Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Wrapping up 2013 with a zoo trip

When we went to the zoo lights display at Woodland Park Zoo a few weeks ago, Conor felt quite cheated that we didn't see very many animals. So, I promised him that we'd return soon (huge benefit of being zoo members!) and he'd be able to see more animals on our next trip. Today, I fulfilled that promise, partially to make sure I stayed true to my word and partially to give the kids a chance to burn off some energy.

Today has been quite soggy and cold, which definitely helped keep the crowds at the zoo to a minimum. Only us tried and true (and probably cabin fevered) parents braved the elements today, let me tell you!

As a special treat (and mostly due to the really short line), I asked the kids if they'd like to feed the penguins. It's rare that we're (a) at the zoo at the right time and (b) the feeding line isn't a mile long, so I decided to jump at the opportunity, as did the kids. Annika and Conor both got to feed the penguins two little fish, not sardines, but just about that size. While they took turns feeding the penguins, the zoo staff member explained about the penguins in their natural habitat. I tried to get a photo of Conor with his fish, but he was far too eager to feed the penguins and had no interest in holding still for me, let along turning away from the birds.

Of course, as soon as we vacated the penguin feeding area, Annika and Conor made a beeline for the blue row boat that is just outside of the penguin display. I swear, that boat makes our membership worthwhile. As Annika and Conor climbed into the boat, Annika proclaimed that she was the captain; a little boy who was already in the boat corrected her that HE was the captain of the boat. So there! Annika very nicely asked if she could be the captain when he was done being the captain. Way to go, Annika!

Once the boat crew received shore leave, we trekked to the flamingo area. The birds were fun to watch, but they weren't what caught my attention. The lady apparently having a full-blown conversation with the ducks and flamingos was MUCH more interesting to me than the birds were.  Now, when I say this woman was having a conversation with the birds, she wasn't just talking to them. Apparently, they were talking back to her. And I quote, "And what's your name? Fred? Oh! Frederick! Sorry for that mistake. Who is your girlfriend, Frederick? I promise, I won't tell. You can trust me. (pause) OH?? (giggle) Good choice!" (and so on and so forth)

We explored the African village and saw two zebra grazing on the grassy hill. When Conor saw them, he promptly announced, "There's Spot One's daddy! And there's Spot Two!" I'm sure the other zoo goers were quite perplexed, but that only adds to my day's fun. :)

As we meandered toward the bird feeding pavilion, we wandered by the hippos and lions. It is a rare treat to see the hippos out of their pond, but today they were. Both hippos were completely sacked out on the shore, probably dreaming of vacationing somewhere warmer than Seattle!

Our final destination was the bird feeding pavilion, which is a family favorite. For $1, people can buy a popsicle stick with some bird seeds hot glued to it. The kids LOVE having the birds visit them for a quick snack. Unfortunately, the extreme temperature change from outside to inside fogged up my camera lens... WHOOPS! Luckily, my phone's camera was more cooperative and I was able to snap a few pictures of our bird experience. All three of us had the same bird come for a visit, no less. Annika wore her parrot hat and was quite convinced that the bird thought she was one of them. Conor liked the birds until one tried to sit on his finger, then he was a bit less impressed. Meanwhile, Annika was thrilled when she had two birds on her hand at the same time. Win for her!

Annika and her penguin food

The beloved row boat

Pink flamingos

Part of a wall in the African village

Annika and Conor having fun in the African village

Sleeping hippos

Lions ... ROAR

Liongirl Annika

Conor the lion conquerer

Annika and her bird friend

My bird buddy

Conor feeding his bird

Monday, December 30, 2013

Christmas 2013

Before the new year arrives, I figured I'd better give a quick recap of our very fun, very chaotic Christmas.

It all started many, many years ago in a stable in Bethlehem.... well, I guess that's given ... let's fast forward to this year.

We invited our parents/the grandparents to have a sleepover on Christmas Eve and were so glad when they accepted the invitation. It is such a treat to have three generations under one roof to celebrate a holiday ... especially one as cherished as Christmas. Not long after everyone was here, the festivities began. And by "festivities", I mean Eric and his dad playing cribbage and the grandmothers diving in to any work that needed to be done! :)

One of our traditions for Christmas Eve is to have breakfast for dinner, and this year was no different. We had a breakfast casserole that a dear family friend/one of my adopted aunties gave to me years ago (thanks, Carolyn!) and my mom offered to bring the makings for the Pioneer Woman's apple dumplings, which she had recently had on two occasions and LOVED. (We were quick believers in the recipe upon first bites, too!!) After dinner, my mom and I packed up the kids and headed to church; due to the times of the mass schedules, we wound up at St. Luke Church and really liked the service. The fact that the priest made references to the movie "Elf" was a highlight for me! Come on! How much more in touch with the general population can you get during a homily than THAT??? After we returned from church, we did another family tradition of reading "Twas the Night Before Christmas" as a family, left out cookies and milk for Santa (as well as carrots for the reindeer), and then shuffled the kids off to bed. I adore the fact that the "Night Before Christmas" book we read from each year is the very book I read as a small child; in fact, I think it was probably my sister's book when she was a child. The book is tattered and well-read, but that adds to its appeal to me.

