Sunday, December 30, 2018

Christmas 2018

I decided not to buy another Lego advent this year, because they don't change all that much from year to year. So why not reuse it? Instead, I found a decent looking advent that we can put the Lego pieces in each year. I like that it has a variety of box sizes, some quite large, so we can put a variety of items in them if we ever decide to move away from the Lego scene. Of course, my kids' memories are way too good and at first they were kind of disappointed that everything was the same. But they got over it and still had a good time with it. Maybe we'll take a break from the Lego advent next year entirely and come back to it another time.

My mom always sends a countdown as well, which we've put up on the mantle the past few years. However, it felt like the mantle was getting a little overcrowded last year, so I needed to find a new place for the countdown presents. We decided to try out clumping them on either side of the fireplace, and I quite liked how that turned out.

I actually did a little baking this year! Not as much as I aspired to, but in the end, I did all that was needed. I made some cranberry orange pinwheels, which I had made years ago in our Indiana days, but forgot if we liked them or not. I also tried out some chocolate-raspberry thumbprints. I've been feeling drawn to thumbprint cookies recently. We made them many years when I was little, and then we all got tired of them or decided we didn't like them all that well or something and stopped making them. But I found this recipe and they looked lovely (the recipe calls for a chocolate drizzle, but I was too busy to do that) and tasted delicious. The chocolate dough isn't all that sweet, which is good when you've got a heap of jam or nutella or whatever you want in the middle. A couple of holiday parties made quick work of the cookies, but we all got a few before they were gone.

We received our traditional holiday grapefruit on the same day we went to get our tree. Tree selection was rather limited this year. I'm not sure if it's because we didn't get our tree until the 15th? But they had mostly blue spruce, which they wanted exorbitant prices for, and had very few noble firs and the prices on most of those were still well above what we remembered from past years. So we might have to re-think how we get our tree next year. But even with a little wonkiness here and there, it's been a lovely tree.

About a week before Christmas, Mal was being quite horrid. It really put a damper on things for me for a few days. We decided to set our expectations low for Christmas day and to return to having the kids select a present for one another, within a certain budget, to try to get him thinking about someone other than himself. So, the weekend before Christmas I took them out one at a time to the local toy store. I was pleasantly surprised that Mal did very well at remembering we were there to look for a present for Gareth and not for things for himself. And he even remembered things that Gareth had mentioned enjoying or wanting (they were out of his budget, but it was nice to see anyway). He also found a present for Ryan. We walked to the local coffee shop afterward for some hot chocolate and a gingerbread person and I told him many times how well he had done at staying focused on others.

Before we knew it, it was Christmas Eve. We went more traditional for dinner this year, opting for the ease of ham. Then we watched our traditional movie, with hot chocolate for the kids, and then sent them off to bed. I made a ginger pear punch to go with our dinner, which was quite tasty. Similar to the wassail my family made growing up, but much less sweet. And served cold, not warm (though you could do either). I did not garnish the drinks with dried pear. No way was I taking up my oven for 2 hours to dry pear slices. It looks pretty in their picture, but not worth it just for a garnish.

Ryan and I had to stay up until midnight before we could even hope the kids were maybe possibly sort of asleep so we could fill stockings and bring down gifts. But eventually we were all ready to go.

The boys didn't stir until 8am - they even stayed asleep when I went downstairs to prep some breakfast stuff! I thought for sure that would wake them up and they would be right on my heels heading back upstairs, but not a peep was heard. They excitedly waited for us all to be ready so we could head downstairs. Letting them watch something on my phone while Ryan and I showered helped with their patience.

Waiting at the top of the stairs. Ryan and I spent Christmas Eve night wondering how much longer Gareth will have this level of excitement for Christmas. We know it'll diminish at some point; it's a little sad to think he (and we) only have a few more years before that happens. What you enjoy simply changes a bit, but it is always a bit sad to lose that butterflies in the stomach kind of excitement.

Not only did Santa eat the cookie and toffee we left for him, but he also solved a puzzle of Gareth's and left it on the cookie plate.

Stockings were opened. Breakfast was eaten (after cleaning up a glass that was dropped on the floor during preparations; Mal dropped his grapefruit bowl with grapefruit in it on the floor twice during breakfast - it wasn't the smoothest of mornings). The boys wanted to help themselves to presents, so we let them each take a turn picking a gift before I took over as the manager of presents.

