Thursday, January 28, 2010

Chocolate Coma

On Tuesday I had a great day with my friend Amanda. She and I are trying to make the most of the next couple of weeks - if you remember, I may have mentioned that she has been in town as a travel nurse since August. Her contract is up February 22, so she will be leaving the city then (and I will already be gone cruising by that point). I'm pretty bummed about that, because it's really been nice having a girl friend who's game to do all the crazy New York-y stuff with me. She may come back for the summer, but for now I'll be sad to lose that local friendship. But, before she leaves, we've been trying to take care of some things we have wanted to do while she's here.

So, Tuesday was one of those days. We met up for lunch at Whym, a local restaurant I've been interested in trying. I had a salmon wrap that was so incredibly delicious, and the best raspberry lemonade of my life. Needless to say, I think I'll be going back to that restaurant!

After lunch we made our way across town to FAO Schwartz. Amanda has been wanting to play on the Big Piano, so that was an easy activity to cross off her list. I assume because it was a Tuesday afternoon, the store was actually pretty empty, so we had no trouble getting on the piano and playing around for a bit.

I tried to play some chopsticks, but I'm just not flexible enough.

Also, while we were there, I got to "cross off a couple of items from my list," in a way! I held a koala and petted a penguin. Ha! Get it? (Obviously this doesn't actually count, but I found it funny.)

Holding a koala

Petting a penguin

After FAO Schwartz, we continued our journey east, stopping for a little shopping on the way. Our primary destination of the day was Serendipity, a very famous dessert shop. I had tried to take my mom and Aunt Debbie there during their visit in September, but the over-an-hour wait for a table discouraged us. Serendipity is probably most famous for their Golden Opulence Sundae, which is the world's most expensive ice cream sundae - with a price tag of $1,000! Don't believe me? Oh, believe it, my friends. I even took a picture of a small portion of the "Sweets" part of Serendipity's giant menu (who knew they also have regular food?) that includes the Golden Opulence Sundae:

Yes. Seriously.

Wow. Are you wondering what on earth could make a sundae cost $1,000? I did a little googling for a description and a photo. This is what I learned:
Five scoops of the richest Tahitian vanilla bean ice cream infused with Madagascar vanilla and covered in 23K edible gold leaf, the sundae is drizzled with the world's most expensive chocolate, Amedei Porceleana, and covered with chunks of rare Chuao chocolate. The masterpiece is suffused with exotic candied fruits from Paris, gold dragets, truffles and Marzipan Cherries. It is topped with a tiny glass bowl of Grand Passion Caviar. It's sweetened and infused with fresh passion fruit, orange and Armagnac. The sundae is served in a baccarat Harcourt crystal goblet with an 18K gold spoon to partake in the indulgence and topped with a gilded sugar flower by Ron Ben-Israel.
Oh yeah, and this is what it looks like:

Incredible. There are just no words.

For the less financially frivolous folks (that's me), Serendipity also has another famous dessert on their menu: their Frozen Hot Chocolate. THAT is what Amanda and I were there for. We were pleasantly surprised that there was no wait for a table this time, another perk of doing touristy things on a random Tuesday afternoon in January. We walked right in and got a nice little table in a corner. Our waiter was excellent and only laughed at us a little bit when we showed our obvious Serendipity-rookie-status by ordering two Frozen Hot Chocolates AND a Blackout Cake to split. The cake came out first, and it was divine.

Serendipity's Blackout Cake

Before we could even make a dent in our slice of heaven cake, our Hot Chocolates arrived. And all I can say is, WOW. Wow, wow, wow. They were ENORMOUS. Just a huge goblet of delicious chilled chocolately goodness, topped with whipped cream and chocolate shavings.

Frozen Hot Chocolate

Amanda got the Classic Frozen Hot Chocolate, but I decided to try the Peanut Butter version, and again I say, WOW. It was like drinking a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup.

The proud owner of a Peanut Butter Frozen Hot Chocolate

Drink up, ladies!

Needless to say, it was only a few minutes before Amanda and I both ended up in a chocolate coma. Everything started to get hazy and our belts started to feel too tight and it was just too much. Our rookie mistake really was the chocolate cake first - it was so rich that by the time our hot chocolates came out, we were already nearly chocolated out. In the future, I might suggest sharing a hot chocolate and then also ordering something a little lighter, like cheesecake (well, at least it's a different flavor) or something fruity. So, we did what we could with our desserts then boxed everything up to take it with us.

