One of my favorite Christmas stories as a child was Karin's Christmas Walk, by Susan Pearson. Not only did the author share my last name (I was a Pearson before I married and became a Pierson), but the protagonist was a Karin, just like my sister! (well, close enough anyway - my sister has two r's).

We loved reading about Karin and her walk to the store the evening her uncle is expected to arrive. Karin is so excited for her uncle's visit, and doesn't want to leave the house in case she misses his grand entrance, but she does as her mother wishes and heads out to the store (never mind that her brothers get to continue playing outside the whole time, hmm...). On her way back she stops and talks to various neighbors along the way, and everyone asks if her uncle has arrived yet. You can feel the anticipation build as she nears home. As Karin rounds the final corner she's both excited and afraid of what she'll find: what if her uncle hasn't arrived? What if all this anticipation just leads to disappointment? But then she sees his red truck in the driveway and she runs to the door ready to toss it aside and run into his arms ... but she waits. Just for a minute Karin waits at the door, for she knows what is about to happen and can imagine all the joy that will wrap around her the moment she turns the doorknob. She pauses in anticipation simply to enjoy the feeling of waiting, and what a wonderful moment that is.

The day before Thanksgiving this year I had to go into work for a few hours, even though my parents had already arrived from New Jersey, my sister was on her way up from St. Olaf College, and my grandparents were on the final leg of their drive across the state of South Dakota. And on top of that, there was a prediction of snow! But I still drove in to work, determined to make it home before any of the excitement began. But a few hours later when I pulled into the drive, I noticed three cars parked out front, and I could see some commotion through the kitchen windows. Oh no, I've missed it! I thought. They've already arrived! But then as I rounded the front of the house I paused for a second and remembered the story of Karin's Christmas Walk and how these are the moments, when you know you are about to be whisked into a house full of celebration and love, that should be treasured. Revel in the waiting. So I stood there a moment longer, looking at my front door, and then Evan's head bobbed in the window and before I knew it I was inside.

For children, Christmas is all about anticipation. I remember counting down the days until Christmas, and although I'm sure I was excited about the gifts I might open, that is not what ruled my thoughts. The simple act of anticipating is enough to make any child giddy and send them bouncing off the walls on wings of sugar plumb ferries, to the endless tunes of The Nutcracker (...or maybe that was just us!).

Here's a replica of my childhood advent calendar, made by my mom. Our excitement generally mounted as there were fewer and fewer ornaments to choose from.

This year I'm trying to focus on the anticipation of Christmas and not worry about all the burdens adults like to add to the holiday. So maybe we aren't "fully prepared" in some ways ... heck, we haven't even sent out Christmas cards! (I know this isn't necessarily a burden and usually isn't for me, but this year it was just too much). And I honestly don't have patience to wait in endless lines at the mall just to pick up one more gift. But I am excited, hopeful, and ready for a few cozy evenings with the Piersons down on the farm in Lake City; some quality time together baking cookies, skiing, and playing games; and then jetting off to New Jersey
on Saturday to join my three sisters and parents for a week of festivities and celebration. I can't wait!

... But I'm enjoying the anticipation.

What are you eagerly anticipating this year? How do the children in your life inspire you to see Christmas in a new light?

Karin's Christmas Walk photo taken from here (after I edited it).

Snowed In

This year I am thankful for snow. Yup, that's right, I was actually thankful for the 17+ inches of snow that were dumped on us last weekend, beginning late Friday night and not letting up until late Saturday night. Oh, and in typical Minnesnowtan fashion, this blizzard was followed up by the infamous sub-zero temperatures that freeze nostril hair if you dare step outside.

So why, might you ask, was I thankful for this "winter survival challenge" you may ask?

Let me count the ways ...

