Monday, March 31, 2014

Conor's 4th Birthday

It's official! Conor is a big 4-year-old!!

This year's birthday was quite an event and the celebrated wound up spanning a few days.

The day before his birthday, Conor's birthday was celebrated in his classroom. His teachers made him a crown, he got to walk around his class four times during circle time, and instead of bringing in treats, his teacher read a copy of one of his favorite books "Good Night, Good Night, Construction Site" that we donated to his class. He loved every moment of it!

On Conor's actual birthday, we packed up our gear and headed up to Whidbey Island for a weekend of celebrations galore. Not everyone knows this, but Conor was born on Eric's parents' anniversary, the day before Eric's birthday, and three days after Eric's dad's birthday. How cool is that?!?! This year, Conor's birthday fell on my in-law's 50th anniversary, which just about everyone on Earth would agree is a really big deal. Because of the next day's anniversary party, Eric's siblings and their families also came to Bestmor and Bestefar's house for the weekend of celebrations. It was the first time we've all been together at the house and it was such fun!!

On Friday after dinner, we had a little birthday celebration for the three birthday boys. Conor LOVED every moment of the evening ... especially when he was given the green light to open his presents. He received a stuffed dinosaur and a stomp rocket from Uncle John, Auntie Wendy, Erin, and Piper, a foam dinosaur kit and a stomp rocket from Auntie Kajsa and Uncle Jeff, AND roller skates from Bestemor and Bestefar. We have a very generous family and a family who knows the definition of fun presents!

As soon as Conor's skates were unwrapped, he and Annika were outside skating up and down the driveway. That is ... until Annika switched Conor's skates from "locked" to "free skate." Mama swooped in and re-locked them so Conor could actually stand up on them! Annika wanted Conor to learn how to skate like her, and knew having locked wheels wouldn't allow him to do that "just like her." Learning curve? What's a learning curve?

The stomp rockets (so glad he received two, so both kids were able to play outside with them) were a HIT! Of course, we had to wait until a break in the weather so the kids could actually go outside, but the opportunity did (eventually) arise. Whoever designed that toy really had kids in mind. They had a blast setting up the rocket stands (thank God we have engineers in the family ... Eric and John were instrumental in that part of the project), jumping onto the launch pads, and then watching the nerf rockets fly into the air.

Good thing Conor has a card helper!

Dinosaur kit

Woo hoo! Stomp rocket!

"What's inside? What could it be?"

"Here, Conor. Let me help you!"

"It's a dinosaur!!!"

"Roar! My dinosaur is eating Bestefar's birthday card!"

Thank you hug for Bestemor

Thank you hug for Bestefar

Thank you hug for Auntie Kaj

Thank you hug for Uncle Jeff

"WHOA! Another stomp rocket!!"

Eric opening his birthday cards

John and Jack playing with Jack's magnet "toy"

Auntie Kaj reading a card to Conor

Stomp rockets are the best thing EVER!!!!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Daring Bakers' Challenge Revealed: Homemade Nougat

This month's baking challenge was really exciting for me ... and then incredibly nerve-wracking. This month's challenge was to make homemade nougat. Cool!!!

As I read through the challenge's overview and instructions, my sense of panic began to set in and then grow at an immeasurable rate. Was it because of the complexity of the challenge? Nope ... not even close. Was it the time required to complete the nougat? Nah! It was this statement in the overview that sent my pulse racing: "Nougat is best made on a cool, dry day." Cool, we have that in spades. Dry? That's a completely other matter. Spring in Seattle is typically anything but dry. I decided to see how March's weather played out ... naturally, this month was one of our wettest Marches on record. I decided to bite the proverbial bullet yesterday and just take my chances with the weather and made my nougat.

I didn't want to just "make nougat." I wanted to made a complete candy, so I researched homemade Snickers recipes. I mean, come on! Who doesn't like Snickers? (Peanut allergy sufferers aside, of course.)

I followed the nougat recipe and directions from this Snickers knock-off recipe, but didn't use that recipe's caramel or chocolate aspects. I already had homemade caramel in the fridge (doesn't everyone???), so decided to use that for the bars. I also went really easy and nuked some chocolates chips in the microwave instead of tempering chocolate, as was recommended in the recipe. Again, I was up against a deadline and was looking to just get the project done on time. The "Snickers" recipe called for crunchy peanut butter, but we aren't a crunchy peanut butter family, so I just used creamy peanut butter and sprinkled some roasted peanuts on top of the caramel layer. Done and done!