From Serendipity we hopped on the subway and headed down to 34th Street for some more shopping. We hit a few stores before making our way back home. While shopping, we were treated to this gorgeous view of the Empire State Building and the moon:


And that was our day out! It was such a nice, New York-y kind of day. Stay tuned to see what else we have planned for the rest of Amanda's time in the city!

Monday, January 25, 2010


Lately, Eric and I have been talking some about our goals in life. Eric recently finished reading "The Game Plan for Success" by Lou Holtz, which is what sparked this whole thing. In his book, Lou described a time in his life when he sat down and wrote out a list of goals. Much like us being inspired by his book, Lou was inspired by David Schwartz's book, "The Magic of Thinking Big," which proposed that anyone who is bored with life has likely forgotten his dreams. To get back on track and renew your dreams of old, you should start with making a list of everything you've ever hoped to accomplish. Inspired by this, Lou wrote out his list of 108 goals, no matter how outrageous. He included things such as meeting the pope, jumping out of a plane, having dinner at the White House, and being on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. At this point in his life, he has now achieved 99 of those 108 goals (including all of the above!). That's pretty awesome.

So, Eric and I set out to make lists of our own. Following Lou's example, we divided our lists into five categories of goals: 1) As a wife/mother or husband/father; 2) Spiritually; 3) Professionally; 4) Financially; and 5) Just for Excitement.

Some of the items that made our lists are intangible - I don't know if we'll ever be able to actually cross them off, but including them serves as a reminder of how we want to live our lives and the people we want to be. The rest of the items are more what you think of when you consider making a "bucket list" (that is, things you want to accomplish before you "kick the bucket, so to speak), especially in the "Just for Excitement" category. These are more discrete events that I will actually be able to cross off someday.

I'd like to share some of my list items with you here, both as a way of holding myself more accountable to reaching these goals, as well as to hopefully inspire some of you to create goal lists of your own. Here's a sample of some of the items from my list:
As a Wife/Mother
1. Learn how to cook (well!)
2. Smoosh cake on Eric's face at our 50th Anniversary Party
3. Strive for a marriage that will be a good example for my children
4. Raise well-rounded kids; encourage an appreciation for art, athletics, music, family, etc.
5. Kiss Eric every day when he gets home from work

6. Keep God at the center of my family
7. Read the Bible cover to cover

8. Always keep my priorities in order
9. Have a book published

10. Pay off student loan debt
11. Buy a house
12. Never let money keep me or my family from seeking new experiences
13. Own a pair of Christian Louboutin shoes

Just for Excitement
14. Take a picture "holding up" the Leaning Tower of Pisa
15. Learn how to scuba dive
16. Hold a koala
17. Swim in all five oceans
18. Ride a horse on the beach
19. Ride a burro in the Grand Canyon
20. Donate my hair to Locks of Love
21. Learn how to ballroom dance
22. Hug Tim Tebow
23. Teach a dog a really cool trick
24. Attend a Hawaiian luau
25. Visit the towns where my ancestors lived in Germany, Ireland and Scotland
These 25 items are just a sample of those on my list. Right now, my actual list includes 62 items, and is growing all the time. Since creating my list on January 2, I have already added nearly 40 items! If you want to see my full list, you can see it here, and that link will update automatically when I add items to my list. And, when I cross items off!

Does anyone else out there have a list like this? Or, are you planning to start one? I would love to know what's on your list! Please feel free to comment with a sample of your list items or goals you have. And may all your dreams come true!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Guess Who's Going Cruisin'?


Yes, that's right - I'm going on my sister's cruise! It became pretty much official this week (that one was for you, Dad!). By that I mean that the paperwork has been filed to get me on Heather's ship and I have booked flights to Florida. I guess the paperwork has to go through some sort of approval process. It has already been approved by Heather's cruise director and the ship captain, but has a couple more channels yet to go through. I won't find out for 100% absolutely positively sure that I'm able to get on the ship until much closer to my cruise date, but in an act of confidence I went ahead and booked my flights.

