season. She enjoys her work, so it's not really exploitation. Just make sure she stays focused, or she will paint all the way up your toes because even though she's not looking, she keeps that brush moving.

The truth is, because she was good in nursery on Sunday (and good translates into not repeating the crime of hitting 4 kids like she did last week, even though she did refuse to sing with "those kids" and instead stood in the back of the room and had her own singing time), she got to paint her nails. Then she asked to paint mine and I let her. They make me laugh every time I look at them.

Monday, November 24, 2008

If you need a laugh

I'm sitting here alone as Bracken works into the night, and stumbled across a wonderful blog, which has had me laughing to the point of tears for the last hour or so. I highly recommend checking out For my favorites, search the words congratulations, sprinkles, and watermelon. Then browse to your heart's desire.

We have ignition

I just got the email confirming that my episode of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire will be airing on December 2nd, check your local listings or for the time. Actually, use the link to find out what channel it airs on, then check the specific local channel website for the correct time, since the time on the Millionaire website is wrong for Sacramento and might be wrong for your area, too. For those in the Sacramento area, it will be the episode that airs at 3:00 pm. So set your DVRs, TIVOs, and maybe even some VCRs, cause here it comes. I'm a little nervous. I hope I don't look like an idiot. If I do, please keep it to yourselves and just politely discourage me from seeking future oportunities to publicly humiliate myself.
As a side note, if you start watching the 3:00 episodes this week, you'll see all the people I got to know as I waited in the green room and you might catch a glimpse of my beautiful and silly sisters in the audience.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Mannion Mexican

I made dinner for my family when I was out in Utah last month, and had a couple people ask me for my recipes. They're not fancy, and they're not real Mexican, but we like em.

Mannion Style Taco Meat (this is the recipe Bracken grew up on)

Brown 1 pound hamburger, and drain off excess fat. Cover meat with approx 2 tablespoons, or 1 package, taco seasoning, and about 1 tablespoon chili powder. Cook for a moment until the scent blooms, then add 1-2 tablespoons flour and cook until flour is all blended in. Add 1 8 oz. can of tomato sauce, and 1/8-1/4 cup water, depending on how thick you want the sauce. Cook 3-5 minutes more, keep warm until ready to serve.

Ruth's Mexican Rice
Since I've never been totally satisfied with any mexican rice recipe I've tried, I experimented until I came up with this one. The measurements are approximate since I usually just kind of dump stuff in, so if it doesn't seem to be working quite right, just try dumping stuff in. This is a pretty light, dry, not overly tomato-ey rice. I'll often brown the rice in the pan I'm going to cook the taco meat in, then transfer it to the rice cooker and let it cook there while I prepare the meat.

For every 1 cup of uncooked rice

Melt 1 tablespoon butter in saucepan or frying pan with lid. Add 1 cup rice and cook until rice is translucent and starting to brown. Add 1 1/2 cups water, 1 teaspoon chicken boullion, 2 tablespoons salsa of your choice, 1/4 teaspoon chili powder, and 1/3-1/2 cup canned corn. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer. Cover and cook until all water is absorbed and rice is tender, about 15 minutes.

And just a word to the wise. If you're planning on frying your own taco shells, which we always do since Bracken loves them, make sure that when you take the lid off your meat that has been warming for a while with lots of water condensing on the lid, that you don't let some of that water drip into the really hot oil causing it to explode all over your left arm. Fortunately, it doesn't start to really hurt until after you've finished eating.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

My cute girls

Chloe has just been a wealth of humor lately. My favorite moments include:

  • While watching "Kit Kitteridge, an American Girl," the main character had to say goodbe to her dad. We looked down to find Chloe misty eyed, wiping away tears. When the dad returned at the end, she had the exact same reaction.

  • Everything relates to movies lately. Today she was describing the opening of Finding Nemo to me. "The shark comes, and he's mad, and he hits Nemo's dad, and his dad falls into the french fries." In thinking about it, the anemone really does look like fries.

