Saturday, February 27, 2016

A Caterpillar Birthday

Just about a month ago, our little Annika Mae turned three.  Guess she's not so little anymore!

For Annie's birthday, we copied Eila's awesome celebration and went with a Very Hungry Caterpillar theme.  Aunt Callie had sent a whole bag of party decorations which made getting ready a cinch.  I also had some great help from my own munchkins, who helped make these fun caterpillars.

They also painted our party games: pin the caterpillar on the apple, and feed the hungry caterpillar.

Of course, when it comes to the Hungry Caterpillar, the most important part is certainly the food.

He ate through one apple, two pears, three plums (or prunes), four strawberries...

...five oranges, pie, pickles, swiss cheese, sausages, salami, watermelon (or watermelon candy), chocolate cake, lollipops...

...oh, and let's not forget the cupcakes and ice cream!

Needless to say, no one went hungry.  We took a bit of artistic license and swapped an apple pie for cherry, because once you've tasted one of Jason's apple pies, who wouldn't?

Party time!  We broke from tradition and opened presents first since we knew one box contained an adorable Hungry Caterpillar dress, handmade by NomiAnn, just waiting to be donned by the birthday gal.

Annika with some of her loot.  Isn't that dress fabric great?  The stuffed giraffe is in honor of the zoo membership the Andrus grandparents gave--just perfect for our little gal who loves, loves, loves the zoo.

Annika developed a new spin on our "Feed the Caterpillar" game.  Three year-olds must be more tasty than pretend kitchen food.

As guests we invited our next-door neighbors, Mike and Michelle, along with their three year-old twins, Lilly and Connor. Sorry Michelle, definitely not the most flattering picture, but it was just too funny not to share.  :)

Lilly, all dressed up in her butterfly mask, then checking out her picture on Dad's phone.

Lilly and Connor brought the greatest gift for a hungry caterpillar--lots of fun play food.  Most everyone thought it was exciting, but Papa Kay was, well, sleepy.

Can't properly celebrate without reading a little Eric Carle.  Thanks for sharing the story with us, Brooklyn!

Next on the agenda, getting all wrapped up in cocoons of our own.  Here's Connor getting ready for metamorphosis.

I totally stole this idea from Talia's third birthday party, all the way back in Illinois.

Returning back to the present, here are our other chrysalises.

So fun!

Last but not least, we all sat down to enjoy a lasagna dinner and our caterpillar treats.

I don't know what it is, but there's something especially wonderful about sharing a meal with friends and family.

Happy birthday, Annika!
We sure do love you.

Friday, February 26, 2016

RSBC Week 3: Yogurt!


Or should I say go, go, gogurt, because our lives are crazy on the go right now.  (Which might explain why this post is late--my apologies.)  The strange thing about working with fermentation is that it can't be rushed.  In an electronic world of instantaneous feedback, these little bacteria force us to slow down and remember life's more natural rhythms.

Making yogurt lasted all day but took no time at all.  I was amazed at the simplicity of the process--heat milk, let cool, stir in a bit of yogurt starter (and cream if you're feeling decadent), and stash in a warm place for the next 6-12 hours.  I stuck mine in the oven with the oven light on and forgot about it until the kids were in bed.  When I pulled it out for a late night snack, I was astonished by how well it had set.  Amazing--it worked!  And here I though making yogurt would be hard.

Here's the yogurt after the initial set.  I was surprised that it was firm enough to hold its shape without even chilling.  (BTW, that first spoonful was yummy too.)

Such a treat deserves to be shared.  Even though Jason and I almost never eat in our bedroom (like, maybe a handful of times on twelve years of marriage), I insisted that we snuggle in for our inaugural yogurt-eating experience.  It had been a rough day.

As for the rest of the week, my dreams of really digging in were thwarted by a kid who was home sick from school for three days, plus parent teacher conferences for the other two.  I really don't know if I'll manage to finish in time, but at least it's leap year so I get 24 more hours.

Here's the week totals:
Run: 3.8 miles (7.2 left)
Swim: 1 mile (.2 left)
Bike: 10 miles (37 left)

Um, yeah.  Wish me luck--I'll need it!

Week 4 Cooking Challenge: Kefir.  Make something with it, or grow your own from grains if you are feeling particularly daring.  I've been playing around with mine for a few weeks now and have plenty to say (but not all of it positive.)  Stay tuned and I'll vent soon.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

RSBC Week 2 Roundup: Krazy for Kraut

Welcome back to Run Swim Bike Cook 2016!  Here's our roundup from Week 2. 

