Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Christmas Season Catch Up

It was a long and wonderful Christmas season, filled with family traditions old and new. We ate, sang, danced, unwrapped, drank, played, cooked, laughed, slept, tickled, crafted, talked and enjoyed our way through the many days and nights together. Thank you to all, and to all a good night.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

I am thrilled with the results of my Holiday blog-swap packages! I just received my package from my 2nd swap friend today and can't believe all the wonderful things inside. I didn't get to take a picture of the beautiful things Chrissie made me before they were up in our house, being used or eaten. I'll try to gether them and take a picture to show you.
Here is what Valerie sent from France:

The box is filled with thoughtful goodies... a book on cheese in France (in French!), chocolates galore, some mulling spices, cocoa powder to make her recipe for homemade cocoa, a handmade wreath, ribbon that matched my Christmas colors this year, wooden heart cutouts, a little book about their family's traditions, a cd and more. Wow! Makes me wish I had sent more along in my box. I'll know better for next year.

A huge thank you to Chrissie ( I LOVE the microwave corn-bag!) and Valerie. You made my Christmas season very bright.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Crisp and Cool

These are the scenes we've been enjoying from our window perches lately. I love the shadows that are cast from nearby trees and houses. They actually make the snow look blue.
Thankfully, we're warm inside feeling very blessed with our families and friends. It has been a lovely holiday season filled with special meals, thoughtful gifts, time together and quiet times. In times like these I go back to my favorite and most simple prayer said very slowly, "Thank you, thank you, thank you."
And you? What are you feeling thankful for?

Friday, December 26, 2008

The Cookie Exchange

Look at all these lovely cookies. Too bad I didn't bake any of them. I baked spritz cookies this year for the first time in my life. We've been together for almost 11 years and Ron has mentioned on more than one occasion that he really likes spritz cookies, among other buttery and crisp cookies. Butter cookies and shortbread-types are my least favorite of holiday cookies and don't appeal to me, so I've never baked them. This year I decided to give it a go for the 10th year celebration of my G-2 Cookie Exchange.
G-2 stands for second generation. My mom and next door neighbor Susan created a cookie exchange with the neighborhood gals over 30 years ago. Ten years ago, many of us living back in Minneapolis again, the daughters and daughters-in-law of the original crew, decided to join in the tradition of a cookie exchange. We run ours a bit differently than they do, deciding that it feels a little more democratic to bring our mandatory 4-6 dozen (depending on the year) and split them up equally amongst the attendees. That way, everyone gets to try everyone else's cookies and no one is accidentally stuck with 4 dozen of their own cookies to take home because well, maybe the frosting job didn't look so hot that year or maybe someone else made Martha Stewart-worthy cookies and well, you get the point. A cookie plate with seven or eight different varieties at home is much more impressive than four. The other thing we do differently is that we keep a log of who brings what cookies, who hosts, what was served, brief updates of everyone's lives and notable news from the past year. It has been such a highlight of our gatherings that one member has even started a list inside her kitchen cupboard door and jots down notable things when they happen throughout the year, newsworthy and not. (For example, Obama's victory and also the latest Brittney scandal.) Such fun!
I stayed up late baking the spritz cookies, wrestling with my spritz maker that was a bit tired from being used for many years as a churros maker in my Spanish classroom. It was a bit cranky. So was I after using it. Nevertheless, I made all white ones with red sprinkles until 1:30 a.m. and then cranked up the oven again the following morning before Carl left for school to let the boys help me make green ones. They were pretty cute, not perfect, but cute enough and tasty. We had eight dozen cookies, enough for the cookie party, cookie plates for the neighbors and a few left over. Perfect.
That afternoon I returned from a play date with all three kids, feeling exhausted after a certain unnamed second child had a sleep-deprivation induced meltdown necessitating a quick escape, arms flailing wildly. (Not mine, dear readers, HIS!) Upon entering the kitchen at home I noticed a certain tupperware container on the floor, open, and empty. Hmmm. That's not where I had left it, I was quite sure. Hmmmm again. And where was the dog? No where to be found, but licking her chops, I'm sure.
My reaction? Nothing. Nothing at all. It was one hour before I had to leave. There was NO WAY possible, short of rolling out some Pillsbury dough from a tube, that I was going to be able to bring cookies to the party. Oh well. After my child-extraction anger, nothing could faze me. I knew that the gals wouldn't mind, or at least hoped not. I figured it would be worth a good laugh and some sympathy cookies. I was right. They laughed and shared generously. Thank you ladies!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas

We decided not to get a real tree this year after many discussions about how busy we had been feeling lately. The needles everywhere, forgetting to water the tree, a late start... all these factored into the decision. Normally these things don't bother me much, but with Ron working so much lately and the cold, cold December here in Minnesota, it just got to be too much. Instead we were satisfied (and actually, quite thrilled) with this cute little fake tree my mom donated to our cause. It looks like something out of a Dr. Seuss book, funny little base and real wood branch with the silly little plastic pine boughs sticking out of it. In short, it was exactly what we needed this year. Small, clean, easy and cute!
I let the kids decorate it all by themselves while I supervised. Note the angel backwards and the prolific ornaments near the top. Wonder how tall the decoraters were? Also check out the cool garland made out of ribbon, punched paper circles and glitter. My blog swap friend Chrissie sent it to me. We love it! An idea for next year, most definitely!