And what is my cruise date, you ask? February 12, less than one month from now! The plan is this: I will fly to Florida on the evening of Wednesday, February 10th. I will spend the evening with my dad, and then will split my time the following day between visiting my grandmother and Toni. I had planned to take a trip to Florida this month to do that anyway, and part of the reason I thought this cruise thing wouldn't work out was because I would have to choose between visiting family and cruising. But, I have managed to make it into a joint trip. Perfect! And I'm very eager to see both of these women. I haven't seen my grandmother in far too long, and I am very excited to see the improvements that Toni has made. I haven't been back to see her since November, when just opening her eyes was big news, but now I hear she is very expressive and even mouthing words. What an incredible, awe-inspiring woman, yes? She just flat-out rocks.

So, Thursday, February 11th will be spent visiting wonderful women. Then on Friday the 12th, my dear father has agreed to make the journey from Tampa to Ft. Lauderdale so we can meet up with Heather when she docks there. It's a lot of driving for not an excessive amount of time visiting, so I'm very grateful to him for providing my transportation! We will spend the day together, then I will get on Heather's ship when it's time to go back out to sea and we will start the cruising fun.

Surely you want to hear about the cruise itself, am I right? Well, it's a two-week cruise. I know, that's really long. That was probably my biggest hang-up when I was trying to decide if I should do this. I hate to be away from Eric that long. I feel so guilty that he's stuck here working while I'm cruising around the Caribbean. HATE THAT. But, this opportunity really is incredible, and a situation like this most likely won't present itself in the future. I mean, I'm able to get a two-week cruise with my sister for basically just the cost of airfare and whatever spending money I want. That's pretty hard to pass up. And honestly, I know nobody will believe me when I say this, but the fact that I'll be in the Caribbean is really just an added bonus. I really just want to see Heather and what her life is like now. If she was cruising in Iowa, I would want to go on that one, too. (I know it's not actually possible to cruise in Iowa...I'm just trying to make a point by naming a particularly boring place.) (Sorry if anyone reading this is from Iowa and is now offended. I'm sure Iowa is just lovely.)

So. Back to the cruise details. I will depart from Ft. Lauderdale on February 12th, and will then be at sea for two days. Our first stop will be Aruba, and the following day we will be in Curacao. After another sea day, it will be nonstop island fun for quite a few days in a row: Trinidad, Barbados, St. Vincent, St. Kitts, St. Thomas, Santo Domingo and, last but not least, Grand Turk. Then another day at sea before we arrive back in Ft. Lauderdale and I fly back to NYC. Wow!

Map of the cruise itinerary, stolen from the Princess website

I'm really excited about spending so much time with my sister and seeing what her life is like on the ship. I'll be staying in her cabin with her, so I'll really get the full experience. I've never been on a cruise at all before, so the whole thing will be new and interesting. Plus, Heather and I have not spent this much consecutive time together in ages, especially not just the two of us. I think it's going to be great.

And of course, I'm excited about the places we'll see and the things that we'll do. Heather has already requested that I get my adventurous side ready, because she has some excursions she has been wanting to do, such as zip-lining in Barbados and swimming with sea lions in St. Thomas.

Will my fear of heights really allow me to do this?

Now THIS I can handle. Awww!

I've got my eye on a couple of excursions, myself. You know, just little things like an introduction to scuba diving in Aruba, a waterfall hike in Trinidad, and maybe a rum tour in Santo Domingo. Add in some snorkeling and good old-fashioned beach time, and I'll be one happy girl. But, there is one excursion that I have already told Heather we are ABSOLUTELY DOING, NO EXCUSES: a beach horseback ride and swim in Grand Turk. Not only do you get to ride a horse along the beach, which I have always dreamed of doing, but then you unsaddle your horse and ride bareback into the water. That, my friends, is an item on my "bucket list." I'M DOING THIS.


So, that's my big news as of late! Is it time to start packing yet?

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Four Years Ago Today

Four years ago today, I spent my day thinking about the man I love and the reasons why I love him. I wrote my thoughts down and drew pictures of special memories we share.

Four years ago today, I walked with the man I love through a beautiful, romantically-lit city. We walked and talked and tried to keep warm.

Four years ago today, I sat on a step, looking out over a place I love, with the man I love. I told him why I love him, and he told me why he loves me.

Four years ago today, the man I love knelt down in front of me and asked me to be his bride. I cried tears of joy as I agreed to share my life with him.

Four years ago today, I said "yes" with my whole heart.