1. Reminder of Childhood: Snow, especially large dumpings of snow, always brings me back to the days when my sisters and I lived for snow days. We would bundle up bright and early, and spend the entire day jumping through snow drifts; making snow angles, snowmen (and girls), and elaborate forts (that included slides on the roof, windows, secret doors ...); and just lying back in our own imprint to count the snowflakes meeting our eyelashes. Childhood is naturally filled with wonder and delight, and whenever those silent flakes come down I'm reminded of those days (and actually spend a few minutes sitting in a snowbank to soak it all in again ... hopefully my neighbors don't think I'm weird!).
Here's a photo of one of our early forts. We even drank hot chocolate inside! I'll have to dig up pictures from our later forts, because they were really impressive!
One of my favorite snowfalls of my childhood was the Blizzard of '96. We lived in New Jersey so we didn't have a continual blanket of snow all winter long, but every once in a while we'd get a "Noreastern" -- and boy were those fun! In '96 we woke up to a huge snowdrift that had us captive in our house since it pressed up against the front door and kept our shovel hostage -- which we had left somewhere out in the front yard. So what did we do? We all tumbled on out the front window, of course, to find the shovel and dig out the front door! In hindsight this really makes me laugh, because I'm sure my dad didn't need all 4 of us out there "helping". But what excitement! Later that day Karrin and I went on a hike to the movie store to rent a movie. We didn't make it very far (just to the playground) before we had to stop for a break, sighing "I don't know if we're going to make it ... maybe we should find shelter for a while..." hahaha, so dramatic (I think we were probably reading Little House on the Prairie at that time). We did continue on and made it to the store. What a triumph!

Kirsten, my oldest sister, used to love sticking her face in snow and just sitting there. I don't know if she liked the challenge of seeing how long she could stay before she turned numb or if she was pretending she was an Eskimo or something (I'll have to ask her!) but something about that experience in the snow called to her.

What snow experiences do you crave every year? Is it something cooky like plunging your face in snow? Or perhaps it's an activity like cross-country skiing or snowmobiling, or even just a late night walk? My aunt and her family started a neat Christmas tradition where they go on a walk at midnight on Christmas Eve, and sometimes they are lucky and there is a fresh carpeting of snow underfoot. Magical.

2. Provides natural exercise and adventure! If you're from Minnesota, or any place that has experienced gigantic heapings of snow, you know what I mean when I say snow = exercise. Especially if you don't own a snowblower. Thankfully we did invest in a snowblower this year. But even with it, I got quite a workout over the weekend and was even sore the following day. (Photo is from earlier snowfall)
You see, a snowblower doesn't help much when you have to shovel out your car, and when you have to push your stuck car for the third or fourth time (no photos from those feats). Uffda! ... although we did try putting our snowblower to work out in the street. I think it helped a bit ....
But when it was all said and done, it felt good to really get out there and work on something with a purpose.

Even going to the gas station (to get more gas for the snowblower) was quite the experience. When it snows, it's like the world is inverted and simple tasks turn in to big adventures, traffic rules are tossed aside, and people come together to help each other ... which leads me to ...

3. Helps develop a sense of community. There were probably 6 cars that got stuck at the end of our street in one day. And those were only the ones that I saw. But every time I'd see a car stuck, I also saw a group of people crowded around it, figuring out how to work through it together. Evan and I got stuck twice on our way out of the alleyway, and once when trying to move our car parked out front. Every time, without fail, some random neighbor I'd never met before (and often times a whole group of them) would appear, seemingly out of nowhere and just start pushing the car! Once one of our helpers was a high school aged boy who said he's been shoveling people out since 5am. He could have been sitting inside playing video games, but no, he chose to be out there helping his neighbors. What a great way to establish a sense of community! Here's Evan doing his share of "community service", attempting to plow the street with his snowblower (the plows didn't come through for a couple of days).

It's almost like a natural disaster, only there is no real rush or urgency. Time is measured out by how many neighbors you can meet, how many cars you get unstuck, and how many times you have to go out and re-shovel or blow your driveway -- and you can forget your to-do list for the day.

