Finishing Touches on the Cookies

With the snow last night, church and Erica's Horse lessons were canceled today.
This gave me some extra time to finish up the cookies.

Pinwheels and unfinished ribbon cookies:

Just the ribbon Cookies

I melt chocolate chips (I use Nestle Toll House Semi Sweet Chocolate Chips - I used a "store brand" once, and they did.not.melt into a smooth sea of chocolate), then dip one end of the ribbon cookie into the chocolate and then into chopped pecans. Here is the result:

I take the spritz shapes and create sandwich cookies - on one side I spread melted chocolate and on the other side I dollop some warmed Raspberry preserves. Put the two pieces together and a decadent sandwich cookie:

Time to package them up (and to eat some, too!).


Cookie Time!

I haven't made cookies in 3 or 4 years. This year, I will be sending then out to Auntie T and giving some to the neighbors. Last night I made Molasses cookies (like gingerbread) and formed Pinwheels - they were baked this morning.

Today, made ribbon cookies and I still need to make spritz shapes.

Basic recipe follows:
Butter Rich cookies, great in a cookie press.

1 C Butter (2 sticks) - I use unsalted Land o Lakes
1 C Confectioners sugar
1/2 tsp flavoring (vanilla, etc. I also use almond extract.)
2 C flour

Cream together the butter and sugar.
Add the flavoring and mix some more
Add the Flour

Use in cookie press. I use the ribbon die and press out strips of dough.
Back at 350 for 8-10 minutes.
I dip one end of the finished cookie in melted chocolate and then into chopped pecans. YUM!

Variation - Substitute 1/4 C Cocoa powder for 1/4 C flour for chocolate cookies.

Make a batch of vanilla. Form dough into a rectangular block, wrap and chill for 30 minutes or so.
Make a batch of chocolate. Form dough into a rectangular block, wrap and chill for 30 minutes or so.
Take vanilla dough and roll out into a large rectangle, 1/4" thick. (Roll out on wax paper)
Do the same with the chocolate.
Place the Chocolate on top of the vanilla and roll it up, jelly roll style, into a long log. Chill again until firm. Slice into 1/4" pieces, then bake.


October - Stateside Reception

Early in October, I flew to Boston where Michele and Andrew's "Stateside Reception" was held. Due to cost constraints, Scott and the kids stayed at home.

Since many of the Chang side family members couldn't attend the official wedding in Scotland, this was an opportunity for them, along with Mom and Dad's friends to celebrate the occasion with a traditional Chinese Wedding Banquet.

We stayed in the "Plymouth Estate", which meant plenty of food and a feast the night before the banquet - several of us pitched to make dumplings, a traditional activity for our family.

Mom also made her famous Shrimp in Tomato sauce.

The Chinese banquet was held at Ocean City Restaurant in the heart of Chinatown and of course the main emphasis was FOOD.
One of my favorite things - shrimp chips!

The Double Lucky cake:

Family picture:


Catching Up - September

Yes, I know this hasn't been updated for over two months, so I will play catch up.

September was very busy. In addition to getting acclimated with Hannah, Brian celebrated his 8th birthday - a sleepover party with six of his friends, here giving me their best Silly Pose (really, not too different from their Non-silly pose).

In order to wear them out, I took them rollerskating at Skateland for several hours. Not sure how effective it was, but they all did fall asleep around 11pm. I have now survived 3 sleepover parties - and the main difference between girls and boys is that when boy cry, they cry for a couple of minutes and then are OK. Not so much with girls. And at Brian's party, each boy had some sort of incident (mainly some physical altercation) that caused them to cry.

Scott and I celebrated our 15th wedding anniversary with a weekend trip to Chicago, where we attended the musical, Wicked. We stayed in the Hampton Inn, about 4 blocks from the Oriental Theatre.

We also walked around Millennium Park where the "Bean" sculpture resides. It is a fascinating piece of art. This is our reflection from belly of the Bean:

And I couldn't resist a self portrait from behind the lens of my camera:

More updates are coming shortly (I promise!!)


New Member of the family

No, certainly not more children ;-).....