And you? What did your tree look like this year? Real or fake?

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Peace of Christmas

Taken just a few days before Christmas, the kids were in their jammies enjoying breakfast in the sunshine that was streaming in the window. The light beckoned me to get out my camera and shoot many, many photos. Here are some of my favorites. You can almost see what they are thinking.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Feeling Crafty:: part three

This little photo album was part of my blog-swap holiday giveaway. I put pictures and instructions of the process of building our holiday pretzel castle in it, then zigzagged the photos to the fold out pages. I covered some thin cardboard with fun paper, inserted bright green ribbons for a tie, and voila, very chic! A few other people on my Christmas list are going to receive something along this order... just wait and see!

And you, have you made any fun things lately? Or, have you thought about what you would make if you weren't so busy with your kids? The holidays? Work? If you had 6 hours of *free* time... no strings attached, what would you do?

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Getting Ready for the Holidays:: part 4

For my holiday swap with fellow bloggers, one of the things to include was a handmade ornament or gift. I thought about it for a while and finally came up with these, all by myself. Usually my creative process involves looking around for inspiration, finding an idea, then making it my own. This idea of the balls with beading and handstiching on the front came to me without any external assistance. I'm happy with them. I'm really happy with the way they look finished in groups of three. I made a red set and a green set for my two swap buddies. Of course, I cut out a set for myself but didn't finish them. Typical.

Also, my friend Leigh-Ann at Freckled Nest is sponsoring a weeklong series of giveaways from her blog-friends. Check out Mer Mag and her contest for a personal portrait drawing. Two prizes are available... a single portrait or one of your whole family (if you link to her site.) Here's my link, baby! She has some great design stuff and wonderful links on her side bar to more fun sites. Also check out: Poppy Talk and the Winter Market. If you need some last minute ideas for gifts, shop away! Amazing finds!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Feeling Crafty:: part two

It is my niece Annika's birthday today. She lives far away and we don't get to see eachother as often as we'd like, but I wanted to send her a little piece of me for her birthday. While lounging on the beach in Puerto Rico with her mother a few weeks ago, I learned of Annika's passion for being a teacher, in her bedroom. Apparently her whole bedroom is set up to resemble a classroom, with a white board, clip boards with important papers, and hand sanitizer.
I sent a package full of school supplies for a good teacher, including this little felt roll-up for some funky new pens we sent. Ahhh, if I had only had one of these in my desk when I was teaching. I could have protected all my favorites from the students who needed to borrow a pen from my desk drawer. I used two colors of felt from my mom's felt stash, most likely vintage 70s felt. It feels thicker and higher quality than craft-store felt is now. Two days later, I made another one in pink and brown for another birthday present. Now, the boys think they need one. Under the Christmas tree, perhaps?

Happy Birthday, Annika!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Feeling Crafty

The other night I was up late working on Christmas cards, nearly falling asleep at my desk, ready to roll into bed and suddenly, I realized that this idea I had been toying with for about six months HAD to be made. Tonight. Now. Wake up, Jenn! The slumber quickly left me as I rubbed my eyes, scissors in hand, and began cutting.
This past summer we spent a lot of time with the Minneapolis Nature Kids group. One of the girls in the group practically shares a birthday with me and I wanted to celebrate her 5th. I didn't get a card in the mail, so I decided to really celebrate, with a bag. A stick bag, that is. Maddie has a love of sticks and frequently finds beautiful specimens on walks. Usually her Mom winds up carrying them so Maddie will have her hands free to look for more. I determined early on in the summer that there had to be a better way.
I sketched it in August, but it came off the paper this weekend. Here it is. A pink, fleece bag with an over-the-shoulder carrying strap, a drawstring of vintage striped ribbon, a zipper to reach into the depths of the bag to find the teenyist pieces of bark on the bottom, and some embroidery to verify its purpose. It felt great to knock it out... in 45 minutes. Now, why can't I get the rest of these ideas out of my head and into someone's hands?

