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Friday, January 30, 2009

Happy Birthday Ellie!


We hope you have a very happy 4th birthday today!

Your cousins
Thomas and Brennan

Thursday, January 29, 2009

What I've Learned about Sledding

The boys are on their 3rd Snow Day of the week! I took them sledding near Brennan's school this morning before they went to spend the afternoon with friends.

Brennan loves to sled!

Video of Thomas heading down a small hill. And then my camera batteries died so that's all I got!

All the snow pictures I've sent look dark because I've been working during daylight hours this week or it's overcast. I'd love to take some pretty sunny snow pictures one day.

Our backyard off the master bedroom deck.

What I learned:
1. I do not have the right sledding clothes - especially snow pants or boots.
2. My boys are fearless.
3. Foam sleds are better than plastic sleds on these hills.
4. I really don't enjoy cold weather after about 30 minutes.

Hope you're enjoying warmer temperatures than we are!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Snow Days!

Yesterday morning when we woke up

Poor little holly bush off our front porch

Much like the magic of Christmas, snow is for kids! We heart sledding!

As I was leaving for work this morning - lots and lots more snow

Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Whiskey Sour

Another 5 Swizzle Stick score! I tried the Whiskey Sour today and it was a hit.

It turns out that the Sour family is quite large. A Sidecar and a Margarita are both examples - most drinks that have a base liquor and then lime or lemon and sweetener. Other popular versions are a Gin Sour, Amaretto Sour (yum) and a Pisco (Brandy) Sour. This variation of cocktail was first cited in the late 1800s, but became very popular in the U.S. in the 1940s.

In the article that David found in The Atlantic, two sources were cited and they were two I use regularly in my attempts at research. That was cool to see!

David enjoyed The Whiskey Sour. His only suggestion was to keep the ice cubes a little less crushed - more cube-y. OK.

To make simple syrup - boil 1/2 cup water and then remove from heat. Add 1 cup sugar and mix until well dissolved. Refrigerate the leftovers. My recipe called for 2 brandied cherries. I soaked these in brandy for a few hours.

David's Swizzle Stick Rating:
The Whiskey Sour - 5 Swizzle Sticks

The Whiskey Sour - 2 oz. Bourbon, juice of 1/2 lemon, 2 brandied Maraschino cherries, and 1 tsp. simple syrup. In a blender add all ingredients. Blend until cherries are well chopped. Serve in an Old Fashioned cocktail glass with two Maraschino cherries.

If it weren't for the still present Bourbon flavor, I would have enjoyed this. It was definitely more palatable than the other Bourbon drinks I've made so far. I will stick to the Amaretto version for now though!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Piano Recital January 2009

Thomas and Brennan performed at their piano recital today. They both did so well!

Drs. Stephen and Sophie Reen performed before the recital began. Stephen is the boys' piano teacher.

This was Brennan's first recital! The keys on a grand are weighted a little differently and it threw him off a bit, but we were so proud of him and he was really proud of himself (notice the missing bow). He played "I Hear the Mill Wheel" in D Minor. Click here to view the videos if you are looking at this in email.

This was Thomas's 3rd recital - an old pro. He played "Musette" by Bach in D Major.

Celebratory lunch at Johnny Carino's.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Classic Cocktail Bars - an article

I am recovering from a strange flu - fever, chills, and aches, but no other symptoms. And it's taking FOREVER to run its course. During this time, I haven't thought much about the next drink. Only water sounds good.

But David found a neat article in The Atlantic about clubs specializing in classic cocktails. I'm in good company!


Monday, January 19, 2009

Happy Birthday Brennan!

Brennan turned 7 yesterday. How is that possible? This is his cake that he designed himself. The day started with a trip to Bob Evans for brunch with his free Kids Meal birthday postcard. He proudly handed it to the waitress and ordered a huge platter of food - which he ate entirely. He had his party this year at the KidsCommons (local Children's Museum). It was great to give the kids a chance to run around and play for a couple of hours. It's been so cold here - school was out on Friday and they have another day off today. The KidsCommons has a giant toilet bowl that is part of their climbing home area. When you go down it there is a big flush sound. A huge hit!

We always have a piñata at the boys' birthday parties since their earliest parties were in Mexico. This is just part of the celebration to them. Brennan picked out a guitar piñata this year. Of course, Mommy didn't check with the KidsCommons and they don't allow anything to be hung from the ceiling near the sprinkler system. So... David asked the kids if they knew who Pete Townsend was, and we proceeded to open the piñata another way.
I'll never forget this. It was hilarious. (If you are seeing this in email - you can't click on the video. Go to the website instead.)

