Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Justin's 35th birthday

   I know it's a month early, but for Justin's birthday this year we headed to Yountville for some much needed rest and some amazing meals. We went to Bottega, which is Michael Chiarello's restaurant. Justy had the risotto and I had the raviolo with the egg inside. They were amazing and rich and such a nice ambiance. Then we walked around a bit at the shops and headed over to check in to our hotel. We watched a movie together and went to dinner at Thomas Keller's (the guy who owns French Laundry) Ad Hoc- Larry and Theresa's birthday gift to Justin along with watching the kids! THANK YOU SO MUCH! They offer a set menu. The salad was amazing- it had hazelnuts in it, which I loved. Then they brought out ribs with macaroni and coleslaw. The macaroni was so good. Of all the things to think are super yummy, who would have guessed it would be the macaroni??? They then brought out walnuts and white cheddar. Lastly, was a make-your-own sundae with house-made ice cream, butterscotch, chocolate and strawberry sauce. They also had cream and pecans. We left feeling stuffed and full of rich, decadent food. Justy's favorite was the ribs-no surprise there.
  It was kind of nice to walk around in the rain. It has been so long since we have had a good bought of rain.
  In the morning we headed over to Bouchon Bakery for a fabulous pastry for breakfast. Justin went with the sticky bun and I had the cream cheese danish. Wow! So so fabulous. Justin's favorite thing to do is soak in the tub, so we made sure to fit that in before checking out of the room. I would describe it as a bed and breakfast without the breakfast. It was a cute little room with a four poster bed, but most of the money went into the bathroom with the huge soaking tub.
  On the way home we stopped at the Outlet mall in Sonoma and then went to lunch at highly recommended hamburger spot called Gott's Roadside. Yum oh! Then it was time to head home. It took a while with the rain. Justin said on the way home that this was the best birthday present and hint hint he would love to do it every year. He mentioned Vegas could be fun. I think that's sort of ambitious, but I guess we will see what we can arrange in the future. ;)
  The boys had a fabulous time with their grandparents while we were gone. They played lots of games including a rousing game of Monopoly and Life. They ate pizza and chocolate chip waffles. In Ollie's words, "we had a fabulous time."

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Front teeth

This year Oliven lost his front teeth for Christmas...it's super cute. He lost one of the front teeth and the other one was hanging by a thread for the next few days. It looked very hobo. I tried to get Ollie to loose his teeth before school pictures this year (they were both already loose), but he just wasn't ready. It's pretty darn adorable and he knows I think so...which means he gives me that cute little smile often and I love it!

Crazy meal

We picked Vander up from a play date and headed straight to the grocery store to grab our foods. For crazy meal this year we ended up with bagels covered crab and bbq pop chips crumbled up and mixed together, fish sticks, everything pizza, and chocolate chip waffles with chayote squash cooked in sugar and butter on top. It was unique to be sure. Justin picked out the crab, Van picked out the chips and waffles, Ollie picked out the fish sticks, and I picked the pizza and chayote. It was a fun evening. We ate together in the livingroom and watched a superhero cartoon. We love our crazy meal. This is one of our favorite traditions for advent. We all look forward to it and it doesn't disappoint.

Advent list 2015

This years advent list included:


Advent 2015:
·         Dinner with the Lim’s and Walter’s
·         Playdate
·         Make mandel bread
·         Polar Express at CSMH
·         Breakfast with Santa & Chanukah with family
·         Make donuts and decorate outside lights
·         Crazy meal
·         Write a Christmas story
·         Anderson School Holiday Party @ Chevy’s
·         Holiday dance party
·         Make a fort
·         Movie theater and popcorn
·         Gingerbread houses & Houlton Court holiday block party
·         Holiday movie as a family
·         Christmas in the park
·         Make sugar cookies
·         Living room picnic and a show
·         Hot cocoa -- Holiday lights and candy canes at bedtime (surprise with golden tickets)
·         Decorate cookies & Family games
·         Grammy & Pop’s visit
·         Grammy & Pop’s visit
·         Snowman pancakes
·         Put train together
·         Christmas Eve, Grammy and Pops for dinner

Our holiday letter 2015

This years holiday letter:


