Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Road Trip!

We took a road trip to St. Louis for the weekend. Let's just say, I can't believe we haven't gone there sooner. It is an awesome and accessible city to visit. I know this won't be our last visit. We hadn't even crossed the Mississippi back into Illinois when the girls were asking how soon we could return.

With a statement like that, you would think that we saw a lot of the city and/or it's museums, zoo, galleries, waterfront, etc. But, in fact, we didn't. We spent all day Saturday at the City Museum. And, that is the real reason the girls would like to return. I, on the other hand, know that there is much more to explore there.

The City Museum is hardly a museum. In fact, it's more like a giant playground for children and adults alike. It has 10-story slides, mousetrap-like climbing areas, rope swings, tree houses and caves. I learned a lot about myself that day. For instance, I am very uncomfortable in high places. And, I don't like going in to small spaces in which I am unsure of the way out. In other words, I'm a little claustrophobic.  In describing this place to friends the following week, I knew I wasn't alone. They were squirming in their seats just to hear about these tight places we climbed through.

Here are some images (Photo Project 2012 - Day 230) of our day at the museum:

We started in the outdoor area at ground level. Obviously, you don't stay on the ground. We climbed up lots of cages to get to the suspended plane and bus. Some of areas were tall catwalks while other sections required going through tubes like the one above.

We made our way to the roof, where Annalee climbed a 10-story caged tube where she was greeted by a praying mantis. From there, we slid down the 10-story slide.

Underneath the top of the 10-story slide was this domed structure that people could climb up and into. It also housed a very long rope swing that Zelda enjoyed swinging from.

Back inside on the first level, we crawled through lots of tubes. The one of me above was just the start. Once I got to the area where Annalee was (middle picture) I turned around and went back out the way I came in. I was just too freaked out that I wouldn't be able to get through.

In addition to the day-long museum visit, we had another reason to visit St. Louis. Actually, it was the reason we went to St. Louis at all. We went to pick out our two new Tonkinese kittens. Our breeder lives just west of St. Louis; we had met her at a cat show in Palatine in the winter. Her cats had born three litters between April and May. We waited the 16 weeks until they were available and made the road trip to get them. Since we were her first deposit for kittens, we had pick of the litters.

Tonkinese come in four colors and three coat patterns, making a total of 12 variations. We knew we wanted a male and a female, and we wanted to cats that we would be able to easily tell apart. Our breeder had three males that were platinum minks, so we knew what our boy would look like, in general. She had two females that were points - lighter body with a dark face, ears, paws and tail. It was just going to be a matter of selecting our kittens from the five she had that met our criteria. And, we wanted kittens with a friendly, playful disposition that would love the girls.

We drove straight from our home to our breeder's in Chesterfield, Mo., so we could see all the kittens and make our selection. We spent nearly two hours with her kittens, first choosing ours and then playing with some additional kittens that our breeder was keeping for her own from those new litters. We even got to hold a two-week-old kitten.

We returned to her house on Sunday morning after a quick stop at the local pet store for supplies. We had not come up with any names for the kittens - that would take an additional four days of work. In the end, we decided to name the girl Portia (she is the pointed kitten) and the boy Cinna (all cream/gray). For anyone who has read The Hunger Games, you should recognize the pairing. Naming options came down to those two and Dasher and Vixen. As one friend said, they're unusual cats, they should have unusual names. And, so they do.

Here are some images (Photo Project 2012 - Day 231) from our drive home:

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Photo Project 2012 - Days 221 to 229

It seems like I just got myself caught up with posting pictures and then more than two weeks went by - likethat!

Day 221

I decided to get fancy - or maybe just do something a little different - and made meatloaf cupcakes. It was so easy to scoop the mixture into the cupcake pans and bake them. Baked up in a third of the time it takes to make loaves. And, the kids enjoyed the funness of them, too. Just add mashed potatoes and peas, and, voila!

Day 222

As summer vacation was winding down, I looked at a list I had made early in the summer of places I thought might be interesting to take the girls. Magical Minds Studio in Oak Park was just the fun we were looking for. The twins slept over the night before and the five of us made the short trip east in the morning. The studio had about five different art stations for the kids to choose from. They all started at the easels painting. While I think this is something I could set up at home, it was especially nice to walk away from the mess with just our new art in hand.

Day 223

One set of our friends have their wedding anniversary within a few days of ours. So, we went out to dinner together late one Saturday afternoon and followed that with a movie. We dined on the terrace at a local seafood place. I was most excited to see this heron in the pond just beyond our seats. I was disappointed to have only my cell phone to take his picture.

Day 224

Zelda was out riding her bike while I took this picture of my neighbor's weeping willow tree. I love when it grows haphazardly and nearly touches the ground.

Day 225

Annalee had her school friend over for a play date. They spent a lot of time on the Wii.

 Day 226

We picked up Chinese food from Jade Dragon in Hinsdale (the best Chinese food around!). I loved the way the late afternoon sun struck the buildings, though my cell phone couldn't quite capture the beauty.

Day 227


We took out the Play Doh one morning. 

