Sunday, February 24, 2013

Chicken Kiev

Chicken Kiev is the 'special meal' in our house and I make it about once a year.  Between flattening the chicken and breading it and then actually cooking it, there's quite a process involved and I just don't get around to doing it very often.

The chicken itself is super delicious, so not only do I enjoy eating it, I also have a ton of memories surrounding meals that featured this wonderful dish!  I first made Chicken Kiev with my college roommate, she would get a wild hair every once in a while and we'd make a random recipe from her Betty Crocker cookbook.  Making Kiev with her was an adventure, mainly because neither of us had made it before and I didn't even know what it was!  It turned out delicious and I was super excited to receive a cookbook for my wedding that contained the recipe!

I've made Kiev for John a few times over the last 8 years, but the most memorable time was when he was in Iraq and my sisters and I made a special meal for our parents' 25th anniversary.  Kiev is one of those dishes that sounds exotic and adventurous, but it's really just breaded chicken with some butter and garlic in the middle, so I knew it would be the perfect 'fancy' meal to celebrate our parents.  I made the chicken and my sisters made pasta and a salad for sides, plus we put together a pan of brownies for dessert.  The meal was delicious and wonderfully well-timed, everything was ready at just the right time and then the brownies were done partway through the meal.  We took the brownies out and placed the pan on top of the stove to cool while we finished eating, which turned out to be a bad idea.  A few minutes later, we all smelled something burning and I turned around to see the pan of brownies SMOKING in the center!!  Someone had forgotten to turn off the burner and we ended up scorching the brownies!!  Thankfully, everyone was a good sport about it and Dad took us out for ice cream after dinner.  :)

In Japan, we got into the habit of having Kiev on Valentine's day instead of going out to dinner.  Our favorite Italian place had shut down and the other nice restaurants required reservations, plus we couldn't take Annelise and had to find a sitter.  I would make a delicious meal of Kiev, mashed potatoes, and a wonderful spinach salad, and go to a local patisserie to buy a selection of desserts for us to share.  Because each dessert was a single serving, I'd buy 2 or 3 that I knew we'd like and then one that I wasn't sure of so we could try something new.

We were in Japan again for Valentine's day this year, but on vacation this time.  We ended up eating at our favorite pizza place since we were staying at the base inn, so I made Kiev this week to celebrate our anniversary/Valentine's/and John's April birthday.  We went out to eat for our anniversary and will do so for John's birthday, because I'll be way too pregnant by then to want to stand around preparing Kiev, plus we'd like to go out with friends that evening.  So last night we stared at each other's faces and ate our delicious dinner, as we shared a bottle of sparkling grape juice since I can't drink alcohol right now.  I love that we have a tradition that we've carried with us to three different countries over 8 years and am looking forward to sharing it with Catelyn next year as a family of four!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Christmas 2012

Annelise is 4 and I'm 23 weeks pregnant.  This was the most fun Christmas we've had as a family, and also the last as a family of 3.  The Archbishop for Military Services said Mass on Christmas Eve, which was preceeded by a Christmas pageant.  When I first heard that the pageant would be *before* Mass, I was a little ticked off because it meant we'd be at church for 2 full hours, followed by a fellowship dinner.  And then we got to the chapel and realized that it wasn't just a kids' pageant, that the adult choir was also involved and would be showcasing some of our parish's most beautiful voices.  My friend Lisa sang 'Breath of Heaven' and I cried, and then our friend Vince had a solo that gave us chills.  I let Annelise stand on the pew for that one so she could see Mr Vince sing, she adores him and had been very upset that she couldn't see Miss Lisa since she was playing the piano as she sang.

Annelise fell asleep during Mass, so we didn't make it to the fellowship, but she was wide awake when we got home and she realized that our friends Nick and Robin were going to hang out for a while.  She convinced Nick to dance with her in the living room and we had to work pretty hard to get her into bed that night because she didn't want to miss any fun.