On Christmas morning, Annika, Eric and his parents were up before 6 AM (no surprise, considering Annika was practically exploding with anticipation the days leading up to Christmas... and Eric wasn't far behind her!). Before Annika "woke me up" at 6, I stayed in bed and listened to the sounds of our family tromping around above me ... all was right in the world, and yet, I still wasn't quite part of it... I was more of a silent observer for just a few moments. As soon as Annika and Eric popped through the door, Christmas was in full tilt! I barely made it upstairs before Eric and Conor made an appearance in the kitchen and I could tell from Eric's sheepish look that he woke up Conor... oh those kids (even the grownup ones) and their Christmas enthusiasm. After the kids woke up my mom, the presents opening began.

Our kids do a lot to entertain us on a fairly regular basis, but Christmas took that entertainment to a new high. Annika and Conor's faces were alight with the thrill that is a tree brimming with presents.... and knowing many were for them. We did force them (evil parents that we are) to open their stockings before commencing with the tree presents. Once we gave the green light for the presents, the kids opened their presents from Santa. Annika received the remote control helicopter that she'd been longing for, and watching her open it and realize what the package contained made my heart leap with happiness. Conor liked his remote control pick up truck from Santa, but felt a wee bit disappointed that he didn't get a helicopter, too. (He needs a few more years and better gross motor skills before he can have one, Santa decided after receiving the shipment!) Thank you to EVERYONE who was responsible for a gift (or gifts) under our tree!! Your generosity was beyond touching ... in fact, it was overwhelming at times. (Yes, I did tear up when I saw that Santa gave me my own Muppet... I'm not ashamed to admit it!) :)

After the presents were unwrapped and the living room floor was (mostly) cleared of the shreds of wrapping paper, we enjoyed a lovely breakfast of our family's traditional Christmas breakfast casserole (cleverly called "Christmas Breakfast" ... a special thanks to Eric's mom for making it!!) and some tasty, albeit not fluffy enough, cinnamon rolls made by yours truly.

In the early afternoon, my brother and his family joined us at our house for more festivities and (probably more importantly) our prime rib Christmas dinner. There were stories, jokes (thanks, Dad for your joke about the guy who sold the fishing supplies!), laughter (much due to the fishing joke), and silliness ... all the perfect definition of a fun holiday. We told stories of "back in the day" that stemmed from both sides of the family; I love that over the years, Eric's side of the family and my side of the family have really become one. Not only does it make holidays easier and more enjoyable, but it reinforces for our children that they have an enormous support network filled with kind, loving hearts ... no matter which direction they turn.

To everyone (both near and far) who made our Christmas special: Thank you, we love you, and hope you enjoyed your Christmas!

As I took photos of my Christmas cookies, Eric's dad decided he needed one. Talk about getting caught red handed!!

The grandmothers conquering the apple dumpling process (notice how I stayed out of it and just took photos?? No dummy am I!)

Eric and his dad playing cribbage

Reading "Twas the Night Before Christmas"

Annika opening her slippers

Conor opening his slippers

Annika realizing she actually received a remote control helicopter

Conor enjoying the view from his kaleidoscope

Eric's brother and sister-in-law gave the kids the cutest animal hats ... great for cold weather and dress up!!

Annika modeling her elephant hat
My very own Muppet, who I lovingly named Wilson!

Friday, December 27, 2013

December 2013 Daring Bakers Challenge: Whoopie Pies

It felt really silly to create more baked goods immediately after completing the marathon baking session that is Christmas, but oh well! I'm not one to shirk off a challenge... especially a baking one! :)

This month, we were challenged to make homemade whoopie pies. I chose the most direct route available, aka the first recipe listed in the challenge write-up. The main reason I chose it (aside from being listed first) was because it was a King Arthur Flour recipe and they tend to be quite reliable resources. The only change I made to the recipe was the size of the cookies; the original recipe called for using 1/4 cup of batter per cookie and that seemed like A LOT to me, so I used my 2 T scoop to measure out the dough instead. Because of the smaller cookies, I also changed the baking time to 11 minutes, down from the recipe's 15 minute bake time.

My plan was to make the cookies and then take them to my brother's house so we could eat them as our families watched the UW Huskies play in the Fight Hunger Bowl. As the saying goes, "the best laid plans of mice and men often go astray"... twas not meant to be. Our nephew has come down with a stomach bug (hopefully not the one our kids had a few days ago!) and we were kindly uninvited to watch the game at my brother's house. (Only other parents really understand how wonderful it was of them to call and warn us ahead of time!)

Now we have more whoopie pies than 4 people can shake a stick at! I still haven't had one, but they look promising... will know how they taste in a few hours! GO DAWGS!!

Whoopie pies, captured with my new LensBaby lens!
The December Daring Bakers' Challenge had us all cheering - the lovely and talented Bourbonnatrix of Bourbonnatrix Bakes was our hostess and challenged us to make fun, delicious and creative whoopie pies! Delicious little cake-like cookies sandwiching luscious filling in any flavors we chose... What else is there to say but "Whoopie!"

