Deep in the piney woods

East Texas is where I grew up. My parents and relatives still live here, hence the reason for our long trek south this winter break. Kailas was reunited with Charlotte his twin cousin (they were born on the exact same day).

We pitched the tent indoors so the kids would have somewhere to sleep. For the past week Granny’s apartment runneth over with grand kids (and sometimes her toes were runneth over, too).

Over-stuffing was the theme this past week. Stockings really should’ve been more like hosiery to hold all of their loot; and believe it or not we managed to devour all of this delicious food my mom made. Plus some.

The kids played non-stop for days and when we made the trip to visit Pawpaw, they got to really let loose – outdoors.

We’d brought all of our camping supplies with the plan of making the most of a mild December in East Texas. The weather turned out even better than I’d hoped for…but more importantly, the kids could take those things outside!

This is the house where I grew up. The kids had a tire swing and a pile of dirt to play on. Pawpaw attached a wagon behind his lawn mower and pulled the grand kids around – yep, just the same as when my sister and I were little.

I don’t know who had more fun – him or the kids.

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Chicago in December

A trip of about 1,300 miles lays before us. We took this opportunity to visit The Windy City again, although at this time of year it could mean Death by Wind if you’re not prepared.

We tried a new hotel this time. The Hotel Monaco was offering a special and so we took it – and what a great deal we got! Sagan claimed her bed right away.

The location downtown was convenient, the colors inside were enchanting – and we had a goldfish to keep us company (notice the tank on the desk).

Giant window seats were fitted with a pad and pillows, making it comfortable enough to sleep on (if you don’t mind a wall of glass being the only thing between you and a 9 story drop).

The wild, kid sized animal-print robes were also a big hit.

With the kids anyway. Mark wouldn’t model his zebra robe.

But we couldn’t get too comfortable; there was the Nutcracker (an uncomfortable word if ever there was one) to see! I’d reserved tickets to see The Joffrey Ballet’s rendition at the Auditorium Theatre.

Kailas was especially excited to see it, but guess what he did.

About five minutes into the second half of the performance, he fell asleep. In my lap.

That’s okay. We had already had a full day and what he did see, he enjoyed. After a restful stay at the Monaco, the next day we took on magnificent mile after mile of The Museum of Science and Industry.

Chicago was already a site to see decked out in millions of colorful lights and elaborate window displays, but the Museum was simply over the top with their holiday trappings. The kids spent the morning at a special exhibit, “Dr. Seuss and the Art of Invention.” Sagan volunteered to help with a demonstration at one point:

There was so much to see, we will have to make another trip here next year. Real trains, model trains and the entire downtown of Chicago replicated in miniature (notice the red head at the end of the avenue):

Of course it was great to go on christmas eve; no crowds.

Here’s a quote from Carl Sagan on display. Oh yeah I love this museum.

I think this is Kailas’ favorite museum now (check out his stylin’ bug tie).

It certainly ranks high for me, too, although The Field is hard to beat.

Brrrrrrrr…Bravo, Chicago! You’re sure cold in December but with so many first-rate museums, what’s it matter?

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Our family traditions

The winter break is nigh and most people around us are celebrating the traditional American way; shopping, decorating, getting together with family and probably eating too much.

We are also planning on doing all of the above. Traditions are fun – when you have a choice in the matter. Here in the twenty first century we can understand the difference between sentimental and superstition, and take part in the stuff that makes sense to us.

We don’t celebrate Christmas. The 25th was proclaimed as the birthday of Christ in the 4th century by the emperor Constantine (after his conversion, of course) and thankfully as non-christians we aren’t under his subjugation today. Through the centuries, christmas has won out as the dominant holiday in most countries conquered by Europe, assimilating many of the other native religious traditions and also laying claim to any secular merrymaking taking place during the season.

Virgin births aside, another preoccupation at this time of year here in the U.S. is the acquisition of consumer goods – “Black Friday” is now a tradition for some people! Everyone either frets or brags about the status of their holiday shopping. Early on when the kids were much younger I got caught up in it and piled gifts under the tree. A few years (and many cheap, broken plastic toys) later, we’ve modified this holiday tradition. Instead, everyone gets their stockings filled by Santa, and that’s it. I prefer to give my kids real experiences rather than xboxes. And of course the greatest gift; my undivided attention.

So Santa visits us (although the kids have always known he is just a fictional character from folklore) on the longest, darkest night of the year: Winter Solstice. The date for this event is not set by some long ago ruler, it is a natural phenomenon and the date that it occurs varies. This year we will observe it on the 22nd since the kids get out of school that day. We turn out all the lights (except for the ones on our tree) and light candles. The sun will disappear by 4:00 pm. leaving us sitting in the dark for a long while before bed time! It won’t be an all out celebration and Santa’s visit has been postponed because the next day we will start our pilgrimage down to Texas to be with family.

Since we’ll be traveling this winter break, we didn’t go out to the tree farm and cut a tree.

Instead, I made one. Out of books! It is still made of trees, see. Just more refined.

I may have to do this every year – it was a lot of fun to rediscover many of these books (and made the task of building this thing take ten times as long)!

