Sunday, December 28, 2008

Thank you, Dana!

Isn't this what Christmas is all about?

Homemade Christmas

This year, I tried to make as many gifts as possible. Here are some photos documenting my, um, overzealous efforts.

Here is Dana in her purple fleece robe. She is looking out into Grandma Bev and Grandpa Jerry's yard. You see, there were sleigh marks and reindeer hoofprints in the snow on Christmas morning! How magical!

Nora working in her scratch book wearing her pink fleece robe. She LOVES it and wears it every day. I am not that good at sewing but the more I work on it, the more I enjoy it. I think the robes turned out pretty cute, especially considering I used a pattern I found in my sewing box and spent less than $15.00 on both robes, including thread.

Nora is modeling the hat I knit for Keenan, her cousin. One of his most favorite movies ever is The Nightmare Before Christmas, so when I came across this pattern in Knitty, I knew immediately that I had to make it for him. We celebrated with my side of the family today at 4pm and I finished embroidering the details at 3:05. Phew! And he seems pretty happy with it. I love Nora's spooky hands in this photo.

So Zak went to Milwaukee with my mom in October. He bought this really nice yarn there and asked me to knit him socks with it for Christmas. I finished these yesterday. I actually sprained my thumb trying to finish them-I kid you not. There is nothing quite like knitting as fast as you can with pain shooting down your thumb. Though I cursed these socks for the last moments, I overall very much enjoyed knitting them and am waiting for my thumb to get over itself so I can start another pair. Will they be for me? Kevin? I haven't decided yet...

These particular socks were knit with a bamboo/wool blend, which was super nice to work with. Zak had to work tonight so he missed our Christmas celebration and I haven't heard from him yet regarding whether they actually fit him. Keeping my fingers crossed!

More snow!

We are almost at a record snowfall for December here. It is somewhere around 36 inches. I know-yikes! But look how happy these two lovelies are! I couldn't resist taking a few photos of them playing outside in the snow at night. It was so peaceful and joyful. And Nora pulling Dana home on the sled? So cool. And so cute. When did she get this grown up?

Really, the only way to describe Nora's face is pure joy.


Totally unrelated...I baked and decorated this to bring to my sister's house last weekend. I think it turned out kinda cute. The silver cake sparkles were leftovers from the teacher appreciation cupcakes. They look like sparkly snow on the tree. So festive, I know.

So THAT'S what's in the box!

These two gigantic boxes arrived next door in late November. I can't remember anyone ever asking what was in them, but all of the kids played with these boxes for a month. They arranged them into different positions, decorated them, made them into forts, and had a lovely time with them.

So last week, before Grandma Inese and Grandpa Don left for their island, we went over to visit. Grandpa told the girls to go get the giant boxes and bring them into the bistro (my parents have a sort of sitting room/dining room that we call the bistro). The girls were intrigued and promptly pushed the boxes our way. They could not believe it when they were told that the boxes contained their Christmas gifts from Grandma and Grandpa!

Nora trying to navigate the boxes through a tight squeeze.

Grandpa had to lend a hand to get through the packing tape safely to reveal...

...beanbag chairs! They match the girls' bed sheets and have their names embroidered on them! Oh, the joy!

They were clearly an immediate hit. We enjoy a show on them, haul them upstairs to read books on, pretend they are boats, lounge on them while chatting...They are even better than the boxes they came in! Thank you, Grandpa and Grandma!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas!

Wishing you all the joys of the season-

The warmth of home, the love of family and the laughter of good friends.

I am off to bake cookies before we pack up and head out to Grandma and Grandpa's house for some holiday cheer. Nothing like some down to the wire baking!

Happy Christmas everyone!

Holiday Program

Nora's holiday program was last week. The first graders sang two songs.

I thought this was the quintessential little girl shot, what with the whispering and all. Her friend was a little nervous.

The music teacher taught them some finger plays to accompany the music. Pretty cute! Here, they are singing a song called "Burn Little Candles" about Hanukkah.

All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth!
Actually, Nora hasn't lost any teeth yet, but the song was still pretty cute.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Teacher Appreciation Cupcakes

It's almost midnight and I just finished baking 2 dozen cupcakes and I am exhausted and I want to go to bed. However, I think the cupcakes came out kind of pretty so I wanted to post photos now. Otherwise I will lay in bed thinking about it.