4. allows me to relax (when I'm not out shoveling, of course). I don't usually find time to just sit. If I'm sitting, I'm also working on my computer, doing homework, or organizing something. Seriously, I probably have a "must be productive" problem. But I found that on this snowy weekend I discovered something:

I actually sat down, even took a nap (!) without even reading a book! Just sat in our cozy living room. Not only did I not worry about cleaning, I also didn't worry about mess, as is evident here:
I should learn to live like this more often!

5. Provides clarity, inspiration, and a new beginning: I think Calvin says it best:
I love Calvin and Hobbes, and even have the book with this particular strip in it sitting right next to my bed. I read it if I have trouble sleeping, if I need help relaxing and calming down, if I want inspiration, or even just a good laugh. This is my favorite strip as it reflects exactly how I feel about snow ... and life. Have you noticed my reference at the top of my blog?

6. Provides challenge so we can prove we are resilient. When it is dark and cold and many people yearn for the balmy days of summer, that's when it's most important to see the glass half full. This is our chance to make our own warmth and "light". Read more about my thoughts on the importance of the colder months in this post of yore.

Right before Thanksgiving I attended a concert hosted by Garrison Keillor (Gratitute, Gravy, and Garrison, with VocalEssence). In the program notes he spoke to the Minnesotan who is faced with this challenge every year -- of surviving a bitter winter and deciding to see the challenge as something positive:

 "We have the good fortune to live in a beautiful state where people care about each other and where ... we look out our windows every morning at a dazzling whiteness and put on our down vests and take a brisk and invigorating walk and feel the blood in our veins and the stimulation in our brains. Nothing like a Minnesota winter -- you get the sensual pleasure of it, plus you get to complain about it."

So thank you Old Man Winter, for all of the "quality time" ... and now I'm off for a "balmy" vacation in New Jersey!

Note: Calvin and Hobbes image taken from here, although it's originally from the comic book It's a Magical World"

Rivaling Recipes: Chocolate Chip Cookies

I just got back from a run in the snow. It proved to be quite a challenge, and my typical pace was forced to retard to what my dad fondly refers to as a "pitter-patter run". I know I wasn't able to get a great workout, but there's nothing quite like breathing in the fresh (and quite frigid) air to wake you up. And receiving questioning looks from bundled up neighbors shoveling their walkway is quite priceless as well.
I don't have a photo of me running in snow, but here's my sister Karrin!
Here's some of my favorite cold-weather running buddies, although without snow in this photo. (Sisters Karrin and Kirsten, and dad, last Tday around Lake Harriet). 

And the best part of all, when I got home I was inspired to write a blog post about cookies!
(well, although it is the season, I wasn't actually thinking about Christmas cookies. I know I should be craving gingerbread men and snowballs, but tonight I'm feeling another type of cookie!)

Wondering how cookies came to mind while dodging snow banks and avoiding the ice? You see, I have a strange gift: I see food in the landscape. Yup, I told you it was strange. But some of my family and friends can attest to the fact that I'll comment on the covered hay bales that resemble mozzarella balls as we drive down the road;

the smooth, wind-whipped coating to a snow-covered field that simply screams meringue pie (picture this photo at sunset when the snow picks up a yellow tint);

or the mashed potatoes tracks churned up under the tires of a truck (can't you just see where a hand mixer went to work making them all fluffy? Mmm, grab some butter!);

or the toasted-wheat topping to a field of snow (I'm sensing a snow-theme here) that is reminiscent of something edible, but I haven't quite figure out what ...

But my favorite is the slightly churned chunks of snow that are just starting to show flecks of dirt, that without fail, always brings to mind chocolate chip cookie dough. What can I say, I guess I like to eat!

Take a look outside (or the next time it snows) and I'm sure you'll start to get a cookie craving too! (edges of roadways are usually a good place to look).

And to accommodate your next craving I'll leave you prepared with two new recipes to try out! For the last few years we've been devoted to my aunt's The Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies recipe. It really is simply perfect: light and soft, will not harden (thanks to a ton of butter!), with a perfect hint of vanilla.

