9 bucks for 3 cans?  Seems cheap to me.  They are stamped D.O.P but are they really from San Marzano?

Last week, I posted a photo and description of the Suncast Wood and Resin Playset from our local Costco in Oak Brook Illinois and commented that I was pleased that we purchased the Cedar Summit version last year because I preferred the looks of all-wood version over this year's edition that has a lot of plastic panels and elements.  I was surprised that Costco eliminated the Cedar Summit folks in favor of Suncast - it seemed odd to me that they'd take out a nice (seemingly) higher-end product and replace it with something that I perceived as being lower-end with increased pricing.

A few days later, I received a nice note from the folks at Cedar Summit that set me straight and provided some good news for Costco Playset/Swingset shoppers around the country.  They, indeed, are selling this year's Cedar Summit edition and it is called the "Mountainview Resort'.  He also laid out the facts:
  • The Suncast plastic/wood playset is ONLY available in the Midwest and Texas regions (I think those are Costco definitions).
  • The majority of the Costco Clubs in the US will be featuring the Mountainview Resort by Cedar Summit.
  • The Cedar Summit will be sold at $999.00 (vs. $1299.99 for the Suncast one)
  • The Mountainview Resort is made of 100% FSC Cedar and has a Tube slide
If I was in the market for a swingset, I wouldn't go any further than Costco and get the Cedar Summit Mountainview Resort.  I've never assembled/owned a Suncast Wood and Resin Playset from Costco, so I can't speak to it's attributes, but I've now had the Cedar Summit Panorama in our backyard for a year after assembling it myself.  I couldn't be happier.  

If you find yourself in a Costco market (midwest+Texas) that only carries the Suncast version, go find the manager of the store and see if they'll help you buy one from a different region.  I don't believe it will be available online (and...besides....the shipping cost would kill you!)

Here's the footprint of the Cedar Summit Mountainview Resort:

And here's a full set of photos courtesy of the Cedar Summit team:

Guess who runs an award-winning event design firm in Chicago?  That's right, my dear wife Nat now does with her Chicago event design and planning firm Pemberley Events!

Last week, it was announced that her team won the "Inspired Creations" contest at IndieWed.  I'm so very proud of her and all the effort she put into it.  I went to IndieWed to help her team break down their booth earlier this year and even though I don't have a lot of sense of style/fashion/what have you, it was plain to see that Nat's team put the most thought and effort into the contest and deserved to win.

If you're looking for event planning and design,  wedding planning and design in Chicago, or even just a Chicago Wedding Planner, you can't go wrong with Pemberley Events.
The mold for my Easter Bunny Faux Chocolate craft project arrived via the USPS a few days ago.  He's about 11" tall which is about the same as the ones I made last year.  Here's last year's version of the Faux Chocolate Bunny craft project.

I made four of them last year with Durham's Water Putty and gave three of them away.  Hopefully, I'll find time to make at least four of them again this year to start what I'll call a 'collection'. Now that I have the mold, it is just a matter of buying enough Water Putty and paint!
On Saturday, we went to Angelo Caputo's up in Addison for some various items including the Chellino Scamorza Cheese that I use in our pizza making.  Unfortunately, Caputo's was all sold out.  Weird.  But, I didn't want to give up, so Nat pulled out her phone and found this place:  Amici's Italian Deli and Fruit Market in Westmont.  We called them and asked if they carried Chellino Scamorza?  Sure enough, they have a lot of it they said.

When we arrived, I immediately went to the refridgeration case and saw these beauties.
A whole dollar cheaper than Caputo's at $5.99.

We found a few other items to pick up, but didn't give the store a real good once-over.  It appears to be a solid Italian deli with the majority of the customers milling around in the back by the deli counter.  Lots of cuts of meat, lots of sliceable meats.  We'll give it a shot for lunch one day soon.
Like most folks, the fact that there's an election coming up is just a vague notion rattling around in my head.  Sure, you've seen the presidential candidates beating up on each other in other states.  And, there are those signs starting to sprout up in your neighbor's front yards.  But...here in Illinois, there isn't much time left until we head to the voting booths.  In fact, there's just 25 days until the March 20th primary elections all across DuPage County.  Here in Elmhurst, we have a chance to vote for our representative in the Illinois State Senate in the GOP Primary - a decision that will be important for the future of our community.