And now, four years later, I still say "yes" to that man every day, and always with my whole heart. Always and forever.

I love you, Eric. Thanks for making me so happy, four years ago today and every day.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Magic for Haiti

Yesterday Eric and I braved Times Square on a weekend (usually I avoid it like the plague) to see a unique benefit for the victims of the recent catastrophic earthquake in Haiti. Street magician David Blaine has set up camp in Times Square and is currently doing magic for 72 straight hours while raising money for the American Red Cross and their relief efforts. As you may recall, we saw David Blaine in Central Park in 2008 for his Hangman stunt, but I really prefer his street magic to his endurance tricks, so I was excited to see him in action. And as the member of this family who makes sure to record all of David Blaine's magic specials when they're on TV, Eric was pretty excited, too.

There was quite a crowd around him when we got there yesterday afternoon, but we patiently hung around to see some magic and get a photo with David. We were able to see him perform a couple of tricks and interact with the crowd quite a bit.

David Blaine in Times Square

Magic for Haiti

For one trick, David took a quarter from a kid in the crowd and had him sign it with a permanent marker. He then had the kid give the quarter to another girl in the crowd, and asked her to hold it tightly in her hand. He then asked her to imagine the quarter being manipulated - imagine it's Silly Putty, imagine you're molding it, imagine it's not a quarter, etc. When she opened her hand the quarter was bent like a Pringle chip! How does he do that? It couldn't have been a trick quarter, because he got it from someone in the crowd, and he didn't switch it out because he had the kid sign it. So crazy.

But how???

We also saw him do a card trick with another girl in the crowd and managed to get it on video. Check it out below! It might be kind of hard to hear (David was fairly soft-spoken and NYC can be a little noisy sometimes), so I put in some subtitles for your viewing pleasure.

VIDEO: Street magic in Times Square

After quite some time we finally made it up to David himself for a picture and autograph. He was pretty stone-faced for the picture, but Eric made him laugh afterwards when he told him we saw him in Central Park for Hangman. David laughed then and said "yeah, that was a disaster, but thanks." Ha! He also autographed a playing card for us, which is pretty cool.

Us with David Blaine

Our autographed playing card

And that was our second David Blaine experience! He is going to be in Times Square until noon tomorrow, so if this nasty rain we're having right now clears out tonight, we're considering going back out in the middle of the night to see him in action again. I just kind of wonder if his magic will be starting to slip as he starts to get tired from being out there for so long. We shall see...

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Where in the World is Heather?

Heather in Kudasi, Turkey with her ship in the background

As I mentioned many months ago, my sister Heather is currently working as a singer on Princess Cruise Lines. Since she left, I often get questions about where is she, how is she doing, how does she like it, etc., etc. Through the magic of the internet, I have been able to keep in touch with her a bit through Skype and see what she has been experiencing through her pictures. So, I thought I would post a Heather Update to share with you what is going on for her! Care to take a look into Heather's glamorous cruise ship life?

Heather seems to be adjusting fairly well to life on a ship, although she did struggle with seasickness a little bit at the beginning. I guess that's better now, but she is still more aware of the boat rocking than other people. She has her own room, which is nice. She sent out these pictures of her first room on the ship:

Heather's original room

Her desk, as seen from her bed

I guess she has changed rooms since these pictures were taken, but she says her new room is very similar, just with two smaller windows instead of the big one.

She also seems to be adjusting well to the shows she performs in. To be honest, she doesn't talk much about the shows (at least with me - we talk more about the things she's seeing!), but she did send out a few pictures and a couple of videos. Unfortunately, I can't figure out how to get the videos posted here, but if you want to see them, check out this link (contains two videos) and this link (one video). I just love watching my sister perform. Would you believe I get teary-eyed every time I watch her, even over video? I'm such a sap.

Costumes in Heather's main dressing room (See her name above the costumes, second from the left?)

Heather in action

Heather in her Shake, Rattle & Roll show

And of course, in addition to living in a small room and performing for cruise passengers, Heather has been seeing one or two cool things. Okay, she's been seeing LOTS of cool things. Right now she is on the Caribbean leg of her trip, which includes exotic destinations such as Curacao, Trinidad, Barbados, St. Vincent, St. Kitts, St. Thomas, San Juan, Grand Turk, and Santo Domingo. As I type this, she is in Aruba. I mean, how jealous are you? Or rather, how jealous am I??? Very. The answer to that question is VERY.