Since Scott is, well, "fixed" (and he recommends the procedure to all of his male friends who are done with having kids), it couldn't be more children. Plus having more children at our age would frankly kill us.

No, I succumbed to the numerous request from Erica and Brian and we adopted a new kitten. Her name is Hannah and she is a short haired tabby who looks much like Rascal, our other cat.

Speaking of Rascal, she doesn't quite like Hannah and we have to keep them separated from each other, but we see some signs of promise - they have been in the same room together and Rascal has managed NOT to hiss at Hannah. We are just taking it slow with the assimilation.

Apart from a couple of whiny evenings, Hannah has adjusted to living with us - she now curls up with us while we are watching TV and no longer jumps on top of the countertops. Erica and Brian really enjoy having a kitten who doesn't snub them (Rascal is just OLD and sleeps all day long).


15th Anniversary!

Today is our 15th wedding anniversary!

Married on a beautiful fall day in Massachusetts.

Scott wrote up some Anniversary memories in the card he gave me:

1st Anniversary - Cruel denial of a golf outing - on the 11th! (Parkersburg, WV)
My response - it was our "Anniversary Weekend", and of course I didn't want him to be playing golf on Friday night!

5th Anniversary - Erica was only 3 months old - Evansville, IN (and he draws a cute picture of a little baby)

10th Anniversary - French Lick (and he draws a picture of us playing golf)

15th Anniversary - Chicago - Wicked (and he draws a very good picture of the Wicked Witch of the West)

20th - ??

25th - ??

Well, we haven't "done" the 15th Anniversary Wicked trip yet - that is this coming weekend and we are really looking forward to it.


Quick summary of Scotland

The good:
Pretty nice weather (Wednesday was sunny and 70 degrees)
Absolutely gorgeous landscape and scenery
A beautiful bride and groom
A wonderful new branch of the Chang family
Kilts everywhere!

The bad:
Airline delays and more airline delays
Getting to see every terminal in the Newark Airport (never a good thing)
US Dollar exchange rate to the British pound and prices in Scotland

The ugly:
Narrow winding roads in Scotland
Our drive from Glasgow to Oban - Brian got sick in the car

But overall, it was a great experience and we really like Andrew and wish he and Michele a wonderful life together.

Now for some pictures:

On route to Dunstaffnage Castle, a hike along the Western coast of Scotland

We stayed at the Ganavan Sands Holiday park, in the cabins seen off in the distance to the right:

My sister and her family

On our hike, we encountered some sheep:

On the Isle of Kerrera:

The bride and groom - on the ferry ride to Mull

Another family picture at Glengorm Castle grounds, on the Isle of Mull:

Glengorm Castle, where the Reception was held. It is also a B&B and we were one of the lucky ones who stayed overnight.

Led by cousin Theo, all of the men and boys participate in traditional Scottish dancing. Brian stands out in this sea of kilts.

Another Castle, as seen on our ferry ride from Mull to Oban:


Passports are en route! [FINALLY]

We applied for the kids' passports exactly 4 months ago, in preparation for what Scott refers to as "the wedding of the century" in Scotland. It is my youngest sister who is getting married, and as she lives in Denmark while her finance lives in London and grew up in Scotland (hence the venue for the wedding).

You would think that applying more than 20 weeks in advance of our departure date would give the US Passport Agency plenty of time to process our kids' passports. Heck, I accounted for a couple of weeks over the advertised "10-12" weeks and estimated that we would receive them in July. Note - if you go to the National Passport Website, it is still posted that "with routine passport service you should receive your passport within 10-12 weeks". Yeah. Right.

Originally, we hoped to receive the passports before we headed out east and into Canada. No such luck - going into Canada we were asked why we didn't have the kids' birth certificates and we had to explain about the passports, etc, etc. We could have been denied entry into Canada, but I guess they figured these two kids didn't pose too much risk and we were there to boost their economy.

I expected to arrive back home from that trip to have the passports waiting for us there. But no passports. Day after day, still no passports. And I started to get worried at the end of August. Starting to get nervous and making contingency plans. The people at the Nation Passport Information service won't even talk to you unless your departure date is within weeks. Personally, I don't like to leave anything unplanned two weeks out from a major trip, especially a little detail like a passport!