That evening, I was looking at Annalee's eyes and noticed they were not symmetrical. I'm not sure if that's something new or not, but I thought they were beautiful enough to take her picture.

Day 228

With the exception of my friends' homegrown garlic, the rest of the tomatoes and tomatillos in this bowl are from our garden.

Day 229

I woke up very early on Friday, Aug. 17 to prepare for our road trip. I washed apples in the colander. They looked like a neat picture to take, so I did.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Recital Season Has Come...and Long Gone

I intended to write this post in May, after both Annalee and Zelda completed their piano and dance recitals, respectively. But, my intentions didn't get me very far.

Since we had a lazy summer day at home and I've had time to be on the computer, I'm finally able to share these video clips and photos.
First up is Annalee's piano recital. The recital was held in April at a nearby Steinway store. The theme for this recital was Disney movies (and the songs from them). Annalee played 'Be Our Guest' from Beauty and the Beast.

We were so proud of how well she played. It made all the whining and crying during practices so worth it!

Then in May, the recital for Zelda's hip hop class was held. She was overjoyed with her costume, the make-up and being on stage. This truly is something she was born to do. And, I don't mean that because she's some child dance prodigy. I just mean it plays to the showboat girl in her who loves to dance around and wants to be the center of attention.

This second video of Zelda was from my cell phone, so the quality is not so great. But, you get the general idea of how she loves to dance - and do the moves even before they're supposed to be done!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Ribbons Flowing at the County Fair

I first entered some jam and photos at the county fair three years ago. I got the idea after reading a canning book of blue-ribbon recipes. It got me interested, so I did some research and figured out what kind of exhibits our county fair accepted. In the past two years, I won a few ribbons, enough to make it fun and keep me doing it each year.

This year, Annalee joined in since she met the age requirement for the junior competition.

Our friend John went to the fair on the day it opened and sent me some texts with photos of some of our entries. I could see some really cool looking ribbons, but I had no idea what they were.

When the girls and I finally attended the fair on the third day, we headed straight to the Home Economics building to see just what we had won. Here's where I'm going to brag about Annalee and me. So, if you don't like that, just stop reading now. But, I have just been so excited by our winnings, that I have to share!

This picture was entered in the 'reflections' class. It earned first place and a special award from the director. Truthfully, it was a total fluke that I found this picture in our digital files and thought to put it in this category. I was actually looking in the file from Zelda's recital to see about any pictures of her for the 'portrait' class. When I saw this one, I knew it had potential.

When I took this picture at the county fair, I knew I wanted to enter it in the 'best picture taken at the county fair' class. The lighting was just so perfect. This also earned first place and a special award from the director. Zelda was excited!

She also was excited to see the picture of herself sleeping with a flashlight tagged with a second place ribbon. This was in the 'humorous' class.

My sunset picture from our vacation in Michigan earned a fourth place ribbon in none other than the 'sunset' class, of course.

For the first time this year, I entered two baked goods - in the layer cake and dietary dessert classes. I baked my nearly famous chocolate layer cake; it's both gluten- and dairy-free. In the layer cake class, it earned a second place ribbon. But, better than than, it earned the People's Choice ribbon. That's voted on by volunteers and others working in the Home Ec building once the official judging is completed. A note on the back of the tag said it was 'great! wouldn't know it was gluten-free.' I entered a slice from the same cake in the gluten-free dietary dessert class. It earned a second place ribbon as well.

Here's what all the awards look like:

Then, we checked on Annalee's entries. She earned blue, red and white ribbons. I think I was more excited for her than she was for herself!

Her heart-shaped candy pops earned first place.

A weaving she created in school earned her second place.

And, decorated cupcakes earned her third place.

My guess is that she was disappointed that none of her three pictures received a ribbon. But, we have about 11 months to work on her photography skills before entries are due for next year.

After all that, I was geared up for the Ghiradelli Best Chocolate Dessert Competition, a free contest that was held on Sunday, the last day of the fair. I actually baked my s'mores cookie bar recipe twice, trying to get it just right. I made it gluten-free; I couldn't make it dairy-free since Ghiradelli chocolate has milk in it - yes, even the dark chocolate. So, I didn't really get to enjoy it, but that's ok. We waited and waited while the judges tasted each of the entries. When they got to my bars, I could lip read enough to know they were surprised that it was gluten-free and one said she never would have known that. In the end, three other desserts won the great cash prizes and gift baskets. It was a fun and educational experience. And, even though I don't eat Ghiradelli, I'm already considering what recipe to work on for next year's competition. The cash prize is calling my name!

When all was said and done, it cost us $51 for all our entries; then, we received checks totalling $60. So, you could say we are money ahead. But, the entry fees are just the cost of entering the competition, not the cost of creating our entries themselves. When you figure in the cost of baking and canning ingredients, photo paper, mounting materials, etc., it cost us money. But, hey, that's not what this is about. For us, this was about doing things we love, sharing them with others who have an appreciation for these things and then being recognized for those efforts. Actually, then, I guess we came out ahead.

Next year, I'm aiming higher. I would like to win the most points for entries in a single division to earn a champion rosette...