Heather in Dominica

Before this Caribbean portion of her trip, Heather cruised the Mediterranean for a couple of months before crossing the Atlantic to Brazil and then heading up towards her current port, Ft. Lauderdale. This included an Equator-crossing ceremony, which apparently involves pouring goo on passengers and making them wrap fish around their faces. Who knew?

Goo-covered passengers in the Equator ceremony

Eww! Fish!

While Heather was touring the Mediterranean she saw some really incredible things, as you might imagine. I have taken some of her pictures from various cities and put them into little collages to give you a sample of the unbelievable experiences Heather had on the first leg of her cruise. I just can't even imagine the things she has seen and done, and I'm so excited that she has had this amazing experience. Check it out:

(Note: I tried to post these a little larger than I usually post pictures, but if you need a closer look, click on each collage. It should open in a new window so you can see it a little larger.)

Ephesus, Turkey

I'm going to try to caption these collages as well as I can, and hopefully if Heather reads this and catches any mistakes, she can let me know! In the top row, we have Heather sitting on a camel (she paid one euro to do so!), a view from the mountain, the last known residence of Mary, and Heather in front of the ruins of the library. On the bottom row, we have what used to be the main street, the theater (where John used to preach), the Temple of Hadrian, and Heather standing in the Tomb of St. John. Heather sent my Gramps a vial of Holy Water from Ephesus for Christmas!

Santorini, Greece

This collage is mostly just gorgeous scenery. To quote Heather, "I guess I wouldn't mind living here if I really had to!" She also went to a wine-tasting at 8:30 a.m. while in Santorini. Poor, poor, Heather...what an awful life she leads! Also, in the bottom row, the top small picture is of a cable car ride to the bottom of the mountain, with her ship in the distance. I find this to be really not okay. She said you could also take a donkey or a lot of stairs. I think either one of those sounds more appealing, personally. My fear of heights can barely even look at that photo.

Venice, Italy

Here again, we mostly just have gorgeous scenery from Heather's stop in Venice. If I wasn't totally dying to go there before this, now I REALLY am. Thanks, Heather.

Dubrovnik, Croatia

Hey, how about some more gorgeous scenery? My college roommate Kristina is Croatian, and she has always said I would love Dubrovnik. Judging by these pictures, she's probably right.

Naples, Italy
(Mt. Vesuvius and Pompeii)

In Naples, Heather visited Mt. Vesuvius and Pompeii. Let me try my captioning the top row of this collage, we have Heather enjoying a glass of local wine at the top of Mt. Vesuvius (why is she always drinking wine in cool places?), a view from the top of the mountain, a photo from their trek back down, and remains from Pompeii. In the bottom row, we have more views of Pompeii, and a view of Mt. Vesuvius from Pompeii. Incredible!

Rome, Italy

Heather visited Rome a couple of different times, from what I understand. The first time she actually almost missed the ship at the end of the day! But, all is well, and she got to see some great things. In the top row, we have a view from the Colosseum, Heather's "delicious lunch," La Pieta by Michelangelo, and the Colosseum. In the bottom row, we have Heather in the Colosseum, a beautiful ceiling shot from the Vatican Museum, the "no cameras" sign from the entrance to the Sistine Chapel (she did go in), and Heather tossing a coin over her shoulder into a fountain and promising to come back to Rome - and since this was taken on her first visit, she did in fact come back!

Florence/Pisa, Italy

In the top row of this one, we have scenes from Florence, including a Statue of David replica, the Church of St. Mary the Flower, Heather's lunch spot (which used to be an old jail!), and more from the Church of St. Mary. The bottom row is Pisa, including Heather completing an item on my "bucket list": taking a picture holding up the Leaning Tower of Pisa! Jealous.

Istanbul, Turkey

Top row: Heather in front of the Blue Mosque, and some pictures from inside the Blue Mosque (they had to take off their shoes!). Bottom row: two shots from the Grand Bazaar, Heather and her friend Peter, and a castle. Cool!

Cairo, Egypt

Oh hey, wanna guess how my sister spent her Thanksgiving? I'll tell you: she was TOURING THE PYRAMIDS. Do you believe that? I don't. What an experience! Here are some shots of Heather in Egypt, including pyramids, the Sphinx, a camel, hieroglyphics, the Citadel of Qaitbay, and the Roman Theater. Can you believe that my sister has actually walked inside a pyramid?

