Biscuits and Jam Blog about life in Portland, cooking, craftiness, etc. en-us Biscuits and Jam 90 26 <![CDATA[Yard Sign #2, Xmas 2016, Recipe Roundup]]> Sun, 26 Feb 2017 02:07:19 PSTI made a second yard sign with the scraps from the auction quilt, with an excellent Maya Angelou quote: "In diversity, there is beauty and there is strength."

Diversity Yard Sign in Situ

And on the other side: YOU ARE NOT POWERLESS. (It helps me to be reminded of this fact every so often, and I figured it might encourage passersby too)

Yard sign #2

Yay, freezer paper stenciling! And yay, special little craft scissors that my Auntie Nance gave me years ago.

Yard sign in progress

My first fabric yard sign, from November, is holding up well. I washed it a few weeks ago, as it had gotten dirty from being splashed with rain and mud all winter. The hem had frayed, so I re-sewed it. The color has faded a little, but it's still doing its job.

Two months belated, but here's a little bit about Christmas, since I always find this kind of thing useful in subsequent years:

We did the advent calendar activities again this year. Here's the 2016 activity list:

  1. Drink hot cocoa w/ candy canes
  2. Donate knit hats at grocery store
  3. Umbrella parade and tree lighting in Milwaukie - This was a new one, and it was fun. Low-key, and we were able to take the MAX there
  4. Put up Xmas lights and hang stockings
  5. Donate toys at fire station
  6. Read a holiday book (Silver Packages - first time reading it, made me cry)
  7. Get holiday ice cream at Salt and Straw
  8. Go to Arlo's school holiday show
  9. Read a holiday book (An Orange for Frankie - also made me cry)
  10. See kids' choir performance at Central Library/Xmas tree in Pioneer Square
  11. Make treats for birds/teachers
  12. Bake and eat panettone
  13. Make cinnamon-applesauce ornaments
  14. Zoo Lights - This was our first year visiting Zoo Lights, and it was so cold but beautiful. We rode the MAX and got a good discount on our tickets. I'd go again next year, but hopefully on a warmer night
  15. Give money to charity
  16. Drink hot cider / Decorate Xmas tree
  17. Caroling with Felix's preschool - He opted not to go, which was fine, since we've done this for the past three years, and the boys have refused to sing along with their classmates every time (except maybe to Rudolph that first year). We've established that 3/4 of our family does not enjoy singing in public (I am the remaining 1/4)
  18. Make graham cracker gingerbread houses - Another new activity this year. I bought a bunch of candy at IKEA (of all places). I made royal icing with meringue powder and had a hell of a time getting the graham cracker houses to stay together (I don't have much patience for that kind of thing), but the boys still enjoyed decorating their ramshackle graham cracker lean-tos and eating the candy. Next year, I might buy a gingerbread house kit from IKEA too.
    Graham Cracker Gingerbread Houses
    Graham Cracker Gingerbread Houses
  19. Make and send Christmas cards - Thanks to an early suggestion from my sister, I had some photos printed, and the boys made cards to send/give to family members. I loved their envelope decorations!
    Arlo-Illustrated Envelopes
  20. Make paper snowflakes
  21. Watch a holiday movie (Elf, and we also watched The Grinch somewhere in there)
  22. Red and green pedicure
  23. Make gifts for family - This year we made chocolate-coated truffles. We made a ganache filling (half of this recipe) using flavored chocolate bars, then poured it into a 24-piece silicone candy mold I bought years ago. Once they'd set, we dipped them in chocolate (a 4oz coating recipe gave just enough chocolate to coat the 24 truffles by rolling them in my hands, not dipping), let them dry, and put them in little hand-folded paper boxes. It sounds like more work than it was.
    Family Christmas Present: Truffles
  24. Make sugar cookies (accompanied by Auntie Li and Aunt Kate this year)

Our 2016 family ornaments were knit doughnuts with embroidery floss sprinkles. Pretty cool pattern!

Family Ornament 2016: Doughnut
Family Ornament 2016: Doughnut

A long-overdue recipe roundup (I'm still loving our Instant Pot!):

And finally: Spring is coming! It has been a cold, rainy winter, and the daffodils are a few weeks later than usual, but the crocuses are doing their best to bloom anytime the sun peeks out.

Spring Crocuses!
Happy Goldilocks Crocuses

<![CDATA[First Grade Auction Quilt]]> Sun, 26 Feb 2017 00:11:06 PSTEvery year, Arlo's school has an auction, where each class works on a project to sell to raise funds for the school. I volunteered to help with his class project this year along with another classmate's mom, and we agreed that our project should be a quilt. I'd never made a bed-sized quilt before, but I was excited to work on it. I think it turned out well!

First Grade Auction Quilt
First Grade Auction Quilt
First Grade Auction Quilt

We started in December, brainstorming how the kids could be involved in making the quilt. At my co-planner Beth's suggestion (inspired by this quilt), we had the kids draw self-portraits with marker on paper, then Beth scanned them, arranged them into a repeating fabric design, and had two yards printed on Spoonflower. This worked well, though we had to wait a while to receive the fabric (the default shipping method is slow when shipping to the West coast).

First Grade Auction Quilt

The colorful half-square triangles on the quilt front were inspired by this quilt. The final block size for the front was 5.5", arranged in a 12x16-block grid. For the front, I used 1/2yd each of the portrait fabric and 13 colors of Kona cotton (shown below, plus a medium gray I had in my stash) and 1yd of white Kona cotton. I used the Magic 8 method to make the blocks for the front of the quilt. The back is also made of half-square triangle blocks (11" square) with fabric from our stashes, along with a 22" square of the portrait fabric bordered by eight HST blocks containing the portrait fabric, to make it look like a diamond.

Auction Quilt Fabric Stack

After I'd made the HST blocks, we had the kids pair up, and they each received 16 blocks to arrange in a 4x4 grid. Some of them were excited and spent a long time getting things perfect, and some laid the blocks out in the order they received them and called it good. I rearranged a few to better distribute the colors.

Auction Quilt Blocks

A couple parents helped sew together the blocks for the front of the quilt, I sewed the back, and it was time to quilt it. We had originally planned on having the quilt professionally quilted, but it turned out this would cost $150-$200, which was too expensive for a quilt meant to raise money for the school. So instead I used this as an excuse to buy a computerized sewing machine with a walking foot. I'd been thinking about buying a new sewing machine, and I had some Amazon credit saved up, so I went for it, and I'm really happy with the machine so far!

The diamond quilting pattern was based on this quilt, and I used my bone folder to mark creases for my quilting lines, much like a hera marker is used (yay for multi-purpose book-making equipment!).

First Grade Auction Quilt
First Grade Auction Quilt

We ended up making the quilt 64"x84", which would fit a twin bed with 15" overhang, a full bed, or a queen bed with no overhang (the bed in the pictures is a queen). After trying out a couple different quilt-as-you-go (QAYG) approaches (see below for more info), I decided to use this approach, which gradually builds the quilt from the left to the right and has nice smooth seams without any sashing required. I did my quilting in four sections (each 4 blocks by 12 blocks), and I didn't have to wrestle too much to get the quilt through the machine. I would use this QAYG approach again when making a bed-sized quilt on my home machine.

Auction Quilt - First Section Quilted

I went against my own best judgement by making the back of the quilt pieced too. It looks cool, but it was harder making everything line up when I was doing the quilting, and if you look closely, some of the triangle points were cut off when I was joining my QAYG sections, since my backing pieces ended up a little smaller than the front pieces after the quilting was done.

When I'd finished quilting, I made the binding and a label. After some Internet research, I decided to use the Pentel Gel Roller for Fabric pen, which I found at my local craft store, Collage. In order to make the letters nicely centered, I first used Powerpoint to lay out the text in a triangle shape and mirror the letters. Then I traced the words onto the matte side of a piece of freezer paper, ironed it to my fabric, held it up to a window, and traced the letters onto the fabric with my pen. I then ironed the reverse side of the fabric for a minute or so (to set the ink, though I'm not sure if this is necessary), attached some binding to the long edge, and sewed the label onto the corner of the quilt as I attached the binding.

First Grade Auction Quilt
First Grade Auction Quilt
First Grade Auction Quilt

And then I got to do my favorite part of making a quilt: hand-sewing the binding (I use this method). I love sitting on the couch, covered in a cozy quilt, finishing a project slowly and methodically.

Binding the Auction Quilt

I finished the quilt with just enough time to wash and dry it (the label held up well), take photos of it, and bring it by the classroom so the kids could see the finished product and find themselves on the self-portrait fabric. Then I dropped it off with the auction coordinator and heaved a sigh of relief!

First Grade Auction Quilt
First Grade Auction Quilt

While I was working on the quilt, I was thinking that this was a once-a-year kind of project, but now that it's done, I don't know if I'll wait a full year before making another quilt. Maybe a baby quilt next time though!

