Thursday, December 26, 2013

Christmas 2013

We had a good Christmas this year. Christmas Eve is when we usually have our big dinner, but I forgot to put the ham in the fridge to thaw on Saturday, so we had to save the big dinner for Christmas Day. We had chicken bisque instead, which is delicious and was enjoyed by all. After we got Malcolm to bed the rest of us settled in to watch George C. Scott's "A Christmas Carol", which took much longer than it should have because Ryan wasn't happy with the picture and was trying to figure out how to get it to show properly on the TV so we'd get the whole picture with nothing smushed or stretched (he never found anything that worked), so it was quite late before Gareth was in bed.

I'd anticipated much crying from Malcolm through Christmas Day, but he ended up napping through most of it (though he was pretty grumpy/whiny for the time he was awake), so the rest of us were able to enjoy our Christmas in peace. I'm sure Malcolm will be a more pleasant Christmas companion next year.

Gareth woke up about 7:45, just after I got up. Since he was up, I let him play video games downstairs in order to distract him from his excitement and temptation to peek into the living room while I got ready for the day and couldn't supervise him.

After doing that I got breakfast in the oven then got Malcolm dressed while Ryan showered. The boys and I hung out in our room until Ryan was ready. It was about 9:30 before we headed out to the tree. Malcolm was rather nonplussed by it all. He happily sat on the couch for a bit while stockings were opened. He was excited to have a clementine in his and, being way past normal breakfast-time, asked to eat it. Gareth found a monster popper in his stocking, which was a big hit. Ryan and Malcolm each had one as well, and it has been one of Malcolm's favorite things. He really likes carrying around the eyeballs and will happily chase them down if someone else will shoot them out of his monster for him. Gareth also received his long-desired pedometer.

After stockings we ate breakfast (grapefruit, blueberry breakfast bake, and bacon), then headed back for the presents under the tree. Malcolm lost it shortly thereafter and so he went down for a nap a bit early while the rest of us opened gifts. Ryan's big gift this year was a Kindle. He'll be getting through books much more quickly now that he'll easily be able to read on his commute. Mine was a Wusthof Classic Ikon chef's knife. I already have good knives, but have decided that having two chef's knives would be useful. We also got the last of our big camping needs (sleeping bags and pads for Ryan and myself - these would've been purchased anyway, but I got them in mid-December and figured it'd be fun to stick them under the tree).

Gareth got a lego storage crate and a lego set that he'd wanted, as well as an Optimus Prime transformer and some board games (I was so, so tired of Candyland, so hooray for Clue!), a yo-yo, and books.

Malcolm didn't need much, so we just got him a few cars. He also got some books, some duplos, and a camping chair from other family members.

A family membership to the Burke Museum will provide us with some fun outings throughout the year.  By early afternoon we'd finished, except for Malcolm's gifts. The rest of the afternoon was spent relaxing and watching Elf while the ham cooked. We enjoyed our Christmas dinner (well, most of us did; Malcolm disliked it as much as he did Thanksgiving, despite it being all things he usually likes), then spent more time with new toys before chatting with Ryan's family and heading to bed.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Frozen and Carols

We try our best to make Christmas a memorable time for the kids - something that they'll think fondly of when they're grown. So we travel to go cut down a tree and have all the little gifts across the mantle for the days leading up to Christmas and we bake and have certain movies we only watch at Christmas-time and we have grapefruit and on and on.

One thing we started last year was to take Gareth to a movie. Obviously we'll start to include Malcolm once he's old enough to sit through a movie in a theatre. Right now he makes it about 5 minutes. Yesterday we left Malcolm with some friends and took Gareth to see Frozen. Pretty good, a little cheesy, as many Disney movies are. But it was nice how they broke some Disney stereotypes a little bit. Gareth said it was "awesome" and couldn't pick a favorite part. He did note that he was confused by why the sword broke against the ice at the end though, because metal should be stronger than ice. After the movie we stopped at Five Guys for burgers and fries to take home with us. Since movies in the theatre and fast food are both things we never do, they make for a pretty exciting outing.

And tonight we went to a carol sing-along that my teacher was putting on. I didn't play, because we had the kids and I knew Malcolm would be wiggly. Malcolm enjoyed watching the band play some pieces and then when we started singing carols every time I tried to sing he'd turn his head to me, frown, shake his head "no" and cover my mouth. Apparently he's not a fan of singing. Or at least not my singing, though I don't think my voice is that bad. He made it quite a while - 15 minutes maybe - before he was ready to be wandering. So I wandered the building with him while Ryan and Gareth stayed and listened to the singing/playing. I'm not sure how much they sang, but Gareth was happy to follow along with the words at least. And then Gareth was very excited for the treats afterward - cookies and fruit and marshmallows to dip in a chocolate fountain. Malcolm had sampled some cookies while wandering and managed to sneak one more before we left.