Being pregnant, I don't sleep well most nights and I woke up about every two hours that night.  I finally woke John up at 6 and we laid in bed for a little while talking about past Christmases and memories from our childhoods.  His work schedule is a little wonky and I go to sleep pretty early these days, so our times of laying in bed and talking (something we have always cherished) are few and far between and our Christmas morning conversation was a blessing.  We decided to wake Annelise up because I was tired of laying around and John needed to run to work during the morning and drop of treats for the people sitting watch, and it was pretty adorable watching her wake up.  I nudged Annelise awake and told her 'Merry Christmas' as she stretched, and when I told her that Santa Claus had been here, she stopped mid-stretch and her eyes got really wide!  She jumped out of bed pretty quickly and ran to give John a hug, then he carried her into the living room.

Annelise was super excited to see the gifts that Santa brought, a couple of tutus, a computer tablet (kid-style), and a puzzle.  She also loved the Pez dispenser and jewelry box that were in her stocking.  Then we embarked on opening the massive pile of gifts that had been sent, she had a blast opening things but needed help sometimes, John's parents both used sparkly paper that was tough for her to tear.  Annelise's favorite gifts were a Snow White ballerina doll from Uncle Danny and a plush elephant from her baby sister.

Once all of the gifts were opened, I put together a breakfast casserole and John ran into work, then we ate breakfast together (Annelise did so only because she wanted some candy).  We got to work getting the house ready for guests and Annelise played with her new computer and wore her new slippers everywhere.  Three of the guys that work with John, plus one wife, came over for lunch, it was basically the same group that we had over for Thanksgiving.  Jonathan and Cathy made a Puerto Rican-style pork shoulder and delicious rolls, Danny (Uncle Stranger) made Cuban black beans and rice, and Chris made green beans, while we provided Granny's dressing and parsley potatoes.  Lunch was so delicious and afterwards we devoured the break n bake cookies that I made the day before.

Jonathan and Cathy brought a Pink Power Ranger for Annelise, plus a puzzle and a coloring book, and Danny brought her a Power Ranger set with a dart gun, sword, and mask, and a remote-controlled helicopter.  Yeah, the age on that one was 10 and up, but he's a single guy and it looked like fun to him, so he bought it for our 4-year-old.  All 4 guys took turns learning to fly the helicopter and then decided that they each needed their own and went to the BX to shop.  When they got back, they took their copters into the lobby area of our floor and learned to fly them in the hopes of taking them downstairs and flying them to the boss's appartment one floor down.  That never happened, thankfully, but they had a lot of fun and Annelise even got to learn to fly a little once they had figured things out.

Everyone left just after dinner and we had plenty of time to relax and enjoy our evening, our Christmas Day turned out to be pretty awesome!

We also found out this Christmas that Melisa and Trent are having another girl, Tinsley Michelle, and that my friend Christy is pregnant.  Christy is married to one of my high school/college friends and I am SO SO SO excited for them!  This weekend, we get to find out the gender of Dianna and Kyle's baby, I can't wait!

So, after a year of moving fom one Asian country to another, getting pregnant, and settling into apartment living, we've topped things off nicely and are looking forward to what 2013 might bring!  At the top of our '13 to-do list is to name this sweet little girl that we'll be welcoming into our lives in April and setting up her room for her arrival.  John's working on his private pilot's license and Annelise will start preschool in the fall.  My parents will visit after the baby is born and John's mom and brother will visit this summer, so we're going to have to stretch our walls a little to fit extra people!  That probably means that I'll have to get rid of more stuff, but I already feel like I got rid of so much before we left Japan!  I know that we'll definitely have to go through Annelise's things, she has soooo many toys and books, and we need to clean out stuff that she's outgrown or has used up (100 coloring books come to mind...).

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Annelise is FOUR

A lot has happened over the past year, but much of that will be covered in my Christmas post.  Annelise turned four last week and I can't believe how much she's grown!

She is 41.5 inches tall and weighs 38 pounds.

She goes to ballet each Tuesday and loves to dance around the house (she's actually doing so right now!).

Annelise attended Vacation Bible School this summer and loved going to 'Jesus School' every day, now she attends Religious Education classes each Sunday.  Her teachers are Miss Lisa and Miss Brooke, and they told me that she always gives her best and loves to color.  Our fridge is covered with the projects from class, and there's even an angel  hanging on our tree that she made from a paper plate!