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Annika's First Violin Recital

A week ago, Annika had her first violin recital. She started violin lessons in November and worked quite hard to get ready for her recital. She played three songs, liking "In Winter" the best because it actually changed notes, while the other two were comprised of plucking the same note over and over. We are very proud of her for practicing so hard and having no qualms about standing up in front of an audience to perform. Way to go, Annika!

Without further ado, Annika's recital pieces:

(Please excuse the wobbily video... Conor was climbing on me as I recorded Annika's performance)

Friday, December 20, 2013

Snowy in Seattle

For a couple of days, the media called for snow today. We didn't buy it. We've been fooled too many times before ... hearts broken, dreams dashed. When Cliff Mass chimed in and said it would snow, we took notice!

Lo and behold! We woke up this morning to a winter wonderland. (When Conor saw the snow, he proclaimed, "It's CHRISTMAS!!!" Not quite, Sweetie, but we applaud your enthusiasm!) Sure, people in many other parts of the country would roll their eyes at the little amount of snow that delights us (and delays/cancels our school), but we're from Seattle... we'll take what we can get. And considering we haven't had any snow accumulations in almost 2 years, we'll take this amount with smiles on our faces and snowballs in our hands!

The kids' school was closed due to the weather (again, insert a collective eye roll from other parts of the country), which means no working from home. I brought my laptop home in case there was a delayed start knowing I'd be able to work once school opened, but two kids at home all day wasn't conducive to me getting any work done. So, we turned it into a day of leisure and fun. Oh darn!

We knew the snow wasn't supposed to stick around for long (rain was expected by noon), so as soon as the kids were fed, we got them into their snow gear and headed outside. The snow was PERFECT for snowballs... not to sloppy, not too dry. Naturally, we started pounding each other with said perfect snowballs as soon as we had closed the front door. Isn't that what all loving families do?? :)

The kids (and their parents) had an absolute blast in the snow. Aside from pelting each other with snow balls, we (meaning the kids) made snow angels on the lawn and Eric took Annika for a spin on the snow disc we're storing at our house for some friends who live in Mexico (thanks, Leo and Dulce!!). It was a wonderful treat to pause during this chaotic and frenzied time of year and simply play, enjoy peals of laughter, and feel the trickle of melting snow down the backs of our necks.

Thanks, Mother Nature, for a great day!

Eric taking Annika for a spin around the front yard

Conor trekking down the snowy walkway

Annika hitting her target, aka Eric

Annika enjoying the falling snow

Childhood delight

Conor the red-nosed kiddo

Annika perfecting her snow angel technique

Conor proudly pummeling Eric's leg with snow

Conor's snow angel ... one of many we saw during the morning

My handsome husband!!

Conor decided to make it snow even more by throwing snow into the air

By the end of the morning, Conor was a snowball pro

Who needs a slip and slide when you have a snowy lawn to slide on?

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Gingerbread Decorating

The Christmas season is in full gear and we Olsons are doing our best to keep up. Our tree is trimmed, our halls are decked, and our children are beyond excited for the big day. Annika and Conor practically overflow with anticipation each morning as they wait to discover what our house nissen left in the Advent calendar each night.

It wouldn't be the holidays without a wee bit of baking, too! One of our projects this week was baking and decorating gingerbread cookies. We broke it into a two-day project, which probably preserved a little bit of my remaining sanity. I made the dough (solo... just to avoid any missed ingredients... oh, say like the sugar in a cheesecake ... not that I would EVER admit to doing that! Staci, I still owe you a new cheesecake, by the way!) and the kids helped cut out and bake the cookies, which they had a lot of fun doing. Two days later (I made gingerbread and krumkake for a work potluck, so the gingerbread cookies had to wait), we pulled out the decorating tools, whipped up the royal icing, and went to work making our masterpieces.

For those of you not familiar with using royal icing to decorate cookies, typically, you outline the cookie with a thicker version of the icing to act as an icing parameter. Then, you flood the inside of the parameter with a thinner version of the royal icing. Boy, did Conor jump in with both feet when the flooding part was to begin. That little boy flooded to within a inch of his life... and a few inches past the life of his cookie. He flooded, added sprinkles, flooded, added more sprinkles (because the first ones were completely covered), and repeat. He had a marvelous time!!

Annika took the "less is more" approach to her cookie. She was very particular in how her cookie evolved, and made sure to include its separate pieces of attire... which kind of got lost in translation because the royal icing was all white, so her cookie had white sleeves, white shirt, white pants... Annika showed great restraint while decorating her cookie and was thrilled with her final results.

All-in-all, both kiddos (and their mama) had a great time decorating cookies and spreading a bit more holiday cheer with each other!

Conor flooding his gingerbread cookie

Royal icing overboard!

Annika making sure her cookie is runway ready

Christmas tree buttons are at the height of fashion on the North Pole cat walks

More flooding! (Don't let this kid near Hoover Dam!)

Happy gingerbread man

Conor sporting two Santa headbands... one is never enough!

Happy girl!

My snowflake cookie

"Oh no!!" (He knows what's about to happen!)
Snowflakes, gingerbread man, and Rudolph

Ta da!