Wednesday, October 30, 2013

What happens in Vegas ... goes on the blog!

Originally, my 40th birthday was supposed to be spent waking up at a local get-away with Eric and then having a relaxing day... instead we wound up postponing our night away and focusing on my departure for a business trip that required me to depart the evening of my b-day. Don't get me wrong, the day was actually still quite relaxing and Eric went out of his way to make sure I wasn't tasked with any chores and relaxed whenever possible. We even did our family trek to a local pumpkin patch (stay tuned for that blog post).

Fortunately, the time in Vegas (not my favorite city ... sorry any Vegasites who might be reading this, but it isn't) was worthwhile, but professionally and sisterly. My sister-in-law Staci and I met at SeaTac Sunday night and flew down to Nevada together. The plan was we'd fly down together and then my sister Suzanne would drive up from San Diego after work on Monday. To my great pleasure, the plans worked out beautifully!!

We left a very foggy Seattle, but once we were above the cloud cover, we were treated to an amazing sunset. I have never seen a more radiant view... the sky was streaked like I have never seen it before. Truly breathtaking. I took photos through the plane's window not expecting any to turn out, but still hopeful I could get at least a little reminder of the beauty... and I wasn't disappointed. In fact, I feel REALLY happy with how well the pictures turned out.

I started out on Monday by paying an insane amount for breakfast and coffee at the hotel's Starbucks ... let me tell you, that was a one-time mistake! Seriously... for a venti americano, yogurt, and sausage b-fast sandwich, they charged me $21!!! I about needed CPR right there on the spot. After recovering from the sticker shock, I made my way to the first day of my conference; meanwhile, Staci hung out by the pool and explored the Vegas strip. After I finished up my work day, we re-explored the strip so I could take pictures of the famous Bellagio fountain, stretch our legs a bit, and find dinner. We had success at every turn.

I have to say, there is rarely a moment when you aren't far from seeing something that is really impressive to see while on the Vegas strip. Our hotel's lobby was decked out for autumn.... as were many of the other hotels. Our hotel lobby had huge fabric leaves suspended from the ceiling... it wasn't as impressive as the sunset the night before, but still nothing to shrug off. Our hotel also had a rather colorful fountain in its parking/taxi roundabout; it spouted up in a variety of patterns and the light show associated with it was fun to watch.

So, getting back to our exploration of the strip on Monday... the plan was to hit the Bellagio so I didn't miss out on the fountain photos... and boy, was I not disappointed. We picked out a great location and waited for the show to begin. The song "One" from Chorus Line started up and soon, the water was jumping around in perfect syncopation to it. I was shocked by how loud the air canons were that blew the huge spouts of water WAY up high were. The combination of the song, lights, and fountains was so much fun and exceeded my expectations. 

Inside the Bellagio, we were greeted with yet another incredibly impressive autumn display. This one had HUGE pumpkins, fall flower displays, a working water wheel, and a talking tree that blinked and moved its eyes.

As we made our way down the strip,  we saw the replica Eiffle Tower atop the Paris casino/hotel; I've never been to France, so this was a fun way to pretend... if not for more than just a second ... that I was in France scoping out a great croissant or crepe place for a quick snack.

Speaking of food, we chose to have dinner at BurGR, which is one of Gordon Ramsay's restaurants. Oh ... my ... goodness... talk about yummy food! We ordered burgers, and not just any burgers. We had gourmet burgers and to-die-for onions rings. Unfortunately, the gal argued a bit with us when we sent back our burgers saying they were under cooked ("Sell, that's how we do them here" didn't fly with us... and I'm sure Gordon would have had some choice words on the matter!) After receiving properly cooked burgers, we were in food heaven!

Around 10:30, Suzanne made her way into the hotel and promptly set out making our hotel room cozy, game-filled, and not lacking adult beverages. (Hurray for Suzanne!!) 