  • She was picking up blocks and stacked them right up under chin, and said, "Look Mom, I do it like GusGus," referencing the part in Cinderella where Gus is trying to pick up corn in the yard. She repeated the performance with pillows and books.

  • I turned off the TV, her least favorite part of the day. Today for the first time I heard her say, "Mom, it's not fair!" I'm sure that will soon become the anthem of my life.

  • It's never enough to just eat her food. Everything that goes her mouth gets a, "Mom, it doesn't taste really, really bad, Bleh (with tongue out and curled). It tastes really, really good," or the opposite.

  • Bracken and I were cuddling for a few minutes on the couch before he went back to work, and watched as Chloe went back and forth from her room to the kitchen. Each time she went by, she had a blanket, or a backpack, or something covering her face. I think she thought it made her invisible. When Bracken called out Chloe, her immediate response was, "Nothing!"

  • My proudest moment came tonight as she was writing letters on her blackboard. I asked her to write her name, and wrote it on the board for her to copy. Independent little thing, she immediately erased it and then wrote C O L E on the board from memory. I think it totally counts as the first time she's written her name, even though she went back and started adding extra lines to the E since she thought it looked a little bare.

Addie has been equally entertaining. She is such a little sweetheart despite being sick, and she really does just have a fun personality.

  • Addie is walking! I just love watching her toddle everywhere. I'm even more impressed with her efforts now that I know she's been struggling with an ear infection which can't have helped her balance.

  • Addie is talking! She keeps parroting words and Bracken and I turn to each other shocked, "Did she really just say that?" Recent words include Baby, side (outside), and popsicle. She's nowhere near conversational yet, but I love to hear her.

  • She really likes to try to do things. She tries to help get dressed, tries to dress dolls, tries to feed herself, and even tries to put things away.

  • She just loves to smile, and has the most impish grin. Her eyes light up, her nose wrinkles, and her lips curl up at the corners. On America's Next Top Model, Tyra Banks is always telling the girls to smile with their eyes, and Addie definitely has that down.

My Yesterday

3:00 AM Finally fell asleep for the night.
5:30-7 AM Woke up, gave up on getting back to sleep, got dressed, drove to flower wholesaler, bought flowers for YW in Excellence.
7:00-8 AM Returned from wholesaler, prepped flowers, fed children. Bracken went to work.
8:00-9 AM Looked online for a pediatrician for Addie, whose cough was getting worse and had some nasty diarrhea. Debated whether I should take her to the cheaper express clinic, or throw away the whole cost of a doctor visit since we are nowhere near meeting our deductible for the year. Discover that she has to be 18 months to visit the express clinic. Spendt20 minutes on hold with the doctor's office.
9:00-11AM Showered and collapsed into bed to try to get a little sleep while Addie napped. Hopes of Chloe being mesmerized by Sesame Street dashed as she made visit after visit to my room to open candy for her. Too tired to debate whether she should be eating that much candy.
11:00-12:30 Loaded up girls, went to dollar store to buy vases, headed to Costco for more flowers and milk, returned home.
12:30-2 Made lunch for the girls. Found Addie had opened and dumped a container of plaster all over the floor. Started to clean it up, but clogged the dustbuster and had to take it apart and wash it. Attempted to start 12 flower arrangements.
2:00-3:45 Mainly spent waiting at the doctor's office. Filled out paperwork while trying to prevent Chloe from dumping her backpack out on the floor, and attempting to keep Addie from crawling into any open doorway. Finally saw the NP and learned Addie had an ear infection, so at least it wasn't a wasted doctor visit.
4:00-5 Arranged flowers while Addie napped and Chloe zoned out to more TV. Got about half the arrangements done. Addie woke up very upset, and I held her while she drank a bottle for about 15 minutes.
5:00-6:15 Returned to flower arranging. Noticed Chloe had fallen asleep on the couch, and couldn't remember the last time she'd been to the potty, so I picked her up and put her sleeping self on the toilet. She woke up enough to go, and then cried hysterically until she fell asleep on the couch again. Attempted to finish flowers as Addie tried to climb on my lap, mashed chocolate chip cookies all over the floor, dumped Chloe's cup of water from the table all over herself and the floor, fished around in my flower bucket, and attempted to eat the toxic blooms.
6:15-6:45 Finished the arrangements, loaded them in the car, and loaded the girls up. Drove to the church and unloaded the arrangements, and made my excuses for not being able to stay that night.
7:00-7:45 Drove to Costco, loaded a groggy Chloe and a crazy past her bedtime Addie into the cart, and hurried to the pharmacy. Found out the Rx still wasn't ready. Tried to talk to my sister Katie while I waited, until Addie started "playing" with Chloe and Chloe burst into tears. Finally got the Rx, and once we were back in the car, went to McD's for a healthy dinner.
7:45-8:30 Fed the kids, and myself finally. Gave them both a bath, and got Addie into bed by about 8. Cuddled in bed with Chloe and read a couple stories before saying goodnight.
8:30-9 Even though I was so tired it hurt and all I wanted to do was sleep, because I love my husband, I decided to clean up the mess of flowers and food all over the kitchen. Realized that the cup Addie had dumped had contained not water, but soda, which was now tracked all over the kitchen floor. Started sweeping, and though I had made the realization only moments earlier, forgot, and swept everything through the sticky puddle. Finally just wiped the dirtiest parts of the floor with a wet rag and called it good enough. Got the kitchen presentable, then finally crashed on the couch.
11:00 PM or so, Bracken finally came home for the day after a full day of work, school, and more work. He's been going back into work every night, poor guy, but at least he has work to do.