Sunday, December 14, 2008

A Visitor in our Attic

We have another visitor. This time it is in our attic, or shall I say, they are in our attic. We've known for quite a while that there was some sort of critter living in our attic. They scamper around at night and chew on things, sometimes squeaking in the ceiling above the bathroom and other times it appears they tango in the ceiling right above our bed. Can't they find another dance floor?

We had our house re-roofed last week. While I was chatting with the roofers in Spanish I remarked that the squirrels seem to have taken up residence in the attic of our casa nd if they wouldn't mind, por favor lock them out. The roofers closed up the hole on the roof in the back of the house, pounding very loudly, mind you, so I figured that our little friends would be gone.

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. The next day I heard them again and began to wonder, "Are they trapped? Are they mad? Are they going to chew themselves a new door?" I borrowed a live trap from my Dad, who trapped 29 squirrels in his attic in '89 and relocated them to a nature preserve nearby. The boys were fascinated by the idea that the trap would be located in the ceiling above their room and the possibility that they would hear the little doors slam shut. Carl even mastered setting the trap himself (note: it is completely safe, no poison, no knives, guns or nuclear weapons involved in this little bugger.)

We waited. And waited. And heard the little jerks dance and prance around, chewing themselves into happy oblivion with their warm, cozy digs, safe from the snow and cold. And finally, on day three, or was it four.... we got one.

Today we got another. Anyone else dumb enough to fall for the old peanut butter in a cage trick? Buehler? Buehler?

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Getting Ready for the Holidays:: part 3

Start to finish, probably six weeks, but we started early on purpose... to stretch out the creative process. This is our pretzel castle, as designed by architect Carl. In my childhood we always made log cabin pretzel houses instead of gingerbread ones. The tradition has carried on into my adulthood and parenthood.

Here's the final product. I plan on putting up a tutorial on how to do this soon. Actually, it is complete and part of my Holiday Swap packages with Valerie and Chrissie. (If you're reading ladies... take a break for a few days. I'm going to feature some of my crafts. I mailed them today!)

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Getting Ready for the Holidays:: part 2

Every year since Carl was born, I have been taking him to a nearby garden store called Bachman's for their annual Christmas show with Santa and his elf Albert. The show is 20 minutes long, musical and a wonderful way for kids to see Santa live in action, but not just by sitting upon his knee.

I began taking Carl there with my friend Andrea, a dear friend and girl scout leader from junior high and her then 10 year old daughter. At the beginning her daughter Heather came along on the premise that she could see me and my kid, as she was old enough to really understand "The North Pole." As the years passed by and Gus and Louise were born, it became very important to Heather, Andrea and I to go and see the show the day after Thanksgiving, eat dessert in the lovely tea room called Patrick's French Bakery, and watch the kids with their growing fascination (and fear) of Santa.

Andrea passed away this year after a long struggle with colon cancer. She was a very dear friend, like a big sister, a woman I could ask any question. She is greatly missed. We picked up 15-year old Heather the day after Thanksgiving to bring her with us to the show. We talked about her mom a lot, but also about the importance of traditions and special friends. The kids love Heather. She loves them too. I hope to continue the tradition with her for many, many years to come.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Getting Ready for the Holidays:: part 1

One of my favorite ways to bring our family into a new season is to fill the window boxes and pots with seasonal things. In the spring it is pansies, the summer is impatiens, sweet potato vines and geraniums, the fall is pumpkins, gourds, leaves and sticks, and winter is greens and whatever I find drying beautifully in my yard. This year was no exception.

Last week when I returned from Puerto Rico I thought it would still be warm enough to fill the boxes. My thought was, "It's not that cold yet. The dirt can't be frozen hard." I was wrong. Frozen solid. With the boys playing nicely together in the yard while Louise napped, it was the only time I would find to get the job done. Into the kitchen I marched seeking warmth for my dirt. Hot water in pitchers, and pitchers and more pitchers. I coaxed the solid dirt into letting a few spritely branches of spruce and scotch, a birch branch or two, a hand full of pinecones and some dried hydrangea flowers slip into their stiff slumber. With a handfull of showy grass heads and some berries my parents had gathered on an outing, the boxes were complete. My fingers were frozen too, but the smile was large on my face. Check. Getting ready for the holidays has begun.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008


In the midst of all these holiday preparations, I found a little time to sneak in a birthday present for my niece Ingrid. Her sister got one last year, but Ingrid casually mentioned to me this summer that she might like a traveling monkey too. Annika has LuLu and now Ingrid has Vinny. Here's his story, which was handwritten and placed into his photo album and tucked inside his traveling case:

Hi there. My name is Vinny. I'm a monkey, but I don't have a tail. You see, one time I was looking for termites ina log near a river and I fell in the water. A giant alligator grabbed me by the tail and well, I'm just lucky to be ALIVE! I don't mind at all. I was rescued by a group of scientists that brought me to an animal hosptital in the US. I fell in love with Italian food like pizza, lasagna, spaghetti and risotto-- so they named me Vinny.