Tomorrow is the staff/teacher appreciation luncheon at Nora's school, and I agreed to organize the desserts. It was incredibly complicated: The PTA president emailed me the names of moms who had offered to help, and I emailed them. They all agreed to have a dessert at the school in time for the luncheon tomorrow. Whew! That was hard labor!

Anyhow, I thought about making something decadent and fancy and wonderful, but the thing is, I love making cupcakes. And I am sort of over actually eating them. I just like to decorate them. And I am kind of repetitive about how I decorate them, so it is nice to have a new audience that does not realize my design is old news.

I wanted to do something festive but not in-your-face, so I baked orange chocolate cupcakes in silver liners, and then I piped on pale blue vanilla buttercream and topped it with silver cake sparkles. Pretty!

The only thing: This is the only platter we own. I swear. One and only. I normally haul 2 dozen cupcakes around on a cookie sheet covered in tin foil, which would have fit the color theme, but I am not willing to separate from a cookie sheet over the weekend before Christmas when there is another snowstorm scheduled. No thank you! I need that tool! So once I got the lovely blue and silver cupcakes onto the pink heart platter, I realized it looks kind of like a baby shower. But you know what? It is 11:55pm and I just don't care. I think it is pretty and I don't care if it looks like a baby shower to some people (like me).

Just in case you didn't get a close enough view of the sparkles. I hope that the frosting doesn't get all smooshed by the plastic wrap I used to cover them. That would bum me out.

On another note, today was Nora's holiday program. I should post photos of that, but, you see, I attended both performances (I know-don't say it) and between me and Kevin, we took over 300 photos (again-don't say it). I need to sort through them and that will take more than five minutes. I am going to point out here that Kevin put the camera on that really high speed mode that one uses to photograph sporting events and such, so at least 200 of the photos are chunks of consecutive photos. I don't know how to use that setting because I am too lazy to read the camera manual. If I did, we would have had 500 photos. Scary! Will post cute program photos tomorrow after I drop off the lovely cupcakes. Good night!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Cold Day

Inside Fun!

Yesterday was a snow day. We had a weekend blizzard that dumped around a foot of snow, give or take, and brought horrifying windchills with it. It would have been logical of me to document our day yesterday, but to be honest, we didn't do anything special. It was much too cold to play outside in the fresh snow. I spent the day knitting on my homemade Christmas gifts while the girls played various made up games together.

This morning, we woke up and it was 26 degrees below zero! Holy dangerous! They didn't cancel schools because it is supposed to be more reasonable by lunchtime. Nice reasoning. Kevin had to jump start his car to go work on his thesis this morning, and it was parked in the garage. I don't think it is worth risking life and limb for a day of first grade, so I kept Nora home. Maybe I am paranoid, but it is dangerously cold out and I am not comfortable with her being out there riding around with her bus driver, with me or with anyone else.

SO on that note, it is 9:14 and we have spent the day thus far having fun. A couple of years ago, my mom bought a gigantic bag of party blowers at a garage sale. They were brand new and in the wrappers, I swear. So I hauled it out and the girls piled themselves and the blowers into the sled in the living room. Fun, noisy and far from normal. They loved it.

Later on the agenda we will practice Dolch words and another word list provided by the first grade teacher. We plan to bake some cookies and I have some math ideas. We aren't going to watch movies and eat popcorn all day. Stay warm folks!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Cheesy Popcorn

We go through a lot of popcorn in this house. I may have mentioned before my fear of various preservatives and other ingredients found in prepackaged foods. So we air pop our corn instead of doing microwave popcorn. The added bonus is that a bag of kernels is like $1.99 and it lasts us 2 weeks. Microwave popcorn could very well put us into bankruptcy. Because Dana in particular can really put away the popcorn. Her most favorite popcorn is what she calls "Daddy's Popcorn," which is basically cheesy popcorn. It is pretty good, so I will share my version of it with you. Kevin makes it a little bit differently than I do, but since I am the blogkeeper I get to control the recipe. Ha!