Real Haircut

I wasn't anticipating getting Malcolm a real haircut so soon, but we had the car in for an oil change and there was a kid's haircut place a few blocks away, so we walked down there. And ended up needing an appointment, but since I was there decided to go ahead and make an appointment for the same afternoon.

Of course, Malcolm refused to nap this afternoon, though he was still in a remarkably good mood while driving there. But that all changed as soon as the woman cutting his hair picked him up. This is a kids oriented place, so they even have cars for the littlest ones to sit in, but that wasn't enough to calm Malcolm. So he cried through the whole thing, just like Gareth had through his first cut. I'm guessing that after a few cuts it'll start to go better. And luckily the hairstylists are used to such crying since the place is specifically geared toward kids, so she (and everyone else there) was completely unfazed.



Side view to show off his curls

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

After School

I love this picture my friend snapped of our sons playing after school a couple days ago. The joy in their eyes, the toothless grins, all of it.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Tree Pics

We'll be done putting our tree together one of these days. We put it up Monday night, after Malcolm was in bed. Gareth helped with setting the branches free.

Then we did his advent present and sent him to bed while I did the lights. I finally purchased some multi-colored lights this year, because I knew Gareth really, really wanted them. I loved the colored ones as a kid to, so I guess this is the route we'll be going for a few years. I'd purchased 500 lights, but didn't have enough, so ran out and bought a couple more boxes in order to get it all done Monday night.

Malcolm had missed the whole setup, so he was in awe when he came out to the living room in the morning. It took him quite a while to get brave enough to try and touch the lights or tree, but now he's past his awe/fear/wonder and every time he's in the living room will try to touch the tree. So we get to spend the next couple of weeks keeping him away I guess. At least he's being fairly gentle still. I'm interested to see what happens when the ornaments go on. It'll be a bit top-heavy on the ornaments this year as we'll try to keep most of them out of his reach.

Gareth really wanted to do the ornaments Tuesday night, but I'd decided I should spend a little time studying for my Chem final the next day. And I had rehearsal Wednesday night, Ryan goes to the gym Thursday night and we have a work party for Ryan and a friend's party for the rest of us Friday night. Saturday it is, I guess. I'm rather enjoying a few days of just the tree and lights though, and a bit of anticipation won't kill Gareth.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Tree Farm

Last year we went to Carnation Tree Farm for our tree, which was a very nice tree that we enjoyed. We had a Grand Fir because that was the only kind of tree they had a decent selection of. I decided we'd go ahead and go there again, because it was familiar and the tree was a nice tree.

Well, we finally rolled ourselves out of bed this morning (Ryan and I were out late last night) and got everyone ready and tried (unsuccessfully) to have Malcolm nap before we left. Luckily I took another look at the farm's website before we left because it turns out their Grand Fir field isn't open at all this year and they were only selling a select few of all their others. It was really quite ridiculous. Thankfully a fellow clarinetist had told me last year which farm her family always goes to, so I called them up to make sure they were open and had trees left.

It's a bit of a drive out to Reade's Christmas Tree Ranch, about an hour, but it was worth it. This place was larger than Carnation Tree Farm, with much better selection of every kind of tree they sell. The family that owns it was very friendly and helpful. It reminded me of where we went when I was a kid much more than the Carnation farm.

Malcolm fell asleep on the way there, waking up just a we parked. He got to ride in the Ergo, which he wasn't always so thrilled about. We headed over to the Grand Firs, but couldn't help but be drawn to the Noble Firs, despite the fact that they're more expensive. The Nobles look like their branches are sturdier than the Grand Firs and the Grand Firs often have really long needles - we'd just managed to find one last year that didn't have crazy long needles. In the end we went with the Noble since that's what we all seemed to like. As the kids get older I think I'd like to look at more of the varieties though, just to see if there's anything else we might like as well that we're just not familiar with right now. But at the moment the kids, especially Malcolm, just don't have the patience for that.

It's been unusually cold here (below freezing for a whole week now, which almost never happens here), so we're letting our tree hang out in some water in the garage overnight so it doesn't die of shock when it comes into our warm house. Pictures will come tomorrow after we get it set up (hopefully that happens tomorrow). I'm a little worried about Malcolm trying to pull the tree over, but he did get annoyed by the needles scratching him while I helped Ryan carry the tree, so here's hoping that was enough to make him decide to stay far, far away from the tree this year.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Another Quarter Down

Today was my last day of class for the quarter. I have one final next week, so I do have some studying to do over the next few days, but am starting to be able to relax a bit and spend more time thinking about the holidays without feeling guilty because I should be working. End-of-quarter apathy started to set in about three weeks ago, so it's a good thing we've reached the end.

