Thursday, August 10, 2017

Blackberry Picking and Conor's Funny

Part of Annika's 10th birthday was spent walking up and down the Urban Trail on a hunt for blackberries.

The kids and I were each armed with a 1-gallon plastic bag for our blackberry haul... and boy, did we have a haul. In about an hour, we wound up with 6 pounds of blackberries! We are quite the berry-picking trio, if you ask my humble opinion.

While were were among the berries, vines, and thorns, I figured we'd done a thorough job picking in our current ares, so suggested we move down to another section along the trail. Conor replied, "Why? Do you think there are berries down there, too?" I explained, "Yup! I'm pretty sure there will be. Let's go look." His response? "Mom ... that was a RHETORICAL question." (Lord help us all!)

Conor evaluating the berries

Our little berry pickers

Annika was very happy to go off of the beaten path for some good berries

Pickin, pickin, just keep pickin

You KNOW I had to make a pie!! 

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Annika is officially double digits

Last night, Annika went to bed as a 9-year-old. This morning, she awoke as a 10-year-old. Double digits, baby!!

Today she is 10... a decade of life under her belt. That also means Eric and I have been parents for a decade... three weeks earlier than we expected. (She has kept us on our toes ever since!) As we left the hospital with our newborn baby girl, I couldn't help but look over my shoulder and think "They're just letting us leave with her and we have NO CLUE what we're doing!"

Over the past 10 years, there have been countless bouts of laughter and tears, moments of "What the hell are we doing??" and "Wow! We haven't screwed them up too much ... yet." It has been quite a journey and one we are incredibly grateful for. As we watch the kids take one each day, we often stare in wonder at all they have learned, how much they've grown, and how much they've changed since they were born. 

This girl amazes us in so many ways. She is witty, compassionate, wickedly smart, funny, daring, and loving. She is tough and isn't afraid to stand up for herself or someone else being wronged. She is a protective big sister who will go to the ends of the earth for Conor, and will be the first in line to complain about something he has recently done. She instantly falls in love with any baby or animal that is in her line of sight. Life will not run over this girl... she will do well for herself, we are sure of it. She loves to art and science, and is often occupying herself with one (or both) of these things. She is our girl and we are so proud of who she is and can't wait to see who she develops into. Happy birthday, sweet girl!  

We are having a fairly low-key day today, which considering our summer's hectic pace, is a welcome change. As I write this post, Annika and Eric are playing a game and Conor is relaxing with his Pokemon stuff. I hear chatter and giggles ... and am loving every minute of it. Annika and I started off the day by going 8:30 mass; she signed up to be an alter server this year and wanted to make mental notes about all of the things she will need to do. After while, she opened presents, which included a digital watch, a "Officially 10" t-shirt, a point-and-shoot digital camera, a night gown, and a book about drawing animals. In a bit, we'll head to the pool for her weekly diving lesson and then we'll have Swedish meatballs as her chosen birthday dinner. 

Annika's 10-Year Birthday Interview

What is your favorite color? Red and pink
What is your favorite toy? Bunny 1
What is your favorite food? Swedish Meatballs
What do you do really well? Diving
What new skill do you want to learn? Ride a unicycle
What is your favorite book? Captain Underpants
What makes you laugh? Daddy
What is your favorite game? Tickle Spider (Daddy/Annika silly game)
What makes you happy? Family
What do you want to be when you grow up? Engineer who builds robots
What is your favorite holiday? Christmas
What is your favorite song? True Colors
If you had a million dollars, what would you do with it? Put some in bank account and give the rest to a charity that helps the homeless and poor.
What do you look forward to now that you are 10? Getting to do more grown up things

Friday, July 21, 2017

Newest Funny Kid-isms

Annika's Recent Funny
While singing some Hamilton songs together a couple of days ago, Annika asked "Was Alexander Hamilton real?" I explained that he was part of the U.S. Revolution and what that entailed, as well as how he was behind much of our government's original policies (etc) and he worked to establish the central bank. She then, "A bank? A bank?? He gets all these songs about him for inventing a bank?" (I think she missed the point!)

Conor's Recent Funny
Last night, Eric was at his desk and happened to have a beverage near him. Conor came up to him and said, "Daddy, here you go! I brought you a cup trivet." He then handed Eric a coaster. 

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Weekend of Brothers Recap

Last Saturday was the weekend of brothers. In an interesting twist of calendar fate, Eric and I both had the opportunity to see our brothers. Why is this interesting? Well, because I hadn't seen one of my brothers (and their respective families) in 2 years and I think it had been close to that since Eric last saw his brother.

As technology progresses, it is incredibly easy to keep in touch with people who live far away.... such as our brothers. One of my brothers lives in Germany and Eric's brother lives in Texas. We keep in touch using tools such as text, video chats, and emails, but nothing quite replaces the face-to-face time we got with our siblings this weekend.

Over the weekend, Eric and John caught up, chatted (do guys chat??), and played computer games (shocker, I know!) while laughing like they probably did when they were kids playing together. I loved listening to their laughs and good-nature jabs as they played together. They don't get enough time in the same room for the most part, but they really do make the most of what time they do get.

