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Sunday, January 25, 2009

It's the "In" thing to do!

Chase's new thing is climbing inside of things. The first thing he does when let loose in his room is to grab the toy basket or head towards the storage drawer. He'll open the drawer & climb right inside on top of the toys or empty the toys out of the basket & then climb on in. He brings along a couple of toys to play with and then will sit inside & play happily. I just don't get it, but apparently its a pretty fun thing to do! Here's 2 pictures of him enjoying his newest hobby & another picture just for laughs that was taken a while ago -- I think he looks like he's showing off his muscles!

Friday, January 23, 2009

Black & White Cheesecake Bars

One of my informal New Years Resolutions is to use lots of new recipes this year . . . things I've collected over the years or are in cookbooks on my shelves. I made this recipe yesterday that was to die for & it was soooo good!

Its from the Taste of Home "The Best of Country Cooking" 1999 cookbook:

Black 'N' White Cheesecake Bars
2 cups (12oz) semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup butter or margarine
2 cups graham cracker crumbs
8oz cream cheese, softened
1 can (14oz) sweetened condensed milk
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla

In a double boiler or microwave, melt chocolate chips and butter, stirring occasionally. Stir in the graham cracker crumbs. Set aside 1/4 cup for topping. Press the remaining crumbs into an ungreased 13x9 inch baking pan. In a mixing bowl, beat cream cheese until smooth. Gradually beat in milk, eggs, and vanilla. Pour over crust. Sprinkle with reserved crumbs. Bake at 325 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool. Refrigerate for 3 hours or until completely chilled. Cut into bars. Store in the refrigerator.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

First Steps

Sunday, January 18, 2009 --- Chase took his first solo steps tonight! He was cruising along holding onto the wall when he saw something he wanted sitting on the hope chest. He let go of the wall and took 2 steps to lunge to the safety of the hope chest. It was so fun to watch!

Try as we might, we couldn't get him to re-create it. He is so independent & when we tried to get him to do the same thing to walk between us, he refused, either resorting to crawling or just buckling his legs while we were trying to hold him up! He did make one other attempt after we let him do his own thing, so we'll have to watch really closely over the next few days to see what happens.

Even though Jeff & I are both still recovering from a long bout with a cold/flu, Chase was in fine form yesterday. He was laughing hysterically at the smallest things & just in the best mood. He discovered how much fun one of those plastic storage bin drawers can be and loved climbing in and out of it & was so proud of himself sitting on top of it.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

We Laugh in the Face of the New Years Resolution!

So, laughing about New Years Resolutions is pretty typical. You make them, then 2 weeks later, you break them, right? But we have something to celebrate here. Last year, we did pretty well on our New Years Resolutions. We managed to reach our financial savings goal, even before Jeff went on his big business trip that earned him extra money. So, we exceeded that goal. Both Jeff & I came pretty close to our weight loss goals. I lost over 50 lbs . . . granted, I had a baby in February, so a lot of it came off pretty quickly. But I managed to not only reach my pre-pregnancy weight, but ended the year a full 16 lbs. lighter than I was before I got pregnant! Basically, I just had to take a moment to celebrate! I was talking with a business associate the other day who said that she didn't think she'd ever seen me this thin since she met me 6 years ago when we moved to Maryland . . . she was right & it felt pretty good! I still have a ways to go to meet my ultimate goal, but I'm on my way there!

This year, we've set some pretty big goals again, including our BHAG (that I posted about previously). I'm also currently working on the "Big Bag Toss of '09" from a blog that I read by Jamie Novak. So far, we have either tossed, given away or sold 6 bags worth of stuff that was cluttering up our lives. I think I'll continue to post this year when we meet or are working on one of our New Years Resolutions. Maybe then, I'll feel accountable for my progress.

Here's to great success in 2009!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

2009 BHAG

For 2009, our BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) was inspired by my sister & brother-in-law's goal to not eat at any place that has a drive-thru. We took it one step further & decided to not eat out (drive-thu or restaurants) all year. We've made exceptions for times when we are out of town, have company visiting in town, or have work obligations where dining out is expected.

We realized we could save a lot of money (& probably a few pounds) by making our meals at home instead, even if it means eating a little nicer at home on occasion & spending a little bit more on groceries. Our date nights will have to get a little bit more creative as well. You see, we love to eat out & use it as our date night most of the time.

So, I'm happy to report that 7 days into it, we haven't given in. Oh, the temptations have been there, alright, but we've resisted! And now there's only 358 days to go . . .

Monday, January 5, 2009

Arizona Trip

We had a great time on our 2 week stay during the holidays with our extended families in Arizona. We got to spend a lot of time with family, have some fun family outings, and eat at all our favorite places like Sonic, Jack in the Box, Mattas, and Claim Jumpers. We also tried out Moki's, a Hawaiian place . . . the food was awesome & we happened to show up on the night that they had live entertainment. Chase was absolutely enthralled by the Hawaiian dancing; he was almost as much fun to watch as the floor show! We also took advantage of the great Arizona weather to take some family pictures (thank you to my mom & sister who took the photos).

Chase plays a very active shepherd in my family's rendition of the Christmas story

Christmas morning

Unlike a lot of the cousins who were afraid of the Yule Tompton (our Swedish Santa Claus), Chase couldn't take his eyes off of him when he got called up to get his present at our annual Christmas Eve Smorgasbord with my extended family.