On Tuesday, I went back to my conference while Suzanne and Staci slept in, relaxed by the pool, and enjoyed some sister bonding time trying to find parking at the local discount mall. After work, we reconvened back in the hotel room, finished off a monstrously huge sandwich from Jersey Mike's, experienced a highly entertaining impromptu makeover on by Suzanne and Staci because I wasn't dressed for Vegas' nightlight (I brought work clothes, not going out on the town clothes),  and then proceeded to the hotel's Cirque Du Soleil theater to watch the show Zarkana. No photos were allowed during the show, so you'll have to settle for a photo of the show's billboard outside of the hotel. "WOW" is all I can say about the show. The performers have insane skills ... not to mention core strength! We saw a juggler, trapeze artists, acrobats, old-style circus clowns, a sand artists, and more. The hour and a half seemed to fly by. 

 After the show, we walked down the strip toward New York, New York and attempted to visit its famed piano bar, but it had an insane cover charge to sit down and the standing room wasn't overly appealing, so we headed around the way to Nine Fine Irishmen instead. In all honesty, I'm glad we did. We got to listen to a fantastic Irish band and the bartender there was great; he was personable and a lot of fun.

 On Wednesday, our last full day in Vegas, I went to my conference while Suzanne and Staci hung out at the pool (notice a trend here??). I did spend my lunchtimes with them there, so I got a taste of it, too. In fact, I hurried and was able to get a swim in during lunch... until then, the pool had just been taunting me. The hotel closes the pool at 5, which wasn't conducive with my work schedule.

After I finished work, we spiffied ourselves up and then walked (and walked and walked and walked) to the Venetian to attend the National Geographic photo exhibit. (Saying a place is "just three casinos over" equates to walking about a mile and a half!) Talk about breathtaking photographs... oh my goodness! There were shots from all over the world and the stories behind the photographs, which were highly interesting.

After the photo display, we went to our fancy schmancy dinner at Ruth's Chris Steak House. During our walk, we took in more of the sights and sounds of the Vegas strip, which is when I had the "ah ha" moment that this city really goes all out to get the public's attention. Numerous casinos have outdoor displays that explode fire, shoot water, etc. that are truly amazing.

My brother-in-law Randy came up with this idea before our trip as a way for us gals to celebrate our sister trip and my birthday (insert the collective "Awww!! Isn't he a sweetie?!?!" here). Staci and I were Ruth's Chris novices, so Suzanne led the way... although, Staci did pick out a lovely red wine for us (which highly impressed the older gentleman across the aisle from us). We had a fabulous (and I do mean FAB) waiter named Chas; he was flamboyant and took great care of us. We had amazing steaks, creamed spinach, and the world's biggest baked potato for dinner. At the end of our meal, Chas brought out a complimentary birthday dessert for the three of us to share... talk about decadent. Oh... my... goodness! It was dark chocolate heaven!

 To work off our huge dinner, we walked the strip a bit more and made our way to The Cosmopolitan to check out its famed chandelier. When I heard it had a huge chandelier, I wasn't expecting what we saw because we didn't just see something that dangles from the ceiling and produces light. Oh no, no, no. This bad boy is so big that it creates rooms. It is enormous, incredibly gaudy, and the epitome of Vegas. It was something. Before heading back to our hotel and putting up our very tired and sore feet, we stopped by a huge red high heel shoe that is on display in The Cosmopolitan's lobby. We weren't sure of the reasoning behind it, but it made a great photo opportunity for us!

 On Thursday, I attended my first conference session, raced back to the hotel room to pack up and bid a teary goodbye to Suzanne who drove back to San Diego, raced back to my next conference session, and then enjoyed a lovely lunch poolside with Staci. After my last session of the day, Staci and I hopped into a taxi, mad the short trek to the airport, waited in an insanely slow security line, had my first full-body airport x-ray taken, and then headed back to a cold and foggy Seattle. It was so foggy when we landed that we couldn't determine how high the plane was; we knew that we were coming in for a landing, but couldn't see a a single thing out of our airplane windows. Staci and I had perpetual looks of "are we gonna bounce now?" on our faces. We knew that we were probably getting close to the runway, but had no idea how close. Glad the pilots had their fancy equipment to help them land... I'm sure they weren't relying on their eyes to guide them in too much.

