Wednesday, May 30, 2012

More Seaside Fun

Seaside has proven to be a great vacation destination for our family. First and foremost, the fact that we're in a condo makes vacationing with little kids so much easier than it would be if we were in a hotel room. We have a 3-bedroom condo, so the kids have their own space and don't risk waking each other up. The fact that we have a kitchen is beyond priceless! It makes meals so much easier; we couldn't imagine having the kids in restaurants 3 meals per day ... talk about stressful nightmares! We did venture out for lunch today and the kids did very well, but we wouldn't want to tempt fate by having all of our meals out.

Since arriving, we have spent a lot of time down on the beach. The weather hasn't been what many would call perfect (it has been windy and overcast most of the time we've been here), but we actually enjoy the fact we aren't roasting in the heat and getting burned by the sun.

Yesterday, we visited the Seaside Aquarium. It was very small when compared to the Seattle Aquarium, but still very worthwhile. The kids got to feed harbor seals chunks of fish, which they (the kids and the seals) thought was wonderful. One of the seals would slap the water to signal "more fish please" and if we didn't feed it fast enough, the splashing got more vigorous; we were a bit damp by the time our cups of fish were empty. We also saw two octopus that were beyond cool and more wolf eels than we could shake a stick at. The aquarium had three different touch tanks, which the kids really enjoyed ... until a little crab grabbed onto Annika's finger ... she wasn't quite so impressed then. We also spent a good chunk of yesterday building sand castles and digging holes along the beach. The kids thought crashing the sand castles was just about as good as life could offer. As soon as a castle was up, a foot or hand was there to bring it back down. After some quiet time for Annika and a nap for Conor, we geared up and headed down to the pool. Fortunately, it is heated, so even though the wind was blowing and it was a bit chilly out, we were able to have fun splashing and swimming. Annika is working really hard on mastering "side breathing" (aka breathing while doing the crawl stroke) and Conor is proving to be a kicking champ (he hasn't gotten to incorporating moving his arms yet).

Today, we walked downtown (term used very loosely) and poked around a few store. The main purpose of the excursion was to give the kids a chance to ride the old fashioned carousel. Yes, it is a tourist thing to do, but we are tourists. I was shocked at how fast the carousel went; taking pictures of the kids riding it was a much more difficult task than I had expected! The kids had a blast and I'm fairly certain we'll return for another ride before our vacation comes to an end.

We finished up our time downtown with lunch and a walk back to our condo. Conor was in meltdown mode, so it was high time to get a little R&R. Currently, heis taking a MUCH-needed nap and Annika is having her quiet time so we can charge up for the rest of the day. Once the troops are up and about, we'll pack up and head down to Cannon Beach to explore the tidal pools at low tide.

Eric made Annika into a mermaid

Annika flying her kite

More kite flying

What's the point of sand if you don't stop to bury your feet from time to time?

Annika and me flying our kite

Conor and Annika discovered a huge hole and turned it into their bathtub

Conor taking a sand bath

Crash, crash, crash!

Godzilla has nothing on our kids!



Annika riding the carousel

Conor on the carousel

Sunday, May 27, 2012

May Daring Bakers Challenge: One challah good challenge!

As those who are close to me (or are just within earshot while I'm gabbing about my baking) know, I've been on a serious challah kick over the past couple of months. When I saw that the May Daring Bakers challenge was to make challah, I giggled with glee and did a rather elaborate happy dance.

The initial  reason behind my challah journey was simple: challah makes great French toast (how multi-cultural, huh?). I looked on the Internet and through my cookbooks for a good recipe, but wasn't sure which would fit the bill. So, I did what any person in my situation would do, I called my honorary auntie who is Jewish! Mrs. Simon isn't a baker herself, but offered to look through her recipes to find a good recipe for me and wound up emailing two from her synagogue's cookbook. She also regaled me with humorous stories of her husband--a wonderful, wonderful man, but also not a baker--when he attempted to make challah. (I can listen to her tell stories all day long ... the laughter is wonderful for the soul!)

