Friday, November 30, 2012

Chicago Wrap Up

We had such a fun trip to Chicago for Thanksgiving and a huge part of that was getting to share a little of the Christmas preparation with Bestemor and Bestefar.  On Saturday, we helped them put up and decorate their Christmas tree and the kids got to see the traditional ornaments along with the handmade monogrammed ornaments that Bestemor made.  How fun to see each of our names and the year we "joined" the family on an ornament.

Oh, the pressure!  How fun that both sets of grandmothers have crafted things (ornaments to stockings) for the grandkids to eventually take to their own homes one day!  I'm sure that these treasured items will find a special place in my children's homes.

In addition to decorating, we had a relaxing day swimming at the pool, playing more tennis, going to a Train Exhibit at the Lodge, working on various projects (sewing for Miss A, untangling yarn balls for me), and just soaking up our time with the grands.

That evening, we had the best time when Uncle S and Aunt C came over for pizza and Bestefar dug out the old slide projector and entertained us with slides from P's childhood.  All three of my kids were rolling on the floor looking at pictures of Dad wearing Christmas Outfits smocked by his mother and outfits in all shades of plaid!  As a child of the 70's, he had some really "groovy" outfits.  I think Mr C was grateful that he was born in the more respectable decade of the late nineties.  Miss A was fascinated with the fact that nearly all of P's childhood trips included a trip to a Southern Plantation.  Guess our little Midwest girl had no idea what a Crape Myrtle or hanging Spanish Moss looked like.

I'd say the trip down memory lane with slides was well worth traveling through the fog to see.  Now we just have to convince both sets of parents to dig out the old slides and start showing them off to the grandkids and then running to the photo store to convert all those slides to a DVD!

My Favorite Homemaking Week

Yesterday, I took down Fall  The beautiful pumpkins are all gone, the leaves and stuffed turkey have been put away. I always feel like Thanksgiving gets the short stick in holiday celebrating so I refuse to put away all the fall decor until after Thanksgiving!  The fact that we were out of town for the holiday means I didn't get pressured to get all the Christmas stuff out and ready until now.

I love Christmas decorations, but I only really love them for about 30 days.  In fact, by December 26th, I'm pretty much ready to take it all down and get back to "normal."

Today, I dug out the basement storage area and found the mantel decor, the outdoor decorations, and the things I do myself. The really fun stuff like the tree will wait until this weekend when the kids and my husband can help.  I won't rob them of that joy.

The Spode Dishes have replaced my normal Poppies on Blue China in the cupboard.  All month long, we will be eating our normal meals on these fancy dishes. The girls already commented on how pretty the gold trimmed drinking glasses are and I've enjoyed my first cup of coffee in the Spode Mug.  I'm sure there will be plenty of Hot Apple Cider and Hot Coco to come this month.

For years, we used to just eat our Christmas Day dinner on the plates.  We'd unpack them on the 23rd and they'd return to the bonus room on the 26th until I realized that it was such a waste not to enjoy these fun, festive plates more.  I'll admit this is one small change in our routine that just adds to the joy of the season.

In unpacking them this year, I ran across a set of dishes by Mary Engelbreit that I forgot I had.  In fact, I think come January they might just grace our table for a few weeks.  I figure by then the winter doldrums will have hit our town and a little fun might be just what we need.  At this rate, all I'll need to come up with are some Irish Plates for March and it will be late Spring before those everyday dishes are once again in use!

I'm committed in December to enjoying this simple blessings and soaking up all the joy I can in the normal and mundane tasks of getting the house and family ready for Christmas. No rushing through the Season for me.  I've penciled in a day to bake Cinnamon Rolls, a few lunch dates with friends, and a wrapping present afternoon.  Of course with my DVR full of Christmas Movies of all types, I'm sure I won't be lacking the entertainment to push me through the hours I'll be stirring Caramels on the stove or writing out the Christmas

Isn't that what being a Homemaker is all about, making our home a haven of peace, calm and joy; especially at Christmas time.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Hancock Tower Tree and Navy Pier: Part Three

We needed a little space after the crowd on Michigan Avenue and decided to walk a few blocks to the Hancock Tower and see the Tree in the Square before catching yet another taxi to Navy Pier.  If you are keeping count that's three public transportation forms in one day; stellar in Miss A's book.