The race includes current State Senator Kirk Dillard who just this morning was endorsed by the Daily Herald.  He's running against Chris Nybo.  For those of us in Elmhurst, he's new to us, but we couldn't have someone better looking out for our community and our interests.  With the recent re-map (every 10 years, we all get some new elected officials), Elmhurst was dealt some bad news.  At the Federal level, we'll be represented in Washington DC by a Chicago Congressman who's district spans all the way to the lakefront.  But, closer to home, our representation in State Government can improve and hopefully counter-act any ill-effects of being represented by a Chicago Congressman.  That opportunity lies in Kirk Dillard.  Dillard, lives in Hinsdale and understands what it takes to make Illinois work again.  Here's what the Daily Herald said this morning:
Still, there’s also something to be said for experience, especially when it’s mixed with a record of political collaboration, and we believe Dillard’s record shows he would continue to serve the district and the state best. Since being first elected in 1994, Dillard has developed strong relationships with legislative leaders and earned a reputation as a skillful negotiator. Such influence has benefited the West suburban district, which covers parts of Elmhurst, Oak Brook, Lombard and Glen Ellyn.
I'll have more to say about this race (and other races) between now and March 20th including the County Board race that features Elmhurst's Mayor.

There's a few new houses going up in Elmhurst and as we drive through the neighborhood, it has been fun to watch them come together.  One of them - which is across York Street from us - has been going up fast.  Nat noticed that they had put up their siding and had chosen vertical red siding for the garage - making it look just like a red barn in their backyard.  The photo I took above is from the alley in back.

Pretty stinkin' cute, eh?  I'd love a barn in my backyard, wouldn't you?
As I was driving across the railroad tracks this weekend I saw the signs had gone up on the new School of Rock building right on First Street.  Technically, the address is 105 N. Maple Street, but the building's signage is all facing the more public First Street side.    Either way, it is just a block or two from the main core of Downtown Elmhurst, so I consider this a welcome addition.

From their site, School of Rock (cute name, btw) is clearly aimed at kids so that means that plenty of moms and dads will be dropping their kids off with an hour to burn.  This is exactly the type of business that we should be luring to the Downtown.    There likely isn't going to be a ton of retail sales (maybe some?  Like guitar strings or drum sticks and what not), so it won't be material to the city's revenues, but like an office that has employees that go out to lunch, the benefits are tangential.

As for the building, I think I remember it being home to a contractor (Hansel & Hempel) so I'm hoping that they just relocated to a different location.  It isn't that welcoming from the front and the door is on the wrong side, I think.  I believe the parking lot is over there to the right side of the photo. The minimal windows aren't pretty, but perhaps it lends itself well to music classrooms?  One thing I noted when I drove by is that in the window just to the right of the main entrance there's a 'high' window.  From my glance, it appeared that they've erected a 2X4 stud wall right in the middle of the window - meaning that a room might divide the window?  That's weird, but retrofitting a music business into an old building can't be easy.
Over the weekend, we hit up the Oak Brook Costco and came across this behemoth.  This is the Suncast Wood and Resin Playcenter - Costco Part #588674.  It is priced at $1299.99 (see the bottom photo for pricing details).

This is the 2012 version of the VERY popular Costco backyard playground/playset series.  Last year, they featured the Cedar Summit Panorama - which we brought home.  This year, they've gone with the Suncast Wood and Resin Playcenter which has many of the same features as years pasts.

***Update on 2/28/12 - If you are looking for the Cedar Summit Mountainview Resort Playset you can find the details here.  Turns out Costco is indeed selling a Cedar Summit swingset, but just not in Texas or the Midwest.  ***

The 2012 Suncast structure is made up of both wood and a lot of plastic parts - unlike the Cedar Summit.  There are certainly plastic elements in the Cedar Summit version, but they're mostly highlight/enhancement pieces like window frames.  The Suncast playset has a full plastic climbing wall,  a really nice (gently arched) plastic ladder (which is nicer than the Cedar Summit one and clearly more toddler/kid friendly), and even a series of plastic (or resin as they call it) walls.