The nougat didn't come together in the time frame the recipe predicted, which made me nervous that the whole thing would fail, but I stayed the course and kept moving forward. I downsized from the recommended 9x13 pan to a 9x9 pan, once I saw the smaller-than-expected nougat volume. I looked in the bowl and realized there was no way that amount would cover the bottom of the pan, so adjusted accordingly and am glad I did. As the nougat did it's thing, I stuck the mason jar of caramel sauce in a pan of water and slowly warmed it on the stove.

Once the nougat was done, I squished it into my parchment paper-lined 9x9 pan and then poured the caramel on top... followed by the peanuts. I popped the pan into the fridge for a bit so the caramel could set up a bit. While it cooled, I microwaved a few handfuls of chocolate chips with a blob of Crisco. Once the chocolate was smooth, I poured it on top of the other layers and popped it back in the fridge to cool completely.

I had NO idea if the recipe was going to work, but realized it was a successful when my guinnea pig (aka Eric) proclaimed that it was a winner and then proceeded to cut himself another helping. After witnessing Eric's response to the treat, I tried a piece, too. He was right. It did turn out well!! Not bad for a rainy weather experiment, if you ask me!

The March 2014 Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Rebecca of BakeNQuilt. She challenged us to learn to make a classic nougat and to make it our own with our choice of flavors and add-ins.

Monday, March 17, 2014

An Interview with Conor

Conor has taken to imitating Eric; the way he changes his voice makes me giggle every time!

It is very obvious from these little clips how much fun Conor has with Eric, how much love they share, and that laughter is a big part of their relationship. You really can't ask for more than that!

Friday, March 14, 2014

Annika's New Skirt

Last weekend, Eric's mom gave Annika a cute sweater that she had made. It is a cotton tank sweater that will be perfect once we get into some warmer weather. When she gave the sweater to Annika, Eric's mom pointed out that one option was to sew a skirt to the sweater and create a dress. Annika loved that idea, and I thought it would be a fun project.

I found an adorable fabric that complimented the neutral tone of the sweater beautifully. After getting home, I realized it also went well with one of Annika's t-shirts. That's when I had my ah-ha moment... I could make a skirt and then Annika could wear it with a variety of tops. Bingo! I'd seen an easy-to-make skirt tutorial online and knew I could fairly painlessly succeed at making Annika a wearable skirt.

Last night was the night. I measure Annika, pulled out my serger and sewing machine (newly back from the service shop), and planned to hit the ground running. As soon as Annika saw the machines, she wanted to jump in and help. That would have been grand, except she had homework to do. So, I used helping me as a carrot to encourage her to focus on her schoolwork. It worked like a charm! As soon as she was done, she hopped on my lap and started helping me feed the fabric through the serger. She loves being part of my projects... especially when they're for her! :)

She's a great sewing helper... she keeps her hands back at a safe distance from the moving parts, enjoys removing the pins (when I use them) when it is time, and likes to snip the thread when I reach the end of a seam. The only difficulty to sewing with her is she likes to sit on my lap for a front row view of the sewing action. Have you ever sewn with a head in front of your face and arm that move around??? Not easy, but still worthwhile. I had fun working on the skirt with her and knowing she had a hand in making it makes the skirt that much more special.

With a little more practice, I think I could whip these skirts out quite quickly. Our girl will be quite the fashion statement this summer, let me tell you!

Anniks striking her modeling pose

Annika's skirt: up close and personal

Monday, March 10, 2014

Annika's Violin Recital

On Saturday, Annika had her second violin recital. She could hardly wait for it because this was the first time she would perform using her bow instead of plucking the notes on the strings. Her chosen piece was "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" and she did a great job!! On top of that she, once again, volunteered to be the first performer. She's one brave little soul!

To make things even more exciting, Eric's parents came down from Whidbey so they could go to the recital, too. I don't think the day could have gotten much better for Annika than that!

Oh wait ... there were cookies and lemonade after the performances were all done. NOW life is perfect! :)

Thursday, March 6, 2014

The Alin Advenshr

While at school, Annika authored a book called The Alin Advenshr (The Alien Adventure) and it is quite marvelous! I cannot truly describe how much I cherish this book, not to mention her telling of it.

Last night, I told the kids it was time to brush teeth and pick out stories for us to read. One of the books Annika picked out was The Alin Advenshr and she very excitedly read it to Conor and me. 

And now, ladies and gentlemen, the Olson Reading Room is proud to present Annika Olson reading from her latest creation: The Alin Advenshr. (insert applause here)

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Forget Whistle While You Work! Annika Boogies and Sings While She Works!

I recently asked Annika to clean her room. Not a huge task, but still one that most kids would prefer not doing. We talked about ways to make her job seem more fun, and she chose to listen to music... specifically, the Caspar Babypants Beatles cover album.

I peeked in her room after awhile to check on her progress. Much to my great entertainment, this is what I saw...

