Friday, March 30, 2012

Conor's birthday pictures

We had a small, just the four of us birthday celebration for Conor on Wednesday. That little boy could not have been more enamored if he wanted to be. We sang to him that morning (much to his delight) and his daycare teacher made him a paper crown (much to his greater delight). That night, we had a celebratory dinner (homemade corn dogs ... not a hit, need a different recipe), cake, and presents. What more could a 2-year-old boy possibly want?

Originally, I was just going to make a few cupcakes knowing we'd have more birthday dessert the next day for Eric's birthday, but then guilt set in. I imagined Conor looking at family pictures years from now and seeing the elaborate cakes Annika got and then seeing that he got cupcakes and thinking his birthdays weren't quite as important. Couldn't have that happen! So, I decided to make something special, but not huge (still knowing we'd have more birthday sweets the next day). I decided to make a chocolate baseball cake; knowing I already had everything I'd need to make it and because. Conor is a ball fanatic (even tried swiping another kids' soccer ball last weekend at the park) who is addicted to chocolate.

That night after all was said and done, I put him to bed and as I closed his door, I heard him say, "My birthday today. I two!" That boy LOVES his birthday!

Conor's baseball cake

Conor's first glimpse at his cake. I have never seen such anticipation before!

Almost time to blow out the candles!

Playing with the shape sorter from Annika

Our Weekend in Kennewick - Pt 2

If you ask Annika, she became a cowgirl when we were in Kennewick, and I think she's probably pretty accurate in that assumption. She learned how to groom horses, feed horses, and ride horses ... at least, to some degree. On the Friday of our visit, Annika got a chance to ride John/Wendy's horse Jarl. On the Saturday of our trip, she got to ride Kajsa's horse Nissa, who is a gorgeous buckskin morgan (insert sigh of jealousy here!)

Annika climbed up on Nissa and Kajsa guided them around her yard. My girl was in absolute Heaven! After a bit, Kajsa invited me to climb up with Annika, so we did a few laps around together. Kajsa offered to up the speed a big; she definitely didn't have to ask twice; Annika was all for it ... as was I. Let's just say, though, that trotting on a horse while bareback, without reins, and while holding onto a 4-year-old kiddo who was bouncing herself silly is quite an entertaining experience, I must say! (And talk about a great thigh workout!). Once Annika was done, I took Nissa out for a spin and had a marvelous time with her.

After the fun of riding was done, Annika learned a few lessons about caring for horses, including how to feed them. She was very proud of herself for being able to carry the feed bucket and give the horses their hay (which made them immediately fall in love with Annika!)

Thanks to Kajsa for sharing Nissa with us!

Three generations of Olson gals

Annika on Nissa

Annika, Nissa, and Bestemor

Nissa getting some loves from Bestemor

Oh, did you REALLY think I wouldn't be clamoring for my chance to ride, too??
Annika hauling hay for the horses

Annika giving Nissa lunch under Kajsa's supervision

Drifter sticking his tongue out .. isn't he funny???

Pretty Nissa

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Happy birthday, Eric!

The Olsons have a tendency of clumping birthdays. March is one of those times when the trend is really evident. Sunday was Eric's dad's birthday, yesterday was Conor's birthday (as well as Eric's parents' anniversary), and today is Eric's birthday! (and that's just the Olson side of the family... one of my brothers and one of our nephews also have March birthdays!)

We'll have a fairly low-key celebration planned for tonight...once we all get home, that is. Dinner (chicken and mashed potatoes), followed by presents and the Pioneer Woman's doughnut muffins for dessert. There was a bigger Olson family celebration for all three birthday boys when we were in Kennewick recently, so tonight will be just the four of us.

The kids are mighty excited to have another birthday to celebrate today, although, Conor is a bit miffed it isn't HIS birthday again. :)

Here's to the world's greatest 45-year-old! We love you and hope you have a "splendiferous" birthday! :)

Eric with the shirt his parents gave to him for his b-day

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Happy 2nd Birthday, Conor!

Two years ago today (at 6:13, to be exact), Conor Wells Olson made his grand debut. We are so blessed to have this little man in our family and in our lives.