Our hope was that the Pier will be all aglow with Christmas lights, but appears we were a week too early. We did see some great lights on our way to the Pier and really enjoyed the City Scape view we could see from the Pier.  Chicago really is a beautiful city at night.  Walking the Pier was so calm and the view of Lake Michigan with a clear night sky was stunning.  

For dinner, we went to Harry Carey's Restaurant overlooking Lake Michigan and in between watching College Football games, eating great Pretzel Rods, and talking about our "highs and lows" of the day, we saw some amazing Cubs Memorabilia.  By now, we were feeling very Chicagoan.

To cap off our evening, we went to the Christkindlmarket, a traditional German marketplace complete with everything from hand carved wooden ornaments, bratwurst and potato pancakes and anything German you could want for Christmas. 

The marketplace is right near Daley Plaza and so in addition to getting a little taste of Frohe Weihnachten, we got to see the Chicago Christmas Tree.  I gotta say our town's Christmas tree at the Train Station is so much better. 

Finally, it was time to walk the few blocks back to Union Station to catch our train back home.  It was a full day in Chicago and one we will never forget.  I think Miss M and Miss A are ready to go back again next Black Friday, as long as we find a way to catch a L Train around town too!  Mr C and Mr P will need a few weeks recovery before they even consider going to the local mall, let alone get in that size crowd anytime in the near future.

Michigan Avenue and State Street: Part Two

Our next stop on the Black Friday tour of Chicago was to see the windows at Marshall Fields on State Street. Now some might call it Macy's, but we are old fashioned!  The windows were beautiful.  Stunning really with their moving parts, lifelike mannequins, and stories that told of yesteryear.  What a gift to the city.

Mr P and Mr C were most thrilled that on this stop they would finally find a hat and gloves to bring back feeling to their extremities.  I thought the process of finding the men's accessory area in the store might just put them both over the top however.  We heard at least four different stories of where you'd find the men's gloves and took escalators, lost each other and asked again before finally finding the area nearly 10 feet from where we'd entered the store originally.  

The crowd was huge and, while the atmosphere was festive, it was a little overwhelming for the less experienced shoppers in our family.  Thankfully, after looking at the store windows for awhile, we saw the Disney Store, H&M, and Nordstrom's Rack right across the street giving us "all" a place to look around.  A few members of the family even left State Street with packages!

Taking a taxi to Michigan Avenue's Water Tower was next on our agenda; much to the thrill of Miss A and her love of public transit. (She might move to Chicago later just so she can ride public transportation!)  The crowd in this part of town was huge.  There were Salvation Army bell ringers at every store front, people walking with packages overflowing and to add to the fun, a few protesters.  

Our first  protester was angry about American Consumerism and Over Consumption.  His homemade sign on cardboard was to point out how little he consumed I guess.  The second and larger group of protesters were standing outside a Fur Salon and had signs with blood and dead animals as they shouted through large blow horns!  They were a little more serious.  Miss M, of course, got nervous that her Land's End fur collar coat would be targeted; but I told her it was Fax fur so not too worry!

Miss M found her purchase at the Macy's Soap Bar; where we enjoyed the craziness of the employees.  Let's just say they were all very happy making "Bubble Demos" with their AMAZING bubble bath wands.  Both C and I were anxious to leave as we overwhelmed with the scents assaulting our noses.  He might have even suggested we go into the American Girl Doll store with Miss A to escape.  All I will say about the AG store on Black Friday is Insane.  Miss A's wish list for Christmas grew, C and P's patience waned, and I was just shocked at all the purchases going on around me.  I thought Illinois was in a fiscal mess and near bankruptcy.

Of course no trip to Chicago's Michigan Avenue would be complete without a visit to Chocolate Corner; aka the place where Hershey Chocolates and Ghirardelli meet.

Next stop Navy Pier.

Black Friday Shopping Downtown Chicago: Part One

What's that saying:" When in Chicago, Do as the Chicagoans."  At least that was our thought when we woke up early on  Black Friday morning to board a train into the big city.  Everyone was excited to be a part of the hustle and bustle of downtown Chicago on the busiest shopping day of the year.  Much better than getting up in the middle of night to beat the crowd at the Big Box Stores!