December 2015

Dear family and friends,
  Last year I didn’t write a holiday letter and several of my friends were disappointed. We don’t want that! So, this year let me share the holiday spirit by telling you all about our 2015.
                Justin continues to work at Lockheed. He has been working with a great partner this year that has challenged him, mentored him, worked well with him, and ultimately been his friend. Unfortunately, his colleague will be retiring this month.  Justin has also been trying to go shoot his bow and arrows at least a couple of times a month. For our anniversary I got him a bow so he can someday be like the Green Arrow. ;)
                Vander is in second grade and has a male teacher this year. He loves his class and finally has his good friend Bella in his class. They have been friends since they were babies. Vander has been playing baseball, and even had Justin and Larry as coaches this fall. He got a chance to pitch in a couple of the games. He is also swimming on the Los Paseos penguins in the summer. He really loved hanging out with his big buddies, Ben and Maddie. Vander continues to question everything and challenge us constantly. He has also developed a love of cooking. He genuinely enjoys cooking and eating. He has been cooking with me once a week. He originally said that he was going to cook once a month on the 21st, but might have to skip his birthday (May 21) and ½ birthday (November 21) because he might be tired from all that cooking. He is the head chef and I am his sous chef that preps with the sharp knives. His new nickname is “Cumin” because he loves to cook and ask questions (Q man). Vander wants to be a chef and policeman when he grows up. At the moment Vander is researching fish in his free time because he would like to make a poster board of fish facts.
                As for Oliven, Kindergarten is a dream come true. He absolutely loves school. He is the most academic kid I have ever met. In his free time he reads, writes books, does math workbook pages, and recently started really getting into coloring, mazes, and search and finds. Oliven reads at a 3rd grade level fluently, but his comprehension can’t quite keep up with his skills. He wants to be a professional reader when he grows up. Ollie played baseball on Vander’s team in the spring, but doesn’t really have a desire to continue playing. He also joined the swim team over the summer and really loved it - he can’t wait to swim again and is hoping I will sign him up for swimming in the Spring as well. Oliven loves being at the same school as Vander. They both went to an afterschool program called Kids Connection that is essentially like a vacation bible school and they are both big fans – I honestly think their favorite part is the snacks.
                As for me, I started working part time at Anderson Elementary School. I’m really enjoying being back in the classroom. I am currently teaching on Thursdays and Fridays. I have a 3rd grade class with some pretty great kids and lots of support. I am getting to participate in some really good career trainings. They are extra days, but I feel like I am learning tons of great techniques. I am substitute teaching at the Charter school where the boys go to school on Mondays and Tuesdays. They think it’s pretty cool when they see me at school. They really want me to get a job there. I have told them that I’m trying – that is why I am not working full time this year. Wednesdays I am in a Mom’s group called Moms next and then I volunteer at CSMH in each of the boys classes.

Have a great holiday season everyone!
If you want to read more about our lives or see some pictures: vanderkatz.blogspot.com
 
Much love,                                               

JAVO
(Justin, Ashley, Vander, and Oliven)

Monday, November 30, 2015

Thanksgiving


  I am so thankful for family. We had such a great Thanksgiving break this year. We loaded up the car and headed down to Anaheim to see Freddy and Annie's new house. Not surprisingly it is gorgeous. Huge, and perfect for hosting. The biggest hit seems to be the hot tub by far. We all went in several times. It really is a great place to chat and bond. Everyone from our family came over for Thanksgiving, except Heidi (she stayed in Minnesota this year), Kyle, and Kenny never comes. It was great to catch up with Colby and it's always great to hang out with the Grand's (FAME). The girls are adorable. The had a really lovely thanksgiving day. Everyone stood in a circle and said what they were thankful for. Grandpa was very emotional. I really felt like I was able to spend time with everyone there. Annie set up a baby pool to bet on when the baby would be born. I'm going with a boy before the due date. Come on baby.
   We also took a trip to downtown Disney with the boys and girls. It was a bit chaotic, and mostly just shops, but they enjoyed seeing all the Disney stuff and eating pizza. The boys loved that they had a Lego store. They recently decided to combine all their money and I think Oliven finally realized why that might not have been the greatest idea since Vander didn't want to buy what Ollie wanted. The boys also took a trip with Freddy and Justin to a play area for one of the mornings and had a good time running and bouncing around.
  When we got back to San Jose we decorated the house with all of the Christmas stuff. The Christmas spirit is not lost on my kiddos. They loved every minute of it.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Dates

The boys asked us a few years back why we get to go on dates and they never do. We didn't really have a good answer for them, so we decided to start taking them on dates. I took Oliven to paint pottery then to Cheesecake factory for dinner and cheesecake. I asked him what his favorite part of our date was and he said, "every minute of it mommy because I was with you."  Justin took Vander to the batting cages followed by fast food and ice cream with cones at home while they watched a cartoon together. We all had great nights bonding together- seperately. ;)

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

The Grands and Halloween


The Grand family was going to come to San Jose to visit a while back on Labor Day weekend, but life got in the way. We rescheduled and they came up for Halloween weekend. We all had a really good time. They flew in on Halloween morning and we went straight from the airplane to Vander's baseball game. We all got to watch him pitch. I think he did a pretty good job for his first try. We had a tea party, went trick-or-treating and got/ate way too much candy, went for a walk, visited Chuck E Cheeses, and made some faux cookie dough together. I am not really sure where the pics of everyone in their Halloween costumes went, so this cute pic will have to do. The kids really enjoyed having their cousins around.

