Monday, November 13, 2017

Conor and His Robot Prototypes

Last night, we Olsons unplugged. Annika and Eric worked on a robotics building project for much of the night while Conor and I played a few hands of Crazy 8s.

I see so much of Eric in his face from this angle. 

During our marathon of cards, Conor had the uncontrollable urge to put down his cards and pick up a pen to draw ideas for robots prototypes that were apparently zipping around in the depths of his imagination. Watching his creativity at work was a true joy. So often, as parents, we ask "What were you thinking???" Last night, I got to see what he was thinking flow from his brain, down his arm, and onto a lot of pieces of paper.

Yes, the tongue does help!

His focus and attention to detail were remarkable. Often, this kid can't sit still for more than 30 seconds... when he was drawing his robots, he was the poster child for self control, patience, and focus. His face would sqinch this way and he'd shift a little that way to get a better view of his art, but that was about it. He was steadfast and welcomed his ideas as they sprang forth.

Naturally, after the second or third cute face squinch, I grabbed my camera to work on my low-light, non-posed photography skills. Come one, he was being way too cute not to photograph!! Honestly, who could blame me??

Hard at work
(Please ignore his dirty finger nails!)

Conor and  one of his robot creations

Robots galore!

In all, I think he came up with ideas for 17 robots. One set the table for you. One was a robotic spatula that attached to your arm. One was a Mama foot massager (my favorite!).

Keep those creative juices flowing, sweet boy!! They will serve you well in life.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Conor's Audition Recap

A number of weeks ago, Conor's school music teacher asked me if Conor would be interested in auditioning for the NW Boys Choir. I said we didn't know anything about it, so she sent information about the program to me and we set up an audition for him.

FULL DISCLOSURE: I was really torn about the idea of the choir. On one hand, I knew he'd really enjoy it because of his love for music. On the other hand, it had rehearsals 2x per week in the U. District starting at 4:30 (hello, rush hour traffic) and would disrupt my work schedule and I wasn't convinced he has hit the maturity level needed for this type of group. I had more than one sleepless night trying to figure out how it would work out and my stress level climbed at the thought of it all. On the other hand (how many hands do I have??), I felt guilty putting my stress ahead of his potential growth.

Ready for his audition

Fast forward to Saturday. Conor's audition lasted 10-ish minutes and the man who ran the audition was lovely. He obviously is a natural with kids and was highly encouraging and positive with Conor. The audition began with Conor singing a song of his choice. He was then asked to repeat (clap) rhythms that he heard. Finally, he was asked to repeat one of two notes played simultaneously on the piano. Conor did a lovely job with his song and nailed the rhythms. He struggled with the portion of the audition where he needed to hear and then repeat a note. Because of this, he wasn't invited back for a callback; instead, he was encouraged to try again in 6-12 months. Sometimes this skill can still develop with practice; we aren't sure if he simply doesn't have this skill figured out yet or if his recent double ear infection and fluidy ears impacted his ability to hear the notes.

We are so proud of Conor for putting himself out there and taking a chance. Did he made the choir? No. Did he have fun? Yes. Did he try something new? Yes. Did he take a risk? Yes. Did he get a little reminder that life doesn't always go your way? Yes. Does he care that he didn't make the choir? Nope! (Is my stress level reduced? YES! Selfishly, I'm glad the choir people made the decision for us... it rids me of some mom guilt.) 😃

Way to go, kiddo!!

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

All Saints Day 2017

For the past few weeks, Conor's class has been studying the saints. As is tradition for the 2nd grade at our kids' school, each student picks a saint, researches that person, and then dresses up as that saint for the all-school mass on All Saints Day.

Conor chose St. Francis of Assisi, partially because he loves animals and partially because his friend Ollie didn't know any saints other than St. Patrick (which was Conor's 1st choice due to his Irish heritage). Conor learned all about St. Francis' life, his kind works, and his feast day.

