Tuesday, December 31, 2013

A year in review

I thought posting our Christmas letter would be a good way to finish the year and reflect on the chaos that has been our life.  So here it is:

"Merry Christmas from our family to yours! One word seems to summarize 2013 for our family... “change”. After some prayer and reflection, it seemed that this was the year that we needed to make our move to Beaverton, Oregon (a Portland suburb). We had purchased a home there six years ago as an investment with the thought that “one day” we'd like to move closer to family. And both of us seemed to feel like this was the year to pull the trigger. So Steve applied for some jobs and in May he got a great position with Jacobs Engineering, sealing the deal that the van Riessens were becoming Oregonians. So in July, we packed up our lives and made the move!  Our home is only about 5 minutes away from Steve's sister's family. This was immediately a blessing, as we had some work to do on the house before we could move in. Christie's family welcomed us with open arms and let us stay with them for two weeks while the house was being worked on. Since then, we have been able to see each other regularly. Their daughter is the same age as Molly and their son is the same age as our twins. There is NOTHING better than knowing the cousins will all get to grow up together! It was very hard to leave the amazing friends, family, and church we had in Sacramento. But we are starting to feel at home here in Beaverton. We have met some amazing families right in our neighborhood and Molly's new best friend lives just 4 houses down. Our neighborhood school is absolutely fabulous and I can't believe the level of education Molly is receiving. And Christie helped us find an outstanding preschool for the twins and they are flourishing there. Being closer to British Columbia has also facilitated more visits from my family, and in the first four months of us being here we have seen my cousin Cameron and his wife, my sister Michelle and her husband, my sister Tricia, and THREE visits from my parents! We've also had two different groups of friends already visit from Sacramento. This is the blessing of having a much bigger house ... being about to host people. So if anyone wants to come for a visit to the Portland area, you have a place to land with us! Steve is adjusting to his new engineering position and is working on some very impressive projects, including a wind tunnel for NASA! He's also extremely busy working on home improvement projects since nothing had been done to our house since it was first constructed. He's already built cabinets and shelving, finished tiling projects, replaced about eight light fixtures, and helped to paint almost every room in the house. I've also been busy painting, sewing curtains, and “nesting”. Needless to say, I think we will take the month of December to slow down a bit and take it easy. We are also happy to report that one year after our last Christmas letter, my mother has turned from a breast cancer patient, to a breast cancer survivor (although I prefer the term “victor”)! We are all looking forward to going to Hawaii with my sisters and parents in March to celebrate her recovery!  This Christmas season we have SO much to be thankful for. Every day we sit in our home and are overwhelmed with thankfulness for the blessings God has poured down on us. We are especially thankful for YOU! We wish you a blessed Christmas Season as we celebrate the birth of Jesus!"

And here's some of my favorite photos of the kids over the year...

Wednesday, December 25, 2013


We had a WONDERFUL Christmas this year.  We had sick kids before Christmas and sick kids after Christmas, but Christmas was relatively germ-free!  So we started out Christmas Eve at our new church Grace Point Community Church.  Here's the kids all dressed up for service.

Paige fell asleep in my arms in the middle of service and didn't wake until we were walking out of the church.  We came home and had a nice dinner of appetizers, and then spread out our reindeer food on the front lawn so that Santa could easily find our house.  This is an annual tradition thanks to my Aunt Nan!

Santa did indeed find our home, and we found evidence of this the next morning.  He left his presents under the tree in the TV Room because the tree in the Living Room was packed with presents and bikes from Nani and Papa!

The kids opened their gifts from Santa before we had a nice breakfast together.  Then came the present massacre of 2013.  Needless to say they had a blast!

Molly's favorite gift was definitely her telescope & microscope set from Santa.  Paige absolutely loved her doll from us.  And Garrett was all about his Super Hero treasury from Auntie Shelley and Uncle Todd.  Of course, afterwards, we had to get Paige's annual photo in the pile of Christmas wrapping!

After a afternoon of enjoying all the new toys, we finally got out of our pajamas and went over to Aunt Christie's house.  Paige of course had to wear her outfit that matched her new doll.  And Garrett had to bring his Super Hero book!

Christie put together an absolutely AMAZING prime rib dinner.  It was seriously unreal... that girl can cook.  As you can tell, the children approved wholeheartedly.

Then we put a candle on the white-chocolate, peppermint cake that I made and sang "Happy Birthday" to Jesus.

It was so wonderful to be around family for the holidays.  It was extra special having Scott's mom there to celebrate with all of us.  We are very very blessed!

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Celebrating with new friends

Tonight we got to celebrate Christmas with our new friends the Washams.  We decided to keep things low key and we did a dinner of appetizers.  My favorite... the bacon-wrapped dates stuffed with cream cheese!  YUM!  It was a really laid back evening and the kids had a blast playing together.  It's such a blessing to have friends that are neighbors and only live a few doors down!

