Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Wet Summer Day

We here in Western WA know that we aren't made of sugar and the rain won't melt us. After a rather long spell without notable rain, we are rejoicing a bit to have our plants watered by nature! As soon as Conor saw the rain, he scrambled to don his clothes, boots, and jacket so he could make the most out of all the puddles on our driveway.

SPLASH!

Whoa! Good one!

Sploosh!

Wheee!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Backyard Climber

For a year or two, I've been haranguing guiding Eric toward the idea that our kids would like to have some sort of play structure in our back yard. He agreed that they would enjoy something, but his question was for how long? Would we sink time and energy into something that wouldn't get played with once the novelty wore off?

Eventually, after much badgering conversing, Eric decided to give it a go. He got to sketching and came up with a really fun design that we could build. The big plus is his design is modular, so we can build the initial structure now and then add on things like swings, a slide, etc. later on if we so choose.

Last weekend, we broke ground and got to work. Eric gets all of the props for this project. It is his design and know-how that has gotten us to where we are. He figured out dimensions, required lumber and hardware, proper support, etc. The kids and I lend hands whenever we can and try to follow Eric's instructions as best as we can.

Our first day of work resulted in the basic structure. Nothing that could be played on, but we could see things taking shape. The second day of work left us with a play-able structure. It still wasn't done, but there was a platform for the kids to play on, rails, and a ladder.

As we were working on the climber, I asked Annika what she thought the climber could be when it was done (encouraging creative play and all...). I said that it could be a castle, a pirate ship, a rocket, a boat, etc. Nope! Annika told me it would be a castle and that's all it would be. She would be the princess and Conor would be the prince. Nothing else. OK then! :)

We'd hoped to get the upper "walls" on the structure on Sunday, but Mother Nature had other plans. We opted to avoid electrocuting ourselves while using power tools in the rain and took the day as one to get other, more indoor, things taken care of ... like folding laundry, vacuuming, etc. Not nearly as fun as working on the climber, but important nonetheless.

Phase 1 under way

Our lumber haulers

We did lots of lumber hauling!

Annika checking out the view from on high

Conor's first time on the climber

Conor helping clear some dirt with this plastic excavator

Annika teaching the bolt who is in charge
Ready for the floor!!

Annika keeping an eye on Eric's progress

Conor trying out the newly build ladder




Monday, July 14, 2014

Sprinkle Park Fun

It's no secret that we've had one heck of a warm streak of summer weather. Yes, people in other parts of the country are probably shaking their heads at how we react to temps over 80 degrees, but we aren't used to it and typically don't have AC, people... give us a break! ;)

To beat the heat one day last week, I packed up the kids and took them to a local park that has a sprinkle/water area. The kids hadn't been there before, so that was an added level of intrigue for the outing. Before we left home, I told them they needed to put on swim suits but wouldn't answer their questions asking where we were going. Muahahahah! I'm such an evil mom! ;)

As soon as we came over the top of the grassy knoll, the kids realized that we were in for a good (and watery) time. Annika was all in from the minute she saw where we were going and the fun that was about to be had. Conor was more hesitant; he wasn't quite sure of the "big kids" (aka the 8-10-year-old kiddos) who were also running around in the spouting water. Soon enough (and with a little encouragement from big sister), Conor go the hang of having fun at the sprinkle park.

The sprinkle park is basically made up of three concentric circles of sprinklers/water features. The outer circle is the most tame (for the small kids), the middle circle is more involved in terms of water activity, and then the inner area is comprised of some tall poles that have yellow half globes of water than fill with water and then tip over ... spilling water on anyone below. Conor mainly stuck to the outer ring of water fun, while Annika was EVERYWHERE... you've heard of tornado chasers, yes? She was a sprinkler/water chaser!! That kids darted here, there, and everywhere. She was in Heaven.

After an hour or so, the sun began to set, putting the sprinkle park into shadows, and chilling our soaked-to-the-bone kiddos. I wrapped them in towels, piled them into the warm car, drove home to a chorus of "when can we go back???", and took them home for warm baths.

Definitely a summer win for Annika and Conor. :)



Conor trying to control the spray

Water 1, Conor 0

Annika darting everywhere

She took a moment to clean her teeth... good oral hygiene is so important to her

Fun at the sprinkle park

Nothing like water up your nose to make you feel alive

Annika plotting her next move

Waiting, waiting, waiting for the water to fall

On to more important activities

Water run

FINALLY, the water fell

Conor attempting to lick the water off of his leg (I have no clue why!)

