Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Christmas 2011

The Christmas decorations are almost all put away; the tree is by the curb awaiting the yard waste truck. Even though our house is returning to its normal appearance, the memories of Christmas are still alive and well.

We had a fantastic Christmas this year (and hope you did, too) and are feeling so blessed that we saw many of our family members over the holiday. Eric's parents arrived on Christmas Eve. We played games, chatted, ate our traditional Christmas Eve dinner (aka breakfast for dinner ... this year, we had Eggs Benedict), and read "Twas the Night Before Christmas" as a family before going to bed.
Reading "Twas the Night Before Christmas"
Leaving cookies and milk for Santa

We awoke Christmas morning to find that Santa was very kind to us. Our stocking were overflowing with goodies, and we had more than enough presents under the tree. The kids were charged with excitement and could hardly contain themselves. Annika offered to "help" everyone open their gifts ... she's such a giver!! There was plenty of mayhem going around, but it was such fun to see both of our kids really getting into the excitement of the day.

Conor unwrapping his loot

Annika modeling her new husky hat/scarf combo

The prized gift of Christmas ... the kids are learning a great lesson in sharing with this one!

By late morning, Eric's folks were on their way home and we began preparing for wave 2 of Christmas ... my side of the family. We hosted both of my brothers and their families and my mom. We had a feast fit for a king (including an amazing prime rib that my brother Troy made).... ok, maybe the yorkshire pudding wasn't quite up to snuff, but that's what happens when I forget to put the flour in until after the pan is in the oven and then we try to whisk some in to save the mess. (Thanks to my sister-in-law, Staci, for jumping in so fast and helping with the frantic whisking! I think we could enter any synchronized whisking contest this side of the Mississippi and take 1st place!)

After dinner, we opened more presents and solved all of the world's problems (and probably created a few new ones!)
Annika unwrapping her gift from her cousins, Kat and Ian

Annika demonstrating how to use her new "bin-nock-cleeears"

The only downside to Christmas was Eric getting called into work at 9:00 PM. A windstorm had come through the area Christmas morning and it caused some power outages/surges in the region... one of which was at the company Eric works for. He and the ISP guy wound up putting in plenty of hours trying to get the systems all up and running again before people had to return to work. Fortunately, he was called at 9:00 PM instead of 9:00 AM on Christmas.... this kept him home for the day's festivities, at least.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Did Somebody Order Sourdough?

This month's Daring Bakers challenge was sourdough bread ... not only from scratch, and when I mean scratch, I mean SCRATCH. We not only made the bread—we made the sourdough starter, too. I've made sourdough items plenty of times, but never with starter that I created. I wouldn't classify this project as a huge success.

The first time I attempted to proof the starter, I kept it in our gas oven (no, it wasn't on!) to keep the starter warm. Unfortunately, I think it kept it too warm and the starter completely stalled.... and looked really gross. My sister looked at it and said it looked like someone barfed up graham crackers. Eww....

My second attempt at the starter was more successful. I kept it in a Mason jar on the counter and put aside the worries that my kitchen was too cold for the starter to take root. I learned the hard way that my warmer option wasn't really an option. I also let the water sit out on the counter, out of concern that the chlorine in our water was part of the first starter's problems.

After 5 days, the starter was ready to transform into bread. When I made the dough, it was WAY too runny; not sure what I did, but it was more like sludge that dough. Hmmm... So, after the rising period, I realized it simply wouldn't work as is. I added some more flour and hoped for the best.

Unfortunately, I had a bit of a time crunch and couldn't let the dough go through another full rising cycle, so the bread wound up more dense than I think it would have had it had more time to rise.

With all that in mind, here's the final result! (It sort of reminded me of communion at church when the church uses actual bread instead of the more commonly used wafers.)

Our Daring Bakers Host for December 2011 was Jessica of My Recipe Project and she showed us how fun it is to create Sour Dough bread in our own kitchens! She provided us with Sour Dough recipes from Bread Matters by AndrewWhitley as well as delicious recipes to use our Sour Dough bread in from Tonia George’s Things on Toast and Canteen’s Great British Food!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Cramming Christmas Prep into One Week

This has been an unusual Christmas season for our crew. Originally, I planned on taking the kids for their Santa picture on December 4th. Unfortunately, that was the day that flipped everything on its ear. That's the day I received the phone call telling me my dad passed away.

Instead of the day I had expected, I found myself in a series of events that I hadn't expected, signed up for, or knew were ahead of me. Since that day, my sister and I have repeatedly said that we need a "Death for Dummies" book because the learning curve was astronomical. The morning of the 4th, I received the call from my brother telling me the news and proclaimed, "Hold on, I'm coming over!" To that, my brother replied, "Where are you going?" I said, "Your house, you dolt!" (OK, I didn't really said the dolt part, but I did think it.) To that, he said, "I'm in London." OH YEAH!!! I'd forgotten that he was on a business trip and then the reality of me being the only local sibling sunk in. I made a few required phone calls, quickly dressed, and drove to our dad's care facility.

In the lobby of the care facility, I was met by the funeral home representative and the care facility's director. The three of us walked to my dad's room; along the way, I was greeted by a few mourning care providers. It was really touching to see how many of the people who work there were moved by the passing of one of their residents. They care so deeply about the residents.

Upon reaching my dad's room, I was greeted by a police officer who had been standing watch over the body. That was when the business of death seemed to kick into gear. I released the officer from his post; the director and funeral home representative and I went over the required paperwork and questions, and then my dad was transported to the funeral home.

After he was gone, I stood in his room and wondered "now what?" It felt weird just to leave, so I made his bed. It was something I could do. So, I did it.