Friday, December 20, 2013

Annual Christmas Tree Photos

Every year I have a tradition of getting photos of the kids in front of the Christmas tree in their matching jammies.  This year I was SO excited to do it in our NEW HOUSE!  I love how they turned out!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Our Redeemer Preschool Recital

This morning we went to Our Redeemer Lutheran church to watch Garrett and Paige in their preschool Christmas recital.  I was particularly excited after hearing that my fabulous twinsies were cast as Mary and Joseph in the nativity reenactment.  However, when we got there, Garrett was NOT into it.  It started once I put their costumes on and he was convinced that his tunic was too itchy (even though he had a shirt on underneath).  The tears started and I decided that it would be better for me to leave and let the teachers deal with it (before I got really angry).  Needless to say, you may be able to notice their different excitement levels while filing into the sanctuary.

Paige was awesome, and practically bounced through the entire performance.  Garrett shut down for the first half, but perked up during the last half.

Here's my favorite moment on video... when the kids were singing "Go Tell It On The Mountain"!

After the show was over and I was able to chat with Garrett about why he was so grumpy, he said it "wasn't my favorite thing to do". When I asked him what that meant he said that his "outfit wasn't cool" and he wanted to be playing Angry Birds.  Sigh... 

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Alpenrose Dairy

The nice thing about having family in a new city, is that they know all the fun things to do around town.  We decided to join them for a trek to the Alpenrose Dairy, where they have an old historic village all decked out for Christmas and you can walk around and enjoy it for free!  Dairyville is a replica of a western frontier town. There are dozens of false-front shops filled with treasured antiques, an old-fashioned ice cream parlor, a harness store, music shop and other reminders of a remote era. The 600-seat opera house contains a majestic 4,000 pipe organ from the old Portland Civic Auditorium.

One of the highlights was their Storybook Village, which was COMPLETELY decked out with flocked trees.  There were also a variety of farm animals for the kids to enjoy as well!  Another fun holiday adventure!

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Christmas traditions

Now that we are living in a new state, we realized that this year was a great time to start some new holiday traditions.  Here in Portland, they put on a drive-through light show at the Portland International Raceway.  It's such a fun concept as they literally have you drive around the racetrack, which is pretty cool.  They had a display for the 12 days of Christmas, and one for Christmas Toyland, and another of general holiday scenes.  And their were several tunnels of light to drive through.  It was pretty fun and the kids loved it!

A family tradition that we continued on was the annual gingerbread house decorating.  At this age it was mostly Mommy and Daddy madly trying to build the houses while the kids ate massive quantities of candy.  I'm sure more candy made it into their stomachs than made it onto the houses.  Needless to say, there was some serious sugar-rush craziness around the house afterwards.

We also made some of our Christmas cookie pops. We made them early to give as gifts to various people, although the kids did get one each.

We are "almost" done with Christmas shopping and "almost" done with Christmas cards.  Hopefully that will give us some breathing room to simply enjoy the blessings of the season.  The other great news is that we FINALLY are committing to a new church family... Grace Point Community Church.  It was hard to figure out where God wanted us to land, but I think we agree that this is the place for our family.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Thanksgiving celebrations

This Thanksgiving I had the honor of hosting and I was SO EXCITED.  It was the first time I have ever hosted a large Thanksgiving dinner, and I couldn't wait.  The only problem... we didn't have a dining room table yet!  So for several weeks I scoured Craigslist for the perfect set.  And I found it... a great extending table that seats up to 12 that came with 8 chairs for only $500.  A steal!

And it was a good thing that it seated twelve, because there was 12 of us for dinner.  We had Christie's family, Scott's mother, and Molly's friend Ava and her mom.  Ava's daddy is a fireman, and had to work Thanksgiving, so we were more than happy to have them join us!  Unfortunately, I have absolutely no photos from the day because I was busy enjoying everyone.  But I can definitely report that we all finished the day absolutely full of food and fun!

The next morning we were blessed with a visit from the Quayle family.  It was so great that they were able to be up this way for Thanksgiving and although it was a quick visit, it was such a great reminder of how much fun we have with their family.

Each kid had a friend stay in their room.  We predicted that Molly and Keilani would be the last to fall asleep, but were surprised by the fact that Paige and Meigan were the last to go down around 10:30 at night.  It was hard to be mad at them because they were having so much fun!

It was a teary goodbye the next day and we were really sad to see them go.  We're hoping that next summer we can organize a joint trip somewhere.  Miss them already!

Monday, November 25, 2013

Steve turns FORTY!

Well... it happened.  Steve officially turned forty years old.  I considered throwing him a surprise party, but we still don't know many people here in Oregon.  So instead we started the celebrations with a double-date with Christie and Scott, and enjoyed some fun food and drinks at a new local pub.

Then on the evening of his birthday, we had the Savage clan over for dinner (Steve's favorite: lasagna) and dessert (Steve's favorite: pumpkin cheesecake).  Molly decided that Daddy needed a party hat and made one for him out of paper (see below).

For his birthday I bought him a sound bar and sub-woofer for our TV downstairs.  But I also put together an album for him with notes, pictures and well wishes from friends and family.  It was a lot of fun contacting people from his past and compiling everything, and he was surprised and moved by the gift so that made me happy!