But in my last Whole Living Magazine (see how we scored a year's subscription for free!) I was tempted to test out another recipe. This one beckoned to me with its whole wheat flour, craggy figure, and big chunks of chocolate. And boy did it live up to my expectation!

These are two very different cookies that are both worth dying for trying! Test them out for yourself and let me know which one wins your heart! I know they both won me over : )

The Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie
From Sonia Sykora, as my sisters and I affectionately referred to as the Chocolate-Chocolate-Chip Lady in our younger days.

1 cup cold butter cut into chunks
1 cup packed brown sugar
3/4 cups granulated sugar
1 tsp. salt (optional)
2 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla (sometimes I do 2!)
2 1/2 cups flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1 bag semisweet chocolate baking chips
(optional 2 cups walnuts, chopped)

Beat butter, brown sugar, granulated sugar, and salt until creamy and no butter flecks remain. Beat in eggs and vanilla until blended. Add flour and baking soda and beat until blended. With a spoon, stir in chocolate chips (and walnuts, if desired).

Roll into balls (approx 1 1/2 inch-diameter, or 2 1/2 Tablespoons). You are supposed to chill the balls for several hours before baking -- we can never wait that long.

Place on cookie sheet -- flaten and wait about 30 minutes until room temp -- of if you skipped the chilling part like we do you're ready to bake!

400 degrees. 8-10 minutes. Golden brown all around the edges but center is still pale. Ensuring you don't over bake is crucial to making the perfect cookie. You may not think they are done, but they firm up when the cool.

Whole-Wheat Chocolate Chunk Cookies
From Whole Living Magazine, December 2010, p. 111
(although I simplified the directions)

3 cups whole-wheat flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 1/2 tsp salt

8 oz. (2 sticks) cold butter, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 cup brown sugar (they suggest dark, but I used light)
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
8 oz bittersweet chocolate, roughly chopped into 1/4 and 1/2 inch pieces (I used Ghirardelli. I believe the better the chocolate, the better the cookies)

Mix dry ingredients into large bowl. In a separate bowl, mix butter and sugars until just blended. Add eggs one at a time, mixing until each is combined. Mix in vanilla. Add wet ingredients to flour mixture and blend on low until just combined. Add chocolate and mix on low until evenly combined.
The directions recommend finishing your mixing outside of the bowl on a work surface with your hands, but I think as long as you don't overmix it, you can keep everything in the bowl. Scoop mounds of dough (about 3 Tab) onto baking sheet, with 3 inches between them, about 6/sheet. Bake at 350 for 16-20 minutes. They recommend rotating sheets halfway through, but I haven't done that. Remove from tray as soon as you can to cool, since the chocolate chunks might stick to the cookie sheet. Another option to avoid this is placing a sheet of parchment paper underneath the cookies before baking. Cookies are best eaten warm from the oven or later that same day. They will keep in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

I like to make the dough and freeze it in balls in little baggies so I can pop a couple in the oven whenever I have a hankering!

My friend Jenna, over at Through Mommy Goggles, has yet another wonderful chocolate chip cookie recipe I've been meaning to try -- this one featuring oatmeal! Head on over there if you haven't yet gotten your fill of chocolate chip cookies!

All photos mine, except for the covered hay bales, taken from here

Thanksgiving Surprises

Happy Thanksgiving!

Around this time of year I always think back to one of my favorite Thanksgivings ....

It was Kirsten's (my oldest sister) first year away at college in Minnesota, and since the rest of us (mom, dad, 3 sisters) were in New Jersey, she assumed she'd be spending Tday sans immediate family (but there were tons of aunts, uncles, and cousins around). Well, little did she know we had something up our sleeve. You see, my family likes surprises. Ok, we really like surprises. And this situation just beckoned to us to create one of the best surprises in our family history by piling in the van and driving through the night to show up in Minnesota in time for turkey. Being the family that we are, we just couldn't resist such a surprise, and also the chance of celebrating Tday with Kirsten and many other relatives. So ... off we went across the Pennsylvania Turnpike and beyond in our purple van, singing Christmas songs (and trying to sleep). We now know it takes 21 hours to drive through the night from NJ to MN and that gas stations are pretty fun at 3am (at least when you're running on adrenaline). We rolled into Andover MN at 9am, a little earlier than anticipated. Someone had the idea to park down the street a ways to avoid a premature discovery of our arrival. ... in hindsight I'm not sure if this was necessary, but it made for a pretty exciting adventure -- and an entertaining video! See for yourself! (and sorry this one is not HD)

