Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Years Eve Dinner: French Onion Soup and Bacon-Gruyere Panini


Tonight's dinner turned out so yummy that the dishes aren't even cleared from the table yet, and I'm already writing it up.

For the soup:
Ingredients
  • 2 Tbsp salted butter*

  • 5 medium yellow onions, thinly sliced

  • 1/2 tsp dried thyme

  • 1 cup baby bella mushrooms, coarsely sliced (optional)

  • 3 Tbsp balsamic vinegar

  • 4 cups low sodium beef broth

  • 1 bay leaf

  • salt and pepper

*If using unsalted butter, add 1/4 tsp salt with the onions in step 1.

Directions
  1. In a medium stockpot, melt the butter over medium heat.

  2. Add the onions and thyme, and cook, stirring occasionally, until carmelized. This will take about 20-30 minutes. The onions should be much smaller and a dark brown color (but not burned.

  3. Add mushrooms, if using, towards the end of the carmelization.

  4. Deglaze the stockpot with the balsamic vinegar, scraping to loosen as much of the fond on the bottom of the pan as possible. Cook until it no longer smells vinegary (3-4 minutes).

  5. Add beef broth and bay leaf. Simmer 20-30 minutes until hot. Adjust salt and pepper to taste.

  6. Serve hot, with the panini on the side. Serves 4.


For the panini:
Ingredients
  • 6 slices thick-cut bacon

  • 10 slices thin sandwich bread (I used a multigrain)

  • 8 ounces Gruyere cheese, grated

  • 2/3 cup mayonnaise

  • 1/2 cup sliced green onions

  • 2 tsp Old Bay Seasoning

Directions
  1. Heat panini press according to directions. If you don't have a panini press or a stove-top grill pan, then heat a non-stick frying pan over medium heat, and consider buttering the bread (for the panini, I did NOT use butter)

  2. Cook bacon till crispy (in a frying pan, oven, however you normally cook bacon). Drain on paper towels.

  3. In a medium mixing bowl, combine the grated cheese, mayonnaise, onions, and seasoning.

  4. For each sandwich, add about 1/2 cup of cheese mixture and top with bacon. With my bread, I ended up with 5 sandwiches. Your mileage may vary.

  5. Toast panini on the press until the cheese is melted and the bread is toasted, about 5-6 minutes.

  6. Serve hot with french onion soup. Makes 5 sandwiches, but only serves 4 people. :)


--
Notes: Yes, I got a new toy. A panini maker. Technically, a griddle/grill/waffle maker/panini maker. And in the spirit of my new things from this year, tonight's dinner counted twice. This was my first ever attempt at making French Onion Soup (it was easy!!), and first time making a panini. So far, we've used the new toy 4 times this week: grilled porkchops, grilled steaks, waffles, and now Bacon Gruyere Panini. I have yet to break in the griddle plates.

Oh yes, and if you were counting bacon slices in that panini recipe and wonder where I learned to count, congratulations. You get to eat the extra slice of bacon next time around. It was yummy too.

---
Credit where credit is due: I based the panini recipe from a Deluxe Grilled Cheese Sandwiches recipe from our local grocery store for the panini recipe. Their version called for thick cut sourdough bread and lots more butter. My way was sufficiently rich.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The House

Saturday the four of us made a gingerbread house together. Cute, huh?

Charlotte had been asking to make one of these for a few weeks, so I picked up a kit. I have a wonderful gingerbread cookie recipe, but it makes deliciously soft cookies. Definitely not structural. And by the time we would have bought half a dozen kinds of candy, we were better off with a kit.

Doing this with a 5-year old and 2-year old was fun and frustrating. Trystan insisted on doing everything himself. Charlotte wanted half of the decorating done by us grownups, but to her specifications. And my husband spent about twenty minutes perfecting all of the wall and roof edges with a plastic knife so that we would be able to put the pieces together (a habit from days of assembling model kits when he was a kid, I suppose).