Here's a little more on the quilt-as-you-go experiment I did before starting the big quilt: Using stash fabric, I made a 24x36" quilt with six sections, each connected with a different QAYG method. I also used this as an opportunity to try different quilting patterns and some beginner-level free-motion quilting.

QAYG Test Quilt
QAYG Test Quilt
QAYG Test Quilt
QAYG Test Quilt

Here are the methods I tried:

  1. Quilt front/batting/back together and leave 1" free around edge. Sew fronts of your two sections right sides together, butt batting together without securing (cut off any overlap). Fold over and hand-sew backing down - This wasn't super easy, as getting the two batting pieces to lie flat against each other took some fiddly trimming. I machine sewed the back instead of hand sewing, so it didn't look great, but I think it would look nice with hand sewing. The seam felt nice, not bulky.
  2. Quilt front/batting/back together all the way to edges, trim edge straight. Sew second front and back to quilted section, right sides together (front-to-front and back-to-back). Butt in batting for second section and zigzag to batting from first section. Fold front and back for second section over the batting, and quilt this second section - This is the approach I ended up using for the big quilt, and it's described more clearly here. This was relatively easy, looked good, and the seam felt normal, not bulky.
  3. Quilt front on batting (no back) to edges for two sections. Sew these sections together, right sides together with a 1/2" seam allowance, and clip ends. After sewing all front/batting sections together, lay the backing on and stitch in the ditch to secure - This was easy and looked okay (the quilting on the back is just basic squares), but the seam felt bulky because of the double layer of batting.
  4. Quilt front/batting/back leaving 1" free at edges. Trim front/batting for two sections and trim back of one section. Sew fronts/battings together, holding the non-trimmed back piece out of the way, then fold the longer back over and handsew over trimmed back piece - This was relatively easy and would have looked fine if I'd taken the time to handsew, but the seam felt bulky.
  5. Quilt front/batting/back to edge and square up sections. Use thin sashing strips on the front and back to attach the sections - This is the method I came across most often when I was reading about QAYG. I didn't find it very easy, and the seam felt a little weak where the sashing was (I think this could be addressed by including a skinny strip of batting). Also, I didn't want strips of fabric separating the sections in our quilt, so I ruled this one out pretty quickly.

<![CDATA[Protest]]> Mon, 23 Jan 2017 00:32:47 PSTI've been to two protests since I last wrote. A few days before December 19, I made a last-minute decision to take Felix to Salem to attend Oregon's Electoral College rally. Since Oregon went to Clinton, I just wanted to be there to show solidarity with the rallies happening in other states.

Dec. 19 Electoral College Protest in Oregon

Felix and I took the train down the night before and took a snowy hike from the Salem train station to our hotel. It was dark and cold and slippery, but he did great getting there. The next morning, we took the bus downtown and walked to the capitol building, where there were around a hundred people gathered. Felix had fun playing in the lingering snow piles, and we were able to duck inside to warm up and use the bathroom. There was a cool model train set up under the Christmas tree in the atrium, but sadly it was out of order. Felix really wanted to see it go.

Dec. 19 Electoral College Protest in Oregon

Felix helped make his sign, and he joined in a few chants of his own volition. After the rally, we had a good lunch at the Sassy Onion, and then we walked to the train station, where Felix used my spare quarters to buy Mike and Ikes from a candy machine in front of the Greyhound ticket window. It doesn't sound like a very fun trip for a four-year-old, but he loved it, and he keeps asking me to take him back to Salem.

My second protest was this weekend, at the Womens' March in Portland. I wasn't sure if I'd go, worrying about violence and thinking that plenty of other people were going, so I didn't need to. But then on the morning of the march, I saw all of the inspiring pictures from the marches on the East Coast and around the world, and I wanted to be a part of it.

I rode my bike to the Hawthorne Bridge and then parked it and walked across. I was amazed by how many other people were there (approx. 100,000, it turns out!). The sidewalks on the Hawthorne Bridge were packed full of people, and a steady stream of people continued for the next hour while we waited in Waterfront Park. The Morrison and Burnside Bridges also had a steady flow of pedestrians, though not as packed as the Hawthorne. I tried to capture it in my picture below, but it's hard to see.

Portland Womens March
Portland Womens March

It was cold and rainy, but everybody that I encountered was in good spirits. It turned out to be a peaceful march, and no arrests were made (phew!). I didn't get any good pictures, but there are plenty out there (this one is my favorite--so many colorful umbrellas!).

People started chants occasionally, but we mostly walked quietly. In terms of emotional impact, the Not Up for Grabs march that I participated in right after the election had a greater impact on me, but the sheer size of the Women's March was amazing, and I was glad to be a part of it.

I'm loving all of the pictures from the marches that happened around the world. It makes me feel less alone and afraid. We can make a difference!

<![CDATA[The World Turned Upside Down]]> Fri, 16 Dec 2016 01:30:54 PSTIt has been over a month since the election, and I haven't felt inspired to post here. I still don't, particularly, but it seems worthwhile to capture my present feelings. As you may have guessed, based on the fact that I live in Portland (and don't own a car and majored in chemistry, and the list goes on), I voted for Hillary Clinton, and I was shocked and dismayed when Trump won. (I still can't quite believe it) I wasn't super invested in Hillary, but I thought she'd do a fine job, and I was excited to have our first female president.

Election day was sunny and beautiful, and I took the boys out for ice cream, and the world was full of promise (this poem captures it well). And then the next morning, we had to break the news to them, and Arlo burst into tears (we hadn't been talking to them much about the election beforehand, but he'd picked up enough from conversations with his classmates to know that Trump being president was not a good thing).

In those first few days after the election, I started following a lot of new people on Twitter, which made me feel both informed and terrified. (I'm still not sure if my increased time spent on Twitter is a good choice, in terms of my mental well being) I found this blog post comforting, especially since it listed concrete things I could do to make things better.

We set up reoccurring donations to a handful of organizations that seemed particularly important (ACLU, Planned Parenthood, PFLAG, Southern Poverty Law Center). I signed petitions, sent postcards, subscribed to the New York Times, and called our (excellent) representatives (yay, Oregon!). The boys and I wrote thank-you cards to Hillary and the Obamas (please don't go!).

Thank You Cards
Thank You Cards

I started volunteering with Urban Gleaners, a local nonprofit that takes surplus food from restaurants and stores that would otherwise be thrown away and distributes it to schoolkids in need. I was lucky to find two available pickup routes that were in my neighborhood and involved a volume of food that would fit on my cargo bike. So now, every week, I pedal day-old pastries from a local coffee shop and frozen quarts of soup from our favorite bike-based soup company to the Urban Gleaners warehouse, and kids get fed. Yay, volunteering! Patrick and the boys have been involved with Friends of Trees for many years now, and it feels good to do my part to improve our community too.

I went to a (peaceful!) women's protest in downtown Portland. It was my first time marching, and it was a powerful emotional experience, more than I'd expected. I broke down crying a few times at the feeling of strength and support from those around me. I'm glad I went. (The first photo below is by Kathryn Kendall, used with permission)

Portland Not Up For Grabs Protest Nov. 19
Protest Signs
Protest Signs

Felix was inspired by my sign-making, and made one of his own, with occasional spelling help from me: "DT is a bad guy! Arrest him immediately" (in his 4-year-old view of the world, all bad guys go to jail). He has just learned how to read and write in the past few months, and he was excited to put his new skills to good use!

Protest Signs

And then, because I like making signs, I repurposed our James Ofsink yard sign to add a little inspiration and kindness to our parking strip, and then I made a mini version of the sign for my bike (I figure this is a noncontroversial enough sign that it won't inspire road rage in any Trump supporters I cross paths with on the road. I hope?). The yard signs are fabric paint on quilting cotton (hopefully they'll stand up to our winter rains), and the bike sign is paint on paper, laminated.

Yard Signs
Yard Signs
A Sign for the Bike

Patrick and I made cookies for a bake sale to raise funds for the ACLU. We got passports for our kids. I knit two pairs of warm mittens for homeless and low-income kids in Portland, and I knit a bright pink hat for a marcher to wear on Jan. 21 in Washington, D.C.

Handspun Mittens
Heart Hat

So that's where I'm at, trying to make a difference, feeling afraid of what comes next. This quote from Sarah Kendzior's latest article sums up my feelings well:

"It feels less like the aftermath of an election than a fundamental shift in our reality – a feeling like the ground is breaking beneath our feet and swallowing us up. It feels like Americans live permanently on the precipice – perhaps of foreign war, or of civil war, or of the loss of our sovereignty. That we do not know just what we live on the precipice of is the most unnerving thing of all. Every day feels like a countdown to the end to a way of life we may be leaving behind, the giving way of our dead dreams to an unprecedented nightmare."

P.S. Here are some other things that happened before the world turned upside down (listening to Hamilton a lot these days):

I knit new hats (with pompoms, of course) for me and Felix.