We finally settled in and got Annelise potty trained at the end of July, just as we moved in to our apartment here in Korea.  Accidents are few and far between, and I'm so proud of how she basically trained herself.  I guess that's what comes of waiting so long to try, she is old enough and independent enough that I didn't have to do much.  On the other hand, I had to change diapers for 3 1/2 years, so I'm not sure how I feel about the trade-off.

Annelise has recently learned to play Candyland and everyone who comes to visit has to play at least one game. 

Because I got pregnant right after we got here and was struck down with 'all-day sickness', Annelise has been watching a lot of tv.  She still loves Dora and Diego, but her current favorite show is Power Rangers Samurai.  Her favorite is the Red Ranger and she was very excited to receive a Red Ranger action figure from St Nick this week.

Annelise has known and recognized her letters for quite a while, but she has recently learned to write them and can write her own name.  We need to work on neatness, but I'm so proud of her!!

One thing that Annelise needs to work on is her coloring.  She has gotten better at keeping things localized to certain parts of the picture, but it's not very neat and she doesn't stay inside the lines.

As always, Annelise is very verbal.  She has learned some big words from Martha Speaks and Sesame Street and we even talked about 'camouflage' a few weeks ago, I love it!

Annelise has made a ton of new friends here in Korea, her closest friends are Aly, Gwen, and Grace.  She also loves playing with David and Gerrit when I go to bible study each week, their moms are in the study with me and the kids play while we discuss the lessons.  The boys are only 1 1/2, so Annelise gets to teach them how to play pretend and they love following her around and copying her every mood.

My favorite thing about Annelise is how sweet she is.  She was very understanding during my period of morning sickness and loves to sing and talk to the baby.  She also loves helping in the kitchen and will talk to everyone we see.  Annelise announced my pregnancy to someone in the elevator very early on, before we were telling people.  Of course, it didn't really matter since we didn't know them anyway!  She has charmed our neighbors and all of the people that work with John, to meet my sweet girl is to love her!

And now to the negatives: Annelise is entirely too much like me, she's messy, has an attitude, and eats us out of house and home.  I wouldn't change a thing, though, I am so proud and happy to be Annelise's mommy!!

Saturday, February 25, 2012


After being in Misawa for three years, we're pretty used to snow. We have 3 different snow shovels and an ice shovel-thing, each car has a snow-brush/squeegie/pick, and we have lots of cold-weather clothes. Annelise still fits into the snow bibs that she got last year from Grandma, so all we needed this year was a coat and boots. Grandma sends her a new coat for her birthday and I bought her some boots just days before we got our first major snowfall. And by major, I mean at least half a foot.

A few weeks ago, we woke up to 19 inches of fresh snow that had fallen overnight, with 3-foot drifts in some places. We didn't realize how deep it was at first, I look out of our second-floor window every morning when I wake up and look at the rooftops to guage how much snow we've gotten over night. Because of all of the wind that night, there wasn't much on the rooftops and we opened the door to a BIG surprise! The whole base was delayed that morning and John spent 3 hours digging out both cars and the whole driveway area.

That weekend, John and Annelise went outside to play in the yard, which contained the four-foot-high Mount Snow. I woke up from a nap a couple of hours later to find a snowman and a fort and John begging Annelise to come back in the house because they were both cold and tired.

We've gotten a few inches here and there since then, but not a whole lot at one time. A couple of weeks ago, we went to the Lantern Festival in Hirosaki and had a blast. We loved looking at the lanterns made of snow, eating festival food, and John and Annelise went down the tubing hill that was there. I freaked out at first, Annelise wanted to go down on her own and insisted that John bring a tiny tube for her. She went down the hill like a champ twice, but the second time she flipped out of the tube at the bottom. As a testament to one good thing we've done with our kid, I ran towards her clapping and yelling "Yay Annelise! I'm so proud of you!!" (while freaking out on the inside) and she just got up and smiled. The Japanese people probably thought my reaction was crazy, but that's how we've always been with falls and such. I learned that from some mom friends and now she only cries after a fall if she's really tired or actually hurt. She went down the hill again later in the tube with John and I think she really liked that one since she could sit up and see everything.