My Developmental Psychology instructor did everything in his power to make the class as easy as imaginably possible. We didn't even have to read the text, had no projects (aside from raising a virtual child and living our own life virtually) and all exams were multiple choice, and very easy multiple choice at that. Yet some students still tried to argue points and whatnot, which is especially ridiculous considering he made it very clear at the beginning of the quarter that he wasn't willing to argue points on the exams. I'm not sure how useful this class will be for me in the long run, so I was rather glad it was extra easy. But it also made it somewhat less interesting to have it be so incredibly easy. Or maybe it was that it was only an hour class and I've become accustomed to two hour classes where you can have much more in-depth conversation about the material. I can't quite put my finger on what left me feeling dissatisfied with the course. I mean, the instructor has been teaching there for ages and is a nice guy and seems to really know his stuff and did a good job of making sure we were all understanding the material. But it all just felt lacking somehow. At least I made a friend in the class. We've talked about getting our kids together at some point - we'll see if it happens or not.

General Chemistry was more intense. Four days per week, two hours each day. New instructor, so some things about the course were a bit unrefined as he was figuring out how everything works at the college. I made some friends in this class as well, which is particularly nice since we'll all be moving on to the second part of General Chem together. The first couple chapters we covered here were things I covered in high school. Not that I actually remembered them or learned them well then (I had two years of inexperienced/horrible chemistry teachers in high school). But at least the concepts weren't entirely foreign. And while some of the other chapters had a lot of information, when you got right down to it none of them were terribly difficult. 

I had to wonder if most of the class was bothering to read the text or not. I have a feeling they weren't, because many of them seemed to have difficulty grasping even the simplest of concepts. Concepts that were explained quite clearly in the text (or so I thought). And then explained and re-explained multiple times by our kind teacher, who really seemed to want everyone to understand. Which I appreciated, except that it meant we got behind schedule and didn't finish all the material we should have this quarter. We did make it halfway through the last chapter to be covered, but now I get to teach myself the last half of that chapter and hope it's not too terribly important as we move on through chemistry (molecular orbital theory and stuff about bonding in solids). I try to keep in mind that at some point I might be the horribly confused person who just doesn't get what everyone else thinks is so simple. Hopefully those who were struggling so much don't have to take much more chemistry for what they want to do.

One good thing this quarter was having early classes. Chem was at 8am, so I'd drop the boys off at our friend's place at 7:30 where they'd eat breakfast and play and then Gareth and his daughter would go to school (they're in the same class) and I'd pick up Malcolm after I finished at 11. Or on my short days Ryan would get the boys ready and Gareth to school before I got home just after 10. Since Malcolm's mostly given up morning naps (occasionally he'll take one at Colin's house for about 30 minutes), this schedule worked nicely because I could get a bit done with him after coming home, feed him lunch, put him down for a nap, and then have 2-3 hours to practice or do schoolwork or whatnot around the house. He usually wakes up just in time for us to pick up Gareth from school. Malcolm struggled going to Colin's house last quarter, but he adores Colin now. He even gets to ride on Colin's bike sometimes and really loves that. And Gareth and Colin's daughter enjoy playing together before school. Unfortunately, my schedule will be one hour later next quarter - Nutrition at 9, followed by two hours of Chem at 10. At least I won't have to feel badly about waking the boys up at 7am anymore, but they won't have as much playtime at Colin's before school and I think they'll miss that.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

First Haircut

A couple weeks ago we finally succumbed to the nastiness that was Malcolm's hair after he had a cold, gave his hair a good washing and cut the bangs. I don't dare touch the rest. He was wiggly enough for the front that there was no way it was ending up even. Since his hair is wavy the unevenness isn't too noticeable and at least now it's out of his face.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Thanksgiving 2013

No big trips or plans for us this year, we enjoyed a quiet Thanksgiving at home. Our oven has a bad track record where whole birds are concerned, so I attempted just the turkey breast this year. That went so much better than my previous whole bird attempts. Ryan just noticed it was much smaller than the turkeys he's used to seeing, so assumed I'd made chicken. Our meal was almost over before he realized it actually was turkey. Ryan and I don't usually eat much of the dark meat anyway, so just doing up a breast makes so much more sense for us, and it still made sufficient leftovers for a few days. I wasn't sure how much it'd make, so I bought two breasts and cooked the second one today. So now we've got a bit of turkey meat in the freezer for later use.

I'd made pumpkin pie the night before and had purchased rolls. Mashed potatoes and stuffing are super-easy to make while the turkey is cooking, so it really was a relaxing day. I even got some post-labs done and practicing in. Gareth was excited because I'd promised him months ago that he could use a wine glass on Thanksgiving and Christmas. We purchased a special drink for him - sparkling pear juice. I remember how cool I thought it was the first time my mom trusted us to use her crystal and I'm guessing Gareth felt much the same, though obviously breaking a wine glass wouldn't be nearly as costly as breaking a crystal glass. But he doesn't know that.

Malcolm didn't enjoy the meal much - he happily ate about 3 bites of turkey, 2 bites of stuffing, and 1 bite of potato before deciding it was all disgusting and spitting out every bite thereafter. He was much happier spending some quiet time in his crib while the rest of us ate. Maybe in a few years he'll grow to enjoy the Thanksgiving meal more.

We don't have any Thanksgiving traditions yet, so the meal was it for us. But I've appreciated the small break before I head into the last week of the quarter and the busy holiday season starting Sunday.