Chase enjoys a visit with Grandma Merkley after the Smorgasbord

Chase loved the animals at the zoo

Chase is showing off his new skills (clapping) at Grandma & Grandpa's house.

More from our trip to the zoo

Family pictures

The Christmas light display at the Mesa, Arizona LDS Temple

And after the trip . . . I think I spot a kid in the middle of all that laundry . . . 3 days later, the laundry was finally finished!

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Our African Adventure

In early December, Jeff & I had the chance to take a short vacation in Kenya. This was not on our list of dream travel destinations & I have to admit that I was rather nervous over the whole idea, especially when I found out he was setting up a safari for us to go on. That up-close & personal to some dangerous animals was not on my list of "fun" things to do!

But it turned out to be an amazing trip! We have soooooo many pictures, that I decided it would be best to do them as a slide show, so here they are:

Now, on to the details of the trip:

Days 1 & 2 of the trip were spent in Nairobi. We got to do some shopping and seeing the town a bit. Joining up with friends for dinner and getting a feel for the place. It also involved a trip out to Crescent Island where we could walk around with the animals (non-predators only, of course!).

As we drove out to Crescent Island I was amazed at the conditions of the areas we drove through. Dilapidated buildings and just dirty living conditions. And yet, the people, for the most part, were dressed better than I usually dress. Most of the women were walking around in nice looking dresses or even suit dresses and many men were wearing suits as well.

A little boat took us out to Crescent Island and on the way there I saw a giraffe on the island. I was so excited that we knew the area to walk in to find the giraffes. When we landed at the island, we saw headed in the direction of the giraffes. But before we went far, we saw monkeys, wild horses, wildebeast, zebras, impalas, gazelles, and thompson gazelles. We came up on a huge group of impalas, gazelles & thompson gazelles and just walked toward them until they noticed we were there & ran off. Then . . . we found the giraffes! First we spotted one, then another and another. There were a whole bunch in the area and it was so unreal to be that close to them, just walking around in the same space without any fences between us. We just walked around following them for a while. . . sooo cool! Then we walked down into the middle of the herds of zebras and wildebeast. I had brought along a little 5oz Gold Canyon candle with me, figuring it would be fun to get some pictures that I might be able to use for advertising, so we did a little photo shoot with the candle. And on our way back, when we saw some monkeys, we had even more fun with the candle. Jeff put it out a ways away from where we were watching and then we just watched for a few minutes. Eventually, a monkey came out and walked toward the candle. He came right up to it, played around with it a bit, smelled it, and even tasted it (no, we didn't poison any monkeys, since the wax is edible). It was absolutely an incredible thing & we caught it all in pictures and on video! As we were waiting for the boat to pick us up from the island, we got to watch the hippos that were right there in the water. Scary, but so cool!

Days 3 & 4 of our trip were our safari. It involved a plane ride (on a very small plane that seated only 12 people in very tight quarters!) out to a dirt landing strip where we were picked up and taken on a short "game drive" as we went to our "camp". Our camp consisted of 6 "tents" that were right on the river where a huge number of hippos live. Each tent overlooked the river & was actually a solid structure with a canvas interior that could be let up during the day and closed off during the night and was as luxurious as a VERY nice hotel room. We were told that our camp was not fenced off from the animals, so any of the animals in the area could wander through at any time. For that reason, we weren't allowed to leave our tent without a security guard. The guards carried sticks during the day and guns at night to keep us safe from any animals walking through the camp.

After a short rest in our tent, we were taken on an afternoon game drive. There were 4 of us, along with our driver, in a jeep type vehicle with open sides and an open roof. Within 5 minutes of leaving our camp, we came across 3 female lions! They looked so sweet and were so close that you just wanted to reach out and pet them. After leaving the lions behind, in just a few more minutes time we spotted the water buffalo and elephants . . . 3 of the big 5 within our first 30 minutes of the game drive! Along the way, we also saw lots of zebras, impalas, gazelles, etc. . . . the things that you get bored with after a while since there are so many of them & they are everywhere. That afternoon, we also saw some male lions and after a lot of "work", driving around and around the brush area & looking real hard, we spotted the leopard & she put on quite a show for us as we went driving from one location to another as she'd take off after the prey that she was toying with. That evening, we also spotted some giraffes, warthogs, hyena, and more, but "chasing" the leopard around was the highlight of the day!

We ate our meals at the camp, overlooking the river of hippos and listening to the funny noises they make. After spending the night, we went on a morning game drive where we saw more of the same animals, but a whole group of elephants this time. Then we drove to an area where we got to get out and walk with a family of rhinos. What an experience that was! They are in a protected area and they keep them penned up for 3 months in order to get them used to being around humans and then they are tame enough that you can actually just walk around with them. There was a mom & dad and a 10 month old baby rhino. It was so surreal to be right there with them; it made me a little nervous & I made sure to keep my distance & keep someone between me and them as much as possible! There was also a rhino in the pen that they had just brought in that day and you could tell he wasn't happy about it. He charged at the fence where we were standing and looking at him & startled us pretty good!

What an amazing trip it was & certainly an experience that we will never forget!

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Year in Review -- 2008

We had so many firsts & such great adventures in 2008. It was a wonderful year for our family! Here are some of our favorite moments caught on film . . .