Monthly Archives: December 2015

Toasting the snow queen

She barreled in swiftly, unapologetically late to the party and still its honored guest. Crystal beads clung to her fancy pants and frosty confidence sparkled in her eyes.

She’d been invited for Christmas, but Ashley didn’t care. She trailed a white velvet stole from her diamond-heavy fingers, tossed back her salty shoulders and laughed at us all.

Here in the Midwest, where we’re unfailingly polite, we welcomed Snowstorm Ashley, even as she howled through our tidy towns.

Snow plows lined up like suitors tossing road salt roses in her path. School children set aside their disappointment at her selfish timing and feted her with sleek sleds and fleece mittens.

At our house, we watched her gusty winds bend the tall pine trees in our yard and offered typical responses.

“Too soon to jammy up?” I asked at 5 p.m., envisioning a cozy night of toddy sipping.

“I love a snowy night,” said Molly. “Let’s go for a walk.”

Charlie monitored the situation from various social media accounts. Vince headed outside to give our giant vintage snow blower a test drive.

“Anyone want to go for a walk?” Molly asked, again.



Reluctantly, I finally agreed and we tromped off, Molly chatting gaily and me aiming neutral grunts at hopefully appropriate intervals. We stopped occasionally to re-wrap our scarves and wipe sleet from our eyes.

I kept thinking about how the path we took, due south along Drew Street, had taken us to so many wonderful experiences in kinder weather — yoga in the park, the Farmer’s Market, Mile of Music.

Those activities remained a pleasant memory Monday night, as we soldiered on.

We noticed a common theme among the occasional vehicles that passed us — a fire engine or two, a police car — all emergency vehicles.

“How great is this?” Molly called out against Ashley’s gale.

“So great,” I huffed.

We’re not going to lie. Our first-blizzard-of-the-year walk was pretty miserable in spots, especially when we turned to head home and realized the wind had shifted into our faces.

But we loved the way Ashley gifted our little corner of the world with a precious evening of pristine pleasure. We enjoyed the shouts of laughter she inspired on the snow hills across from our house, and the sparkle she added to fading holiday décor.

She’s a pain, that Ashley, and we’ll be cleaning up after her for some time. But, she swept in with just the right amount of swagger and we’re glad she came to town.

Molly and the first snow

I squinted through sleet as I took this cellphone pic of Molly in City Park.

Crazy Molly and the snow

The girl does love her snow storms.


Our view as we walked home. Most of our footprints had disappeared by the time we turned around to head home. Ashley dumped more than a foot of snow on the street before she swept out of town. It was a lovely, bonding, freezing, miserable, beautiful, moment-in-time kind of walk.

Snow angel

When we finally made it back home, Molly dove in.

Snow angel

And made our first snow angel of the season.

Ashley the snowstorm 021

The view from our front door. There’s a front porch and sidewalks under that lovely blanket of snow.

Ashley the snowstorm 007

For a while, our little corner of the world was frozen in beauty.

Ashley the snowstorm 029

They waited all winter for someone like Ashley to come along. This is the snow hill across the street from our house.

Circle Street

Early the next morning, a fleet of neighbors went to work.



A Popcorn Christmas

Twelve days before Christmas I sat on a couch next to Molly cursing a little as I strung stale popcorn on thin thread that kept slipping from the confoundingly small hole of its needle.

She leaned over and calmly said, “You know, I find this very relaxing. I don’t mind finishing myself.”

“Absolutely not,” I said. “I’m going to help…Ouch! Dammit!”

In the end, Molly strung almost all the popcorn, while I peppered her with annoying questions like, “Are you sure you want to do all this work?” and “Isn’t it going to take a lot of popcorn stringing to fill that tree?” and “Can we re-use this next year? Otherwise, it just seems like a lot of bother.”

Ten days before Christmas, we looped the popcorn strands on our tree. I admired it through the open family room doors as I sat at our dining room table; I checked it out from the sidewalk outside our house; I sat on our family room couch all alone in the dark just staring at that beautiful tree.

“This is my favorite tree we’ve ever had,” I said repeatedly through the holidays.

It turned out to be a Popcorn Christmas, which might be the very best kind.

My mother in-law unwittingly set the holiday theme early, when she spoke up at a resident’s association meeting.

“You really should serve popcorn at the Popcorn and Movie nights,” she said. Renown for her pleasant nature, Mary Jane almost never complains. “I just wanted to get my name in the minutes,” she joked.

But, really, the woman loves old movies and fresh theater popcorn, and her family loves her.

So, 2015 became a Popcorn Christmas for Mary Jane as well.

From out west came boxes of Cracker Jack, from down south barrels of Garrett’s Popcorn, and from the New York grandson a subscription to a popcorn of the month club.

Grandma Mary Jane will have her fill of delicious popcorn in 2016.

And, we hope you do too. Throw a few kernels in a kettle, cover them in your choice of delicious oil and pop yourself a batch or two.

Good, old-fashioned popcorn doesn’t cost much; it just takes a little time.

