Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas in Iowa

Look at what we found! The World's Cutest Nephew! Not biased at all are we?
We arrived at my sister's just after Mom was picked up at the airport. She was still all smiley and not putting Garrett down for a minute.
I didn't have my coat off yet when I took the first picture. He didn't quite know who I was yet.
Later on that afternoon we all got our first Christmas present from Sis and her Hubby.

Garrett came out modeling his new shirt.
He is going to be the big brother in July!
That was a big surprise for everyone and we are all happy for them. 
Everybody got in on the happy pictures. Uncle Billy. 
Uncle Dave

Christmas morning paper ripping adventure began with a really big box!
This is going to be a lot of fun.
Then after all of the other cool toys Garrett got a truck to haul them around in.
He loves crawling inside and dragging all of his toys in there and then dragging them back out.
We think he is pretty happy with the whole thing. 
Uncle Dave even took a ride in the back.
Notice the JD Green he is holding - he prefers the red equipment, until it is time to play!
The rest of us got some really cool stuff too, but it is all about the WCN at this point.
Well, until the sibling shows up, then he will have to share.

Christmas Traveling

We left Thursday morning on our road trip to see the World's Cutest Nephew in Iowa.
Along the way we went through Cincinnati and saw Reds stadium.

There really wasn't much else to see on the first day. We stopped in Urbana, IL for the night because we don't like traveling those really long distances all at once anymore.
The next day after a quick stop at the local Walmart to find an 18T Elmo pajama set we headed out on pretty good roads.
When we got to Peoria the weather started to come apart.
This is one of the signs we saw welcoming us to Iowa.
This was another.

Which direction were we headed? Northeast Iowa of course!
Before we got there though we had to finish driving along I-80, which was getting hit by the same storm that caused trouble further north.
We managed to do avoid trouble, unlike several other people along the way. 
Cars or SUVs it didn't seem to matter. 
This one managed to hit the only big pole in sight.
When the State Troopers find them they have to get out of their warm car, check the one in the ditch, and mark it with colored ribbon so others know that no one was inside. 
It is a cold job, but someone has to do it.
They also closed a few roads. The off ramps were in horrible shape. 
There were a lot of cars stopped, some on purpose...
and some not. Some freshly in the ditch... 
and some looked like they had been there for a while. 
Some from the night before we guessed. 
For every picture of a car in the ditch that I got, there was at least one that I missed. 
We just kept moving and hoping that everyone else would too.
There was one county along another road in NE Iowa that hadn't cleaned anything at all yet.
The snow cover started and stopped abruptly on both East and West sides of the county. And it wasn't a freak of nature. 
Which made for some really long lines of traffic. Most people just stayed relaxed and in line all the way over the horizon after we all condensed.
About the time we were looking for an alternative road we crossed the county line and all was clear again. 
When we arrived at the hotel the truck was covered in ice.
Some of it was in a kind of cool sculpture.
That was our trip to Iowa.
Since then - it has been the same. Cold, Cold, Cold and snow covered.
It is December though, so what can we say?
I like it!
Don't worry - I will get over that soon.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Weekend and Snow Day Projects

The basement project has taken another leap forward this month. If you recall last year we covered the block walls with insulation and drywall and added a wall to separate the exterior door from the main room.
This year FabHub took advantage of his first snow day of the year to get started on the laminate floor in our family room area. Then this weekend and today's snow day finished this part of it. It is wonderful!

Here you can see the lower layers. Concrete, tar paper, foam vapor barrier, and tongue and groove plywood to help level out the concrete.

On top of the plywood is this padded underlayment used to keep the laminate from clattering against the plywood. It also does another vapor barrier and gives the floor a bit of cushion.

Here is Jake becoming "One" with the floor before it is installed. He is not known for appreciating the various laminate floors that have crossed his life's path. That has kept him out of my kitchen and caused some humor at Mom's house where he navigates rug islands to get around. He is cautious, but accepting of this new floor.
There are a few things left on the basement project. Baseboard, tile around the wood stove and out the door, and a few other things. One at a time. More snow days would be helpful!

The other project this weekend was processing the five big piggies. None of them cried Weeee all the way home.
 They all ended up in somebody's jars and freezer. It is nice to know what the meat ate as it grew.
Very productive week. Next up is probably some Christmas pictures. Can't wait to see everybody!

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Cake Balls!

My newest baking adventure recipe comes from and is named Cake Balls.
There are hundreds of reviews of the recipe on the site.
A lot of them talk about how hard it is to make these things, but also how good they are.
Sounds like a challenge to me.
Lots of the reviews tell ways to modify the recipe to make the process easier.
I picked a few ideas that seemed to make sense and went forward.
First step in the plan is to bake a cake.
Just like the box instructions say.
Second step - cool the cake for about a half hour and then break it up.
Third step is to mix in a can of frosting.
Getting creative in this step can be tasty.
I took yellow cake and mixed in strawberries and cream frosting.
I also made a second batch at the same time.
That one is chocolate cake and creamy coconut pecan frosting.
One of the reviewers suggested using a hand mixer to really blend these together.
I didn't do that, but it might be a good idea.
That review also suggested refrigerating the blended mix for a few hours.
I had a Christmas party to go to, so I put it in the fridge overnight.
The fourth step is to roll out the cake balls.
I can see how the refrigeration was a good idea.
The cool mix was easy to lump together and roll just like making meatballs.
When it warmed up it started sticking more and rolling less.
Another suggestion was to freeze the cake balls before the next step.
So I put them in the freezer and then went and helped FabHub feed the cows. 
Very Cold day out there! 
The fifth step is to coat the cake balls with chocolate.
I had a big bar of white chocolate left from when I made the Pizza Cookie so I melted it and dunked the cake balls in it.
Freezing the cake balls was a very good idea. 
The toothpick stuck in the balls until I could shake off some of the excess and they turned out very clean.
If they hadn't been frozen it would have been much harder to coat them and they would have left crumbs in the melted chocolate.
Then I melted some of the chocolate wafers I bought at the store in PA and drizzled them all over the white cake balls.
The result is wonderfully tasty.
Very moist.
Pretty rich too.
Worth every bite.
Only change would be to make them a little bit smaller so there are more to share and having two isn't quite as bad.
That is all for this weeks baking.
See you next time.

Life as a Bird

 When you are a bird in winter you and dinner is offered -
You need to be cautious and look for danger before grabbing a snack. 

Then sometimes you have to work a little bit to get the snack - tippy toes might be required.

Selecting the right piece is also very important.

But in the end...

for all the trouble...

the effort is worth the snack.

Christmas Party 2010 + Snowy with a chance of Cloudy = Normal

Just in case you missed it.
The ManTech Christmas party started just like other years.
Snowy with expectations of more snow.

This was an accident we had to wait for along the way to Glade Springs.

The party was fun. Not too much craziness.

Then in the morning the snowmen were wearing extra hats and coats.
The roads were pretty clear all the way home.

Let's do it again next year!