29 December 2007

Slumber Party

Last night, we had a slumber party at our house with Greg, Yvonne, Kim, Jesse and their three kids. They were all in town from Los Angeles (Manhattan Beach area actually) and we hadn't seen them since last February when Brian and I went out for a visit. It was so much fun. We got to catch up, and the kids played like maniacs. C was enthralled by the baby, and even got to hold him. Look what a happy big boy he is.

Jesse and Kim offered to watch the kids while Greg, Yvonne, Brian and I went out for dinner. So nice of them, especially since they are the ones who could use a night out with a 4-month old! We went to Philanders in Oak Park. The atmosphere was great, and the food was good. We all decided that next time we probably would stick to appetizers and salads. While the entrees were fine (Greg & Yvonne's were the best -- rack of lamb and the Philanders Grill; Brian's and mine were ok -- bison short ribs with dried noodles and a chunky bouillabaisse) the starters were fantastic, including the olive oil, cheese and garlic dipping sauce. Afterwards, we went over to Maya del Sol for a little Latin music and a drink. It was fun, and the menu looks good. I don't know how kid-friendly it is, but they did have a separate kid menu and it is Oak Park after all. We'll definitely have to try it.

Jesse and Kim got the kids successfully put to bed, and the evening ended with a couple bottles of wine. What a fun time. I can't wait to see them all again.

27 December 2007

Tru

Last night, we were delighted with a dinner at Tru. Brian and I have been wanting to go there since it opened, so were thrilled when our friends from New York, Anne & Chris, suggested it a couple months ago. They were coming to Chicago for a one-night kid-free getaway during their holiday visit to Racine. So, besides a great dinner, we got to spend some time with friends we don't get to see much, which was really nice.

The reviews of Tru are mixed. It's known as one of the best restaurants in Chicago, but at the same time, some say it isn't worth it, or the staff was snobby. As we were discussing at at dinner with Leif & Melissa the other night, a dining experience isn't always about only the food. It's about who you are with, the occasion, etc. Yes, it was a perfectly timed production when food was laid out. Yes, it was a more serene environment. Maybe it was because it was the holidays. Maybe it was because we were paying more attention to the company than anything else. But I found it to be relaxed, and overall, a fabulous night.

We opted for two of the collections, a white burgendy wine (my favorite) and a delicious red. The "gentlemen" got the Winter Collection, and the "ladies" chose the Chef's Collection. Here's what we ate (everything was great, but I've put a * by the favorites):

Chef's Collection
Selection of Sashimi Grade Fish, Complementary Garnishes (including a white soy sauce)
Alpine Bay Oyster, Tempura Uni, Sorrel
Duck Consommé, Duck Confit, Chestnut, Black Trumpet
Liquid Parmesan Gnocchi, Porcini, Serrano Ham *
Nantucket Bay Scallops, Cauliflower, Chickpea, Meyer Lemon
Scottish King Salmon, Granny Smith Apples, Coconut, Thai Long Peppercorn *
Roasted California Squab, Butternut Squash, Hazelnut, Farro
A Selection of Cow, Goat & Sheeps' Milk Cheeses *
Chocolate-Port Semifreddo, Spiced Chocolate Bisque, Orange-Cinnamon Truffle

Winter Collection
Baby Carrots, Coconut, Kaffir Lime, Quinoa
Red & Yellow Baby Beets, Tomato, Celery, Chocolate
Sassparilla Quail, Smoked Cippolini, Fig, Hazelnut
Housemade Tagliarini, Matsutake, Dashi Gelée, Truffle
Chanterelle Crème, Frog Leg, Chive, Garlic Pavé
Braised Pork Belly, Salsify, White Bean, Condensed Coffee *
Almond-Poached Poussin, Green Beans, Albufera, Truffle
A Selection of Cow, Goat & Sheeps' Milk Cheeses *
Butternut Squash Mousse, Milk Chocolate, Brown-Butter Ice Cream

After all of that, a dessert tray came by with lollypops, macaroons, fruit jellies, coconut balls and more, as well a chocolate tray (my favorite was the dark chocolate infused with rosemary). To top it off, we were handed a little bag of cookies and a copy of our menu when we left.

It was an evening and a meal we'll never forget.