Apparently it was the perfect week for making sauerkraut from scratch.  Erin, from Small and Simple things, made this adorable kraut and snapped a photo a few minutes into the fermenting process.  Don't you just love the cheesecloth hat?  She's also been busy running, biking, and hopes to swim just as soon as she can get her hands on a suit.  Bravo, Erin!

Great minds must think alike because our family also made kraut.  I was amazed by how simple the process!  Just cut up your cabbage, knead in some kosher salt, and stick it in a mason jar with a breathable top so that gas can escape.  The strange blue stuff in ours is actually a baggy full of marbles to weight the cabbage down the cabbage so that it would soak in its own brine.  Here's Jason modeling our fresh batch...
...and here's our kraut three and a half days later. 

Okay, in full disclosure, I sampled the kraut one day into the process and was completely grossed out.  For those of you who have seen Inside Out, Disgust was working overtime.  The cabbage which had tasted so refreshing was an undesirable wilted mutant, neither cabbage nor kraut.  The overall impression was simply "rotten."  I remember telling Jason that good for you or not, I just didn't know if I could do this whole fermentation thing.

And so, it was with trepidation that I planned a meal of sauerkraut and brats for a few days later.  I persevered, inspired by all the great memories of eating brats with Christy and Ben during our Illinois days.

And the kraut?  It was excellent.  Still young with a long distance to travel before fully ripe, it was mild with a touch of crunch and only a hint of sour tang.  Even though I'm generally not a kraut lover, I piled it on and scooped up a little more to eat plain as a side.  Adios, Disgust.  Joy--Bienvenue!

Other updates:
Run--8 miles for a total of 15.2
Bike--34.2 miles for a total of 65
Swim--.64 miles for a total of 1.2

For next week's culinary challenge, check in with Chou at  For those who didn't know, besides being a term of endearment, Chou also means cabbage in French--quite appropriate for our week full of kraut.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Ain't Nobody Got No Time for That

In my last post I touched on how the iPhone has transformed my photography: anything lost in quality is certainly made up for in quantity. Goodness gracious, we have pictures of everything! Just browsing made me tired. Don't we ever stay home and do nothing? Apparently not.

Without further ado, here are some of our adventures from the first weeks of 2016. I'll try to keep the descriptions brief because anything more, well, ain't nobody got no time for that.

The Key to Surviving Winter:  This odd photo sums up how I'm managing to survive a Nebraka winter.  Having all of our winter gear organized and accessible instead of dumped in a giant bin has made an enormous difference.  In the past, it took so long to hunt down matching gloves that I usually chose to suffer and freeze instead.  Who knew that a curtain rod and some shoe holders would transform winter from miserable to manageable?

Creighton Bluejay Basketball Game:  Now fully equipped to face the biting cold, we headed to a women's basketball game with a great family from Crestridge.  Here's Talia with her close friend.  They look like they could be sisters!

Eli and his kindergarten pal.

Silly faces aren't just for kindergartners!  Do you like the new baby brother?

A final photo with Billy Bluejay.

Omaha becomes Obamaha.  In mid-January, President Obama came to visit Omaha following his final State of the Union address.  They were giving out free tickets, but we had to stand in line for them at the Kroc center.  Here's Jason waiting with Annika.

Brooklyn looks excited to hear the President speak.

Success!  We got tickets for all.  (Well, all except for Annika, who didn't need one.)

Getting the tickets went quite smoothly.  We waited about twenty minutes in a nice warm building.  Now, as for actually getting into Baxter Arena to hear the President?  Quite a different story.  After searching forever for parking, the line to catch the shuttle was so long that we decided to walk the mile and a half instead.  We had almost made it when a closer shuttle bus that was just leaving beckoned for us to hop on.  After a roundabout route, we finally arrived, only to discover this positively chaotic scene.  SO MANY PEOPLE!!!

The lines weren't moving, so they held people on the shuttle buses because there was no place for them to go.  Fortunately our kids had brought reading material and were excellent sports.

Jason looks bored.  Annika was allowed to spend so much time fiddling around with a phone that she actually got tired of it.  Wow.  Didn't even know that could happen.

Through what we like to call our Rumpelstiltskin miracle (that's another story for another day), we were finally called out of the back of the line to a rear entrance.  (I admit--I totally used Annika as a lure in the hopes someone would take pity on us.)  Even though there were still thousands of people outside, inside the arena was already completely packed.  We finally parked ourselves at the very top of the stairs and hoped for the best.  As you might expect, everybody on the steps was eventually asked to move, but not until our family had finally managed to secure a few seats just moments before--miracle number two.

Told you the place was packed!

Even though Nebraska is a decidedly Republican state, Obama was received warmly.  Physically being there was a very powerful, moving experience, and one that I hope our children will always remember.  I also hope they will remember his plea for us to move forward as a nation in a spirit of optimism and hope instead of rancor and division.