The cascading water feature

Conor, King of the Sprinkle Park

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Toothless in Seattle: Annika's 6th lost tooth

Last Thursday night, as I was tucking Conor into bed, Eric came racing into Conor's room and said, "Don't come in!" I had NO CLUE what he was referring to, so it was easy to comply. My thought was he and Annika were cleaning up her room a bit. Nope! She decided it was time to have her lose tooth pulled and wanted to surprise me.

Apparently, "losing a tooth" was quite literal this time, because as Eric pulled it, the tooth flew out of the floss lasso and was quickly swallowed up by Annika's bedding. Fortunately, it went through the holes of her afghan and Eric was able to find the tooth after he gingerly peeled away the first layer of bedding.

The unfortunate part of her losing a tooth just before bed is the excitement greatly delayed her going to sleep, which greatly delayed when the Tooth Fairy could go to sleep. Sigh ... such is the life of a professional dedicated to serving the needs of her customer base. ;)

You should see this girl eat corn on the cob .... no teeth hasn't deterred her a bit. She now gnaws on the corn using her side teeth. Not pretty to watch, but effective nonetheless!


Annika: 6th tooth out 7/3/14



Happy birthday, USA!

How in the world we've gotten to July already is beyond me. I'm quite convinced that someone, somewhere has sped up time and is just playing one huge practical joke on us. How the 4th of July has already come and gone for this year astounds me.

For the 4th, we spent a leisurely morning at home and then tromped over the bridge to my brother and sister-in-law's house for a family BBQ. It was a wonderful way to spend our nation's birthday ... with family, friends, good food, and gorgeous weather. As we drove to their house, I was thrilled to see that my mountain was out for the day ... at least, it was until the clouds came in later on and hid it!



After we settled in, got the potato salad in the fridge, and said our hellos, the guys decided it was time to show the kids what the 4th of July was really about ... no, not our country's fight for freedom!! Things that go BOOM! (Or in our case: Things that go POP ... except for the duds, which just went "Fffttttt".)

Eric and Annika setting off a bottle rocket

Conor's turn to make noise (more than he usually does, at least)

Brothers + beer + bottle rocket = What could possibly go wrong there????

Ian taking his turn with the hit-and-miss fireworks

Troy showing us all how it is really done!
It doesn't get much better than these little faces!

Because I'm a wimp who abides by the rules, I picked up some non-illegal entertainment for the kids. I saw a package of those English party popper thingies and figured the kids were most likely not going to lose a limb or any fingers using them. And, HEY, I was right! There were a few duds, but for the most part, the kids had a great time making the little containers shoot confetti all over Troy and Staci's driveway. (Yes, Troy, we did clean it all up!)




Because fireworks and party poppers only last so long, eventually, we retreated to the backyard for general fun, relaxation, and holiday camaraderie. Ian, our nephew, pulled out their badminton set at some point (no net, just rackets and birdies) and became the star of the day. Our kids became instant badminton fans and many rounds of "how long until the kids' rackets make contact with the birdie" were under way. At one point, we even had an old tennis racket in the mix. We are one wild bunch! Oh yeah, baby!



While taking a breather from the badminton tournament, a few of us started talking about the BBC show called Mrs. Brown's Boys. Rod (Troy and Staci's neighbor) had seen the clips I was referring to, but Eric and Joanne (Rod's wife) hadn't, so Rod pulled out his phone and found the clips on YouTube. Rod was literally in tears as he watched Mrs. Brown... rightly so, it is a REALLY funny show!

Canadian friends + BBC .... that just screams out 4th of July to me! 

As we badmintoned our little hearts out, Troy got to work manning the grill. He made some delicious burgers while our other brother, Drew, set out grilling some planked salmon. Yum and yum!!


Many grilling men
I told Troy that this wasn't a home video and he didn't need to wave ...

so, he gave me this instead. Yeah... that would be my brother! :)
Thank you to everyone who made our July 4th holiday a fun-filled day. We were exhausted by the time we got home  and were fast asleep well before the major fireworks displays, but that is OK. It was a full day spent with loved ones. What more could we ask for??

Friday, June 27, 2014

Daring Bakers Challenge June 2014: Cinnamon Rolls

I am THRILLED to report that with this month's Daring Bakers challenge, I can end my decade-long search for the ideal cinnamon roll recipe. I FINALLY found it!

