Wednesday, December 31, 2008

John made it on NPR!

John was listening to a program called "On Point with Tom Ashbrook" on his way through Iowa to meet his brother Jeremy today and called into a national program to share his thoughts on "Israel, Gaza, and Hamas." He gave his thoughts to the screener and was put in the queue and actually made it on the air! He even didn't do all that badly, considering he was receiving instructions from his GPS to navigate thorough Des Moines (don't try that at home, kids:-)

Follow this link and click the "Listen to this show" button to hear it. John's call was taken at the 33:30 point, if you want to fast forward, though the entire show was very interesting and we recommend you give it a listen if you have time.

Christmas in Yankton #4

Renee playing quietly with her new dollhouse.

All the grandchildren! Back row: Melena, Corissa, Jackson. Front row: Adriano, Renee, Griffin, Sofia and Gavin.

Cousins dancing!

Christmas in Yankton #3

Jackson, Gavin and Sofia getting ready to go to the hotel.

Daddy and Renee snuggling.

Gavin on the hunt.

Renee showing off her new book!

Christmas dinner table!

Christmas in Yankton #2

The kids' table with Adriano, Melena, Sofia, and Renee.

Adriano shares his Batman toys with Melena, Sofia and Renee.

Band of brothers: Tim, Jeremy, John and Tom.

Adriano watches Renee's new train set.

Renee tap dancing.

Christmas in Yankton #1

Singing Christmas carols on Christmas Eve!

Renee and Auntie Concetta practicing piano together.

Adriano and Renee in the tubby.

Renee dancing while John and Tim play Rock Band.

Boogie cat, Renee and Grammie snuggling.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Driving in a blizzard from Cedar Falls, IA to Yankton, SD

A beautiful Winter Solstice setting sun. The halo around the sun took up most of the horizon, and was so bright! A beautiful backdrop for John and Kelly's 4th anniversary today!

Most of our driving today looked like this, so much blowing snow it was difficult to see.

Good ol' coal cars. This train was v..e..r..y long, you couldn't see from one end to the other!

The worst roads looked like this, not only blowing snow, but snow drifts right over the roadway. The blizzard started yesterday, and though it was a little better today it was still very slow going. (Did I mention that the temperature was -10F when we started and finally warmed up to 0F!) We even had to alter our usual path. Instead of driving west and north, we actually had to drive *south* about an hour and then west and then north. Travel time is usually about 5 hours, but today was 7 1/2 hours. Gosh did it feel good to finally get out of the van, and have a little glass of wine tonight! We are looking forward to a crazy and fabulous week in Yankton with the Fischer family for Christmas!

This is why I can never stay mad at Renee

Who knows why mothers get mad at their kids? I have already forgotten most of what happened in the last 5 minutes, so trying to remember the exact details of yesterday is asking a lot, but I remember feeling grumpy and frustrated. As I recall I was trying to get Renee ready for bed, or something like that, a typical battle between mother and toddler. Then John told me to look at the floor of Renee's room, and as you can see above, it is just so silly and cute! Seeing her little bunny (usually named "Baby") going "ni-night" on her pillow and tucked in so carefully with a dishtowel as a blanket- I can't help but smile and I can't possibly stay grumpy. I even had to put this picture as the background on my cell phone, so I can always be reminded of my silly goose!

When Renee was finally ready to get into bed, we realized she didn't have her pillow (because "Baby" was using it) so I let her take one of the big pillows from Mommy and Daddy's bed. Renee said the big pillow was "very good for ears". She loved the way the big pillow snuggled her ears! So punky!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

There's a storm coming

Our Winter Storm Warning starts tonight, Thursday at 9pm. As of now (about 8pm), though it's still a lovely night, we can see the bright blue storm on the radar screen coming our way very soon. The forecast is for lots of snow, maybe 10 inches? And probably lots of ice. So I thought it would be fun for anyone interested to take a look at the animated radar history for these next 24 hours. Sometime on Friday, click on this link then go to the lower right side of the page and look for "radar archive". The clouds of blue are the snow storm. We'll let you know how it goes tomorrow!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