Safety Hat!
Safety Hat!
Fluo Bray Cap

Arlo lost his first tooth and hosted his first sleepover (the boys' behavior was not great during the sleepover, but at least we had cinnamon rolls for breakfast!).

Arlo Lost His First Tooth!
Sleepover Cinnamon Rolls

We all wore yellow for Halloween (I was a bee, Felix was a lion, and Arlo was Pickles the Fire Cat).

Early Halloween Costume
Hap-Bee Halloween!
Early Halloween Costume

P.P.S. You can make a difference too! Spread kindness, donate to a good cause, volunteer your time--whatever works for you.

Bubble Machine!

<![CDATA[Felix, Age 4]]> Thu, 06 Oct 2016 17:18:20 PST

True love, Felix style: "Mama, when we die, I want to be cremated in the same oven as you."

<![CDATA[10-Day (Almost) Car-Free California Trip]]> Fri, 09 Sep 2016 03:16:17 PSTSchool is back in session, and I'd say our summer went well. As I mentioned back in June, at the beginning of the summer, I planned out what we would do each day. It helped me get us out of the house every day, and it distracted the boys so they wouldn't get bored and fight with each other. There was no preschool for the last two weeks of summer, so I planned a 10-day family trip to California.

My hope was that our vacation wouldn't involve any cars, and it ended up being about 95% car-free (getting to Legoland without a car is tough!). Not bad! There were some miserable parts where the boys were tired of waiting for the train or waiting at restaurants or bored with being in a hotel room (the perils of vacationing with four- and six-year-olds), and there were times when I regretted going on the trip. But we also had fun. After we got home, the boys kept talking about how much fun they had, and how they want to go on another California trip, so I guess the moments of family strife didn't bother them. And looking at all of these nice pictures, the bad parts are fading from my memory too. So maybe we'll do it again next year (or, as Patrick and I agreed soon after the trip, maybe it would be best to do one-kid/one-parent trips for the next few years--they seem to behave better when they're separated).

Day 1:

On the first day, we caught the Amtrak Coast Starlight train in Portland. As with previous trips, we splurged and got rooms in the sleeper car, because otherwise it would have been a rough 21 hours. I bought Arlo a new car magazine for the occasion.

On the Train
On the Train

Day 2: Monterey

We arrived in Salinas around lunchtime, caught the Amtrak bus to Monterey, and had a late lunch at the Wild Plum Cafe. Everybody was hungry and irritable, and the food took a long time to come out, but at least it was tasty. It was my mistake for planning on going there at prime brunch time on a Sunday--the nearby Chipotle would have probably been a better bet with two hungry kids.

We stayed at the Monterey Hotel, which was walkable from the Amtrak bus stop and was on a trolley line that would take us (for free!) to the aquarium the next day. We had to wait for about an hour for our room to be ready, but Plumes Coffee and Tea next door had pearl milk tea, comfy couches, and the Olympics on TV, so it was okay (our trip was well-timed; we were able to watch the Olympics every night in our various hotel rooms, much to Arlo's chagrin. He would have preferred the Food Network). We also walked over to Dennis the Menace park, which was super cool, but the boys weren't very interested in playing there--I guess they were tired from the train ride.

We were in Monterey a few days before the big annual car show/auction, and we got to see a bunch of sweet cars being unloaded around downtown Monterey. It was great (and unintentional) timing.

Cool Cars in Monterey
Cool Cars in Monterey

We took the boys out for dinner at Full Moon--their first time at a Chinese restaurant. A few weeks prior, Arlo had asked me what a fortune cookie was, and Portland doesn't have many great Chinese restaurant options near our house, so this seemed like a good opportunity. As expected, the boys weren't very excited about the main courses, but they liked the little tea cups and the fortune cookies (so do I!).

Day 3: Monterey

We spent most of the day at the Monterey Bay Aquarium with Grandpa Rick and Sunie. Patrick and I really enjoyed going to the aquarium when we lived in the Bay Area, pre-children, and I was looking forward to sharing it with the boys. Unfortunately, since it didn't involve vehicles, they got bored with it, which was frustrating. They did enjoy the touch pools and the interactive exhibits that involved levers and buttons (and the gift shop, of course), but Felix had no interest in just standing there and admiring all the creatures in the kelp forest or the outer bay exhibit, which is what I would have liked to do. Four-year-olds, man.

Touching Hermit Crabs
Monterey Bay Aquarium

After finishing with the aquarium we stopped at a candy store across the street (jelly beans by the pound--a big hit!), and then we caught the trolley back to the hotel. For dinner, we headed to Fisherman's Wharf, and ate at Crabby Jim's (a touristy choice, but it seemed like a relatively kid-friendly option in the neighborhood). The view was nice; the food was okay. We found a store window full of toy cars on the walk back to the hotel, and amazingly nobody had a breakdown when we left without buying anything. Huh!

Toy Cars, Fishermans Wharf, Monterey

Day 4: San Luis Obispo

Waiting for the Bus to Salinas

The next morning, it was back on the bus to Salinas, then a train (the Coast Starlight again, this time in coach) to San Luis Obispo, and then the free hotel shuttle to the Madonna Inn. Arlo was speculating about what kind of shuttle the hotel would have, and it turned out to be an unremarkable maroon minivan, but he seemed satisfied with it. I guess a minivan is pretty exotic to him. The train had a delay coming into SLO, as a train bridge up ahead had been damaged by a too-tall truck passing underneath, but luckily we only had to wait for a half hour, and the bridge was still passable. This was the only major train issue we encountered on our trip, which was pretty good!

Contemplating the Water Wheel
Grandparents and Dutch Mill
Sleepy Boy with Sparkles

This was our first time at the Madonna Inn, and it was great. We were in the Dutch Mill room, with sparkly wallpaper, elaborate mural, and a working water wheel in the middle of the room. Our favorite part was the hotel pool, which wasn't even on my radar when I was planning the trip. It was warm and had a nice shallow part where the boys could walk around, and it wasn't too crowded. I'd definitely like to go there again the next time we're in the neighborhood (and next time I'll bring my swimsuit so I can go in past my knees!).

Madonna Inn Pool
Wishing I Brought a Swimsuit

My mom and Alan met us there (I was happy with how many family visits we were able to fit in over the course of the trip!), and they fed the boys dinner while Patrick and I went out to dinner at the hotel's Gold Rush Steak House. It was so pink; I had trouble capturing the awesomeness of it all. I had a Shirley Temple, and they gave me three maraschino cherries--the mark of a quality establishment! In keeping with the pink theme, I had the pink shrimp Dolce Vita, and we shared the pink champagne cake for dessert. The food wasn't amazing, but I enjoyed the ambiance, and I'd go there again.

Pink Shirt, Pink Lightpost
Lots of Pink

Day 5: SLO/Ventura

This marked the halfway point of our trip, so while Patrick and the boys returned to the hotel pool, I jammed all of our dirty clothes into a backpack and took a very nice walk up the Madonna Inn bike path to a laundromat (Parker Street Coin Laundry), where I sat quietly and didn't have to take care of anyone but myself for an hour and a half. Lovely!

SLO Laundromat

Around lunchtime, we took the hotel shuttle back to the Amtrak station, Patrick picked up some excellent (and large) sandwiches at Gus's Grocery (one block from the station--they have Dutch crunch bread), and the children waited impatiently for the train to Ventura to come (we were on the Surfliner for the remainder of the trip).

I had planned the overnight stop in Ventura to break up our travel and avoid antsy kids on the train, but I'm not sure if that was a good call. We got in around dinnertime, after the fish taco place I wanted to visit had closed, so Patrick went out and got Mexican food and brought it back to the hotel, and Felix had a meltdown about not getting juice (I think? It's hard to keep track--he was kind of fragile for most of the trip, since he skipped his nap for 10 days straight, and we were in a new place nearly every day). I had hoped to visit the beach, but we didn't have the energy and it was getting dark, so we just sat grumpily in our kind of subpar hotel room (we stayed at the Clocktower Inn near the station. It was okay and affordable, but not as nice as the other places we stayed). This was the low point of the trip, but luckily things looked up the next day because we went to...Legoland! (Imagine Felix flailing his arms excitedly like Kermit and exclaiming, "Yay! Legoland!").

Day 6: Yay! Legoland!

We left Ventura on the 7:30am Surfliner and debarked in Oceanside around lunchtime. We had a great lunch at Petite Madeline a few blocks from the Oceanside Transit Center (crepes/sandwiches and an excellent dessert case). I had an elaborate plan to get us to Legoland without a car--it involved taking Breeze bus 101 to the Carlsbad Poinsettia Station and then taking Flex bus 373 (reserved in advance) to Legoland. Unfortunately, I didn't look at the bus 101 route map closely enough, and it turned out that it didn't actually drop off at the Poinsettia Station. So we frantically walked 3/4 mile from the bus stop to the Poinsettia Station (in the heat, with short-legged children), but the Flex bus had already left because we didn't show up on time. Sigh.