Believe it or not, after that crazy, crazy day, I still didn't sleep well last night. I think I'll actually take something tonight, cause the nice mom needs to come back.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Butternut Squash and Roasted Garlic Bisque

This is currently my favorite fall soup. Delicious, and easy. I got it from one of the farms up on Apple Hill.

2 whole heads of garlic/halved crosswise
1 teaspoon olive oil
¼ cup (1/2 stick) butter
3 cups chopped onion
¾ cups chopped carrots
½ cup chopped celery
4 pounds butternut squash, peeled, seeded, cut into one-inch pieces
6 cups chicken broth
3 tablespoons chopped fresh sage (I actually think it's better when made with dried sage. Add fresh as a garnish at the end).
½ cup plus 1 tablespoon whipping cream

Preheat oven to 350F. Rub cut surfaces of garlic with oil. Put halves back together to resemble heads. Wrap each tightly in foil; bake until tender, about 40 minutes. Let garlic cool in foil.

Mix butter in heavy large pot over medium heat. Add onions, carrots and celery: sauté until onions begin to soften, about five minutes. Add squash, broth and 2 tablespoons sage. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, simmer uncovered until squash is tender; about 25 minutes.

Meanwhile, unwrap garlic. Squeeze from skins into small bowl and discard skins. Mash garlic with fork until smooth.

Stir garlic into soup. Working in batches, puree soup in blender until smooth, or use an immersion blender. Return to pot. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Refrigerate uncovered until cold. Cover and keep refrigerated. Bring to simmer before continuing.) Stir in ½ cup cream. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer soup to tureen. Drizzle with remaining tablespoon of cream. Sprinkle with remaining 1 teaspoon of sage.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Where is Addie?

She has a new favorite hiding place. Can you guess where she is?

All our Halloween

As I sit here, with both kids fighting over candy and my fingers (and lips) burning from chopping 3 kinds of peppers without gloves on for my entry in tonight's chili cookoff, and my husband out in the pouring rain placing "Yes on 8" doorhangers, and the sliding door open so I can smell and hear the delicious rain falling, I sure am happy in my life. Seriously. Hope you're all recovering well from the sugar comas.

I know some of the pictures in this slideshow are repeats, but I wanted to get all the Halloween in the same place. There are pictures from Grandma Mannion's ward Trunk or Treat and Carnival, our pumpkin carving, Bracken's work party, and our Trick or Treating. We also attended the Tew's Halloween party, but got no pictures taken before we were rained out. We did however, win one very skittish goldfish that is named both Dory and Nemo that Chloe is desperate to hold. And if anyone remembers her past history, you'll know that it is a very real risk.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween

Old MacMannion had a farm

With a Horsie here and a Puppy there. E-I-E-I-O

And on his farm he (or his wife) grew some pumpkins. E-I-E-I-O.
With a cockeyed grin here.