So I call the Passport Information service and all they can tell me is that the passports are "still in process" (like I can get than information off the website - thanks). They expedite the passports and let me know that "we'll do our best to get the passports to you before your trip, but there is no guarantee". Thanks again. That makes me feel confident. Especially since it's only been 16 weeks since we applied, and they can't give me any progressive details.

I finally called our US Congressman's office and they were able to track down the passports (they were in Portsmouth, NH) and they were shipped out today. Most importantly, they gave me a sense of confidence that we would be OK for the trip and I could stop stressing about it.

Now I have to get my bridesmaid dress hemmed and shoes for Erica. And think about packing. Oh, and register the kids for school. And wait for the heatwave to end so we can go outside again.


A little Simpsons humor

One of the ladies at the Scrapbooking board that I frequent posted this cool link that transforms your picture into the world of the Simpsons. Yes, a marketing ploy, but I thought it was rather amusing and helped to lighten my evening.

I uploaded my avatar image and here is my transformation:

Try it! The link is


Brian is a Black Belt!

After 2 years, Brian achieved the rank of Recommended Black Belt in May. Since then, he has been preparing for official Black Belt testing, which finally arrived last Thursday. During the Testing, Brian had to perform his current and past form, develop and perform his own form to music and break two boards, all in front of all the Black Belts, numerous Moms and Dads and the owners of the TaeKwonDo school.

The most nerve wracking part of the Testing is the board breaking. If you fail to break your boards within three attempts, you don’t receive your belt. You must break two boards utilizing an elbow strike and then a flying side kick. In the last week of classes, Brian practiced breaking his boards, but he wasn’t successful all the time, even with numerous attempts, so I was quite nervous for him. During the early stages of Testing, I couldn’t bear to watch, and I chose not to take any pictures.

The first girl in the Testing program broke her boards on the first try. Brian’s turn was next.....he jumped the gun a bit and started to break the board without first asking permission (part of the formality of the board breaking process). So he asked for and was granted permission to break his boards. Positioning himself by the board, Brian wound up his elbow and swung down at the board - and it broke! The crowd roared to encourage him on to the flying sidekick. Brian ran and planted his foot in the center of the board, and it broke as well! I was so excited for Brian - I could see the joy in his face and step as he shook the board holders’ hands and ran to me for a great big bear hug.

The remainder of the Testing program consisted of less exciting events - Form performances and technique review. My nerves had calmed down so I took some pictures of Brian and others going through their Form:

Here is Brian getting his new belt tied on (thanks to Ethan's mom for helping us out):

And Ethan congratulating Brian:

Here is our Black Belt!


Vacation Part 2 - NY and Niagara Falls

After Cedar Point, we drove to Syracuse for Phase two of our summer roadtrip. En route, we passed through our old stomping ground, Cleveland. Scott and I met in Cleveland while working for GE Lighting, our first jobs fresh out of college. We have lots of fond memories of Cleveland – fun Fridays in the Flats, good food in Little Italy, hot wings at Pacers, culture in University Circle and crazy Browns football in the Dog Pound (well – Scott has memories of the Dawg Pound – I got to sit in “real” seats). We only passed through, and after 17 years, most of it is now pretty fuzzy. And a lot has changed – the new football, basketball and baseball stadiums in Downtown and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, just to name a few. One thing that hasn’t changed, however, is Dead Man’s curve on I90 in Cleveland. Oh yeah – and the bad roads.

While in Syracuse, we relaxed at Nai Nai’s house. Last year, Nai Nai planted several raspberry bushes in her backyard garden and this year the plants bore plentiful sweet berries.

We enjoyed several bowls each morning. We also enjoyed the 4th of July Fireworks along Oneida Lake.

On Friday, we headed back to Illinois and took a side trip to Niagara Falls. This was Scott’s idea, heavily influenced by the Travel Channel’s feature on the Falls highlighting several of the sights and attractions. We arrived around noon and enjoyed lunch at the Wild Mushroom Sports Bar and Grill. Then we got our first up close and personal Falls experience while on the Maid of the Mist.