I whipped up the recipe from Mrs. Simon and was very happy, but still tried a few others that I found online. Eventually, I started to mix this recipe with that recipe and throw in a few of my own ideas. Eric and I realized we like the sweeter challah recipes (more often used for holidays) and I kept that in mind as I worked on my own recipe. I also liked how some of the recipes called for the addition of honey, which added a wonderful depth of flavor that I fell in love with. After many, many, many, many loaves of challah, we officially have a winner, which I have dubbed Catholic Girl Challah.

Not only do I enjoy baking and eating challah (really, who wouldn't?), but I also find myself drawn to the braiding side of challah. I prefer the 6-strand braid (definitely not easy to get the hang of, but so pretty) and I like braiding the 4-strand round loaves. Pretty and yummy .... win, win!


6-strand Catholic Girl Challah

Up close and personal

May’s Daring Bakers’ Challenge was pretty twisted – Ruth from The Crafts of Mommyhood challenged us to make challah! Using recipes from all over, and tips from “A Taste of Challah,” by Tamar Ansh, she encouraged us to bake beautifully braided breads.

Seaside Vacation

Yesterday, we packed up the kids and a whole lotta stuff and headed south, south, south to Seaside, Oregon. Per Google, the trip was supposed to take us 3.5 hours. Google obviously didn't allow for a lunch stop, multiple potty stops, and the remnants of holiday weekend traffic. We did make it in 4.5 hours, which isn't all that bad, but the kids were more than ready to get out of the car once we arrived ... so were Eric and I (mostly because they kids were ready to burn off some energy and Conor hadn't napped.)

Our timeshare is right on the beach, which is absolutely ideal (in my humble opinion). From our condo, we can see the beach, the ocean, plenty of seagulls, the local hills, and lots of beautiful evergreen trees. What we can't see is the sun. Apparently, it (like us) is on vacation. Oh well! We are under cloudy skies that have yet to rain on us, so we can't complain too much (if at all). A plus to the weather is it is rather windy and Annika had been itching to try out the kite we bought a couple of months ago.

Last night, we unpacked, got settled, made a grocery store run (which was CRAZY busy), ate dinner (leftover schnitzel and spaetzel ala my awesome brother ... thanks, Troy!!), and enjoyed the fact that we were on vacation. Eric and I even opened a bottle of sparkling wine to celebrate. Quite lovely!

This morning, we explored the resort (hmmm... is this place a resort? It has a pool, but no spa. Hmmm... Need to ponder this for a minute. Sure! I'll say that it is a resort.) and got a better idea of the lay of the land. The kids and I found the pool (fortunately, it is heated AND has fountain thingies) and the hot tubs, as well as the little coffee/deli place and the foot showers (very important when staying at the beach).

After our expedition (much like Lewis and Clark's, I'm sure) the four of us loaded our arms full of sand toys, mats, and our kite (again, JUST LIKE Lewis and Clark... minus the raccoon skin hats) and headed down to the beach for some fun in the great outdoors. The kids had a great time burying themselves in the sand (see note about the foot showers above) and digging for treasures. Eric and Conor build sand structures  ... moreover, Eric build them and Conor swooped in like Godzilla and smashed them to smithereens. Annika discovered a sizable hole left by another beach visitor and quickly adopted it as her own. She and Conor looked like they were playing in a sand bathtub while they were both in it ... it was mighty cute!

Currently, we're having a condo full of quiet time. Conor is sleeping, Annika is watching a DVD, and Eric is reading. Me thinks it is the perfect time for me to sneak off to the local outlet mall! :)

The view from our balcony

Chillin' by the pool

Conor after his sand snack
(he's saying "cheese")

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Our Poor Fence

You, dear readers, may recall that a few years ago, our fence was the victim of a hit and run. Well, it happened again. Yup ... we're now facing another new fence, or as I've dubbed it "fence 3.0".

This morning, Eric wheeled the garbage cans out into our alley. In order to do so, he clicked the remote for the gate to open said gate. As he walked back toward the house, I noticed the gate was closing. I said, "Why did you close the gate? We're leaving in just a minute." To that, he replied, "I'm in the middle of the driveway, how could I have closed it??" Umm... good point. So, we opened the gate again and it closed ... again. I decided the gate was possessed ...really, what else could possibly explain our gate mysteriously closing all on its own?

