Saturday, April 09, 2016


March was a busy month here.

The first week I spent trying to stay awake. One doozy of a cold kept me sleeping all day, all night, and not doing anything for most of the week except moving from bed to couch. I was too tired to even read.

There ended up being a bat in church which Sam and Abby, armed with tennis rackets, were able to stun and dispose of.

Nathan successfully completed life guard training, turned 16, and passed his driver's test.

His chosen birthday meals (spread over two days):
Breakfast: cinnamon rolls
Dinner: biscuits and gravy
Supper: california tacos

He did not request a birthday cake nor pie. But since he took his driver's test the day of his birthday in a town where the bakery makes the best blueberry donuts around, we bought those and they were celebratory donuts for being 16 and a newly licensed driver!

Abby participated in the Suzuki graduation event held each year. It is always a lovely day listening to the soloists and the students.

Hannah and Ellie spent part of March on band tour in Florida. One day their concert was close enough to some of my family who made the trek to see them and listen to the band play.

March ended with the great Easter celebration. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleleuia!

After a morning at church, we hosted dinner for the family. All of David's family were here except the brother's family who live in Illinois and the niece and husband who live in WI. It was a grand day!

Now it is April and the kids and I are doing our best to stay focused on finishing our work. Hannah will be spending much of her days in the practice room as she participates in fellow classmates senior recitals and prepares for her's. (April 23rd if you would like to join us!)

Friday, February 26, 2016

Relaxing in Any Season

Since I've neglected blogging for so long, I realized this morning that I never posted a picture of our new smoker.

If you remember, we started a new tradition for St. Nicholas Day, giving the family a German smoker as well as a handful of chocolate coins.

The first year, 2013, we gave St. Peter.

The second year, 2014, we gave St. Nicholas.

This last year, 2015, we gave a pastor.

Isn't he great? We have loved burning various scents of incense each night during the Advent and Christmas season. Then, guess what happened? I accidentally knocked him over and his head popped off. My hubby was a little bit offended. ;-) Then, as if knocking of his head wasn't enough, I also knocked off half his mustache. For awhile our poor pastor was a beheaded, half-mustached martyr. But as you can see from the picture, he was given knew life and made whole.

As Christmas neared, we got a package in the mail, from Germany. Our German daughter's family sent us this neat smoker!

Wait, you don't know about our German daughter? Oh, I guess that is another post I need to catch-up on. (quickly makes note to self)

Isn't this a neat smoker? We love it and the Lebkuchen (gingerbread) incense they sent. That scent has become our favorite. It smells so good.

Once Epiphany came and we put away all our Christmas decorations, we chose to leave out our smokers and other winter-type decorations. They found their home on top of the piano. Wafting incense was the staple of many evenings as we sat and read. It was peaceful. It was relaxing. It was inviting.

Usually we are burning two of them at a time, and I think, we have only burned all of them at the same time once or twice. As winter ebbs into spring, I begin to think about packing our smokers away till next Advent. Although this year, I might, just might, leave out the one which will always remind us of our lovely German daughter and her family.

Because sitting in the evening with a glass of wine, a book, and incense burning as well as a candle or two, would be just as relaxing in the spring, summer, and fall, as it is in the winter.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Sous La Maison - Fine Dining at its Best

Since Valentine's Day weekend saw David and I off snowshoeing in state parks and staying at a bed and breakfast while Hannah was enjoying time with Nick and his family and the rest of the kids were busy cross country skiing, ice-skating, and watching movies, our annual reservations for Sous La Maison happened on Saturday, February 20. The wait did not diminish the delight of the dinner.

Our staff for the evening was the same as the last several years. Actually, all the years we've dined. Always friendly, helpful, and fantastic cooks, we've enjoyed watching not only them grow, but also their culinary skills grow.

Our Menu:

"Our garlic onion bisque, a delicious pairing of red wine, roasted garlic, and caramelized onions, will delight your tastebuds and perfectly prepare you for the main course."