Monaco and Cannes, France

The top row here is scenes from Monaco, including the church that holds the tombs of Prince Albert and Grace Kelley, and Heather sporting a super-cute new Italian leather jacket. The flowers in the top row are from Monte Carlo, as are the first three pictures in the bottom row. Mickey's handprint is from Cannes.

Barcelona, Spain

Last but not least, we have Barcelona, perhaps most famously known as the site of my cousin Molly's engagement this past summer! However, this collage contains no pictures of that event. Rather, it includes La Segrada Familia, Gaudi buildings, a curved wrought iron fence (Heather said there were lots of them), and Heather's signature proving that "Heather!" was there!

Amazing, yes? Heather has taken some fabulous pictures, and these are just a small sample of them. If you want to see more, check out Heather's Picasa site. If you have a Picasa account, you can even add her as a "Favorite" so you will get emails when she uploads new pictures. Also, another cool thing that I have been enjoying is Heather's ship's webcam. You can click here and see the view from the bridge of her ship, and see where she is or where she's headed next. I check it nearly every morning to see where my sister is each day!

Hope you enjoyed this look into Heather's exotic life! Perhaps I'll post a second installment with Caribbean pics later on. Heather - glad you're having such a great time! Continue to enjoy every second of it. I'm proud of you and I miss you!

Friday, January 8, 2010

Dragging out the Holiday Fun

This year I was really able to milk Christmas for all it's worth and stretch out the fun holiday activities, not only by an extended stay in Cleveland, but also by ice skating at Rockefeller Center this past Monday! Although, technically all of these activities fall within the 12 Days of Christmas, so I guess it's not that outrageous.

We have been wanting to skate at Rockefeller Center for some time, but it's just so crowded and overrun with tourists before the holidays, it didn't even sound fun. The rink is actually open for quite some time (until April, I believe), and the price of admission does go down quite a bit after the holidays, does the Christmas tree. And really, isn't that the whole fun of skating at Rockefeller Center?

Thankfully, Rockefeller Center leaves their tree up until Epiphany, just like we do. So, after returning from Cleveland, I still had a few days to get in my skating before the tree was taken down. Unfortunately, Eric was really busy at work so couldn't make it, but Amanda and I went on Monday afternoon. We had a great time, and I didn't even fall once! That is big for me considering that I am permanently nervous when ice skating, thanks to a broken wrist after ice skating at my going-away party with my friends before my family moved to Florida when I was 12 years old. Having to sit out with your arm on ice while the rest of your friends danced around with flashlights to rockin' '90s music at your slumber party is enough to keep anyone out of an ice rink for life, don't you think?

But this time, no falling. Although every time I started to get slightly confident in my skating skills I would stumble a bit, which served as a good reminder to BE CAREFUL. But I never went down! Victory! And, I really enjoyed the outdoor skating, which I had never done before.

A few photos of the event:

Up close and personal with Prometheus

The tree, as seen from the ice

Look at me go!
(I should note that Eric thought my arms were extended because I was trying to mimic Prometheus. This is not the case. The arms are purely balance-focused. I'm not that fancy.)

On the ice with Amanda

We had a great time! But, unfortunately, now I think Christmas is really over. What a bummer. It's no longer the fun holiday season, where the weather is cold and snowy but it's okay because it's festive. Now it's just cold and snowy. For no reason. And for many, many more months. I am not okay with this. Come back, Christmas!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Christmas in Cleveland

When I left off in my last post, I was heading off to my weekend in Cleveland. Well, this year the visit was actually longer than a weekend - I stayed five days! It has been a long time since I've spent that much time there, so that was nice. It gave me plenty of time to visit with family.

I flew in Friday evening (Christmas Day). I have to say, I love flying at night. It's just more relaxing, and you are treated to sights like this out the window:

View from my window on my flight to Cleveland

It's especially beautiful at Christmas, with the added lights on the houses. Lovely.

When I got in, my mom and Aunt Rachel picked me up and took me back to my Gramps's house. I dined on some of his amazing chicken soup, and of course - CHOCOLATE. Every Christmas, Gramps makes pounds and pounds of chocolate. This year even featured a new treat: chocolate covered popcorn! It was quite tasty, actually.