Miss A who loves all form of public transportation was most excited about taking the commuter train into Union Station. Since our stop was the first on the line, we had our choice of seats; meaning we were upstairs watching the world go by.  To make up for the missed knitting in the car a few days earlier, I came prepared with a small portable project and enjoyed people watching while I chatted with Mr C and watched Miss M veg out to her IPOD

Upon arrival at Union Station, we began the first of many long walks in the cold.  Oh, so thankful for Bestemor's Christmas Presents.  I am not sure the girls would have made it far without the cowl necks and hats.  Mr C, of course, pointed out that my Red Hat made it easy to spot me in a crowd.  Sadly, a bag with Dad and C's gloves and hat had been left behind in Huntley meaning they would actually need to "buy" something on Black Friday.  Our first stop was suppose to be a Taco Fresco just blocks from the Station, but guess they had taken a long weekend off and it was closed.  I thought C was going to cry.  For weeks he dreamed of his favorite Tex Mex restaurant.  Thankfully ,Dad's IPhone came to the rescue and we found out there was another location at Millennium Park. Phew.

With a happy boy and full tummy, we went out to see the architectural Cloud Gate commonly referred to as the Bean  It's a pretty cool site and the people watching was out of the world.  It was a true melting pot.  P found some new friends; the "Free Hugs People" who I'm not sure if they were trying to find dates for Christmas Formal or just trying to spread a little Christmas Joy. Either way, according to Miss M "you don't see that everyday."

Our adventures in downtown were only just beginning....

Thursday, November 22, 2012

When Thanksgiving Gives You Sunshine

Who knew that a Chicago Thanksgiving allowed you the chance to take a brisk walk in the sunshine?  While we'd been experiencing a mild fall thus far back at home, I never would have thought that on Thanksgiving I'd be taking a  brisk walk outside after I made up some Cheesy Spinach and Green Bean Casserole for later.  I didn't think I'd see the "Boys" off in the distance at the Tennis Courts playing three sets wearing shorts!  I won't tell who won the set, but I know my husband was especially pleased with his tennis skills!

Realizing that this fantastic weather was a blessing in itself, I ran off to get the girls and bring them back to the Lake for some fun. Grabbing a few pieces of bread, the girls and I were hoping to find their favorite birds; Henry and Henrietta.  Miss M and Miss A love the "stories" their grandparents have spun about the bird's adventures. Sadly, our friend Henry must have taken his own family on a trip for the Holiday, but we didn't let that rob us of the joy of watching the geese and ducks go crazy over the tiny pieces of wheat bread the girls threw over the railing.

I'm beginning to agree with Miss M and Miss M that this is one of the most beautiful places on earth! 

Later that afternoon, we traveled over the river (Fox River) and the through the woods (Toll Roads) to our Thanksgiving Feast in Wheaton.  A fabulous mixture of fellowship, yummy foods, and rousing rounds of board games made the perfect setting for day of Thanks.  The girls got busy decorating some birdhouses that would later be given away at a Children's Charity Christmas event. Perfect to keep them busy and allow them to flex their crafting genius.

We have so much to be grateful for this Thanksgiving and getting to spend this weekend with family made it all the more special.  God has so richly blessed our kids two great sets of grandparents and Aunts and Uncles and Cousins.  It's a blessing we realize is precious.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Celebrating An Early Christmas

I left home on Tuesday packed with our Christmas presents for Chicago all wrapped and ready for December 25th.  I might have been a little proud of myself for accomplishing both the shopping and the wrapping since normally I'm scrambling on the Saturday of Thanksgiving to get the gifts ready for the Grands to take back with them.

Imagine my thrill then when my in-laws announced that we'd be celebrating an early Christmas on Wednesday evening as they normally don't get to see the kids/us open our presents.  We are usually hundreds of miles away from each other and only connect by phone and photos.  Yeah, I was ready with the gifts and the kids were of course more than ready to open gifts.

Of course, later I realized my father in law's "stocking stuffers" were sitting on my scrapbooking table at home.  I never said I was perfect. I viewed it as a way for B&B to have something to open on Christmas!