The slide isn't set up on this one in the store, but it is billed as being 'configurable', so you can put the slide, ladder, and climbing wall in any one of three spots.  That's a nice feature.  It doesn't appear that the swing support arm can be configured in the same way, rather just like on the Cedar Summit one from 2011, it is anchored and only changeable through a hard hack.

There's three swings and a really weird suport structure for the swing arm.  Our local Costco appears to have rigged it up with a treated lumber 4X4 (you can see it in the photo below), and has some weak-looking support legs.  They're just 2X4's and the 2 pieces that connect with the ground look like fence planks are are thin.  Not sure if that's the way it is sold or if the Oak Brook Costco employee tasked with building this took some liberties.

I'm (obviously) biased because I bought the playset last year, but I'm pleased with that decision.  While I think this one is nice, it is priced the same but has much more of a plastic look than ours.  The plastic roof especially stands out and a bit jarring to the eye.  This doesn't appear to be able to blend in with the natural settings of many backyards as the past editions have.

Being Costco, I'm guessing that they fully vetted this vendor and they'll stand behind it, so if you are in the market for a playset, you can buy with confidence.

Since I posted on the (unfortunately) early emerging French Pussy Willow plant last week, I've been keeping a close eye on it to make sure things don't take a turn for the worse.  When I was out there yesterday, I noticed that some sort of critter had decided to hack away at a few of the branches and there were 6 or 7 of them laying on the ground with gnaw marks on them.  Maybe a rabbit?   Not sure.

I picked 'em up, brought 'em in and decided to hop on the ole' series of tubes to see if it was possible to get them to root in a glass of water.  Sure enough.  It sounds very easy.  Just trim them up, drop them in the glass and wait.  A few weeks from now, we should have some cuttings that we can give away for others to enjoy the pussy willow in their own backyards.
This morning, we packed into the car and went wandering out for some doughnuts.  After a not-so-great experience at Dunkin' Donuts a few weeks back, we wanted to go local so we went down to Elmhurst's Julianne's Bakery.  But, what did we find?  The place is closed and has been shut down due to a fire.  Bummer.

When we got home (BTW, we found a bakery in Villa Park on St. Charles that was pretty good), I looked around to see what happened with Julianne's.  Turns out, the fire that took the place out occurred LAST OCTOBER.  Almost six months ago.

Guess we don't get out for donuts often enough.
Look at the size of that stick.   I put the 'Ove Glove' in there for some perspective.   I normally try to avoid pepperoni in favor of sopprasetta, but I was in a pinch last night and had to pick something up at the local Jewel.  Instead of the normal pre-sliced version, I came across this HUGE stick from Bridgeford.  The skins came off really easy and it was mighty tasty.  Liked it all around, but still not the best product for the pies we make at home.  However, when we're in a bind and buying the meats locally, I'll choose this one.
Yesterday, Politico ran a sharp piece on how the Santorum presidential campaign is running ads with Google that feature a endorsement from Rush Limbaugh and lead to a custom landing page that plays a Limbaugh clip that promotes Santorum.  Politico pointed out the importance/relevance of the Limbaugh connection:
It's a smart ad regardless of what state it's in, since Limbaugh tends to be popular with the types of GOP primary voters Santorum is hoping to pick up. But a Google search analysis shows that on average, Michigan residents search for Limbaugh in much higher numbers than internet users of the overall United States, meaning the ad is even more effective in that state than it may be elsewhere.
Here's a screenshot of the ad.  It was running for users up in Michigan against a series (as far as I can tell) of generic GOP-related queries like [Michigan GOP Primary].  

Campaigns have been using search for years, but the possibilities of targeting/messaging in such a nimble, flexible way continue to expand.  Going to be some neat stuff between now and November.