Monday, November 4, 2013


Malcolm's hit the stage where he doesn't have very many words he can say but has very definite ideas about what he does and does not want and it's becoming frustrating to him (and me!) that he can't express those ideas. I hadn't been sure how much to worry about his lack of words when he clearly wasn't meeting the "expected" marks at the past couple doctor's visits (except that the doctor herself didn't seem too worried about that and I swear they're asking all the same questions I got asked with Gareth except they ask them one visit earlier, which at this point amounts to 3-6 months earlier). He had a whole slew of sound effects that he'd learned from Gareth - he'd even started saying some things like "ai-uken!" after Gareth ran around one night pretending he was playing Streetfighter IV and shouting "shaiuken" or whatever it is they say over and over and over - but not much where actual words were concerned.

Anyway, up until the last couple days he's pretty solidly stuck with just a couple regular words and a few others that you might eek out of him once every month or so. "uh-oh" and "peek-a-boo" were the regulars, along with "daddy" (though this is often used for random things that are definitely not daddy). "Shoes" joined the regulars a couple weeks ago. "Ball", "hi", "nose", and what I assumed was "baby" had come and then gone again and now "ball" seems to have come back.

In the last week he seems to be blossoming in the language area. We've added "woof", first to refer to a specific toy and now he'll say it almost every time he sees a dog. He'll say "hoo, hoo" when playing with a toy owl. I've had a couple times where he's said "boopy" to mean "poopy" and walked me to his room so I can change his diaper (dare I hope this is a good indicator for our potty-training future?). "Ow" has become his generic "I am displeased with what is happening" word and yesterday he even said "bye" to Ryan. "Daddy" also refers to me and whenever I'm chasing him down he'll try to imitate me saying "I got you". Today at lunch he even managed a successful "apple", so that will likely join the regular vocab here pretty soon. He was starting to throw quite a few tantrums, so I'm hopeful that the new language development will help to stem some of that as he discovers that he can use more than just fire truck/car/monster/explosion sounds to express himself!

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Halloween 2013

Halloween was quite successful here this year. We, once again, didn't get honey popcorn made, but we did manage to carve one pumpkin (we still have one waiting to be carved) and I got costumes done in time for both boys, I was able to "help" (mostly I just chased Malcolm around) at Gareth's school Halloween party and we took both boys out trick-or-treating.

Gareth was interested in a Mario costume last year, but I didn't want to buy something that I could so easily make myself, so I suggested we do Mario this year instead. I found a simple pattern for the overalls here and an equally simple pattern for the hat here. Had a couple stressful days when I thought the hat pattern was way too small. But it turned out that it had simply printed as though it was a 4x6 picture rather than a full page. Once Ryan re-printed the pattern the right size they went together super quickly. Knowing Malcolm wouldn't tolerate a mustache or gloves (heck, he wouldn't even keep the hat on), we opted to dub him "baby Mario" and Gareth was big Mario.

The pumpkin is, as usual, of Gareth's design. Maybe in a year or two we'll let him start helping with the actual carving. He did quite well as scooping out the goop this year, and then he removed the seeds from the goop while Ryan and I carved. Once he tired of seed removal he had fun stabbing the portions of the pumpkin we'd already cut away.

Gareth's class held their party at the end of the day, so I was actually able to attend. They played some games, had huge cupcakes with a ridiculous amount of frosting on them (which they proceeded to decorate further with candy) and got to show off their costumes to their class. Gareth had a good time, as did Malcolm.

Malcolm loves the stuffed animals in the classroom, particularly this pink bear. I think it's a bear. Maybe it's a pig. Whatever it is, it's usually the first one he goes for every time.

Juicebox heaven. First time having a juicebox and popcorn. He was a very happy camper.

Baby Mario:

We only let Malcolm do a few houses before bringing him back home. He mostly enjoyed being allowed to run free along the sidewalk. He did go up to a couple of houses and melted the hearts of one couple when, after they gave him some candy, he tried to hand them a Twix bar still in his hand from the previous house. He was in a very happy mood on the way home.

Gareth, with his haul. You can't tell very well, but I cut the scalloped shape in the mustache. It was a bit wide, so he ended up with some fuzzy stuff in his mouth, but he survived. He got several pounds of candy, I'm sure (we haven't weighed it, but it fills our largest mixing bowl). Gareth enjoyed running around with his gang of friends and declared it the "best Halloween ever!" before going to bed.

Final Soccer Game

Last weekend, while I was playing at Benaroya, Gareth had his final soccer game of the season. One of his best friends was on the opposing team, so we arranged for them to pick Gareth up and take him to the game and to his team's end of season celebration afterward.

Of course, the one week that I'm not there is the week he scores his first ever goal in a game. And he didn't even bother to tell me about it when he came home! I have a feeling that if I'd been at the game he would've been super-excited about that goal in the moment, but I guess all the ice cream and arcade games and playing at his friend's house afterward overshadowed the goal or something.