Several hours later, the afternoon sun hit the mist of Horseshoe Falls, creating a beautiful arcing rainbow, and I then understood why the bridge that traverses between the US and Canada is named Rainbow Bridge.

We finally descended on our “Journey Behind the Falls”, taking us down 150 feet to tunnels that run behind the Horseshoe Falls to two viewing portals of the crashing water. The observation platform is as close as you can get to the Falls without putting yourself in danger. The kids enjoyed this attraction more than the Maid of the Mist, as they got wetter and could hang out on the observation platform, and attempt to “use The Force” to hold back the water from the Falls.

Here is a picture in front of one of the viewing portals behind the Falls:

Picture of the Falls from the Viewing platform:

We had dinner along Clifton Hill, the main tourist area and enjoyed the beautiful evening. We didn't ride this Ferris wheel - it is similar to the wheel at Navy Pier and the one in Nanchang:


Summer Vacation, Part 1 - Cedar Point

Vacation’s all I ever wanted
Vacation’s a time to get away
Vacation’s meant to be spent in love
Vacation by the Go-G0's

How appropriate for that song to come up on the iPod as we were driving from Illinois through Ohio en route to New York.

As 2007 has been already dubbed the year of the Roadtrip, we added another 1,900 miles on to the Tahoe during our week long vacation. This trip took us back East to visit Scott’s mother in Upstate NY. In the past, we have flown there and then onto Boston, but since we will see my side of the family in August, we decided to go to NY only and take the Interstate instead of the Airways.

By driving, we were able to take advantage of stopping along the journey. Our East bound stop was the Cedar Point Amusement Park in Sandusky, Ohio. The park claims to be the Roller Coaster Capitol of the World, with 17 of the thrill rides. Scott and I last went to Cedar Point in 1990 when we lived in Cleveland - we had a great time back then and expected this return visit would not disappoint.

The plan – arrive Saturday afternoon, hit the water park, Soak City, that evening and spend all Sunday at the main park. The weather Saturday evening was warm and perfect for the water park. After 6pm, we had the water slides all to ourselves – no lines – just tons of fun.

The tracks of the Magnum 2000XL coaster weave through Soak city, giving us a taste of tomorrow’s adventures. It was almost too much for Erica to bear watching – she wanted to ride that coaster and knew she had to wait another 12 hours. But once she realized that the water slides were fun, she stopped obsessing about the roller coaster. We raced down the water slides, rode the family tube ride and frolicked in the wave pool until park closing time at 9pm.

Day 2 – Cedar Point

We were able to enter the park an hour before the general public (one advantage to staying at one of the Cedar Park Hotels). Mommy and Daddy first rode the Raptor coaster – an inverted suspension coaster. Erica had never ridden a looping coaster and did not want this one to be her first one, so she opted not to ride. But we would have to wait until 10am for many of the main rides to open.

That first family ride was the Magnum XL 2000 – [flash to the past] – this ride was Cedar Point’s fastest, tallest, newest coaster back in 1990, and the first ride Scott and I experienced. The coaster is over 200 feet tall and travels up to 72 mph. The ride was as exciting and fun as we remembered it. Back in 1990, we only were able to ride the Magnum two times due to the ride’s popularity. [Fast forward to 2007] – Erica rode the Magnum 6 times, 5 times with Mommy and 1 time with Daddy. Brian rode it twice. The longest we waited was 15 minutes.
We also rode the Gemini, the Mean Streak, the Miner Coaster and the Iron Dragon. Erica conquered her fear of inverted coasters and rode the Corkscrew coaster – and after the ride was over she commented – “is that it?”. I guess going upside down wasn’t so scary after all.

Daddy waves at the end of the Iron Dragon (Brian's Favorite)

Here is a picture of Scott, Erica and Brian in front of the Corkscrew –

Towards the end of the day, Erica and Daddy waited 45 minutes to ride the Millennium Force – at 310 tall and traveling at speeds up to 92 mph, this was Erica’s favorite coaster. Mommy and Brian will ride it the next time.