In the end, the house went up, got decorated. Half of the decorations are annoyingly precise and detailed, thanks to my husband (I say 'annoyingly' because I don't have the patience for that kind of work, not because I don't appreciate the end result. The mound of gumdrops by the front door are actually 4 hand-carved gumdrop people--2 tall, 2 short, all clasping their gumdrop hands in a joyful circle. I'd have just bought gummy bears.). The other half of the decorations are stuck on with thick layers of icing and little sense of proportion, pattern, or continuity, thanks to Charlotte and Trystan. I think I was mainly in charge of squeezing icing glue onto gumdrops and peppermint circles, and distributing sprinkles evenly amongst the children's workspaces.

Actually, Trystan mainly worked on the 6 "bonus" ornaments. 4 were snowmen and are hanging on our tree. The other two were tree-shaped, and the hanging holes got filled in with icing and candy. So they're now landscaping for the house.

As we were working on this project, I had a bit of foreshadowing, given the intensity with which we all worked on our parts. I bet that in 3 or 4 years, I'll be buying (or making) 4 separate gingerbread house kits so that each person may decorate and build his/her own house to his/her own specifications.

Maybe I need to find a new, structural, gingerbread recipe after all.

Monday, December 21, 2009

A Christmas Movie, or not

Saturday night I watched a movie that ended up being oh-so-timely for Christmas: Confessions of a Shopaholic.

Based on a series of books, the main character, Rebecca, is a young journalist in New York City, where she quickly learns the joys of shopping. And even more quickly shops herself into credit card debt. Her addiction nearly costs her a budding relationship with a man, her job (as a columnist for a money magazine), and her best friend.
You know that thing when you see someone cute and he smiles and your heart kind of goes like warm butter sliding down hot toast? Well that's what it's like when I see a store. Only it's better. --Rebecca Bloomfield in Confessions of a Shopaholic

The movie was cute. I have not read the Shopaholic books, though I suspect they are fun reads. I didn't expect it to make me think.

I'm not a shopaholic. No, that's not denial talking :) But like a lot of people, I think I could easily fall into that habit.

Its way too easy to attempt to buy yourself picture-perfect happiness with a little plastic card. Stores are designed to draw you in and to make the merchandise look appealing. And to make you feel you desperately need something you never knew you wanted.

I fully admit that when I get unhappy about something going on in my life, I frequently go shopping. My husband and I laugh about the time when he bought a new car (his Bonneville). At the time, we had some miscommunication about whether and how and why we were saving money, and I was not happy that he had decided that he needed a new car. So I bought new living room furniture. Makes perfect sense, no?

Saturday afternoon, after a particularly annoying hunt for a specific gift for Charlotte that had me chasing from store to store to see who had it in stock, I was in a particularly strange mindset about shopping and money. On one hand, I've been feeling unable to stop myself from buying some things that we by no means need (a Christmas-y rug for the front door, a gingerbread house kit...). And on the other, I was resenting spending so much money and dreading paying it off this next month. I don't do credit card debt. Don't think I've intentionally needed pay interest on a credit card in years and years. Maybe a decade or more. Its a statement I hope to still be able to make in January, 2010.

So, during this season of economy stimulation, I watched with amusement, horror, and way too much familiarity as Rebecca gives herself up to clearance sales, designer sample sales, shuffling credit cards like a Vegas blackjack dealer. And Sunday, when we took the kids to the mall to see Santa (at Charlotte's request), it made it a little easier to ignore all of the cute clothes and 40% off sales tempting me form all sides. A little easier. And we won't discuss whether or not our kids left with a new Build-a-Bear each. (There was a coupon! Evil, evil Santa.)

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Easier than pie

I think I start most of my posts with a reaffirmation of my insanity. Why stop now?

Today is my office’s holiday potluck, and I’d signed up to bring a pie. I had planned to bake my chocolate pecan recipe last night, but then my evening plans changed suddenly and I wouldn’t have enough time for 20 minutes of stovetop time plus an hour in the oven (plus sleep).