Disclosure.....I work at Google.  You guys know that, right?  I also work on the communications around political ads and our ads business, so this isn't just something that I stumbled across!
Nat picked up this little pot of Cineraria a few weeks back at Trader Joe's.  They had these really pretty purple flowers that bloomed strong.  Then...it started to fade and wilt and the leaves started to go limp and grey.  Something was wrong.  I mean...look at it.   Sad, right?  Lots of deadheads and sick foilage.  So, I replanted it into a real pot (with drainage) and hoped for the best.  It kept going the wrong way, so I turned to the web.

Turns out, they thrive in cool weather.  Our house, with the thermostat set to 70 degrees was, apparently too warm for it.  Weird, right?  This is how it is described:
Locate the plant in a cool room where temperatures are near 50°F to 55°F at night. Provide bright light but not direct sunlight. Excessive heat or dry soil can cause rapid decline. 
So...off to the basement it goes.  On a ledge on the south side of the house to get some of that light.  But...NOT direct light.  I'll keep an eye on it and see what happens.   Seems to not be the best flower for TJ's to be selling if it is going to be so temperamental.  
What's this?  Another Christmas post?  In February?  Yes indeed.  Sorry about it.  When I was cleaning out the trunk of my car over the weekend, I came across this light set that I picked up close to Christmas (during their big sale) for Nat.  She'd been eyeing this thing since Menards put up their Enchanted Forest display but it was priced up near $25.

I think I picked it up for $12.50 - 50% off but I forgot all about it.   I gave it to her for Valentine's Day because there's no reason not to. I'll put it away in the crawlspace with our other holiday stuff and when Thanksgiving comes around we'll pull it out having forgotten all about it.  Merry Christmas to us!  Indeed.
Even at Tebow's peak, he never caused quite the stir that the Knick's Jeremy Lin has in the past week.  According to Google's Insights for Search Tool, Linsanity is (still) surging.

(If you are reading this in your email, you'll need to click here to see the chart below)

Just throwing down a marker her to note what a 'new' pizza pan looks like after a few dozen hours of seasoning in the oven and a few skins baked on it.

Nothing for anyone to see here just yet.  We can just move along.  By Christmas-time, these babies should have a nice thick coat on 'em.
This was Friday's example.  Just going to take a few (dozen) more trials to get it perfect.  But...look at that charring/carmelization along the edge.  That's-a-nice!
Ah yes...it is campaign time once again in Illinois.  We have a hotly contested Republican Primary for Elmhurst's representative in the Illinois State Senate with a battle between Kirk Dillard and Chris Nybo.  This piece ended up on our front door a few days back from the Chris Nybo campaign.  The cover is pretty effective in getting my attention, but the rest of the piece is an absolute mess.

I *do* however think that there is some merit to getting things fixed in politics and restricting how long a member can serve and how quickly they can spin through the revolving door into lobbying.  But...the issue needs to be attacked at the source of the problem:  money.

As we get closer to the election, we can dig in a bit more on the candidates and issues on the ballots for Elmhurst voters.
This is what our French Pussy Willow looks like right now:  plenty of new red growth and these big red bulbs ready to burst open full of furry little dots.   We planted it this past season, so I'm not sure if this is what these things look like normally at this point in the season or if the plant is confused due to the unseasonably warm weather a week back.

When Nat and I were driving around over the weekend, we spotted a few little flowers springing up, figuring they were just confused.  Sad to think that everyone might be loosing some spring growth because it is going to come up too early only to be killed by the certain frost left this winter.

It's early February.  Does anyone have any experience with this type of plant/bush?  Are we on track and this is normal?  Or if not, is there something we can do to help it along and maybe slow down the spring awakening?

BTW...looking through the analytics account for this site and the above-linked French Pussy Willow plant post gets a lot of traffic.  But...I'm pretty sure that the creeps that end up here leave pree-tay pree-tay disappointed.
Hide your kids, hide your wife.  There's big news afoot!  Attention Chicago and Suburban folks:  Shamrock Shakes are NOW available at area McDonald's.  The Babe had her first one EVER yesterday and loved every drop of it.

