The Juice of the Grapes

Earlier this year, Steve told me that he thought it was time for us to take our grape juice to a new level. Much like my Uncle James has done with his amazing apple cider, Steve thinks we need to find the perfect blend of grapes to use to make the perfect grape juice.

He thinks all jars of grape juice should be uniform in flavor (and color).

But I absolutely love this beautiful spectrum of purples and pinks.

So I had to tell him no.


The Last Tomato Harvest

Rachel, Lucy, and I did one final tomato picking before the freeze and gathered four boxes of tomatoes. Steve told me they were not "restaurant quality" so that means I might finally make some marinara sauce this year.

It was some serious work to pull the tomatoes out of the ground and untangle them from the cages. Some of the plants had grown up and over the cages and back down to the ground. . . a good ten feet long. And they had some massive roots like this:

My stomach muscles were sore for two days.

It should be noted that the strongest roots were on Aunt Lucy's Heirloom Tomato plant. It took me a good five or ten minutes whacking away at the root with a hoe before I could pull it out. Much to Lucy's dismay, we will not be planting Aunt Lucy's Tomatoes again next year.

This was an odd year for tomatoes. (Or is every year an odd year?) We had a late start and dealt with some difficulties with insects and diseases. (I am voting on giving up being "organic" and using pesticides and fungicides next year.) We lost seven or eight of our fifty-four plants, but we still yielded about 1600 pounds of tomatoes.

And we settled on a few things:

Brandywine and Early Girl tomatoes, we are so over you. You will never grow in our garden again.

On the other hand, we couldn't get enough of our Sun Sugar and Golden Jubilee tomatoes.

Next July feels like so far away, so we are savoring these last tomatoes of the season. Rachel has fallen in love with Caprese Salad. . . she asks me to make it every day and even requested to take it to school as her home lunch.

After clearing out all of the tomato plants and tilling the soil, Steve planted winter rye. Since we can't rotate our tomato crop, we are going to try using this winter cover crop to improve our soil. I think my husband's level of happiness over the last few months has been directly related to how the garden is doing, so let's hope it works.


Crazy Hair Day Repeat

Lucy's crazy hair from last year was such a hit that we went for a repeat:

Instead of using a plastic cup like last time, we tried a roll of toilet paper and a styrofoam cup. She said it didn't hurt this time and left it in all day, so I think the toilet paper is the way to go. She had enough hair leftover that we probably should have gone for two rolls of toilet paper.

Lucy was not in the mood for pictures, and I had to beg and plead to get these shots before she went to school.

After school was a completely different story.

Pretty sure she would have posed for me all day.

And Some No-Longer Crazy Teeth

Two months ago, Rachel's teeth looked like this:

And now they look like this:

We can't believe it!


We Have a Winner

Thanks to everyone who officially entered the Win a Date with Jed Platt contest by commenting on my blog (and to those who unofficially entered by sending me private messages).

It sounds like you know some great ladies who definitely deserve a date. . . but an entry like this is hard to beat:

Congratulations, Leslie! You just won a date with Jed Platt.

P.S. I have to admit: I have an ulterior motive in setting Jed up on dates. Once he called to see if I was home because he had something really important to give me. "A wedding announcement?" I facetiously asked. He laughed. And then he told me that when he finally gets married, I will be delivered a hand-chiseled announcement. Like most of you, I've never seen a hand-chiseled wedding announcement. And not only am I curious to see how he pulls it off, I'm super excited to receive one someday.



jr. jazz basketball practice. flu shots. maggie's birthday party. the zookeeper. dinosaur park. jamba juice. 4th street park. sheet forts. cousin sleepover. piano practicing. ogden river parkway bike ride. kayak park playground. picnic lunch. basketball with uncle dave. shaving cream baths. lego towers. staying up late and sleeping in. the smurfs. costa vida. mckay birthday party extravaganza. grape picking. grape juicing. caprese salad. book reading. book report writing. spoon me. church. stuffed peppers. baked potatoes. snickers salad. pumpkin bars. halloween decorations.

and tomorrow morning, it's back to real life.

p.s. we don't usually enjoy so many fun treats and activities, but i was trying to use up my coupons from my entertainment books. somehow I ended up with five.


Lucy Rocks

Every few months, there is an awards assembly at school. (There might be a defined schedule, but we're on our fourth year at this school, and I still haven't figured it out.)

Awards assemblies are great for the kids who receive awards. They aren't so great for the kids who don't receive anything. And they can be really hard on the sister (Lucy) of the girl who receives an award at almost every single assembly (Rachel).

So I wasn't too surprised when Lucy told me she wasn't feeling well this morning.