Not only did Conor research St. Francis of Assisi and dress like him, he also helped his class lead mass today. He was the person who welcomed everyone to mass and, I must say, he did a fantastic job!! Don't believe me?? Watch below! :)

During mass, Fr. Armando asked the kids about their various saints, and each one did a fantastic job pointing out a fact or two about their respective saints. I love how these kids are unaffected by speaking in front of the entire congregation with such enthusiasm! After mass, I took photos of the class, both as a group and individually. So proud of this group and so impressed with the love of learning and the patience their teachers exudes on a daily basis!!!!

When Annika was in 2nd grade, she researched and dressed as St. Elizabeth Anne Seton. (I just realized after scrolling back through the blog that I never posted a photo of her in costume ... probably because she broke her arm 2 days later and that quickly became our focus. So, better late than never, here is Annika from her 2nd grade class' All Saints Day project.)


Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Halloween Synopsis

Our kids love Halloween for MANY reasons. Of course, we do love going to the pumpkin patch and carving our pumpkins each year. Honestly, who wouldn't love doing those things???

Another reason our kids love Halloween is they get to wear their costumes to school instead of their uniforms.

(Side note: They have a MUCH more lenient uniform policy than we ever did as kids. I see this as a good thing because it creates less resentment toward the clothes as kids age. They even get to wear shorts!! My inner St. Charles student is very jealous of that fact!)

In order to wear a costume to school, the uniform has to follow certain guidelines (understandably), which can make deciding on a costume a little tricky at times. In years past, Annika has really liked the idea of a scary costume, which doesn't fit the school policy, so she wound up having a school costume and a scarier trick-or-treating costume. I decided we were done with that... too much work for the grownups. Fortunately this year. both kids chose easy and school-friendly costumes. WHEW!!!

Annika dressed as a kid who overslept for school and Conor dressed as a Jedi. (He did have to leave the light saber at home because of the -- quite appropriate -- no weapons part of the school costume guidelines).

All smiles

"In character" poses

The note on Annika's PJ shirt

In other pre-holiday news, the kids decorated pumpkins as literary characters for their library projects. Conor decorated his to look like a Master Pokeball (does a Pokeball really count as a character???) while Annika chose the Headless Horseman. (Yes, we beheaded a Ken doll .... what's your point??)

Conor showing off his Pokeboall

Annika and her headless horseman

Ready for school!

We also spent some time this weekend decorating Halloween cookies. I know, BIG surprise there, huh??? I had to play with my new cookie presses... I simply HAD to! They actually worked out really well because decorating them was quite quick and considering they were for Conor's class party today, many cookies a bit faster = win!

The kids are now old enough, they really enjoy lending a hand with the cookie decorating and really do a good job. It is neat to be able to give them a little instruction and a pastry bag, and then let them go to town on their cookies. The ownership of the creativity and skill is really fun to watch.

Annika putting smiles and eyes on our happy bats

Conor giving his ghost cookie a green heart


Bats and ghosts

Cookies for the 2nd grade's Halloween party

Monday, October 30, 2017

Family Pumpkin Carving

Last night, we covered the kitchen table with plastic garbage bags, grabbed some knives and spoons, and collected our pumpkins from the front porch for our annual family pumpkin carving event.

Now, when I was a kid, we grabbed our pumpkins, knives, and spoons. We carved triangle eyes, a triangle nose, and a zig-zag mouth and called it good. Fast forward many years to when I married an artistic man and we had kids. Now, pumpkin carving requires a sketch pad and a lot more pre-planning than I ever imagined. That said, our pumpkins looks WAY better than any of my pre-Eric pumpkins every did.

We had lots of fun making grossed out sounds as we scooped out the pumpkin's insides and sang along with "Monster Mash" on our Echo/Alexa. Once the pumpkins were hollowed out, Eric sat down with each kiddo to sketch out his/her desired pumpkin face/expression. (Meanwhile, I went to the computer and printed up the Seahawks "12" logo and used a pin to transfer the numbers to my pumpkin. I figured the Hawks deserved a nod after their nail-biting win a few hours before!)