More KidsCommons photos.Raven at the piano.
Haley and Brennan

Camping and nature area

Art area

Rock climbing wall

Building area

David and Ginger at the gears

Brennan and Sara

Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Old Fashioned and The Cosmopolitan

This weekend I decided to take on The Old Fashioned. Then we invited friends over and I decided to try The Cosmopolitan as well for the ladies. I've learned that the classic cocktails are just too strong for me.

The Old Fashioned is said to have been invented at a gentleman's club in Louisville, Kentucky in the 1880's. A local bourbon distiller, Colonel James Pepper, loved it and took it to the bar at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in Manhattan where it became very popular. Some believe the drink was invented prior, but most of my sources agree with the Louisville history.

David's Swizzle Stick Rating:
The Old Fashioned - 3 Swizzle Sticks

The Old Fashioned - 1 sugar cube, 2 dashes bitters, 2 dashes club soda, 2 oz. bourbon, lemon wedge and maraschino cherry for garnish. Place the sugar cube in the bottom of an Old Fashioned cocktail glass. Add bitters and club soda to the sugar. Muddle the sugar and liquid until dissolved. Fill the glass with ice cubes and add the bourbon. Mix with a swizzle stick. Put a toothpick through a lemon wedge and a maraschino cherry for garnish.

David thought the sugar and perhaps the club soda made the drink too sweet. He preferred the Biscayne Manhattan made with bourbon to the Old Fashioned. And he really didn't like the next drink!

The Cosmopolitan become popular in the U.S. in the 1970's. Several of my sources cite South Beach, Florida bartender Cheryl Cook with the creation of the drink in the early 1980's. "What overwhelmed me was the number of people who ordered Martinis just to be seen with a Martini glass in their hand. It was on this realization that gave me the idea to create a drink that everyone could palate and was visually stunning in that classic glass. This is what the Cosmo was based on."

David's Swizzle Stick Rating:
2 Swizzle Sticks

The Cosmopolitan - 3 oz. Vodka, 1.5 oz. Cointreau, juice of 1/2 lime, 1.5 oz. cranberry juice, lemon slice to garnish. Fill a shaker with crushed ice. Add the Vodka, Cointreau, and lime juice. Shake and strain into a Martini cocktail glass. Add the cranberry juice and serve with a slice of lemon.

David did not like the cranberry in this drink. Some of the Cosmo recipes I found called for just a splash of cranberry juice and some called for the amount that I used - the same as the Cointreau. The cranberry did give this drink a tart and not necessarily sweet flavor.

Leslee, Candy, and I enjoyed The Cosmopolitan, as well as the Mojito that we made afterward.

And Mike really liked the Sidecar. But an unpopular couple of drinks for David this weekend.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

We Recycle

The greatest thing happened in November when a local Boy Scout dropped off our chocolate caramel crunch popcorn that David had ordered. He also gave us a letter about a recycling pick up service he was starting. The stars had aligned!

We recycle everything. And I mean everything. Just ask David. He'll tell you about the many times that I have looked confused as he went to put a slip of paper or yogurt cup in the garbage. Or our 6 year old asking in a heartbreaking voice while we were on vacation in Washington D.C. "Why don't D.C. people recycle?" as a tourist put her water bottle in the garbage can. I was just happy to see someone holding it long enough to find a garbage can and not just leaving it on a park bench.

But recycling hasn't always been our way. I wanted to a few years ago but we live just outside the city limits and we don't have recycling pick up. I also was confused about what COULD be recycled and what couldn't. I'd heard horror stories of showing up at the recycling center and getting a lecture about mixing in non-recyclables with the recyclables. On top of the confusion, a few years ago we had enough on our plates with new positions at work, being back in the States, Brennan struggling in pre-school. Recyling was just another "to do" in my wish list.

Then I took a leave of absence and a world of unscheduled time landed in my lap. Immediately we started recycling. And it became addictive. I've kept empty water bottles in my purse to recycle when I get home if I'm out and can't find a recycling bin. Of course, it was easy for the boys - they learn all about recycling at school and it just seems obvious to them.

We recycle everything. Paper (every scrap) goes to the school paper recycle bin to raise money for field trips and playground equipment and supplies. Metal, glass, and plastic goes in one large bin in the garage and we cart that to a recycling bin in the back of the Kroger parking lot. Cardboard goes to the recycling center. Coke can pop tops, Box Tops, Campbell's soup labels, empty printer cartridges, old cell phones and computer equipment, and Nestle water bottle labels go to the schools for the monthly inter-classroom competitions they run. Outgrown clothes go to Sans Souci or Goodwill. No-longer-needed furniture goes to friends or the domestic violence shelter. Toys go to the Firemen's Cheer Fund.

