Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Christmas Time 2021

I think the kids woke up at their earliest time yet - 7:45. They waited semi-patiently for Ryan and I to get up and ready then we headed down for stockings.




They're just blurs as they run down the stairs to Christmas morning. Ryan opted for our fireplace this year to be from The Witcher. And we did manage to get our Christmas grapefruit! It was touch and go there for a bit as they arrived in Seattle and then went to Renton, Kent, and Auburn - gradually further away - before finally being delivered several days after it was initially estimated to arrive. I'd had another package that had come from Virginia, supposedly be out for delivery in Seattle but never arrive, and then get sent all the way back to Virginia inexplicably, so I was pretty anxious while my grapefruit was so close yet getting further away every day.


We'd thought we might get a white Christmas, but as you can see from the yard here, we didn't. 

Daniel joined us for part of the day, so we added a gluten-free breakfast bake to our usual breakfast bake. And he discovered that grapefruit is delicious and why we are obsessed with our Christmas grapefruit tradition.

Ryan received a bidet attachment and we all got a laugh from the many stool jokes included in the packaging/instructions.


He also got a coffee sampling box!

Many delightful gifts later (G got lots of D&D stuff that they were excited about, M got a mix of things, but all hitting on everything he'd wanted - hiking gear, nerf, light sabers, book series he likes, etc) we finished up and set about enjoying the rest of the day. I'm a fan of Christmas on the weekend since it meant guaranteed Christmas Eve off for me plus the day after Christmas as well. I've so far avoided having to work Christmas day or weekend - I'm sure it'll happen eventually but I'm just hoping to push it off until the kids are older.

Ryan has made one batch of toffee and needs to make another. We still haven't done any of our usual cookie baking, but maybe now that I'm off work the next few days that will happen.

We woke up to 3-4 inches of snow the next morning and got at least a couple more inches through the day. We did our part to keep the sidewalk clear. We also put faucet covers on our outdoor spigots for the first time ever given our predicted overnight lows of 10-15 degrees. I can't wait to get back to 40 degrees and rainy, but that's a little ways off still.


Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Christmas Prep

We've had fun preparing for the holidays. Haven't managed any baking just yet, but hopefully in the next couple days.

Started by clearing some space in the living room and set up the advent box on the small table.


I got a tea advent to try out this year and it's been a lot of fun to sample all the different flavors.

And see the pretty colors of the various herbs and flowers added to the teas!

M isn't a big tea drinker, but enjoyed the cinnamon spice rooibos tea. They curled up on the couch with their tea and a blanket and declared "Fridays are the perfect day to unwind and drink tea!" and then patted the couch and told me to sit. That was...unexpected. This was followed with "Sundays are when you wind up...to the max!"

We also got a new Lego advent set this year - Harry Potter!

As usual, we waited until mid-month to get our tree. I was worried it was a little tall, but it fit perfectly!


And we even managed to get it decorated the same day. Now we have some advent presents from Gram sitting under the tree, conveniently close to the advent box.

I've asked the kids to start on some cookies, but they haven't yet, preferring to play video games. Hopefully they (and Ryan) can find some time for that the next couple days!

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

The Yard

Midway through the year plus of everyone being home together all the time, we were really starting to feel the itch of our house just not being large enough for this. I knew we couldn't afford to add on or anything right away, but needed to stop my brain spinning on it with some hard numbers, so reached out to a local architect dad. And the $600,000-800,000 guesstimate for a modest addition quickly put a stop to any spinning of any sort, likely forever. We were pretty discouraged by that for a few days, but we've since decided that our goal will just be to make the space we do have work for us as best as possible. And that includes the outdoor space, which will be expensive to transform, but not 600-800k expensive.

I'd already found a landscape designer that I thought I wanted to work with and just hadn't called them yet, so went ahead and reached out. The initial visit was essentially "I don't really know what I want, it's all a very blank slate and overwhelming me. Except I do know I hate everything that's currently here. Oh, and I'm thinking a fence at the front with espaliered fruit trees and we must have blueberries and gooseberries and (contained) raspberries and strawberries and maybe some rhubarb. And I adore front porches, so maybe we rip out all these bushes and make one of those?" 

And now, several months later, we've got some initial proposals and have started by tearing out most of the hated things. I'm realizing I should've had them remove the awkward cherry tree while they were at it, but that's okay. It can wait for another phase of the project.