My cupboards are perennially stocked with all manner of baking goods. If you have a dessert emergency, I am prepared. So, changing my dessert plan didn’t require a trip to any store. I quickly decided on a basic, from-the-box chocolate cake. And the absolutely easiest way to prepare a cake for a crowd is to do a sheet-cake. Served in the pan, with icing on top. Nothing fancy.

I tried. I really tried. I even began extracting my 9x13 pan from the stack of casserole dishes. But I just couldn’t. No, the dish was not stuck. The problem was me, not my cabinet organization.

When I have a cupboard full of fancier pans—-choo choo trains, snowmen, cupcakes (mini, normal, and "Texas-sized"), round, square, heart--I can’t make just a big plain rectangle. Even for work.

Insanity.

I used my bundt pan, which is almost as easy as a big plain rectangle, but looks fancier. And it isn’t a layer cake, so doesn’t require as much work to ice it. I also had some leftover homemade peppermint white chocolate icing (what, you don’t just keep this stuff around?). By "leftover", I mean that I used about 3/4 of the batch on cookies about twenty minutes earlier, in preparation for a cookie exchange (also at the office today), to make Peppermint Sandwich Cookies*.

So, once the cake was cool, I warmed the peppermint icing up just enough to make it runny and poured it over the cake. Then crushed 2 candy canes and sprinkled them on top. Perfect. Fancy looking, but a total of about 10 minutes of active work (the stand mixer does most of the hard part, and there’s practically no measuring since it’s from a mix).

Maybe I'm not entirely insane. Just obsessive. Or is there a difference?



*Note on the cookies: I added about 1/2 cup powdered sugar to the filling recipe because mine just would not thicken even after spending the night in the fridge. With the sugar and about 2 minutes with the whisk in the stand mixer, I had a fluffier, icing-like filling for my cookies. And since I used salted butter in the cookie part (and had added the full amount of salt called for in the recipe), I think the extra sweetness was a good thing.

Monday, December 14, 2009

11 days

The Christmas tree is up. The dining room table looks like a dining room table and not an oversized junk drawer. The carpets have been vacuumed. It was a productive weekend.

I hope that the crazy-busy part of our holiday season is over. After a week-long vacation, followed by an additional weekend away, then a dance recital and a grownup holiday party and a school Christmas program, I feel like the rest of the lead-up to New Years is smooth sailing. Maybe that’s because I don’t yet know what all is going on over the next two weeks.

Maybe I’m speaking too soon, since I have cookies and a pie to make before our office Christmas party tomorrow, and Char’s classroom Christmas party to attend on Thursday. And we have 50 cards to address and mail. And buy stamps for. And do any of those 50 people really want a letter? Or will a nice photo card do?

But after all that’s done, what is left? Char wants to go see Santa Claus, so I guess a trip to the mall is in store. And Christmas shopping? Well, we’re in better shape than most years. It’s just that for some reason, I see toys everywhere that would be perfect for Trystan. And I have no idea what to get Charlotte. I’m sure she’ll give Santa some good ideas, though. Instead of selling overpriced photos with the man in red, they should sell soundbytes of the kids’ conversations.

Anyway, I think that I should be a lot less hurried the next two weeks than I felt the last two. I don’t know why, since my to-do list seems as long as ever. Maybe waking up to a glowing Christmas tree helps (I love light timers…ours is set to turn on in the evenings, and come back on at 6 in the morning to cheer us at breakfast).

What about you? Will you be sliding into Christmas Day or coasting?

Friday, December 11, 2009

Why does this room look lopsided?

It is entirely possible that I am insane. Or that I own too much furniture.

That would be an inclusive "or".

I think part of the reason that I get grumpy about Christmas decorations is that they require so darned much work. I have to practically remodel the house every December, and then put it all back again come January.

All I want is to put up the Christmas tree. I'm not attempting to display the 3-foot wide Santa sleigh, or the thigh-high wooden Rudolph with the lights, or the Santa bear that still stands several inches taller than my youngest child. Just the tree.