And a pumpkin face (and hair) there.
Hope you all have a wonderful Halloween. We've got lots more partying to do, so stay tuned for more pictures.

Sunday, October 26, 2008


I used to do this all the time when I kept a journal. I used to write every day, but then I'd miss a day, and then another, because the more days that piled up, the more I needed to catch up on the more time I needed to write it all, which time I didn't have. Plus, I seem to have just had a generally hard time writing lately--no emails, no comments on blogs. Couldn't really say why, but I'll try to do better.

So what have we been up to? Well, today I missed church unintentionally. Addie really didn't want to take a nap, and we finally got her down about an hour before church started. I didn't want to wake her early, because I knew she would be a monster if I did. I opted to stay home until she woke up, then meet Bracken and Chloe at church. Bracken and I had a discussion about who should take the diaper bag, and decided it should go with him. They left, I finished getting ready and Addie woke up. I got her up, got her fed, put on her clothes, and even got a bow in her hair. I collected the pie pan we needed to return, the notes for the announcements I needed to make to the Young Women, a bottle and my wallet (I forgot that the other day while shopping for fabric for Chloe's Halloween costume and had to make a return trip with a child who was very distressed about her "horse" being left at the store). And then I went to grab my keys. And realized they were in the diaper bag. Which Bracken had. The spare was also in the diaper bag, and Bracken's key was in his pocket. I debated walking it for a few minutes, and gave that idea up pretty quickly. Then I remembered that the cell was in the diaper bag and I could call Bracken and let him know my situation. I waited until the appropriate time after Sacrament meeting would end and before Sunday School started, and called the number. And heard it ringing in the other room. Bracken had pulled it out and plugged it in to charge. So, Addie and I hung out on the couch, fully dressed and cute, and didn't go to church. i'd like to pretend I did something spiritual in my newfound time, but come on. Who do you think I am?

But we have been up to more than that. I might get around to posting all of this in detail later, but the shorter list is:

-We hosted an80th Birthday Party for Bracken's dad, Jack, 2 days after I got home from New York. It went really well, and we had a really nice time.

-Dad and Vicky came to visit and we had so much fun with them. We took our first trip of the year up to Apple Hill. Chloe took a pony ride, and couldn't have been more excited. I think it influenced her choice of Halloween costumes. The list went ghost, pumpkin, cow, banana, and finally, at zero hour in the fabric store, decided to be a horse. But I digress. We had dinner at Womderful Chinese Food, where Chloe astounded everyone with the amount of wonton soup she consumed, and Addie delighted us with the number of noodles she crammed in her mouth. They sure had fun seeing their Nana and Grandpa.
-We celebrated our 6th wedding anniversary with dinner at Ruth's Chris Steakhouse and a movie the day before. We spent our actual anniversary on the couch watching General Conference. It's been a fast and crazy 6 years. Sure love you honey.
-Addie took her first steps finally on the 7th. She still much prefers to crawl, but at least we're making headway. I just can't wait until she walks. I feel like I'll have a lot more freedom to work in my yard when she's not on all fours.
-On the 9th I did the bravest thing of my life. I drove, by myself, with both girls I Utah. It went suprisingly well. I sure do love those girls of mine. We had such a fun trip seeing my family and friends. Chloe loved being with all the cousins.
She couldn't wait to wake up every morning and play with the boys (we stayed with my sister Sarah and her family). I loved being with everyone, but also remembered what a wonderful husband I have who helps me out so much. I was a tired (and sick with a cold) mommy by the time we came home, but I'm awfully glad we went.
-The reason we took the trip was so I could attend my Aunt Laura and Uncle Jeff's endowment, and sealing to their children DJ and Makenzie. In the LDS church, we believe that it's possible to be with our family forever, that the love we share in this life doesn't have to end at death. Families who are sealed together in the temple are able to have this blessing. Laura is my mom's youngest sister, and I was a flower girl at Laura and Jeff's wedding 28 years ago (Chloe is wearing my flower girl dress). They, along with their children, are some of the finest people I know. It was a wonderful day, and I'm so glad I could share it with them.