One proposal:

The second one isn't all colorful, but has more details about the plantings. The other proposal:


Our next job is to look the proposed plans over and decide what we want to do - we can mix and match between the two plans - and then the designer will put together a final plan based on our discussion.

Start of demo progress - removing the hated bushes and blackberries near the street

Front yard all done

Side yard

I can't remember the last time I could actually see the bricks here. Of course, they'll all get torn out eventually anyway. 

And this has just been a super thick bed of pine needles for the past 2+ years

I showed the kids the plans last night and they're very excited. I had to keep reminding them - partly to remind myself as well - that this will be a slow project and likely take several years to implement.

Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Winter Grand Prix 2021-22

After a hiatus last year for covid, Winter Grand Prix is back on this year. They did hold a virtual version last year where you ran all the races yourself, but we didn't realize they were doing that, and probably wouldn't have had the activation energy required to make it happen if we had. Anyway. G signed up again, of course. And M asked to sign up as well! Come Saturday morning when I woke them up at 7:30, M was no longer certain they wanted to do this. But in the end the three of us piled into the car to head to Magnuson. 

It was really cold and drizzly and there was a longer line than we expected for registration, so that wasn't so fun. The race started a little late, but once we got M registered I left M and G to warm up for the race and headed to the car to stay warm and drink my tea! Some parents run with their kids, but I'm not those parents. I do need to up my snack game for the next race though - need to plan ahead and have hot chocolate and scones or something for the kids to have afterward.

As the race started I did get out of the car to grab pictures of the kids and was a little worried when I didn't see M for a long time. But finally found them, carefully jumping around the puddles that were everywhere rather than running through them.


There they are, lap one! Shortly after I took this photo, they stopped to walk, but did start up running again after a few seconds of rest. But I was still a little worried they'd drop out entirely...


But they didn't! G finished up and then waited for M to come around to the where we could see them and then went to run with M to encourage him along the rest of the way. Serious heart melting happening on my part (and cross-country gratitude for the overall supportiveness and team encouragement they learn there!). Here they are coming to the finish:

Seriously so proud of M for just finishing. Especially given how gross the weather was. So much colder than it usually is this time of year. No idea if he'll stick it out for the whole series or not - might try to get them some better winter running gear so that at least they can be a little more comfortable! If you want to follow along, they'll post the results here, usually takes a few days to get each set of results up. 

Friday, November 26, 2021

Pavlova

Last year I realized that a holiday where you make a giant meal and then have a ton of dishes to clean right in the middle of the workweek is stupid. So this year we are pushing our big meal to the weekend. But that meant we had Thursday free and needed an activity, so we brushed off our list of bakes we want to try.

I think I made some meringue once before, for a food science class. I can't remember what I did with said meringue - I don't think I had time to make anything out of it, so it probably just went into the compost. Several of the bakes we want to try involve meringue, so we decided to start with one that seemed not too difficult - the pavlova!

We couldn't find superfine sugar at our grocery store, so we used the food processor to turn our granulated sugar into slightly more fine sugar. 

While G was working on that, M decided to put on an apron. 

G went to get one too, but discovered that M had taken what was G's apron (but fits M better now I'm sure) and the one left in the drawer was M's old apron, so that clearly wasn't going to work! It was a little debatable if he could even get his head through the loop.

After sorting out the aprons (giving Ryan's apron to G to use), we whisked up our egg whites with cream of tartar before starting to slowly add the sugar/cornstarch. The kids helped a lot with the sugar adding, trying to do this step slowly. I think we didn't wait quite long enough between adding each spoonful, because at the end the sugar wasn't fully dissolved. I let the mixer run longer, which helped some but I was also not sure if this was the kind of thing you can overbeat and was getting nervous about that, so eventually we just decided to go for it.

They made pavlovas on GBBO this season and some people piped while others just spooned the egg whites onto their sheet and then shaped it. We opted for the latter for our first one, partly because this seems a little more traditional.

Once you put it in the oven it's a waiting game. It cooks at a low temperature for about an hour and then is supposed to cool in the oven for 1 hour to overnight. We didn't want to wait overnight for this, so gave it a couple hours of cooling time.

I was pretty worried it would be weepy given how I could feel the sugar in the mixture still, but it wasn't! The center did sink some with cooling - can't remember if that is related to not having cooked quite enough vs the sugar not being thoroughly incorporated issue. 