Mal was very pleased to receive the death costume he'd asked for. He spent the day alternating between being death and being the ghost of Christmas future from A Christmas Carol. It was very entertaining and he's worn the costume daily since.

He also got a ukulele, which we've all enjoyed taking a stab at.

Gareth was very excited for the family gift of a Nintendo Switch. He got a little confused, because we'd opened some presents from his grandparents that were labelled as being from Mom and Dad. So when this was also from Mom and Dad, he thought his grandparents had sent it (increasing his shock because he knew how much the system was and had deduced on his own that he could put it on his wish list all he wanted - no grandparents or aunts/uncles would be getting it). We clarified for him that it was from his mom and dad, not from his dad's mom and dad. And Malcolm momentarily thought that because Gareth had opened it that meant it was Gareth's ("not fair!"), which we also quickly clarified by having them re-read the tag on the present carefully.

Malcolm, while eating some jerky, declared it to be better than everything.

He also received a nether portal Lego set, which he immediately wanted to work on building. He makes great ghast noises.

Gareth received a dot-to-dot puzzle book that is definitely not for little kids. This is one of the puzzles. Another has just dots and provides a compass and compass directions which you have to follow.

Ryan's gift to me was some UW gear. My family are not much into the school spirit thing - I've never been into sports teams, and I never had any high school gear outside of my marching band shirts. I never bought any BYU stuff (it was expensive and, let's be honest, it was my safety school that I wasn't always thrilled about being at - as glad as I am now for the many friends (and a spouse) I met there and experiences I got to have and the lack of debt accrued). But I absolutely loved my time at UW and had actually been toying with getting myself something for a while. I ended up with a coat and a sweatshirt.

The coat. The purple is out of my comfort zone, but the coat is comfy and generally very simple (simplicity is a definite requirement to get me on board with school branded gear; it also needs to not have a "Rah! Rah! Sports Team!" feel). And it's good to push myself out of my standard black from time to time. Also, do note the boys in the picture. We were only at the store about an hour, but they talked as though we'd kept them there all day.

I look a little over-exuberantly happy over a sweatshirt here, but I was laughing at myself as I'm bad at taking selfies and wasn't expecting it to turn out very well. I think this is the only semi-decent selfie I've ever taken. How do people get them to turn out okay? It's a mystery to me.

Ryan's made the most progress of any of us on the ukulele, given he's practiced the most. Mal is actually doing quite well considering his age and lack of musical knowledge (which is where Ryan and I have an advantage; Gareth has the advantage of his fingers not hurting since he already has callouses from violin).

And that brings us up to date. We've been putting in some time on Mario Odyssey, which Mal isn't into. So now we've switched to more Super Smash Brothers, which he gets more enjoyment out of. This is pretty standard for him - he prefers games like Minecraft or Street Fighter on the computer and has not put much effort into Ori or games like that on the Xbox. We get another week of relaxation before everyone heads back to work/school.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018


I have to start by showing off the turkey drawing I did on our countdown board. The family was all duly impressed. I was quite pleased with how it turned out, given I've never had any artistic talent. Thanks goes to the online "how to draw a turkey" tutorial I found. I had to adapt it a bit to work with chalkboard markers, but that was easy enough. It's been rather fun experimenting with the markers.

I made the mistake of letting Mal watch GBBO a week or so before Thanksgiving (oh, btw, his new favorite show is Curious Creations of Christine McConnell, which combines baking and Halloween - the definition of Malcolm heaven). It was pie week on GBBO, and one of the pies had a lattice top, which he promptly requested we make. I've stuck primarily to pumpkin pies the past few years (since there are only 4 of us, we don't need tons of pies) and have never actually made a lattice top for a pie since our traditional apple pie in our family has a crumb topping. Also, due to watching GBBO and then doing some online querying, I decided to attempt blind baking my pumpkin pie crust. That didn't work out perfectly - I've started using a butter crust in the past couple years, which works well generally. But things got a bit rushed on pie-making day, and I really should have chilled the crust again before putting it in the oven. The butter definitely leaked out of the crust. Also, I was totally guessing as to how long to cook it and I'm pretty sure I didn't leave it in long enough. But the sides were shrinking in quite dramatically (I had a weight in the bottom, but I don't think it was enough to keep the sides in place), so I got nervous about leaving it in longer.