-And we've been getting ready for Halloween. All the Young Women were over Tuesday (I can't attend activities at the church this semester because Bracken has class and Addie is not cooperative with staying up late, so we had YW at my
house) and I taught them some makeup tricks. I got Chloe's costume made. She's a horse this year, and Addie is a doggie. We went to a really fun ward activity last night in Bracken's mom's ward. I even got Bracken to dress up as a farmer, and I was a farm girl. The hairpiece from my wedding, which Bracken wore last year as a pirate, got to ride again. We had a lot of fun, but Chloe seems to be getting wiser to us sneaking her candy this year. Good thing we have Addie's

-And good thing I've been on a diet. I haven't been as stict as I could be, but I've lost 15 pounds! I know I could have lost it faster than the 2+ months it has taken me, but on the other hand, I've been trying to just adjust my eating habits, rather than having an "I'm on a diet" mindset. I've still got a way to go, but I weigh less than I did when I got pregnant with Chloe.

-But that's the only really good news I've got going on physically. I had an EKG and a whole battery of blood tests done, but am still coming up empty. The good news is that all the tests were negative. The bad news is the tests were negative but I've still got itermittent edema and lots of joint pain in my left hand. In the morning, I can't straighten my fingers and I can't take my rings off. I'm taking a vitamin cocktail that seems to be helping, but I still just wish I knew what was causing the problem. And I think the partly inoperable left hand keeps me from blogging as well.

But all in all, we're doing well. I'm going to try to be a better blogger, but I make no guarantees.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

I heart NY

The trip got off to a rocky start. Despite the fact that I had just been reading an article about Hurricane Ike, I didn't process that a hurricane hitting Houston, where both my flight and my sister's flights were connecting could be problematic until Sarah called to ask if we needed to do anything about our tickets. We called the airline, who wouldn't do anything for us, and by Sunday night, I figured everything must be okay, checked in online for my flight, and tried to catch a few minutes sleep. At 2:30 am, my phone rang, with an automated voice of doom telling me that my flight had been cancelled. I immediately called the airline to try to find a solution, and dealt with several of the most unhelpful customer service reps I have ever had the misfortune to encounter. Long story short, they scheduled me on the 12 o'clock flight, which would put me in New York 6 hours later, not connect with my sisters (whose flight left on time, with no delays or problems of any kind), and ensure that I would be seriously sleep deprived by the time I got to Millionaire. I cried myself to sleep for a couple more hours, and when I woke up, checked my flight online again. Only to discover that it had been delayed another 2 hours, which would cause me to miss my connection in Houston, have to spend the night in the airport, and not make it to New York until 5 hours after I was supposed to be on set. Cue more hysterical crying and unhelpful CSR's.

But Bracken saved the day and hopped on the phone, finding me the last ticket out of Sacramento, and rushing me into the car to get to the airport. He was really the hero of the trip, because left to my own at that point, I was about to just curl up on the floor with a "do NOT resuscitate" sign. I sure do love that husband of mine.

The rest of the trip was uneventful, and I do have to say, my first view of New York was beautiful at night. I took my first taxi ride to the Lucerne Hotel, where my sisters were camped out watching Family Matters. They decided to wait to enjoy any more sights of New York until I could join them. They also presented me with a care package from my friend Missy. I looked through the items she sent, but didn't have the time to thumb through the little trivia book inside. This is important later. It was already almost midnight, and I needed to be at the studio at 7:30 the next morning.