Photo Project 2012 - Day 220

So, we're 220 days into 2012. And, we're at least six weeks into summer if not seven, nevermind that we had three months of spring before that.

Today, the weather mat at my front door finally struck me as out of season. I figure I either don't use my front door very often (not true) or I'm not very observant (possibly). Even more strange to me is that none of my friends has even mentioned it when they've come to visit. So, I took this picture to laugh at myself. And, then, I ran into the office so I could post this on the same day and be really current with my year-long photo project.

And, no, I haven't changed the door mat. I figure it's only another couple months until fall and then the snow comes. I'll be in season then.

Photo Project 2012 - Days 202 to 219

I know I already posted a picture for Day 201, but I found this one on my phone and wanted to recognize it.

The day after we learned that The Stray Dog restaurant in New Buffalo, Mich., had burned down, the girls and I decided to wear our Stray Dog t-shirts to pay homage. We just had trouble taking the picture of ourselves with my phone.

Day 202

Stephen, from our church, is going off to college this month. For his final piano and guitar recital, he wanted to host it at church with an open invitation for parishioners. Ron and I attended while the girls were on a sleepover with my dad and stepmom. Then we went to the bookstore and movies - what a perfect date night!

Day 203

I made everyone's favorite chocolate layer cake for our little friend's second birthday. 

Day 204

While mounting photos to enter in the county fair, I neglected to put the protector directly under the mounting board I was slicing into. Part way through the cut, I got that sickening feeling that I was cutting into the table. I gently lifted the board to see that, yes, indeed, I was slicing the table. I include this here so that all my friends who have crafted in my kitchen will know that they are not alone in having damaged my table.

Day 205

For the first time all summer, we spent some time with the Crowley girls. We missed them!

Day 206

We brought a bottle of a newly discovered wine favorite, 2009 Red Satin by Domain Berrien Cellars, to dinner with friends.

Day 207

I finally took a stroll to the garden (not really, it just takes 10 steps from the patio door, but I was being leisurely) and found a nice surprise of veggies waiting to be picked.

That evening, we were eating dinner when I looked up and saw something move around outside. If you look very closely at the red flower the furthest to the right, you'll see a hummingbird. Don't blink or it'll fly away.

Day 208

We went to the county fair today. Our first stop was the Home Economics building to see what awards we had won.

The top one is Ron holding Zelda on his shoulders while watching an event at last year's fair. The second one is from Zelda's dance recital when several girls were watching the light reflect off their sequins. Each picture placed first in its category and received a Special Award from the director. (I'm going to try to put together another post with the actual pictures that won awards.)

Day 209

Ron and I took the girls to Plush Horse ice cream parlor on Saturday afternoon. This 'baby'-sized cone we ordered Zelda looks as big as her head!

Day 210

At our church auction last year, several of us bid on a game day offered by friends. Instead of taking any pictures of our friends, I opted to take a picture of one of my favorite dogs ever, Milo.

Day 211

After trying bacon on the grill during vacation earlier in the month, I tried it at home. It was so delicious! But, you really have to watch it. One minute it's still a little soft and the next minute it's burnt to a crisp.

Day 212

When I realized I hadn't taken a picture for the day, I grabbed the camera while watching the USA women's gymnastics team during the medal ceremony.

Day 213

I made a new recipe, watermelon gazpacho. It was a mess to make, but it sure was cool and flavorful. Lucky for me the girls didn't like it - and Ron would never eat cold soup!

Day 214

Zelda was sitting in the kitchen with this hoodie dress on, with the hood on, so I wanted to take her picture. When she saw the camera, she said she'd give me her weird face.

Day 215

Another end-of-the-day moment when I realized I hadn't taken a picture. This is of Michael Phelps with his final individual medal of the 2012 Olympics.

Day 216
Family Farm Fest at CHN

Our church held its sixth annual Family Farm Fest on Aug. 4. This year, a wonderful man brought his family chickens to share with the children. Annalee and Zelda really  loved the opportunity to hold them. Maybe some day we'll get our own backyard coop.

Day 217

We've been talking with Annalee for several weeks about becoming an acolyte at church. She really wants no part of church; and she really wanted no part of this. But, we asked her to participate in the training, and then we could talk about it. Well, by the end of the training, there was nothing to talk about. She was so excited! I think it's the robes (even though they're hot) and the candle that have her intrigued. Let's see how it goes. She's scheduled to serve on Aug. 26, when Ron also is a LEM.

Day 218

This is Zelda and Bo after playing in the sandbox and then the water hose. I'm not sure why they couldn't smile. But, what fun would that have been?

Day 219

To celebrate our 13 years of marriage, Ron and I took the girls to dinner at Cooper's Hawk. It was fun to get a little dressed up and take the girls somewhere they hadn't been. Our waitress was thoughtful and considerate of the girls, which made for a pleasant experience. We enjoyed everything from the wine through the dessert, though Annalee would say the dessert needed more Reese's and more ice cream on it. 

And, when I press Publish, I will have caught up on my Photo Project 2012 blogging. How cool is that!?!