Winter Visitors And a Whole Lot of Photos: You've been warned

There arrival was greatly anticipated.  We were all giddy to have them here, regardless of the wintry weather we were experiencing.  As soon as we saw their hands waving the entire vehicle was all smiles.  Inside and out.  Their cases were loaded quickly and just like that we were off on our first adventure.  Cosetta's for linner. 
Sweet treats
Dessert in the bakery after a filling linner, just couldn't pass it up
Before a hectic school schedule we rested Sunday after worship service, took a walk around Staring Lake and enjoyed a late afternoon footie match for Thing 4.  The week was to be filled with finals for the Things, all four this year, and some day adventures for the grown ups.  Family dinners and games in the evening, in between studying of course.  Maybe an ice cream run or a special meal out too. 
Standing on the frozen dock 
Our first day trip was to Excelsior and Lake Minnetonka.  The chill of the wind surprised us all and we kept our sight seeing to a minimum.  We lunched at Mozza Mia and were able to see fresh pasta hanging in the kitchen.  Yum!
Mom and Me shopping in Excelsior
Freshly made pasta
There was homework and studying and hanging chalkboards and all sorts of family time that evening. 
Pre-drilling holes to hang my chalkboard wall, it was a group effort. 
Husband Jared had Tuesday off work and we were able to schedule a brewery tour at Summit Brewery in St. Paul.  The first stop though was St. Paul's Cathedral.  Standing tall on the hill it is a sight to behold.  Built in the early 1900's the architecture is intricate and elaborate and reminiscent of churches we had visited in Prague.  We walked the hallway of the Saints, stood in awe of the altar and quizzically tried to understand the swan like candelabras.  Haven't figured that one out yet. 

From afar

Dad and Mom in front of the Cathedral

Looking up
Before our beer tasting and tour we headed to Grand Avenue for lunch at Brasa.  Husband Jared and I had dined here with friends a while back and were anxious to try it again.  This time was just as good as had remembered.  Dad's egg and pulled pork with yellow rice topped the list, oh and the plantains, those were my fave.  Bellies full we found the brewery, hidden in St. Paul in an industrial complex.  We watched a short slide show on the history of Summit, it's founders, it's variety of beers and it's commitment to remaining a craft brewery.  All rather fascinating if you ask me.  There was talk of hops and grains and barley and malt and bottling practices and home brews and on and on.  I suppose a beer lover's paradise.  Surprisingly I found the afternoon quite educational and as a bonus, when the tour was complete we were able to sample the local fare. 
In the tap room

Holding tanks in the newly added building
Outside, with the Summit logo behind us, me and my sensitive eyes squinting
We came home to four Things that were preparing for the first round of finals.  They needed some distraction so the Stinson kiddos were  invited over for some fun.  The boys ran around, played Nerf guns and showed Poppi and Nani just how to Rainbow loom.  Also on this night, there were many hands to assist with homework and studying and even house drawing for replica pictures for one Thing's art class.  See photo below, you will not be disappointed.  For the assignment they were not allowed to use any digital help.  So in order to recreate this photo Husband Jared and Nani went to work.  A house drawn on the chalkboard and one house in the background on our tele.  I do believe Thing 1's instructor was impressed with the final result.
Nani getting her art on
Thing 2 and Hailey covered the chalkboard with their art! 
Wednesday was final day and more time with the Things.  Since their was a testing gap in all four of their schedules we picked them up for a school reprieve.  That which included a quick trip to Target, lunch at Lion's Tap, Poppi's fave, and an even speedier run through Costco for dessert and a few essentials.  Yum.  We sent Uncle J a photo of our juicy burgers just to send him into a drool fit.  Oh how we miss all being together.  The Things ran off to youth group for some worship time and then it was back to studying and early bed times for all. 

Nani and Thing 2 studying
Poppi learning how to cup stack
Thursday us adults were ready for some outdoor activity, cross country skiing.  With the exception of Husband Jared none of us had ever been and we had researched and watched YouTube videos and practiced our form.  All while being mocked by the Things.  No matter.  Only the weather had other plans in mind.  With a below zero wind chill we most certainly were not up to braving the elements and instead opted for entertainment of the indoor sort.  Can anyone say bocce ball?  There was lunch and a little friendly competition, boys v. girls.  I was a tad rusty and it took Mom and I a while to warm up, shall we say, but we ended up even in the end.  Boys with one win and us girls with one as well.  It was good fun and we had lots of laughs while we talked strategy.
I'm sure I look nothing like my Mom, ahem.
Let's see now, we made it to the end of the week!  Which of course could only mean one thing, we were going to be together all day, all eight of us!  The Things were thrilled.  And for our first night together I can't even remember now what we did.  Must have been some night!  Wait, it's coming back to me.  During Friday day we took a little field trip to Ikea and picked up a new dresser for Thing 4.  So, Friday night was spent watching movies, assembling a dresser, moving the old one and trying our hand at homemade tortillas courtesy of a family friend's recipe.  I had never endeavored into tortilla making land and Poppi and Nani assured me that it was ever so easy.  I did agree once we got started.  Although the rolling didn't go just right and the finished product was rather salty.  Well, after clean up and sampling and later in the night we discovered why.  The flour we purchased was not the same brand as the recipe called for and already had the leavening agents and salt added to it.  Needless to say we added ingredients that didn't need adding.  Oops.  A rookie mistake I'm sure we won't make again.  Fun was still had and the tortillas weren't "that bad".  At least we had a good laugh !
Three generations