The amount that he has learned over the past two years is mind boggling! He is (at times) a rough-and-tumble little boy who weighs about the same as his 4-year-old sister, is incredibly tender, loves to read and play with blocks, is proving to be a lover of sports (particularly throwing and kicking balls) and is one of the world's best snugglers. Conor is developing a great sense of humor and already shows a strong appreciation for music. He started walking at 10 months and started running about a second later (hey, that's what happens when you have a busy big sister to keep up with!)

Don't even get me started about his vocabulary; the amount that he can say is astounding... and it isn't only things he hears us say. He's owning language and creating his own phrases, reactions, and statements. (Some common phrases we hear these days: "NO! I do it myself," "No tant-too" (no thank you), "Yo-dote" (yogurt), and "No nigh-nigh" ... just to name a few)

How two years have flown by is beyond me!

Conor when he was newly born

Conor now

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Mockingjay Cake

Recently, my boss asked if I'd be interested in making a cake for her family's upcoming group birthday dinner. Her theme for the party was Hunger Games, so she wanted an appropriately themed cake. She also said that her family is comprised of choco-holics.

I wound up making a chocolate cake (recipe courtesy of Ina Garten) with chocolate ganache between the layers, crumb coated in dark chocolate buttercream frosting, and then covered in 5 layers of poured chocolate ganache. I think the chocolate requirement was definitely met!

Fortunately, I married a very artistic man and he was able and willing to sculpt the bird (shockingly fast, might I add!) for me. I used a leaf cutter to create the feathers - thank goodness for repurposing my tools - and used my hand-dandy air brush to make the whole thing a nice shiny gold, just like Katniss' mockingjay pin. To top it off, I added some fondant "nightlock berries" for some authenticity and added visual interest.

Fortunately, it all went together really smoothly and the cake was a huge hit. :D

Our final product

March Daring Bakers Challenge

This month, the Daring Bakers were challenged to make Dutch Crunch Bread. I had absolutely no clue what this was, so it was an added bonus to learn about a new source of carbs, which we all can agree is a really good thing! Dutch Crunch bread is (apparently) quite the commodity in San Francisco and often is one of the first bread to sell out during the lunch rush.

Not only were we challenged to make this beautiful bread, but we also had to make a sandwich out of it. The bread's crunch topping called for rice flour, which isn't one of the staples in my pantry; fortunately, it wasn't tricky to find at our local grocery store. The basic idea is to make the bread dough, make the crunch topping, smother the bread dough in the crunch topping batter, and then bake. Not only was it a tasty experiment, it was also quite easy... bonus!

Here's the bread dough after it rose and was ready to be shaped.

This is the "crunch" batter all whipped up and ready to go.

My dough shaped into rolls (I figured that would be a fun presentation, instead of sliced bread loaves)

My gooped up rolls. The recipe instructed us to not go skimpy; skimpy = not decent cracks in the topping. I think I took that a bit too literally; the topping was oozing down onto the baking sheet by the time I was done applying it. I wound up having to scrape a bit of it off, but I'm glad I did.

Ta da!! Don't they look pretty??

I made a quick veggie sandwich, just to make sure I got the required sandwich picture,
but then deconstructed it and just ate the salad. :D

I was inspired (the next day) to make a grilled cheese sandwich (using 3 kinds of cheese and the Dutch Crunch bread).  MY OH MY, was it ever good! I dipped the sandwich in the tomato soup and tasted a little bit of Heaven with each bite. So good!
Sara and Erica of Baking JDs were our March 2012 Daring Baker hostesses! Sara & Erica challenged us to make Dutch Crunch bread, a delicious sandwich bread with a unique, crunchy topping. Sara and Erica also challenged us to create a one of a kind sandwich with our bread!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Our Weekend in Kennewick - Part 1

We just spend a fun-filled weekend in Kennewick with Eric's side of the family. We have a tradition of clumping birthday celebrations and it was time to celebrate the March birthday boys: Eric's dad (aka Bestefar), Eric, and Conor. (How ironic that we drove across the state for the birthdays, yet all three of the birthday boys live on the west side of the state.)