I was a little surprised when she came upstairs and showed me what she had made:

Is Lucy brimming with confidence?

Or did she create this to boost her damaged morale?
. . . .

Poor Lucy. Not only is she the middle child, but she's stuck in between an extremely bright older sister with OCD and a younger brother who receives all sorts of (mostly negative) attention. (I am working on that.) I clearly need to spend more time celebrating Lucy and her successes.

At the beginning of the school year, Lucy was selected as the first "Rockstar of the Week" in her class. You can see an image of the poster she filled out here.

Top 10 Things You Need To Know About: Lucy Ballard

10. I've been to 13 states.
9. I have 16 cousins and 1 is in my class.
8. I brok my collarbone when I was 2.
7. I've been in the newspaper.
6. I have a brother adopt from South Africa.
5. I have a niece.
4. I have a blog.
3. I've been on TV.
And the number 1 thing is. . .
I've been in Jenny Lake.

(And by in Jenny Lake, she means she fell off the boat dock into Jenny Lake. On a freezing cold, rainy day.)

Here is my version of the Top 10 Things you Should Know About Lucy Ballard

10. Lucy is definitely a morning person. She wakes up happy and pleasant. And when she is tired, she goes to bed. (What a concept.) We don't have to set an alarm in the morning; Lucy is always in our room at exactly 7:01 am.
9. Lucy has always enjoyed school, but this year is extra special because her cousin, Layla, is in her class. Lucy is very responsible with her homework. My sister-in-law was mentioning something about the assignment for Lucy's class and I had to admit, I never help her with her homework. She comes home from school, she does it, and she has me sign it. No reminding, no prodding, and no begging required.
8. Lucy bites her fingernails. Some people might think this is a bad thing, but as a mother who can't stand her children having long fingernails, it's just fine with me.
7. Lucy likes bugs. She also likes to kill bugs. When Rachel starts shrieking at the sight of a spider, Lucy moves in, ready to take care of business.
6. Lucy doesn't get cold. This makes me extremely jealous.
5. A few weeks ago, Lucy was working on her cursive handwriting. She had made herself a chart and was very diligently practicing each letter. I finally asked her if she was learning cursive in school, and she replied, "No. I just wanted to learn it."
4. Lucy is LOUD. (I have no idea where she got that from. Because Steve and I were both extremely shy, quiet children...) But Lucy has some serious self control. She always wins quiet contests and can be bribed to be quiet on long car rides. (A bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken will buy you four hours of silence.)
3. Lucy has always been our most easygoing child. She doesn't care about a lot of things and she doesn't complain. She doesn't compare cookies or other treats to see which one is bigger; she just happily eats the one you give her. And she doesn't know this, but her favorite colors have always been dictated by the least favorite colors of her older sister.
2. Lucy frequently makes really random comments that make me laugh. Like. . . "I wish our house were made out of gummy bears."
And the number 1 thing is. . .
Lucy is a peacemaker, just like her father. She always has been, and I hope she always will be.

Lucy rocks. And if I can find my very favorite video of her as a three-year-old explaining how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, I will post it.

P.S. Rachel was very aware of Lucy's feelings today and kindly printed off this certificate for her:


Picture Randomness

Lucy drew this picture during church a month or so ago. Half of our row was laughing so Steve texted me to ask what she had drawn. I tried to inconspicuously take a quick picture to text back to him. . . and was a little embarrassed when the flash went off.

We have a new bishop in our ward; Steve and sleepy Brother B. still sit up on the stand as counselors.

Adam taught Kaleigh how to use the camera on my phone so he can have someone take pictures of him whenever he wants. This also means that I find hundreds and hundreds of pictures of Adam posing (and Kaleigh's face) on my phone.

It appears that Rachel had a few wounds. And she likes to label them:

Last month, Adam mysteriously fell off a barstool while watching cartoons and landed on his chin. Hard. I took him to the emergency room because he was acting really funny and then fell asleep and would not wake up. The CT scan was normal, but we were sent to the dentist for x-rays of his jaw. At first they (the dentist and oral surgeon) thought it was broken, but after a second round of pictures, decided the bone was fine, and that it was the tissue that had been damaged. He was on a "no-chew" diet for two weeks. . . which really only lasted five days.

Our dentist was bothered that the ER doctor hadn't addressed why he had fallen off the stool. It seemed out of character for him to fall asleep while watching cartoons, so we wondered if he might have syncope issues like me (and Rachel). And then one day I went back outside to see what was taking Adam so long to come in. Apparently, he was too tired to make it into the house and just went ahead and laid down on the longboard. Maybe he is a little short on sleep these days?

