30 December 2011

2011 Year in Review


Friends from Oak Park are about to arrive to spend a few days with us -- then it's back to school on Monday for the boys. One week of vacation was not enough, if I do say so myself. I feel like 2011 was the year of transitions. Not a bad year by any means. But in 2012, I hope to feel more settled. I need to keep working on my patience and try to be less stressed out (ugh, such a struggle but swear I'm getting better). I want to get out and explore -- there's so much awesomeness around here. It's the year of the PFour -- I can tell.

Here's some of the highlights of our 2011:

- We listed our house for sale (and it went under contract in less than three weeks)
- We survived the big snow storm of 2011 (in fact, we kind of loved being cooped up for a few days)
- We dined at Alinea with Leif & Melissa
- Brian celebrated the big 4-0
- We visited my parents in Florida
- H turned 9
- Celebrated friendship with an absolutely amazing evening
- We moved to Wisconsin
- After sitting in the sidelines for many years, C finally started playing soccer
- Went to Next :: Paris
- Really enjoyed hosting guests
- Spend many hours swimming in lakes
- My sister and I did a mud run
- Brian completed in a few different races
- C turned 7
- H started 4th grade, and C 1st
- Brian and I celebrated our 12th Anniversary
- C lost his first tooth
- Brian rode over 600 miles in a week with Pablove Across America
- Brian and I went to England with our friends Lora and Bill to see a Manchester United game

Whoa. Quite the year! Can't wait for the next.

Wishing you the best year yet in 2012!

29 December 2011

Hot Chocolate on a Stick


I feel like I've been eating and drinking for a month straight. Before I get back on track -- maybe eating some greens and oh, I don't know ... run more than once a week -- I wanted to show you the cute gifts we made this year. Hot chocolate on a stick with homemade marshmallows! Yum. We gave them as teacher gifts (along with a gift card), to our family and even our friends who came over for Christmas Eve. They were delicious in hot milk (4-8 oz per stick) and even on their own. Yum. (Idea originally found last year here.)

Cocoa Blocks
From King Arthur Flour, kingarthurflour.com

- ½ cup heavy cream
- 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk (1 1/4 cups)
- 3 cups semisweet or bittersweet chocolate (chopped chocolate bars or chips)
- 3/4 cup unsweetened baking chocolate
- wooden sticks

Line an 8" x 8" pan with parchment paper or aluminum foil.

Heat the cream and condensed milk over low heat until steaming. Remove from the heat and add the chocolate; allow it to gently melt.

After about 10 minutes, return the chocolate mixture to low heat to completely melt the chocolate. Whisk vigorously until the mixture is thick and shiny. Add a few drops of flavoring oil if you like; hazelnut, coffee, or vanilla are popular flavors. (NOTE: I used vanilla)

Pour the chocolate mixture into the pan; shake the pan gently to level. Sprinkle with cocoa, if desired. Set aside overnight to slowly set up.

Run a knife around the edge of the pan and turn out onto a clean cutting surface.

Slice into 1 ¼" cubes. Heat a knife in hot water and wipe dry before each cut, for smoothest cuts.

Stick a wooden stick into the center of each block.

Roll in cocoa or crushed peppermint candy, if desired. (NOTE: I did not)

Wrap in waxed paper, parchment, or plastic wrap to store.

Yield: about 3 dozen blocks.

Homemade Marshmallows
From Alton Brown, FoodNetwork.com

- 3 packages unflavored gelatin
- 1 cup ice cold water, divided
- 12 ounces granulated sugar, approximately 1 1/2 cups
- 1 cup light corn syrup
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
- 1/4 cup cornstarch
- Nonstick spray

Place the gelatin into the bowl of a stand mixer set up with the whisk attachment along with 1/2 cup of the water.

In a small saucepan combine the remaining 1/2 cup water, granulated sugar, corn syrup and salt. Place over medium high heat, cover and allow to cook for 3 to 4 minutes. Uncover, clip a candy thermometer onto the side of the pan and continue to cook until the mixture reaches 240 degrees F, approximately 7 to 8 minutes. Once the mixture reaches this temperature, immediately remove from the heat.

Turn the mixer on low speed and, while running, slowly pour the sugar syrup down the side of the bowl into the gelatin mixture. Once you have added all of the syrup, increase the speed to high. Continue to whip until the mixture becomes very thick and is lukewarm, approximately 12 to 15 minutes. Add the vanilla during the last minute of whipping. While the mixture is whipping prepare the pans as follows.

Combine the confectioners’ sugar and cornstarch in a small bowl. Lightly spray a 13 by 9-inch metal baking pan with nonstick cooking spray. Add the sugar and cornstarch mixture and move around to completely coat the bottom and sides of the pan. Return the remaining mixture to the bowl for later use.

When ready, pour the mixture into the prepared pan, using a lightly oiled spatula for spreading evenly into the pan. Dust the top with enough of the remaining sugar and cornstarch mixture to lightly cover. Reserve the rest for later. Allow the marshmallows to sit uncovered for at least 4 hours and up to overnight.

Turn the marshmallows out onto a cutting board and cut into 1-inch squares using a pizza wheel dusted with the confectioners’ sugar mixture. Once cut, lightly dust all sides of each marshmallow with the remaining mixture, using additional if necessary. Store in an airtight container for up to 3 weeks.

28 December 2011

Date Day


We're using this week -- which is going by WAY too quick, by the way -- to do a bit of exploring and showing Brian some of our favorite places. The day after Christmas, Brian and H spent the morning at Ray's MTB while C and I made some Zombie Barf from his new Doctor Dreadful kit. Afterwards, we went over to the Audubon Nature Center for a little hike. Yesterday, we decided to go to Discovery World, where we saw a fish snack on another fish from it's tank (whoops!) and H laid on a bed of nails. We were having such a great time, we went across the street for a fancy little date at the Harbor House. C tried his first oyster, and loved it so much, he ended up ordering more and eating three!