We opened the gate AGAIN and I quickly backed the van out into the alley and that's when I saw it.... my possessed gate theory was quickly debunked when I saw that someone had plowed into our fence ... AGAIN!! Unlike last time, the perp (yes, I'm calling the jerk who hit our fence and then took off a "perp") didn't leave behind a license plate to help us track 'em down. Jerk!

I called the police so we could get a report number in case we decide to file a claim with our home owners insurance company. A very nice officer arrived at our house to look at the damage and file the report for us. He said something very interesting; he told me there's a chance that the person who hit our fence might contact them to file a report. WHA?!?!?! He further explained that people are often quite stupid and will contact the police claiming to be the victim of an accident when they weren't just so they could file an insurance claim to get a vehicle fixed. I so don't have a criminal mind!!

I found it funny that when writing up the report, the officer asked for my name and date of birth. When I gave the information to him, he said, "Oh! You're already in the system." Yup ... from when the same thing happened to our fence a few years ago. I have a feeling I'm going to be "that lady with the unlucky fence" amongst Seattle's fine police force.

The car hit our fence so hard that the cement holding the corner post in place moved over 2 feet and the fence is partially embedded in our tree. (That poor tree has seen better days!) The debris field is 3-4 feet big, so we have some cleaning up to do when we get home tonight. There are pieces of bumper, headlights, turn signals, and random pieces of plastic that need to collected and tucked away just in case we can use it as evidence.

Next step: get quotes from some fence companies so we can figure out who to fix it and whether it is worth making an insurance claim...

The silver lining? Our family was safely tucked away in the house when the perp blasted into our fence and none of us got hurt. Thank goodness for that blessing!

Poor fence (this part used to be straight)


It didn't look like this when we went to bed last night

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

A Lovely Dessert

On Sunday as Annika and I were heading out to the store, she asked me "What's in a gummy bear?" The question initially perplexed me because she'd never had a gummy bear (they stink to high heaven in my opinion), but knew of them because of the moving "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs." Ah ha! I told her that they are made of sugar and gelatin (complete guess, but I figured it was pretty likely).

Fast forward to dinner that night. Our family of four met up with my brother's family of four for dinner at a German restaurant here in Seattle. My brother is a German fanatic and when he read about this restaurant he KNEW we needed to try it out. So, we did. Hey, who are we to deny him??

After our very tasty dinner comprised of wienerschnitzel, spaetzle, and bratwurst galore, we sat around the table in a food coma chatting and having a marvelous time being raucous and ... well, ourselves. The waitress asked if the kids would like the dessert that was included in the price of their meals. Sure, why not? A few minutes later, out came plates of whipping cream sprinkled with gummy bears. Annika was in HEAVEN at the thought of getting to try out the mystical treat. We figured Conor wasn't up for eating gummy bears yet, so he very happily stuck with eating spoonfuls of whipping cream.

Conor staring down his next bite
Our boy couldn't have been happier
Our nephew, Ian, and Conor were a perfect pair: Ian ate the gummy bears off o
f the plate and Conor ate the whipping cream. It's the new generation of  Jack Sprat!
Annika discovered there's worked involved when chewing gummy bears
One happy girl. After she was done, Annika turned to me and said, "That was a LOVELY dessert!"

Monday, May 21, 2012

Whidbey Weekend

On Saturday, Eric, the kids, Buca, and I all rolled into the van and headed up to Eric's folks' house on Whidbey Island. The intent was to have a little belated celebration for Eric's mom's birthday. After packing the van for what appeared to be a cross-country, multi-month trek, we headed out to catch the ferry.

As we neared the ferry line, Eric said, "Fingers crossed that we can make the 9:30 boat." He then looked in the rear view mirror and started to chuckle. Annika had her right and left index fingers crossed like an X... her fingers were crossed! :)

After arriving at Eric's parents' house, we got down to having fun! We unpacked the kids' bikes from the car, let Buca run free with Buster and Sonja (Eric's parents' dogs), and even broke out a frisbee. The sun shone down on us ... it was perfect "get outside and burn off some energy" weather.

While Conor took a much-deserved nap, Karen, Annika, and I went on a little adventure to the local beach. Annika had a fantastic time exploring every aspect of the beach, from rocks and shells to sticks and barnacles. She even got to watch a couple haul their boat of the water, which stopped her in her tracks.