Plat Principal:
"Our tasty steak kabobs are marinated in our handmade sauce and accompanied by peppers, onions, and apples. With a slice of homemade spent grain bread on the side, you are sure to leave the meal happy and satisfied."

Notice the missing bread. When we read the menu, David and I were salivating over the thought of a piece of the homemade spent grain bread. This is a recipe which Ellie had tried last summer when David brewed a batch of beer.  It was one of the best loaves of bread we've ever eaten. We were so excited that she was doing another. However, as happens too often, the bread did not cooperate and was not fit for consumption due to never wanting to finish baking. The good news is that I have more spent grains in the freezer awaiting the next time Ellie is able to be home and try again.

Like all good chefs, when one thing doesn't work, figure out what will. Slices of extra-sharp cheddar cheese and oranges were a delicious compliment to the steak kabobs.

Since we've had quite warm weather for February in the great white north, Nathan was able to get out the Kamado Joe grill and cook our kabobs. Tasty indeed!

"What better way to end your meal than with a heavenly slice of our special Baklava? Our divine mixture of walnuts, pecans, honey, and lemon will have you eager for seconds."

"divine mixture" - yes indeed!

"Eager for seconds" - you betcha!

Even though the meal was a week after Valentine's Day, the meal was still superb. We enjoyed yet another year at our favorite restaurant, whose description is full of truth, "Sous La Maison - fine dining at its best."

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Cheesecake Bites

Each year the youth orchestra, which Abby and Sam are involved with, hosts a Chocolate and Chamber Music event. Parents of the students are asked to donate various desserts. I brought three different things, caramel bars, brownies, and cheesecake bites.

My friend Melanie has made cheesecake bites many times and I decided to try them. After emailing and texting Melanie various questions, I had a plan. I think they turned out quite well.

The first thing I did was bake my cheesecake recipe in a 9x13 pan. The next day, I cut it into 1 inch squares. To be able to do this relatively evenly, Melanie suggested I mark my pan. That was very helpful. Back in the fridge went the pan until the next day when I began to assemble.

First, I took each one out. This wasn't as difficult as I was afraid it might be.  Even though I had marked my pan, I still didn't cut straight. There happened to be a small section on one short end that was very, very small. This was to my advantage. I took those out first and had easy access to the rest of the bites.

My daughter Ellie suggested I buy these mini cupcake liners and they worked perfectly. I filled 74 with bites and left the edge pieces, which had cooked browner than I would have liked, for us to eat later.

Next with Ellie's suggestion and Melanie's approval, I dipped a roasted pecan in melted chocolate chips and placed it on top.

Then I melted caramels like I do for caramel bars. Then I sprinkled between one quarter to one half teaspoon of caramel over each bite. I was amazed at how well they turned out.

They were beautiful. They were delicious. They were a hit.

I will be making these again and expanding what toppings I add. I see a plethora of combinations in the future: fresh fruit, chocolate, other nuts, oreo bite on top of oreo cheesecake, etc. But I have a feeling that my love of caramel and nuts will make this one always my favorite cheesecake bite.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Romantic Getaway

As a reward and motivation for walking 5 or 6 days a week for 6 weeks, David took me on a little getaway. Discussing where we wanted to go, we decided it would be fun to go to a bed and breakfast in a nearby town which had state parks where we could go hiking. After church on Valentine's Day found us loading our snow gear and overnight bags, saying good-bye to the kids, and heading west.

Our first stop was a state park halfway between our home and our bed and breakfast. Stopping at the park office to get a map, big, fluffy snowflakes began falling. Although the trail to snowshoe was a drive to the other side of the park, we first trekked to the waterfalls.

This bubbling brook is behind the bridge you see in the above pictures.
It was quite pretty. Many other couples were stopping for a visit. Despite the path being extremely icy, we didn't fall and we decided to come back in the spring and summer and see the falls running.

We then drove over to the trail, strapped on the snowshoes, and off we went. The trail goes two different ways around an enclosed bison area. We asked the ranger if we could see the bison and he told us where they were which was unfortunately too far away for the time we had for a hike. Instead, we took the trail that went by part of their area as well as a little jaunt through the woods by the river.