October


Major blogging FAIL! I can't believe I didn't write a single blog in October...nobody is impressed, especially not me. I have been working (not that it's a great excuse- I have had write a blog on my list of things to do for a month). Anyway I love my classroom and the boys are both very happy with their teachers. Oliven really loves school. Jeremiah and he are inseparable buddies. It's been pretty chaotic at our house because of all the changes. I have been subbing on Mondays and Tuesdays when they call at the Charter school and teaching at my own school, Anderson, on Thursdays and Fridays. On Wednesdays I am a table leader in Mom's Next (the extension of MOPS).  Then, right afterwards I volunteer in both of the boy's classrooms for an hour each. I also have to plan with my partner after school. It has been a huge adjustment for Justin. I just hope it gets easier over time. I can't garentee that it will be easier when I have a full time job, but it will be more consistant anyway. I know Justin wishes that I wasn't working. We will have to figure out what works best for our family. It's a work in progress right now.
   What did you miss you ask...well, both boys performed fun things about bugs at Fall exhibition. Vander's class taught us all about pollination. Vander was the narrator. Oliven was an ant and taught us all about what bugs do and even sang a song about them with the other kinders. Justin and I went to the Fall Exhibition and this year my school principal, Christy, and the Resource specialist, Camille, joined us. We didn't win much- one pair of earrings, but we had a good time.  My cookbook club took a trip to San Francisco for our 5 year anniversary and walked around the city from foodie shop to foodie shop. We stopped by a Cookbook store, had a fancy tea, went Olive oil tasting, had tons of yummy treats and ended the night having pizza. It was a great day. The guys stayed home and had a great day together. We also made tamales as a cookbook club which was pretty cool.
   Vander lost a tooth and overall, it was a pretty quick month. We also had Halloween, but I think I'll write another post for that one.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Uncle Mitch and Aunt Katie

  We finally got a chance to go up to Mitch and Katie's new house in San Leandro. It's very cute. It will be perfect for their new little baby boy, Evan, who is due mid 2016! The house has lots of character and unique qualities, which I like in a house. They have big plans for that house with redoing the front and back yard and both bathrooms. They have some really great established trees in their backyard. The backyard it great for energetic dogs like theirs. It was great to go up and have a nice brunch with them. The boys enjoyed playing cards and drawing all the boxes on a piece of graph paper, who knew that could be entertaining. :) With our updated computer software I can't figure out how to get my pictures, so when I figure it out I'll add a picture of our morning here.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Youch! Burned...

   Vander has become quite interested in cooking and enjoys making meals with me. Last night he decided on a meatloaf, green bean, and potato meal. It's all cooked on one sheet pan. I always warn him repeatedly to be careful with hot pans. So far he has come out unscathed, until last night. He leaned his right arm onto the 400 degree sheet pan as he was painting bbq sauce onto the meatloaf. He screamed and cried of course. We ran his arm under cold water and bandanged it up after swabing it with an anti-burn pad." Ow, ow, ow" he repeated every 30 seconds for the next hour. He kept an ice pack on it for an hour or so and took some tylenol. By the time he went to bed he was fine and today he tells me it doesn't even hurt. We just have to keep it out of the sun so that it doesn't scar. I hope he learned his lesson and will be more careful in the future!

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Grammy turns 60 and Ollie's math

We went to Morgan Hill to celebrate Theresa's 60th birthday and have a family dinner.
  While we were eating dinner Larry asked how old Oliven's teacher is...I said she is around 38ish. Larry says to Oliven, "If Grammy is 60 and your teacher is 38 how much older is Grammy." As he starts to say, "Nevermind that is too hard." Oliven pipes in, "22!" "How did you figure that out so fast?" Pops asks. Ollie replies, "I just straight up knew." It was so hilarious! Gotta love kids and the things they say.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Back to school everyone!