This past week, we got together with the spouses from our squadron and the kids who aren't in school for a sledding day at the base ski lodge. Annelise and I went down the giant hill 3 or 4 times, it was a lot of exercise walking back up the hill, but it was also a lot of fun! My favorite part was the snow fight we had at the bottom of the hill. Annelise has horrible aim (she *is* my kid), so snowballs don't really work for her, but scooping up loose snow and flinging it at someone is right up her alley!

Yesterday and last night, we got about a foot of snow and Annelise and I went out to shovel and play in it this morning. After I shoveled just enough to free the car, we had another snow fight that lasted quite a while and moved all over the yard. We had snow in our hair, mouths, down oour shirts, and even inside our gloves! It was so much fun, and I know I'm going to cherish these memories!

No pics of any of this, John has his camera and I can't find mine. :(

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Christmas Letter 2011

Family and Friends,
This has been an interesting year for the Minear Family, so I guess I’ll start from the beginning. In February, we took a trip to the city of Sapporo for the Sapporo Snow Festival. We took an overnight ferry to get there because Sapporo is on a different island than Misawa, the ferry ride
was a lot of fun and we are very thankful that some friends went in on a private room with us so we could get a good amount of sleep on the way there and back. In Sapporo, we saw HUGE snow
sculptures of all kinds, buildings and people and animals. We ate dinner at the Sapporo Brewery and Annelise really enjoyed the lamb and learned to ‘Kampai’, which is ‘cheers’ in Japanese. We were also able to tour a chocolate factory and drank the best hot chocolate in the world.

Then came March. March 3rd, I had the wonderful opportunity to celebrate Girls’ Day with a
local group of Japanese women; that day was one of the best I’ve spent in Misawa. On March 10th, I filled up the car with gas because I was running on fumes. On March 11th, we experienced a 9.0 earthquake and the Japanese coastline was devastated by a tsunami. Because we lost all power, we didn’t even know how devastating the tsunami was or anything about the nuclear issues in Fukushima until the next day. We were only without power for 2 days, but I was very glad that the gas tank was full since gasoline was rationed for a week or two. John worked long hours getting maps and up-to-date images to the rescue crews while I comforted Annelise during the hundreds of aftershocks. We accepted the military’s offer to leave Japan for a little while and
went to Texas at the end of March. While Annelise and I were in the States, John went on a couple of cleanup missions in the local area. When we returned to Japan, Annelise and I helped put together backpacks full of school supplies for the children of Otsuchi.

The main reason that Annelise and I left Japan was that the earthquake and subsequent aftershocks scared her. She crawled into my lap during each one and woke up when we had them at night. Even a bumpy car ride made her cry and I knew she needed some time to get past her fears. Spending time with family really helped, and it took some of the stress off of me, as well. We were also able to see my sisters during their pregnancies, which was a wonderful bonus. We hosted a baby shower for Dianna and Melisa at the beginning of May
and then headed back to Misawa.

This year, John was finally able to go to the Hirosaki Cherry Blossom Festival with us and we had a lot of fun. The castle grounds are so beautiful when the trees and gardens are in bloom! For
Mothers’ Day, John sent me on a day trip with friends to paint kokeshi dolls, it was so much fun! I even took Annelise back to paint her own in July! In June, Annelise welcomed her first cousin, MacKenzie Marie. Melisa and Trent’s little girl is so adorable and she loves to talk to us on Skype, she smiles every time she sees us! July brought me my first godchild, Cooper Scott. He is Dianna and Kyle’s son and has me completely charmed.

August brought Annelise and me back to the States while John went to Alaska. Cooper and MacKenzie were baptized in our church back home and we loved spending two weeks with them
and the whole family. Annelise loved holding her babies and feeding MacKenzie a bottle, she’s going to be a great big sister one day. After two weeks in Texas, we traveled up north, to Indiana. We had the best time hanging out with family, eating yummy food, and
getting some shopping done. Annelise got to play with her cousin Olivia when we were in Lafayette and renamed her cousin Claire, calling her Yaya, when we were in Indianapolis.

