Rachel's Never-Ending Questions

I've never met anyone who asks as many questions as this girl: 

(The one on the left.)

I know I should encourage her intense level of curiosity, but sometimes it can be downright overwhelming. 

We've tried putting a limit on the number of questions she can ask in a day. Or at one time. But she ends up frustrated, and I end up feeling bad for stifling her eagerness. 

So I finally suggested that she start writing down her questions, and then I can answer them when I have time. 

Here are the questions that she wrote down while she was at school today: 

What does horizon mean?
What are we going to do in New York City?
What bags are we going to take on our trip?
Have you ever experienced a tornado in Kansas?

At tonight's Learning Circle meeting, we talked about learning each child's love language. I clearly need to spend more quality time with Rachel, give her my full attention, and make a greater effort to answer her questions (without complaining).

As I was texting Rachel the answers to all of her questions, Steve started laughing and told me that he has met someone who actually asks more questions as Rachel. 



The Easiest and Best Chicken Tikka Masala Recipe Ever

Go to Trader Joe's and buy 2 jars of Masala Simmer Sauce: 

And at least 2 packages of Trader Joe's Garlic Naan: 

And some basmati rice. All rice is not the same, and it doesn't matter where you buy it, but you must use basmati rice. 

You will also need heavy cream, chicken, and tumeric (optional). 

1. Cook basmati rice (2 cups rice, 4 cups water, 1 Teaspoon tumeric) in rice cooker.

2. Blend 2 jars of Masala Simmer Sauce and 4-6 oz. water until smooth. (Just enough water to swish around to get the leftover sauce out of the jars. And you can skip the blending if you like the texture of the sauce the way it comes in the jar. But I definitely prefer it smooth.)

3. Pour into saucepan and heat. 

4. Add about 1 pint heavy cream. 

5. Add chicken. (I use the chicken I canned at the Preston Cannery because that's the fastest way to go, but you could use any kind of chicken. The tastiest would be grilled chicken, cut into chunks.)

6. Warm up the garlic naan in the oven. 

That's it. 

Your Chicken Tikka Masala sauce will look like this: 

And once you dish it up, it will look like this: 

Actually, if you use tumeric, your rice will be yellow instead of white like the picture. After a couple rounds of white rice, Lucy requested saffron rice like we ate at a fancy restaurant once. But the tumeric turns the rice yellow, so that's fancy enough. 

You could easily substitute potatoes for the chicken, or add both. And if my husband didn't have a severe aversion to peas, I might try adding some green peas to the rice. 

Derrick thought it was take-out and didn't believe me that I made this myself. (Well, I did take some major shortcuts.) He told me it was so good that it wasn't worth eating curry anymore, which is his former favorite dinner. Steve has been coming home from work every day and asking if I have made it again. Yes, it's that good. 

Thank you, Trader Joe's!


The Boy Learns to Ski, Part 1

On Friday, the boy went skiing for his first time. 

Here he is, demonstrating "french fries" and "pizza":

But Steve, apparently, is opposed to those terms, so he just kept yelling, "snow plough!"

Adam isn't our most athletic child and his left leg is still significantly weaker than his right, so we were kind of surprised by how well he did. Steve said that the difference was that Adam actually listened to him. He didn't argue like Lucy. And he isn't afraid of speed, like Rachel was when she learned to ski.

Adam even watched the ski school video lessons on the iPad, which is better than I can say for myself.

His favorite part was riding the ski lift up the hill. Which was nerve-wracking because he wasn't the least bit scared. And I was sure he was going to fall right off.

He wasn't bad for his first day:


Much less crashing than when I tried to teach him to ride a bike. 

But there was also plenty of this that took place: 

Which meant that Steve and Adam were both completely worn out by lunchtime.

It wasn't the best day for Steve. He was crazy excited because someone at Salomon let him demo some brand new skis that are coming out next season. As in, they haven't even been released yet. They are the new version of these skis that he fell in love with a couple weeks ago. But they are more of a powder ski, and there was no powder. So he finally made the long trek back down to the car at the bottom of the parking lot and switched them out for his regular skis.

Then I told him I would go take a run by myself while he ordered some lunch for us to share. I took my time, leisurely coming down the mountain, assuming I was letting him enjoy lunch by himself. And then when I finally made it back to the lodge, he was just sitting there without food. Because he couldn't find his wallet.