I know you are scratching your head right now and wondering what lunatic puts fennel seeds into popcorn. And my answer is, "Not me!" The photo is for illustration purposes. Allow me to explain:

So Kraft used to sell containers of the cheese powder they put into their mac and cheese. Kevin loved that powder and concocted his cheesy popcorn recipe based on it. Unfortunately, Kraft no longer makes that powder. I mean, they do, but to get it you have to buy their mac and cheese and steal the cheesy packet out of it.

I have been on a cheesy powder hunt for months, and then one day I found some! Our grocery store has a repack section, and in that section, hanging out amongst the repacked cinnamon and fennel seeds, was some cheddar cheese powder! So I posted this photo here so you understand what to look for since our cheddar cheese powder is all gone and I couldn't take a photo of THAT repack container. I know fancy words like "repack" because my dad used to manage a health foods warehouse and one of their departments was repack, where they took giant containers of spices and repackaged them into smaller containers. I just like that word today.

King Arthur Flour Company has a Vermont Cheddar powder for sale on their website, but I haven't gotten around to ordering it yet. I keep meaning to but other things come up and divert my attention. Maybe someone wants to try it and let me know if it is any good.

Wow, does that look disgusting! SO I melted 2 tablespoons of butter and then added 2 tablespoons of the cheddar cheese powder. I whisked it together until it was nice and smooth and disgusting looking.

I filled the little measuring device on our air popper with kernels, popped them up, and put them into a paper bag. Then I poured the cheese stuff on top. Doesn't it look tasty? No? Yeah, I didn't think so.

So the bag is about 1/3 full, which is great since you need a lot of extra room for the next step. Which is to close the bag and shake the living daylights out of it to mix it sufficiently. It is a good way to work out aggression. Kevin generally just mixes it with a couple of spoons in a big bowl, but it never gets a good coating. There are always clumps of cheesy butter here and there, and large quantities of popcorn with nothing at all on top. So use the paper bag. It is well worth it.

This is also kind of disgusting. The quantity of grease that seeps through the paper is not particularly appetizing, but I never said this was a healthy recipe. I just said it is one of Dana's favorites.

And there you have it: Cheesy popcorn! Pretty easy and fast.

Wait a second: I KNEW you would notice that we made Oreos and Cheesy Popcorn on the same day. Now you think I feed my children nothing but junk food all day long. Well, you are free to think that if you like, but I actually do get a large amount of produce and other healthy foods into my ladies. And as delicious as they are, Dana only ate half of a homemade Oreo. She did eat about half of this popcorn though.


Dana and I spent the morning making Oreos!
I know what you're thinking: Why, oh why, would somebody go through the trouble of making homebaked Oreos when it is so easy to buy a package at any grocery store or gas station for like $3.00? Well let me introduce myself: My name is Alissa and I like to find complicated ways to do simple things. Plus I like to bake. Plus Dana and I like to do projects together. Plus I am scared of Oreos because I know a kid who is allergic to every kind of food imaginable but he can eat Oreos because they are so incredibly far from actual food. That is nasty.

Here is Dana showing her tasty treat. With Dana's head as a point of reference, you can see that my homemade version of Oreos is a lot bigger than the packaged kind. That is OK with me. I think mine are easier to dunk into milk without dunking your thumb by accident.

Dana thought the filling was pretty nice. When I took this photo, I had a thought: I bet I have at least one photo like this from every month of the year. I should put them together to make a beater licking calendar! And then reality returned: Would anyone besides me get a kick out of that calendar? Unlikely.

Now do you see why I thought this was such a good idea? Don't those cookie towers look tasty? And they truly were very easy. Dana is awesome at rolling cookie dough into balls, and she had fun smashing them down, too. And the filling was so easy! I made it in the mixer, and then I put it in a pastry bag with my giant star tip that I use to do swirly frosting on cupcakes. I squeezed a healthy star on one cookie, topped with another cookie, and squeezed until the filling reached the edges. Easy, fast and oh so yummy. And I know what all of the ingredients are and am good with my kids eating them. Yummy!

Sweet Sweet Nora

Who ever said Nora was a morning person? NOT ME!