In September, we were almost back to normal, but then October brought the Officers’ Spouses’ Club’s annual Far East Bazaar. I was on the bazaar committee and spent three days in a hangar full of amazing items. At the end of the weekend, my feet hurt and our bank account was a
little bit lighter, but the club raised over $30,000 to be given out in the local community.

John and I went out with friends in October to celebrate my birthday with some karaoke, and Annelise dressed up as Jessie from Toy Story for Halloween while John and I were Mr. & Mrs. Potato Head. November brought a family trip to Tokyo, where we visited DisneyLand and DisneySea for a couple of days. We had a blast and got to meet a number of Disney Characters, including Princess Aurora, Minnie Mouse, and Princess Ariel. We made the trip over Thanksgiving and Annelise’s third birthday, she had a blast and loves to tell people about the trip. She wore her Jessie costume one day and a Cinderella costume the next and everyone at the
parks thought she looked adorable.

Now that December is here, we’re finally relaxing after a crazy year. John had an inspection at work this month that ate up a week out of every month this year while they prepared. Thankfully, his office did well and we’re done with that for a while. We’re planning a quiet Christmas at home before ramping up for the new year. We have several friends arriving here over the next few months, which eases the pain of some of our closest friends moving

When we moved to Misawa, we thought we’d be leaving in January of 2012, but we have extended our stay by six months. We will be done with our tour here this summer and should be finding out about our new assignment in the next couple of months. We have absolutely loved our time here and are so grateful for the chance to live in this amazing country. The people are so wonderful and their culture contains much to be admired. We haven’t always enjoyed living so far from ‘home’ or how long it takes items to arrive in the base stores, but we have made many wonderful memories and dear friends.

We’re sorry that more of you couldn’t visit us in Japan, but we understand how much money and time it takes to come here. There are a number of things left on our ‘to-do’ list that will remain undone, like a visit to Kyoto and Hiroshima, me climbing Mt Fuji, and seeing some of the southern islands, but overall we feel that we experienced some of the best that Japan has to offer. We plan on spending the rest of our time here enjoying one last Winter and Spring, building snowmen, skiing (for John), watching the trees and gardens bloom, and spending plenty of time at the beach. We can’t wait to see what life has in store for us this next year!