We all walked over to the studio together. I was escorted inside where I spent the next 10 hours under heavy supervision. There were 8 other contestants that day, and we got to know each other pretty well as we sat in a 6 x 12 room together all day watching Millionaire reruns. We had to be supervised when we went to the bathroom, got food, or wanted to do anything else outside the room. Occasionally the phone in the corner would ring, and they would tell us they were ready for someone, but the whole day passed without them calling my name. At the end, three of us were told we would have to come back the next day. I met up with my sisters outside and spent of few minutes chatting with the families of the other contestants that they had spent the day with. Turns out we all had really great opportunities to be missionaries. By the end of the day, everyone knew we were LDS, and we were able to show them that we are (mostly) normal and answer a lot of questions they had.

Sarah, Katie and I went to dinner at a little New York Pizza place. Delicious. Then we walked over to the Manhattan temple and did some initiatories. The temple was amazing. You don't realize how loud the city is until you walk into the temple and the sound all stops. It was wonderful to attend the temple with my sisters.

The next day I didn't have to be the studio quite so early, and I was one of the first few contestants up that day. I can't tell you much about it, other than it should air on December 2, but they'll let me know for sure about 10 days in advance. What I will tell you is that the answer to the question I didn't know, the one that will haunt me forever, was in the little book of trivia Missy had sent that I didn't have time to read. I'm trying to figure out how to blame the airline for the lost time and recoup the rest of the million I would have otherwise won if I'd had time to study.

After the taping was over, we finally had time to explore the city. We braved the subways, which really didn't take much bravery at all. I was amazed at how easy they were, and how inexpensive they were to ride. We took the subway down to Battery Park, then rode the Staten Island ferry. We saw the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, and were nearly accosted by a very bold pigeon. Afterward we walked up to Ground Zero. It doesn't really look different from any other construction site in the world, but the presence there is overwhelming. It was all I could to to keep back the tears. I can remember my experience that day, having moved to LA less than a week before, surrounded by talk that we would be next, and the fear my middle Eastern bosses had of retribution, but I can't begin to imagine what it was like to be in New York.

We took the subway back to our hotel, and learned that when you want to get off at
68th street, don't take the express train. We corrected our error quickly, though, changed our clothes, and hopped back on the subway to the Gerswhin theatre to see Wicked. I thought there was no way we would make it in time, but we got there 10 minutes early. New York mass transit is amazing! Wicked was amazing. I loved the show, but I have to admit, it did make me realize I've been involved in some incredible productions.

After the show, we walked to Times Square, then wandered Broadway looking for a restaurant Meredith had recommended. We didn't find it, but we did find a late night diner and I had a delicious Reuben sandwich. We then headed back to the hotel via Columbus Circle. I am amazed by New York City. We were three women, wandering the largest city in the United States at 1 in the morning and felt completely safe. It was amazing. We decided New York is a lot like a large amusement park for tourists. There's lots to see and do, it's clean, there are redes, and there are a lot of people. Honestly, though, it didn't feel nearly as crowded as I imagined it would. I seriously can't wrap my mind around how people actually live there, but I would love to visit again.

The next morning, Sarah left super early to return to Utah and resume her frantic life there. Katie and I got up fairly early and began our walking tour of NYC. We left our hotel on Amsterdam and W. 79th at around 8 and saw:
The Museum of Natural History
A big chunk of Central Park
Rockefeller Center
Secret Service, Snipers and police dogs awaiting the arrival of someone
Saks 5th Ave.
St. Patrick's Cathedral
H&M (Katie's Choice)
Grand Central Station
The Chrysler Building
Times Square again, with delicious gyros
New York Public Library
Macy's on 34th St.
The Grace Building
And finally, the Empire State building.

We arrived at the Empire State Building after having walked over 5 miles around NYC, wanting to go to the top, but seriously debating our time constraints and physical limitations (we were exhausted and hadn't sat down at all all day). We struck up a conversation with two older gentlemen working there, asking them how long the line was (45 min. at least)and whether or not there were places to sit while waiting. We went back and forth over whether or not we could really do it, when suddenly proud New Yorker Phil stepped up and said, "That's it, I'm taking you to the top." He didn't want us to leave NYC without seeing the view. He whisked us past all the lines, and straight up the 80th floor elevator, saying goodbye to us as we got on the elevator to the 86th floor, and collecting no money from us either! We couldn't believe our good fortune. He told us just to to a good deed for someone else that day. I realized that I was actually being repaid for returning the airplane tickets that had fallen out of another person's pocket earlier in the day. It was an amazing end to our trip to New York. The view was incredible, but the way we got there made it even better.