Eric's mom (aka Bestemor) had the idea that we should also get some family photos taken while we were all together. That was a great plan until one of our nieces was at a school retreat/function over the weekend (hope your glow-in-the-dark stars and footprints were a hit, Erin!) and our other niece wound up with a stomach bug and spent the weekend throwing up and sequestered from the rest of us (Piper - we hope you're feeling better!). A few pictures were taken, but not quite what was originally envisioned.

The weekend was a good combination of relaxing and fun. Oh! And I learned about a really yummy baking item ... cinnamon chips (by Hershey). Wendy, you are a rock star for having discovered these little gems. Oh Nellie!

On Friday, we packed up the kids and dog, braved the pass (which was beyond easy to drive over), and drove across our state. Everyone did really well in the car (God bless the inventors of portable DVD players!) and we made it without incident. After getting settled and a wee bit unpacked, we decided it was time to get out and enjoy the gorgeous weather! (Oh, I forgot to mention it was sunny and we had blue skies.... it was WINDY, but still really nice outside.)

The kids got to ride Wendy's horse Jarl, who is a very sweet horse. Annika was an old pro - she'd ridden him one before when she was about a year old, but this was the first time she knew what was going on. Conor also rode Jarl, and was fine, but definitely had more inclination to play with the sticks than sit on a horse.

Annika riding Jarl (with Aunt Wendy and Uncle John providing backup)

Conor's 1st horse ride

After Conor was done, Annika wanted to ride again (that's my girl!!)

Did you really think I'd let the kids have all of the fun??

After releasing Jarl from his horsely duties and getting him corralled (he made a bit of an escape and had to be rounded up by Wendy and John. As they chased him around the yard, Annika very kindly pointed out that "He's MUCH faster than you!" to Wendy. She's so helpful.)

With Jarl in his yard and John/Wendy catching their breath, we all decided to kick around the yard and let the kids burn off some energy. There was plenty of room for them to run and lots of mole hills for the kids to play in/dig up/bury sticks in/stomp on. They had a BLAST and definitely needed baths when we finally made our way inside.
Annika enjoying every moment of the nice weather

Conor was in hog heaven with all of the sticks available to him

Mole hills are fun!

More mole hill fun

If our kids playing in the mole hills don't scare away those critters, nothing will!

Cute dirty bum!

Buca supervised the kids as they excavated the mole hills

This is Bub. He was a guest this weekend, too. His family was on a trip,
so he stayed at Camp Olson and fit right in and had a blast!

Buca and Bub had a great time chasing each other and wrestling.

The kids poured some dirt on the deck and (mean mom that I am) I made them clean up their
dirt piles before we went inside. There was only one broom and both wanted to use it,
so this was the solution.
The weekend was so packed that one blog post simply don't do, so stay tuned for part 2 of our trip!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Busy Day, Baaaaaad Traffic, Birthday Fun

Yesterday was one heck of a full day for the Olson clan.

We woke up with three extra people in the house (yes, they were there when we went to bed and we knew they were here... it wasn't one of those "oh, hello. And you are in my house why??" moments).

OK, now I have to backtrack to fill you, my dear reader, in on the whole story. On Friday, two of our nieces, Emily and Anna, and Emily's boyfriend, Sam, drove over from Idaho/Eastern WA so they could use our house as a hub before they flew down to Southern CA (aka home) for spring break. It was great to have them here with us, even if it was just a short visit. We played games, laughed, talked, and the big kids got to fill up their "little cousins of fun" tanks - which, surely, were running on empty because they hadn't seen our kids in a few months.
Anna, Annika, and Emily

The plan for yesterday was supposed to be easy: relaxing morning, airport run, Troy's birthday (part 2).

Early yesterday afternoon, the big kids had to get down to the airport (normally 30 minutes away), which shouldn't have been a big deal. Famous last words. I'd forgotten that one of our bridges was closed for maintenance this weekend, which threw the world's biggest monkey wrench into the city's flow of traffic. NOT PRETTY. It took us 45 minutes to get to downtown (where the entrance to the second bridge people were using is located - talk about a huge backup!); mind you, that drive usually takes about 15 minutes. After getting through the mess that led up and through downtown, we emerged from the horrible traffic and finished our journey to the airport. Our goodbyes were quick because the big kids were going to have to race a bit to get through the possible security lines. (Hope you three had fun... we sure did!!!!)