If we do this again, I'll have the Flex bus pick us up at an actually stop on the bus 101 route, and we should be golden. Instead, Patrick called us a taxi van. The driver made a fuss about the boys not having booster seats (understandably), but he ended up giving us a ride anyway, and we got to our destination safely (phew!). It was stressful for me, but the boys were excited to ride in a taxi, so that's something.

And even more exciting than a taxi? The Legoland Hotel! I debated whether it was worth paying extra to stay there instead of in a normal hotel a few miles away, but it was totally worth it. We only stayed there for one night, which was sufficient. There was a lot to see/hear/do, and the boys kind of lost their minds, but since the hotel was full of equally loud and excited kids, it was not a problem.

Family at Legoland Hotel
In the Lego Pit at Legoland Hotel

We stayed in one of the pirate rooms, which had a bunk bed, free minifigs, Lego cartoons on TV all the time, and complimentary hot cocoa and juice. Also, Legoland was right out the back door, which meant that we were able to spend a few hours there before dinner (we ate at the Skyline Cafe in the hotel; it was fine), go back after dinner, and then return (early) the next morning.

We spent most of the first afternoon in Fun Town, as it had the most vehicle-themed rides. The fire/police truck ride, helicopters, and safari Jeep ride were a big hit with Felix, and Arlo liked driving school. The lines weren't too long (it was a Thursday afternoon), which was nice. The park had plenty to do, but it was a reasonable scale for young kids--not too overwhelming. The weather was perfect; we ate popsicles. Two thumbs up for Legoland! I'd say it was the highlight of the trip for the boys, and us grown-ups had fun too. Patrick was hesitant to go when I was planning the trip, but I'm very glad he was there, as most of the rides required a parent to accompany children under 48", and getting both boys on the rides with only one parent would have been tough.

Felix at the Wheel, Legoland
Legoland is Fun
Driving School, Legoland

Day 7: More Legoland!

Our stay at the Legoland Hotel included a free (and pretty extensive) breakfast buffet at Bricks, and we got to enter the park an hour early (though only some of the rides were available before the general opening time). I convinced Arlo to ride the Coastersaurus with me. It seemed like a pretty tame roller coaster, so I figured it would be okay, but he did not like it, poor guy. I probably should have just gone on it by myself. Sorry, Arlo!

We revisited our favorite rides from the previous day, ate apple fries, walked around Miniland, and then spent a good amount of time at the attached water park. We stayed there until around 5pm, which felt a few hours too long for Felix (he and I spent the last half hour lying on a grassy hill). A day and a half seemed like the right amount of time to do everything we wanted at Legoland.

We ended the day with a visit to the big Lego store at the park entrance, and Arlo had a meltdown when we didn't buy any Lego sets (there were new Lego sets waiting for them at our next stop on the trip, but that wasn't a convincing argument when they were faced with ALL OF THE LEGOS). Oh well, I'm sure he's not the first child to have a tantrum at the Lego store.

We were staying at West Inn and Suites that night--strategically chosen because they offer a free shuttle to and from Legoland (with booster seats and car seats available in the van!), and they have free cookies. Also, the hotel is only a few blocks from the bus 101 route, so we didn't have to do any complicated transit stuff the following day. I was really happy with the combination of one day at the Legoland Hotel and the second day at West Inn and Suites.

Since we were on vacation (and were tired of plying our children with video games to get them to behave at restaurants), we ordered room service and ate dinner while watching TV. Exciting!

Day 8: Los Angeles

The next morning, we took the Breeze 101 back to the Oceanside Transit Center and caught the Surfliner north to Los Angeles, to visit Aunt Meg (and Simba the dog and Dan the man, with a bonus visit with Aunt Heather and Uncle Jay). I was a little nervous about navigating the LA transit system with two kids, but it turned out fine (though it certainly made me appreciate Portland's 2-hour free transfers and free rides for kids under 7--thanks, TriMet!).

Arlo with LA Metro Map

We took a quick ride on the Metro to Grand Park, where we grabbed sandwiches from the Starbucks in the park and had a picnic. Then it was back on the Metro--first the red line, and then the Expo line to Meg's apartment. I had hoped to stop in the middle to visit the Natural History Museum and Science Center, but they didn't have any place to store our bags, so it wouldn't have worked.

We spent the afternoon relaxing at Meg and Dan's place with Simba and the gang--a nice change of pace. We took Simba to the park and then had yummy burgers at Plan Check. The boys got along well with Simba on this visit--Felix declared his love for Simba repeatedly.

Day 9: Los Angeles

First Time on an Articulated Bus

This was our museum day. We took an articulated Metro bus (a first for all of us--Arlo was very excited!) to LACMA, where we met up with Meg and checked out Metropolis (an exhibit full of Matchbox cars and other toy vehicles racing around a track), and then we spent a few hours at the Petersen Automotive Museum. It would have been nice to spend more time at LACMA, but as we were reminded at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, if it doesn't have wheels, buttons, or levers, the kids aren't interested. Oh, but we did ride the room-sized elevator next to Metropolis--that was pretty cool!

Checking Out Metropolis at LACMA

The car museum had some nice exhibits, and they had a special hands-on room for kids, but overall I didn't like it as much as the Tacoma car museum (but maybe that's just because we had both kids on this trip, and in Tacoma it was just me and Arlo). As you might have guessed, the highlight for the boys was the amazing gift shop, and many tears were shed when we left without buying anything (in retrospect, maybe I should have caved and allowed a toy car purchase, but we already have so many at home!).

Toy Car Heaven

Both boys fell asleep on the bus on the way back to Meg's place, which was sweet. That night, Meg and Dan took care of the boys while Patrick and I walked to Tsujita for ramen (tasty!). For dessert, we got a snow cream at Blockheads, but we didn't see the appeal. Maybe I just chose the wrong flavor.

Day 10: Santa Monica

On our final day in L.A., we took the Big Blue Bus to Santa Monica and spent the morning at the beach (we had surprisingly few beach visits on this trip, but this was a good one). We had lunch a few blocks from the beach at M Street Kitchen, which Meg recommended and I really liked. They were very accommodating, and the food was good.

Santa Monica Beach
Good Lunch at M Street Kitchen

Then we took the bus back to Meg's, where we packed up and started our airport odyssey. We took Big Blue Bus 1 to the Culver City 6R bus to the airport terminal shuttle. Our flight home was uneventful. This was Felix's first flight since he was a little guy, and he thought it was cool, except he was worried that the plane was making too much pollution and was making the Earth too hot (I'm still figuring out the right balance in teaching our kids about climate change without freaking them out).

And then, once we got home to Portland, we found out that the MAX tracks were under construction, so we had to take two MAX trains and two buses to get home. A big travel day: seven buses, two light rail trains, and one airplane! We all slept well that night.

<![CDATA[Bike Camping and Blueberry Picking]]> Fri, 12 Aug 2016 01:58:43 PST
Family Bike Camping at Dodge Park

We went on two family biking adventures in July. The first was an overnight bike camping trip to Dodge Park with Kidical Mass PDX. I skipped last year's trip to Dodge Park because I still had bad memories of biking on Orient Drive (and getting yelled at by a dude in a sports car) from three years before, but we took a new route this year, which avoided Orient Drive, and I liked it much better (for interested people in the Portland area: take the Springwater Trail to 267th, turn right on Stone Rd, left on Short, right on Dodge Park Blvd., right on Lusted Rd). The only bad part was crossing Highway 26, which had very fast traffic and big trucks, but we just waited for a break in the traffic and crossed in small groups. It was a little scary, but it was over quickly and not as bad as biking uphill on Orient Drive, in my opinion. (While we waited for a break in traffic, I was thinking that if somebody in our group did get hurt or killed making that crossing, the comment section on Oregonlive would have been filled with people asking why we had our kids anywhere near Highway 26. It was definitely not a bike- or pedestrian-friendly crossing, but it seemed like the best choice)

(Note to self: Here's another route to Dodge Park that is supposed to be kid-safe. Maybe next year?)

I think this picture represents family bike camping well: a cargo bike with a potty ring at the helm. (Incidentally, we are finally done with potty training--after 14 months--and Felix is down to just Pull-ups at night, which is great! A very welcome milestone.)

The Good Ship Potty Ring

I was undecided about coming along on the trip until the night before, but I'm glad I did. Patrick planned and packed everything, made all of our meals, and carried both boys on his bike. What a guy! After we arrived and ate dinner, we went down to the river (the river on the north side of the park by the playground was our favorite) and caught tadpoles and built little river houses for them. It was nice.

I hadn't been doing much bike riding to prepare for our camping trip, but it wasn't as hard as I remembered. I guess all of those two-kid kindergarten pickups this past year made a difference! Here we are taking a water and snack break on the way home.

Orange Helmet Crew

We stopped at Weece's Market in both directions for cold drinks. This was my first time going inside, and I was impressed at the size of the store interior and the extent of the drink selection. But if you're making this trip, don't expect them to let you use the bathroom. They even turned away two adorable little girls in our group who needed to go.

