Friday, May 27, 2016

May 2016 Daring Bakers' Challenge: Twist Bread

This month, we Daring Bakers were challenged by Tandy ( of Lavender and Lime) to make twist bread. Oh darn! That sounds horrible ... NOT!!!

Tandy gave us the freedom to select the filling, so I went with a riff on cinnamon bread because I'm lazy and I had the ingredients on hand. (Let's be honest, eh?) I would really like to try this again with a savory filling (maybe sundried tomatoes, mozarella, and basil??) but didn't get around to that in time for posting here today. If you're so inclined, here is the link to Tandy's challenge recipe.

I found this recipe quite easy to follow (woo hoo!). The only struggle I had was after I sliced the loaf down the middle and then had to twist it. The outer layers sort of peeled away from me as I attempted to twist the loaf. Once I managed to get a "that's good enough" twist (an extra set of hand would have definitely helped ease the process!), I shaped the loaf into a ring (re-twisted a bit along the way), brushed it with an egg wash, and popped it into the oven. About 15-20 minutes into the baking process, the house started to smell amazing! You really can't beat the cozy smell of cinnamon wafting from a hot oven.

The final verdict? Eric thought it was ok but not spectacular. The kids loved it; Annika gladly put on her newly self-appointed food critic hat to let me know it was "flavorful and had good texture." I thought it was good, but could have used more of the cinnamon sugar filling. My co-workers (who got the remainder of the loaf the next day) inhaled it. So, there you are!

Thanks, Tandy, for this fun and yummy challenge. Can't wait to try it again!!

Monday, May 23, 2016

Our Great Wolf Lodge Getaway

Will someone PLEASE tap the breaks on 2016? This year is flying by WAY too quickly!! How we are knocking on June's door so fast is beyond me. As I write this, I can hardly believe we've been back from our weekend at Great Wolf Lodge for over a week !

Now to catch you up a bit...

A week plus ago on Saturday morning after breakfast, Eric and I surprised the kids with the news that we were taking them to Great Wolf Lodge in about an hour. (Woo hoo!) To top it off, we were going with Uncle Dave and Anne. (WAH HOO!!) Annika and Conor were stunned and ecstatic all rolled up into one. (Which is why we held off on telling them about the trip until the last minute. If we told them the night before, we'd never get them to sleep!)

After a few more minutes of excited spastic responses, the kids ran around getting themselves dressed and ready for the world. Eric and I packed the suitcases the night before, so getting ready was mostly done aside from taking Buca to the dog hotel and putting the suitcases in the van. We swung by Dave's house so the two families could caravan the hour and a half to the hotel/water park. The drive was a piece of cake; no setbacks, no traffic jams, no kid drama. Easy peasy. Hurray!! (Don't you love it when things go according to plan? Yeah, me too!)

As we headed south, we found a variety of things to keep the kids occupied. We played word games and I Spy; the kids also colored, played with the stickers I put in their backpacks, and watched their tablets. One of the funniest moments during the drive, however, was when Eric and Conor were playing the "what begins with (insert letter of the alphabet)" game. Eric asked Conor, "What begins with the letter A?" To which Conor replied, "Apple!" Eric asked again, "What begins with the letter B?" Conor's response?? (Ready for this one?) "Bouillabaisse!" All Eric and I could do was stare at each other with wide eyes and slack jaws. Impressively, Conor even know it is a food. (We interrupt this programming to introduce our newest superhero: Vocabulary Boy!!)

We couldn't get into our hotel room (which is attached to the water park) until 4 PM, but we were able to access the water park starting much earlier. So, after a quick jaunt to Centralia for some lunch, we donned our swim suits and hit the water.


Silly faces!

I have to say, prior to our weekend, I really wasn't looking forward to it. I'd heard that GWL wasn't overly impressive and was basically "meh" but kids enjoy it. I'm thrilled to report that that was not our experience at all. We had a blast! The water park had a big wave pool (aka Conor's second home), something like 6 or 7 water slides (thrill seeker Annika LOVED them), a splashing area for little kids, and an outdoor adventure/rope course. It was so fun! We spent almost all of Saturday in the water (and had wrinkled fingers/toes to show for it) and basically exhausted ourselves.

Annika channeling her inner mermaid

Conor about to hit the wave pool

Dive! Dive! Dive!

Our little fishies

The Three Amigos

We call her "Bubbles" now

Blub, blub, blub

Annika in the waterfall

Conor and Anne in the waterfall

Anne prepared for water slide launch

Conor ready to take the plunge

My water slide selfie

Anne and Conor in line for the River Ride water slide

The water park (partial)

Anne on the water rope challenge

Conor leaping onto a lily pad

Annika perfecting her "Tarzan leap"

Annika, Eric, and Conor ... in between water adventures

The poco loco Olsons

Annika ready to head up to one of the water slides

Conor and Daddy

Annika and Daddy

Underwater Annika

It's no wonder our kids are fish! So are their parents.

Anne and Dave getting in on the underwater photo action

Water slide video

Wet, tired, hungry, smiling

By the time we needed to grab some dinner, we all felt like we were running on fumes. So, we went back to Centralia for some dinner to refuel. Later that night, we went to the clock tower (aka hotel lobby) for story time. In all honesty, this was the low point of the weekend from the adults' perspective. The story was unimpressive and the gal reciting it didn't play to the whole crowd ... only to those directly in front of her. That part really was "meh".