As Molly and our proud tree, still sagging with ornaments that tell the story of our lives because I’m loathe to take them down, knew all along –

It’s worth it.

Christmas 2015 021

A morning view of our popcorn tree, seen from the dining room. I love sitting at my dining room table, with a cup of tea and my lap top, before anyone else wakes up, and admiring my tree.

Christmas 2015 022

Our ornaments tell the story of our lives. We even have a few treasured ornaments from my grandparent’s tree.

Popcorn Christmas cracker jack

I had a little fun making homemade cracker jack for Christmas, but I forgot to take pictures of the finished product. This is the corn and peanuts about midway through the cooking process.

Popcorn Christmas Grandma MJ

General Popcorn and a few of her kernels. It was a crazy Packer Christmas sweater Christmas too.

Star Wars popcorn

Like many of yours, our Popcorn Christmas took us to the movie theater for Star Wars. I am the only member of my family who believes the pivotal moment in this movie might not be binding, and that’s all I’ll say on that subject.

My favorite Christmas tree

A good cross section of the ornaments, framed in popcorn. Molly made the Popsicle stick ornament in nursery school, the spaceship ornament behind it represents the year Charlie traveled to Alabama to attend the Space Academy. My mom made the gold and blue ornament during one, unprecedented year of crafting back in 1970, the crystal mittens are from a collection of ornaments Molly’s godparents give her every year for Christmas and the gorgeous crystal Santa and his globe was a gift as well.

The view from the family room couch

A nighttime view of our tree from my perch on the family room couch. Man, I love this tree.

Merry Christmas!

Christmas 2015 154

Merry Christmas from Molly B, Me and our whole family! Go Pack Go!

Please enjoy this video reprise from 2013. We wish you and your family a blessed holiday season from our house to yours.

Ice sculptures and the fleeting beauty of the season

Mastering the Art of Kostelnik Cooking (a post by Molly)

December is here, before it is June

A random act of Christkindl

‘Twas 12 days before Christmas

My favorite Christmas video

Hooping it up with the nieces

We spent a splendid week on the hard courts, watching our nieces own the game of basketball.

From our perch on bleachers throughout Wisconsin and Illinois, we saw a couple of blowouts and a genuine nail-biter involving a ref mandated wholesale uniform change, the likes of which we’d never seen before.

Through our nieces we could trace the sport’s evolution — from a loosely called fourth grade barn burner in a tiny Catholic grade school gym , to an in sync prep game in one of Wisconsin’s largest high schools, to a fast-paced game in an NCAA Division 1 auditorium.

Proportional to the athletes, the intensity level didn’t vary. They may have traveled a time or two and needed repeated instructions to line up properly to defend a free throw, but the St. Josephat Hawks played hard. We sat on the edges of our folding chairs cheering for our niece Erin, until her teammate, a little girl named Elizabeth, sank a shot at the buzzer for a thrilling 10-8 victory.

It’s no coincidence that our niece Rachel has been on championship basketball teams since she first picked up a basketball. A gifted athlete with an easy-going personality, she combines natural strength with a smooth style. Her eighth grade team won the state championship; she and the other four starters on that team all play on this year’s Sun Prairie High School squad. The night we saw them play, the Cardinals won 61-33.

I’m pretty sure our niece Shakeela Fowler was the best athlete in the McGrath-Phillips Arena, and that includes the members of the DePaul men’s basketball team who also came to watch the Blue Devils play Illinois State Saturday night. Nowhere near as tall as her 5-3 listed height, Shakeela fired no-look passes like a speedy Brett Favre, finding players who never even knew they were open. Though her program is rebuilding (DePaul won 89-41), Shakeela played with sophistication and class.

We’re going to enjoy following the Hawks, the Cardinals and the Red Birds this season. Fowl coincidence? I think not. They’re all going to soar.

Rachel jump shot

I intend to go to several Sun Prairie games this winter so I thought I’d lay a little low at the first one. I didn’t bring my camera. Fortunately for me, the Sun Prairie Star featured this great shot of Rachel taking a jump shot (she gets air!) in an earlier game.

erin in blue

I’m including this blurry cellphone shot of my niece Erin warming up so you can note the uniforms. A few minutes into the first quarter, the refs asked the St. Josephat players to change their blue uniforms to the home whites. So, the whole team ran off the court, accidentally landed in the boys locker room, let loose a hearty scream, ran out of the boys locker room and into the girls, changed to the home whites, and sprinted back to the court to resume play. 

Erin Free throw

I like Erin’s expression in this shot as she waits to rebound the free throw.

Erin rebound

I also like that she’s the only one going after the ball following the shot. 

Erin and me post ga

Post game.


As I’ve noted, Shakeela is an outstanding athlete.

Shakeela size

I took this shot to note the size difference. It cracks me up. 

Kathy Keith Traveian and the mascot

My sister Kathy, her husband Keith and his son Traveain took some grief from the Depaul Blue Demon.

Shakeela fan club

The smallest player had the biggest fan club. It was fun to see Erin watch Shakeela play.