Stop what you are doing and get out to McDonald's RIGHT NOW.

What's that?  Giving our daughter a milkshake while she mindlessly watches tv?  Sweet parenting!

P.S.  Hide your husband, too!
I just renewed my driver's license via the Illinois Secretary of State's website.  No visit to the dreaded DMV.  No dealing with cranky civil servants.  Just a few keystrokes and in a few weeks a sticker will show up that I can stick on the back of my license that keeps me legal.

Thanks, Jesse White.  No wonder he keeps getting re-elected by huge margins.  This is how government is *supposed* to work.
Yesterday, the three of us spent part of the morning up in Bensenville, watching my nephew play in one of his first full-ice hockey games.  He's only 5, but he's already part of the Elmhurst Chiefs Hockey program and lovin' every minute of it.  They played well, but on this day were outmatched by the visiting team.

Youth hockey is so foreign to me - mostly because I didn't see a second of ice time during my childhood.  In fact, I'm not sure there was a rink that was within 30 miles of my folk's house.  With this rink being so close and hockey being a 'big deal' in the neighborhood - based on the other kids on the team including one girl - I'm wondering if the hockey bug will catch on in our house?
Here's my latest pre-baked Detroit-style pizza pie.  You'll note the seasoned blue steel pizza pan and the 'signature' diagonal lines of sauce.  Although this pic may not make your mouth water , jt turned out pretty great, aside from the 2 spots that stuck to the bottom of the new pans.  They just need a big more seasoning, I guess.  Off to the kitchen laboratory!
After suffering through a few weeks of trial and error with my Detroit-style pizza recipe, I finally decided to get serious and order *REAL* Detroit-style Blue Steel pans - directly from Michigan.  Actually...turns out they're made in Mexico, but sold from a restaurant supply shop *in* Michigan!

So, why special pans?  Well, the lore around Detroit-style pizza is that these pans were originally intended for the automotive world:  they're pans that auto repair/assembly works put the various pieces/parts that they're working on.  Detroit being an Auto-Town, the transition to using them in a pizza joint seems quite fitting.  They have a higher lip than standard pans and are even a bit taller than my deep-dish pans.

They are Blue Steel 10" x 14" pans and come with a weird grease on them - that I'm assuming is food grade?  I seasoned them as best as I could by coating them with corn oil (olive oil won't work for this because it has too low of a burning/smoking point), then putting them in the oven upside down at 450 degrees for 40 minutes.  Remember to put some pans or foil on the lower rack to catch the oil dripping or else you'll have a smoky mess on your hands.  I did this process of rubbing them with oil, baking them for 40 minutes, then letting them cool back down five times.  I probably could have done it 20 times, but I was too impatient.  With the workout I gave them, they started to turn a bit brown and a coating was starting to build up.  According to what I read on the web, the real key here will be that we can't cut in them (no knives) and that we shouldn't scrub them down after using them either.  Just a quick cleaning - maybe even just a wipe out - and certainly no time in the dishwasher.

I was up this morning VERY early to put together the dough and because these pans come with plastic lids, you do the proofing right in the lubed pans.

I'll give the dough a 24+ hour cold rise in the fridge and by Saturday night, we'll know if the pans have made a difference.
See those four Arborvitae trees starting in the middle of the photo and heading to the right?  They're leaner than the ones on the far left side.  And 2 years younger.

The older ones are strong and I know they'll be coming back this year to grow bigger.  But these?  I dunno.

I planted these four in the Spring of 2011 after having the same four die from the previous year.  As you can see, these four aren't dark green, but aren't that much lighter than the ones on the left.  There are some little orange/brown bits on them, but the bulk of the trees (Are they trees?  Or bushes?) are mostly green.

What do you think?  Will they survive?
Well, well, well.  Look at what arrived in the mail yesterday:  the logistical details for the Babe's upcoming trip to "Mickey's House".  Can't wait to make even more memories with her and Nat (and just about my entire family).