Thanksgiving Surprise from Carolyn Pierson on Vimeo.

Happy Thanksgiving! This year we are blessed to be sharing the day with my parents, sister Sarah and her boyfriend Caleb, and my Grandparents! Our house is cozy but filled with joy and thanksgiving. Where are you giving thanks today? Any memories you always think back on this day?

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Patio Progress: Phase 4

Finally our patio is officially complete! Here's how we wrapped up that project:

Although we had what looked like a finished patio in our back yard after we laid our final brick a few weeks ago, we were actually a few key steps away from completion. The main thing standing between us and a finished patio was one heavy machine: a tamper.

In order to ensure a seamless finish to your patio (no tilted or loose bricks that shift when you step on them), you need to use this extremely heavy, lawn-mower-looking machine to press all of the pavers into submission (the photo doesn't look too scary, but this beast can weigh around 70 lbs!). We definitely don't own a tamper and weren't looking forward to straining our backs by renting one at Home Depot. Besides, we didn't have a truck to haul it in. So where did we turn?

Why, Craigslist of course!

We hired a nice man from North Minneapolis who offered up his truck and manual labor for a great deal. He was a little rough around the edges and didn't really know anything about tamping a patio, but we thoroughly enjoyed his stories and couldn't have finished the project without his extra set of hands (well, he doesn't literally have an extra set of hands, but you know what I mean!).

Unfortunately, we were using pavers that couldn't quite handle the pressure -- of the tamper that is. We ended up with quite a few broken ones we then had to replace. I guess that's what happens when you order the cheapest pavers available ...

After we packed up the tamper and sent our new friend on his way, we got to work sweeping sand into the cracks of the patio. We used a special locking sand for $10 a bag (at Menards), to help hold the bricks in place and provide extra insulation from the elements.


We also removed the wood frame, nailed the plastic permanent frame in place (both of these were done before tamping), and filled in dirt around the entire patio. But I didn't get a picture of the finished product because ...

... before I was ready, our backyard looked like this:

Well patio, we'll see you next spring!

Read about the entire Patio Project, here, here, and here!

tamper photo taken from here

Got Yogurt?

We are big yogurt eaters. Perhaps it has something to do with Evan growing up on a farm, or my parents fostering my love of yogurt since a young age (I think my dad even made his own yogurt at some point). But whatever the reason, we consume a whopping 10 little 6 oz. yogurts and 1-2 big 32 oz. yogurts a week. That's 92-124 oz -- in other-words, a heckuva lota yogurt! For a while we bought cheaper brands of yogurt because we found it hard to justify spending 30 cents more per 6 oz (89 cents @ Target), and almost a dollar more per 32 oz. But ever since Evan tried his first bite of Stonyfield French Vanilla a little over a year ago -- he was sold. Which was perfect, because I was already head-over-heels!

And now we're reaping the benefits of eating the yogurt -- quite literally! Of course it's already well known that consuming yogurt on a daily basis (especially kinds that are organic and free of high-fructose corn syrup) is good for your health (read more about that here). But with Stonyfield, there are all kinds of other benefits. Like:

Did I lose you somewhere?

Let me back up a second. About a year ago, Stonyfield started putting these codes on their lids

that you can enter online here. Each code gives you a point -- well actually the 6 oz. yogurts earn you one point, and the 32 oz. ones give you four. It seems like it would take forever to earn a reward, but if you are crazy yogurt gobblers like us, you can get 18 points in one week -- which is just two points shy of a free 32 oz. yogurt! When our free yogurt coupon arrives in the mail, we usually truck on over to Lund's, one of the few stores that carries our favorite Banilla. Lund's is pricier than our frequented Target, so we save Banilla for the coupons!