Merry Christmas!!
John, Angela, and Annelise

Friday, April 8, 2011


I know this is almost 2 months late, I'm lazy and then we had an earthquake. When we moved to Misawa, all we heard about were cherry blossoms and the Sapporo Snow Festival. We got to Misawa too late that first year to get tickets to the snow festival and John was deployed last year, so this year I was ready the day tickets went on sale and I told John that I'd go without him if need be. We booked a trip through the base that included an overnight ferry trip there and back, plus one night in a hotel in Sapporo. (We live on Honshu island and Sapporo is on Hokkaido, an island to our North.) Our friends David and Yazmin ended up getting on the same trip so we were able to book a room with them on the ferries so we didn't have to sleep in the 'cattle pen' with everyone else. We left on a Sunday evening and rode on a bus to Hachinohe, where we boarded the ferry. John, David and Yazmin were kind enough to wander the boat while I got Annelise to sleep and we woke up just in time to see the ferry pulling up to the dock on Hokkaido. We were bussed to a hotel for breakfast, which was a pretty typical Japanese breakfast. So of course, I didn't eat much there, I'm not really one for fish or rice for breakfast. Thankfully, I had packed some snacks so we were prepared for a breakfast of our own on the bus. Then we took the bus to Otaru, a city on the northwestern side of the island. Otaru was a beautiful, snow-covered city and is known for music boxes and blown glass. The snow was a little crazy there, we collected over an inch on Annelise's stroller in a matter of 10 or 15 minutes. She fell asleep while we browsed around the city and I found a beautiful vase in a glass shop that matches a vase that John bought for me a while back. We were VERY tempted to buy some amazing cheesecake, but we knew that there were many other yummy treats ahead. We stopped at a small food stand with a heated tent where we could sit and ate potatoes on a stick, some sort of yummy fried potato/cheese concoction, and a curry dumpling thingy. We also had delicious hot chocolate and lavender ice cream!! I actually got a cone that had lavender, milk, and melon flavors, while David got one with 2 extra flavors. My favorite was the lavender and the melon was my least favorite. Then we got back on the bus and went to Sapporo to check into the hotel. Our hotel was in a great location, only a block or two from the ice sculptures, one more block from Mister Donut, and very close to an underground mall that we could walk through to get to the snow sculptures. That afternoon, we ate at Mister Donut (it's just so delicious there!) and looked at the ice sculptures, then we went to the Sapporo Bier Garten for a delicious dinner of lamb, seafood, and veggies with all you can drink beer or soda. We really enjoyed the food and Annelise learned how to toast in Japanese, saying 'Kampai!' and clinking her sippy cup with the tour guide's mug of beer over and over again. After we got back from the beer garden, we met up with a few people that we had made friends with on our bus and speed-walked through the underground mall to get to Odori Park to see the snow sculptures lit up at night. We only had 20 minutes or so before they turned the lights out, so we rushed through so we could see all of them. I was in awe of those sculptures, they were GIGANTIC!! Each sculpture was the size of a good-sized building, with a stage in front for various musical performances. There were also a ton of smaller sculptures, including recognizable characters (both Japanese and American), a baseball player (possibly Sammy Sosa), and a Nobel Prize winner. On Tuesday morning (Tuesday already?), we ate breakfast at our hotel; it was a much more Americanized meal and we all left with our bellies full. We then hopped on the subway to a chocolate factory that was on the other side of town. When we got out of the subway station, we had nowhere to go so I stopped a large group of people to ask (in my very limited Japanese) where the factory was. Earlier in the trip I had told John and the Arroyos to remember that just because someone is white, they may not be American/speak English because this is an internationally renowned festival. I had to eat my own words when I found out that the man I was trying to speak Japanese to was from Hong Kong and currently lives in Canada!! Thankfully, he spoke both Japanese and English and was leading a tour group from Hong Kong who was also trying to find the chocolate factory, so we followed them the few blocks to the factory. Now, this was not a Hershey's-style factory, they don't make candy. They make adorable little Japanese desserts and cookies and we got to look in on the assembly line and the history of chocolate-making. We also each received a sample of the signature cookie, Shiroi Koibito. A Shiroi Koibito is two thin cookies with a thin chocolate filling; kind of like a Milano, but better. We were all tired and hungry by that time, so we went to the cafe inside the factory for delicious desserts and THE BEST HOT CHOCOLATE EVER. EVER. We bought a tin of cookies and two little cans of hot chocolate to take home with us, we've been rationing the cookies and neither one of us is allowed to have one unless the other has one too. That's how good they are. And the hot chocolate has ruined me for all other hot chocolate. Before we went back to the subway station, we stopped at another gift shop attached to the factory and mailed post cards to ourselves and a few other people. Once we got back on the Subway, we basically collapsed and rested in anticipation of checking out the snow sculptures again. The sculptures were amazing at night, but they were even better during the day because it was easier to see some of the details. We took our time that day and had a lot of fun taking pictures and being silly, then we shopped a little for souvenirs and ate ramen before getting back on the bus for the trip home. The ramen was delicious, it was actually my first time eating actual ramen in Japan. I know, I've lived there for over 2 years, but we just don't go out to eat very often and John is gone so much, plus Annelise is just now at the age where she can eat something like ramen so I don't have to worry about bringing extra food for her. We got back to the hotel just in time to get on the bus and the ferry trip back to Hachinohe was a little more difficult than the trip over because Annelise did NOT want to go to sleep. All in all, we had a great trip. I'm glad that David and Yazmin were able to go with us. I didn't get as many family pictures as I would have liked because Annelise napped at awkward times, and I didn't find a kokeshi doll that (to me) represented Sapporo, but we made some great memories and checked and important trip off of our list. Now it's time to gear up for our second try at Fuji and a possible trip to Hawaii in the fall!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Christmas and such...