 Before school started we had a couple of last hurrahs with the Lim family. After the preview the classroom day for Kindergarten we headed over to Buffalo Wild Wings with the kids and husbands (and Carrie's parents) for some dinner. Then, the day before school started we went to Scrambles for a special breakfast to celebrate their big milestones...it's a tradition. We did it last year too and we fully plan to do it again next year and the next year, etc. It's a nice send off.
  This year Oliven is starting Kindergarten! It's a biggy...my baby is going to school full time. Vander is off to second grade this year. I brought them to their first day of school on Thursday and it was bitter-sweet. The boys were both really excited. Oliven is thrilled to start school. In fact, his biggest disappointment from the first day is that he didn't get any homework. He was really looking forward to starting homework. Ollie and Jeremiah stuck together. They are good buddies. After Oliven went into his classroom I started crying- I was not alone. Who knew it would be sooooo emotional. I was trying not to cry so hard that I brought attention to myself, but gosh darn it I am going to miss my little buddy being around all the time. He is such a little sweetheart.
When the boys got home we made them a special dinner. At Vander's request we had crab cakes with pineapple cous cous and grilled green onions. Gotta love that pallet. Then, afterward we met up with Grammy and Pops for frozen yogurt.
  I also started school this week. I am teaching 3rd grade on a 40% contract (Thursday and Friday) at Anderson Elementary school. I am very excited to be back to work, though it is a big adjustment for our family since I fully plan on substitute teaching at the Charter School on Mondays and Tuesdays and I have Moms Next on Wednesdays. We will see how it goes. I am very excited and I have a great group of students.

Summer Reading Fun

  The summer break is over and the kids did an incredible amount of reading this summer. Each day they read a minimum of 20 minutes to keep their minds engaged. At the beginning of the summer they read out loud and they each read their first chapter book. By the end of the summer they were reading silently to their selves and happily reading chapter books. For each 10 minutes they read they got one box checked off and each time they got 10 boxes they got to choose a special treat. After they read two chapter books we got them each a kindle of their own. They also made money for our trip from their reading- $1 per 10 boxes until we left on our trip. By the end of the summer Oliven had 230 boxes (38.33 hours of reading!). Oliven read 18 chapter books (probably more, but that is how many we remembered to write down). Vander got 242 boxes (40.33 hours of reading!). He read 9 chapter books- longer than the ones Ollie read. They both did a fantastic job reading. Not to mention that they also did activity pages all summer long. Lots of good effort by both boys!!! And, lots of extra reading above and beyond what I asked them to do. I am very proud of both of my little readers!

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Colby and Alex, then Angels Camp - Glamping?


  Colby came to visit us straight from Columbia and we spent a few days with him, playing games, hanging out and going to the beach. Alex joined us at our house for a day of games and Twister. We had to head out, but they stayed a few more days to pack up some of Colby's stuff from the garage.
  We love camping with the Rogerson family, but this year Nicole was having a baby so she decided a little glamping might be a better way to go. This is the term for "glamorous camping". Grayson is only in month 2 of life, so we agreed that was a good way to go. Nicole's parents have a WorldMark time share so we stayed at a very very nice timeshare in Angels Camp, CA. It was a lovely 3 day weekend. We headed up Thursday afternoon and got stuck in plenty of traffic, but once we got there we spent time hanging out with some of our good friends.
  The next morning we headed out to do some rock wall climbing. We considered zip lining, but it was quite expensive...$40/person for 30 seconds- that's more than $1 a second. Anyway, we decided that we would all go down the underground cave and check it out, but Oliven started freaking out on the way down, so I took him back up to the surface and we hung out while the rest of the group had a 45 minute underground tour. They said that it was really cool - tons of stairs (Justin was sore for several days afterwards). They turned off all the lights once while they were down in the cave and everyone seemed to think that was the coolest part since it was so dramatically dark. We headed back to the time share to rest and then took the kids swimming. We got back together for a burrito dinner at our place. We spent time chatting and played a game.
  Saturday morning Justin decided to just stay and relax while the rest of us headed to an old gold mining town. All the people were dressed up in their old time garb and selling old timey stuff. Vander had a glass of Sarsaparilla and all the kids drank their mug at the bar. They then spent the next  hour and a half panning for gold. All the kids enjoyed themselves and found gems and a hunk of pyrite to take as a souvenir. The boys also got a smashed penny to take home. The kids did some climbing on rocks, which they enjoyed. At that point we were all hungry so we headed back for lunch and quiet time. After that we got back together and took the kids to play tennis while Nicole and I prepped spring rolls and spaghetti for dinner. We had an eclectic dinner together and played a game before heading back for bed.
  We took our time getting ready Sunday morning. The Rogerson's left early because Tyler had to work. We left when we were ready and had a much shorter drive home. It was a nice weekend. Too bad Justin and I both left our shoes there - oops! It was too nice to be considered glamping.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Northern Midwest trip: Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, and Wisconsin

  We left for our great Northern Midwest trip July 21st and returned August 1st. We went for 12 days of fun and exploring. We spent time with friends, saw lots of art, explored some nature, played at some parks, went to two baseball games, enjoyed the city, went on a boat ride. We visited 7 states and drove 1,728 miles, and have some fantastic memories for the rest of our lives.