We normally do the traditional tradition for the tree; our family drives out into the snowy landscape armed with hack saw and hot cocoa. In June during the Summer Solstice we plant trees (to make up for this loss of flora).

As for the holiday food, well, that’ll need its own post. Health and happiness to all from the McCain family.

Posted in Exploring the USA, Making a home, Wisconsin | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

Cold Comfort

Winter is upon us in Wisconsin and so far it has been fairly mild. It hasn’t even dipped below the zero mark yet and the ice on the lakes is still dangerously thin. Here’s a live weather cam for our town.

But we have plenty of snow and it is cold, at least to this native Texan. The kids walk to school and at recess they play outside, so proper clothing is essential if you want to keep all of your digits. Remember the scene in the movie Christmas Story when the kids are being bundled up for school? Here it is:

Our routine isn’t quite that bad! The kids know how to dress themselves warmly but just as important, they’ve learned not to misplace their mittens and hats and to hang them so they will dry out. We’ve had to install an entire “Wall of Winter Weather Gear” for this purpose.

Must-have Wisconsin winter clothing:

1. Parka
2. Snow pants
3. Snow boots
4. Scarf
5. Mittens
6. Hat

It also helps to have thick socks that come up at least to mid-calf, and I always like to have tissue (my nose starts to drip with condensation) and chap stick. When it’s less than 15 degrees out even with all of this, I have to move around a lot or I start to get chilled. Here are my little snow monkeys enjoying one of the first snowfalls.

Notice they’re not wearing snow pants or boots in that photo; the snow wasn’t deep yet. Since then we’ve gotten more (it is snowing now as I type this).


To get the house toasty and also heat our water, we use a wood-fired boiler. It could be mistaken for a port-o-potty (or an ice shanty) but this little green gem burns wood so efficiently there is very little smoke produced. Our next step up to better renewable energy usage will be a Garn. Mark goes out first thing in the morning to stoke the fire (and pee the dog).

As you see, Harriet has her winter coat on, too.

You can’t build a snow man or even have a snow ball fight when it is really cold out because there is no moisture and it doesn’t pack together (and I don’t care how many layers I’m wearing or how much I jump up and down when it’s below zero outside – I start to freeze!). The weather so far has been in the low thirties/high twenties – perfect winter weather, I’d say.

So we built a snow man.

What? Not impressed? Fine. We also built…

an igloo!

Fancy, eh? Yes, Kailas has taken his snow boots off- he neglected to put the elastic from his snow pants on the outside of the boots and so snow had gotten in. The winter solstice is drawing near so we ran out of daylight just after 4 pm. But it was relatively warm, the snow was perfect- and we had so much fun!

Inside was quite cozy. Given how long a Wisconsin winter lasts, I expect this igloo to stick around until April. Not so sure about us…

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Sorry, Mr. Turkey

I’ve had a nasty case of strep throat this past week and wasn’t sure what shape I’d be in to make the mountainous meal that was expected by my kids on Turkey Day. Yep, after all the promotion this past week at school (Kailas even crafted a turkey from a mitten!) they both expected nothing less than their very own dead bird to eat.

Mark doesn’t eat meat and I’ve never liked turkey much, but the kids were so excited about taking part in this American tradition we caved to their request. This was last minute but we had to find a “healthy” bird. The only creature at our table that would be stuffed full of antibiotics would be me. We ended up finding an organic, free-range turkey from Golden Harvest. They also have made-from-scratch (with butter, yum!) pies there, so I picked up a raspberry rhubarb. It was a feast catered toward the kid’s tastes, so I didn’t make the traditional casseroles – the only “mushy” thing was mashed potatoes.

Along with our turkey I made brocolli, green beans (from our garden) and corn – all at the same time with my new acquisition from Craigs List:

Isn’t this a neat steamer? The seller had brought it over from Saudi Arabia and didn’t want to lug it back with him. I lurrrv it. The turkey turned out pretty good; I marinaded it in a honey vinegar mix. The kids liked it, anyway.

Afterwards we watched the film “Desperate Crossing: The Untold Story of the Mayflower.” Besides the idea that eating turkey will cause drowsiness, there were many other Thanksgiving myths the kids and I explored this weekend.

All of our snow has melted here and it is oddly warm. We walked to the park to see the Lighting of the Tree, which was graciously done by the volunteer fire department.

Okay, not very evenly done, but hey – they tried.

Besides the lighting of this 75 foot tall spruce, there were free cookies, hot cocoa and of course, Santa. My kids have never wanted to sit in Santa’s lap and this day was no exception. We did have the cookies and hot cocoa, though.

And then we went over to the theater where the Center for the Arts sponsored a gingerbread house craft.

We’ve got lots of turkey left. I think I like Kailas’ better than the one in the fridge!

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I Say It’s My Birthday

Friday morning I woke up and exclaimed “We’re going to the Mall of America!”

Mark was expecting a proclamation like this from me – it was my birthday and that’s how it works on my birthday. Although the MOA isn’t exactly my dream-come-true birthday destination, it certainly is the center of the universe for two children I know.