We passed a lot of cross-country skiers. Although this state park no longer keeps groomed ski trails, many people were enjoying plowing their own path. One couple went by and the man wasn't using poles. He was holding on tight to his dog's leash and let him do the work. Clever!

After our 2 plus mile hike, we climbed back into the car and continued west arriving at our bed and breakfast.

This beautiful home was ours for the night. Well, not the whole home. We had use of four rooms on the main floor and one bedroom on the second floor, as did the three other couples who were there. After showing us around, Ramona, the owner, let us to ourselves. We carried our things into our room, and then brought our supper to the all season porch. This lovely room is where breakfast is served each morning. It also included a sitting area in front of a fire place and it was surrounded with windows.

Enjoying our supper of delicious meats and cheeses, Gary and Ramona were in the next room enjoying a toast to their 18th year of being in business. We toasted with them, sipping some of the complimentary Merlot they had out for their guests.

This is the view from the comfortable couch into the main entrance. When we arrived, a student from the local college was playing the grand piano.

After depositing our supper things back into our room, we grabbed our books, our box of wine, some chocolate covered almonds, and headed back to the main living room. We spent the next few hours resting, relaxing, and reading. It was delightful.

This bed and breakfast has five rooms to choose from. Glancing through the photos on their website we chose the Castle Room. We are glad we did. After leaving the cozy couch in the living room, we walked upstairs and enjoyed sitting in the chairs by the fireplace in our own bedroom.

It is called Castle Room because of the various pictures hanging on the walls of Neuschwanstein Castle located in Bavaria, Germany. Having visited this castle twice, we thought it would be fun to stay in the room named for it. Plus ,it had this cool knight guarding us while we slept!

Sleep well we did. Awaking refreshed and ready for the day, we took our books back to the living room couch and enjoyed fresh coffee and the smells of breakfast cooking. Breakfast at this B&B is a three course meal. It was splendid. Gary and Ramona started the meal with a mimosa in celebration of their 18th year. Yum! The first course was a delicious spiced pear served with a homemade granola. Some of the guests ate their granola on the side, others sprinkled it right on top of the pears. Our next course was homemade blueberry buttermilk pancakes and sausage links. Instead of maple syrup, we had a very tasty orange sauce spread on top. Yum! Finally, as if we weren't already full, out came dessert, a slice of a pumpkin cheesecake roll. Yum! Add in the coffee and the fresh juices, and you can imagine how full we were. Glad we planned on hiking later!

All throughout breakfast, we enjoyed getting to know the other three couples who had also come to spend Valentine's evening at this bed and breakfast. Conversation flowed freely and we all stayed at the table for two hours or more. Gary, husband of Ramona, was our server and he joined in our conversations, but Ramona only came out after all the serving was done. What a delightful, lazy, yummy start to our day!

But good-byes had to be said and so they were. We packed up our things, loaded the car, bought two of their very nice, unique, stoneware mugs for a souvenir and headed out for the state park. Donning our snowshoes once again, we hiked along the same trail where we tried snowshoeing for the first time on New Year's Day.

It was a wonderful way to reward ourselves for our diligence in moving our bodies for six weeks. Although we won't reward ourselves in quite this way each time, we have decided that this sort of romantic getaway treat should happen more often than every so many years.

Monday, February 22, 2016

CC Skiing = Love!

We may not get a chance to go again this winter season, but we did get to go. Finding a place to rent cross-country skis at a reasonable price and within a reasonable distance from our home was fantastic. If we have a return to winter weather in March, which has happened in previous years, we might get to go again. For now, enjoy these pictures of the kids and I enjoying the trails.

Even though it was a very chilly day, the sun was out and we worked up a sweat on the trails. All in all, we explored the numerous trails for about an hour. We were all smiles. Unfortunately, neither David nor Hannah were with us. Hannah was enjoying the day with Nick and his family having traveled there the day before, while David was sitting all day in a Board of Directors meeting. Ellie, Nathan, Abby, and Sam all went again on Sunday and Monday. But I didn't, David whisked me away to a romantic getaway, which I'll post about later. This was a perfect beginning to Valentine's Day weekend.