A bit later, I was home in our warm and cozy house and couldn't have been happier. I kissed our sleeping munchkins, who didn't even stir when I tried to say hello, and then drifted off to sleep, glad to be at home, but also glad to have had such a great time in Vegas.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

A new Annika-ism

As I picked up Annika from her classroom yesterday, we busily put her various items into her backpack: lunch box, homework folder, etc. As I started to zip up her bag, she said, "Wait!! Don't forget my super annik jet!" and handed me a paper airplane she'd made during after-school care. I stopped and asked her to repeat what it was called (I thought I'd heard it right, but then thought I'd mis-heard her. "My super annik jet. That means it goes really fast!"

NOW we know why she's always running... she's a Super-Annik Annika!" Ah-ha!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Autumn Fun

When I think of autumn, my mind fills with images of frosty mornings, pumpkins, falling leaves, and gorgeous colors. As a child, I always hoped for a huge leaf pile to jump into, but the evergreens we had never magically dropped huge leaves, like we see in movies filmed on the east coast.

Our yard had a very large chestnut tree that does drop its leaves, not enough to create a pile large enough to jump into, but enough that the kids can throw them up in the air for a little leafy-rain... and a fun photo op for me!

All of the Paris runway models are wearing PJs and rain boots this season!

It's like her own leaf ticker tape parade.

I love the look of wonder on his face in this one.

Sheer joy!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Living Life on the Edge

While doing our weekly grocery shopping this past weekend, Conor and I were toodling though the produce section when something caught my eye. It was a brightly colored, spiky thing. I had no clue what it was, but quickly decided to investigate it further. As I got to the front of the little display, I was able to read that it was a horned kiwano melon. A what? I'd never heard of such a thing. So, I asked Conor if we should try a new food. I was so enthusiastic about the possibility that he wholeheartedly went along with my plan.

I was rather intrigued by the beautiful coloring of the melon... a little less impressed with the spikes. (Those bad boys hurt a bit!!)

When we got home, I popped it into the fridge (not sure if it was supposed to be served at room temp or chilled) because I prefer other melons to be chilled when I eat them. (Have you ever eaten warm cantaloupe?? EWWWW!) I learned that these spiky beauties come from Africa and the seeds are edible. I also researched how to cut and consume a kiwano melon... apparently, sucking the inner pulp out is a common method. I opted for a "dig in with a spoon" approach, which is also acceptable.

Last night, I realized we hadn't plunged into Kiwano land yet, so pulled it out of the fridge, carefully cut it in half, and braved a bite of the bright green insides. I had NO idea what to expect. Would it be sweet? sour? tangy? bitter? gross? Well, it turns out that horned kiwano melon tastes just like tangy cucumber! The seeds even reminded me of cucumber seeds... tasteless and just kind of there.

Everyone tried a bite.... Eric wasn't over the moon with the melon; the texture was too slimy for him. I believe "gross" was his exact choice of words. Annika loved it and asked for another bite. I had to practically shove the spoon in Conor's mouth to get him to try a bite and he seemed to tolerate the melon; he didn't ask for more, but he didn't spit out the bite either. I thought it was pretty tasty. It was refreshing and pleasantly tart. Glad I ate it chilled; I think the slime factor would have been too much at room temp.

At $4 per hand-sized melon, I doubt we'll buy many of these, but I'm glad we did and learned about a new food. I think a sliced kiwano would be a lovely accent piece to a fruit platter!!

Isn't that a marvelous color combination??

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Bite of Broadview 2013

Each year, our school/parish hosts a fall festival/carnival. It's one of the big fundraisers for the year and the kids LOVE going. It's a three-day event that has carnival rides, crap galore to buy craft vendors, food vendors, a great kids zone filled with bouncy structures, a beer/wine garden, and many musicians.