Poppi giving us a tortilla rolling lesson
Saturday morning came nice and slow, just the way I like it.  Our house guests were up and beat me to the coffee making.  Husband Jared and I lingered upstairs and listened to the sounds of the house.  I couldn't help but smile because in that moment I was filled with gratitude.  The Things came into the kitchen one by one and had their snuggles and time with Poppi and Nani and then we all decided it was a great day for sledding.  Well, almost all of us.  Thing 1 sat this one out.  It was chilly.  We weren't to be deterred.  One by one we slid down on the powdery snow.  Laughing and screaming and holding on for dear life.  Yes, that was us.  There were snow angels made and snow ball fights and one or two of us may have been tackled and had our faces shoved in the cold, wet snow.  Thank you for that Thing 3.
The family that "selfies" together stays together, right?

Poppi and Thing 4 sledding
To warm us up after our play time outside we drove through JJ's for some rich hot cocoa.  And yes, we of course brought one home for Thing 1.  Then it was off for a late lunch, early dinner, or linner as we like to call it at Burger Jones and some sight seeing around Lake Calhoun and Lake Harriet.  Burger Jones hit the spot.  The Things introduced Nani and Poppi to cheese curds. Yum! 
Yep, that's a heaping plate of chicken wings, this Thing's favorite!

Oh how we love thee!
Nani and Thing 3 all smiles at Burger Jones
I do believe that we played a new game this night, which has quickly become a family favorite, Big Bowl.  Thank you to the Brown family for teaching us this one.  We were in stitches.  It was
Adults v. Things and I am happy to say that the parents and grandparents won.  You heard it here!  It was riotous and  loud and competitive.  Everything that we strive for our game nights to be.  Then it was off to bed early for the alarm was going to be ringing early for church the next morning. 
And now I finally am able to share my highest high of this visit, cross country skiing!  We couldn't have asked for better weather, forty degrees and the sun was shining.  There were people in tank tops outside.  May be a sign that you live in the frozen tundra, where 30 degree plus weather means it is warm.  I'm learning, slowly.  Anyhow, after all the research and preparation we were on our way to Hyland for their groomed cross country ski trails.  It was a lengthy process for the eight of us to navigate but the Things performed swimmingly and we hit the trail.  Clumsily at first, a little hesitant but eventually we got the hang of it, so to speak.  We followed one another on the loop, a 3/4 mile trail that is perfect for practicing.  Then we decided that we were ready for the lake trail, and that is when it went downhill, pun intended.  There were hills and we could see them and Thing 3 decided it was more than she could handle.  Her and I parted ways with the group, sending them on their way and the two of us left to make some decisions.  Was she ready to call it a day or would we continue on?  Thankfully she wanted to go again and we did, five more times around that loop, until both her and I were confident that we knew what we were doing.  Or at least we felt a bit more coordinated on our skis.  We waited at the top of a steep hill where our fam would meet us.  And that they did. All of them laughing and sharing stories of falling and losing Poppi on the way and everything in between.
The group, minus Husband Jared, he was the photographer for this one

Hanson Six on skis, watch out!

The group around the lake
This one, proud of herself for not wasting her time  with the hill, she walked up the stairs!

Could they be any cuter?! 

The hill, yes that bald man is my Husband Jared, love him!
Thing 3 and me, happy that we didn't give up!

      Thing 4, this guy could have skied for days!
Our fun filled adventure didn't end here, we raced home, warmed up, had Punch pizza and watched an American football game.  The entire game.  This one might just go down in the record books.  Thing 4 was full of questions and commentary.  Eventually the girls and I left the living room for finer entertainment in the form of Downton Abbey.   I'm not ashamed to admit it. 
It was a bittersweet night for sure, much like the next day.  As always when we know there's an airport trip in our future.  Never easy saying goodbye.  The day began with a trip to OPH for Poppi's favorite.  We sat at a large table in the center of the restaurant and laughed and talked about highs and lows and when our next visit would be and all the memories we made in ten short days.  Because it's inevitable we all said how shocked we were that it went so fast.  Always seems that way, done and over in the blink of an eye.  To say it was a great visit seems cliche and not enough.  It was and we are already looking forward to next time and the possibility of an episode of "Cheryl Stuck, The Bird Whisperer".  Hopefully in warmer weather!  We love you Poppi and Nani!
 This is how we spent our last minutes together, silliness!

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