Cold Drink Stop

Orange Soda Break

Bikes and Blueberries

The following weekend, our family again rode on the Springwater, this time to go blueberry picking. Based on a recommendation from some friends, we went to Powder Blueberry Farm in Gresham. The ride was relatively short and 95% pleasant, and the farm itself was great, but the last mile from the Springwater to the farm was not good. On the way there, we took Foster (exited the Springwater at 158th, then left on Foster, left on Jenne, and right on McKinley). Riding on Foster was not fun, but there was a shoulder, so at least we had a little distance from the cars. The last bit up McKinley was very steep, but the road itself was quiet, so it was just a matter of pushing my bike up the hill.

Picking Blueberries

On the way back, we tried taking Jenne Rd. back to the Springwater, since it was downhill and the speed limit was 5mph lower than on Foster. I should have known better, since another member of the PDX Cargo Bike Gang Facebook group warned against it. It turned out that Jenne was even worse than Foster, because it had no shoulder and no passing lane. We stayed as far to the right as we could, but it was bad. We got buzzed by a couple of cars, and one driver honked at us (and then sped past way too closely). It was pretty terrifying. I wish I could have communicated to those drivers that I knew I'd made a bad choice taking that road, and they didn't need to make it worse by making us fear for our lives.

In Portland proper, drivers are usually pretty good around bikes (especially bikes with small children on the back), but I've had bad experiences with drivers in Gresham. So we definitely won't be taking Jenne again. I liked the blueberry farm a lot, but the lack of nearby bike infrastructure makes me hesitant to return. I don't know if there are any better close-in options accessible by bike though; biking to Sauvie Island to pick berries looks scary too. I know, I know--we could just use a ZipCar to go berry picking, but where's the fun in that?

I made a blueberry buckle with some of our berries. It used a full quart of blueberries, and it was tasty! Best on the first and second days though; after that the streusel got a little soggy.

Blueberry Buckle

<![CDATA[Car-Free Vacation from Portland to Manzanita]]> Wed, 22 Jun 2016 01:53:11 PSTHello again! We're just back from a car-free family trip from Portland to the Oregon coast (Manzanita, by way of Tillamook). I planned this vacation at the last minute, as a way to get the boys out of the house in the two-week gap between school ending and summer camp beginning (also because Felix has been asking to visit the beach, and we didn't go at all last summer).

Since we sold our car last summer, our choices were to either rent a car or take public transportation to the coast. I decided to try taking the Tillamook Wave bus for this trip, to see if it would work for us. It worked out pretty well, and it was about half the price of renting a car (approx. $60 for our family of four, round trip).

We left Portland on Saturday morning, catching the Tillamook Route 5 bus from Union Station. You buy your ticket as you board the bus, and I was worried there wouldn't be enough room for everybody, but it turned out to be only half full. The only downside of this leg of the trip was that we were sitting right behind a woman who reeked of cigarette smoke for the full two hours, and that, in combination with my propensity for motion sickness, left me feeling a little queasy by the time we got to Tillamook. On the bright side, both boys remained happily occupied by video games (Felix was very into Toca Nature this weekend) for the entire trip, and since we weren't driving, it was easy for us to jump in if they needed help or wanted to show us something.

Tillamook Bus

After arriving at the Tillamook Transit Center, we had a late lunch at the Pelican Pub and then hustled back to the Transit Center to catch the Town Loop (Route 1) bus, which only runs once an hour (so the stakes to catch the bus are a little higher than in Portland, where buses run every 15 minutes). If we'd had more time, I would have loved to walk around the Saturday farmers' market, which was set up in the Transit Center parking lot.

Our destination was the Tillamook Cheese Factory, which is pretty close to the Transit Center. I thought about walking there, but (1) Felix gets complainy if he has to walk more than a few blocks and (2) we would have had to walk on the shoulder of a 45mph highway at the end of the route. Because of that, I opted to take the bus instead. It was a roundabout 20-minute ride, but we got to see some cows out the window, and it was fun seeing different parts of town.

The main part of the factory wasn't operating when we visited, which was a bummer, but we still got to see a person shrink-wrapping big blocks of cheese, and we ate ice cream and sampled cheese cubes. Oh, and the boys drove the pretend VW bus in the lobby. Next time we should visit on a weekday so we can see the factory in its full glory, like we did two years ago. Two years between cheese factory visits seems like the right amount of time. It's a fun place to visit, but there's not a lot to do there.

Driving at the Tillamook Cheese Factory

Because the bus to Manzanita doesn't run very frequently from Tillamook, and because I didn't want to overload the boys on bus trips in one day, we ended up spending the night in Tillamook, at the Shilo Inn near the cheese factory. Because of that stretch of road where there are no sidewalks, we took the Route 1 bus less than a mile to get to the hotel, which felt silly, but at least we didn't have to wait long for the bus, and it didn't cost us extra money, since the fare for the town loop bus is good all day long.

The big selling point of the Shilo Inn was that it had a swimming pool, and the boys were pretty excited about that (and even more excited about the adjoining hot tub!). However, being cooped up in the room before and after swimming wasn't great. I had hoped the novelty of watching TV would be enough to keep them happy (we don't have a TV at home; just Netflix), but the channel selection was limited, and most of the options weren't kid-appropriate (best bets: Golden Girls and an infomercial for a dance-based weight-loss program). If they'd had the Food Network, things probably would have been okay, but instead, the boys lost interest and fought, and it was like being back at home, except that we couldn't send them to different rooms. Ack! If we do this again, I would skip the Tillamook side excursion and head straight to Manzanita.

The next morning, we walked across the street to Fred Meyer and caught the Route 3 bus to Manzanita--a 50-minute ride for $3 per adult, with some nice views of the bay and ocean. Thumbs up!

Tillamook Wave Bus to Manzanita

We arrived in Manzanita around 11:30, picked up sandwiches at Bread and Ocean, had a windy beach picnic (sandy sandwiches!), and then hung out at the beach and explored downtown until it was time to check into our rental house. I chose this house because of its proximity to the beach, bunk beds, beach toy stash, and because it was only two blocks outside the tsunami safe zone (those earthquake preparedness articles I read last year really made an impression!). An additional bonus: the TV had tons of channels, and Arlo (and I) remained happily occupied watching hours of Kids Baking Championship when he wasn't at the beach.

Watching TV at Our Manzanita Vacation Rental

We stayed in Manzanita for two nights, had some good beach visits, and made good use of the big downstairs bathtub in the house for cleaning off sandy kids. I was especially glad that Patrick was willing to take the boys to the beach and clean them off repeatedly, since I was more interested in spending a few hours outside and then relaxing at the rental house. Felix, especially, seemed to enjoy himself a lot. He and Arlo found a little creek on the beach and spent hours digging muck out of it. My favorite part was that on Monday morning, I got to lie on a beach towel and read a book in the sun while the boys entertained themselves. Living the dream!

Fathers Day in Manzanita
King of the Mountain
Playing on the Beach

It was a good beach vacation. The boys still had their moments of strife, but it was a nice break from our normal routine.

This morning, we caught the Route 3 bus back to Tillamook. We had two hours between arriving in Tillamook and catching the bus back to Portland. I was worried we'd have nothing to do, but things actually worked out really well--we had lunch at the Dutch Mill (a car-themed burger restaurant--Arlo was psyched!), and then we explored the Pioneer Museum, which was across the street from the bus station. I wasn't expecting much, but it turned out to be pretty cool, especially the upstairs room full of taxidermied animals, big and small. Definitely worth the $4 admission fee (for adults; kids are free).

Pioneer Museum, Tillamook

The bus ride back to Portland took longer than expected due to some traffic outside of Portland, but it wasn't a big deal for us, since we had nowhere to be. And the driver was very nice, which I always appreciate.

I think next time, we might choose to rent a car, so that our travel days aren't so long and so we can make our own schedule (and not have to spend the night in Tillamook just to visit the cheese factory). However, I was pleasantly surprised at how well this trip worked out. The buses were all on time, and they were never too crowded. The bus was affordable, and we were able to give the boys more attention during the ride, avoiding the unpleasant sibling fights that would probably erupt in the back seat of a car (based on previous road trips when the boys were younger).

P.S. To answer a few questions that I had while planning the trip: (1) There's no bathroom on the Wave bus from Portland to Tillamook, but it seems like it's common practice for passengers to take a quick bathroom break in Banks. If you ask the driver, he'll drop you off across the street from Sunset Park, and you can run and use the park restroom while the driver goes to the Banks stop. Then he'll pick you up on his way back out of town. (2) The bus can carry two bikes on the front rack, and we also saw a passenger take his bike inside the bus and store it in the (unoccupied) handicapped seating area when the bus was pretty empty. I don't think you could take cargo bikes on the bus though, which is too bad, since it drops off very near the Banks-Vernonia trailhead, which would be perfect for a bike camping trip to Stub Stewart. This seems like a great option for people camping with normal bikes.