Make that three. My little niece Charlotte loves the place, too. Four hours before take off we secured seats for her and her mommy on a plane from Houston to Minneapolis. As for our preparations, we dropped Harriet off at the kennel, threw some luggage together, picked up the kids from school and took off. I love spontaneity. Sometimes.

We headed for the epicenter of U.S. consumerism; a ground zero that never stops shaking -the money from your pockets. You know my feelings about malls and shopping, but this place is different; for me it is like visiting a Museum of Western Culture in the Early 21st Century. I try and imagine what someone with a different perspective would think of it, such as a person from the Victorian era or from modern day Nigeria.

Of course, the reason we went to the MOA is to enjoy it through a child’s perspective.
Hey lookie there’s Spongebob!

The MOA has a theme park in the center of it and a Sealife Aquarium on the lower level. And as if that’s not enough stimulation, we reserved a room at the Radisson Bloomington which is connected to the Water Park of America.

We’ve been to this water park in the middle of a frigid Minnesota winter when the temperature difference between the park and the tundra outside was at least 90 degrees. At twenty below they think about closing the tube slides that go outside of the building for fear of ice forming.

Thankfully the only ice in sight this weekend was the popsicles.

Our little monkeys had tremendous fun playing at the water park, but most of all they were happy to see their cousin. It was one surprise after another for them.

After we’d gorged ourselves at the Tandoor Restaurant’s all-you-can-stand-to-eat buffet, we headed to the MOA. The Legoland has been recently remodeled and what greeted us this year was a three story tall, blue transformer (made out of Legos, of course). Kailas and I took the escalator up so we could get a closer look, but my photo is from the third floor (I think).

The rest of the day was spent on rides – we hardly ventured into the mall area.

The kids (and grownups) were tuckered out at the end of this day.

The next day we did more of the same; water park in the morning and then back to the mall for one last ride on the coasters. The kids also participated in a cupcake making session that was offered by the Upper Midwest Bakery Association. This mall seems to have something unique going on every day.

Of course I had my ceremonial crepe at the Magic Pan – something I always must do although I think by now my crepes are much better than theirs.

Six years ago little Charlotte, my sister and our mom made a trip up to visit. We took them to the MOA (no roller coasters for Charlotte back then).

My how time flies.


Weird side note: This Radisson Hotel did not have the room number 666. What century are we living in, again?

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A Week in the Bathroom

With all of the festivals behind us and the fall catalog done for the business, I can now relax and spend a week crawling around on the floor in Sagan’s bathroom. No, I haven’t been sick – but it has certainly been therapeutic to finally finish many of the nagging projects left to do in there. Well, almost finish.

Interior decorating is monstrous fun when you don’t have to worry about resale value. With this bathroom (as well as everything else here) I’ve veered off the safe and comfortable Beige Road. Heck, I’ve never even set foot on it.

The journey has been at times a bit scary, and I’ll admit being lost once or twice.

My inspiration for colors and theme for Sagan’s bathroom came from the wallpaper I used in her bedroom. In fact, I couldn’t help myself and papered one of her bathroom walls with it:

Yep, I’ve completely left the safe road and ignored all professional advice. (and you wondered where Sagan gets it from).

Okay fine you knew where she gets it from. No one can go wrong with an early 1900’s bathroom design with classic white subway tile and an authentic cast iron clawfoot tub – but now it’s time to add panache. I started by doing my own “plumming” of the tub;

It is Sagan’s bathroom, so she was a consultant to some degree with this project although I drew the line when she suggested pink fur on the walls. She also thought my color palette was too limited.

This week, she helped me put in the tiny mosaic tiles that went around the perimeter of the room. The color mixture consisted of lavendar, soft pink, pearlescent grey, light aqua and antique cream. It still needs to be grouted.

Also used (Sagan loves these) are tiny squares of mirror. Certainly not something you would see in a classic early 1900’s bathroom.

A girl’s gotta have her bling.

The walls are also painted an aqua color that I pulled from the wallpaper. The first try at this color looked sickly (this I decided after painting the entire bathroom). Another Home Depot trip and second coat of paint later I’m fairly content with the result, as long as we use the right type of lightbulbs. Wow does that make a difference.

This antique, tiger oak dresser will be used for the vessel sink.

Mark matched up the plumbing and drilled the holes in the piece. I’ve got everything tiled behind it except for the mosaic that will go around the faucet. We also need to order a slab of pink granite or perhaps marble to go on top – and then she can have a sink in her bathroom. Finally!

That’s what I’m working on now using the same glass mosaic tiles. This is more good practice for when I tackle the big mosaic mural that still seems to intimidate me.

Speaking of mirrors, I’m waiting for the right opportunity to obtain some glamourous, venetian mirror to go over this sink. They don’t pop up on Craig’s List too often, unfortunately.

There is already a mirror in this room; just a little shy, unobtrusive thing complete with mirrored leaves and birds and metal and stuff. Nothing too fancy, see.

The defining theme (if you can call it that) leans toward “Hollywood Glam” infected with a big dose of bohemian style.

The more we move forward with this room and finish things up, the more fun it gets to take a bath in the purple tub.

Wouldn’t you say so, Harriet?

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