His coaches came up with certificates for everyone and here's what Gareth got:

Yup, his coaches along with just about everyone else were pretty shocked when he showed up with his hair cut. It seems to have been a good season - despite tears of frustration at times, Gareth usually enjoyed himself, the coaches were great with the kids and Gareth is already talking about trying to play on the same team as his friend next year.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Benaroya Hall

As most of you know, I play with the Seattle Philharmonic, a local community orchestra. The group has played their concerts at UW's Meany Hall for decades and were disappointed to learn last spring that the university had decided that no non-UW groups would be permitted to use the hall while UW is in session. We learned this rather last minute, after our date requests had already been submitted for this season. We were able to work our last two concerts into their spring break and after they're out for the summer, but the first two needed to move elsewhere. Apparently (I really have no idea what options are available around here), the only other viable option that would give us a hall as good as or better (in this case better) than Meany Hall would be to use Benaroya Hall (where the Seattle Symphony plays).

I have yet to make it to a Symphony concert (or any other program held at Benaroya), so I'd never been to the hall at all. Yesterday was our first concert there and it was pretty awesome. I was a little nervous - mostly that everyone else would get nervous and the whole thing would flop. There was some pressure on us all as Benaroya costs our orchestra significantly more than Meany does. We needed this concert to go really well so that people would want to come back and hear us again. And we needed to sell a lot of tickets to this concert to be able to pay for it.

In the end we had about 1500 tickets sold, pretty well filling the floor and the first tier, and I believe more tickets than we typically sell when we play at Meany. We weren't even planning on opening up any of the tiers initially, so we were pretty excited when the people at Benaroya asked if we could. And it was a perfect pre-Halloween concert. Rachmaninoff's Isle of the Dead, Hermann's Concerto Macabre from "Hangover Square" (a pretty decent film actually and the concerto itself is really awesome), Liszt's Totentanz, Chopin's Funeral March (orchestrated by Elgar), and Mussorgsky's Night on Bald Mountain (the Stokowski/Fantasia version), with Gounod's Funeral March of the Marionette for an encore. The piano solos were superb and I really liked the Rachmaninoff. Not everything went perfectly - to be expected when you're playing in a hall you've never played in before and everyone's still getting used to it, but overall it went really well. When people made mistakes they seemed to cover them pretty well, and the audience seemed to really enjoy it. I think it'd be fun to do a Halloween-themed concert every fall - there's plenty of death-themed music out there, so it wouldn't be too hard to come up with different programs each year.

A good way to start out the season - hopefully our Scheherazade-themed concert in January goes as well or better!

Monday, October 14, 2013

Soccer Shots

 Gareth, trying to kick a ball around.

It may look like he just kicked the ball, but I'm pretty sure that's not the case. This is how he typically spends a good portion of the game - playing in his imaginary video game world, semi-oblivious to what's happening around him:

He's actually come really close to scoring a couple of goals this year, but it seems we've spent enough time getting him to keep the ball close/dribble rather than just kick it as hard as he can so now he's not willing to give a hard kick, even when the goal is wide open just a foot away. Trying to dribble the ball all the way into the goal usually means the other team catches up to him and gets the ball away just before he gets it into the goal.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

18 Month Malcolm

Malcolm's hit a year and a half and he's pretty dang cute, if I do say so myself. He's getting into absolutely everything - the kitchen is a minefield of various kitchen utensils by the time dinner's ready each evening, and as more and more shelves are within his reach we're having a harder time keeping paper books and various older-child toys out of his hands. Thankfully he's getting better about not putting things in his mouth, but he's still not great about it. If only I had a nickel for every time someone told me, "Your baby's got wood chips in his mouth" at a playground....

He loves walking the halls at Gareth's school and going on walks down our street. He has a strong desire to explore the road and screams at you when you stop him from walking into it. He will occasionally try to say words after you say them, things like "shoes" or "ball". He says daddy, and sometimes even uses it to mean daddy. I've also heard an occasional "baby" or "baby boy". Otherwise, we're still stuck on "uh-oh" and "peek-a-boo".

All his molars and eye teeth decided to come in at the same time and I think we've finally got them all poking through at least a little bit. He likes to point you in the direction he'd like you to carry him or point at what he'd like. And he really loves balls. He's pretty good at throwing them, for a baby, and enjoyed kicking around some soccer balls at Gareth's game last weekend. He'll try most foods pretty easily and usually likes them. He loves sweets and we've realized it's best just to never give them to him because he will throw a huge fit if he doesn't get more. He doesn't like milk, but loves it if you blend it with banana and mango.

Everyone at the pediatrician's office loved his overalls. He's not as calm about his doctor's visits as Gareth always was - he doesn't like the doctor touching him and gets very upset if I put him down on the exam table with the crinkly paper. But he loves it when he's left in the room with just me and is able to explore everything. His height/weight percentiles have kept pretty steady at 50/20. He's now 32.5 inches tall and just over 22 pounds.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Who Is This Stranger?