25 December 2007

Christmas 2007


What a year! We had such a great holiday season. The boys are a perfect age, we got to see family, and were in our home for the holidays. I was feeling a little sorry for us, but it turned out great (for everyone, I think). On Saturday we went to my family's house in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin and got to see my mom, dad, sister and her family, cousin and his (who we hadn't seen for a year). Then, on Sunday, we visited Brian's mom, sister and family in Racine, Wisconsin. We drove back that evening with a car load of gifts. We now have a whole fleet of trucks - any boys dream come true.

Christmas Eve. was spent playing with new toys, relaxing and doing laundry. That evening we went over to our neighbor's and had a huge appetizer buffet and watched The Polar Express. It was such a nice evening. We laid out cookies and milk, tracked Santa's route on Norad and rushed to bed we noticed he was in Michigan. (Haven't things changed?) We woke up this morning and guess what? The cookies were eaten, and Santa even knocked a log out of our chimney! H & C had so much fun opening their presents. They got new bikes and both got giant Playmobil airplanes which were a huge hit. Even the dog got a new bed. We sat around in our PJs until 1:00 putting everything together, then went over to Leif & Melissa's, and had a really nice get together with them, their neighbor, Dejan & El and all of our kids.

It really was a nice holiday. The boys are so fun - everything is magical to them. We got to see family, wake up Christmas morning in our home, and spend time with friends. You really can't ask for much more than that. We truly are very, very blessed. Merry Christmas!

19 December 2007

Happy Us

Three and a half years ago we bought our bungalow -- and gutted it. Three years ago this February, we moved in, with much left to do. And, as most major projects go, time and money get in the way. But, in the past month, we have finished a couple huge things. How happy are we? There is still a LOT to do, like add closet doors. It may never end. But here are some recent accomplishments.



Built-ins! They are gorgeous. Around the corner we have floor-to-ceiling bookshelves too!




A fence! The dog is running around outside, eating snow in the privacy of our own backyard as I type. Glorious. You can also see a glimpse at our ... new garage! Ok, so we are done for awhile, but this feels great.

16 December 2007

Cookies for Santa

H and C made cookies for Santa tonight. Isn't he lucky? We may have talked them into sharing with family and friends. Lucky you, too.

A Day of Snow

The last couple days brought lots of nice, fluffy snow. The boys couldn't get enough of it.

A Nice Surprise

So yesterday, our friend Melissa called us and said she had two extra tickets to The Joffrey Ballet's The Nutcracker for that evening and would we like to go with them and our other friends. Of course! Thanks to a snow storm, her cousin couldn't make it. Every year when I was younger, my parents would take us to a holiday show, and The Nutcracker was one of my favorites. In fact, I took H last year with my sister and her kids, and he seemed to really enjoy it too. Anyhow, I exhausted my limited supply of babysitters, and sadly called to say I couldn't find anyone to watch the kids. So Melissa jumped in and said, "Let me make some calls." Low and behold, she found someone. Next thing you know, there we were at the Auditorium Theatre ... in killer seats. We could see everything, and even Brian said he's never had a nicer time at the ballet. But that wasn't all. What was really special was that their daughter was in it, and this was her opening night. I was proud, so I could only imagine how they felt. She was in it last year too (which is why I took H). This year she was a snow princess, looked gorgeous and did a great job. It was a beautiful show, and a really nice surprise.

15 December 2007

Miracle on State Street

So last night, Brian and I got out. We don't get out much, and last night, we did. 101.9 FM hosts Miracle on State Street, with a portion of the proceeds benefitting La Rabida Children's Hospital. I guess this is year number 9, but it's the first we went to. Jim, my boss, and one of his friends came too because ... Duran Duran played. That's right, Duran Duran. They are still around. Here's the best thing -- the event was at the legendary Chicago Theatre, and honestly, I don't really think there's a bad seat in the house. We were in the balcony, so close enough that we could see them, yet far enough away that they still looked really hot (at least to me, not so much to Brian). My John is getting bald and a receding hairline, but I'm no spring chicken either, so that's ok. Actually, I felt pretty good about myself after going to this concert. Let's just say that in a room filled with upper-30, low 40s, age hasn't been good to some people. On to the concert. It was good, it was fun. While Simon had lots of effects on his microphone, his voice sounded great and he hit all the notes. We also really enjoyed the opening acts, who were all very different from each other. The night started with Sara Bareilles. As she says on her website, many people compare her to Nora Jones and Fiona Apple, and she's right. After her was Pat Monahan, the guy from Train. He's got an amazing voice, sang one song without a mic, which was awesome, and even had some little girls sing with him which was very cute. And that, was our night out. (P.S. Photo courtesy of Duran Duran's website).