The real bummer was that he left early to go back to work. And then once he got home, I called him and asked him to check his pockets for my keys. . . and then he had to get right back in his truck and drive back.

Needless to say, it might be a little while before Steve is ready for The Boy Learns to Ski, Part 2.

At least I got a good picture of Part 1:


From Pinterest: Fish Bowl Valentines

Kaleigh was the only kid in our family who was allowed to bring candy for Valentine's Day. But she is also our biggest sweet tooth. And we are trying to limit her sugar consumption. So when I saw this valentine using goldfish, I knew it was perfect. 

There are many versions of this valentine online, but I think this one from bliss bloom blog is the cutest. 

I used some clear round bags that I had at home (originally purchased at Michael's) that just happened to be the right shape for the printout. I already had some red ribbon, so I used that to tie ribbons at the top. (I am unfamiliar with washi tape, but I think I probably need some.)  

I think they turned out super cute. I didn't try to mail any of these valentines because I was sure they would get smashed. And I also had to finish making them on Valentine's Day because the ones I made earlier ended up with grease spots on the card stock. 

From Pinterest: I Mustache You a Question Valentines

I don't think I'll ever get sick of mustaches. Last year, Kaleigh made mustache valentines. This year, it was Rachel's turn. 

These mustache valentines could easily be customized and remade, but I am all about easy, so I just printed out this free download

Print, cut, and attach adhesive mustaches with removable mounting squares. Bam! Quick and easy. 

You can buy a six-pack of adhesive mustaches at Old Navy for two bucks. Go ahead and buy a bunch because you will come up with all sorts of great uses for them: primary classes, birthday parties, rainy days, stockings, etc. 

Rachel said everybody loved her valentines and that all of the kids in her class were wearing their mustaches after school. Mustaches are perfect for all ages, and this valentine was the easiest to mail. 

From Pinterest: Bouncy Ball Valentines

These valentines that Lucy made for her class were probably my favorite of the year. They were quick  and easy and look super cute. The original post from The Crafting Chicks and the link to the free printable can be found here.

The wording is a little out of focus in my picture, but it says VALENTINE YOU MAKE MY HEART BOUNCE.

Lucy quickly pointed out that there should be a comma after the word Valentine. But I just love free printables made by incredibly creative people. So I was willing to look past the punctuation error.

The cheapest place to buy the large bouncy balls is Old Navy. We walked in with ten dollars worth of quarters and left with a big bag full of bouncy balls.

I printed out the labels on card stock, cut them out, and then had Lucy write her name on the back. She put all of the balls into some clear, plastic bags that we already had at home, and then we stapled the labels to the top of the bag. Voila. No worries about anything falling off or breaking. The perfect valentine!


I Love You Like Peaches

Steve and I rarely do anything special to celebrate Valentine's Day. Partly because we are burned out from birthday season and partly because he always has to work. But my friend, Jeanette, made this cute video for us:

Other items of note that took place on Valentine's Day:

The plumber came and fixed our broken toilet. (Last week, Lucy dropped a pencil in the toilet. And I made the very expensive mistake of telling her to go ahead and flush. I really didn't think a full-size pencil would go down. But it did. Partway.)

Steve went to parent teacher conference for Adam and I went to parent teacher conference for Rachel and Lucy. Rachel's teacher told her not to spend so much time on homework and not to worry so much about the details. Lucy's teacher told her to slow down and pay attention to the details.

I went and bought Adam some boxers. Because last night I got a text message from my friend, Heidi, notifying me that Adam was doing a whole lot of itching/readjusting during the Weber State University cheerleading clinic. And that Derrick just about died of laughter. Crossing my fingers that the boxers help because the doctor says there's no medical issue.

Kaleigh had all of the moms at her preschool Valentine's Day party rolling in laughter when she sat down, straight-faced and cross legged, in the middle of the class and demanded that everyone be quiet so she could meditate.

I told the kids we were just running a quick errand to the post office. And then they convinced me to go to IKEA. I assumed Valentine's would be the perfect night for my first trip to IKEA. It was surely going to be a slow night, perfect for some aimless meandering throughout the store.

And then there was a flash mob.

Since IKEA was swarming with people, we got dinner from the drive thru at In-N-Out Burger.