<![CDATA[End of Spring, Summer Plans]]> Fri, 17 Jun 2016 02:20:15 PSTIt feels strange writing a post about what I've been up to when the news this week has been so sad. I haven't known what to say. I saw this on Twitter (from @spiritandhaven, modified slightly), and it feels appropriate: "LGBT+ friends: you have my heart, my support, my affirmation, my vote, my voice, my empathy, my love. I am by your side." Sending love out into the world...

Back in April, I took my first solo vacation since Arlo was born, to visit my dad and his ladyfriend, Hope, in Boulder. The original impetus was to see Devotchka's production of Sweeney Todd in Denver (which turned out to be excellent), but I also got to spend some quality time with my dad and Hope and eat good food in Boulder (brunch at Tangerine--thumbs up!). I'm very glad I was able to make the trip.

When I came back from my trip, this sign was on the door to the boys' room ("To mama only: Do not enter. This is a me and Felix area"). When I asked why I couldn't come in their room, Arlo said he was planning on putting up some "inappropriate signs" and wouldn't elaborate further. Subsequently, Felix showed me the signs that Arlo made: ten post-it notes reading "horse butt" in rainbow colors. Horse butt!

Horse Butt

In early May, Felix turned four and had his first birthday party with friends invited (he didn't really have friends in previous years, since he hadn't started preschool yet). His aversion to cream cheese remains for the moment, so he requested yellow cake with chocolate frosting for his birthday. He's still working on producing enough air to blow out candles, so I ended up helping him out.

Fourth Birthday Cake
Four Years Old

I can see the light at the end of the potty training tunnel with Felix (knock on wood). He's almost there, and he's very proud of the progress that he's made (I am too!).

It's still very hard to get either child to sit nicely for a picture, especially when they're together. Here's the best Mother's Day picture we could get this year. My mom and Alan were visiting that weekend, so we were able to get all four of us in the picture.

Family Portrait

In mid-May, Arlo finished Little League, which was a relief, since he didn't seem to be enjoying it. Once he was at the game, it was fine; he just hated having to stop what he was doing at home to go play baseball (same deal with going to school, actually). I'm glad Arlo was willing to try something new (and I'm also glad that his baseball-loving Grandpa Rick was able to come visit and watch Arlo play).

Little League

At the end of May, Arlo turned six (!), and he invited six friends over for his birthday party. I was feeling a little under the weather at the time, so he had birthday donuts, with our traditional banana cake with cream cheese frosting (this time in pink) coming a few days later.

Sixth Birthday Doughnut
Six Years Old
Banana Cake

We've been trying to get Arlo to stop sucking his thumb for a while now. During school drop-off, Patrick learned that when one of Arlo's classmates turned six, he turned in his blankie in exchange for a $35 shopping spree at the toy store. When we mentioned this to Arlo, he seemed game, so we put good old Squirrel Blankie away, and Arlo got to take a big shopping trip to Finnegan's. He came home with four toy vehicles, of course. It seems like he has stopped sucking his thumb now that Blankie is out of the picture, which is great (he was only doing it in bed at this point).

The boys got some cool Lego sets for their birthdays. The most complex was the Lego Ghostbuster car, which Arlo built in one day with only a little help from grown-ups. He was very proud of his work--so proud that he wrote about it in his kindergarten assignment the next day ("I can build a 521-piece Lego kit all in one day!"--though he would want me to tell you that it's actually 508 pieces; he remembered the number incorrectly at school).

Kindergarten Project

A few weeks ago, Patrick took both boys bike camping (separately). He took Arlo to Stargazer Farm (near Dodge Park) over Memorial Day weekend as part of the Swift Bike Camp. The following weekend, he took Felix up to Seattle (via Bolt Bus) for a family bike camping event with our friend Jon (more here, from the ever impressive Madi of Family Ride). Here's a picture of Arlo smiling a genuine smile--quite a rare thing at the moment (I mean, he smiles real smiles; he just doesn't usually do it when somebody's taking a picture of him).

Arlo Bike Camping

Following a spring cold, Felix had been having trouble hearing us for over a month (though it's sometimes hard to tell if he really didn't hear us or is just messing with us). Arlo has the same issue after getting a cold, but it usually clears up a little faster. Patrick took Felix to the pediatrician earlier this week, and it looks like there's fluid in his ears, so he wasn't just pretending to be hard of hearing. The doctor told us to give him Flonase for the next month, to see if that helps, and if not, he may need ear tubes. I made the mistake of searching online for more information, which made me a little nervous, but I talked with the mother of one of Arlo's classmates, and she said it was no big deal when her son had ear tubes.

The school year ended for both boys a week ago, and the first few days with both of them home were pretty bad. Lots of squabbling and whining "I'm bored!" This prompted me to make a summer calendar detailing exactly what we're going to do each day. I've found that getting them out of the house makes the day easier (keeping them apart from each other is even better, but that's not an option during the week).

Week 1 of my summer plan included Arlo cooking brunch (with assistance), a trip to the grocery store to buy junk cereal (a new end-of-school tradition, borrowed from Twitter), a library visit, a trip to the Belmont fire museum, a picnic, and a playdate with a kindergarten friend. Tomorrow: bowling and ice cream! I'm glad they'll be starting summer "camp" (modified Montessori lessons at Felix's preschool) three mornings a week in July, because I don't think I could keep up this pace all summer.

In other news, nearly 20 years after the fact, I have finally gotten around to reading Harry Potter. I was a little too old to be interested in the series when it first came out, but I was curious about whether Arlo was ready for it (Answer: No, he's not. The first page of the first book was too spooky for him, and he refused to listen to any more). Arlo wasn't interested, but us grown-ups decided to give it a try. We just finished all of the books, and we're nearly done with the movies. I'm kind of glad that I waited until the series was finished so I didn't have to wait a year between books. And now I'm ready to appreciate all of the Harry Potter references that I come across in my day-to-day activities!

I haven't posted about my knitting recently, in part because I haven't been knitting much with the warmer weather. So far this year, I've knit a couple hats (you can see them all on Ravelry, if you're interested). I joined my friend Lee's leethal VIP club, and I had fun knitting the first two hats: Provocateur and Omnia. The third hat for this year was just released, and I'm hoping to start it this weekend. Lee comes up with such creative designs!

Provocateur Hat
Omnia Hat
Omnia Hat

And a couple new recipes I've enjoyed recently:

  • Mini potato skins (omitted bacon) served with lil' smokies in BBQ sauce, and sauteed kale - I made this because Patrick was having a potato skin craving, and it was good!
  • Beef and barley soup with mushrooms - Followed the soup portion of the recipe, using 6c beef broth (which I had previously made in the Instant Pot with beef soup bones) and 1.25lb stew beef; cooked on Stew setting in the IP for 30 minutes. Even better the next day.

<![CDATA[Springtime Update + Car-Free Trip to Tacoma]]> Sun, 10 Apr 2016 02:24:44 PSTSpringtime! The sun has been out, the weather has been warm, and I've been spending lots of time in the garden. We got a yard of mulch delivered a week ago, and the boys had an excellent time transporting it (very slowly) in their dump trucks. And now the yard looks so nice and fresh.

Mulch Pile Fun
Garden, April 2016
Garden, April 2016
Garden, April 2016

Here are some favorites from my walk around the garden this afternoon.

Peony Athena
Seathrift, Dianthus, Phlox
Lilac in a Heath Bud Vase

(Lilac season!)

I recently finished buying some new clothes for spring and summer, following my approach from last fall. You can see a sampling of what I bought below. I tried to stick with the colors in the poppy print by Kelli Murray - coral, persimmon, ochre, and blue-gray, plus stripes. Almost everything is from J. Crew (regular site and Factory), Madewell, and LOFT. Given all the time in the world, I'd rather shop locally, but my kid-free time is pretty scarce, and taking a three-year-old clothing shopping would be hellish (the kid can't even handle waiting in line for an ice cream cone!). Hopefully in a few years I can do a better job of supporting our local economy.

Spring 2016 Wardrobe Sampler

I started the MuTu program back in January, hoping to close my diastasis recti and get my midsection looking like it did pre-babies (I never got back to the Tupler technique/Tummy Team program after having Felix. The splint-wearing just put me off too much). I'm 11 weeks into the 12-week program, and my core is feeling stronger, my leg and arm muscles are more defined, and I think I've lost weight (I'm waiting to weigh myself until I reach the 12-week mark). However, my tummy doesn't look much different than it did when I started. I'm guessing it's because of my lousy alignment when I'm not doing my exercises. Slouching on the couch for hours at a time can't be good, but there's only so much I'm willing to change my lifestyle to make my tummy (which nobody except my family will see anyway) look nicer. Despite the lack of progress in the tummy region, I'm planning on continuing to follow the program after the 12-week end point, since I'm feeling strong and healthy. Maybe in a year I'll have "after" pictures that look different enough from the "before" pictures that I'll share them here.