We had an amazing Christmas here in Misawa. We went to Mass on Christmas Eve and then skipped out on a party that some friends were throwing because we were tired and had to set up Annelise's toy from her aunts and uncles. She got a climb n slide from them that she LOVES, it's in the house right now because of all of the snow outside, but we're looking forward to moving it outdoors in a few months. Annelise also received a kitchen from Santa, it's nice to have something to occupy her while I cook dinner or check my e-mail. My parents gave her some play food and a play cookie set, she loves them and is always offering us cookies. I have to check her pants pockets for wooden cookies before I put them in the wash, but I'm so excited that she's at an age where she actually plays with her toys. Annelise got lots of other cool stuff, including a Magna Doodle that she brings to us asking us to write the ABCBs. She knows all of her letters now by sight, although she still has trouble singing the alphabet. We've started working on colors and lower case letters and we're still working on counting.

John and I got some really cool gifts, as well. He got some very nice Japanese whiskey, a new hiking backpack, and The Pacific on Blu Ray, and I got a Wii Fit, some attachments for my Kitchenaid mixer, and some great movies. Then came the gift cards... it's difficult for our families to get all of our gifts purchased and mailed to us in time so some of them send us Amazon gift cards or money. We used the money to help pay for our trip to Sapporo next month (it's also our anniversary gift to each other) and the gift cards to buy Wii accessories!

On Christmas Day we had some friends over for lunch, I made roast and rolls while our friends brought mashed potatoes and dessert. Then we went over to see some other friends and spent the evening relaxing. John took leave during the week between Christmas and New Year's, it was really nice to spend some time as a family and get things done around the house. Then on New Year's we went over to a friend's house and watched a Japanese countdown. We toasted with champagne and sparkling cider while Annelise slept upstairs and we had a great time chatting with everyone. We're very lucky to have so many good friends.

We were planning on buying a video game system this Spring after we pay off John's truck, but God had something else in mind when I won a Wii at the squadron Christmas party! John was in Alabama and had to miss the super-fun party, but he was pretty excited to come home to a Wii. We've bought a number of games and accessories for it and are pretty set except for Rock Band/Band Hero, which we'll buy in a few months. We really enjoy playing each other in bowling, wakeboarding and other games, I'm a sore winner and am always very excited when I beat John's scores. He has much better hand-eye coordination than I do, so it feels pretty good to kick his butt at something every now and then. We also use the Wii Fit to get in some exercise, it's way too cold and snowy for my liking and I don't go to the gym anymore so the Fit is really helpful. John also has a great time playing Call of Duty as a way to zone out after a long day at work.

We've been having fun with cooking lately, the attachments for my stand mixer allow me to grind my own beef and it's amazing how good freshly ground beef tastes! We don't even buy ground beef anymore, we just buy inexpensive cuts of beef and grind a few pounds a week to use in dinners. Last night I also made pizza from scratch for the first time. I used whole wheat flour and made my own dough, then topped it with pesto, chicken leftover from the night before, and some mozzarella cheese that I grated in the food processor. It takes a little longer to do all of this yourself, but the resulting pizza is soooo worth it! We're slowly moving the more processed foods out of our house in favor of things that we make ourselves, although I draw the line at milling my own flour or growing my own veggies. I am just not good at growing things so I'll keep buying locally grown produce and maybe join a co-op when we get back to the States.

Now we're dealing with lots of snow and gearing up for our trip to Sapporo for the ice festival. Sapporo is on the island to the North of us and is famous for the ice festival, so we'll take an overnight ferry there and back and spend a couple of days exploring the city. We booked our trip through the base, so there's some structure to it and we'll have a tour guide along. Also, two of our friends are coming with us so we're really excited. :)

And I guess that's that. I've finally got us updated. Even though I still haven't posted anything about Annelise turning 2. I think I'm in denial that she's actually 2 and I can't bring myself to talk about it much. I just can't believe how much my little girl has grown up!