Friday, August 28, 2009


Last weekend we took a short trip to Israel. Since we flew out of Frankfurt into Tel Aviv, we had to first take the ICE train to Frankfurt. This is the second time that we have taken the train between Cologne and Frankfurt. It only takes about an hour and it's top speed is282 km/hr (~175 mph). Yes, that's really super fast. The train stops right at the airport. I love convenient.

The Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv is possibly one of the nicest, cleanest airports I have ever visited. To be completely honest, I expected tons of Israeli military wandering about in their fatigues and carrying machine guns. I did not see a single person with a gun. Check out this cool water feature in the middle of the airport. Please note, this is not my picture (I found it on a Google Image search) but I was so impressed with the airport, I wanted to share it with you.

Tel Aviv is right on the Mediterranean Coast and that was our first stop after checking into the hotel and meeting up with the rest of Ben's family. Our plan was just to walk along the beach and then search for a suitable place for dinner. But even the best laid plans are easily derailed by a young child. We walked down to the water and Carter had so much fun playing in the waves. In no time his clothes were totally soaked and so we stripped him down and let him run around naked for a little while.

A side note about the sand. This was the softest, finest sand I have ever experienced. With each step your foot would sink right in . There was no moisture in this sand and so it didn't pack down under your weight. It was also ridiculously hot. I think I actually burned my feet.

On Sunday, we took a day trip to Jerusalem. The old city was amazing. What is amazing is that this is still a living, breathing, functioning part of town. And it's the center of 3 of the largest religions in the world. It's not just a museum or a historical hot spot (like much of Rome). Nearly all the streets are merely narrow alley ways, often covered. These alleys are like a labyrinth through the city and with all the vendors it's like a giant flea market. It was very crowded and very hot.

We did manage to find our way to the Western Wall and the Dome of the Rock. I had wanted to walk the Stations of the Cross (yes, the actual stations, not just pretty stained glass windows like in many churches) but the heat got to me. After several hours of wandering the alleyways, I was feeling lightheaded and weak. I think I was getting close to heat stroke and so I can only imagine how poor Carter felt.

On Monday morning, Mel took Carter to the beach again. Rebecca took Ben and me to the Carmel Market. This was was amazing...and overwhelming. I am still kicking myself for not bringing my camera because words cannot describe this place. It was like the best farmer's market and flea market in one. I spanned several blocks. You could buy absolutely anything there. One of the most amazing things were the spices. I was a little weirded out by the fact that they are just sitting in huge buckets, open to anyones hand and/or germs. But the colors and the smells were incredible. Thanks to Urban_Hipster at Flickr for allowing her photos to be used.

I am so glad I went to Israel. So many people who have never been think of it as an unsafe place. Though there are many places in Israel that I wouldn't visit (Gaza Strip), Tel Aviv and Jerusalem are safe and enjoyable. Besides, would thousands of Jewish mothers allow their high schoolers to go with Temple Youth Groups every summer if it wasn't safe?
I would like to go back sometime during the spring, when the desert is in bloom and the air is cooler and fresher. I would like to spend a lot more time in Jerusalem, perhaps even get a guided tour so that I could get more details and history.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Carter - 4 Years

Dear Carter,

Today you are four. I know I sound cliche, but the time has just flown by. I still think of you as my baby but you are far, far from it.

It's been a big year for you. You are likely not going to remember all of the places that we have visited in the last year of your life. Bruges, Strasbourg, Prague, Nuremberg, Berlin, Lake Constance, Neuschwanstein Castle, Ravensberger Spieleland, Amsterdam, Stockholm, Helsinki, Copenhagen, Tallinn, St. Petersburg, Tel Aviv.

You passed your German proficiency exam at school and you took swimming lessons. You traded in your toddler bed for your big boy bed. You became toilet trained. You still have very little interest in writing or coloring, or crafts in general. But you do seem to have an aptitude for math related things and you love sorting and organizing your Legos. Some of your favorite toys are still Lightning McQueen, but you have also expanded to Bob the Builder and all things Lego related. You are obsessed with Berenstain Bears books and Richard Scarry books.

One of the favorite things for me is watching you and Daddy do Legos together and watch Star Wars. The two of you have become best buddies this year.