Dear readers, it was recently brought to my attention that posting comments on chun-beeks is not all that easy. I apologize, I had not paid much attention to *how* to do comments. Now I see that part of the reason this beautiful blog doesn't cost me a dime is because the host obviously wants people to sign up for Gmail, or google email. I obviously already have one of those accounts, and I love it, but I don't want to force anyone to sign up for stuff they don't really want or need. Please notice that the comments section is now open to anonymous writers. We'd love to hear your thoughts, and that should eliminate the major hurdle. If you do post anonymously, don't be shy, include your name! There are other options for including your name, too, so play with it if you want, but most importantly, keep in touch!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Photo release

Proud parents, Kelly and John would like to announce that the Cedar Valley Arboretum and Botanic Gardens have requested to use a photo of their daughter, Renee, in some of their upcoming marketing material! (photo to be uploaded soon!) We just got a letter in the mail today asking for our permission and if we also plan to do another community garden in 2009. Absolutely! For those of you who haven't been there yet, it's just fantastic! Please come visit us sometime between June and September and we will happily take you for a tour! They have an outstanding children's garden, a few ponds with goldfish you can watch, rose garden, hosta garden and more. We volunteered this year with the community garden, an area where they set aside 10ft x 10ft plots for members of the community to design a garden and grow it any way they wish. Oh, it's fantastic! They have the best soil I've ever dug my hands into! Any pictures of Renee in the slideshow with bright flowers were probably taken at the Arboretum. This summer Renee and I went pretty much every week to check on our "baby flowers", play in the dino-dig sand box, and participate in activities like story time and snake feeding. Our favorite thing to do was bring lunch with us and sit at the tables in the shade enjoying the beautiful, quiet scenery.

Have some fun and eat it, too!

Today the kids from the Stay At Home Mom's group all got together for a little holiday party. You must see Renee's candy creation: a yummy gingerbread house! I honestly have no idea how much candy she ate this morning.. :) But she had such a wonderful time picking out her favorite candies, spreading the frosting and deciding on the decorating details- I'm glad I remembered to bring the camera!

Baby it's cold outside

So you can imagine our surprise at the drop in temperature this past Sunday. It started off in the low 40's, snow and ice melting away- grass peeping through, roads all clear. Then Sunday night it dropped a total of 50 degrees- to below 0! This morning at 9am the temperature was actually 0. And this picture is proof. Keep in mind that is a south facing window in the sun, so factoring in windchill and shade makes it feel even colder! Walking the dog now is a real test of our nerves. I highly recommend a little hot tottie to accompany one on these cold outings. Thank you to my dear friend and fellow dog walker for that great idea! Our beverage of choice is a little rum with eggnog. Ahh, now that feels better, doesn't it?

Paw park in the snow

Greetings friends. Welcome to a day at the Paw Park in Cedar Falls, Iowa. This is pretty much Apollo's favorite place, especially if some of his favorite doggie friends happen to be there, too! This picture was taken this past Sunday morning, and it was actually very warm, about 42 degrees that morning. All the melting snow and ice were making a slushy puddle mess, which Renee had fun slashing her boots in. If you look carefully you can see her getting some doggie kisses!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Nnenna Freelon

Just wanted to share a vocalist I'm enraptured with, Nnenna Freelon. Found her by listening to a Rhapsody Christmas radio station, and had to find out more. The album I heard was A Concord Jazz Christmas Vol. 2, track #14 is "Spiritual Medley". I just added her most recent album Better Than Anything to our current listening list on the sidebar of the blog. Listen!