From the airport, Annika and I drove to my brother's house (about 30 minutes from the airport ... in theory). The messed up traffic continued to really impact driving times. A LOT. Annika and I kept ourselves busy by playing word rhyming games and the "What letter does this word start with" game. We also played "I Spy", which was very interesting, because Annika kept spying things that we drove by, making it a bit tricky for me to guess because I was on high alert in the world's worst traffic and pretty nasty rain...not exactly the best time for me to take in the surrounding scenery. Needless to say, she won! :)

After FINALLY arriving at my brother's house, we took a collective sigh of relief and then realized my mom and great aunt were also driving up in the nasty traffic and they were bringing most of dinner. No way were we eating on time. Eric and Conor were also navigating through the traffic and were calling with periodic updates on their progress. Fortunately, everyone made it in one piece and we were able to regale each other with our freeway experiences and enjoy a fun (albeit loud) evening together.

We discovered something really entertaining very quickly, our great aunt (who will turn 99 in June) gets wonderfully lippy when she's had a little wine. Hilarious doesn't begin to describe her last night!
Aunt June told Staci that she was being inefficient chopping carrots and drinking wine. The problem? Staci had to stop chopping to drink her wine; Aunt June's solution? A straw!!

Of course, this led to a huge case of the giggles!

I mean HUGE case of the giggles.

Aunt June
(Notice the lack of a straw in HER glass! She's so proper!)

Annika and Aunt June

Conor discovered Staci's big bowl of yarn and decided to see how far he could toss each ball of wound goodness. My mom tried to turn it into a lesson about size comparison. Conor was more interested in velocity!

Eric hanging out and keeping the cooks company as they prepped the food.

Troy and Aunt June

Troy teaching our kids the "Cheers—Drink—Ahh! That's the stuff!" approach to drinking.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Final Kitchen Pictures

A little birdie (named Eric) keeps reminding me that I haven't posted the "Ta da! Here are our final kitchen pictures" yet; that is mostly because I've been so busy enjoying our newly finished kitchen that I haven't stopped to take pictures of the final results. I know, it is a big surprise that I'm baking up a storm, but if you saw our new oven, you'd COMPLETELY understand! :)

Quick summary for those who are just catching up: The remodeling project started off as a "hey, let's fix the wood under the sink really fast" project to a pretty in-depth remodeling job that took about six weeks (four of which included us not having a kitchen sink to use... fortunately, only three days were sans dishwasher) not only gave us a really nifty kitchen, but also some new bay windows in our den (the old ones were so bad they were about ready to let water in ... and in Seattle you REAAAAAALLLLLY don't want that!)

What was done? Well, we (and we, which mostly means David Van Sanford ... call him if you ever want an amazing construction guy!) did the following:
  • Replaced the bay windows in the den
  • Replaced the kitchen window
  • Replaced the yellow formica that was on 1/2 of the counters with granite
  • Replaced the granite on the other 1/2 of the counters with granite that matched the new granite
  • Replaced the yellow formica that was on the walls with white subway tiles
  • Replaced the broken electric oven with a new electric oven (that I've named George)
  • Removed the mirrored wall and replaced it with new cupboards and a new wine storage area
  • Replaced the old hood above the gas range with a pretty new one that matches the other appliances
  • Undermounted our kitchen sink (used the sink we had before, but changed how it is mounted)
  • Fixed the wood below the kitchen sink (the project that started it all) and rebuilt the cupboard under the sink
So, without further ado...our new kitchen

New kitchen window and faucet
New granite counter and white subway tiles
New gas range hood. granite counters, and white subway tiles
New granite counter, new electric oven (sigh!),
new subway tiles, updated cupboard layout
New granite counter, subway tiles, cupboards, shelves, and wine rack
Note: The wall behind the new cupboards/wine rack used to be mirrored tiles 

View of the north side of the kitchen