Our room was pretty special for the kids. When booking our reservation, Eric and I decided to for the complete GWL experience and got a theme room -- it was called a "Kid Kamp"room. There was a set of bunkbeds for the kids and that area of the room was decorated to look like a tent out in the wilderness... complete with a TV (suspension of disbelief needed at this point).  Needless to say, it was a huge hit with the kids.

Conor peeking out from the top bunk

Annika's lower bunk had a window - bonus!

Our two little campers

The next morning, we grabbed breakfast at GWL and headed straight to the water park knowing we wanted to get plenty of time there before we hit the rope course and then headed home. We swam, slid, and floated until we were practically oozing chlorine and then decided it was time to head outside for a different adventure.

We weren't sure if Conor and Anne would be up for the rope course, but knew Annika would be game (understatement). As it so happens, all 6 of us went up on the course and had lots of fun. Annika and Eric scampered to the upper levels almost immediately (there are 4 levels in all) while Conor and I stuck more to the lower 2 levels, which was more within his comfort level. We spent about an hour on the course (Annika would probably still be on it if we let her) and then packed up shop knowing we needed to get back home. All four of us were big fans of the zip line. Adrenaline Annika needed no prodding; she just took off. Conor needed a little convincing to try it and the first time, rode with very big eyes. Once he was at the other end of the zip line, he was hooked.

All in all, it was a fantastic weekend. All four of us had a great time. The kids keep asking when we can go back, which is always a good sign!

Friday, April 22, 2016

Spring Heatwave

Usually, April is a cool, wet month for us here in Seattle. This week was the antithesis of that traditional weather. We had HOT weather... I'm talking record-breaking weather multiple days in a row. We hit 91 degrees on Monday... IN APRIL!!! (Right ... global warming is a myth!)

Annika and Conor LOVED the premature heat and gleefully donned their swimsuits and took to playing in the backyard sprinkler. They giggled, splashed, jumped, played with squirt guns, slung mud, and cooled off with true childhood verve.

When the sun began to set and we called the kids inside, we were greeted with a chorus of "Ahhh!!! So soon?? Not yet!!" (Mind you, we weren't rushing them in and out of the sprinkler. They'd been outside for probably an hour and a half!)

Conor enjoying the sprinkler

I guess he can't be considered a hot head anymore!

Buca even got in on the sprinkler action!

Annika easing in to the water
Conor's new sport: sprinkler skateboarding

Annika flying through the water
Future Olympic sport: sprinkler sprinting

"Wow! Cold water!"

And now time for the squirt guns
(amazingly, the camera and I escaped  unscathed!)

Thursday, April 21, 2016

A Glimpse

Yesterday, I took some photos of Conor as part of my current 365 photo project. It was a quick few minutes on our deck as the sun was setting and Conor was about to head off to bed. I took photos of him singing a song for me, making silly faces, and just having fun. It was a nice ending to the day together. Lighthearted, casual, fun.

After he headed down to bed, I pulled the memory card out of the camera and took a quick peek at the shots I got of him. This one (see below) REALLY jumped out at me... not because of my photographic skill or artistry, but because I got a glimpse of Conor as a teenager. There's something about his expression and posture that screamed "I'm growing up and one day, will be a teen" to me. Just wanted to share...

Monday, April 18, 2016

Annika's First Communion

This past Saturday was a BIG day for our little girl. After months and months of preparation, she and three of her friends received the sacraments of Reconciliation and Holy Communion.

Our dear, dear, dear friend Fr. Fred guided the kids' preparation and very clearly set forth his expectations. The kids, for their part, worked their tails off, both independently and as a group, to understand what they needed to know. Fred expected them to not only know the information, but to understand it and be able to talk about it with ownership. It wasn't enough for them to parrot the data ... he needed them to own it as their own. (Yup - that's a Jesuit for you!) :)

Everyone arrived bright and early Saturday morning at Bellarmine for the sacraments. The kids looked amazing in their bright whites and practically exploded with excitement. Once assembled, Fr. Fred walked each child through the sacrament of Reconciliation one by one. Then, we gathered as a larger group to celebrate mass and the kids' First Holy Communion.

I cannot begin to fully express how much it means to me that Annika received her first Communion in the same chapel that she was baptized in.... from the same priest who baptized her. It added so much to a big day for our little girl that there was this sense of continuity ... of family. Fr. Fred said mass with such genuine love and admiration for these kids. He spoke of them being the future of the faith and how each and every person needs to develop his or her own conscience and then own their decisions. He spoke of Jesus' welcoming nature and how important it is to love all and cast out none. (YEAH JESUITS!!)

 After mass, we had a little reception in a room near the chapel, complete with a lemon cake I made that was topped with a chocolate cross that Eric whipped up. (Creative, isn't he??) The gathering eventually spilled outside to the sun-soaked Bellarmine campus, where the kids ran around, climbed trees, and generally made themselves at home. Bellarmine is one of my homes in many ways, and the fact that we have celebrated so many important family moments there drives that feeling even deeper into my being.

By looking at the photos below, you may notice that she wore two dresses. She wore a new dress (no sleeves) for the Reconciliation part of the morning and then changed into the dress worn waaaaaay back in 1982 when I received my first Holy Communion. (It was also worn by my sister's girls when they received theirs.... again, loving the connection and togetherness!). The reason for the two dresses? We weren't sure if the original one would survive a trip to the cleaners, so had a backup dress. Fortunately, it did make it through and looks brand new again!

Annika in the Orton Hall chapel

Annika, Nina, and Karla

Our cutie pies

Annika all ready for her big day
Fr. Fred celebrating mass

Fr. Fred and the kiddos

Karla, Nina, Annika, and Jayden

Lemon cake w/ chocolate cross