Now that school pictures are out of the way, I finally broke down and scheduled a haircut for Gareth:

I'm still having a bit of a hard time recognizing him with short hair. It's like some other body came and took over Gareth's mannerisms and voice. He's still a little surprised by it being short himself. A couple weeks ago he said he wanted a mohawk, but I told him that'll have to wait until he's able to be completely responsible for his hair himself - we don't even bother to brush it most mornings, we're certainly not going to maintain a mohawk! It'll be nice for him to not have hair in his face anymore (and for me to not have to listen to complaints about that), and so far he seems very happy with the short cut.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Reading As A Chore

At Gareth's school they send book bags home with the kids - Ziploc bags with some books and a reading log in them. They use the letters A-Z to help guide the kids to books that are "just right" for them. Last year this whole system was pretty relaxed. Using the bags wasn't required and the log was mostly for the parents' benefit, to help them remember what books their kids had already checked out from the class library. Ryan and I completely ignored the A-Z levels, because we feel we read because it's fun, not to make sure our kid moves from one level to another during the year.

Gareth came home with his bag at the end of last week and, so far as I can tell, it works similarly to last year, except that the kids are supposed to read their books for twenty minutes each day, logging the minutes as well as the book, level, author, etc. And that it's technically their homework. After just a couple days I've decided I don't like this. I can see how it'd be helpful for some kids who don't like to read or parents who want some help carving out time to read with their kids, and even for the teachers because I'm more likely to remember to fill out the log this way. But I'm worried that for Gareth it'll eventually turn reading into a chore rather than a fun activity. Already, after just a few days, the focus with the books from school is not enjoying the story but getting the minutes done. "Has it been twenty minutes yet?" is asked several times while reading. It's been obvious that his focus is not solely on the book and the story.

Now, I know that he reads for at least twenty minutes each day. We often read a bedtime story together and then he reads in his bed before going to sleep. I have no idea for how long, but my guess is that it's usually at least half an hour, if not closer to an hour. And he often reads first thing in the morning as well. So I'm thinking we're going to stop worrying about the twenty minutes. I'm sure he'll read the books from school because he's choosing them himself. We'll log them, and if the teacher really wants minutes, make up some numbers (I'm doubtful she'll care that much about the numbers considering how well he reads). He may not do the reading right when he gets home from school, and he may not read those particular books for twenty minutes, but I just can't get myself to see either of those things as more important than finding reading fun.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Beans and Rice

Ryan decided he really needed some Brazilian beans and rice in our meal rotation, so he purchased a Kuhn Rikon pressure cooker for my birthday. It has sat, waiting to be used, ever since as we didn't know how to make Brazilian beans. The rice we've had down for years.

A family across the street from us has a nanny who is from Brazil and, as their younger son is the same age as Malcolm, we've become friends. So I asked the nanny and her husband to come over for dinner one night and show us how to use the pressure cooker and make beans. Her husband plays drums, but they live in an apartment, so I figured he and Ryan would also have fun doing some drumming. They came over on Friday and did just that. The beans took longer than they should have, probably, because we were chatting and dealing with kids and she was showing me what she does. But it turns out it's pretty simple and definitely not an exact science.

It goes something like this:
Sort and rinse pinto beans. Soak the beans for a couple hours if you feel like it. Or don't.
Don't bother rinsing the beans after you soak them - just use the same water to cook them in.
Eyeball the amount of water needed (I'd already had 7.5 cups in there for one pound of beans, but we added some more, so used about 9.5 cups).
Add some paprika and cumin.
Turn on the heat and wait for the pressure to build, turn down the heat some when the pressure has reached the needed level.
Cook for 15-20 minutes, then let the pressure release on its own (this happened faster than I expected) and check the beans. We originally cooked for 15 minutes and some of the beans were super soft while others were not quite soft, so we put them back on the heat and cooked for another 5 minutes or so.
Heat some oil in another pan, add bacon if desired, and garlic and salt. And anything else you'd like to toss in with the beans. Cook for a couple minutes then add the beans and most of the liquid to that. Allow to cook until juices are as thick as you'd like (they'll thicken more as the beans sit, so don't over-thicken the first day).
Serve over rice.

Brazilian rice is way better than your typical steamed rice. And this is a little more exact than the beans:
Heat 1 Tbsp olive oil for every cup of water used. Add minced garlic and cook until lightly browned. Add desired amount of rice and cook in oil for several minutes.
Bring water to a boil in a separate pan (1.5 cups water for every 1 cup of rice).
When water is boiling and rice has cooked in oil for a bit, turn of the heat and pour water over rice (this will bubble vigorously, so be careful).
Cover rice with lid and simmer for 18 minutes. If there's time before the main dish is ready, I like to let the rice sit for a couple minutes covered after I turn off the heat.