Later, we met my dad and he took the boys for a night at my parents. (Brian's idea -- and it was great). My mom and dad leave later this week for Florida. This is the long one though -- they are gone for awhile now. Boo. So it's pretty great the boys got to spend the night with them. Brian and I took advantage of some alone time and went to a movie and dinner. Since we had such a fancy lunch, we ended up going through the Culver's drive-through. It was perfect.

26 December 2011

Christmas Day


My sister and her family hosted Christmas Day for us, my parents, my cousin and his family, and my brother-in-laws parents. H hates being around his cousins, can you tell? (Obviously joking -- he's in heaven when he's with them). Dinner was excellent, and it was a perfect, relaxing Christmas Day that no one -- in our family at least -- wanted to end.

Christmas Morning


The rule was, "Don't wake us up until 7:00." It worked out great, since that's when the boys got up too. I'd say Santa did well! Storm got a brand new bed and bones. H & C got Legos, ice skates, sleeping bags, games, Shrinky Dinks and a bunch of little odds and ends. The boys spoiled us with some pretty awesome homemade gifts (my favorite things to get from them), including a Christmas tree in a jar from C. He comes up with some pretty cleaver stuff. We spent the morning playing, and writing secret messages back and forth with their new invisible ink sets. By the time we left for my sister's in the afternoon, H was already done with his entire firehouse Lego set. C, on the other hand, spent most of the morning outside testing out his new marshmallow gun from the Kramer's.


Christmas Eve.


Such a fun couple days. I'm always a bit sad when Christmas is over, but am definitely looking forward to a relaxing day at home, and a week just hanging out with my little family (Brian is home most of the week!). Following the tradition of the past few years, we decided to have a friends and family over for an appetizer party. Brian's family came a little earlier than the rest so we could have a little celebration with just them, then the Schwebel's, Luna's, Schutt's and my parents came over. Besides the fact that there was WAY too much food (lesson learned for next year), and the fact that I rarely remember to take photos when we're hosting a party, it was such a great way to start the holiday celebrations. The boys were anxious to go to sleep, like they are every year on that night (H had woken up at 1:42 am the night before to start tracking Santa on his iPod). They slept in the same room that night since C was freaked out (his room is right outside the fireplace), and both reported seeing a shadow and hearing jingle bells during the night.

25 December 2011

My Three Sons


Oh man, I sure am the luckiest!

Making Cookies


I had already made a few different kinds of Christmas cookies, but somehow managed to forget the kind to decorate. To keep the boys occupied for a few hours the other day, I picked up some frozen, already cut out cookies (lame), and pre-made frosting (double lame). Still, the boys had a great time decorating. And they didn't taste bad either!

23 December 2011

Wishing You ...


Borough Market, London, December 2011

Gifts are wrapped. Cookies are made. Holiday cards have been sent. Now it's time to hit the grocery store one final time (hopefully), clean the house, and start prepping for the next couple days. Tomorrow we're hosting Christmas Eve., then it's off to my sister's for Christmas. The boys have off of school today and for some reason, I have a feeling it will be a super long one for them -- and possibly me. They are so crazy excited. Nevertheless, it will be busy around here, so from us to you, Peace, Joy & Love.

22 December 2011

Winter Concert


It's that time again -- winter concerts. There's something so sweet about them. Little voices. Pride. It makes me melt. I wasn't sure what to expect this year. Instead of separating by grades (like they did at our old school), each class performed twice, and they divided the audience up by letter of last name. Our concert was in the afternoon. As we were sitting down, kids -- who practice instruments outside of school -- performed solos on the piano and violins. Then the first and second graders performed. Can you find C? Here you go:


A close up. We were not sitting in the most ideal spot for picture taking. They sang:

"Sing Joy" by Nancy Dervan
"The Tree in the Wood" English Folk Song - Sung and signed with some of the lyrics written by the first graders.

Next were the second graders:

"Walking in the Air" from The Snowman by Howard Blake
"A La Nanita Nana" traditional Spanish Carol


Once the first and second graders left the stage, it was time for third and forth. Here's H -- see him?


Here he is! Third grade was up first:

"The Starfish" by Twila Bergerson (their music teacher), based on the story
"My Favorite Things" by Rodgers and Hammerstein

Then fourth:

"The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" by Gordon Lightfoot (my favorite of the day)
"A Recorder Collection" (where they all busted out the recorders and played)

Finally, the third and fourth grades combined to sing -- along with some teachers (vocals, tambourine and saxophone):

"Button Up Your Overcoat" by DeSylva, Brown and Henderson


It was fun. As a special treat, Nina & Papa surprised all of us and stopped by the school after a lunch meeting they had downtown. They missed C, unfortunately, but got to watch H -- and afterwards, got to meet their both of teachers and see their classrooms. Sweet.

20 December 2011

Visit from Portland


My cousin and his family are in town a couple days from Portland, Oregon. It only happens every few years, so we were happy to get to see them (and meet their youngest child). Amy & Justin hosted the bunch of us -- including seven kids under ten years old. It was non-stop, but great catching up.

18 December 2011

4th Annual Holiday Dinner


Last night we met up with the Schwebel's and Nordquist's at Jake's for our 4th annual holiday dinner. I can't remember how it started (was it Ali's suggestion?), but it's become a very fun holiday tradition we have. With everyone's busy schedules, it's so nice knowing that at least once a year, we'll get to sit down, catch up, and just enjoy a nice relaxing dinner together. We may not have gotten "our" table this year, but it's an evening I never want to end. (Past dinners: 2008, 2009, 2010)