There was a sign on the window that said, "Bills larger than $20 will not be accepted after 10:00 pm." Rachel asked, "Is that because they don't want to count back so much change when it's late at night?"

As we were driving around Sandy, Rachel yelled out, "My eyes, my eyes! There are too many lights! It's too bright for my eyes!" I clearly need to take her to the big city more often.


From Pinterest: Love Bug Valentines

This year, Adam make Love Bug valentines for his kindergarten class. The original post from dandee designs, including the free printable can be found here

Of all the valentines we made, Adam's turned out the cutest. You can't go wrong with plastic bug finger puppets: 

They were also the most difficult to make. Not so much the valentines themselves, but Adam's assignment to write From, Adam on each valentine. Getting him to write small enough to fit across the bottom of each valentine was near impossible. 

We won't discuss how long it took. Or how many I had to throw away. (I really should have taken pictures of some of the rejects.)

The next time I do a project like this with him, I will have him write on the valentines before I cut them out. 

I bought the bugs at Zurchers and used a hot glue gun to attach the bugs to the card stock. 

Adam had a hard time with the idea of giving away all of those cool bugs to his classmates, so I might go back to the store to buy him a six-pack to keep for himself. 


Birthday Season is OVER

I know that January is a miserable month for many Utahns. But for our family, it's birthday season. Rachel, Steve, and I each have birthdays spaced about a week apart. Separated enough to merit their own celebrations, but close enough together that it all morphs into one big birthday season.

This year, Rachel's birthday was on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and Steve's birthday was on the Superbowl. Everyone did a good job of extending their celebrations into birthday weekends, but I would say that Rachel did the best job of capitalizing on her birthday.

In addition to her fun birthday party, Grandma Gloria and Grandpa Richard took her out to lunch at Bistro 258 and birthday shopping at Old Navy and Claire's. Rachel's actual birthday was on Sunday. She chose baked potatoes for dinner, and I made some rolls that were "heavenly", according to all of the kids. Note: I baked them with Rhodes dough, which is the only way I make rolls.

The next day, we went to Snowbasin, where Rachel took this cool picture with her phone:

Our favorite piano teacher took Rachel out to dinner at Zupa's (with Lucy). Grandma Jean drove down from Idaho and took Rachel out to lunch at Chuck-a-Rama (with Lucy). We went to Fat Cats to play arcade games and eat dinner at the Pizza Factory with Rachel's birthday certificate (with Lucy). And then at the end of the month, I took Rachel to dinner at Tona so we could use our birthday coupons with some neighbor friends (and Lucy). 

Wow. It looks like Lucy was actually the one who really capitalized on Rachel's birthday. 

The next few days after Rachel's birthday were quite miserable. For the first time, I understood the winter blues. Steve was out of town, and I desperately wanted to be out of town. Instead, I was stuck at home taking care of everyone by myself. The weather was crummy and the ice storm resulted in all sorts of difficulties. Which prompted the writing of this post

It must have worked because Steve came home from Reno with flowers. And then on my birthday, after a big, long planning meeting, we booked tickets to South Africa. Yes, you read that correctly. Our South Africa trip is back on

My second favorite gift (it's pretty hard to beat airline tickets) was this wonderful creation from Rachel: 

She told me if I ever need help with the housework, that I can just wave it around and she will come help me. Awesome!

Lucy made me this great card. Be sure to notice the custom-made bottle cap, which symbolized something about her keeping an eye on me to make sure I am still dressing like a lady. 

It's too bad that this is such a poor picture because this card from Adam is fairly significant. Adam does not like writing; getting him to do his handwriting homework is like pulling teeth. This card is, quite possibly, the very first time that Adam has ever written something voluntarily. (He was smart and made just one card for me and Steve to share.)

Richard and Gloria gave me money to buy some ski poles. My favorite sister gave me a beautiful black scarf. My mother mailed me the KUED dvd series called Utah The Struggle for Statehood. Derrick gave me an IOU to go out to dinner. And my good husband gave me two new maps so that I can continue to plan more adventures for our family. It's been a year or two since we hung a world map on the wall above our kitchen table, and we have all enjoyed the increased opportunity to learn more about our world geography. . . and plan a few trips. 

That night, we celebrated my birthday at the Sundance Film Festival with some friends who had all gone downtown two weeks earlier to get free tickets for the Best of Fest showings. As soon as everyone arrived at the theater, I realized that Steve and I were the only couple without twins. They decided that Rachel and Lucy are close enough and that we can be part of their club. 