Jack spend a good chunk of the day at a golf tournament, so we didn't see him as much as we're used to. After he returned home, he and Eric pulled out his compound bow and headed outside for a little target practice on the lawn.

After Conor woke up from his nap, the kids and I went outside so we could add a bit of color  (ala sidewalk chalk) to Jack/Karen's driveway. We drew a big hopscotch, a fish, abstract art, and people. In fact, it looked a bit like a crime scene once I started outlining the kids in chalk ... fortunately, we drew on clothes, faces, and hair, so things looked much less grisly when all was said and done. :)

After a tasty family dinner, we sang a raucous rendition of "Happy Birthday" and gave Karen her birthday present (bread proofing baskets and personalized labels for her knitting projects). The evening wrapped up with much-needed baths for the kids, stories, and exhausted kids falling into bed.

The next morning, we woke up, ate a yummy breakfast, played a few games of mahjong (I won 2 of 3 .. go me!) and then headed home in time for the kids' swim lessons and then dinner at a yummy German restaurant with my brother and his family.

Talk about a fun, full weekend!!!

Annika, Eric, and Conor having fun
Conor giving it a go on Annika's bike
Annika speeding down the hill
Happy boy
Conor willing his legs to grow so he can reach the pedals
I played with Jack's macro lens a bit more before returning it to him
Karen's pretty rhody
Annika scaling a hill at the beach
In far distance, you can see the ferry we take to/from the island
Annika decided to venture into the water and get her toes wet
And she discovered lots of wonders hiding under the cold water
Karen and Annika ... can I just say how much I adore this picture????
Annika organizing her clam shells

I found a bald eagle!! (circled for your convenience)
A neat piece of driftwood at the beach
Eric and his dad practicing with Jack's compound bow
Jack taking aim

Monday, May 14, 2012

Our family's most recent college graduate

Our family has one more college graduate to its credit. Our niece, Emily, graduated from LCSC in Lewiston, ID.

(Cool side note: She is the 3rd generation of our family to graduate from this same school. My paternal grandmother graduated from LCSC—when it was a normal school—in 1925. Emily's dad graduated from LCSC in 1980—I think that's the year.)

The drive over to Lewiston was a hoot. The car contained my brother, his wife, my sister, and me. We talked and laughed non-stop the entire drive there. I swear, this was the fastest a trip across the state has felt. We arrived in time to kick back in the hotel and catch up with everyone prior to donning our fancy clothes and heading out to the graduation ceremony.

The graduation ceremony began with bagpipers and a sizable processional of faculty and students. There were a few speeches (including a rather entertaining one by the student body president) and awards and then the students received their diplomas... actually, empty folders that will one day hold their diplomas.

Following the ceremony, our group had a late, but very fun dinner together at a local Italian restaurant. Everyone ate their fill and after realizing how blurry-eyed we were, headed back to the hotel and fell into bed. The next morning, we woke up, hit Starbucks (it wouldn't be a family gathering without that!!) and drove back home. The drive home was much quieter than the previous day's drive, but still fun and filled with laughter.

We saw lots of pretty yellow flowers, which I learned were canola ... as in the oil.

This is how I saw my brother to/from Lewiston ... I felt artistic taking this pic

Yes, my brother is a dork ... but I love him!

Emily opening her birthstone earrings present

Abby helping Emily get ready for graduation

I told Emily to show me her "I'm about to graduate" face
Our graduate

The ceremony opened with bagpipers ... how cool is that??

My brother-in-law and his parents, who have yet to miss a grandchild's graduation

Emily waving to us from across the arena (thank goodness I had my father-in-law's 300mm zoom lens)

I adore this photo of Emily and Randy

Randy, Abby, Emily, and Suzanne

Randy, Emily, and Suzanne

She's all gradumacated!

Emily and her sweetie Sam

I was one proud Auntie!

Emily and her paternal grandparents

Emily and her big sister Abby

My grandmother's memorial brick at LCSC

Emily and her little sister Anna

We got stuck behind this truck ... it pelted us with hay, to which we
kept saying, "HEY!" (Yes, we are THAT clever!)
On our way home, we made a last-minute (as in gravel flying up in the air last minute)
stop at a winery that we passed. The name was the main reason we stopped.

Staci trying her three glasses of red wine

Troy sniffing one of the reds