And yes, we probably own too much furniture for our space. There was a short period of time when we owned just the right amount. That period ended abruptly in August of 2004 when our perfect space had to re-arrange to fit a baby swing, cradle, pack-n-play, and other assorted baby items. Our family room has never been the same since.

Of course, if you look at the room these days, it is full of the echoes of laughter and tickle-fests, of boo-boos and tantrums and chase games. And toys. It's worth having to give up my perfectly-proportioned glass-inlaid coffee table so that Thomas the Train can chug along in front of the couch. And it's worth having to roll up the rug--the one that compliments our sofas and drapes so beautifully--to make room for the Disney Dance Dance Revolution. And Rock Band--with Trystan on drums and Charlotte belting out eighties metal ballads.

All of the fun makes it harder every year to re-arrange things to make room for the tree. And if you've ever seen just how hard a two-year-old can throw small objects, you'd understand why the decorative knick knacks stay safely stowed in their boxes. Its for the safety of all--human, furniture, and knick knack alike.

Tonight, I have to thank my husband for patiently moving couches, chairs, ottomans, tables, the sub-woofer, the rug, and the children back and forth across the family room, into and through the dining room, and back again so that we can make space. I think everything fits.

Maybe tomorrow we'll actually bring or Christmas tree out of hiding, er, storage.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Why I'm grumpy today

Why I'm grumpy today

I was the first to wake up yesterday, early enough yesterday to pack Charlotte a lunch and start dinner in the crockpot. Doing all that made me late for work.

Charlotte started yesterday by complaining about the white dress that I made her. I think it's cute. She thinks it's scratchy and hard to run in. I think I don't have time to either shop for or sew another one, so she's stuck with it for dress uniform days for now.

After work yesterday, I picked up Charlotte, went grocery shopping in the rain (with Char), picked up Trystan, unloaded groceries amidst whiny kids, finished making dinner, and tried to prepare Charlotte for Santa's possible arrival via fire department (she had to change out of the accursed white dress and into something that could go outside).

Last night, my husband came home much later than I expected, and would have been later still except I yelled at him. He thought I said I didn't have any reading to do for my critique group meeting. I thought I said I hadn't had time yet to do it. In either case, I needed him home before I left, and we snapped at each other.

Santa never showed. Too rainy I guess.

I was last to bed yesterday, and first up this morning.

I packed Charlotte a lunch, only to find out that she wanted the school lunch today. I was supposed to know this because there were tiny, black checkmarks on the printout of the lunch schedule next to the lunches she wanted. I couldn't find her lunch box either, but it didn't matter in the end.

Trystan was good and picked out his own clothes. But he picked out overalls that don't work well with his chosen sweatshirt, and aren't recommended for daycare because of potty training (he can't work the buckles on his own). So I had to fight him into sweatpants instead. He's scrappy.

Although I was up early, I still left the house fifteen minutes later than I intended, thereby arriving at work fifteen minutes later than I intended. Again.

Trystan made an extremely sad face as I was leaving this morning.

Tonight, after working all day and rushing to pick up Charlotte on time, I have to make dinner, put the kids to bed myself, and bake 4 dozen total cookies for two separate events the next two days. My husband gets an evening--and dinner--out with grown-up friends.

My workout time tomorrow is cancelled due to Char's dance recital. And I'll probably have to work late to make up time from the past couple of late mornings.

The moment I publish this post, my husband will be annoyed at me for venting about him. And we'll end up snapping at each other again.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Indianapolis

We had barely caught up with the laundry from our Thanksgiving trip when it was time to leave again.

We spent this past weekend in Indianapolis with my family, enjoying a family tradition: the Nutcracker. For the past five or so years, my youngest sister has danced in the Gregory Hancock Dance Theater’s Nutcracker. And if you expand that poster image, and think you notice a coincidental resemblance between yours truly (or at least my children) and the waif in the photo. Yep, that's my sister. Katie was Clara this year.