What a fun Christmas celebration we had in November.   The kids got to see Bestemor and Bestefar try on their new presents and the Grands got to see and hear the giggling and laughter that always accompanies present opening in our family.  I won't even hold it against the kids that often my husband and I were passed over when it came to turns; they were just excited.

Little did we realize just how handy all the new knitted hats and gloves along with our winter parkas would be in just a few days.   I didn't even mind it too much when my son said that I looked like Paddington Bear in my new knitted Red Felt Hat with a brim.  My husband quickly pointed out what a term of affection that must be considering how much Mr C loved his Paddington.

All in all, I'd say our early Christmas celebration in Chicago was a great way to kick off the season and great reminder of all the fun children can be at this special and magical time.  I loved getting to "see" the kids opening presents and showing off their new things to their grandparents.  Totally worth the time in the fog spent to get this place!

From Mr C's new down vest to Miss A's one in kind handkerchief with the Letter A embroidered on it direct from her great-grandmother's dowery (the first Cecilie) to Miss M's french blue hat, it was  perfect evening.

Thanksgiving Road Trip: Chicago

I've never traveled for Thanksgiving or Christmas.  The exception was when I was in College and I would go home for the Holidays.  My grandparents all lived within 20 minutes of my home, my sibling lives in the same town, and for the past 19 years of marriage my in-laws have graciously joined our family for Thanksgiving.

This year we decided to live on the edge and travel for Thanksgiving with all the kids to see the Grands and my sister/brother in law in Chicago.  While we'd miss my parents, we considered it an adventure; a vacation in November!

Since the kids didn't have school Wednesday, we decided to pull a late night and leave right after school on Tuesday. The weather was perfect with temperatures in the 50's and clear skies.

At least until about 7:30 (a few miles outside Des Moines, Iowa) when all of a sudden it got Foggy.  Dense Fog.  The kind that means you can't see anything on the road. Who knew truckers used their flashers in fog to alert drivers of their presence on the road.

Now here is where the story gets a little funny; you see we weren't sure what was going on.  Was it a snowstorm, fog or smoke from "Forest fire?"  According to certain members of the family, my sweet husband might have said " I wonder if this is a Forest Fire." and I rolled down my window.  However, that is up for debate. Not the window part.  He claims that he said it might be smoke from a controlled burn.

Anyway, I guess in the middle of a Iowa Cornfield near a large body of water (Mississippi River), there can be an issue with fog.  Fog so deep that we even missed our dinner stop at the Iowa City Mall aka Chic Fil A in the food court.  Not too worry, we turned back as our bellies were empty and our worry was thick.

After reading the Weather Channel updates on P's phone about  "Dense Fog," we decided to travel a bit further down the road hoping our happy tummies would make the road easier to bear.  By Davenport, we decided this was crazy and pulled off at a Best Western thinking we would call it a night.

Now I must admit I was the fieriest proponent of stopping and spending the night in a hotel.  I was worried about the rest of the trip and how long my husband could drive in this fog.  I might have regretted that I couldn't knit in this weather either, but don't judge me!  However, as I was checking in at the hotel so was a nice gentleman who had just come from Illinois. When he heard our tale of "fog," he told of how it wasn't bad in the land of Lincoln.  It was just an Iowa issue.  He might have promised that once we crossed the Mississippi and got on the Illinois 88 Tollway that it'd be blue skies and stars.

Of course, Mr C was in the back seat of the van working his magic to convince the girls that going on to Chicago was the best choice, P was talking to the Chicago Traveler and looking at weather, and I was just thrilled that the hotel had a nice bathroom.

Needless to say our desire to get to Chicago and our want to be there soon won.  We journeyed on.  We claimed that this trip would go down in our Family Lore as the "Trip to Chicago in the Fog," a story that Mr C and Miss A and M would be telling their children and grandchildren.  At least if we got there safely.  Which we did.

However I must say that Mr C talks a much bigger game than he delivers.  Within minutes of telling his sisters to "buck it up," he was sound asleep.  That fog that the Chicago Traveler had convinced us stayed at the Iowa/Illinois Border followed us all the way to Bestemor and Besterfar's House (though not as dense).  It did however let up for about 2.4 seconds when P crossed over Dixon IL (Land of Ronald Reagan) and said POOF.  For at least a few seconds, the fog lifted.