Thursday, February 11, 2016

An Update

Here is what has been happening lately in my neck of the woods.

In January David and I hiked or snowshoed a total of 30.29 miles. So far in the first 10 days of February we have hiked or snowshoed 13.62 miles. We are in love with getting outside and breathing the fresh cold air. We much prefer the snowshoeing to the hiking, but when time or lack of decent snow or weather dictates a walk on the streets, we have taken that option. We challenged ourselves to walk between 5 and 6 days each week. So far we have been able to meet that challenge and are rewarding ourselves with a little overnight get away to a nearby Bed and Breakfast. We chose one near a favorite state park where we can go snowshoeing.

Our oldest two daughters have entered the dating world. Both are dating "nice Lutheran boys" but who live three states away. Interesting to note that these two boys are best friends, live in the same state, but not the same town. The world of the internet is small and there is lots of chatting and texting and Skype conversations going on amongst them. Our oldest has a long weekend and will take the opportunity to hit the road for a visit with her beau and his family. A plus is that she is able to take her Grandpa for a visit to his son and family who live right on the way, and we don't have to worry about her making the nine hour trip alone.

The other three kids are chugging along with their schoolwork, instrument practicing, and doing all they can to convince us to watch movies each night and sleep late each morning. Sometimes we let them. Nathan and Sam are currently in swim lessons. Nathan's are geared for passing the Lifeguard test. His summer job is now needing certified Lifeguards and he has his eyes set upon earning that title. We thought lessons designed towards making sure he can pass is a good thing. Sam's lessons are so he can finally learn the strokes. Being the youngest, he often gets the short end of the stick, and swim lessons is one I never followed through on with him. Fortunately private swim lessons aren't too expensive, therefore we can correct our error and Sam can be a more confident swimmer come summertime pool fun.

Abby moved up into the full youth orchestra this semester and is enjoying the challenge. I am enjoying hearing her practice her piano pieces which includes the "Dawn" by Dario Marianelli which is the theme song to Pride and Prejudice (the Keira Knightley movie). It makes me want to watch the movie again and again and again. She is also now learning Latin from Hannah. Her father just doesn't have the time and it kept getting pushed till tomorrow. Now, two days a week she and her sister FaceTime to learn Latin.

Hannah is in her last semester of college. Full of practicing and working on her senior recital, she is looking forward to graduating in May with a music degree.  Ellie is in her junior year and enjoying working towards her English degree, despite some of the books she is required to read. She decided to switch from a Philosophy minor to a Music minor and began organ lessons this semester.

Nathan, Abby, and Sam are doing well working on things I assign them. I've gone to a greater number of books, both historical fiction and non-fiction, for them to read. Add that to our memory work and they are getting a pretty good idea of the era of history we are covering.

Speaking of memory work, it is going quite well. I changed some things. One of the biggest was that now on Even days, instead of going over Latin vocabulary and phrases, we are going instead through the Six Chief Parts of the Catechism. We recite one each even day and this has been a good thing. Nathan, Abby, and Sam are much better at Memory Work than I am. I am the only one continually flubbing the new line of the Latin Apostle's Creed, or forgetting which element comes next in the Periodic Table song or getting the date wrong in our History sentences. Oh well, I'm trying and they can say they know more than their mother.

Here are the books I've read since this year began.
Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child by Anthony Esolen finished Jan. 21: excellent book. I would recommend this to everyone. He doesn't give solutions, but he sure gives lots to think about and therefore how one can change things in their own lives.

Echoes by Maeve Binchy finished Jan. 24: a very good book. I enjoy Binchy novels and her ability to write such intriguing character based stories. They are novels I turn to when I need something easy and quick.