I had my six month post-op appointment and everything looks great. Adam was enthralled with the ultrasound machine and took plenty of pictures and videos to document the event. He thought the sound of my heart beating was something inside my body trying to get out. Thank goodness that's not the case.

Dr. Steppacher picked up and moved to Chicago, so I will now be following up with the surgeon who performed my second operation, Dr. Goodman. Dr. Steppacher just happened to be here long enough to help me. . .

In other surgery-related news, I just barely called and canceled my bladder surgery that was scheduled for next month. Having it done before the end of the calendar year seemed like the logical thing to do, since we have met our maximum out of pocket for the year. But I finally realized that my uneasiness about it was more than fear of another operation and recovery- it's not the right thing for our family right now.

I feel like a burden has been lifted and am now looking forward to the holidays, ski season, and maybe even a half-marathon in May. . . we'll see. My decision was confirmed when Rachel overheard me telling someone I wasn't going to do it anymore. "You're having surgery again?" Her face was filled with despair and she instantaneously had tears in her eyes. As wonderful as everyone was to help take care of everything while I was out of commission, I think my kids need me right now.

Steve and Adam got matching tattoos at Vinto Pizzeria to go with their matching Carhartts. It took us a while to finally go to Vinto, but it did not disappoint. The kids' pizza was the best deal; if we lived closer we would be stopping by much more frequently. I think we should have some temporary tattoos made with Sonora Grill's logo. Would you let your kids wear one?

Adam has a new responsibility chart. He happily wakes up and gets dressed and makes his bed, among other things. Sometimes, he goes ahead and gives himself an extra magnet for things he deems worthy of acknowledgement. So far, he has earned a toy from the dollar store, a trip to the dinosaur park, and bumper cars at Fat Cats.

When it's only a dollar, everyone gets a toy.

Rachel and Lucy are absolutely fascinated with the mural going up on 23rd and Washington. (It is pretty amazing.) We've been by a few times to watch the artist paint. She is a super nice lady and always says, "Come see me again." So now Rachel is just sure that we are obligated to keep going back to see the progress.

We went and cleaned out our two plots at the Oasis Community Garden. Apologies to the gardeners whose neighboring plots were compromised by our 33-foot long spaghetti squash plant.

It's kind of sad to say goodbye to the garden for the year.

My cousin, Ben, got married last Saturday, and we went to Logan for the ring ceremony and wedding lunch. Kaleigh wasn't feeling well, but she perked up as soon as the dancing started. . . and then got ornery as soon as I tried to take a picture. Typical.

We've eaten tin foil dinners three times in the last week or two. My kids get really excited for them and I end up with very few dirty dishes to wash. I use a pot to pre-cook the potatoes, but that's about it. It does make me wish we had a fire pit out back. . . Someday, someday.

It made me smile to see the way Steve labeled this bag of dehydrated peaches. They really might be "The Best Ever". Steve recently informed me that although I introduced him to dehydrating, he is now the expert in our family.

Fine with me.

How to get FREE toilet paper and batteries

(FREE after Staples Rewards)

1. Sign up for Staples Rewards. You can do this online or in the store. (It's free.)

2. Go to Staples.

3. Buy one pack of toilet paper ($5.99):

4. Buy two packs of these batteries ($9.99 each):

5. Before you pay, give the cashier this coupon.

6. Pay your total, which should be $22.66.

7. You will receive $19.98 back as Staples Rewards. Staples Rewards do have to be spent at Staples, but there are no rebate forms to fill out or submit.

Okay, it looks like the toilet paper and batteries will end up costing you $2.68, but that's pretty much free, right?

(Get 100% back Staples Rewards 16-Count Duracell AA or AAA batteries offer is valid 10/16/11 thru 10/29/11. Limit 2 packs per customer per week. In store only.)


Be Careful What You Post Online. And a Contest. And a Halloween Party.

Last year, my neighbor was one of the speakers at the Utah Heritage Foundation Preservation Conference.

As he was being introduced, the master of ceremonies said, "I didn't really know much about Jed Platt, so I googled him to get some information to share with you."

Much to Jed's embarrassment, he had pulled up this lovely blog post from a couple of years ago.

Jed (at that point, a very red Jed) was introduced, among other things from my blog post, as our favorite neighbor and the beneficiary of my fun little contest.

. . . . . .

A couple of months ago, we had a neighborhood potluck dinner. I asked Jed if he would bring his big parachute that he had brought to a neighborhood barbecue a few years prior. He brought the parachute. And some awesome rockets that were launched sixty feet into the air. And he sat on the grass and supervised twenty-two kids for most of the evening.