A tray of chocolate left out for us to graze on all day.
Also, what's that head-first in the chocolate? Why, it's HEATHER-ON-A-STICK! She's back! And she's wearing a scarf for the cold. How smart of her.

That night many of us stayed up late talking, drinking wine, and working on another enormous crossword puzzle (like the one last year).

The next morning, the ladies (me excluded) went shopping for the ingredients for our Christmas feast. I stayed home typing up recipes - I have decided to make a cookbook of my grandmother's favorite recipes, so I was raiding her cookbooks and recipe files for some good things to take home. I also nearly electrocuted myself when I went to plug in my computer and my long necklace got caught in the plug, causing quite the burn on the power strip and burning my necklace right in half. Scary! But, I didn't die and my computer didn't fry, so all is well.

Later that afternoon Uncle Peter, Rosemary and Molly arrived, so all were accounted for. My mom and Aunt Rachel worked hard to make a delicious dinner for all of us, consisting of ham, a double batch of potato casserole (yum!), mixed vegetables, corn, baked pineapple, rolls, and pretzel salad. Delicious!

Aunt Rachel and Mom hard at work in the kitchen

Gramps slicing up the ham

While they were cooking, Molly and I took it upon ourselves to make sure everyone would be crowned for the evening. I think I explained last year that every year we have Christmas poppers to open after dinner, which usually contain a paper crown and a toy. This year there was a little twist on them (I'll get to that in a minute), but we were two poppers (so two crowns) short. So, Molly and I made two more crowns. Actually, we made THREE crowns - Heather-On-A-Stick needed one, too!

Making crowns out of tissue paper, with Heather-On-A-Stick's help

Then, we were finally ready to enjoy the delicious Christmas feast.

Festive Christmas table

Dinner time!

After dinner, it was popper time, which was especially fun this year! See, the twist was that instead of a random toy, our poppers each contained a whistle. Each whistle was numbered, and one person received a conductor's wand and "music." By pointing to each numbered whistle according to the sequence listed on the "music", you can play Christmas songs! Uncle Peter was our conductor, and didn't even need the music to lead us in beautiful song. We had a great time playing Christmas carols in between fits of laughter.

Whistling Christmas carols

Even Heather-On-A-Stick got into the whistling fun!

After dinner, it was time for the annual Paper Crowns family photo in the living room. The fun of this photo is often trying to cram all of us into a fairly small space, but this year it was pretty easy. Only 10 of 22 of us were able to make it this year, unfortunately. Uncle Nathan, Aimee, Alex, Taylor, Henry, Jackson, Eric, Heather, Gary, Jacob, Zita and Arturo - we missed you!

Family shot! Clockwise, from top left:
Rosemary, Uncle Peter, Gramps, Aunt Rachel, Uncle Mark, (Heather-On-A-Stick), me, Mom, Sarah, Molly & Adam

I love this goofy shot my mom took. It really shows our personalities (and Molly's Christmas socks) well.

After the photo, our traditional Christmas celebration continued with our gift exchange and hymn sing. Always a nice time.

Gramps opening gifts

Mom singing hymns, with Uncle Peter on the piano

That night, Molly and I stayed up entirely too late drinking wine and talking (especially considering we were getting up early for church the next morning), but we had a great time talking with each other and with my cousins Adam and Sarah. My mom and Molly's mom used to always be the ones who stayed up late with wine, so I guess the torch has been passed now!

Sunday morning we went to church early. I always love going back to that church where I grew up. It's so beautiful.

After church, Molly and I started getting ready for our fun day - we were going to the Browns game! Before we realized both Eric and Arturo would have to miss this Christmas in Cleveland, we had been planning for the four of us to go to the game. When the boys realized they wouldn't be coming, they were both pretty bummed about missing the game. So, Molly and I decided to go anyway in their honor, despite not being able to convince anyone else to join us. We had so much fun! Of course, we bundled up like crazy - we're talking tights, multiple pairs of socks, pajama pants under our jeans, tank tops, long-sleeved tops, sweaters, scarves, gloves, mittens, leg warmers, the works. If we could find it, we put it on. I think I basically wore my suitcase. Everyone thought we were just insane to go to this game in the cold, but I kept telling myself that it would not be colder than New Year's Eve in Times Square, and it definitely wouldn't be as long, so I could do it. And we had so many layers on that our legs looked like elephant legs, so we were good.