So that pumpkin pie basically boiled in butter while it was cooking. I didn't blind bake the other crust. I'm not sure they were drastically different. I'll have to work more on that skill, but the pies tasted good enough - no one in my family complained anyway!

I'm quite pleased with how the apple pie turned out. My BH&G cookbook had a good tip for how to easily weave the latticework. I ended up with extra apple filling and lots of extra crust, so the day after Thanksgiving I threw the leftover apples in a pie tin and covered it with crust, cinnamon, and sugar and baked it up. Apple pie without a bottom crust.

We had some lovely restful days together. Played some foosball (I joined in as well) and some video games all together. We also introduced the kids to "What's Up Doc?" and "Return of the Pink Panther"; Mal especially enjoyed the ridiculousness of Inspector Clouseau.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

It's Official!

This past week I took (and passed!) the RD exam, the final hurdle before I could feel totally done with school and ready to go find a job.

I'd planned to take it mid-October, but a mix of concerts, it taking more work than anticipated to get the kids' school years off to a good start, and lack of availability of the testing center meant that I had to push the exam back a few weeks. In some ways it was good timing because it prevented me from being able to pay much attention to election news.

By chance, my diploma also arrived this week.

So now I get to feel very official. While it was kind of fun when an IRB reviewer accidentally addressed me as Dr. Phelps, I'm more than happy to stick with Erin Phelps, MS, RD.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Halloween 2018

We spent the Sunday before Halloween carving pumpkins while waiting for Ryan to get home from Albuquerque. Gareth took charge of his own, as usual, and this year I helped him out by helping Malcolm with his. Mal created the design, with some inspiration from a pumpkin Ryan made several years ago, and then I carved it. Malcolm helped to scoop out some of the insides, though he wasn't a big fan of how goopy that task is.

My mom made us a countdown chalkboard thing a few years ago. We finally managed to hang it this past summer and I found chalk markers to use on it (previous attempts with regular chalk hadn't been very successful). The boys were excited to put it to use counting down to Halloween.

Gareth wanted to be Dr. Who this year; we chose the 11th doctor (Matt Smith), since that seemed easiest to put together. However, finding a boys sports coat that is brown is very difficult. So my mom came to the rescue and made one!

As he'll outgrow it quickly, we're trying to get as much use out of it as possible. He wore it to my concert the week before and received many compliments on it.

Malcolm wanted to be a Minecraft character. Initially I was going to do the whole cardboard box Steve thing, but then remembered that our chances of rain on Halloween are pretty high here in Seattle and I'd have a very disappointed child if their costume started to disintegrate as they were walking around. So we purchased a Minecraft diamond armor costume and diamond sword. We'll get our money's worth out of it for sure, since he wore it almost daily between when it was delivered and Halloween.

Ryan took the boys out with one of Gareth's friends (who dressed up as their DND character) while I headed to rehearsal. We lucked out and it wasn't all that rainy while they were out. I'm interested to see how many more years we have of trick or treating with Gareth. I know some of the other parents of his peers are anticipating that this year or next might be the last. It's strange to think we might soon be closing out that era with one child.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Pumpkin Patch

I finally had a weekend day that was concert and rehearsal free and the good weather had managed to hold out for another week, so we took the boys out to Bob's Corn Maze and Pumpkin Patch yesterday as part of our fall festivities. It was quite foggy, which added some nice atmosphere to the experience. We spent the first half of our visit eating pumpkin donuts and roasted corn. And taking pictures with the cutouts. Mal is very into making silly faces for pictures. Gareth, for the most part, feels embarrassed that you would even ask if he wants a picture with the cutout. Though he was willing to participate in the first one.

Then we headed over to the big corn maze via hay ride. Gareth was our navigator in the maze, using the postcard map to guide us through. As much fun as it would be to get lost in the maze, that still felt like a bit much to handle with a 6 year old. Maybe in a few years we'll start trying it without the map. Kettle corn helped sustain us as we wound our way through.

After finishing the maze, Ryan and Gareth went off to jog through the maze again as quickly as they could (somewhat limited speed due to crowds of people) while Mal and I headed over to the pumpkin patch to start scoping out pumpkins. Mal really wanted the big one he was sitting on, but I was a bit nervous about it as it seemed to tip over whenever it wasn't in this precise spot. In the end, Gareth found another large one he wanted for his planned design, and Mal found a medium-sized pumpkin that he liked.