The rest of the week was a whirlwind of funeral planning and family conversations. It's true; death does bring people together. During the week of preparation, I spoke with my siblings almost non-stop. My brother Troy returned early from London (gratefully) and was able to take on some of the tasks on our to-do list. We met with the funeral home staff and went through a lot more paperwork, picked out an urn, etc. etc.etc.

One of the weirdest experiences of the week was going shopping for a shirt and tie that our dad could wear as part of his final attire. We'd saved a suit of his when he moved out of his house a few years ago, but neglected to save a shirt and tie. I went to the local store and picked out the necessary items. I felt very compelled to pick just the right tie ... just the right "I was a conservative, Republican, career IMB guy" kind of tie. At the checkout counter, the gal asked if I wanted a gift receipt. Definitely not. Nope. Not even close.

We packed up our crew and headed down to Portland this past weekend and had a whirlwind of activity. We had a rosary and funeral at the local Jesuit community (GORGEOUS!!!) and then a crypt blessing and reception at the mausoleum and then an open house at my cousin's house on Saturday. It was a very busy, but nice day. We shed tears, laughed, shared stories, ate, and drank wine. All-in-all, it was a very nice send off for our dad. He would have loved knowing everyone was together.

Upon our return home, I hit the ground running trying to play Christmas prep catch up. As soon as the car was unpacked and the washing machine was going, I started my holiday baking.... spritz cookies (two ways) and nut clusters. The next night, I made fudge. The kids and I even made dough ornaments to give to Annika's teachers and to hang on our tree (stay tuned for that blog post).

Christmas is a time for reflection and togetherness. This year, it is also a time for panic and high-speed preparations. :)

And to all a good night!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Decorating for Christmas

Apologies... this post is a bit out of chronological order, but the pictures are so cute that I couldn't pass up the opportunity to share them. Two Sundays ago, we dug out the Christmas decorations, put lights on the house, and bought/decorated our tree. It was a whirlwind day of decorating and it definitely brought the Christmas spirit into our house.

Eric and Annika putting lights on the house

Conor supervising the lights process

Almost done with the lights

Conor looking on

Decorating the tree (like Annika's space helmet??)

Annika showing us the angel she made at school last year

Conor and Annika in front of the tree

Annika putting the Santa hat on yours truly

Monday, December 12, 2011

Gingerbread Cookies

This year's Christmas preparations have taken on a bit of an odd mojo. My dad passed away last Sunday and the planning for his funeral has taken a top priority in terms of time management. While my dad's funeral is a big deal, we don't want to lose the feeling of Christmas and all of the festivities that go along with it. We do have our tree up (stay tuned for that post) and Annika and I were able to get a batch of gingerbread cookies made ... it took us four days to accomplish, but we did it!

Annika applying the royal icing to her cookie ... "moderation" is not in her vocabulary

A gingerbread cookie isn't complete without sprinkles!

Did we mention the sprinkles??

The cookies I decorated

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Painting Christmas Tree Ornaments

A few weeks ago, I saw a catalog that advertised glass tree ornaments and glass paints; it took me all of about 2 seconds to decide that would be a fun project for our little crew. Yesterday seemed like the perfect day to embark on our art project, so I covered the kitchen table with newspaper and we got right to work.

The kids had a BLAST painting their ornaments. I figured they'd do one ornament each.... nope! Each wanted to do as many as possible, which wound up being 3 each because we got a package of 6 ornaments.  They learned how to mix paint colors and employ a variety of techniques as they painted their masterpieces.

Conor exploring his medium

Eric and Annika working on her ornament

Eric teaching Annika how to spin the ornament to make lines of paint


Conor decided to make himself a piece of living art

"Yoot Mama!"


One of Conor's ornaments

One of Annika's ornaments

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Today's Breakfast Conversation

Our morning routines are pretty darned set in stone. Routine is basically the only reason we can get out of the door each morning. One of our "this happens almost every day" is Eric makes what we've named "cheesy eggs" for breakfast. What are cheesy eggs? Scrambled eggs with some cheese on top. (shhh! Don't tell... it's our secret family recipe!)

Annika has recently and arbitrarily taken to disliking having salt and pepper in her cheesy eggs. So, this morning, Eric left out the seasonings. As he handed a plate of eggs to Annika, she said she didn't like them because they were too spicy. He replied that he left the salt and pepper out this time. She looked at him and asked, "So, what's in them that I don't like?" (Mind you, all of this is without her taking a single bite of the food.) Eric replied that there were only eggs and cheese, nothing else. She looked at him, smiled, and said, "Good job, Daddy!"

Friday, December 2, 2011


As Conor was finishing up his yogurt ("yodote"), Eric offered to help get the last scraps onto Conor's spoon. Conor is well into the independent phase of his life and professed "Muh-ho-do-it", which is a combination of his two favorite phrases "Muh-ho-dit" (translation: I want to hold it, please) and "I do it" (translation: I'd like to do it myself, but thank you so much for offering your assistance.)

OK, I might have taken a wee bit of creative license when translating his phrases. "I do it" is probably more properly translated to "Get away! I've GOT IT! Step away and no one gets hurt." ;)

Thursday, December 1, 2011


Some of the men at my office participated in Movember, which is a clever way to raise awareness about male cancers and raise funds to help pay for research. In order to give women a way to participate, one of the guys brought in stick-on moustaches that we could wear for a day. Unfortunately, none of the women wore them, so there were plenty left over. So, I turned two into something fun for our kids.

They had a great time with their moustaches until Annika decided hers was too "tickly" and pulled it off. Conor wore his a good chunk of the evening.... although, not always under his nose. It migrated to his forehead for a bit and looked mighty entertaining, I must say. Kind of like the 70s gone wrong!

A Babe Was Born in Bathlaham

As promised...