Not the best start to my first ever Thanksgiving Road Trip; but one that I'm sure will stand the test of time when it comes to storytelling!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Public Speaking: Not My Thing

I guess you could say I have a phobia of public speaking. Just the thought of speaking in front of a crowd makes my nose start to sweat, my stomach starts doing flips, and my heart starts to beat rapidly.  I will avoid speaking in front of a group at all costs. Just ask my husband. I make him do all the "talking" to groups, at events, and social settings.  Give me a group of 2nd grade Brownies and I'm fine leading and talking.  Please just don't ask me to have a parent meeting.

In high school, I took Speech as a sophomore, not realizing that it was Junior Level course.  Maybe that explains the nerves. My teacher was a five foot spitfire who loved her job and was so kind to me that she even had me over for a Mary Kay party at her house.  She made a huge impression on me and inspired my passion for Journalism and Politics, but I still couldn't give a speech.  My A in the class was out of pity.

By college, I was involved in politics and student government, but still avoided public speaking. I only got an A in my freshman level Speech class because it was at 8:00 in morning and I was only one awake to hear my speaking.  I could argue a point in ASUN board meetings, at Young Republican meetings, or at my Sorority's Monday Night House meetings, but just don't ask me to get up in front of a large group of people.

Tonight, I'm scheduled to speak in front of a group of parents and students at a Junior High event that could draw a several hundred people. To say that the butterflies are working overtime is to put it lightly.  As the PTO President, it is my job to make the welcoming speech.  I've avoided having to do anything like this for years, but today is the day.  I'm not sure what it is about the podium and the microphone that give me heart palpitations.

At dinner last night, we had a contest to see who could write the best speech for Mom.  There was even money offered if I would use certain phrases.  At one point, I think the amount reached $22.  I of course was wondering if P could just come to the meeting and stand up and I say "I'm Jill" and give my speech.  Maybe no one would notice.

Googling "How Not to Throw Up During a Speech" gave me great comfort.  According to research, no one has ever died or actually thrown up giving a speech; maybe before or after the event, but they have at least gotten through the speech first.  Of course, there is a first for everything!  I told my husband that the only good thing about this speech today is that it meant I needed to get a new outfit.  According to Miss A and Miss M, every one will be so impressed with my "Groovy" new dress they won't even remember what I say!

I wonder if it's wrong to pray for Jesus' second coming to happen today before 7:00 p.m. CST.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

My DVR is full: Hallmark Christmas Movie Marathon

My name is Jill, and I'm a Hallmark Christmas Movie addict and I'm not ashamed admit it.  I can't even tell you how excited I was when I heard that the Hallmark Channel was debuting two new Christmas Movies each weekend.  I love nothing more this time of year than doing a chore (knitting, dusting, sorting laundry, or making dinner) and having a Christmas Movie playing in the background.

When the rest of the world is crazy busy with events, projects and shopping, I'm soaking up the calm and joy of a wholesome Christmas story.  I've even gotten the girls in on the fun, and yesterday Miss A told me that she loves a "good Christmas movie" too.  Guess when most of the time I'm saying "no" to movies and television shows, its nice to have the ability to say yes.

Sure there are scoffers in my family who think it's crazy that I'll be watching Christmas movies while refusing to put up my tree until after Thanksgiving or that I rally against the commercialization of the "season" while filling my DVR with these movies. Mr C might have asked if this was "65 Days until Christmas " movie countdown.  My husband might jokingly say "they just don't make movies like that anymore." after the airing of each and every new movie I watch.  I just ignore those comments.  Deep down I know that the boys wish they could join in on the fun, they know that these type of shows are few and far between.

For now, I'm just enjoying having a plethora of shows to watch while I crank through the Christmas Card list and make those Caramels for the teacher gifts.  Guess this addiction is not one I'm willing to give up, at least not until January.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Election Day 2012: Praying for Our Country

I love America.  I love the political process.  During election years, I can become a real "news junkie" spending hours reading, watching news programs, and tuning into talk radio shows.  Having spent years working in the political arena, it is in my blood. I love Election Day.