For the better part of the year you had an orange baseball cap attached to your head. You loved it because it had the Ford logo on it. You actually think that Mommy and Daddy working at Ford is really cool and you've asked to come to work with us. You want to come see all the Fords in the parking lot.

You are an extremely picky eater and really only have a handful of things that you eat. If you had your choice, you could eat cream cheese and crackers and yogurt for almost every meal. Your other stand-bys are black bean burritos, chicken nuggets, and fish sticks. After numerous trips to Ikea, you started eating hot dogs. You have been making great progress in the last month with trying new foods. A surprising new hit with you is meatloaf. Daddy is doing a great job of getting you to try new vegetables...cucumbers and bell peppers are your latest. Of course there are some kids' standards that you refuse to eat like macaroni & cheese and peanut butter & jelly.

Sometimes you say the funniest things (see Penis Store here and Baby Store here). In fact just the other day, you had another great one:

Me - Carter would you like some more cereal.

Carter - No thanks. I have to get dressed. I have a really busy day.

Some of my favorite sayings you have are: "You are frustrating me," "Who put that there?," "Who did that?," or "I have a good idea."

You are growing so big but you are still small enough for me to snuggle. Soon I think that you will not put up with me so much. You are still very affectionate and love to hug and kiss us. One day this will stop and it will break my heart.

This morning you were already talking about your 5th birthday. Oh, I wish you would just slow down this whole growing up business.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Sometimes I Really Hate Flying

Why do the fat people have to sit next to me on the plane?

I'm not a skinny person. In fact, I am far, far from it. BUT, I fit into my airplane seat without infringing on anyone else's space. Unfortunately for me, I can't say that about the lady who sat next to me on the plane yesterday. For four hours, I had her leg fat oozing under the arm rest and touching my leg. I didn't realize it at first, but then I noticed that my leg was really warm. When I looked, it was because our legs were touching.

To make matters worse, she hogged our shared armrest. Not only did she not ever give me the opportunity to use it, but her arm was significantly wider than the arm rest and much of it spilled over into my space. Poor Carter, I was leaning over into his space the entire time so as to minimize the amount of me touching the stranger sitting next to me.

Now, I've got nothing against fat people (many people would even put me into that category) and I'm sure they are extremely uncomfortable flying in the teeny tiny seats on airplanes. But I cannot stand being in physical contact with a stranger. Especially constant contact for 4 hours.

I definitely have some degree of claustrophobia. It's not so much induced by lack of space but rather lack of PERSONAL space. In college, I would zip myself into my suitcase just to show that I could do it (OK, so I'm strange...this should not be new news to you) and this confined space did not bother me because it was only me. BUT, put me in a crowd or have someone stand behind me really closely and I start to lose it. I find myself having to consciously think about my breathing, taking big, slow breaths and thinking calm thoughts.

I'm sure you all have travel horror stories. Send them to me...I would love to hear (read) them. Maybe if enough people submit stories, I will pick a "winner." Of course, since this is not a sponsored blog, you will win nothing more than my deepest sympathy (empathy?).

See if you can top this one: I once flew from Vegas to Detroit where I had to sit next to a huge sweaty man. This man smelled as if he had been up all night at a casino drinking and smoking. He was sweating profusely and was so fat he needed a seat belt extender. AND, get this!, he was "reading" a dirty magazine. So gross.

Now top that.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

I'm Going to be Featured!!

I just found out today that I'm going to be featured on Mod Podge Rocks on September 15. I guess technically my Ikea stool makeover (found here) is going to be featured.

I am so excited!!!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Random Stuff

Dinner time is one of the most difficult times of day for me. Lately it's like Carter has meal time induced ADD. He won't sit still, in fact he won't even stay in his chair. He is distracted by every little thing. OK, so I know that he's only 4 (or very nearly) and this is probably normal but it's driving me crazy.

I am always finished with my dinner well before Carter and it is seriously painful for me to have to sit at the table and wait while he finishes. But we have to stay with him and encourage him to stay seated and eat.

We've tried to explain to him that he is cutting into his play time before bedtime and that doesn't seem to sink in. Any suggestions?


I am looking for some book recommendations. Has anyone read something good lately? I just finished my Daniel Silva book and am in need of something new. And, please, no Twilight suggestions.