The main diet change I've made in association with MuTu is drinking green smoothies for breakfast every morning. I like them, and sometimes Felix will even drink a smoothie sample (Arlo won't touch the stuff though--pshaw, five year olds). I haven't noticed the burst of energy and glowing skin that green smoothie bloggers promise, but I feel good knowing that I'm fitting more fruits and vegetables into my diet.

Arlo started Little League a few weeks ago--his first organized sport. Patrick's side of the family is big into sports, but the boys haven't been too interested in sports so far. When Arlo was first signed up for baseball, he kept referring to it as soccer and basketball. Now that he's started playing, I think he understands which sport it is. Patrick is one of the assistant coaches on the team. They look cute in their matching hats.

Same Hat!

Here are the boys "pretending to be college students" in their baseball hats (Arlo has strong ideas about what college students do. He thinks they all skateboard and say "dude" too).

Brothers in Baseball Hats

I feel like Arlo has become less complainy and more even keeled in the past few months, but Felix has taken over Arlo's negative language habits, unfortunately. There's lots of whining and screaming in our house these days (mostly from Felix). It's hard to stay calm and patient, but luckily Felix is super cute when he's not being irrational and shouty and threatening to kill us (sigh). Also, he still takes an afternoon nap, thank goodness.

Felix Colors Intently
Kid Pile

Spring Break was a few weeks ago, and I took Arlo on a train trip to Tacoma. Not a common Spring Break destination, but it was a great place to take a vehicle-loving kid, as they have an awesome car museum. We stayed at a hotel (the Best Western) near the train station, and the walk to the hotel was kind of dicey (not a pedestrian-friendly area; lots of big semi-trucks rumbling by), but the rest of the trip was good. Tacoma has a free light rail that took us everywhere we wanted to go. The car museum was the highlight of the trip, especially the muscle car exhibit. We spent a lot of time in the gift shop and then ate lunch at the cafe overlooking the cars. Arlo gave it two thumbs up!

Two DeLoreans--Whatever
Happy Boy

We spent two nights in Tacoma, and luckily Arlo was happy sitting in the hotel watching the Food Network (he's a Guy Fieri fan now), because I ran out of kid-friendly things to do after the first day. After a morning at the car museum, we went to Learning Sprout Toys, the Children's Museum, Tinkertopia, the Lego studio at Freighthouse Square, and Tacoma Book Center. I couldn't convince Arlo to check out the Glass Museum. The toy store and car museum were the biggest hits; the others were a fine way to spend a little time, but they didn't hold his attention for very long. He also liked getting a cupcake at Hello, Cupcake, and we enjoyed breakfast at the Renaissance Cafe (he really wanted to get breakfast at our hotel two mornings in a row because they had make-your-own waffles, but I managed to convince him that breakfast at a real restaurant would be way better).

Hello, Cupcake in Tacoma

I was happy to find a kid-friendly trip that we could take near Portland without having to rent a car--everything was accessible via train and public transit. I'm glad I didn't try to bring my bike--Tacoma was hilly!

Take Me to the River

Because of the lovely weather this week, Patrick took Arlo on an overnight bike camping trip to Oxbow Park a few days ago. Poor Felix hasn't gone camping in a while because he's only halfway done with potty training, and we're trying to use camping as an incentive to get him to poop in the potty. Us grown-ups are really ready to be done with potty training (we've been at it for over a year, and Felix is almost four years old), but Felix--not so much. I guess having a slow potty trainer the second time around is karmic retribution for having a first child who was regularly pooping in the potty by nine months old.

Hmm, there's no graceful way to transition from potty talk to food, but here you go--some favorite recipes from the past few months:

  • Lentil-orzo soup with cheddar and scallion drop biscuits - Added 8oz frozen chopped ham to the soup before pressure cooking. I liked the texture that the orzo added. The soup didn't freeze well.
  • Mac and cheese bites, collard greens, and Instant Pot applesauce - A very nice dinner. I was worried that the mac and cheese sauce was too soupy before baking, but it firmed up in the oven. It made 15 normal-sized muffins, crispy on the edges, just how I like them.
  • Cabbage with kielbasa - I replaced the bacon with a quarter of a kielbasa sausage, cut the butter by half, and added a diced carrot and scallion. Nice side dish.
  • Oven-roasted okra (I omitted the cumin and chili powder) - An easy and tasty side dish. Served with red beans and rice.
  • Pressure cooker kale with garlic and lemon - Another easy, healthy side.
  • All-purpose cornbread - Moist and a little sweet, thanks to blending in (frozen) corn kernels.
  • For square root day (4/4/16), I managed to plan ahead, and we had a very square and rooty meal: Pancetta asparagus hash topped with fried eggs, sourdough toast squares, and carrot cake squares (baked in 8x8 pan for about 45 minutes, frosted) for dessert. I chose that particular carrot cake recipe because it seemed a little healthier than most (it was originally for a snack loaf). Us grown-ups enjoyed it, but even with the frosting, the boys declined leftover cake the following day. I guess they prefer cake that doesn't contain root vegetables.

Square Root Day Dinner

  • Bran muffins with raisins and dates - Made these smaller than specified (yielded 24 muffins instead of 20), baked 17 minutes. Yummy!
  • Triple-coconut macaroons - Good way to use up egg whites (though it may leave you with leftover cream of coconut instead--I used the extra to make virgin piña coladas). Good, but not as good as my Auntie Nance's macaroons.
  • Custard experiment in the Instant Pot: Whisked together 3c 1% milk, 3 eggs, 1/2c maple syrup, 1/2t vanilla, and a pinch of salt. Distributed between 9 ramekins (I think they're 6oz capacity), covered with foil, cooked in two batches in the Instant Pot on a rack over 1c water. First batch was 6 ramekins (stacked with a rack between) 2 min on high then natural release. Second batch was 3 ramekins, 3 min on high and natural release. The texture was better for the second batch, though to avoid skin on top, next time I would blend better or strain before cooking.

<![CDATA[Fall and Christmas 2015]]> Sat, 09 Jan 2016 02:48:09 PSTFour posts in one day! This is the last one, then I'll probably disappear from the blog for another three months :)

Since I last wrote, both boys have gotten really into coloring, specifically coloring pictures of vehicles found online. Felix tends to color his pictures "scribble-scrabble" (his words), mostly with orange markers, while Arlo considers his color choices more carefully.


Felix has become afraid of the dark in the past few months. He'll ask one of us to keep him company when he has to visit the downstairs bathroom when it's dark outside. He gets nervous when he sees his reflection in the window at night. Luckily, he'll go to bed without complaint as long as the upstairs bathroom light is on. He is also very worried about the robot kids from Monsters, Inc. and talks about them often. We have to assure him that they're not real. He's not worried about the monsters at all, but any computer-generated human in a movie or TV show terrifies him. Most recently, he's wanted to talk a lot about what happens when somebody dies. He's got a lot going on in his head these days!

Love Graffiti, SE 26th and Clinton, Portland

He also remains very cuddly and affectionate, which is the best! Less good is that he's not afraid to repeat overheard swear words and other objectionable content (he keeps it clean in preschool, thankfully, but he's not afraid to shout potty words from the back of the bike when we're out riding, which is embarrassing). Recently, he has picked up "hate" from Arlo, much to my chagrin. Arlo tends to have a negative outlook at times (hopefully it's just a phase), but Felix has such a sweet spirit that it makes me sad to hear him say he hates things.

Arlo and Felix get into plenty of fights, but they also have wonderful moments together. Frequently, Arlo will sit with Felix and read to him and try to teach him new things or help him when he gets frustrated. They like to make up games together. Pictured below: Astronauts. Arlo is Chris Hadfield (note the mustache) and Felix is Scott Kelly.


In the mornings, when the heater turns on outside their room, they'll go sit together and look at books. Sometimes they fight, but other times they sit and talk so nicely. The other morning, Felix wanted to know if Arlo would live with him once they're grown-ups and they don't live at home anymore. Of course, Arlo agreed.

The day after my last posting spree, in mid-October, we went on our annual trip out to Kiyokawa Orchards to go apple picking. However, due to the hot summer, U-pick apple season was already over. Luckily, the nice ladies still let us walk around the orchard with wagons and sample whatever apples we could still find on the trees, which is all that Felix and Arlo really wanted to do in the first place. We bought a couple pounds of already-picked apples at the farm stand before leaving, which became pie and applesauce.

Kiyokawa Orchards

Because we lost an October weekend to our tenth-anniversary trip (well, "lost" may be the wrong word--that was an awesome way to spend our time!), we skipped going to a pumpkin patch this year. Instead, Patrick took the boys to our local grocery store, and they bought pumpkins there and hauled them home in their wagon, and then they got Blue Star Donuts. No bounce house or pony rides in this scenario, but still a good time.