We are all so proud of her. My baby sis is a superb dancer, and could probably pursue a career in it if she chooses. If you're in Indy next year, check them out. The show every year is top-notch--this is NOT a kids dance recital, but a very professional, high-quality, tear-jerking show. Yes, tear-jerking. It's a contemporary Nutcracker that reinvents Clara as a street urchin, Drosselmeier as a homeless man, and the Nutcracker and Sugar Plum Fairy as parental figures in the end. Not the traditional music either, and honestly, you won't miss it.

This weekend was a big deal for the family. All of my sisters were in town (I'm one of 5, and we are spread across 4 states). My grandmother also flew out from Nebraska with one of my aunts and one of my cousins. There was a lot of blonde hair and a lot of blue eyes staying in the hotel just down the street from the theater. I had a great time seeing all my sisters--it's been almost two years since I've seen my Texas sister in person, and about a year since I've seen my Chicago sister.

We (adult sisters + cousin) went out Saturday night to a bar/blues club in downtown Indy called the Slippery Noodle Inn. Smoky, but fun. I was amused at the looks that we girls got--Imagine 5 20-30-something women, all blonde haired, blue eyed, blue jeans and black jackets walking through a bar together.

The bar itself was fun. The building is an old brownstone with a rich history (longest continually operating bar in the state of Indiana), and as recently as the 1950's operated as a brothel (yes, that was "19" and not "18"). I left for college at 17, so never actually experienced any of Indy's grown-up nightlife (trips home are usually full of visiting and kid-friendly activities). I had no idea this place even existed.

Now, time to relax and unpack for good. And catch up on laundry (again). And buy groceries. And take my black jacket to the cleaners to get rid of that stale cigarette smoke smell.

P.S.
I am almost ashamed that I didn't advertise the Nutcracker performances beforehand, but I have a now-ingrained aversion to sharing travel plans online. And showing off that my sister was starring in a dance in another state amounts to painting "Out of Town, Be Back Monday" on our front door. No, I don't think you are some crackpot who's going to break into my house while I'm gone. But you just never know.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Family Vacation: Side Trips

One of the worst parts of this year's vacation was the drive. It was also one of the best parts.

Fourteen hours plus in the car with whiny little ones grates on your nerves. You can pacify them with movies, but then the movies grate on your nerves instead. And the kids don't always agree on the movies (soon we shall enter the era of individual movies with headphones...soon...). Luckily, there are stops along the way.

This was the first trip in a long time where we've had the luxury of making stops. Not just quickie bathroom breaks, but actual visits to places. Its nice not to have a set schedule all the time.

On the way to Florida, we took our first major stop in Sikeston, MO at Lambert's Cafe. Its a kooky country restaurant where they serve enormous portions of food, throw the rolls, and servers walk around with extra freebies. My husband and I had been there a few times in college on roadtrips, but its been years. The place hasn't changed. That's a good thing, btw.

That evening, we had a second stop in Memphis. In search of a bathroom, I ended up driving us to the riverfront park just a few blocks from Beale Street. It was just before sunset and about 70 degrees. We used the port-o-potties (the park bathrooms were closed), and then spent about 45 minutes running and playing with each other in the wide-open grassy areas. Trystan counted boats on the river, and we watched a gorgeous sunset.

We stayed the night in Columbus, Mississippi, and took a wrong turn leaving town the next morning. Instead of cutting a diagonal across Mississippi, we ended up back on I-55, and cut through Jackson and Hattiesburg then to Mobile, and Pensacola. I enjoyed the changing scenery along the route, from cotton fields up in Alabama, to the pine tree forests through Mississipi, to the gulf views in Mobile and Pensacola.

On the way home, we started with a long, planned stop at the National Naval Aviation Museum. We did not get lucky enough to visit on a day when the Blue Angels were flying. But we had a blast walking through and touching hundreds of planes and helicopters, dating back to WWI and before. They also had a lovely aircraft-carrier-themed indoor playground for the kids, with slides and climbing.