All bundled up and ready to go!

Molly and I drove Gramps's car to the Rapid Transit station near his house, then took the Rapid into Cleveland. We made our way to the stadium, bought our tickets, then started the HIKE up to our seats. We walked up ramps for basically ever, then climbed 30 steps to our seats. Wow. So, we were pretty high. But, our seats ended up being great - we had our backs to the lake with a wall behind us, so the wind off the water wasn't a factor, and we were even underneath an overhang for the lights, so when it started snowing in the third quarter we didn't even get snowed on. Of course, in the time it took us to get all the way up there, we actually missed the first Browns touchdown! But, we got to see a few more, and the Browns ended up beating the Raiders, 23-9. Go Browns! And, we stayed pretty warm! Our toes got a little cold starting in the third quarter, but overall, we were great. And the good thing about a Browns game in the cold? Your beer never gets warm! Plus, they sell souvenir hot chocolate. So, all around, a good time.

Me in front of the stadium before the game

Inside the stadium

Happy to be at the game (and finally up in our seats)!

Go Browns!

Molly demonstrating how close our seats were to the top of the stadium

Happy Browns fan cousins!

VIDEO: Browns touchdown!
I like this video because it has a little bit of everything about the experience: crazy fans, good Browns moment, quick shot of the stadium/skyline, some barking, some crazy Molly dancing, the final score, and snow. Awesome.

After the game we walked back to Tower City to pick up the Rapid (rather than just going to the nearest station) so we could enjoy the snowy city a little bit.

Tower City and Christmas Tree

Christmas decorations in the square

When we got back to the house, we were just in time for a chat with Heather! She called my mom and Mom put her on speaker phone in the dining room so we could all talk to her. It was good to hear her voice!

Mom talking to Heather on speaker phone (with the help of Heather-On-A-Stick)

The rest of the night was pretty quiet. We watched "Up" and relaxed. It was a long day! Being out in the cold like that really wears you out.

Monday was another pretty quiet day around the house. There was some instrumental caroling in the afternoon, with Mom and Aunt Rachel on piano, Uncle Peter and Rosemary on recorders, and Molly on violin. Also, it snowed all day and we got some good accumulation!

We are a very musical family.

Snowy back yard

Aunt Rachel, Uncle Mark, Adam and Sarah left that afternoon (although they had to come back briefly for a forgotten backpack). The rest of us had dinner, then I met up with my friend Megan for the evening. She just bought a townhouse this summer, so I got to see that for the first time. We relaxed on her purple couch, drank mint hot cocoa, and ate fresh-baked cookies with mint chocolate chip ice cream. All very "us" activities! We had a nice time talking and catching up, then went to Target for a bit before heading home. It's always so nice to see her.

Tuesday morning, Uncle Peter and Rosemary left early and my mom left in the afternoon. Molly and I rode with Gramps to drop Mom at the airport, then we went and walked around the mall for a bit. We had leftovers for dinner and hung out watching sports with Gramps for most of the night. The highlight of the evening was another chat with Heather and Rick, this time via Skype so we could actually see them! That was great.

Rick and Heather on my computer! (And me and Molly on the bottom left)

And that was basically my visit! I left early Wednesday morning, and was back in New York by 12:30 p.m. There is a fairly interesting story about that - usually I take the bus from the airport back to Port Authority, in Times Square. The bus also stops at Grand Central first, and this time I planned to get off at Grand Central instead since it's closer to Eric's office, so we could have lunch together. It's a good thing this was my plan, because it would have happened anyway due to a BOMB SCARE in Times Square. Apparently there was some abandoned van with blacked out windows or some such thing, so right when I arrived back in Manhattan they had closed off Times Square and the bus couldn't even get in to Port Authority. So, fun. Turned out to be nothing and by the time I was done with lunch Times Square was reopened, but it sure did screw up midtown traffic for a while. I took a cab home and the cabbie was literally putting the cab in park because nobody was moving. Awful.

So that was that! Once again, another great trip to Cleveland. If you're interested, I put together this little video montage of some of our (mostly musical) moments from this trip:

VIDEO: Great moments in Cleveland

Thanks for a great visit, family!