I'm on the planning committee for BOB and head up the social media efforts. This year, Eric got involved and build a new website for BOB, which looks AMAZING!! You should check out his work! Before Eric stepped in, it was a single page on the church/school's website with 1-2 paragraphs of text. (Fantastic work, Sweetie!!) For my part, I promote the event on Facebook, get it mentioned in local online calendars, and make sure the local schools know about BOB. I also volunteer in the bakery booth (and bake for said bakery booth and the pie booth). Whew!

In years past, we've had GLORIOUS weather for BOB. This year, we were not so lucky. In fact, we had horrible stormy weather all weekend. Did that stop the Olson Four from tromping out and "enjoying" (I use that terms loosely) the carnival? HECK NO! Did that stop us from having dry clothes all day? HECK YEAH!

Eric, Annika, Conor, and I headed over around 10 on Saturday so we could get a good spot for the Caspar Babypants concert. (For those of you who don't know of Caspar, you are SOOOO missing out!) Chris (aka Caspar) is a great entertainer and the kids (and their parents) adore him. He has songs—such as "My flea has dogs" (my personal favorite) and an extended version of "Ring around the rosie"—that are sure to make you smile and tap your toes... no matter your age! Because of the weather, the concert was moved to the gym, instead of being held at the outdoor stage (yippee!!). The kids LOVED the concert and Annika is well on her way to becoming a bona fide groupie. We ran into many friends there, and even got to (finally) meet our friends' baby girl.

After the concert, we braved the elements and had a quick lunch outside. Fortunately, even though we were outside, we were under cover, so it wasn't too bad. That said, we weren't overly inclined to exactly doddle there and wander around the event because of the rain and cold temps. As we (mostly metaphorically) dragged the kids away, we promised the kids that we'd try again later.... just hoping the weather would ease up a bit. (Insert the sounds of Mother Nature's evil cackle here.)

Annika was also invited to her friend Gage's birthday party on Saturday and Eric had a last-minute invitation to the UW football game from my brother Troy, so Conor and I had a quite afternoon at home playing blocks and reading stories. When it was time to pick up Annika from the party, I asked her if she reallllllllly wanted to return to the carnival (hoping the rain would deter her.... no such luck). OH YES!! She definitely wanted to return. So, we went home and geared up for a hurricane; I put both kids in as much waterproof clothing as possible and even pulled my oil skin duster (Yeeeeee haw!!) out of the closet and off we went... back to a waterlogged BOB.

All geared up
The kids had so much fun and didn't even care that a river of rainwater was careening through the carnival. The ferris wheel wasn't accepting passengers due to the wind, much to Annika's dismay, but she soothed her sorrow with other rides. The favorite ride was the little cars that drive around in a circle. I think they rode that ride 6-7 times.... and they had a ball each time! Because there weren't any lines, the kids could just choose another car (for color variety) and take another spin.

Speaking of spin, we also went on the spinning teacups ride. Conor didn't want to spin very much, so Annika had to work on her self restraint by not spinning us too, too much.  Fortunately, unlike the cars, this ride was covered, so we weren't sitting in puddles! 

After our time on the rides and trekking through the fun house (I use that term VERY loosely), it was time to head home and warm up a bit. Conor was heartbroken and so very much wanted to say. Needless to say, I was that mom carrying the screaming, wailing, sobbing, overly tired child out of the carnival. Fortunately, the rain kept most people out of ear shot. (I also bribed them with cotton candy...)

When we got home, the kids peeled off their wet attire. With a "glush", Conor's boots released the suction on his feet. Poor little lamb had SOAKED socks... and even with that, he didn't want to leave the rainy carnival. Why were his socks soaked? One guess....

Conor LOVES jumping in puddles!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Annika's Kindergarten Poem,,, extra credit, baby!!

Yesterday, Annika shared a poem that she learned in school. She first taught it to Eric and then performed it for all of us during dinner. Little did I know (until later as I peeked at her homework packet), that she gets extra credit for teaching it to someone. Bonus!

It was so cute that I had to record it for posterity. Enjoy!

(I think her boogie is my favorite part, just in case you're curious!)

Side note: The "echos" at the end is her version of the other participants passing the wave around. :)