And, yes, all of this takes its toll. Now that I am back at work, recycling has become somewhat of a chore again. And now it's not a chore that my mind can see as optional. Ugh. Who needs another chore. I couldn't believe it but I was questioning whether we needed to recycle everything. How could I take something off my to do list?

Enter Daniel. Daniel is an enterprising 13 year old who started a business to collect neighbors' recycling every Thursday. For $5/month. I mean. What could be better? I still get to recycle. The boys see that we think this is important enough to continue doing even though it's a little bit of a hassle. David and I don't have to cart all of our stuff each week to the various locations. I get to support an enterprising young person. Daniel earns some money and learns the responsibility of having a job where people count on him. And $5/month - soooo worth it to me!

So a big thank you to Daniel who came in the nick of time and taught me a lesson about keeping a commitment that I made to myself even when it's no longer convenient. And yes, I may miss the long suffering recycling center man who shakes his head as he comes to my window to remind me that the cardboard oatmeal canister cannot be recycled since it has fused metal labels on it. I'll let him have those discussions with Daniel.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Mojito

Our friends John and Ginger came over tonight to serve as tasters for the next drink on my list - The Mojito. Before we could get to the Mojito, John introduced us to his version of the Manhattan. David gives it 5 Swizzle Sticks.

John's version uses bourbon instead of blended whiskey. He uses the sweet vermouth and bitters, and adds a dash of Grenadine. Served with 3 Maraschino cherries. Definitely a keeper. From my research, it's officially called a Biscayne Manhattan.

Then on to the Mojitos which Ginger and I really liked. Mojitos are from Cuba and AGAIN, the origin is up for debate. One camp traces it to the 16th century and Sir Frances Drake. Another source believes African slaves working in the sugar cane fields in Cuba invented the drink in the 19th century. I had 6 resources and 6 slight variations to the classic drink. The recipe below is very smooth and represents one of the sweeter versions.
David's Swizzle Stick Rating:
The Mojito - 4 Swizzle Sticks

The Mojito - 6 sprigs of fresh mint, 1/2 lime, 2 tsp. sugar, 2 oz. white rum, 2 oz. club soda. Muddle (crush) the mint with the back of a spoon and mix with the sugar in an Old Fashioned cocktail glass. Add the juice of 1/2 a lime. Add rum. Fill more than half way with ice. Add club soda and stir. Garnish with fresh mint.

So far, the Mojito is my favorite and might rival my old standby - Gin & Tonic. David said this version tasted much like Sprite. (As if that's a bad thing!)

Happy Birthday Trevor!

Happy 7th Birthday, Trevor! We had a great time at your birthday party at Chuck E Cheese yesterday!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Report Card Time!

We are very proud of both boys for their outstanding report cards this quarter!

Thomas moved 3 grades up and is now on the Gold Honor Roll - he is extremely proud of himself! He will also get a gold star pin for his Tae Kwan Do uniform for having straight A's. The TKD students have to show Grand Master Ko their report cards each quarter. We're especially thrilled because, as many of you know, this quarter started out a little rocky with 0's on assignments that we did not know about and Thomas turning in papers late for various reasons. Once we figured out what was going on, Thomas worked hard to turn it around! He also did well on 4 major writing assignments.

Brennan also has a fantastic report card. Because he has 11 subjects, he gets a lot of scores! His lowest score for the quarter was a 97. We may have other areas we're working on at school with Brennan, but thankfully academics isn't one of them.

So - congratulations boys! We are very proud of you.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Kitchen Science Experiments

This is my first attempt at uploading videos onto a blog. It's also obvious that I don't take videos on my camera very often. I didn't realize if you turn the camera up and down that the video would then be sideways. I mean, when you take a picture with the camera up and down the picture comes out OK!

Anyway, enjoy these two videos taken at the end of Christmas Break. Thomas and Brennan received two neat science kits from their cousins Danielle and Natalie for Christmas.

Thomas's uses metal, wires, an orange, and zinc sticks to power a clock. Pretty cool!

Brennan's is a Light Bulb that is powered by gears and a mini generator. The boys (and David) love a good kitchen science experiment!

Brennan and his light bulb science kit. Thomas and his orange clock.

The Sidecar

After The Martini and The Manhattan, I knew what I wanted to try next. As I researched the first two, the Sidecar kept coming up as another popular classical drink. I've only recently heard about this drink on The Barefoot Contessa. I thought I'd give it a try.