In the past year we've also snagged a years subscription to Whole Living Magazine (formerly Body & Soul) for 60 points. And our biggest reward to date: a Patagonia backpack, priced at $69, for 350 points!

Now, if your only reason for upgrading to this yogurt was to receive these rewards, it wouldn't actually be worth it. We did some calculations on our end and discovered we spent about $105 in our yogurt upgrade before we were eligible to receive the $69-priced backpack. But if you simply love good-quality yogurt and would consider buying the higher-end stuff anyway, why not stock your fridge with the kind that says Thank You every once in a while?

Random E & C Yogurt Trivia 

We went through a stage where we made our own yogurt. It works pretty well actually when you use this little helper (ours looks pretty similar ... we call him R2D2). But it takes quite a bit of time and you kind of need to have a system down. I hope to start that up again one of these days. Maybe after Stonyfield ends their rewards program!

We try and use yogurt in our meals every once in a while. Stoneyfield has a great recipe website. When we make smoothies they are always yogurt based. My favorite smoothie consists of a little orange juice, lots of vanilla yogurt (or plain with honey), frozen berries, and right before you are finished blending -- add a banana. But what makes the perfect smoothie? Popping in a few ice cubes of frozen mango juice!

How the heck do we eat so much yogurt? We always pack a little yogurt in our lunch, and then C typically has yogurt and granola before bed, and E enjoys a bowl a few times a week. C also eats yogurt on pancakes and add it to hot cereals -- yea a little crazy I know.

C's yogurt of choice: when at home, Stonyfield Plain, lowfat (fat free has a weird consistency) mixed with some honey, frozen blueberries, and homemade granola. When on-the-go: smooth and creamy raspberry or fruit-on-the-bottom blueberry.

E's yogurt of choice: when at home, Stonyfield Vanilla, lowfat (not a fan of fat free) either alone or mixed with some granola. On the go: fruit-on-the-bottom strawberry or else vanilla. But his runner-up favorite yogurt choice sings quite a different tune:

What are your yogurt habits? Have you ever tried making your own? Do you like the simplicity of plain yogurt or do you go crazy over exotic and fun flavors? If you don't fit into any of the categories below, feel free to leave a comment explaining your yogurt preferences and habits!


Banilla Stonyfield photo taken from here, magazine photo from here, and backpack photo from here. Yogurt code photo taken by C and edited in Photoshop, and army of yogurts taken by C. YoCrunch photo taken from here.

Patio Progress: Phase 3

I left you a couple of weeks ago as we were laying pavers down the walkway of our patio (and you can read about the first phase here). The third phase of our big project involved a lot more sand hauling,

navigating a tricky corner,

(here's a quick video demonstrating Denny's knack for leveling sand! From earlier in the project - you can hear Evan operating the chop saw in the background)

and basically making the most perfectly level "sandbox" I have ever seen!

Later that night E and I decided we were ready to check this patio off our to-do list, so out we went into the night (with a handy work-lamp perched in the windowsill so we could navigate the dark and work on into the night without fear of crooked lines).

When you are laying pavers you aren't supposed to apply any extra weight to the bricks (not until you tamp them down that is), so we had to get creative and use our old closet doors to distribute our weight as we sprawled out to reach the middle of the patio.

By the next morning (and no, we didn't work straight through the night!) we were ready to lay our final brick!

(imagine big smiles and corny high fives, celebrating the almost finished project we've been tackling since August). Well, we still had to finish up our one tricky edge, which would involve more cutting of bricks to fill in the gaps.

But that was a project for another day -- and another post.

Check back soon for our final installment of the Patio! It involves some heavy machinery, a helpful Craigslister from North Minneap, and a little broom-action.

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