I was a little nervous about the whole thing, since Sundance films can be hit or miss, as far as inappropriate content. And going to questionable movies with a group of people can cause some uncomfortable squirming. Especially when one of them is a new bishop. But we lucked out and the two films were just great. 

In between the movies, we went to dinner at Sonora Grill. Thanks to Sherry, I have one picture to document our fabulous night. You'll just have to ignore my giant-sized hand: 

Richard and Gloria kept the kids overnight, but there was so much snow that I went to pick them up in the morning to drive them to school. 

Steve took full advantage of the colossal snowfall. He was up bright and early to go snowcat skiing with the manager of Powder Mountain. (It should be lovingly noted that Steve also left me at home to do laundry on my birthday while he went skiing at Snowbasin.) At first I was bothered, but I have come to the conclusion that it is better to let him go because he returns home more willing (indebted?) to help.

He came home from this day of skiing at Powder Mountain using the E word.

The snow just kept coming down, so I took another picture of the kids after kindergarten. (The kids all came home from school later that day saying that Grandma Gloria has the best food for school lunches and that they were so full from eating so much.)

Steve's official birthday celebration started on Friday, with a family ski day at Snowbasin.

The weather was crazy. At times it was completely sunny with blue skies: 

And then there were other times that clouds covered the mountain and the wind was blowing so hard that the visibility was severely limited. It left everything looking like a winter wonderland: 

I probably say this every time I go, but it was, quite possibly, the most enjoyable day skiing ever. 

Except for the part when I was skiing with Lucy and accidentally took her down City Hill. It's only a blue diamond, but it's too steep for Lucy and it took us a very long time to get down the mountain. It might have taken all day, except that Steve came and rescued her. After that, Lucy insisted that Rachel lead the way. 

On Saturday morning, we went out to breakfast at Sandy's. I think it's a silly waste of money to go out to breakfast, but sometimes we have to make sacrifices for the people we love. 

And then finally it was birthday time for this cute boy:

The kids gave Steve a bag full of dehydrated fruit from Trader Joe's and my mother mailed him a book called The Forgotten Skills of Self-Sufficiency Used by the Mormon Pioneers. His big present was three new pairs of jeans. (The two pairs of jeans that he had been wearing for the last six years went straight to the D.I.) This marks a milestone because it indicates that Steve is spending enough time outside of work/church to warrant a need for casual clothes. 

And with that, birthday season in the Ballard house is finally over!

. . . Just in time for Valentine's Day. 


From Pinterest: Chewing Gum Letters on Birthday Cake

I pinned a picture of a cake with letters made out of sticks of gum on Pinterest a long time ago. 

The letters I made for Rachel's birthday cake are, admittedly, not as polished as the Pinterest picture. But that's because the Pinterest picture is not a DIY instructional, it's a company that sells the one-inch gum paste letters for $3.25 each. 

Price is per letter

The cost for the letters on the cake would add up to $65.00, plus $12.75 shipping, for a grand total of $77.75. And they are only one inch tall. And they take one to two weeks to process. 

Awesome idea, but that's kind of steep. Crazy steep. 

So here are my DIY instructions for How to Make Chewing Gum Letters for a Birthday Cake: 

1. Buy about 75 sticks of chewing gum. (I bought a big pack of Wrigley's React2 gum from Costco because Rachel likes the colors. You will only use about 50 sticks of gum, but have some extras on hand for backup.)

2. Visualize (or draw out) how the letters will fit on the cake. And you will see why later, but leave more space between the letters than I did. (I thought I would make all of the letters first and then place on the cake, but it's a whole lot easier to position the letters directly on the cake.)

3. Use a knife to cut some of the sticks of gum into smaller pieces.

4. Start forming letters out of gum. (This is where it becomes important to have new, softer gum that can bend without breaking.)

5. Use the cake's frosting to place and position the letters on the cake. 

Done. It's that easy. 

You can see that my lettering is far from perfect and that there are some small gaps at the joints of the letters that probably could have been doctored up with some moisture or some sort of paste. But I was okay with the quick version. And let's be honest, it looked way better than anything I could have done with frosting. 