This month, we were challenged to make cinnamon rolls and could use any recipe that we wanted. In the far back corners of my brain, I recalled hearing that the best cinnamon rolls (characterized by a fluffy texture and weren't dry) contained mashed potatoes. Crazy, you say? Delish, I say!!

I scoured the Internet for mashed potato cinnamon roll recipes and found quite a few. The one I finally chose stood out because it contained a bit of a secret, unexpected ingredient: pumpkin pie spice. 

This recipe, I kid you not, results in the best cinnamon rolls I have ever made... hands down. I'll be hard pressed to look beyond this recipe, t'boot. It makes A LOT of cinnamon rolls (a double batch of rather sizable rolls), so I wound up taking one pan to work.... and boy, were they a hit!!! The recipe doesn't provide icing information, so I just threw together a cream cheese icing and it worked beautifully.

Get a gander at how beautifully fluffy and moist the rolls turned out: 

Yummmmmmmmy!
Without further ado, the amazingly wonderfully perfectly tasty cinnamon roll recipe I chose to try ... and wound up falling head over heels for:

Soft Homemade Cinnamon Rolls
Author: 
Serves: 15
 
Ingredients
The Dough:
  • 1 cup lump free mashed potatoes
  • 1 cup reserved potato water (or plain water is fine)
  • ¾ cup (1½ sticks) butter or margarine, melted
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 cup hot water (just from the tap is fine, don't boil any)
  • 2 envelopes yeast
  • ½ cup WARM water
  • 2 eggs
  • 8½ cups all purpose flour

The Filling:

  • ½ cup butter or margarine, softened
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon pumpkin pie spice (optional)
Instructions
  1. Combine the potatoes, potato water, butter, sugar, salt and hot water in a very large bowl.
  2. Mix well and set aside to cool to lukewarm.
  3. Combine the yeast and ½ cup warm water in a small bowl. Let rest 5 minutes.
  4. Add eggs, yeast, and 2 cups of the flour to the potato mixture.
  5. Using a dough hook and stand mixer (or mix by hand) blend well.
  6. Add flour, 1 cup at a time until a soft dough forms. This usually takes almost all 8 cups.
  7. Knead on a floured surface or with your dough hook until it's smooth and elastic about 4 to 6 minutes.
  8. Place in an oiled bowl and turn to coat all sides.
  9. Cover and rest one hour until doubled in size.
  10. Divide dough in half and roll one into a 12x18 inch rectangle.
  11. Mix the sugars, cinnamon, and pumpkin pie spice in a bowl.
  12. Spread half the butter on the dough and sprinkle on half the sugar mixture.
  13. Roll from the long side and cut slices about 2 inches thick.
  14. Place in a greased 9x13 pan.
  15. Repeat with other half of dough. (You can freeze rolls at this point if you want to)
  16. Cover and rise in a warm place 30-45 minutes until doubled
  17. Bake in 350 degree oven 25 to 35 minutes. Tent with foil if they get too dark.
  18. Cool 15 minutes and the drizzle with icing.
Recipe source: http://thecountrycontessa.com/2014/01/16/soft-homemade-cinnamon-rolls/

This month the Daring Bakers kept our creativity rolling with cinnamon bun inspired treats. Shelley from C Mom Cook dared us to create our own dough and fill it with any filling we wanted to craft tasty rolled treats, cinnamon not required!

Monday, June 23, 2014

Aunt June's 101st birthday celebration

This weekend, we celebrated my great aunt's 101st birthday. To celebrate her day, the kids and I went to her home to have lunch with my brother and his family, Aunt June's son Gary who was in town for a visit, and my mom. Some other family friends arrived with a birthday cake for Aunt June, so it turned into a proper party!

As soon as we walked in the door, Annika ran up to Aunt June and said, "Happy 101st birthday, Aunt June! You definitely look older!!" Fortunately, Aunt June is good humored about her age and wasn't offended by our blunt little one.

A bit after our arrival, Aunt June tugged on my sleeve and said (while smiling ear to ear) that immediately after Conor's arrival, he ran up to her and gave her a big hug. Aunt June said this was the first time he'd greeted her like that without being prompted to say hi to her. I could tell by the look on her face, that it meant a great deal to her... and I can see why!

We are so blessed to have her in our lives and hope she had a fun birthday with our loud, chaotic bunch.

Happy birthday, Aunt June! We love you!!