My taster LOVED it. This is definitely one to try again soon.

The Sidecar was invented during WWI either in London or Paris - again, unclear origins. The lore is that it was invented by an American Army Captain in Paris. It was supposedly named after "the motorcycle sidecar in which the good captain was driven to and from the little bistro where the drink was born and christened".

The original Sidecar called for equal parts Cognac, Cointreau, and fresh lemon juice. Later versions have gone much drier upping the Cognac to 8x the Cointreau and just a twist of lemon.

I did not know much about Cognac so did a little research. It is the most famous variety of brandy. It's named for the French town where the grapes are produced for this spirit of distilled wine. There are 3 official brandy regions in Europe: Cognac, the French town of Armagnac, and the Spanish town of Jerez where I have been and sipped their famous sherry.

And then a little research on Cointreau. It is a type of triple sec orange flavored liquer. Cointreau sources its oranges from Spain, Brazil, and Haiti.

David's Swizzle Stick Rating:
The Sidecar - 5 Swizzle Sticks

The Sidecar - 1.5 oz. Cognac, 1.5 oz. Cointreau, 1.5 oz. fresh lemon juice. Run a lemon slice around the rim of a chilled Martini cocktail glass. Coat the rim in sugar. Fill a shaker half way with ice and add the 3 ingredients. Shake vigorously. Strain into the chilled glass.

David would reduce the Cointreau and lemon juice and forgo the sugar rim.

This was definitely palatable to me. But cutting the sugar rim and the sweetener? Sounds like messing up a good thing to me!

Monday, January 5, 2009

Who's the coolest of all?

"I'm cooler"
"No, I'm cooler."
"Well, I'm the coolest."

Dear J.T. and Jay - there's more where this came from. No more snarky comments about my blog :0)

A HUGE thank you to Scott H. for scanning this. A very enjoyable blast from the past.

Word of the Year 2009

One of the best parts about this new world of Moms blogging is reading all the blog sites that I have found. There are very talented writers, creative women, and inspiring posts to be read daily. I've only been around this for the last 2 months and it's been so much fun. Most of the other blogs I read have a different focus than this one that I started about our family. If you click on the links to the right under the heading "My Blog List" you'll see what I mean.

One blog that I've especially enjoyed is Tip Junkie. Today Laurie is encouraging readers to participate in the "Word of the Year 2009" discussion. The idea is to think of a word that you want to focus on and help define your actions this year.

"A single word can be a powerful thing. It can be the ripple in the pond that changes everything."

I read a number of the links to get ideas of what others are thinking of for their 2009 Word. More than the words themselves, I like reading the reasons the bloggers have chosen their words. I especially like the idea behind this concept. It's simple and I can see how it can be a great focal point for your year.

After much thinking today, I've decided my word is "Cheerful".

This word means more to me than just being happy. It means making sure my attitude lets those I love know that I enjoy my time with them. It also means focusing on what I can effect - namely my attitude and my words. It means finding the fun in all of the roles I have chosen for myself. Having more patience and looking for the humor in situations more often. Enjoying the experience - whether it's spending time with my family or going to the gym as I aim to get healthy this year. Focusing more on the moment and letting more go. Plus, it's a pleasant word.

If you decide to think of your own Word of the Year, email me. It's fun to hear what others are thinking about for 2009.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

The Martini

The second drink in my 2009 quest to learn to mix drinks properly was a lot of fun to research. Much like the Manhattan, there are many varieties of this popular cocktail. And all the sources I reviewed stated that their version was the only true Martini and all others were just variations of.

My favorite story was about a fighter pilot in WWII who always took a small kit of gin, vermouth, olives and a teaspoon with him on his missions in the South Pacific. When someone asked him about it he said that if he was shot down on an island, all he had to do was begin mixing a martini and someone would come out of the woods exclamining, "Now, that's not the right way to mix a Martini!"

The origins aren't clear for the Martini but many people think it's a variation of the Martinez that was popular in Martinez, CA in the 1870's. But it seems like an entirely different drink to me.

I made two versions of the Martini for David today. He requested a vodka martini but my research tells me that that is actually called a "Kangaroo". All martinis are made of gin according to the purists.

The secret to a Martini is the vermouth - it's what gives it its flavor. Martini lovers are passionate about the ratio of vermouth to gin/vodka. I was first introduced to the Martini when we lived in Mexico. My friend Lorie liked her vodka martinis very dry. "Martini de vodka, muy, muy seco" she would explain to the waiter. I am not sure that they make them "seco" enough in Mexico :)

And the stir vs. shaken question stirs debate as well. Again, those who know say that shaking "bruises" the gin. Traditionalists stir the drink with a lot of ice.