Our beans and rice turned out really well. A little more salt was needed and they were a little bit thin the first night, but the leftovers had thickened nicely. Gareth said they were really yummy and Malcolm seemed to enjoy them the next day. Ryan and I are excited to add this to our rotation and experiment with the beans a bit. It'll be a good backup/need something fast and easy meal as well, probably replacing pasta as our go-to in that category. And it sounds like our friends have some other good Brazilian food they can show us how to cook, so we have that to look forward to as well.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

First Day of School 2013

The district and the teachers agreed on a contract, so school started today. Thank goodness, because Gareth and I were driving each other insane. Making brownies together yesterday helped keep us both busy and from getting too annoyed with one another.

Gareth got the one teacher I'd heard nothing about and who probably would've been my last pick. But then we found out that probably 2/3 of the class are kids he knows from either pre-K or from Kindergarten last year. And a friend told me that everyone she knew who'd had this teacher loved her. Apparently this teacher also used to teach a K/1 class, which means she is probably decent at teaching kids who are all at different levels in their learning (essential since they don't start Walk to Math until 2nd grade). I got to ask her a couple of questions last week and I feel really good about her now. We'll see what happens as the year progresses, but I'm hopeful that she'll be a great teacher for Gareth.

It was pretty easy to get the kids ready today. Gareth wanted to play some, but he's excited enough for school to start that it wasn't too hard to redirect him to morning prep. We've got a couple of weeks to shift to making lunches the night before most days. This year I plan to have him help with putting his lunch together more, but this morning I went ahead and made it for him since I'd decided that he should really have a bath this morning. Easy enough since he'd requested hummus and veggies.

So, yeah, we got him bathed, got all his supplies put together and got ready to head out. He rode his bike today. I rather like having him walk so I get to talk with him (sometimes, if he doesn't find a friend to play with along the way), but he loves riding his bike to school and it's supposed to rain the next couple days so I figured I should let him ride while he can.

Dropped him off and then hung around for a bit to chat with some parents before heading home to get the car and drive to breakfast with some other co-op parents. Malcolm was surprisingly well-behaved at that and even managed to not totally freak out when the other little kids looked at him and then he fell asleep on the way home.

Gareth reported that the first day was "good", which is better than last year's "boring and disappointing", so I'll take it.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

One Week Left

School doesn't start here until next week, after Labor Day. At least, it's supposed to start then. Apparently the district and teachers are still negotiating their contract and if they can't agree on something by next Tuesday, school will not start on Wednesday.

Anyway, Gareth and I are both excited for him to be back in school. We've done a lot of fun activities this summer, but my best efforts at playdates/outings simply aren't enough for him - he would love to do those things every day. While I'm excited for him to head back to school, I've been dragging my feet about getting supplies and shoes and whatnot. I guess I'm more than happy to have Gareth back at school, but am not so ready to have our lives follow a more structured schedule again. I'll start rehearsals for both of my groups the same week Gareth starts school and he'll start having soccer games around that time as well.

We finally got around to getting shoes yesterday. I think I might hold off on new clothes until it starts getting a little cooler. I've told myself it'll be okay to wait until after tomorrow to get the school supplies. They've got a school event to help get the grounds ready and where the kids can meet their teacher and see their classroom. I can ask his teacher then if the things on the list are actually needed/if there's anything not on the list they need. Maybe then I'll be able to convince myself that school really is (maybe) starting and that I actually do need to purchase the supplies.

Monday, August 12, 2013


Malcolm is finally trying to walk. The 3rd is when he decided that this walking thing might not be so bad after all, but we definitely hadn't hit primary mode of transit yet. He was still super wobbly and usually only took four or five steps before lurching into someone's arms, or having to catch his fall himself. But he was standing up without pulling on anything multiple times each day and would usually try to take a few steps after having done so. And he was less likely to scream that you were torturing him if you grabbed his hands and helped him practice walking.

Only a week later and he's made tremendous progress. Still some crawling, but we're thinking Saturday might be the day we can say he really started walking. It seemed every time you turned around he was standing up and walking somewhere. A lot of last week's wobbliness is gone already, though there's still some of it there. I think it's safe to say that crawling is no longer viewed as the best way to get around.

The past couple months he's been doing this adorable thing where he pulls out a book, opens it up, and then lays down on his stomach to "read". He usually only hangs out that way for a few seconds before moving on, so it's been tricky to get a picture. I finally grabbed one the other day when I saw him pulling an old atlas off the shelf. This is totally something he's picked up from Gareth, who frequently reads this way at bedtime and throughout the day.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Museum of Communications

Yesterday afternoon we headed down to the Museum of Communications, which is located in the Georgetown neighborhood of Seattle. They're only open Tuesdays and the first Sunday of each month, so it's taken us a while to fit this one in.

In all honesty, not the easiest of museums to do with a baby. Gareth was just fine, so I'd say okay for kids probably starting around age 3-4, depending on the kid. But Malcolm really just wanted to get down, crawl around, and get into everything. I did let him down a bit, but the floors were quite dirty, so his hands and knees were nice and grey by the time we left. I should've just kept him in the carrier the whole time, but it was really hot in there and we were both sweating within minutes of starting our tour.