We rode the subway back to the hotel, stopping for a hotdog from Gray's Papaya on the way, then hailed a taxi to the airport. Katie and I were able to share the first leg of our flight, then split up in Houston. I returned home around midnight, grateful to see my family again, but having had a wonderful trip. I had such a lovely time with my sisters, and so many wonderful experiences. Despite the headaches and last minute changes, I would do it again in a heartbeat.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

New York here I come!

So I'm headed off to New York tomorrow. I can't believe it's actually here. I've been frantically busy and nervous this whole week, but I went to the temple Thursday night, and have felt much calmer and have had a better perspective since. I'd love any prayers you'd like to send my way, especially on Tuesday, cause that's the day I hopefully become a millionaire. Wish me luck! (And Bracken could probably use some luck, too, what with the full time Daddy duty and all. I mean, he's a capable dad, but he's not going to get a break for 4 days.)

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Camping at Sugar Pine Point

So here's some pictures from our recent camping trip with the Mills. We had so much fun. I'll write some more soon, but in the meantime, check out Ashley and David's blog.

Kids sing the darndest things

We were driving home from Grandma and Grandpa Mannion's house tonight, and Chloe started singing her favorite song of late.

I love my mommy
Oh yes I do-o
I love my mommy, I do
Oh mommy, I love you.

Then she repeats this with everyone she knows. Until she gets to Daddy. Then it changes to:

My daddy loves me.
Oh yes I do-o
My daddy loves me, I do
Oh daddy, you love me.

Tonight, since we had just left the company of her cousin, who can play a little rough, she added this verse:

I love my Syrus
He poked my eye
And then he bit me
Oh Syrus, he's a bad guy.

I laughed so hard I hardly noticed she managed to make it rhyme.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The skinny on Millionaire

Well, the skinny on Millionaire won't be me. Oh, I'll be on Millionaire all right, but I'm a bit frustrated with my prospective appearance. A couple weeks ago, right before I got the call scheduling my appearance on the show, I decided to finally commit and join Weight Watchers. I've been struggling with losing weight, and despite my best efforts to diet alone, I had actually gained a bit. So I began the plan, was really good about sticking to my points, and lost 2 pounds the first week. Hooray! And then I started to bloat. I thought, oh, it's just that time of month, the water will come right off as soon as my period starts. But it didn't.

And then I noticed my ankles looked like they were swelling. Which is kind of hard to tell on me since I have large legs. Usually, though, I do have ankle bones and I realized I couldn't see them. Or the bones in my feet. Or any indentations around my knees. Suddenly I put two and two together and realized that though the pain in my legs I mentioned a couple weeks ago had improved when I started taking iron, it hadn't completely gone away. No, it had moved down to my knees, making it almost impossible for me to squat or kneel, and unable to get up without using my arms. And then it had migrated down to my feet, causing them to ache and swell so much I can hardly put shoes on. And walking is not pleasant either. When I weighed in for my second week, even though I had stuck to my points strictly and exercised a lot, I had gained 3 1/2 pounds. I'm pretty sure it's all water.

I went into the doctor at this point cause I was a little freaked out. They did some bloodwork and it turns out the iron I took before wasn't enough. I am now really anemic, and hopefully increasing my iron more and adding vitamin C will help. I also picked up some water pills to try to stop feeling so sloshy.

I just can't get over the irony of the situation. I spend most of my time covered in dirt and food and snot and whatever combination of kid slime I've acquired in the average day. I often don't put on makeup and just slap a hat over my hair and call it good for the day, and it's fine with me. Vanity just doesn't register most days, and that's quite all right. But the one time I really want to look good, when I've been making the best effort I can remember to lose weight and take good care of myself, it all implodes. I realize that it all falls under pride, and the Lord wants us to be humble, but am I really asking that much right now? I just want to look good the one time I appear on national television.