When you finish a book, do you ever miss the characters? Sometimes I find myself wondering what they are up to today, as if they are real people.


I am in serious kitty cat withdrawal (if you couldn't tell from yesterday's post). We were so busy traveling the first couple of months after Corky died that we weren't home enough to miss him. It was actually good for us. The last couple of weekends have been rainy, hang out at home kind of weekends and that's when I notice how empty is seems here without a cat to snuggle. Carter is getting frustrated with me. I keep hugging him onto my lap and rubbing his back and all he wants to do is play or watch a movie in peace.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Certified Pre-Owned Cats

I have to give the Michigan Humane Society (MHS) some credit for a great advertising campaign. It's a common problem in most animal shelters, people would rather adopt baby kittens (or puppies, bunnies, etc) than older cats. In fact, in the world of pet shelters, any animal over 4 months old is considered old and tough find adoption families. So the MHS came up with a clever ad campaign. Check out this article at The Consumerist.

Corky was 7 months old when I adopted him from the Humane Society of Huron Valley (HVHS)in Ann Arbor. He was considered a "mature" cat and thus had a maximum stay of 8 weeks at the Humane Society. Unfortunately, because of the sheer number of pets being dropped off, the HVHS couldn't afford to keep dogs or cats for longer than 8 weeks. If 2 months have passed and the pets haven't been adopted, they are put to sleep.
Corky was the best cat EVER! If you are thinking of adopting a cat, please consider a "certified pre-owned" cat.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Ikea Stool Makeover

I've been working on a little project recently. We have an Ikea step stool that is a fine stool, just kinda blah in appearance. After doing my little Mod Podge experiment on the magazine holders here, I decided that I should take on a bigger project.

Here's a picture of the stool in it's original state. It's actually from the Ikea website as I forgot to take a picture of my own stool which was much, much dirtier.

I took apart the stool and spray painted it a chocolate brown. After reassembling it, I used some scrapbook paper and "mod podged" it to the painted steps. When it was all dry, I sprayed it with a couple of coats of clearcoat to make it really easy to wipe down if it gets dirty.

Super easy and definitely much easier on the eyes.

Hmmmm....what to do next?

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Sunday Supper #7

This edition of Sunday Supper is dedicated to Chad Fiedler.

Years ago when Ben and I were just dating, I made this dinner for Chad (one of Ben's best friends) and he loved it. Chad and Sara were recently married and had just moved into their new apartment in Ann Arbor. For some reason, I brought all the ingredients for this dinner over to their apartment and whipped up dinner. I'm assuming that the guys were working on installing something (OK, so Ben was doing the installation and Chad was watching) and Sara was probably unpacking. I thought it was a pretty easy dinner to throw together but the amount that Chad was saying "Mmmmm....Carla, this is so good," I felt like a gourmet chef.

Venetian Chicken in Spicy Tomato Cream

1 lb skinned, boneless chicken breast halves, cut into 1-inch pieces
3 T chopped fresh or 1 t. dried basil leaves
3 T olive oil
1 (26 oz) jar Classico Spicy Red Pepper Pasta Sauce
½ c. whipping cream
2 T chopped fresh parsley
1 lb package Penne Rigate

Cook penne as package directs; drain. Season chicken lightly with salt and pepper. In Dutch oven, over medium-high heat, cook and stir chicken and basil in oil until chicken is no longer pink. Stir in pasta sauce, cream, and parsley. Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer, covered, 10 minutes. Serve with hot cooked penne and garnish with parsley.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Do You Have What It Takes to Become a Citizen?

American citizen, that is.

Do you think you could pass the US citizenship test? Did you even know such a test existed? I was stumbling around the Internet trying to find more about "Obama Care" so that I could really understand what it's all about. I found nothing but extremely biased articles (pick a side, they are both liars). Instead I happened upon this article/quiz that has taken a sampling of questions from the INS test. I took the test and passed, but I knew I would.

You see, I know first hand about this test (it's actually an oral exam and not multiple choice), as do my parents and brother. We were all born in Canada and after living in the States for many, many years, we decided to become naturalized citizens of the United States. You may find it hard to believe, but it's not an easy task. Stop laughing, I know it seems like the US just lets anyone in. And they do, as long as you can survive the application process (which is far more like fraternity hazing that you might imagine). If nothing else, it's a lesson in patience and persistence.