DAY 1, Tues. July 21st: We all woke up at 3am and Pops drove us to the San Francisco airport. We spent the majority of the day in airplanes, with a stopover in Phoenix. This park of the trip was pretty seamless. The boys did a great job carrying their backpacks and booster seats. All of our flights were mostly on time. We headed out to get our rental car and head over to the Larson house. They ended up trying to give us a car that smelled very strongly of cigarette smoke, so we got to switch it for a Ford, Echo- much more spacious. A bit more expensive on the gas front, but well worth it. We got to Lindsay's house just as she had to leave to pick up Austin and Rylee from camp. The kids all enjoyed some water play in the back yard while we got re-acquainted with Linds. It really is great visiting friends you haven't seen in a while and picking right back up where you left off. We really enjoyed living by Linds and Eric in grad school and in San Jose, but their lives in Minnesota are pretty great. After dinner we headed over to Grandpa Rupe's house to sleep. (Lindsay's dad, her mom was out of town).

DAY 2: We had a leisurely morning with the Larsons. Linds made crossiants and parfaits and then we headed out to a super awesome park in Bloomington that Lindsay calls the Chutes and Ladders park- and it really was as cool as advertised- it was like chutes and ladders 3-D. The kids loved it and we sat and chatted in the shade and watched. Austin and Rylee still had camp so we headed back and had some quiet time while they were away. In the afternoon we headed over to Lake Harriet by the Ban Shell park. We met up with Drummond (my friend from Summer Bridge San Diego in 2002ish), his wife Kelli and their 3 year-old son Leo at the Rose Garden. The heat and mosquitoes were not a good combo for kid entertainment. My kiddos were still jet lagged for sure. We went to a park on the other side of the lake and the kids played at the park. We ordered some pizza for dinner and ate at the park. It was really nice to catch up with Drummond. The last time I saw him was in New York City for my 30th birthday. Back to Rupe's for bed.

DAY 3: We were going to have breakfast with the Larson's, but Beckham woke up with a bit of a fever, so we headed over to have bagel sandwiches on our way to North Dakota. An hour into the trip Oliven says he has to go potty. We said we would pull off at the next exit- terrible timing since we had just passed a town and it would be a while to the next. A minute later he is saying he really has to go and 30 seconds later he is sitting in a puddle of his own pee. We had to pull over on the side of the freeway and change his clothes and do the best we could with his booster seat. Let's just say we decided a bathroom break ever hour to hour and a half was no longer optional.
  A while later we stopped at Hjelkomst Center in Moorhead, Minnesota to check out a Viking ship replica. A man named Robert Asp build it in 1972 and his family sailed it from Minnesota to Norway. He made it an exact replica of a Viking ship because that was something he was passionate about. Next we headed over to Bonanzaville. We had to call twice for directions because the construction made it very difficult to find. It was worth it! The historical society did an amazing job of basically making an entire old fashioned village from the late 1800s. The telephone museum had working old time phones that called each other. There were old time planes, trains, cars, medical offices, law offices, fire station, jail house, movie theater, town hall, etc. It was very comprehensive. The boys really liked the house- "it looks like it's made of Lincoln logs!" We spent several hours enjoying ourselves. We also really liked the creamery...very interesting!
  After we were exhausted from the heat was went to Scheels. Kelli had recommended it and it was super cool. It's a very large sporting goods and outdoor gear store, but here's the fun part...there is a ferris wheel in the middle, so we took a ride. The kids also really enjoyed the kid play area while Justin and I picked out some snacks to grab at their cafe. Nachos, nuts and fudge for later. Goodbye Fargo.
  Three and a half hours later we grabbed some Bob-be-que at Bob's Tavern. Seriously small place- a couple of seats at the bar, but really and truly a take-out place. We headed down with our scrumptious meal to downtown Sioux Falls. Talk about windy! It was super hard to keep our food from blowing away, but it really was super delicious, if we could just hold on to it...when we were done we walked around and did the sculpture walk in Sioux Falls. They commisioned local artists to just be creative and do something they are passionate about. It was very neat. All the art was so original and personal to the artists. We really enjoyed it.