I probably spent a grand total of 25 minutes on the project. And that includes looking on Pinterest and realizing there were no good tips, unwrapping all of the gum, lettering the cake, and taking pictures of it. 

It would have been nice to have more spacing between each letter, for serving purposes. Because each girl wanted a piece of cake with their own letter on it:

The girls were crazy excited about the cake and claiming their letters. But then again, since Justin Beiber was at the party, they were pretty much giddy about everything. 

And yes, my fingers were all over each stick of gum. But I washed my hands first, so I went ahead and let them chew it. 


Snowboarding with Ethan

Two weeks ago, we took our nephew snowboarding for his first time:

I posted this story on Facebook, but I need to add it here too. Because I don't think of anything on Facebook as a reliable record. 

We were at the ticket counter, trying to decide which ticket he should buy with the gift card he got for Christmas. And then the lady at the counter told us that someone had "paid it forward" and bought an extra ticket for her to give to someone else. 

I was completely speechless. 

Adult All-Area lift tickets cost $82. 

I thanked her. And told her she had picked the right person. I was seriously so touched. And I'm pretty sure if I would have stood there any longer, I would have started crying. 

Yes, there are good, kind people in this world. 

Ethan had a great time:

And I heard he was a little sore the next day.

It was probably the most perfect day ever to learn how to snowboard: blue skies and warm temperatures. Well, not as warm as Florida.

Even if you aren't a skier, everyone needs to drive up to Snowbasin and see how beautiful it is. The lodge has free wi-fi and the food is reasonably priced. 

And they were a top 10 finalist in America's Best Restroom Contest


New York City: Day 5

Okay, so remember at the end of my post about Day 4 when I said that Sherry stayed up and packed, but I was exhausted and went to bed? Well, that factors into this story. . .

The entire time we were in New York City, my phone never updated to the correct time. The alarm clock next to my bed was completely off, and I never bothered to fix it. So I spent a good part of the trip being confused about what time it was.

Heidi had an early flight home, so we all needed to wake up at 5:45 am to get to the airport. But then Heidi's alarm went off at 3:45 am.

(Or so I thought.)

Heidi woke up and started getting ready. By 4:00 am, she was hacking and coughing. Like a banshee. She was banging her luggage around and seemed to be slamming the kitchen cupboards closed. It was almost as if she was trying to be disruptive.

I'm not much of a morning person and my husband (and kids) can attest that I'm not always pleasant when I'm still half asleep. I was tired. And bothered. I finally turned to Sherry, who was still asleep in bed and asked, "Does she realize it's only 4:00 am!?!"

Well, a few minutes later, and after some more blatant noises from Heidi, I bolted out of bed and remembered that my clock was off. It was 6:00 am! And yes. . . Heidi had gone to great lengths to be extra noisy in a desperate attempt to wake me up.

I had to pack and get ready lightening fast.

But we made it to the airport with plenty of time. We hoped American Airlines would let us switch our flights and get on the early flight with Heidi to Chicago. But they said it was full. They should have let us on anyway. Because Sherry and I sat at the gate and watched at least six people show up after the flight left. Not everyone was as lucky as me to have a noisy friend to wake them up in the morning!

Sherry and I finally boarded and flew to Dallas.

And then we started making plans how to get home from the airport. Maybe her mom could come pick us up? Maybe Derrick would come get us? And then we realized we had just spent the last four days navigating the largest city in the United States using public transportation. Certainly we could figure out how to get ourselves home from the airport. But after hearing our plan, Sherry's husband called and said he wasn't waiting another two hours for Sherry to come home and that he would come pick us up. I guess Utah isn't nearly as commuter-friendly as New York City.

Dallas to Salt Lake City was the emptiest flights I've ever been on. If I wouldn't have been so tired, I could have jumped around to all of the window seats throughout the plane and taken all sorts of fun aerial photos like these:

But instead I just sat there and daydreamed about sleeping in my own bed. With Steve. (No offense, Sherry :)

I don't remember my kids ever being so excited to see me. They loved their souvenirs. So much that I wished I had purchased more. 

My house was a bit of a disasterand it was pretty clear that Steve would have lost his mind if I would have been gone any longer. But at least they didn't burn the house down.

There was a close call that involved Kaleigh and this couch cushion. . . 

I was so glad to be home to my family, but forever grateful that I was able to go on this unbelievable trip with Sherry and Heidi. Thanks for the good times!