In order to see my brother, I had to ditch Eric's side of the family for a few hours (sorry, everyone!) but there are times when situations like this are unavoidable. Saturday was one of those days! Mid-afternoon, the kids and I piled in my van to drive to my (local) brother's house so we could spend some with my not-local brother. This visit was particularly important to me because it was the first time I'd spent in-person time with my brother since his strokes late last year. I knew he was doing really well and has had an amazing recovery; we text and talk on the phone, so I knew (at an intellectual level) that he had really bounced back from the experience. That said, there was still a great sense of importance to being in the same room with him and really SEEING how well he was (is) doing. I guess there was still a small part of me that worried I'd missed something about his health and only seeing him in person would ease that worry.

So, darn you calendar for giving us our brothers on the same day so we had to divide and conquer to see them, but thank you for the opportunity to spend some much-needed, much-appreciated face time with them.

Friday, June 30, 2017

My Artsy-Fartsy Farm Photos

Amid checking for eggs, feeding cows, walking donkeys, and taking in the on-going frisbee games, I took a few minutes here and there to play with my cameras and let my inner photographer have some fun.

I hope you enjoy! 

(The truck photos are of a 1948 Dodge pickup that Terry's dad used to drive when he worked on the farm.

1948 Dodge hubcap

1948 Dodge

Ram hood ornament

1948 Dodge
Dodge steering wheel and rusty cab

1904 barn

Antique farm equipment

Ya can't say you weren't warned!

Rusty farm equipment

Farm fresh eggs


Chicken transporter and hammock swing

James' muzzle

This scale was in our kitchen

Wooden herb crate

Farmer Terry

The goats are deciding who should drive to town tonight
Eric in the Jeep's gas cap

Farm equipment

We Are Farmers Now

Last weekend, the Olson Four and the Russell Two shed our city-dweller personas and became farmers! (Be amazed, dear readers, that all of us returned from rural life ... it was with some hesitation that we did so.)

What in the heck am I talking about, let me bring you up to speed.  Late last summer, we learned about Hoehn Bend Farm, which is located in Sedro-Woolley. We tried to get a reservation for 2016 but were informed that they were booked, so if we wanted a summer stay it would have to be in 2017. In January (when reservations for the summer can be made), I hopped on the website and got a farm weekend reserved. The farm house can hold up to 6 people, so we invited our friends Dave and Anne to go with us. As an added bonus, we got the OK to take Buca with us. Win!

This is a working farm and guests are invited to be as involved (or not) in the day-to-day farm activities as they want to be. Umm.... it was a no-brainer to me that we'd get involved. Why go to a farm if you don't get your hands a bit dirty?? The wide-open land was practically screaming out to me. Plus, they have animals (cows, goats, miniature donkeys, chickens, and a pig) right there! Many people would cringe at the idea, but I could hardly wait to get there!

I was like a kid waiting for Christmas in the days leading up to our departure. I'm sure I had a stupid "crazy person" grin on my face the majority of the time.... I didn't care. I was going to a FARM! With animals! 

FINALLY, the big day arrived. We packed our stuff, loaded up the car, piled in, and headed north. Unfortunately, our drive was a bit longer than we'd hoped because of Friday afternoon traffic on the freeway, but even that wasn't as bad as it could have been. About 2 hours after we left home, we pulled into the farm's driveway and were greeted by the smell of fresh-cut grass and Farmer Jean's open arms. (Farmer Jean is a woman after my own heart. She loves to plan and document things. We "get" each other and that was obvious from our months of emailing back and forth leading up to our weekend on the farm.) Soon after, we met Maggie (the dog) and Farmer Terry, Jean's husband.

Our backyard and view for the weekend
We got the lay of the land and were invited to look around right away. We also learned the three rules of the farm: (1) Don't touch the hot wire, (2) If you open a door or gate, close it right behind you, and (3) Don't go near the pig (Polly) with food or if you smell like food.

Naturally, we were drawn to the animals and were anxious to get a bit more familiar with them. We learned their names, a bit about their personalities, and how they came to be residents of the farm. We also learned that the goats love name-brand saltine crackers (no generic brand will do for them!!) and Polly the pig doesn't like bell peppers (that's my kind of pig!).

One of the "Spice Girls"

One of the cows getting some lovin' from Farmer Jean

Eventually, we pried ourselves away from the animals and farmers to get settled in the farm house, complete with a mud room (I now have mud room envy!), 3 bedrooms, full kitchen, full bath, and a deck (where we ate dinner both nights). The farm house was very cozy and I felt even more connected to Jean when she made sure to point out where the first aid kid was. (I told you ... two peas in a pod!)

Soon after unloading the cars and figuring out who would sleep where, we headed back outside to help with the evening's farm chores. We piled into the Jeep and trailer to help Terry and Jean feed their herd of cows, some of whom are pregnant and due any time. (I hoped a calf might be born over the weekend, but no such luck.)