Before we left the naval base, we stopped at a gazebo along the water to eat our lunch (pb&j sandwiches, made with the remains of the loaf of bread that we'd bought in Destin).

That night, we drove all the way back to Memphis, and stayed in the Days Inn at Graceland. It was actually one of the cheaper hotels along the route, and it was a fun stop. The rooms were nice, and they had free 24/7 Elvis movies, which the kids enjoyed in the morning before we left. The lobby was full of Elvis memorabilia, and there was an actress there who had co-starred with Elvis in one of the movies, offering to sign photos or posters. Actually, that part was kind of sad, because few people were talking to her, and it made me wonder how desperate a person has to be to bank on a 40-year old job to make a few bucks. We were also some of the only American-English speakers in the breakfast area--apparently Brits like to visit Elvis over Thanksgiving?

Alas, we did not stop at Graceland itself. We had too much laundry and unpacking to do at home so we could all get back to our normal lives. Maybe when the kids are bigger. Think I'll try to DVR a few Elvis movies to watch over Christmas, though--Char was fascinated.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Family Vacation: Turkey Day



Yes it is possible to cook a full Thanksgiving Dinner in a hotel. Ok, so the hotel room had a kitchen. No oven, but the place had a dishwasher and three times the counter space of our first apartment (not that that's saying much...). I thought I had a photo of the kitchen, but can't find it. From peeks at some of the other rooms, I gather that ours had one of the larger kitchens for a one-bedroom suite (the 2-bedrooms got ovens).

This was the most pre-packaged Thanksgiving meal I've cooked in over a decade. Stuffing from a box, cranberry sauce from a can, powdered mashed potatoes, and gravy from a jar. It turned out really well. I am a total food snob.

There are things I don't like about our countertop oven. One, it takes up counter space. Two, its not a toaster oven (it takes like 20 minutes to toast bread). And three, it is not a full-sized oven. But it is a convection oven that heats up some foods (like leftovers or frozen chicken nuggets) really fast, and it has a built-in rotisserie.


You guessed it. We rotisseried our turkey. With some basic spices, plus butter under the skin. It was good. Very good.


Ok, so I also burned a pumpkin pie in our nifty little oven. In my defense, the oven
was still heating up, and I know that the temperature is flaky when it starts going. And putting in two pies (it has two racks and can hold two full-size frozen pizzas at once) puts the top one really close to the heating element. We caught the charring crust early and wrapped the edges of both pies in foil. And the insides were tasty, even if the top was blackened.

I also had a small adjustment period in making pancakes. On the stove top. On a burner that heats super-fast, with a not non-stick pan that heats unevenly. With pancakes from a mix. Luckily, the box of mix was plenty big, so we could afford to throw away about the first 5 or 6 blackened flapjacks. The very first one actually smoked. Oops.

Besides the oven, we did bring a few things from home. Grill tools (which we didn't need--no grills on the property). Silicone oven mitts (I was thankful for those--the two tiny potholders provided were not sufficient). Oatmeal and brown sugar (breakfast basics that could also be part of an apple pie crumb top). Cinnamon, "poultry spice" (a freebie from my last trip to Penzeys, and we used it on the poultry!), kosher salt, pepper grinder. Two jars of home-canned apple pie filling, that we didn't end up using (the pumpkin pie took two crusts so we skipped the apple). A couple of knives and a sharpener, though the room turned out to have OK knives. Dishwasher safe kitchen shears (invaluable).

Once we got there, we bought nonstick foil, which was also invaluable in the kitchen all week, and a set of flexible plastic cutting mats. They provided a cutting board about the size of a greeting card, and I didn't think we could carve even a turkey breast on one of the dinner plates. And our set at home was getting kind of beaten up, so we brought them home with us.