We did enjoy other more relaxing rides – the Sky Ride, the Swings, and the Antique Cars – and some thrill rides – the power tower and bumper cars. Mommy and Erica got drenched on Thunder Canyon and we had to buy Erica a new outfit (that was an expensive ride).

Our day ended at 10pm as we dragged our cold, sore bodies back to the hotel. That is always the goal - open up the park and close it down.


Philosophy of Life

I received this in an email today and it made me smile, so it's going on the blog. I don't know where it originated from, but I hope it makes you smile, too!

1) No matter how hard you try, you can't baptize cats.
2) When your Mom is mad at your Dad, don't let her brush your hair.
3) If your sister hits you, don't hit her back. They always catch the second person.
4) Never ask your 3 -year old brother to hold a tomato.
5) You can't trust dogs to watch your food.
6) Don't sneeze when someone is cutting your hair.
7) Never hold a Dust-Buster and a cat at the same time.
8) You can't hide a piece of broccoli in a glass of milk.
9) Don't wear polka-dot underwear under white shorts.
10) The best place to be when you're sad is Grandpa's lap.

1) Raising teenagers is like nailing Jell-O to a tree.
2) Wrinkles don't hurt.
3) Families are like fudge...mostly sweet, with a few nuts.
4) Today's mighty oak is just yesterday's nut that held its ground.
5) Laughing is good exercise. It's like jogging on the inside.
6) Middle age is when you choose your cereal for the fiber, not the toy.

1) Growing up is mandatory; growing old is optional.
2) Forget the health food. I need all the preservatives I can get.
3) When you fall down, you wonder what else you can do while you're down there.
4) You're getting old when you get the same sensation from a rocking chair that you once got from a roller coaster.
5) It's frustrating when you know all the answers but nobody bothers to ask you the questions.
6) Time may be a great healer, but it's a lousy beautician.
7) Wisdom comes with age, but sometimes age comes alone.


1) You believe in Santa Claus.
2) You don't believe in Santa Claus.
3) You are Santa Claus.
4) You look like Santa Claus.


At age 4 success is . not peeing in your pants.
At age 12 success is . having friends.
At age 16 success is . . having a drivers license.
At age 35 success is . having money.
At age 50 success is . . . having money.
At age 70 success is . . . having a drivers license.
At age 75 success is . having friends.
At age 80 success is . not peeing in your pants.


Old Friends, Drunkards and Angels

No, this is not a review of The Pirates of the Caribbean, but rather things I encountered while in Austin these past three days. I traveled to Austin, Texas late Sunday for a business meeting with The Company’s automation system vendor. At the Plant, we have automation systems that monitor and control the chemical manufacturing processes. We have a large installed base of these systems, and The Company has a team that meets with the vendor once a year. I was invited to the meeting late in game as a new member of the team, representing the arm of the business line I work in.

I haven’t been to Austin in over 10 years. The last company I worked with also uses this same automation system vendor, and in my previous job, I had installed several of these systems and attended numerous training classes here. But it has been 10 years and certainly, Austin has grown a lot.

And to be certain, this was a trip filled with all sorts of adventure and encounters. First, my flight into Austin was delayed an hour. Normally, I wouldn’t consider this to be an issue except that in this case, it meant that I arrived at 1am Monday morning. Uggh. Add into the equation Drunkard encounter number 1 - two drunk men I encountered in the rental car line. Note to self – just don’t talk to people while waiting in line. Kuddos to the rental car employees who did not permit these men to drive. The last I saw them, they were getting into a cab.

Drunkard encounter number 2 - our dinner group encountered a very drunk woman on Monday evening during our business dinner at Eddie V’s. This young woman had the voice of Fran Dresser (ala The Nanny) and the chest of Pamela Anderson. As I work mainly with men (including myself, there were two women in our group of 17 people), this young woman decided to join our group, essentially throwing herself and her chest at the group of middle aged men. Nice. The most senior guy at the table had to act as the bouncer and force her to leave.