I'm pretty easy to take care of, in case you'd like to keep me. Just cuddle me (like my mama monkey used to) every night, share some food with me, and take me to the bathroom when I, well, toot. Ok? Introduce me to other monkeys too. And, take my picture when I travel. The scientists in Minnesota will send you some soon for my photo book.

Hugs and kisses xoxo, Vinny

Vinny and Lulu on vacation in Puerto Rico, with their "Grandma Katie."

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Back from the beach

Of course there will be more photos and stories later, but it is late and I'm tired.
It was more than wonderful. Puerto Rico, I'll be back. I miss those waves already.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Late Night Brussel Sprouts

Even the dog got in on the brussel sprout action!

Have you ever grown brussel sprouts? No, I guess that's a silly question. No one, at least not city dwellers, grows brussel sprouts. Why? They're slow. They don't like the heat of midsummer days. They thrive in the cold. Lots of folks think they're gross.

Not us. We grew them this summer from little plants. Little plants that we probably put into the ground a little too late--because these guys were slow. I'm talkin' slow. We watched them all summer long, wondering, waiting, wishing, hoping... for something to happen. They grew beautiful cabbage-like leaves. "Where are the sprouts?" we'd say every day when we checked them. I remembered seeing how they grew when we received a stalk of them many years back in a CSA. Our brussel sprouts weren't resembling that one, at all.

Then one day, something happened. Something grew in the "armpit" of the leaves. It looked like a pea. What was it? Our first SPROUT! Carl and Gus ran over and told the neighbor, "Megan... our brussel is sprouting!" You would have thought they won the lottery. Such are the joys of gardening with children. Every little growth is a miracle for them and a way to keep us all a little closer to the earth.

The garden has been put to bed for weeks. Well, everything except for the slow growing brussel sprouts. Finally last week, after it had already snowed a few times and the garden had been heaped with raked leaves for winter warmth, we chopped 'em down. It was dark, of course, as it always is in areas so far from the equator this time of the year, but we did it anyway. The boys felt like they had brought home something great from the hunt. The kill. "Let's get it!" They poked and prodded on each stalk, carefully popping each pea-sized sprout off the thick trunk. Oh the excitement! After four giant stalks, we had the bottom of a large bowl filled. Yeah, the bottom. Had those little rascals been full-sized, we could have filled two bowls. But no, they were our pea-sized brussel sprouts and I've never seen the boys so excited to get dinner on the table.

I'm proud to say, my kids eat brussel sprouts. And I thought I was the only freak.

Friday, November 14, 2008

::Ten Things::

Fall is a time I have always enjoyed. The warmth of the summer starts to fade just as we realize that we're ready to pull out the flannel sheets, bundle up in a blanket, cover up the bare legs with pants. The crisp greens begin to fade into a smeary blur of red, orange, yellow and brown. Warm beverages and soups with crusty bread appeal much more than the adventurous and crunchy salads of summer. I look at my yard with a smile, knowing that it is time to put it to bed, time to put away the tools of our every day activities outside, knowing that we can again focus on inside projects. The sky turns a different shade of blue, the golden time of the sun setting is a brighter shade of gold. My fingers chill quickly. My body longs for a sweater. Fall.

I've been reading many lists of "things that make me smile" on the blogs I haunt regularly. Today is the day I will join in with Eren and Amanda and many other inspiring women out there.

Ten Things that make me Smile

:: Skype. Calling Africa for free on my computer with a headset the morning of the election to talk with Stephanie about the big day. Who knew that it could work so well?

::Patching a pile of pants that have been sitting on my sewing table for months. Love the iron-on patches.

::Sweet potatoes. This week we've eaten them as fries, in soup and mixed with Yukon Gold potatoes as a mashed potato delight.

::Winter hats. Louise found this Zippity Zany hat from Hanna Andersson in our mitten basket and has basically refused to take it off for a week unless she's bathing.::Grandparents that like to take their grandkids on dates. All three of my kids spend quality time with their grandparents doing special things, without me asking them to. We're lucky enough to have both of our sets of parents in town.

::Puerto Rico for four days with my sisters-in-law next week. Hasta pronto, playa!

::The color orange.

::The excitement of the Holiday Traditions Exchange over at Sew Liberated. I'm waiting my official match-up, though I recently met Valerie at Sierra Moon and we're going to do our own un-official swap. More details to follow soon. A French match up! I'm practicing my French... fun!

::This little roly-poly bug on Etsy. Why didn't I think of that?

::My new camera (except for the fact that it is in the shop. Hopefully I'll have it back by my trip!)

And you? What is making you smile these days?