I once wrote a paper for a satire class on my whole immigration/naturalization experience. It was probably one of the better papers I've ever written. It's true what my teachers always said, "write what you know." And trust me, it's something I know about. My mother started the whole process for us (the Cloutier family) when I was about 8. I think I was 18 before I became a citizen.

I won't bore you with all the details (I could spend hours talking about the uber-fat finger print guy) but I will share one part with you. My mother studied hard for her citizenship exam. She purchased the recommended study guide, she highlighted important parts in the book, she studied for at least a month. My father, on the other hand, opened up my mother's study guide the night before his test and only read the parts my mother had highlighted. My brother, an English & History major (ugh, kill me now!), did nothing. Of course they all passed on the first try, as did I.

What irritated me the most was that my brother and I had to take that test despite the fact that we spent our entire school aged years in the US, attending US public schools. Shouldn't we be exempt? Then again, if you polled a bunch of random Americans-by-birth, they would fail the test.

I will share one more thing with you...I was given my Certificate of Naturalization prior to the swearing in ceremony. I didn't stick around for the actual swearing in. Shh...don't tell the INS.

What about you? Do you have what it takes? Take the test (click here) and then come back and leave a comment with your score.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Sunday Supper #6

I'm always looking for variations on noodles and sauce. Generally it's an easy dinner to make on a weeknight after getting home from work / picking up Carter at daycare. This is definitely not another red sauce and it's not a heavy white sauce. The balsamic gives it a great flavor.

I actually cut up the chicken breast into bite size pieces and next time I'm using low fat cream cheese. Oh, and add the cherry tomatoes right before serving, otherwise they totally disintegrate.

picture from


1/2 lb. (8 oz.) fettuccine, uncooked
1 Tbsp. oil
4 small boneless skinless chicken breast halves (1 lb.)
4 oz. (1/2 of 8-oz. pkg.) PHILADELPHIA Cream Cheese, cubed
3/4 cup fat-free reduced-sodium chicken broth
1/4 cup KRAFT Balsamic Vinaigrette Dressing
2 green onions, chopped
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh basil or parsley
1/2 cup snow peas
1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, halved

COOK pasta as directed on package.

MEANWHILE, heat oil in large skillet on medium heat. Add chicken; cook 5 min. on each side or until browned on both sides.

STIR in cream cheese, broth, dressing, onions and basil. Cook and stir until sauce begins to thicken and chicken is cooked through (170°F.) Add snow peas and tomatoes; cook 2 to 4 min. or until snow peas are crisp-tender, stirring occasionally. Serve over the pasta.

Serves: 4

I'm a Regular Martha Stewart

I kicked butt today. I was little Suzie Homemaker.

I made carrot cake cupcakes for Ben for a belated birthday treat. Ben is a huge fan of carrot cake (and especially the cream cheese frosting) and he requested it in cupcake form this year. I was a little skeptical but I think they turned out great. I usually destroy any cake or cupcake while applying the frosting but I was tried a new technique this time. I actually put all the frosting into a Ziploc bag and cut one of the bottom corners off...sort of a home made pastry bag. Then I was able to just pipe the frosting on to the top of the cupcakes. Clearly my technique is not, yet, perfected...but it served its purpose.
While the cupcakes were baking and cooling, I did a little decoupage. I totally hate the sounds so fancy and pretentious when it's the furthest thing from it. I started with a plain old unfinished wood magazine holder from Ikea. I coated it with decoupage medium (basically fancy glue) and wrapped a piece of green paper around it. I chose a something similar to tissue paper but woven with paper fibers to give it more texture or interest. After it dried, I slathered on two more coats of the decoupage glue and voila! I think it looks far more interesting and a whole lot less Ikea.
It was so easy. After I finish the second one this week, I'm going to hunt around the house for other things I can improve with a little decoupage. I've got a couple of boxes from Ikea made out of the same type of cheap, unfinished wood. I think I'm going to look for some cute kid's print papers to cover then and give them to Carter to store his millions of Lego pieces.
OK, so I know that you are already impressed but that's not all I did today.
I spent some time in our garden weeding and pruning back a rose bush. I made spaghetti sauce from scratch. And, I can't forget the fruit salad that I made to take to a friend's house for brunch this morning.
I was a regular Martha Stewart, baking, gardening, crafting...just no insider trading or jail time.
I do have to admit, I didn't get everything done on my "to do" list today. I didn't get around to coloring my hair. Fortunately my husband isn't even looking at me, he's so distracted by his carrot cake cupcakes. Now I just need to find time to color my hair before all 24 cupcakes are gone.