The 17 Day Diet: A Doctor's Plan Designed for Rapid Results by Mike Moreno finished Jan. 27: recommended by a friend who, along with her husband, have been doing this for almost a year. I found it interesting and it showed me and my husband how lazy we had gotten with the food we put in our mouths (too much). It isn't one, though, that we could use as our ongoing way of eating. For that, we much prefer a low-carb way of thinking. This book did remind us of that and therefore that is a good thing.

House of Living Stones by Katie Schuermann finished Jan. 29th: very good book about Lutherans. An engaging tale and set-up for her next book:

The Choir Immortal by Katie Schuermann finished Jan. 31st: excellent! I loved this one more than the first. I hope we get another installment or two. Mrs. Schuermann has done a great job bringing to life real people, their faults, their strengths, and what living together in a church family is all about. Be prepared to shed some tears.

The Light in the Forest by Conrad Richter finished Feb. 2: Excellent book I picked up at the library for Nathan and Abby to read for history. It is about a young American boy who is kidnapped at age 4 by Indians, raised by them and at age 15 is forced by the American soldiers to return to his biological family. All three of us really enjoyed this novel.

April Morning by Howard Fast finished Feb. 6th: A very good book, not as gripping as The Light in the Forest. It is also a book I found on the library shelves for Nathan and Abby to read for history. It tells the story of twenty-four hours in the life of a fifteen year old boy who lives in Massachusetts in 1775. The twenty-four hours happen to be April 19th, and he lives near Lexington and Concord. A story about turning into a man, at times you don't like the boy and other times you feel sorry for him.

Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf finished Feb. 8th: Not so good of a book. This was for my book club and we all agreed that it was dull and hard to follow. A stream of conscious book that takes place over twenty-four hours in the life of Mrs. Dalloway which we found hard to follow and were it not for reading Spark Notes, we wouldn't have been able to come up with the themes of the book. To us it seemed like the perfect "English teacher" book that is used to torment the student and keep the love of reading from them.

I'm currently reading:
LadyLike: Living Biblically by Rebekah Curtis and Rose Adle: I read this one aloud to my husband last year, but am reading it again with a Ladies' group at church. It is very good and am enjoying my re-read.

Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About It by Gary Taubes: This is a requirement for my Health class which Nathan and Abby are working through. Since I haven't read it since Hannah and Ellie went through this class, I decided to re-read it and I'm glad I am.

The Puritan Dilemma:The Story of John Winthrop by Edmund S. Morgan: A biography I picked up on the recommendation of a homeschool friend for Nathan and Abby to read. I am finding it very interesting and enlightening. We should finish it by the end of the week.

1776 by David McCullough: Another book I'm having Nathan and Abby read for history. We just began this book and currently are reading a chapter a day.

Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions: A Reader's Edition of the Book of Concord: David and I are following a guide to try and read through this during the forty days of Lent.

The Martian by Andy Weir: This is a book a friend loaned to me and I am just starting it today.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Outdoors Whenever Possible

After David's pair of hiking boots arrived, you could find us about four or five nights per week walking outside. Sometimes we went to a trail, sometimes we hiked after dark on the streets of our town, and sometimes we didn't use our hiking boots at all and instead walked laps around the inside of our church building due to extremely cold temperatures or a schedule which didn't allow us to walk till late into the night.

We loved the boots. We loved hiking outside. Who needs snowshoes? Apparently, we did, which we found out real quick when we decided to try hiking on a trail in a state park near our home. It was not packed down and we realized with each, slow, prodding, step, that snowshoes would make it much more enjoyable.

So look what we did!
It is even in one of my favorite colors!
The first day we bought them we went to a trail near the store. Figuring out how to tighten the straps was much easier thanks to a fellow hiker who kindly offered us advice. Strapped on, poles set to the right length, off we marched. It was loud. Clomp. Clomp. Clomp. But it was fun and we were glad to get them.

The very next day we decided to try again the trail near our home which originally made us aware that the money should be spent on snowshoes.

At the trail head waiting for me to stop taking pictures

We had gotten another inch of powdery snow during the night and we quickly fell in love with snowshoeing. Wow! Easy, smooth, and more quiet, hiking on fresh snow as opposed to packed snow was fun. Off we hiked and often commented on how much easier it was to hike this trail than the last time.