DAY 4: My boys absolutely love hotel breakfasts. This trip they were obsessed with the "piggy" (the sausage). After breakfast we were on our way to the Henry Doorley Zoo in Omaha, Nebraska. It is the #1 zoo in the United States and it really does earn that title. It is very extensive, well done, and has tons of animals. The only down side was that it was so hot at the zoo that it felt like stepping into a fire every time we walked outside. We enjoyed the bears, birds, monkeys, and penguins the most. Although I was not a fan of the penguin pooping in my face. We found a gorilla that was Justin's ear twin. The aquarium was very cool. It was like the Monterey Bay Aquarium inside the zoo! We spent most of our day at the zoo, then got back in the car to head to Iowa. We stopped at Culvers for a late lunch. The boys were thrilled because their meal came with chocolate milk and custard. Then on to Des Moines. We made it to the capitol building right after it closed. We tried to find the sculpture park, but it took us to the wrong side of the town and since it was grossly hot we decided to go to the hotel and try again the next morning. The boys were hungry to I walked over to a local eatery, which was really a glorified bar, and grabbed them some tacos while they showered.

DAY 5:  In the morning we headed over to the Papppajohn Sculpture park for a half hour after stocking up on carrots, peaches and caramelized nuts at the farmers market between the hotel and our car. They had some really awesome larger than life statues in a great big green grassy area. We all liked the giant letter guy the best. We then headed over to the capitol building again to check it out. (We would have skipped this, but Oliven was devastated that it was closed the previous day and made us promise to go back in the morning). The boys absolutely loved how well it echoed, echoed, echoed. Not gonna lie it drove Justin and I a little bit crazy, but the docents said they could do it.
  About 5 hours later we found ourselves in downtown Chicago. After the stress of finding the hotel and it's parking structure (which was full, so we had to do valet- nothing like paying $54 a night to park!) we headed out to get some deep dish Chicago-style pizza. We thought about going to Uno's, but the wait was 1 1/2 hours, so we headed a block down to Pizzaria Due and sat right down. It takes about 45 minutes to cook a deep dish pizza, so it was quite a wait, but it was worth it. Oliven said it was his favorite kind of pizza. Vander and I are still partial to the thin crust Italian pizza, but it is definitely an experience. On our way back we discovered Eataly, which is super cool.
It's Mario Batali's authentic Italian everything store- groceries, cheeses, meats, cookware, sandwiches, nutella, crepes, gelato, beverages, fine dining. You name it. The boys wanted a canolli- ever since having them in Little Italy in San Francisco they have been telling me that canollis are their favorite dessert. We went back to our "cozy" hotel room. I shared a bed with Ollie and Justin shared a bed with Vander. We discovered that Elmo was missing. It was a very sad realization, but Vander took it really well considering that he has slept with Elmo every night almost his whole life.

DAY 6: After having a hotel breakfast we ventured out to walk the Miracle Mile. The boys really liked the painted horse statues all around and wanted a picture with every one of them. They also liked when we found a pedestal they could sit on and pretend to be a statue themselves. That was super cute. We found a two story candy store that they decided was pretty much the coolest place ever. We spent some time there, trying fudge, picking out pez, looking around, taking pictures. Afterwards, we headed to the Chicago Cubs game via the "L" public transportation. It was exciting stuff. The boys got a plastic helmet as a free gift on the way in, which they wore for the whole game. Vander put a 12 on his for Kyle Schwarber, and Ollie put a 17 on his for Kris Bryant. Van decided to root for the Philly's since he was reading a book called the "Philly Phanatic". The rest of us chose to root for the Cubs. The final score was 11-5 Philly's (Vander was proud of the Philly's). Our seats were pretty perfect- way up in the nosebleeds by 3rd base, but the best last row seats you could have up against the chain link fence with an awesome breeze and shaded. What a fun game.
After the game we thought the Siena Tavern by Fabio Viviani would be a good choice for a lovely upscale Italian dinner after we showered we headed over. We were definitely under dressed (I don't think Justin noticed, though he did choose not to wear a super hero shirt, but it had a picture of a pig on it, so it wasn't much better), but the restaurant didn't seem to mind. Thank goodness. We ordered 2 appetizers, a bowl of gnocci (the little "pillows of heaven" Fabio is known for), grilled brussel sprouts, and everyone's favorite dessert- the cookie jar. It was caramel cookies with a jar of nutella mouse and whipped cream to slather on top of the cookies. It was worth writing home about. It was an excellent and elegant meal. The boys and I walked out while Justin paid, and the waitress told Justin that it was delightful to have our well behaved children at her table.  What a great day over all.