After you've made the gin vs. vodka, vermouth ratio, stir vs. shaken decisions - you have one more - olive, lemon twist, or onion? If you choose an olive, it should be stuffed with a nut or not stuffed at all. Never with pimento. The lemon twist is perfectly acceptable. If you use a pearl onion then it's properly called a "Gibson Martini".

I made a Vodka Martini with a lemon twist and a Gin Martini with an olive stuffed with an almond. While he liked the olive a lot, David did not care for the Gin Martini - the gin was overpowering again. Maybe it's the brand of gin we have on hand?

David's Swizzle Stick Ratings:
Vodka Martini with a twist - 5 swizzle sticks
Gin Martini - 3 swizzle sticks

Vodka Martini - 2 oz. vodka, 1/2 oz. dry vermouth, strip of lemon. Stir with ice cubes in a mixing glass and strain into a chilled Martini cocktail glass. Slide the lemon twist in.

Gin Martini - 2 oz. gin, 1/2 oz. dry vermouth, olive stuffed with almond. Stir with ice cubes in a mixing glass and strain into a chilled Martini cocktail glass. Slide the olive in so as not to bruise the gin.

Again, I sipped them both but will leave them for David. I think I need to find something a little sweeter for my palate. On a final note, there may be something fundamentally amiss in blogging about The Martini on Epiphany Sunday. Thank you for the indulgence :)

Friday, January 2, 2009

Mini Architecture

Grandma and Grandpa Rushing got the boys Mini Architecture kits. Thomas was excited to put his together this week. He has them all arranged and is so proud. He also wanted to know where HIS blog articles were. What a great opportunity to start a Thomas label on the blog.

Thomas says he wants to be a paleontologist. We think he would also make a great pediatrician since he's a natural with younger kids and loooves babies. I also think he'd make a great architect. When we first moved to Columbus he was 4. He started identifying the different architecturally significant buildings in town right away. We'll see, I guess!

Thursday, January 1, 2009

The Manhattan

I have always wanted to learn to mix drinks. Not just the normal gin & tonic that I enjoy once in a blue moon, but those drinks I always hear about but never know what's in them.

I've had David explain the difference between whiskey, scotch, rum, cognac, brandies, etc. before. I think I have that straight finally. This year I've decided to become even more versed in "the bar". Mind you, I won't be drinking all of these. That's why I have a husband.

So when I mentioned this during our New Year's Eve dinner last night, David was all for it. He asked that I start with the Manhattan. Voila.

I consulted 3 sources and found that there are a TON of varieties of Manhattans. The origins are a little iffy. Some think that it was invented in a Manhattan bar in the 1860's. There is also a popular theory that it was first served in 1870 London by Winston Churchill's mother (Jennie Jerome a.k.a. Lady Randolph Churchill) at a dinner party for U.S. politicians. Regardless, it's been popular for more than 130 years.

My first drink of 2009 is actually 2 versions of the same. I made an Old Fashioned Manhattan (also called an Original Manhattan) and a Perfect Manhattan. See recipes below. David favors the Old Fashioned because the ice dilutes the strong blended whiskey flavor which really overpowers the bitters and vermouth.

I've asked David to rate the drinks I attempt with a swizzle stick rating - up to 5 swizzle sticks for extra great flavor.

Old Fashioned (Original) Manhattan - 4 swizzle sticks
Perfect Manhattan - 3 swizzle sticks

It will most likely take him the remainder of the evening to get through these, but he insisted I not dilute the Perfect with crushed ice. (It is still rated 3 swizzle sticks after all!) But, he's now on the roof looking for a leak so better to leave the Manhattans for a little later!

Old Fashioned Manhattan - 1.5 oz blended whiskey, 1.5 oz. sweet vermouth, dash Angostura bitters, Maraschino cherry. Mix with cracked ice in a shaker. Pour into a chilled Old Fashioned cocktail glass. Garnish with a cherry.

Perfect Manhattan - 1.5 oz. blended whiskey, 1/2 oz. sweet vermouth, 1/4 oz. dry vermouth, dash Angostura bitters, lemon peel or Maraschino cherry. Mix with cracked ice in a mixing glass and strain into a chilled Martini cocktail glass. Garnish with lemon peel or cherry.

So there you have it - The Manhattan. And yes, I did sip them but won't be ordering one any time soon :)