It was the perfect celebration of such a wonderful man and I know it meant so much to him to be surrounded by family on his special day.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Nani and Papa

The weekend before Thanksgiving we had a visit from my parents.  They had been weeding through their stash of Christmas decorations and gave us a bunch of hand-me-downs... including a fabulous 6.5-foot tree!  So while were here we took the opportunity to decorate all THREE trees that we now own.

As always, the kids loved having them here and really enjoyed spending some quality time with them.  It's so nice to be closer to my family geographically and get to see more of them!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

A visit from friends

Last weekend we were blessed with a visit from Susan and Christy!  They flew into town on Friday afternoon.  Saturday I took them to Powell's bookstore (something that was on Christy's bucket list) and then of course we had to hit the food carts.  I had my favorite Indian food... YUM!

While we were hanging out downtown, Steve took the kids to OMSI.  They did the submarine tour, which we had never seen before.  It sounds like it was definitely a hit with the kids!

Then that evening we took in dinner and a movie at Cinetopia.  We watched Thor 2, which was really entertaining (read: Chris Hemsworth).

The next day we decided to take a little road trip to Multnomah Falls.  It was pretty stinking cold out, but it was SO beautiful. Definitely a photo opportunity!

We hiked to the first bridge, and then decided to try the STEEP hike up to the top of the falls.  Paige made it about half way up before she was DONE.  Christy kindly stayed with her.  Garrett made it a little farther... about three quarters of the way up.  So I had to turn around with him and take him down.

But, Molly (and Steve and Susan) made it ALL the way to the top... about 700 feet in elevation gain!  I was really proud of her for powering through, and Christy was so kind and bought her a T-shirt to commemorator the hike!

Our last day was MUCH more laid back and included some errands and crafting (making Sashay scarves).  The twins were obviously tired (read: throwing fits) so it seemed best to stay close to home.  After a crazy drive through traffic, we safely delivered them back to the airport for their flight home!  It was a fabulous visit and I'm looking forward to seeing them in January when I make the trip down south!

Sunday, November 3, 2013


This was such a fabulous Halloween!  It was a little chaotic from a parenting stand point as Steve didn't fly back in from a business trip until that evening, but we had a LOT of fun.  Paige was a beautiful pink butterfly, Molly was a sassy peacock, and Garrett was a fruit bat. I wasn't able to convince them to go with a tight "theme" this year, but I guess they were all winged animals.

Before trick-or-treating, we went to our neighbor's house for pizza with another family from our neighborhood.  Their creative daughter even arranged a holiday craft, and the kids all made spider headbands.  It was very cute!  After the craft and dinner, we hit the streets with six VERY excited kids (one of which was in a stroller).

Steve made it home just in time to grab some pizza before heading home to man the front door.  He didn't fail to get into the Halloween spirit and managed to dig out a costume himself!

Just as the kids were starting to wear out, I got a call that their cousins were going to drop by for a quick visit.  That was the perfect excuse I needed to convince them to finally go home.  By this point I was carrying Paige, but Garrett and Molly were still going strong.  We were so happy to get to see the Savage family dressed up as Gru (Scott) and the Minions from "Despicable Me".

Then the kids plowed back some candy before heading off to bed at 9:00.  I felt SO sorry for their teachers knowing that they were going to school the next day with a sugar hangover and lacking sleep.  At least their preschool teachers were smart and scheduled and pajama and movie day!

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Classroom Halloween Parties

Much of my week has been helping out at classroom Halloween parties (or Harvest Parties if you feel like being politically correct... which I don't).  It was really fun to be able to go and help out and see my kids in their environment with their friends.  The first party was at Garrett and Paige's preschool.  Garrett got on his fruit bat costume and Paige was a pink butterfly.  Garrett was VERY specific that he was a fruit bat because he didn't eat bugs or blood.  Their party consisted of trick-or-treating at the various staff offices, decorating cookies, playing games and hearing stories.  All this went on while the teachers and parents were desperately trying to make sure they didn't get TOO sugared up.  I don't think we were very successful.

After my children begged me to dress up this Halloween, I found a fabulous "queen" dress at Goodwill for a whooping $10.  I threw on some costume jewellery left over from my wedding... and viola!  I was the queen I always knew I was meant to be!

The next day it was off to Molly's Halloween party.  The twins had to come with me, which I was a little concerned about.  But they did a FABULOUS job helping me with the craft and participating in the various stations themselves. 

Molly wore her peacock costume and we both loved seeing all her friends' outfits!  I continue to be SO impressed with the children in her class and found them all to be such nice, kind kids with great manners.  Obviously that's a reflection of their wonderful and involved parents... and considering there were SEVENTEEN parents that showed up to help with the party, it's obvious how involved those parents are!

After the party, they had a costume parade.  This was SO much fun, as they piped dance music through the entire school and the kids danced through the various classes while the parents watched from the rails around the compound.  I heard from several parents that the parade and allowing the kids to wear their costumes was almost cancelled this year on behalf of being "politically correct".  I'm so glad they didn't cancel it because it was obvious the children sincerely enjoyed themselves... even the ones that didn't dress up!