Friday, August 07, 2009

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

On Wednesday, Ben turned 34. He joked that these next couple of weeks are my favorite time of the year because he and I are the same age. He is right, it's my favorite time of the year (but it has nothing to do with age).

Starting in August we have Ben's birthday and Carter's birthday. September brings college football, back to school, our anniversary, and my birthday. October is falling leaves and Halloween, November is Thanksgiving, and December is Christmas.

Summer time is like the climb to the top of a very tall slide. By August 1 you are sitting at the top of slide, ready for the fast ride down. And then, whoosh, you are at the bottom and it's New Year's Eve.

When thinking about "back to school" I got lost in some memories. I can remember getting a new dress to wear to the first day of school. Do kids do that any more? I remember my mom buying me new shoes and new clothes that I couldn't wear until the school year started.

I remember wanting to buy up all the school supplies as soon as they hit the stores right after the 4th of July holiday. Oh, and my favorite...a new box of crayons, preferably one with a built in sharpener. When I was in elementary school, there was nothing better than a new box of crayons. OK, so maybe when the JC Penny Christmas catalog arrived and I would circle all the things I wanted for Christmas...that was pretty awesome, too.

Crayons! I loved to color. Even when I was in college, I would bust out a coloring book and box of crayons and color for 20 minutes as a stress reliever during exam time. I know, I know...what a wild child I was. I still love to color. If only my son would color with me. I try so hard to get him to sit down and color with me. He'll last about 5 minutes and then he's off to other (cooler) things.

Elementary school was the best. I went to George F. Roberts Elementary School. I still remember the school song: "we're Roberts Raiders, we're number one...." I could not wait for the first day of school. I remember starting in mid-August riding my bike out to the school every day to see if they had the class lists posted. You didn't know which teacher you would have and who would be in your class until just before the school year started. I loved school back then. Third grade was the only time in my life that I got straight A's. It was pretty much all downhill from there.

Does anyone remember having a black plastic box type thing that the elementary school provided to store your books and supplies? It was supposed to hang from a set of tracks from the underside of your table/desk. It was a like a drawer but it was always too heavy to stay on the tracks. I loved mined and I can't for the life of me remember what it was called.

Anyway, the whole point of this post is that I love August because it wraps up summer and kicks off fall (my favorite time of the year). This year I think the next 4-5 months are just going to fly by. With our days in Germany numbered, we are trying to make the most of them.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Sunday Supper #5

I've been such a slacker that I didn't post a single "Sunday Supper" during the whole month of July. I'm going to use too much travel as my excuse, but really I've just been lazy in the kitchen.

I'm a little embarassed to tell you where I got this recipe -- from an ad for Crisco in a Better Homes and Gardens magazine.

Sesame Beef Stir Fry

4 servings

5 tablespoons soy sauce
8 tablespoons Crisco Pure Canola Oil, divided
2 teaspoons honey
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 pound flank steak, cut across the grain into thin strips
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
1 red pepper, thinly sliced
1 green pepper, thinly sliced
1 bunch broccoli, cut into flowerets
1 (8 oz.) can sliced water chestnuts
3 tablespoons sesame seeds, toasted*
Cooked rice


1. WHISK together soy sauce, 4 tablespoons oil, honey, mustard and red pepper flakes in medium bowl. Add steak and toss. Cover. Marinate at room temperature 15 minutes.

2. HEAT 2 tablespoons oil over medium-high heat in wok or heavy skillet. Cook and stir garlic, ginger, onion, red and green peppers and broccoli 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer to bowl.

3. HEAT remaining 2 tablespoons oil in wok over high heat until hot. Cook and stir steak about 2 minutes. Stir in cooked vegetables, water chestnuts and sesame seeds. Cook until heated through.

4. SERVE over cooked rice with additional soy sauce.

*To toast sesame seeds: Place in dry nonstick skillet; cook over medium heat, shaking pan until seeds are lightly browned.