I have to give Eric immeasurable props for how he handles this process with the kids. They often want VERY elaborate things that simply aren't possible ... due to physics or the tools we have on hand. He very gently guides them toward a more practical design while keeping the essence of their ideas in mind and always remaining positive and having them talk through the evolution of the design. There are many moments that I've stood there and thought "Dang! He is such a great dad." and watching him figure out pumpkin faces with the kids was yet another example of when I had that exact thought. Conor definitely wanted jagged teeth in his pumpkin. Annika HAD to have a tongue sticking out. Conor wanted angry eyebrows. Annika wanted vampire fangs. Leave it to Eric to figure out how to incorporate their ideas and transfer them onto a pumpkin. :)

Let the pumpkin carving begin!

First cuts

Conor takes after Eric ... lots of sketches!

Annika and Eric co-piloting the knife process

Conor's topless pumpkin

Scoopin' out the guts

Planning time!

More sketching!

Annika inspecting her pumpkin's insides

Getting out the last seed stragglers 

Conor's pumpkin mid-carved



After many, many, many knife cuts and pottery tool scrapes later, the kids' pumpkins were done. We all agreed they looked amazing and would make our porch very "Halloweeny".  The icing on the (pumpkin) cake was the LED pumpkin lights that I picked up at the dollar store earlier in the day worked like a charm!! 


Monday, October 23, 2017

2017 Family Pumpkin Patch Excursion

Today, we made our annual excursion to Fairbank Animal Farm to pick our our pumpkins for Halloween.  This year was extra special because the Hall family joined us.

Considering the day before, we were about to start researching plans for building an ark, we were beyond overjoyed to have nothing but sunny weather today! I'm talking we needed sunglasses it was so nice! The rain from the previous days required us to don our rain boots to avoid getting overly muddy, but oh well!!

We started off visiting the goats (like we'd start anywhere else ... duh!) and moved on to the various birds (ducks, geese, peacocks, chickens) and fed them the little cups of feed that we got when we paid for our admission. While it is fun to see the birds, it is also a strong reminder that I'm not much of a captive bird gal ... they suckers are loud and smell like ... well, wet birds.). We made our way to the piglets (about a month old) and were (once again) awed by the sheer size of their mamas. Those are some large tired ladies ... then again, I would be, too, if I'd given birth to 12 children a few weeks before!)

We wound our way through the petting barn and got to pet the baby chicks, ducklings, and bunny. While they were cute, the baby sheep and month-old twin goats were what captured my heart. Beyond cute!! We also saw a couple of bearded dragons and a legless lizard (which ... only after my snarky statement "yeah... most people just call 'em snakes" I learned is quite different from a snake due to its eyelids, external ears, and uniform scale pattern.) Annika and Benji even watched a chick break out of its egg and join the world. How exciting is that???

Anyone want to guess who won this staring contest??

Eric proved to be an expert goat scratcher ... pretty sure she would have
followed him home if the fences hadn't gotten in the way

Annika giving the chicks a little love

Annabelle, Conor, and a goat
(I love how stumpy the goat's legs are!!)

Annika and Benji watching the chicks emerge from their eggs in the incubator
After we gave the animals their much-deserved attention, it was off to the pumpkin patch to pick out our perfect pumpkins! (Or in Annabelle's case, three perfect pumpkins!) Picking out THE pumpkin is such a different experience for adults than it is for kids. I'm pretty sure the kids inspected almost every pumpkin available before choosing which one to take home. Well.... Benji actually picked out his huge green pumpkin pretty early on, but then had to check out all of the other options before finalizing his green pumpkin decision. Annika and Conor both tromped through multiple pumpkin patches and considered many pumpkins before (finally) making their decisions. Annabelle went with three little pumpkins instead of one big pumpkin approach. We adults, on the other hand, basically walking into the patch, found some that fit our criterial (not rotting, not eaten by a squirrel, fairly uniformly shaped) and called it good within a couple of minutes. Yeah, we're just boring that way

Eric and Annika with her pick of the patch
Conor considering a massive green pumpkin

Pretty sure this thing weighs more than she does!

Conor and Eric returning from the patch with Conor's gem

The Halls

The Olson Four

Annika and Eric wheeling the pumpkins to the front of the farm 

While the dads paid for the pumpkins, the kiddos opted to run around the little play/photo area and burn off a little energy. The kids were in and out of the teepee, up and down on the wagon, and all too eager to put their faces in the various painted scenes so we could take their photos.