Tree ornament

A little chuckle for everyone I hope, when you read this story. Last night Renee was getting ready for bed, taking off her shoes, getting in to pajamas, going potty one more time, and preparing to brush her teeth. The only problem was that her toothbrush was missing. She had been playing with it earlier on the table, but of course it wasn't there now. It wasn't in the bathroom where it belonged, and Renee couldn't remember where she left it. After a few minutes of searching I gave up and decided we'd just get her a new toothbrush tomorrow, and she went to bed. Then as I'm standing near the computer talking with John later that night, something catches my eye on a bough of our Christmas tree, so I told John, "Hey look at that unique ornament on the tree!" It was the missing toothbrush. Well, well, the dentist might be proud of her decorations!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Snow fort and snow cookies

The long awaited picture of the SNOW FORT! We tried to build up the snow fort, since it was actually in the mid 20's today (that feels relatively warm as long as there's no wind), however the snow is now too dry, or has too much ice in it, so it won't compact to make snow creatures or snow forts. Then Renee made "snow cookies"! We added icy "eggs" and "sugar", and then you can see her stir the batter in the bucket which was our bowl. Renee was inspired to make snow cookies because we've been baking lots of Christmas cookies yesterday and today for John to take to work and me to take to my Stay At Home Mom's meeting. Recipes to follow!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Will play for hugs

Renee was displaying her prowess with the ukulele this evening, and we captured the moment on video. Enjoy!

From Videos

Some funny December days

Today would be a good day to just stay in our pajamas all day, Renee and I are both "lazy bones"! But we did finally drag ourselves outside to take Apollo for a walk. In my attempt to be a responsible dog owner I thought it would be a good idea to put on Apollo's "mittens", so his feet wouldn't get all caked up with snow. Today, though, our snow is very dry, and actually looks like little tiny pebbles, so he probably didn't need them at all. And the really funny part is watching Apollo walk with his footwear- he picks up his feet very high since he's not comfortable wearing them. So we walked to the park and Monster ran around like a crazy dog in the snow, and of course lost two of his doggie mittens. After finally tracking them down we came back home.
Daddy is working today and while I chatted on the phone with him, Renee helped herself to a little snack- of cream cheese. She got a little kid plastic knife out of the drawer all by herself, found the box of cream cheese and climbed up into her chair and was very content to lick the cream cheese off the knife. Of course as a parent I thought it was such a funny idea for a snack, but it totally makes sense from her perspective! My little independent girl, what an interesting way to solve her hunger!

Friday, December 5, 2008

I am slacker

SO it's been almost a week since our last post. To those who crave a little chun-beeks every day, I apologize, and I thank you for reading. Thank you especially to Julia, who finally wrote me an email at least to tell me to post on the blog again! Good call.
Here's what's been happening this week: Monday and Tuesday "post-travel-weekend recovery days" (we had a great Thanksgiving in Lincoln, NE) aka do laundry, go grocery shopping, plan menus for the week. We were hoping to hear from our real estate agent with news about our bank approving the offer we received for our house (long story, but most of you know the details). No word from them, yet. Then Wednesday through tomorrow (Saturday) Kelly and Renee have been babysitting all day for a local family of 4 girls: ages 3, 5, 12 and 13 years old. The older girls pretty much take care of themselves so it's the little girls we spend most of our time with, but they all have activities, preschool, gymnastics, tennis, school projects, etc. It's been a fun week so far for Renee having the other two little girls, Ava and Kendall, to play with! We also have lots of snow, and it's been a little chilly, around 17 degrees during the day and colder at night. Hopefully this weekend I can get pictures of Renee and Daddy's snow fort for you! I have a funny story to share about John's Christmas shopping, but it will wait until after Christmas, since it involves gifts that some of you reading might receive.
Oh, not to be forgotten, I have been researching info for the Wartburg Community Symphony. It's a little orchestra in a small town just north of here called Waverly, IA. I recently joined the Development Committee through a good friend of mine who knew they needed a volunteer, and at my first meeting I took on the task of researching "How to start an Annual Fund" for the orchestra. To do that, I emailed my two favorite trumpet teachers and reached out to the local orchestras in our area for advice. I had a nice meeting on Tuesday this week with the Executive Director of the Waterloo Cedar Falls Symphony Orchestra (she even let me bring Renee!), and I have a phone meeting scheduled later this month with the Executive Director of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. A very huge "Thank you" to my old trumpet teacher Bill Lucas for the hook-up with the DSO! I'm learning a lot, and I hope someday this will help lead me into a career in orchestra management. Mostly it just feels good to be needed. Isn't that all we ever really crave?
P.S. I got a phone call the other day while babysitting. The woman who called was looking for the folks who weren't home, but then she said, "Oh you do babysitting overnight? Gosh it's so hard to get a weekend away sometimes. Do you ever watch kids for people you don't know? Maybe I should get your number?" I laughed and told her I'm just a trumpet teacher, and I bring my 2 1/2 year old daughter with me, and that maybe she should ask for a recommendation after this weekend to see if she really wants to hire me. But it did get me thinking, it might be a good way to earn a little extra cash...? This time anyway! Kelly as "nanny" ...I never would have imagined that in my career profile!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