Monday, March 3, 2014

Tubing Fun at Snoqualmie Pass

Due to a race meet, Annika and Conor weren't scheduled to have swim lessons yesterday, so Eric and I decided to take them to Snoqualmie to go innertubing instead.

We pre-purchased our passes for the first session (there are a few two-hour sessions each weekend day to choose from ... a really impressive system, we had to say by the end of the experience!) The benefit of the sessions approach is the pass' tubing area is never overrun with people. The entire thing was well organized and all of the tubers were well mannered ... no crazy people running us over or anything. Can't complain about that!

The kids knew we were going on an adventure, but didn't know any of the details. As we got close to the mountains and started seeing snow, Annika began lamenting how she would LOVE to be able to play in so much snow. Eric and I glanced at each other and shared knowing looks/smirks. As we approached our exit, Eric announced that maybe we should pull the car over and just look at the snow from inside the car, because we didn't have our mittens... darn it! (smirk, smirk).  Soon after that, we announced that we really DID have our snow clothes and were going to play in the snow for a few hours. The kids were thrilled!

Gorgeous landscapes all around

Unfortunately, Conor's snow mittens were left at school Friday afternoon, so I dropped off Eric and the kids and then drove to the mail lodge to buy Conor some snow mittens. The up note was I got to use a real bathroom instead of the porta-potties that were at the tubing area. (Thank goodness for small blessings!) Considering how much snow was falling (the pass closed later in the day due to the large amount of falling snow), how wet we expected to get, and how windy it was, we know the knit gloves we got as a "at least we have these if we don't find anything up at the pass" in North Bend weren't going to cut it. We paid more than we would have liked, but Conor avoiding frostbite seemed the responsible thing to do. ;)

Annika waiting for our snowy adventure fun to get started
Soon enough, though, we were tromping through the snow toward the huge pile of innertubes.

Tube huntin'

Eric and his prize-winning tube

Conor in his tube

Annika ready to go!

We picked out two prime ones, loaded the kids into them, and then proceeded to hike up the hill.... mentally scoffing at the wimps who bothered to use the motorized tow line. About 2/3 of the way up the hill, amidst our huffing and puffing, we realized those people were really smart!! Dragging a tube filled with a 40-ish pound child up a rather steep slope was good exercise, but not the best choice for having our energy last for the full 2 hours. (Let's just say, we quickly adopted a love for the tow line!!)

Eric hauling Annika up the hill

Oh, bless you, inventors of the motoroized tow line!

We decided on a lane and buddied up on our tubes. Eric and Annika were on one tube while Conor and I shared another tube. Eric and Annika were off to the races. As they tubed down the hill, we could hear them whoop and "wooo hooooo" down the hill. As we approached the launching point, Conor told me he was "a little scared"; after reassuring him that I would be right there with him, he was willing to give tubing a try. After our trip down the hill, I asked him what he thought; he LOVED it and wanted his own tube... none of this "mom's slowing me down" nonsense.

Catching snowflakes
We made countless trips up (thank you, tow line) and down the hill. The kids had smiles that wouldn't stop ... in hindsight, it might have been more due to their faces having frozen that way than enjoyment, but we'll still take it!

My snowy selfie
Conor and Mama before our first run down the hill
Eric and me at the top of the hill

The Frozen Olsons
Annika zooming down the hill

Conor, speed tuber, going for the gold

Eric showing us how it is really done!

My turn!

During our last run, the kids decided they wanted to go first (instead of our usual parent, child, child, parent approach). We instructed them to get out of their tubes as soon as they stopped and to start pulling their tubes away from the lane. Annika did great, but got distracted with the snow (shocker). Conor did great, too, except for when he decided to walk toward me (mind you, I was flying down the hill on my tube by this point) instead of away from the tubing lane. As I propelled toward him, I frantically waved my arm and shouted for him to move out of the way. Oh, I wish I had a bird's eye view of the next second or two. I dug my toes into the snow to slow down, but wan't able to slow down enough to avoid colliding with Conor. I completely upended him ... very cartoon style! The only thing we were missing was the "Vwoop" sound as Conor's legs got pushed out from under him by my tube. Fortunately, he was fine! I asked him why he ran toward me instead of away. His reply? "I was sad that none of my family was there with me." I said, "But Annika was right behind you." "Oh. I didn't see her." Well, OK then. :)

Before we knew it, the tow line was shut off and it was time for our tubing adventure to end. Considering how much fun we'd had, I expected the kids to put up more of a fuss about having to leave, but I think fatigue, cold, and hunger overwhelmed the urge to pitch a fit about leaving. Personally, I felt like Donkey in the movie "Shrek" ... "Let's do THAT AGAIN!!"