DAY 7: We decided it was time to take the Chicago architectural tour. It was a good walk down to the pier and then we booked our boat tour. It was a 90 minute boat ride (mostly in the sun) where they told us about all the boats in Chicago. Justin and I liked it, Oliven listened and remembered most of what was said as evidenced by all his comments about the buildings the rest of our time in Chicago. Vander kept trying to take a nap on the benches and in our laps. Both boys said they did not enjoy that, except the free cookie. After the tour we took public transit to the Bongo Room. It's the one place we have gone to every time we have been to Chicago. It's amazing. Vander got a pineapple upside down flapjack plate, Oliven got a red velvet pancake plate, I had vanilla bean french toast and Justin had lemon blueberry pancakes. Yummo!
They were so whiny that morning overall, so we decided to head back to the hotel room for a nap. Ollie went right to sleep, Van basically messed around and flailed about trying not to sleep. Afterwards in the afternoon we headed down to Millenium park. I wanted the kids to see "The Bean". They mentioned it on our tour and it sounded intriguing...it was a giant bean made of mirror. It was very interesting and unlike anything I had ever seen before.
They also had a huge water structure that spits out water which was pretty cool. It was pretty hot, but Millenium park was full of art and a great big stadium. We enjoyed ourselves and then headed to the Slurping Turtle. This is the restaurant by chef Takashi, who we always enjoy watching on Top Chef. It is a homemade ramen restaurant. It was a bit too spicy and hot for me, but Justin really enjoyed it. We stopped by Eataly for a Baci candy bar for dessert.