We made it!

We hit the road home from Lincoln today. It was snowing a bit when we left Lincoln, but nothing bad. We were making great time until we headed east on HWY 20 from I-35, then the snow hit with a nice layer of ice underneath. It didn't take long for the pace to slow to a crawl, and even then we passed probably 20 cars that had gone off the road. That added another hour to our trip, but at least it was only that portion of the trip that we had to deal with the weather. When we got home, John had about 4 inches of snow that had to be shoveled out of the driveway and off the sidewalk, which gave him an opportunity to put the shovel we bought last week to work (he says it works great, but maybe we oughta look into a John Deere snowblower...) Then, he and Renee played outside in the snow and made a snow fort and threw snowballs at Mommy when she came back from swimming!

Friday, November 28, 2008

Cousins playing together

Just want to point you all toward the bottom of the page on the right side: look at the new video we posted of Renee and her cousin Melena. They were playing together tonight, ahh, such silly girls! I can't wait to see the looks on their faces when we show this to them 15 year from now!

From Cousins playing
From Cousins playing


Kelly saw her first Nebraska football game tonight, and she couldn't have picked a better game. The weather was beautiful, the stadium was rockin' with 85,000+ fans, and the Huskers won a thriller over Colorado off an unbelievable 57 yd field goal on a 4th and 25 play with 1:50 left in the game. Then, the defense came out and returned an interception for a touchdown with :58 left to seal the deal, with a final score of 40-31. We stood and shouted the entire 4th quarter, even when it seemed like we were sure to lose the game (seriously, 57 yards?!). The high drama, the mass enthusiasm, the call to arms, the "power of red" as they say in Memorial Stadium, was not to be missed! It was truly thrilling, Kelly cried, yes, caught up in all the excitement that even an artist could appreciate. What a game, what an experience, what an adventure! GO BIG RED! Kelly might never look at football the same way again! :)

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

In the kitchen with Renee

Maybe someday that will be a program on the Food Network! Well, as we waited this morning for our furnace to get repaired (and knowing that cooking with the oven would help warm our chilly house) we decided to make pumpkin muffins. I found a good recipe for pumpkin muffins on the Epicurious website. But we made a few changes of course. Renee even had a suggestion, she wanted to put marshmallows in the muffins! So after my initial concern about catching the oven on fire by burning marshmallows, I decided what the heck- it sounds good! Here's *our* version:

Pumpkin Muffins

2 Cups flour
2 Tbsp baking powder (yes tablespoons)
1 Tbsp baking soda
6? Tbsp ground cinnamon (for all spices I just shake a lot until I think it's enough)
2 tsp ground ginger
1 1/2 tsp ground allspice
1 1/2 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp salt
1 stick of butter, melted and cooled
3/4 Cup packed light brown sugar
1/8 Cup honey
3/4 Cup pumpkin (I used the pumpkin from the farmer's market I had already cooked and run through the food processor- but you can use canned pumpkin)
1/2 cup (mostly milk with about 1 1/2 Tbsp of apple cider vinegar to make 1/2 cup- well stirred) *note that original recipe calls for "1 /4 Cup buttermilk", and buttermilk would probably be a little better, but I didn't have any on hand, and I wanted to make the batter more moist so I used 1/2 Cup.
2 large eggs
3 Tbsp vanilla extract (a large splash)
1/2 Cup? mini marshmallows

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Line muffin tins with paper cups to make 12 regular size muffins.

2. Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, spices and salt in large bowl.

3. In a separate bowl whisk together butter, brown sugar, honey, pumpkin, eggs and vanilla. Add to dry ingredients and stir until just combined. Then add marshmallows.

4. Divide batter among 12 muffin cups (try to keep marshmallows below the surface). Bake until a toothpick comes out clean, about 20 minutes. Cool on rack.

Notes: My observation was that the marshmallows near the surface did pop through, and brown, but nothing burned or caught on fire! However the marshmallows that melt over the edge onto the muffin tin will become very hard as they cool and be difficult to clean. There is no evidence of marshmallows inside the muffins.. they seem to melt away. The muffins taste great (if you like a lot of spices like I do!) Maybe the marshmallows help the muffin puff up as it bakes, because there are just a few small pockets of air inside the cooked muffins, and the muffins are not too dense. The muffins cups were very full prior to putting them in the oven, and they look and taste great after they are all done! Watch out because the hot marshmallows on the top can burn your fingers. Overall- a very easy, very yummy recipe!

Also cooking with marshmallows reminded Renee of a book we got from the library about a month ago called: The Adventures of Max and Pinky: Best Buds. Pinky is a little pig who *loves* marshmallows!

Is my dog bad? I'm not sorry.

This is a question we throw out at our house all the time, with the standard answer of "yes, he's a very bad dog". But today it's more of a real question, not just a statement. We woke up this morning to a very cold house. Sometime last night the furnace decided to quit working. The beauty of living in a rental is that all I have to do is call the landlord. So I called our landlady at 9am. At 10am the repair person was already pulling into our driveway in his big orange and white van. Wow that's what I call service! But as Apollo gave his usual greeting (pulling on his leash and growling/barking) the man steps back and says "I don't want to get bit by a dog today!" I quickly assure him that my dog is actually nice, just a good guard dog. But later as the man goes back out of our house to get some tools from his truck, Apollo jumps off the couch and goes up to the man, barking, and pinning him in front of the TV. The man is obviously frightened and says "Get your dog away from me!". I do get up and take Apollo by the collar, but also ask the man if it's OK for Apollo to just smell his hand, since that will usually get him to relax if he can get to know the visitor in our house. The man reluctantly lets Apollo sniff him for just a moment and then squeezes past us and out the door. He stayed out at his van for a long time... Maybe 10 minutes? I was going to try and make Apollo sit on the couch again while the man went in and out of our house- thinking that it would be a good exercise for Apollo to get used to our visitor. But then I realized that our guest probably didn't really want to be used as such a "guinea pig". It's fine for me to try to get my dog to calm down. But what if the repair man left and decided not to fix our furnace because of my bad dog? Was it fair for me to use him to help train Apollo? As much as I wanted to continue training, I decided to lock Apollo up in the bedroom for the rest of the time it took for the repair person to fix the furnace- which he did in just an hour. As the man left, I told him thank you very much for fixing our furnace so quickly and especially on such short notice. But I did not apologize for my dog scaring him. Maybe I should have... what do you think? I just decided to dwell on the positive, instead of reminding him about the negative. I still feel a little guilty about the way I handled the situation, but I'm not really sorry. I probably should have been more careful not to let Apollo growl or bark at all, and I should have made sure that I was always holding onto his collar when the man walked by. But it doesn't stop me from wishing there were more people who weren't afraid of dogs. Obviously, and more importantly, I'm glad that my own child can learn to understand and react appropriately to dog behavior.