But we weren't overly concerned with that. We made up some whipped cream to pile on top and decorated it with fruit and then dug in! 


Verdict: delicious, but very sweet. Next time we do this we're thinking of using something tart to cut the sweetness. You got some of that from the kiwi and the raspberries, but a lemon curd would probably be more effective. Or maybe something a little more on the savory side, like nuts. We'll have to look around for ideas. Overall, not an extremely difficult bake and will taste and look good even if it doesn't turn out perfectly. Moderately time consuming, though most of it is inactive time while baking and cooling the pavlova.

Saturday, November 20, 2021

Fall Concert

We attended G's first orchestra concert of the year a couple weeks ago. His teacher kept forgetting to give us vital information, like what concert dress was or when the kids needed to show up - communication around my orchestra's first concert was also a little rough. It's been a long time since we've all done this and clearly we're a bit rusty.

He and I got to spend a couple hours in mall hell trying to find concert black clothes at the last minute. There were a shocking number of people there and I can't imagine how terrible it will be over the holidays. Our nearby mall is closed for redevelopment and the next closest one doesn't really have department store staples. Also, athleisure is a terrible fashion trend if you're hoping to find concert black. We had to stick to the men's sections for everything because the teen sections were always just sweatpants/shirts. Gap had black pants but no black button-downs. J. Crew had tons of button downs, but none in black (we came across a family desperately looking for a white one who finally found it there and then were just hoping it would fit). Banana Republic also had no black shirts. We grabbed a nice black sweater there just in case we couldn't find a shirt anywhere. The shoes were the priciest bit, but also the easiest because we walked into the store, found the 3 dressy type black shoes that they had, picked the least expensive (but still expensive, ugh), they had them in his size and we were out of there. I finally remembered that we have a Men's Wearhouse near us, so we headed back there. Even there, the black shirts were slim pickings and we had to settle for something that's a little big. He really needs a belt to complete the ensemble, but everything I saw everywhere was going to be too big. It was a relief to finally have everything found, just frustrating that we hadn't had the information we needed earlier.

I'm pretty sure the seats in the auditorium are the originals from when the school was built in 1959. The concert hadn't even started yet and I was wondering how much money would need to be raised to replace them. Pretty sure my body is never going to forgive me for the hour and a half I spent sitting there...and we have 4 years worth of concerts to get through!


We encouraged Gareth to try out for the chamber orchestra just for the experience. We knew he wouldn't get in, but thought experiencing an audition would be good for him. He didn't get into chamber orchestra, but his teacher made him principal second violin in his orchestra, so he was glad he tried out. The two orchestras play some combined pieces and she told him to play first in the combined group so he gets to practice some more technical parts as well.

Both groups sounded a little rough as they started, but improved as they got going. Again, it's been a couple years since the kids have been able to actually play in person together, so not surprising. It was a good start for a fall concert.

Tuesday, November 2, 2021

Halloween Activities

We revived our Bob's Pumpkin Farm and Corn Maze tradition this year, after a hiatus last year due to the pandemic. The slides were popular again (even with the teen):



This year they had multiple large tires stuck in the ground - G enjoyed running across them and leaping from one section to another. They almost injured themselves a few times on the larger leaps, which made me a little nervous since cross-country was still ongoing.


M had to get a new shot of the "oh no! I'm being roasted!" picture. They were puzzled by why anyone would smile in this particular cutout:


Made it through the maze and chose some pumpkins!

Auntie Karla sent us some stunning Halloween cookies (M's favorite was the stay-puft marshmallow man):


We invited D'Emily over for a pumpkin beer/cider tasting evening as well as fall foods and a viewing of Arsenic and Old Lace. Emily hasn't seen nearly enough classic movies, so I'm trying to remedy this. The menu was porcini and wild rice soup, butternut squash gratin, and pumpkin scones - all gluten free and vegetarian or vegan and all delicious. Was going to make cornbread as well, but weirdly couldn't find any certified gluten free corn meal - boo to our local stores for not having that.


The kids finally carved their pumpkins on Halloween morning, while I was at a concert. We weren't on top of costumes, so they ended up not going out. And weirdly we only got 6 trick-or-treaters coming to our door (usually it's more like 30-50). The kids seemed happy enough to eat our extra candy and play Borderlands instead, so it all worked out!