Thursday, November 21, 2013

Glass-blowing in the Chicago Area

A 2008 creation.  Glassblowing: harder than it looks.
This weekend the older teen and I are headed to Chicago Hot Glass for a one-hour glassblowing workshop during which we'll make a handful of ornaments. Yes, one of his Hanukkah presents involves making Christmas ornaments. They can always be light-catchers, no?

At any rate, keeping with this year's theme of looking back on my archives-I've been blogging since 2005, yo- this originally appeared in February 2008 on the Chicago Moms Blog.

Last Sunday when the Chicago Tribune featured a Sunday Home and Garden spread on local glassmaking classes, DH was already halfway through his weekend course at Chicago Hot Glass. Is DH at the leading edge of a glassmaking trend? Wow. That just might be the first time I ever used the words DH and trendy in the same sentence.

DH said that despite the chill outside, it's really hot in the workshop. He said that glassblowing is a physically and mentally involved process. And like any new endeavor, the experience was a bit humbling. You can bet that his finished pieces won't be displayed anywhere other than the Moldofsky Museum or on his desk, but once our boys saw the results of their dad's labor (Oh, a paperweight! Oh, a glass without a stem! Oh, another paperweight!*) they wanted to try, too.

And thanks to the Trib article, we know they can. DH took our nine year-old and one of his friends to Patterson Glass in Mundelein this morning for their annual Valentine's Day Sale and Open House.  (Ed. note, they do this around Christmas, too!) According to the article, they will work with children over seven, but according to DH, one of the helpers complained right in front of my son that they shouldn't let such young kids participate. To be fair, my 55-pound almost ten year-old boy is smaller than some seven-year olds, but she should've saved her comment for the break room.

However, what the staff lacked in tact, they made up for in helpfulness. They allowed the guest glassmakers to play enough of a role in building their creation that the guests felt like they truly made it, yet the staff assisted enough to ensure a good-looking piece.

I won't get to see my son's heart-shaped paperweight until next week because the super-hot glass needs to cool in a special chamber that slowly brings the temperature down. Or, as one witty employee put it, "You can take it home today, but it's going to be in a million little pieces, so you might want to wait."

I'm actually hoping I won't see my boy's creation until Valentine's Day (hint, hint). And as for my newly trendy husband, I look forward to see how he's going to heat things up for me on V-Day, but I kinda hope it doesn't involve paperweights*.

*His paperweights are actually pretty cool.
(P.S. I dropped one of his paperweights when we moved in! It didn't break, but it did get scratched up.)

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

New Wilton Products Unleash Creativity in the Kitchen (and Beyond)

The day before BlogHer13, I was invited out to Wilton headquarters for a behind-the-scenes tour. We not only got to visit the Wilton test kitchen, we got to play in it! They also gave us goodies to take home and promised to send us one of their new snack cake pans. You can see mine on the right! I received a Wilton Treatwich Mini Cake Pan. It's officially called the 12-cavity pan, but as someone who spends a lot of time and  money at the dentist, I just can't do that name.

Remember the Suzy-Qs and other snack cakes we gulped down as children of the 1970s? Wilton's new new snack pans help recreate these treats only without the preservatives that let the packaged version survive for 10 years in your basement.

Homemade Ho-Hos, anyone? 

With my 12-spot pan, I made six sweet treatwiches (using a Wilton recipe, but successfully subbing in a gluten-free flour blend and rice milk for cow milk).

I even managed to keep a few around long enough to take a picture, but only because the boys were away at school.

At the test kitchen, we had a chance to build with Wilton's Shape-N-Amaze Edible Decorating Dough. Following a simple set of instructions and using a few cool tools...

We made these adorable owls! 

Each owl looked a bit different than the others, but I promise you, there was not a bad looking one in the bunch! I recently used some of the samples I got to take with my Science Olympiad team. Edutainment and hands-on learning at its best.

One of the best parts of the Wilton tour was getting to seeing some of the amazing creations the staff made. There was some truly jaw-dropping stuff. I'd like to hone the decorating skills I developed as a teen, but I need to pair up with someone who will A) bake the cakes and B) eat the cakes. When you work at home, you don't have in-house co-workers to feed, which is maybe why I used the Treatwich pan to make dog treats before putting it away for the day.

At any rate, I was grateful to brush up and try new decorating techniques at Wilton; it was a lot of fun. I got skillz, people.

Despite my hopes, I haven't decorated anything since that workshop, but I did use some of the flavored candy melts the other day and my Wilton food-safe markers came in hand as I worked on a Hanukkah post (coming soon!).

Click over to see more behind-the-scenes photos and check out the tasty snacks my friend Michelle made with her Wilton Mini Orb Pan (also part of the new line).

Monday, November 11, 2013

Wouldn't You Really Rather Drive a Buick?

Buick LaCrosse at Kodachrome Basin State Park, Utah
I'd have taken better pics of the car if I'd known they'd be public.
I remember this classic Buick tag line from my youth. Maybe that's why I associate Buick with my parents generation. That said, a quick reality check reveals I essentially am now what my parents were then: middle age, 2 kids, a dog, a house in the suburbs and all that. So when Buick turned out to be the featured brand during a recent General Motors' OnStar Blogger Immersion Trip in Detroit, I was open to learning more about the brand.

Well, there's a little more to it. On our recent trip to southwest Utah, our compact car rental was upgraded to a mid-size Buick LaCrosse. We spent a week in that baby driving from Las Vegas up to Goblin Valley State Park and back, logging more than 800 miles with more than 20 hours in the car. 