Monday, November 24, 2008

There's a mouse in our house

So last night John says to me, "I think there's a mouse in our house". Huh? Well, we've been on a blueberry muffin kick all weekend, and the latest batch (or what was left of it) was in a large plastic baggie on the counter. Now I figured he was talking about "Mommy mouse" since I had one right before bedtime. But John said although he'd had one, too, he still thought there was one missing. I didn't think anything of it, and I just assumed I was still the culprit of the odd count on the muffins. Low and behold I woke up this morning to check on Renee. My sweet little girl was still fast asleep at 8am (she stayed up way too late last night trying every trick in the book to avoid bedtime). And didn't I just laugh-out-loud when I found an empty muffin wrapper lying on her pillow. Renee was asleep next to her pillow, and I could feel the crumbs all over her jammies! Dearest Daddy was right after all! She must have snuck into the kitchen last night! I asked Renee about it today, saying "Hey there are lots of crumbs in your bed! Was there a muffin in here?" Renee beamed. Then she said, "Yes I did! Mommy was in the bathroom, and I got a muffin all by myself!" So, Mouse Mystery- solved! I have to admit, I'm almost proud of her! Is this some new developmental milestone I missed reading about? Well there it is. The next time a muffin goes missing, follow the trail of crumbs!

New feature!

Check out the "What we're listening to" section in the right column. These are the albums that are currently in our Rhapsody queue. You can click on the link to hear one of the songs from the album. Feel free to recommend anything you're currently listening to in the comments, and check back later to see if your recommendation makes it onto our list!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Lots of new pictures

We just added about 80 pictures from the last few years. Check them out by clicking on the slideshow to the right!

Winter is here

We woke up today to a pretty dusting of snow and some cold weather. Of course that meant we had to go out and play in it, so John and Renee bundled up and took Monster over to the park to romp. Renee was very excited to wear her new pink snow pants, and was very interested in the bird prints that were left on our front step.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Guess who was on NPR today?

We love KUNI, and NPR in general! And since John was so excited when I told him, I thought I'd share with all of you that I was on the air today 11/21/08! I called in to ask a question on a local program here called Talk@12. Today they were having a question and answer session with a horticulture gang from our local area. I asked about how best to take care of my pots of raspberries over the winter. Listen here as soon as today's show gets archived. I came on toward the end of the show, in the last 15 minutes. The basic answer is that I can probably keep them in their pots in the garage -if it stays at a stable temperature, between 20-30 degrees F. The plants should stay dormant and won't need any light, just have to make sure the soil does not completely dry out. I can't leave the plants in their pots outside above ground because the soil in the pots will just get way too cold and kill the plants. So there it was, my 15 seconds of fame!

Breakfast- easiest muffins ever

Chalk this up to the "wish you were here" category... This morning Renee wanted blueberry muffins for breakfast, so I pulled out my easiest recipe which we originally found in the May 2007 issue of Parents magazine (you can find this recipe and others online, too). I love this recipe because I always have these simple ingredients available and it's easy enough for Renee to help, too! I altered this recipe slightly, but this is how I make it. We also use fresh raspberries during the summer when our raspberry plants are full and ripe!

1 3/4 Cup Bisquick
1/2 Cup dry oatmeal
1/2 Cup sugar
3/4 Cup milk
1 large egg
2 TBS. vegetable oil
1 (generous) Cup blueberries (frozen or fresh)

STEP 1: Heat oven to 375F. Line 12 regular size muffin cups with baking liners.
STEP 2: In large bowl combine all ingredients except blueberries.
STEP 3: Add blueberries and stir. Using an ice cream scoop, place batter in muffin cups.
STEP 4: Bake in oven for 17 minutes (or longer if using frozen berries) or until tops are lightly browned and toothpick inserted in center of muffin comes out clean (unless you hit a blueberry!)