Conor being silly in his stump hidy hole

Annika and Annabelle just kidding around
(haha! Get it???)

Our cute babies

Monday, October 9, 2017

Hanging out with Alan Alda

So, did I tell you that I met Alan Alda last month?? No? Oh!! Well, sit down and I'll fill you in.

I don't think it is any sort of secret that I grew up in a MASH-loving home. Even long after the show was off the air, my brother and I would sit together watching episodes. I'm not talking right after the show was off the air. I mean going on 15 years after the show was done, we were still watching the show together. If we happened to turn on the TV and found a rerun playing (and, let's face it, there was a time in our not-too-distant past that there was ALWAYS a MASH rerun on!) we'd compete to figure out who could name the episode the fastest once it began or by watching the still images shown during the closing credits (if we missed the actual episode). 

My admiration of Alan Alda's work isn't strictly for his work on MASH (although, that was the beginning of it). I've admired his portrayal of countless characters, both on the big screen and on TV. Heck, I learned how to core a head of iceberg lettuce from him in the movie "Sweet Liberty". I kid you not!!

A number of years ago, Alan Alda was in town while promoting his memoir "Never Have Your Dog Stuffed: and Other Things I've Learned". Naturally, I went to the reading and was nothing but incredibly impressed with his way of interacting with the audience and his personable nature. At the end of the reading portion, he signed copies of his book. I bought 2 copies -- one for me and one for my brother Troy and asked for the inscription to read "Merry Christmas, Troy. Alan Alda". 

Fast forward to last month. I got a call out of the blue from Troy saying that we were going to a VIP reception with (and for) Alan Alda, who was in town to promote another book he wrote. I was floored and (yes, I'll admit it) giddy! After the reception, we'd get to hear Alan Alda speak to the audience about his book that discusses effective communication.

The next day, Troy and I met at a small Mercer Island restaurant, had a quick bite to eat, and headed to the reception. After wandering around a bit looking for the right building, we got to go right in and bypass the non-VIP people (tee hee hee... we were VIPs!) and join the other VIPs at the reception. We walk in and BAM! There was Alan Alda sitting at a table signing books. Troy and I giggled about how many times he must write his name during one of these events and how tired (bored?) he looked.... not to mention what his internal monologue must have been.

Waiting in line to meet Alan Alda
Hey, look!! It's Alan Alda!

We received our copies of his book and joined the line of others waiting for their turn to get their books signed. As we neared the table, I have to admit my giddy-o-meter when from "holy moly" to off the charts. 

Before too long (the line was kept moving at a really good pace), it was our turn to have our books signed. I told Alan (yea, we are totally on a first name basis now) that being there was my brother's birthday present to me. He (Alan, not Troy) very sweetly wished me a happy birthday. (YES! Alan Alda wished me a happy birthday.... booyah!) I also told him this was the second time I was at one of his readings, which (according to Troy) put a genuine smile on Alan's face. Pet Troy, he seemed touched that I was a repeat audience member! We shook hands, and then moved along... me with my feet a good 6-8 inches off of the ground.

Signed books selfie
Following the reception, we were ushered to the larger area where the presentation/interview would take place. Troy secured us some great seats earlier while I held our place in the book signing line, so we were probably no more than 10-15 feet away from the stage and dead center. During the interview, a local Seattle Times reporter and Alan talked about his work with scientists and researchers to help medical professional and other scientists improve their communication skills, especially when conversing with non-scientists and patients. 

Hey, look! It's Alan Alda


Sharing a story with the sudience

Thank you, Troy, for a truly wonderful evening. Yes, it was amazing to interact with Alan Alda (squee!) and listen to him speak (in person), but beyond that, sharing the experience with you means the world. You know me well enough to know that event would make me beyond happy and it would give us yet another moment to reflect back on with fondness and smiles. Also, thank you to Eric and Staci for being willing to take care of our respective kids solo so Troy and I could have a night out.