Never before have I felt that America's future is at stake as much as it today. Decisions made today at the polls will have a profound effect on the direction that our country is headed. As a Christian, I have a hard time separating my moral world view from our political view.  While the mainstream media might want my Evangelical Views to have no impact on my voting decisions, I'll be honest and say I can't separate the two. It is how I am.

That's why I'm grateful to be an American on day like today.  I can vote today. I can pray today and ultimately, I can trust that today God has it all in His Capable Hands.  I might not like the outcome of certain races today.  I probably won't vote for all the winners but I can Trust.

I love the following ad that Rev. Billy Graham had in newspapers across the country this past week. My husband brought me home a copy two weeks ago from the Wall Street Journal and I was thrilled when over the weekend my local paper had a full page ad as well.  Rev Graham says much more eloquently exactly what I'd say.

Finally, if you ever needed proof that our teetering on the edge of a moral collapse I love this video from Paul Harvey.  When Mr C and I watched this last week we were in awe.  

God Bless America. 

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Passing on the Political Bug

If you asked me what  I've been up to the past three Fridays, I'd explain that first Mr C had off school, then next week Miss A had off school, and finally last Friday Miss M had off school. Gotta love three different school calendars and multiple teacher conferences.  Yikes.

The one benefit is one-on-one time with the child which means I've been shopping, out to lunch, and arranging fun activities each week.  I've loved it, but it's kept me hopping.  With the election right around the corner, I had a few political things I needed to do last week and Miss M readily agreed to help.  I told her if she would walk a few streets and putting out fliers for a school board candidate I'm helping with, I'd buy her lunch.

When the opportunity arose to go a real political rally for a Senate candidate, I asked Miss M if she'd be willing to get up early on her day off and head to an event featuring John McCain and our state Republican slate.  Without hesitation, she said yes.  In fact, she was super excited. She loved Senator McCain four years ago and was thrilled with the idea of seeing him in person.

I've got to tell you it was the most fun I've had in weeks. Miss M was so excited to be in the crowd cheering for our party faithful.  We ran into my favorite US Senator, that I used to work for, and we discussed how much it seemed like old times. A political rally at an Airport Hanger!

There is something really fun about sharing a part of your "former life before kids" with your kids.  Miss M was cheering and laughing at the political jokes and being a real part of the political process.  In fact when the official event was over, Miss M begged me to stick around in hopes of getting her photo with Senator McCain.   She edged her way to the front of the press conference and stood right by the Senator waiting her turn for a photo.

I was so proud.

Just so you know she got her photo opp and she was thrilled.  Who knows if this is just the beginning of her political career!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Halloween 2012

We survived Halloween.  Since we are down to just one Trick or Treater, we are not overwhelmed with buckets of candy!  Miss M decided this year to take over my job passing out the candy at the door.  I think she just wanted to see all the adorable little kids in their costumes.  Of course, she wanted to dress up a little bit and decided that a Taylor Swift Cowgirl was perfect.

Miss A had two opportunities to wear her Clown Costume.  I will admit that I'm a little biased, but she was adorable. We did however realize that she has a very small nose bridge, making it hard for her to wear a big red foam clown nose and keep it on.  No wonder her glasses are always falling down!

Our Brownie Troop had a little Fall Party allowing the girls a chance to wear their costumes, make Carmel apples, and play a few games.  After ten years of planning classroom parties, I have a plethora of ideas stored in my head and knew that Monster Mash Musical Chairs is always a winner.  For Miss A's 2nd grade classroom party, we had a bowl of "brains and mush" for the kids to feel their way through.  Give some kids a bowl of spaghetti, plastic spiders, gooey grapes, and a few other surprises and they will have a blast. Seeing some of the kids faces as they dug into the bowl with their eyes tightly closed was so worth the mess.

Mr C's got some more use out of his Smurf Costume (guess the work was all worth it) for his schools' Halloween Dance.  In fact, three of his friends joined him in a Smurf community of sorts. Trying to be the hip mother, I made Witch's Fingers Cookies for the party.  They were both yummy and disgusting.

I'm glad my crew had a fun and safe Halloween, but a little melancholy over the fact that now Fall is almost over.  Not ready for winter yet!