This cracks me up. Nora can come up with the grumpiest expressions and it makes her so mad because she looks so cute with the grump faces that Daddy and I can't help but smile and take her picture. And I know that if I were the grump and someone smiled and took a picture of MY grump face I would be livid. But I can't help it. I really can't.

So for her whole life that I can remember, Nora has been a dress girl. She hates tights, but she would only wear dresses since the day she could communicate her preference. If I suggested pants on a particularly cold day, I would get an eye roll. Not a chance! This year is so different! The girl will only wear jeans and a ponytail. Every single day. I swear. I am looking forward to her holiday program so that she will wear something other than jeans and a ponytail to school. This child has a wardrobe that would make most grown women drool. She can hardly close her dresser drawers, and they are filled with lovely clothes that cost more than my own clothes, mostly courtesy of her lovely grandmother. Yet if they aren't jeans, she isn't interested.

I tell you this because the photo I took this morning is of Nora being irate with me because her ponytail is too high and her lame-o mom refused to redo it since the bus was coming in less than five minutes and breakfast was only half eaten and winter wear was still hanging by the door waiting to be put on. She was worried she looked like a baby. Oh, the peer pressure! I can hardly wait until junior high!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008


So Nora went next door to play with her cousin. When Dana said, "Mom, where are Daddy and Nora?" I knew what she really meant was, "Why am I home when everyone else is somewhere having fun?" I need to point out here that Kevin is not actually out having fun but is at a meeting. I thought a good distraction would be a cookie making fest, and I was not wrong.

Dana loves to add ingredients, particularly sticky brown sugar.

After putting a good dollop of peanut butter into the cookie dough, Dana had to sample some for herself. I believe her comment was something like, "Mom, I wheelie love peanut buttah." I myself wheelie love how kids ask a question cloaked as a request. Then again, she got her peanut buttah didn't she?

There is nothing that screams "CHRISTMAS!" to me as much as a pile of red, green and silver foil wrappers. Dana did an excellent job of peeling the chocolate kisses to put on the cookies. To the untrained eye, it would appear that she is perched rather precariously on the counter. Those in the know, however, realize that Dana is a trained circus monkey and would be just fine standing on the tip of one toe on top of the counter while peeling the chocolates. I know "unwrapping" is the correct term here, but I like to think that Christmas foil chocolate is a naturally occurring substance that, much like a banana, requires unpeeling.

Some of us got kind of wet while washing our hands and had to take our shirts off.

I am not sure how to feel about the look on this girl's face. She told me she does not like this kind of cookie. Funny-last year she ate about 14 in a row. I can't decide if my feelings are hurt that she has looked at my most favorite cookie in the world with such disdain, or if I am glad because it is less junk for her and more of my most favorite cookies for me.

At any rate, we are off to find a dry shirt so we can go retrieve Nora from the neighbors' house.

Blue Man

Our nephew, Keenan, spent some time with us this weekend. He thought the blueberry candy canes were pretty sweet.

Wide eyed.

Here he is showing off his blue man mustache. Who knew they would be such a colorful mess? They were fun and tasty and this mom is glad they are ALL GONE!

Thanksgiving 2008

I mentioned in a previous post that we were invited to spend Thanksgiving with Kevin's mom's cousin and her husband. Here are a couple of photos from our day.

The Acker girls take any opportunity to wear party dresses, and Thanksgiving was no exception. Last time Nora wore this dress it was August and she roasted. It was much more appropriate in November. Here, the girls are winding down after a long afternoon of playing, eating and enjoying some family fun.

Cousin Jan was ready for the girls. She took two purses, filled them with goodies and gave one to each girl. She also filled her jewelry box with retired costume jewels and let the girls play with them. Here Dana poses with her beloved puppy and a gorgeous necklace from the treasure chest. I particularly like her sunglasses.

Jan and Ross have a big living room with tall ceilings and a gorgeous fireplace. Nora loves to sit by fires, so here she is posing for me.

We had a wonderful Thanksgiving with delicious food and good conversation. Jan and Ross brew their own beer so I sampled the most amazing amber beer, which was also fun!

The Holtes celebrated Thanksgiving and Kevin R.'s birthday on Sunday, but I don't have any photos. We also had wonderful food and we topped the afternoon off with some Trivial Pursuit. Fun times!