Farmers Terry and Jean, and Maggie the dog driving us out to the cows

In the trailer feeding the cows -- Farmer Terry pointed out this is the
first time he's had swimsuit-clad farm hands.
The next day, he claimed he'd never had PJ-clad farm hands when he realized
Conor was still in his jammies!
Dinner? Get mooooooovin'!

Did we hear it is dinner time?

The critters on the farm were a definite draw from the get-go and they didn't disappoint. The miniature donkeys were wonderful (although, Buca might disagree after they unequivocally evicted him from their area at one point), and the goats have such a comedic personality. Polly the pig adores being scratched behind her ears and wants every ounce of affection possible.

James (aka Bond James Bond) and Prissy

Prissy and me

Ginny says "moo"
Me with the herd as the sun set behind us
Polly says "put down the camera and please scratch me"
We're now pretty sure that Conor is part goat!
The goats in the bed of "their" 1948 Dodge truck

So, what sorts of farm-based tasks did we wind up doing? Oh my! So many!! The adults learned how to drive tractors (yeehaw!) and wound up showing we have quite a knack driving farm equipment here and there. Who knew?? The kids helped collect eggs and transported the chickens to their outdoor coop in the mornings and back to the barn each night. Annika, Conor, and Anne also took the mini donkeys (James, Prissy, and Wee-Wee) on a walk around the field to get some exercise and nibble on the freshly-cut grass. We also helped feed the various farm critters and learned some basics about caring for them.

Conor showing his egg-hunting prowess

Annika "helping" Farmer Terry

Conor and James chilling in the field

The kids walking their donkeys

Anne trying to convince Prissy to walk with her
(Prissy was too interested in snacking to listen to Anne's "STEP UP! PLEASE??" commands)
Yup. I drove a tractor, too! This was my view from the driver's seat.
Annika and Wee-Wee
Maggie was the ideal kiddo and donkey supervisor
Annika and Wee-Wee
Dave maneuvering the tractor
Eric, tractor driver extraordinaire

Annika feeding the chickens
Eric escorting Coco, the escape artist to the coop
Conor and Annika transporting the chickens from the barn

Conor and Anne with the morning's fresh eggs

While out in the field, Farmer Terry explained how farming kids learn to drive at a much younger age than their city-dwelling counterparts to. He then offered to teach our kids how to drive .... his Jeep that was pulling a trailer ... in a huge field. Why not?!? So, all three kids got a turn behind the wheel and loved every second of it. (Side note: On Sunday morning as we packed up the van, Conor asked if he could drive us home. Sorry kiddo, I-5 and a grassy field are not exactly the same driving conditions!)

Annika getting last-minute instructions from Eric before she hits the accelerator 


Conor behind the wheel of the Jeep

While we did dive into farm life and help out, we also had time to relax and enjoy our rural environment. A hammock swing hangs from the apple tree just outside the farm house, and that swing was rarely without one of us in it. It was so popular among the kids that we adults had to set timers to make sure there was an equal amount of swing time for each munchkin.
A hammock, a sunny day, and a bag of Pirate's Booty.... what could be better?
Annika relaxing in the swing

Laughter all around

Happy boy

Yup, I even got a few turns in the swing
Good buddies!

We also filled our free time with playing a lot of frisbee, baseball (well, our version of it), and the kids ran through the sprinkler so much that they turned pruny! Buca also enjoyed his leisure time on the far and was incredibly grateful for the wading pool the farmers filled up for him.

Buca was grateful for the apple tree's shade -- we topped out at 96 degrees!

The kids had lots of fun in the sprinkler


The Three Farming Amigos

Anne showing off her inner-country girl

Dave and Eric enjoying some leisure time on the deck at the end of the day

This was a common sight all weekend long

Annika getting ready her her next pitch

Farm girls chew on grass, right?
And so do farm boys!

Frisbee galore

Run, Dave, Run!

Eric enjoying some R&R after a busy day on the farm

Anne's action shot

Batter up!

The extra news from our trip is Conor lost another tooth while we were at the farm. The was sitting on the deck wiggling it when out it came. Who knew farming was so good for tooth loss???

During some down time, Farmer Jean took us on a tour of their other property, which was purchased by Terry's grandparents in the early 20th century (1910 or 1917, I believe). Part of the property was used as a Christmas tree farm, which was abandoned many years ago. The trees grew into a forest and frame a very pretty meadow. We also saw the bulls/steer, a frog pond, and some incredible old buildings. The barn on the property was built in 1904 and is preserved by the Historical Society. How neat is that??

The kids in front of the 1904 barn
hat a view!
We went lots of places in the Jeep over the weekend
Maggie keeping up with us as we drove through the field
Abandoned Christmas tree farm

1904 barn

Antique farm equipment

Don't mess around with farmers or their stuff!
On our way home Sunday (with Eric behind the wheel, not Conor), we found ourselves recapping our weekend away. Eric said he wasn't sure what to expect and what expectations he did have were blown away. He very much enjoyed the hospitality and ability to really get involved on the farm. Terry and Jean are not only farmers ... they are educators (Terry used to teach 4th grade) and do an incredible job sharing information about the land, its history, and why/how they do what they do. We are so grateful they welcome people to their farms and hope to return for another fun stay at the farm.