Anyway, the museum is full of old phone stuff (can you tell I don't know much about the inner workings of phones?), as well as some other communications items. They have people there who can give you a quick tour of the upper floor, most of which I missed because Malcolm was fussing. But Ryan declared that it all seemed much more complicated than what he does every day. Some of the phones are connected with other phones in the room, so they can dial and show you how dialing would look at the central office and it gives you a chance to try out some of the old phones, which Gareth thought was quite fun.

Ryan reading about the step by step switching system

Other items there - old teletypes, dictaphones, oldish computers, telegraphs, army field phones from WWII, operator's desks, etc.
A teletype

Magnetic recorders (answering machines) - the messages were recorded on thin metal wires. Too expensive for households, but used by businesses.

Gareth thought being inside the British phone box was fun - except that the door was a bit too heavy for him to manage himself. Apparently the phone company for the area - Western Electric - also got into manufacturing household goods such as irons, clothes dryers, vacuums, etc. for a while, so they've got some of those as well. Ryan entertained himself on the second floor by reading the Bell System Technical Journal. An especially fun place to visit if you're really into that stuff, but even if you're not, it's quite interesting to look at all the old communications devices.

Thursday, August 1, 2013


Today we headed to the Kids Discovery Museum over on Bainbridge Island. I was interested to check it out and compare it to the Seattle Children's Museum. I knew it'd likely be small and didn't have terribly high expectations going in, but admission was free today (free the first Thursday of each month) so all it would cost us was a bit of time travelling and bus and ferry fare. I had a coupon that would get Gareth on the ferry for free and even saved his bus fare home because apparently some drivers are under the impression that 6 and under ride free rather than 5 and under (and possibly because the driver understandably didn't want to take the time to add in a youth fare when there was a long line of people waiting to board). So aside from time, this was a somewhat inexpensive venture for us.

Turns out, despite its small size, that it's way better than the Children's Museum. We went to the Children's Museum last summer and I was quite disappointed by the use of the space. It seemed activities were rather sparse and a fair amount of what was there was broken. Considering you pay $8.25 per person to get in, I really felt stations should have been better maintained and have a little more to them. Maybe we caught them at a bad time and they were working on putting some new stuff in or something and it's better now, but it was bad enough when we went that I'm not willing to go back and check to see if it's gotten better.

Anyway, KiDiMu usually costs $6/person and does an excellent job of making the most of their small space. I was expecting it to be overcrowded because of the free admission thing, but thankfully it never felt overcrowded. A lot of kids definitely came through, but there was plenty of space for everyone who was there. Probably helps that the museum is on Bainbridge rather than downtown!

Malcolm waiting patiently for me to release him into the tot area

The first floor has a small tots area, which Malcolm had all to himself for the entire time he remained interested.

It also has a pirate ship tree house thing and areas that are a bank, grocery store, ferry boat, doctor's office, car, and a park, if I remember correctly.

The upper floor has several fun activities that use golf balls - things where you can play with centripetal force and various other aspects of physics, as well as some magnets and gears. There's also a train table and a large Lite-Brite type thing. Off of the first floor there is a very small outdoor area that has a water table and bubbles and a play ferry boat plus a couple of picnic tables. The outdoor area is nothing amazing, but convenient for feeding kids a snack.

Malcolm really enjoyed pulling the lights out, but never did catch on to the idea of putting them in
Gareth checking out how centripetal force works (Malcolm was a fan of this as well)
Having some more golf ball fun (this device looked fairly roller-coasterish - trying to figure out how much force you need to get the ball to run the entire track I'm guessing)

Gareth could have stayed happily for hours on end, but by 3 Malcolm was quickly fading, having had zero nap time, so we headed back to the ferry terminal. We snapped a picture of octopus Gareth on the way - surprisingly well done considering seeing my phone screen is impossible outdoors.

Malcolm fell asleep on the couple minute walk to the ferry and stayed asleep for most of the ride back. He really didn't want to wake up, so was pretty grumpy for the rest of the ride and struggled a bit on the bus ride home. Despite how great the outing was, it's not likely to be repeated often. The travel is quite wearing - we left the house around 11 am and took two buses to get to the ferry terminal just in time to catch the 12:20 ferry, which got us to Bainbridge around 1pm. We probably left the museum around 3:15, caught a 3:50 ferry and then took an express bus home (crowded). This particular bus dropped us about 8 blocks from home, so we had to walk a bit (we could've waited a few extra minutes for the express that would drop us a block from home, but Gareth wanted to ride with his friend) after the bus and got home just after 5:30. So, yeah, about two hours each way for a couple hours on the island. Ryan has yet to take the ferry to any of the local islands and I would like to check out Bloedel Reserve, so we'll have to go again at some point. But that trip will require the car (more expensive, and you have to pay both ways on the ferry), so we'll have to get some other must-see Bainbridge tips from my friend Alanna and make a day of it so it'll be worth the cost and travel time. Anyway, glad we went today, but I just don't see myself doing this often.