DAY 8: On day 8 it was time to check out and head to Wisconsin. We started our journey with an hour and a half drive to Kenosha, WI, home of the Mars Cheese Castle. It was a great little stop. It was decorated like a castle, had cheese head hats, tons of souvenirs and a great little area to stop and have a snack. We shared a grilled cheese with Wisconsin cheddar and each had a chunk of Havarti fudge...was it cheese, was it chocolate??? I tasted like both and neither at the same time. As we got back in the car and set the GPS on the phone for Madison, it said that we were going to drive through Milwaukee as the shortest route- serendipity and so I quickly got on the web and tried to find us some fun stuff to do. We decided a chocolate shop would be a good first stopover. It was a bit fancier than we had anticipated so we bought two chocolates and shared them. Vanilla malt and caramel gray salt- really good, but $4.50 good? However, on our way out the door Vander spotted an ice cream shop called Purple Door Ice cream. We decided that it was vacation, so why not? We headed in and they had a really unique place. All the ice creams were made in house with local ingredients. They were really really good. Oliven had chocolate cinnamon, Van had peanut butter parfait, but mine was fantastic and so unique- I had a split scoop of whiskey and mascarpone. They were both phenomenal. That shop was a find. It was apparently too unique for Justin because he decided he was going to skip on the ice cream which is just unheard of. I wanted us to do more than just eat in Milwaukee though, so I found a cheap museum. There were plenty of expensive ones, but I thought if it was cheap and we hated it then no harm in leaving.
We stopped in to the Grohmann museum. It is a display of the history of workers and it was really good. The top of the building was a statue garden overlooking the city, on the other 3 floors it was filled with art of different types of workers of all occupations by a variety of artists. They also were featuring and artist by the name of Carl Spitzweg, who they told us was like Germany's version of Norman Rockwell and his paintings were really intriguing. They had a special collection of coins on loan and my personal favorite was an informational video on each floor. We got to learn all about glass blowing, which the kids loved (Justin and I had seen it previously in person in Europe, seperately), and a video about paving a road- who knew there were so many steps. It was fascinating. The ceiling was a really cool painting with Gods and workers tied together by mans greatest discover, the wheel. On the floor was a mosiac of workers. They boys enjoyed the museum as much as we did and Oliven says it was one of his favorite places from our trip.
  It was time to move on so we stopped at the Madison Capitol and we showed up 20 minutes after their last tour of the day. We promised Ollie we would return in the morning and take the tour. We walked around the square and stopped at a toy store for the boys, then a really cool cheese shop called Fromagination. They had all kids of cheeses and meats. Our favorite were the "orphan" cheeses- they were little chunks of cheese of all kinds. We looked through them and picked four out, bought some crackers and a little chunk of salami and sat outside having a picnic. The boys didn't love the cheeses, but Justin and I enjoyed it. Some of the cheeses were like $30 a pound and the salami was $40 a pound, so it was good stuff and nothing we have ever had before. We walked by a place called, "The Old Fashioned" and it had Wisconsin Fare as the type of cheese so we decided to go in and have dinner. To be sure we were not hungry enough for what we ordered. The kids got macaroni and cheese and a grilled cheese, I got a cup of chili and Justin got a burger with Wisconsin cheese curds- which were delicious. Then we headed back to the hotel for bed. The kids could not believe how big the room was (we decided compared to the hotel room in Chicago it was like a mansion).
DAY 9: For breakfast we went to a place called the Rolling Pin. It was primarily a bakery, but also offered pancakes, waffles, french toast and eggs. Justin was less than impressed. We should have ordered the baked goods. That was my bad. They didn't ask us to pay, there was really no service and the pancakes Vander got were completely flavorless. Okay, not everything can be great- back to the Capitol building. We took the tour of the beautiful capitol building. It wasn't geared for kids like some of the capitol buildings we have seen like in Phoenix, but it was really gorgeous and it had a great viewing area at the bottom of the dome with 360 degree views of the city. We all enjoyed that aspect. I really liked the beautiful marble and other stones they made the building out of from cities and countries all around.
 After leaving Madison we headed to St. Paul to see that Capitol building. Well, Lindsay warned us that it wasn't much to see, but we didn't know exactly what we were in for until we got there...it was all roped off and covered in tarps for remodel to be reopened in the Spring of 2017. We got out and walked around a bit, took Vander to a bathroom in a locked building that a lady was nice enough to let us into and headed back to the Larson house.
DAY 10: After a leisurely morning we headed over to the Mall of America. We all really enjoyed the enormity of the mall and exploring it. We spent quite a bit of time at the enormous Lego store. We also enjoyed the Disney store, two candy stores, and Old Navy. Justin was disappointed by how many repeat shops there were- 3 Lids stores, really? To end our fun we decided to go on the Log Ride in the amusement park part of the mall. Somebody gave me a bracelet with points on it so we essentially go on free, and it still had points when we were done so we passed it on to another family. The log ride had about a 25 minute wait and then we got on. Oliven did not mind the idea of the first drop, but he was not happy about it happening again. At the top he said he was scared- of course it was too late by then. When the ride ended he said he didn't like it cause it was too scary, but once we were off he said it was so much fun. Justin was pretty wet, Vander was completely soaked and Ollie and I were mostly dry (we were in the back) and the water cascaded over Vander on the second drop. We left the mall and went to have some quiet time at the Larson house. In the afternoon the kids played in the water and had water balloon fun in the backyard.
  After dinner it was time to head out to the Twins stadium for the baseball game at Target field. Lindsays dad, Randy Rupert Istre, had gotten us some awesome seats in the second section up almost right behind home plate. We were close enough that the players looked like real people. It was really great seats and man oh man, what an exciting game! 5 to 2 in the first inning!!! What fun. :) We got the boys ice cream helmets and watching the exciting game play out. 9 to 5 Twins ended up being the final score. We had parked in a $10 lot nearby and even though we left after the last inning we didn't hit any traffic, which was amazing. A seriously great game- perhaps the best I have been to yet.
DAY 11: Linds made us all  some yummy banana pancakes for breakfast and when we were all ready after a morning of playing and singing and piano playing (if it can be called that) we waited for Eric to come home from his 1/2 day of work on Fridays and headed over to Lake Minnehaha- what a super fun name- to eat lunch at a seafood restaurant called Sea Salt for lunch. The wait was VERY VERY long. An hour later our food came and it was good. I had a walnut burger because Linds was planning to make salmon for dinner. We rented a bike that seated 8 people (4 adults pedaling, 2 kids in the middle of the adults and 2 in the front basket; Beckham stayed with his grandparents to nap) and went riding around the lake. We stopped and let the kids play at the park.
Beckham was getting dropped off so Linds and I went to meet up with her parents for the drop off while the boys went for a hike down to the waterfall. Afterwards we headed back and spent some time hanging out and having a yummy Greek salmon dinner with homemade ice cream and a lemon pie. The kids really did enjoy every minute of each others company as they danced around and played legos and wrestled. The Larson's are such a great family. We have always really liked Lindsay and Eric, but we really enjoyed getting to spend time with their kids as well. They are all little sweethearts. I look forward to seeing them again.
DAY 12: We had to leave pretty much right after breakfast for the airport. Everything pretty much went off without a hitch and was pretty seamless. It was a nice day home and we talked about our favorite things and the boys finished writing their journal entries.