We enjoyed the SiriusXM satellite radio service switching between music and news updates in the hopes of learning when the government shutdown would end and the national parks would re-open, but this didn't happen until after we'd returned home.

We started a hike at Capitol Reef National Park just before the rangers shut the park on October 1, 2013.
DH and I were both impressed with the car's handling and responsiveness on the Utah roadways, which ranged from interstates with speed limits of up to 80 mph(!) to the twists, turns, and grades of Route 12-one of the most scenic drives in the United States to, uh, this:

Cattle Drive near Hanksville, Utah
At three points during our trip we had to steer around steer. In other news, check out that luxe interior.
Given that we had sketchy-to-no cell phone service, it was handy to have OnStar in the car. Honestly, we weren't sure it was active and forgot to ask the rental company if there would be a charge to use it (the Onstar folks told me during the blogger trip that it was likely active and available to use without a fee). Luckily, we didn't find out the hard way- if the air bags in the car deployed (i.e. we were in a crash) the OnStar command center would have received prompt notice and sent help. I wish I had known this ahead of time as it would have given me peace of mind. We were in some pretty isolated areas!

Buick LaCrosse outside of Zion National Park

We both appreciated the heated seats on chilly mornings, especially near Bryce National Park. The many electric adjustment options for the seats (passenger side, too) came in handy as we switched drivers from my nearly six-foot tall husband to the five-foot me. My husband was not a fan of the car's bucket seats, finding them uncomfortable on some of the longer legs of the trip. However, this wasn't a problem for me. In fact, when I pulled a muscle in my back several days into the trip, I feared that was the end of our hiking, but between the adjustable lumbar support on the driver's side and the heated seats (and a few Advil), I was almost as good as new.

The dual-zone temperature controls were also a hit, eliminating his and her bickering over what temperature to keep the car. The car likely had other features we weren't aware of, but this trip was more about exploring Utah than the exploring the cool aspects of our rental car. Ah, if only I knew then what I know now.

The trip to Utah was one of the best vacations of my life, so Buick now has an automatic positive association for me.

On my recent visit to Detroit I learned a few things about the 2014 Buick Lacrosse. Check out these features:
  • Adaptive cruise control (it senses the speed of the car in front of you and adjusts your car's speed--even stopping and accelerating- in reaction)
  • Intellink infotainment System with touch commands or voice control
  • USB port
  • Auxiliary port
  • 6 month free trial of OnStar Directions and Connections (i.e. hit your blue button to find the nearest Starbucks, access to vehicle diagnostics and stolen vehicle slowdown)
  • Remote start and remote keyless entry
  • 3-month trial of SiriusXM radio
  • and more
Also, all 2014 GM vehicles, including Buicks, get 5 years of free RemoteLink Key Fob Services. That allows owners to lock/unlock/start car with the RemoteLink App. One other option for Buick owners is "Experience Buick" leasing, which gives 2 years of included OnStar Directions and Connections. 

MSRP staring at just over $33,000

I thought this little bit was interesting, too. Starting in the 2013 model year the Buick Enclave, a luxury cross-over SUV began providing a front center air bag that pops up between the drive and front seat passenger for increased crash safety.

The blogger trip included a visit to the OnStar Command Center and the OnStar Call Center as well as a chance to see Detroit sites while riding around in tripped-out Buicks assisted by OnStar advisors. As part of the trip, I also had the opportunity to interview a couple of GM engineers as well as Susan Schneider, the Global Manager of GM's AppShop.

My trip to Detroit was sponsored GM and Onstar and the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, but I was not required to post about it. 

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

St. Jude Give Thanks Walk November 23, 2013 in a City Near You

Have you heard of St. Jude Children's Research Hospital? You might recall commercials featuring Danny Thomas or tear-jerking ones featuring Marlo Thomas and some of their young cancer patients. Maybe you've heard of this magical medical facility where parents do not pay bills? That alone makes me want to cry happy tears, especially when I flash back to time our insurance denied payment on a nearly $20,000 claim for an out-patient procedure on my younger son. They finally paid after several months of denials and as many anxiety attacks for me.

My friend Holly from Culture Mom had the opportunity to visit St. Jude and see their good works firsthand. I learned a lot through her. I'm going to snip a few facts about the hospital  from her blog:

  • No family ever pays St. Jude for anything. Not one single dime. Nothing.
  • Daily operating costs are 1.7 million, which is primarily covered by public contributions.
  • In 1962 – the survival rate for acute lymphoblastic Leukemia- the most common form of childhood cancer- was 4%. Today.. .survival rate 94%.
  • St. Jude is the FIRST AND ONLY National Cancer Institute designated Comprehensive Cancer Center devoted to children.
  • The Flu vaccine was developed at St Jude.
  • St Jude accepts patients up to 18 years of age and cares for them for a lifetime.
  • Although there are only 78 beds in the hospital for in-patient care, they still see close to 7800 patients a year on an out-patient care basis.
You can read about Holly's visit, too.

I had the chance to connect with some of St. Jude's PR people at BlogHer 13 and wanted to pass along information they shared with me about their November 23, 2013 Give Thanks. Walk., a 5K walk with more than 89 locations nationwide (find one near you) and 31,000 participants. Together they raise millions of dollars to help families in difficult circumstances.

If you're looking for a way for your family to acknowledge the many things you have to be thankful for while  also helping those in need, consider getting involved in this walk.