I wish I'd packed a small bottle of olive oil--I sauteed shrimp in butter one night. It worked, but not as well as a real oil might have. And I wish I'd brought nutmeg and ginger for the pumpkin pie. Since I didn't have the right spices, I bought "pumpkin pie mix" which was pumpkin + spices + sugar and was a total rip-off over just pumpkin. Otherwise, we ate just fine with the convenience foods I avoid at home: jarred stir-fry sauce, boil-in-bag rice, "complete" pancake mix, etc.

But cooking-wise, it was a fun trip. I felt like I was camping every time I cooked a meal. No, I don't camp. Though hubby reminded me that we could run the mini-oven through the power adapter on the car, should we feel like trying it. I can see me now, baking a birthday cake from scratch to eat with our grilled steaks and fire-bake sweet potatoes. Maybe I should take up camping after all.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Family Vacation: The Beach in Fall


Average high temperature in Destin in late November: 67.
Average advertised beachwear shop discount: about the same.

You might wonder what there is to do in a beach town this time of the year. Actually, a lot. As long as you don't have your heart set on sweating at the beach all week.

There was very little sweat involved in our trip last week. Too little, actually. I am ashamed to admit that my workout clothes stayed neatly packed in my suitcase the entire time. Too busy sleeping, I guess.

I was wary at first of the weather. Last Monday, our first full day in Florida, was overcast and about 56 degrees. We had chosen a hotel with an indoor pool, though, which helped. We are also a family of sun-fearing ghostly people who blister at the slightest hint of ultra violet light. So the lack of hot beach weather was good for all of us, dermatologically speaking.

In addition to the indoor pool, we visited a handful of local parks (with play equipment), got personal service at an amusement park, colored lots of pictures, and built sandcastles. And went to Walmart. No family vacation is complete without one (usually multiple) trips to Wally World. Sad, I know. But where else can you buy size 4T jeans, laundry soap, a Thanksgiving turkey, a cutting board, and a 3-DVD set of The Santa Claus movies? Walmart has all the essentials covered for a happening vacation.


About that "personal service at an amusement park" thing. The place was so deserted last Wednesday that two of the attendants basically followed us around the kids area, turning each ride on for Trystan and/or Charlotte. There were more people playing mini-golf and a handful riding the go-karts (activities a little too advanced for us still), but we were the only schmucks lugging our kids on rides. No lines! It was heaven for the kids (and kind of peaceful for the adults!).

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Family Vacation: Packing


When preparing for our vacation, we didn’t pack the kitchen sink. Just the oven.

You might think I’m kidding, but when planning to make Thanksgiving dinner in a hotel room, it helps to have a little cooking power.

The room had a kitchenette, including a dishwasher, small fridge, a stove top, and a microwave. But it had no oven. So we packed ours. No, not the big one. The counter-top one that is just big enough for a pie or two, a pizza, a tray of chicken nuggets, or, hopefully, a turkey breast.

When we bought our new car, I was thrilled with the hauling capacity. But with suitcases for four for a week, plus a mini-oven, we had to forgo the cooler. The possibility of roast turkey was far more important than cold sodas.

The drive to Destin takes about 13 hours, so we planned to do it in two days each way. Maybe in a few years we could power through it all in one. Once everyone's potty trained and learns to sleep in the car instead of throw tantrums in it.

We made a smart decision on the way down to pack a single overnight bag of clothes for all 4 of us that we could bring in to the hotel, along with a toiletry bag, diaper bag, and any assorted electronics we didn't trust to leave in a parked car overnight. That definitely made check in and out simpler.

The kids also helped pack their own suitcases. For Charlotte, I gave her one item at a time ("3 short sleeved shirts") and let her choose from her closet and pile the things in her bag. That worked really well, except that I was sure I asked her to pack jeans and she didn't. Mid-week when the temperature was low and she had run out of long pants to wear, we ended up at Walmart buying a $10 pair of jeans and laundry detergent. For Trystan, I packed, and he added assorted clothes and socks from his closet. He had more long pants than the rest of us by the time we were done.

I am looking forward to the day I can hand each kid a bag, tell them to pack, and get back to my own checklist.