I thanked him profusely and told him I owed him some tomatoes, caramel popcorn, or a date. He replied that he didn't know what to pick because they all sounded like good prizes.

I'm pretty sure that means he wants me to host another contest for him.

So, without further ado, I invite you all to participate in my new contest:

Win a Date with Jed Platt, Round 2

I'm going to review the reasons why you (or someone you know) would want to win a date with Jed. And then you need to leave a comment and let me know why you (or someone you know) should be the winner.

1. He is still a talented designer and devoted historian.
2. He still has an incredibly sweet mother.
3. He is no longer in his thirties, but mighty close.
4. He still throws impressive Halloween parties. (More on that in a second.)
5. He is still LDS, but instead of devoting his efforts on a Methodist church, he now spends his days working at the Christmas Box House.
6. He still does nice things for us, like show up at our door late at night with awesome toys for my kids, even though he moved down the street.
7. He still likes to eat at Sonora Grill. (Which may be part of the reason he doesn't complain about my matchmaking efforts.)

Like last time, please feel free to enter someone in the contest without their consent.

Jed and winner will enjoy a dinner for two at Sonora Grill. And I will add that the winner may be selected randomly or based on the responses given, depending on my mood for the day. This contest will close Sunday, October 23 at 12:00 midnight.

. . . . . .

Do you want to check Jed out, for yourself or someone else, without going on an official date?

Well, here's your chance.

Jed's famous Halloween party is tomorrow night. And this year, it's open to the public because he is hosting it as a fundraiser for the Ogden Christmas Box House.

P.S. Even if you aren't interested in a relationship with Jed, you should still come to the Halloween party. I will be there with my kids. . . and the money is going to a mighty good cause.


Our Awesome Exotic Anniversary Trip

We wanted to do something memorable for our ten-year anniversary, but we also decided that we were going to stay "home". . . as in, we weren't going to go stay overnight anywhere.

One of Steve's servers went to the Bonneville Seabase in Grantsville this summer and declared it the neatest thing he had done in Utah. I took his word for it and called and made reservations for me, Steve, Rachel, and Lucy to go snorkeling with the tropical fish in the middle of land-locked Utah.

(And I know it's not typical to invite your kids to tag along on your anniversary date, so we must be super cool parents.)

I'm not sure what I was expecting, but I drove right by it:

Maybe I was too distracted looking at all of the snow on the mountains:

If anything, it only made the idea of snorkeling in the middle of the desert seem even more bizarre. We were quickly greeted and hurried inside because they were waiting for us to arrive so they could feed the fish.

First reactions:

They are standing a good eight feet from the water. Getting them in the geothermal pools did not look very likely.

Steve got out there and willingly fed some fish:

"Fed some fish" is a bit of an understatement. These were 36" tropical fish that were vigorously jumping in and out of the saltwater.

And a stingray that actually jumps up partway out of the water to be hand fed. (There are two stingrays at Seabase. Their names are Steve and Irwin.)

Oh yeah. And a shark.

It is actually just a nurse shark, but any kind of shark is pretty exciting. (There are two at Bonneville Seabase.)

Lucy started to warm up to things and wanted to let the little "mollies" nibble on her fingers:

And then she was ready to go. We watched a 15-minute video and then she and Steve suited up in their wetsuits and snorkeling gear:

Lucy required minimal coaxing and got right in the water with Steve:

Steve and Lucy went off snorkeling and I happily took on the role of photographer.

It wasn't too long before Rachel decided she wanted in too, so I went and got her suited up:

Getting her in the water was a completely different story. This picture shows the last time Rachel smiled for a while. It turned into a bit of a production and I might have uninvited her to any future anniversary trips.

Steve finally gave up on Rachel and went back to snorkeling with Lucy.

Lucy eventually got out for a minute so Steve could feed the fish romaine lettuce:

And then we moved over to the Abyss where it was a good ten degrees warmer and only had small fish. We really should have started in that pool; Rachel got right in. This isn't a great picture, but it was the only one I got of all three of them together:

Lucy was a rockstar.

And Steve was too. Because as long as you're there, you have to pay the extra $5 and let the guy throw tuna at your head to attract all of the fish. It was pretty awesome. And since I had so much fun making Adam's Columbus Day video, I made another one:

And for those curious how much our fun day at Bonneville Seabase cost us:

Water entrance fee: $20 (x 3)
Snorkeling gear rental: $11 (x 3)
Wet suit rental: $8 (x 3)
Romaine lettuce: $2
Tuna: $5

Total cost: $124

Steve wants to go back for their "scuba experience" so he can go to the bottom and pet the sharks.

Completely unexpected. Absolutely incredible.