At one point we reached the junction where the first time we chose to turn and go back to the car, but should we go straight and hike longer this time was the question. I said yes as quickly as a child who is asked if they would like some ice-cream.

On and on and on we hiked, enjoying the quiet woods, the trail to ourselves, and making connections on where we were in relation to the lake near-by.

We started to get hot. Hats off, scarves untucked, sometimes gloves removed as we continued down the trail wondering just how far this went before it turned to the left and wandered back toward the car.

It began to snow lightly and I thought this was the most magical experience. On we hiked, not meeting another soul. David's app told us we had now hiked 2 miles. We were tired. Realizing that we were out there longer than I anticipated, we stopped so I could call the kids and give directions on finishing supper. We also took a selfie.

Notice our red faces glowing from the exercise and being outside
Finally after another half mile we arrived at the car. We took off our snowshoes, loaded them and ourselves into the vehicle and drove the short distance home. For the rest of the night, we sat in our chairs drinking water wondering why we had gone such a long distance. Whose idea was it to go straight? But we both agree, this, to us, beats any indoor exercise, and our mantra has become outdoors whenever possible!

Monday, January 11, 2016

Off My Tush

Walking during the spring, summer, and fall has been a great joy of mine. Putting on my tennis shoes, starting one of my favorite albums on my iPod, and hitting the streets or trails around my house has done wonders for my heart, legs, and especially my peace of mind. I also had walking partners the last two summers, David in 2014 and Hannah in 2015 which was a nice way to pass the time and chat with two of my favorite people.

Unfortunately winter has interrupted these enjoyable conversations and walks. Although I knew that I needed to do something to continue this heart-healthy, mind-saving activity, I had yet to hit upon a winning idea. In the past treadmills and elliptical machines have tried to keep me going through the long winter months. The winter of 2014-2015 I bought and used the PiYo dvd's from Beach Body. None of these lasted, I came to dread them and easily found excuses to not do them each and every day.

Last winter during Christmas break, we went once again to camp with our good friends. We've done this in years past, but this one was the best week ever. The snow was perfect for daily enjoying the tubing runs, walking around outside, enjoying the fireplace, plus our friends and family and of course the food. One day we all tramped down to put on skis and tried cross-country skiing. It was marvelous. Easy to learn, invigorating to do, I couldn't get enough. I was hooked. Coming home from camp we were ready to go buy ourselves skies and hit the trails in the state parks around our area. But we didn't. Not much snow the rest of the winter, plus the cost, led us to wait.

Along came summer and I was back to my daily walks with tennis shoes, my daughter, and forgetting winter would come around again. Winter finally arrived in late December. David and I spent New Year's day trying snow-shoeing in a state park where we could rent the shoes and see what we thought. It was great fun. We were hooked. Let's buy some we said.

David began his research and although we have good, heavy, snow boots, which hooked onto the snowshoes at the state trail, there are better, lighter, hiking boots that would be easier. Plus, we could use them just as hiking boots around the streets of town when we couldn't get to the trail. Off to the store we went and I came home with a pair. David came home with an order slip since the store didn't have his size in stock.

I couldn't wait to use mine. Friday found me hiking down the trail among freshly fallen snow. Perfect temperature of about 32 degrees which meant I could wear only fleece pants and not my snow pants and I found my winter happy place.

My new hiking boots

Me - happy hiking

Great traction, easy to walk-in, and warm to -25 (yet to be tested by me)

Even shoveled or non-shoveled sidewalks or sloppy streets will be hike-able in my new shoes

Two miles later I was glowing from the walk and knew hubby had hit on how to keep me happy and walking in the winter. His should arrive in the next day or two and he is looking forward to joining me on the trail. Amazing to me is how much I am excited by being outside enjoying the cold weather and the snow. It makes me as happy as my walking all through the summer. Fortunately a benefit is that I am now motivated to get off my tush and keep active during the winter.