Old Friends encounter – two of my good college friends live in Austin. I haven’t seen Derek and Tim in probably 12 years. We got together at the Iron Cactus off Sixth street Tuesday night. Tim is a Senior Design Engineer at a small electronics company and Derek is a Professor of Electrical Engineering at UT. 18 years post college, they look amazing the same. Wish I had my camera to take pictures.

Angel encounter number 1 – I am driving down I-35 to meet up with Tim and Derek when all of a sudden, the car starts making this incredible thumping noise. I thought a loud truck had pulled aside me, or that the highway pavement was causing the noise. I was at my exit, so I pulled off and immediately realized that there was an issue with the car. Flat Tire. Crap. I have NEVER had a flat tire in my 40 years and I have never changed a tire in those 40 years, either. A man watched me pull up with my flat tire and offered to help me. What an angel. He changed the tire and went along his way.

Angel number 2 - Derek who accompanied me back to the Airport to exchange my rental car for one without a bum tire. What a great friend.

All that adventure over 48 hours. I’m glad to be heading home to the flat cornfields of Illinois.


It's Hot Don

When we lived in Indiana, the local car dealership coined and used the phrase, "It's Hot Don" in all of his summer commercials - such a simple, yet genius catch phrase. So, whenever it gets blasted hot, we all go around saying "It's Hot Don". Well, back in Indiana, people knew what you were talking about - now it's just an inside joke between Scott and me.

Well, it is blasted hot here (mid 90's since Thursday), and we are saying it - "It's Hot Don".

Oh yeah, the front page article in the local paper informed us that there is a water shortage and the local water company is requesting we all restrict water usage. The lawn was already looking crispy, so here's our excuse..... here's hoping for some rain.


Hitting Double Digits

I can hardly fathom that my daughter has now hit double digits and is ten years old. Although it doesn't seem like yesterday that she was born, it doesn't seem like a full ten years.

Erica is now up to my chin in height and I cannot carry her around anymore (at least without hurting myself). Officially a "tween", she had five of her girl friends over last night for her birthday party / sleep-over. The main event - an opening night viewing of the Nancy Drew Movie.
Side note - the movie was enjoyable - the right mix of humor, creepiness and intrigue - somewhat predictable for this adult, but I know the girls really enjoyed it.

Gifts - a Nintendo DS and a couple of games, a couple of cute purses, several earrings, Nancy Drew mystery games, books and other nick nacks.

Here are all the girls - the obligatory group picture:

Each girl with Erica, as they were opening their gifts:


School's out for Summer and other Random items

I think the title says it all...... today was the kids' last day of school. Can't hardly believe that Erica will be going into the Fifth grade in August - she is going to rule the school.

But already, I am hearing the inevitable "I'm bored" and "I wish school was still in session". Erica is saddened by the fact that two of her good friends will be entering Middle school in the fall and will not be around for After School care.

Other random items from today -

We had Tilapia for Dinner - Recipe # 238 - Salmon with Spicy Pineapple and Mango Chutney, from Rachel Ray's 365 - No Repeats Cookbook. The recipe calls for salmon, but the kids and Scott prefer tilapia. And the chutney was served on the side because Erica and Brian say "That's disgusting!". Well, I thought it was tasty and so did Scott, so another thumbs up for Rachel.

I also had to make meatballs for tomorrow's dinner - Scott and I will be attending a work related dinner - so, I need something quick for the kids and the sitter.

I guess that's all for now......


May Summary

Yes, I have been quite delinquent with updating the Blog. No excuses, other than pure laziness.

So, here is our May summary, which serves as a quick attempt to correct the situation, at least for the time being:

What happenned in May?

Scott removed the training wheels off Brian's bike, and Brian put to all together - mastering the fine points of bike riding. And even without Mommy's help (no running behind him, holding onto the seat).

Just starting out:

Got it!

Erica performed Musette by Bach at her violin recital, with Mommy accompanying her:

Gary and Sharon frequented our fish pond:

That's pretty much it!! Hopefully, I'll update more frequently...
And oh, yeah - both Scott and I turned 40.



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