The Children's Museum:  As for myself, spending my days with Annika makes it easy to feel hopeful for the future, despite real global challenges.  Here we are at the Children's Museum, building snowmen.

Is it ring around the rosy or freeze tag?

Super Annika!  (She insisted on wearing this cape to church the next day.)

Out to lunch with Mama.  Gosh, this gal is spoiled.

Music:  Meanwhile, all the rest of the Wheeler munchkins spend their days working hard in school.  I'm glad they at least have "specials" (music, art, PE, etc.) every day to stretch them beyond reading and math.  Here's Brooklyn performing with the Crestridge Ambassadors at Kindergarten Roundup.

 On Saturdays, Brooklyn plays cello with Prelude Strings.  This is her first experience playing in any sort of orchestra, and she loves it.  (Her only complaint is that the program only lasts eight weeks.)  She's shown some great commitment by practicing regularly, so this week we enrolled her in private cello lessons at the Omaha Conservatory of Music.

 While I didn't take any photos, Talia did a great job during her music concert as well, performing everything from "Alle Meine Entchen" in German to "Tue tue" from Kenya.  My favorite piece was a cup song: "I've been to Boston, I've been to Dover...turn the glasses over" (and over and over and over.)  Here she is all dolled up for the big performance.

And here's Eli, making a musical instrument at the Holland Center before an Omaha Symphony concert with Thomas Wilkins. 

Talia, working on her "plucker" as well.

After the Symphony performed (gorgeous music, including some Star Wars that nearly sent Eli into hysteria), all the kids got up on stage to play their instruments too.

A special moment in the spotlight.

Grateful for Home:
Of course, not everything in Omaha has been great news.  There was a terrible fire downtown caused by a gas line explosion.  While no lives were lost, we lost M's Pub, a gorgeous historic building in Old Market.  When we drove by the following day, firemen were still laying down water.

There's nothing like seeing the aftermath of a fire to make you feel grateful for the safety and protection of your own home.  Here are some gorgeous roses that Jason brought me, for no reason at all.  Even better than for Valentine's Day!

Playing Twister with NomiAnn.

And being roped into performing in the kids' dramatic video. They did the makeup.

I think they were inspired by Blackstache from "Peter and the Starcatchers," a performance that we saw at the Rose over Christmas.

My goodness, these kids are monkeys.  NomiAnn and Papa Kay bought them bunk beds to sleep in at their house, but I think they've mistaken them for a jungle gym.

One Wednesday evening, we hosted a sledding party for the Young Men and Young Women in our ward.  On our way out to the car, Annika slipped on the ice, catching herself with nothing besides her nose.  I was so worried we'd done permanent damage!  It all honesty, it looked smooshed for a couple days, but seems to have reshaped nicely.  The scratches are still there, but she's not bothered.  Instead, she enjoys telling everyone about her "owie" and how "Annie broke-a-the-nose" (or more accurately, squooshed the cartilage.)

To add insult to injury, Eli's sled veered way off course and crashed into a tree on his very first run.  Not a stellar night for the Wheeler kids.  Fortunately, all the big kids seem to have had a great time.  (As for myself, I was quite happy the carpet survived the dangers of spilled hot chocolate and muddy boots.)
 Here's another look at Annie's nose, as seen through the drawing glass at the Joslyn art museum.

Decorating her pottery.

 Fun with Friends
Another great Crestridge family, the Lawlers, invited a big crew to their house for a pre-Lightning Thief party, serving pizza before everyone headed over to the Rose for a performance.  Here are the third graders, posed nicely.

Many of these same third graders can be seen in this picture, taken on Mardi Gras at United Methodist Church where we danced the night away to the beat of the Omaha Street Percussion.  Such fun!

Winter Quarters: 
On a quieter note, we took to the kids to the Winter Quarters Visitors Center to look around for a bit while Jason and I traded sessions inside the temple.  I like this picture because it reminds me how the glare of the world can make it easy for us to lose sight of the temple and the eternal truths taught there.

Talia and Annika pretend they're pioneers.

Super Bowl Sunday:
Last but not least, Super Bowl Sunday.  Talia wanted a fancy hairdo.  We call it the switchback.  :)

After church, we headed to NomiAnn and Papa Kay's for some great munchies while we (sorta) watched the game.  Can you tell these two are ready to eat?

Our contribution?  Nachos ala Settlers of Catan. Thanks, Ben, for sharing the great idea.  And thanks to Papa Kay and NomiAnn for the fun evening.
And now, it's time to get back to the real world of dishes and laundry and puppets and tickle wars.  Because more blogging?  Ain't nobody got no time for that.