09 December 2007

Christkindlmarket Chicago

Today we braved the cold and icy sidewalks, and headed downtown. But not for shopping (that's what the internet is for), or window displays (who can see them anyhow with all the other people around). For years now, Brian and I have been heading down to the Christkindlmarket in Chicago during the holiday season. It reminds me so much of my year abroad in Germany, and the magical feeling you get just walking around this time of year (at least a little bit, since this only covers one square block). The scent of cinnamon almonds, red and white tents, people outside even when it's cold ... even the vendors are mostly all German. We love it and it's continued to be an annual tradition for us with the kids. There are a couple consistent things - Glühwein and ornaments. Each year the kids get to pick out an ornament for the tree (H picked out a saxophone and C got a butterfly). But what's really fun, is remembering past years too. Like the one where C just cried the whole time because it was so bitter cold out. Or last year, when we went twice - once with Brian's family, and once with my sister and her family. Both so much fun. Of course, what makes it for the boys too, is the fact that we take the train down. And they got a special treat today, because our conductor let them see how he drives the train and H even got to press the "doors closing" button. It made his day.

08 December 2007

Holiday Party & Show

The boy's holiday party and concert at school was today, and the best one so far. Not only was the concert good and the party fun, it was really special because this is probably the one and only time the boys will be in the same holiday show. They sang four songs. C wouldn't go on stage for the first two, but once he got up there, there was no stopping him. H did great - he really stays on beat well. He must take after his mom ... Nina and Papa also came down for it, which the boys were really excited about. Here's a quick video:
video

We also built a masterpiece out of gingerbread, icing and candy tonight - our 2nd annual gingerbread house (store bought supplies of course). We were at Costco about 6 weeks ago when the boys spotted it - we had to get it right then and there. A lot of the candy ends up in their mouths, but most actually made it on the house. Thank goodness, because C's dinner consisted of cookies and cake at the party. H is a bit more sensible, but we were all stuffed.

Back from Taichung

Brian just got back from Taichung yesterday, where he has been for the past week for work. Taichung is located in west-central Taiwan, so it was quite the haul for a week long trip. Unfortunately, he had to miss the Santa Brunch and St. Nick coming, but he's back in town for the kids holiday party and concert. Brian's usually pretty good about adjusting his schedule to the time changes, but he was said he was completely off the whole time. Anyhow, the week went fast, but we are all happy to have him home.

06 December 2007

St. Nicholas Day

Last night while we were all sleeping, we got a visit from St. Nicholas! H and C both got peppermint gum, a peppermint scented pen (I loved those), a snow globe (C's is already broken from dropping it too many times), chap stick (C's is already gone since he raised it as high as it could go and tried to put the cap on), a clay whistle, mini puzzle and Playmobil Micros (which were a big hit - they didn't want to put them down). Even Storm benefited from the visit with some jerky chicken strips in his stocking.

St. Nicholas Day tends to be very regional, and not many families celebrate it by us. However, growing up in German Wisconsin, he visited almost everyone's house, so we are keeping the tradition alive. I explained to the kids that when the go to school, to realize that not everyone got a visit from St. Nick last night. H of course asked "Why?" I told him that different people celebrate different traditions, and this is one that some celebrate and some don't. He seemed to understand. Of course, it helped that there was a lot of snow on the ground and by the time they got to school, all they wanted to talk about was snow angels and their red cheeks.

02 December 2007

Santa Brunch

This weekend was the annual Santa brunch at the country club. We've been going since H was not even one, and it's something they really look forward to. The weather forecast called for snow and freezing rain, and we got it. Fortunately, I made it up to Wisconsin before the bad weather. Nina and Papa were not so lucky. They were on their way back from Florida and got stranded in Kansas City. So, I packed up the boys and the dog, and headed for the cousin's house. We had a super fun sleepover -- it worked out great. Even the dogs had a blast. They might even be in love.

Nina and Papa did make it back for the brunch, whew. Usually, these brunches are so hectic, but this was very nice. And, yes, the kids got to see the Big Man. H was very serious and asked for a fire truck, an airplane and a cement mixer. He was so scared Santa was going to ask if he has been good. His answer was going to be "a little bit bad." C just starred, but he did sit on Santa's lap which surprised me. Fortunately, he did not asked for what he said he was going to ask for -- poop, one of his favorite words. The kids also watched a magic show, which totally intrigued them. It was a fun day.