It's not the first time the Lord has chosen to kill my vanity at a most inopportune time. When I was 16, my family moved to Utah. My entire life I had worn glasses, and been teased about them every time we moved, every new school I started. I was really unhappy about moving to Utah, but the one bright spot was that for the first time, I would be wearing contacts when I started school and wouldn't be stuck the the glasses label. The first day of school I was getting ready, and as I went to take my hard contact lenses out of the case, one snapped right in half. I was horrified. All I'd wanted was to start off the new school year looking nice, and there I was, stuck with glasses again. At this point, I would be totally cool with wearing glasses on TV, if only I didn't look like a beached whale.

Hopefully if I have to look bad, I'll get to win big. So here's the scoop on the Millionaire thing. I got a call inviting me to come be on the show on September 16! The date was a little awkward for us--we've got something big going on on the 20th, but it was kind of a now or never situation, so I went for it.

It's been crazy ever since trying to figure out lifelines and travel and trying to study all the random trivia in the world. I'll be heading out to New York on the 15th with both of my sisters! I'm so excited to be able to go with them. I don't get to spend nearly enough time with them, so just vacationing with them will be a thrill. I've also never been to New York, so that is super exciting. We won't be spending very long there, but I think we'll still be able to do a lot. I'll give you some of the details about the show after the taping, but I won't be able to disclose a lot until after it airs in November. I'll keep you posted about the air date. I'm super nervous. Suddenly I feel like I don't know anything, and when I play along with the show, I don't do nearly as well as I'd like to. I'm trying to have faith, though, that there's a good Mormon gameshow vibe in the air since there's finally a million dollar winner on Deal or No Deal, and she's LDS. Wish me luck!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Happy Birthday Addie!

Addie is one now! She had a wonderful birthday, I think. She even got to play with her own toys occasionally. We're working on teaching Chloe that Addie has rights and possessions, too.

Opening her first gift.

Enjoying her loot and repeatedly saying hi to the baby on the box. I think she was the most excited about him.

New hat and glasses.

Reading a new book with Dad and Chloe.

Enjoying her ball popper.

We celebrated Addelicious' birthday on Friday, August 22, and had a party on Sunday August 24 with family and friends. Addie had a great time. The theme of her party was "loud" since that has been the main adjective of her life.

There was a megaphone cake for the party

And small megaphones filled with noisemakers for the guests

And her own megaphone cake.

And party hats.

And presents

And bucket baths at the end.

I can't believe my baby is one! It has been a fast year, full of lots of learning. Addie has definitely been a learning experience, and increased my testimony that our spirits existed before we were born. How else could two little girls with the same parents be so different? Addie has also made me rethink my parenting skills for the same reason

Here's a few examples of why/how:

Chloe slept through the night at 2 months/ Addie didn't start sleeping through the night until about 6 months, and still wakes up at least one night a week.

Chloe is a great napper, and will drop anywhere, anytime when she is tired. The other day she fell asleep while we were shopping, and I took her out of the car, shopped, and put her back in still asleep 3 DIFFERENT TIMES!/ Addie will not fall asleep, will fight a nap forever, and if she does nap, will often wake up again within 20 minutes. She will also wake up and be wide awake and talking immediately.

Chloe likes other people and other kids, but has always liked to do things by herself and been a little intimidated by crowds/ Addie works a room. She immediately starts talking to whoever is sitting near us at church, and will rotate to make sure everyone gets a bit of her attention. And she loves to say, "HI!" The other night I swear I heard her say, "Hi" in the middle of the night, and then go back to sleep. I just kept my fingers crossed that she wasn't greeting a burgler or something, because if I had gone in to check, she would have started a whole conversation with me, and I wasn't up for that in the middle of the night.

On Chloe's first birthday, she picked a little at the frosting on her cake, but was otherwise unimpressed. I had really been hoping she would totally dive in, but no, hardly a mess./ Addie gave me everything I was hoping for, twice. Check out the next two slideshows for the details.