Pumpkin expedition

For Halloween this year, Arlo wanted to be whatever Felix was, and Felix changed his mind a few times (he wanted to dress up as a giant pair of lips for a while, which would have been a challenging/creepy costume), but he finally decided to be a skeleton, inspired by a friend at preschool. I ordered two pairs of glow-in-the-dark skeleton jammies, made some ridiculously small masks, and we were all set. I did do a tiny bit of Halloween sewing--I made matching bags with reflective ribbon handles--but apparently I never photographed those. It ended up raining on Halloween, but we still did our cute little neighborhood costume parade, and then Patrick and the boys trick-or-treated for a while.

Two Little Skeletons
Two Little Skeletons

As I noted in my earlier post, when the rain came I sewed waterproof blankets for my cargo bike. I spent a while looking at different options to keep myself dry-ish on the bike (rain skirts, rain pants), and I ended up buying Rainlegs (I prefer to call them rain chaps) at Clever Cycles. The upper-thigh buckles got caught on my bike seat the first time I wore them, which was annoying, so after that, I fastened those buckles in front (just to keep them out of the way; they don't actually serve a purpose when buckled in front). The Rainlegs still stay on just fine, and I'm happy with their performance. The one day that it rained really hard, the backs of my knees got wet, but that's way better than how things were before the rain chaps.

Rain Chaps

For Thanksgiving, both boys made hand turkeys at school (yes!) and we went to a bikey friend's house for dinner. This was actually my first time meeting him because I'm a social recluse, but Patrick and the boys have gone on lots of rides with him. He lives in a building that used to house a little grocery store, and he has a super long table, perfect for Thanksgiving. We brought pie (my standard apple and pumpkin--I finally managed to bake the Cook's Illustrated pumpkin pie for just the right amount of time so the center wasn't jiggly), simple cranberry sauce, and rolls from Little T. That's Felix coloring vehicle pages at the end of the table.

Hand Turkeys!
Big table fulfilling its destiny

In between Thanksgiving and Christmas, we hired Bruce, the painter who worked on our kitchen remodel, to paint a few upstairs rooms. He doesn't have a website, as far as I can tell, but feel free to email me if you'd like a reference for a Portland painter--he does good work, and he's a nice guy.

First, we had him paint our stairwell Benjamin Moore Gray Wisp 1570, which was very similar to the color that was there before, just a little lighter. We had lots of almost-matching areas of paint where we'd had repairs done (electrical, plumbing), and it's nice to have a uniform paint job in the stairwell again.

New Paint: Entryway

We had the upstairs hallways painted BM Queen Anne Pink HC-60 (with Linen White 912 on the ceiling), which looks really nice with our dark wood (top picture is before, bottom is after). You can see the new linen closet that was added when we had our chimney taken down during the kitchen remodel. I love that thing! The third picture shows the Gray Wisp and Queen Anne Pink next to each other in the stairwell.

Linen Closet, Before Painting
New Paint: Upstairs Hallway
New Paint: Stairwell

The bathroom was what finally pushed me to get the painting done. I was tired of looking at the messed up wood wainscoting behind the sink. I decided I'd like to have the wood painted (I know, painting wood trim is frowned upon. I like the wood in the rest of our house, but it was looking pretty worn out in the bathroom). We're planning on remodeling the bathroom in a few years, so we didn't want to spend a lot of time or money, so we only had Bruce paint three of the four walls (the fourth wall is partially blocked by our very heavy clawfoot tub, so it would have been difficult to paint the whole thing). This resulted in a funny-looking half-painted corner behind the toilet, but it's fine. I'm already used to it.

Weird Bathroom Corner

The paint color is BM Subtle AF-310, a nice warm yellow/cream color. The one thing I'd do differently in retrospect is have the baseboards painted. I had Bruce leave them wood colored, to echo the wood on the window and door, but I'm not crazy about the dark baseboard/white wainscoting look, now that I've seen it for real.

Upstairs Bathroom, Before Painting
New Paint: Bathroom

While we were at it, we had the boys' room repainted. I spent a long time looking at different shades of gray (from left to right in the first picture, there's Edgecomb Gray, Winter Orchard, Moonshine, Revere Pewter, and Gray Owl). I went with BM Revere Pewter HC-172 for the walls with Mascarpone AF-20 for the trim and Linen White for the ceiling. The room is north-facing, so I wanted a warm gray, and Revere Pewter is looking good so far. I would expect nothing less from the most pinned paint color on Pinterest!

Boys Room, Before Painting
New Paint: Boys Room

When we moved the boys back into their room after painting, we also upgraded Arlo to a twin-sized bed (an IKEA Kura loft bed, bought on Craigslist--yay!), which gave us room for a little reading nook underneath. After lots of bean bag research, I ended up buying two 30-inch bean bag inserts from Land of Nod (with nice, sturdy covers from Etsy). They ended up being firm, not squishy (this could be because the covers are snug--maybe they'll be squishier when they're broken in), and they take up more space than I'd anticipated under the bed, but it's still a nice place to hang out. The boys don't actually use it much, but I like it a lot. During winter break, I snuck away and read under there a few times, while the boys played Legos downstairs. I have plans to fancy things up more (curtain, bookshelf), but who knows when that will happen.

We did the advent calendar again this year, mostly unchanged from 2014. The big new addition this year was that we actually rode on the Holiday Express train, instead of just going to see it from the Springwater Corridor (the boys didn't enjoy that in years past--too loud from outside the train). We almost missed the train because there was a super-long freight train blocking our original route, but thanks to Patrick's biking knowledge, we took an alternate route and got there with five minutes to spare. The ride itself was fun, though the boys got a little antsy. I hadn't read much about the train in advance, so when Santa and his elves came through the car, it was a bit of a surprise, especially for Felix, who was feeling nervous about Santa this year ("Why can't he leave the presents on the porch like the UPS guy? He doesn't need to come into our house while we're sleeping!"). But Santa gave Felix a candy cane, and all was forgiven.

First Ride on the Holiday Express Train

Advent calendar baking was the same as last year (same recipes too): gingerbread cookies, panettone, and sugar cookies. This year, I made the full recipe of panettone and baked half in our 1.5-quart crockpot insert and half in a loaf pan. It got stale before we could eat it all--maybe next year I'll freeze the second loaf for later.

Christmas Cookies
Christmas Cookies

For our annual family Christmas ornament this year, I kept things easy and made felt letters.

Christmas 2015: Family Ornament

Patrick's sister Meg came to visit for Christmas week, and she brought her puppy, Simba! This was Simba's first experience living with little kids, and there were some tense moments, but mostly he was a very good dog. Felix had variable feelings about Simba--"I love Simba so much" about 75% of the time, and "Simba is mean. He needs to go back home right now." about 25% of the time. I think Simba felt the same way.

Christmas Cookies
Felix and Three Aunts

We got to spent Christmas Eve and Day with the usual suspects (including all aunts and uncles!) from Patrick's side of the family. We did our big dinner on Christmas Eve, with maple-orange glazed ham, mashed sweet potatoes in the Instant Pot (from Pressure Cooker Perfection), macaroni and cheese, dinner rolls, kale salad, black olives, sparkling cider, and the aforementioned pressure-cooker Oreo cheesecake. The cheesecake was the best part.

On Christmas morning, the boys entered vehicle heaven (and now Patrick is working on building a shelf especially for all of the Bruder vehicles, because those things take up a lot of floor space), and then we had our traditional breakfast of sour cream coffee cake, sausage, eggs, and grapefruit.

Vehicle Heaven

After family left, we had a low-key New Year's Eve (I didn't make anything special to eat--I think we had quesadillas?) and rang in the new year listening to drunk people arguing at our next-door neighbor's party, same as last year (I can't complain too much though; they've had very few loud parties in the past year. If you've gotta have one, New Year's Eve is the right time). We had our standard New Year's Day Dutch baby breakfast, and then for dinner, I tried some new recipes from Alton Brown: Black eyed peas, collard greens (made in the Instant Pot: used 1/4lb chopped bacon instead of the ham hock, browned the bacon first and removed during wilting then added back for pressure cooking; skipped the second cooking step), and cornbread (1.5x recipe in our 10" cast iron pan; halved sugar but would use full amount in the future) and honey butter. It was all good (especially the greens!) and worth making again.

I had lots of leftover black-eyed peas, due to lack of interest from children, so I made them into minestrone. Still not interesting to the children, but the grown-ups enjoyed it.

On the last day of our two-week-long winter break, we got snow, and it was beautiful, and the boys took vehicles out and "plowed" the sidewalk, and Felix got to throw a snowball at me while I was wearing my pajamas. A good winter memory!

Snow Day
Snowball Time
Snow Arlo
Two Brother Plowing

Less good was when that snow turned to ice, and the next two days of school were cancelled. We (mostly) enjoyed our family togetherness for those first two weeks of winter break, but those final two unexpected days cooped up in the house together were tough. We passed the time with movies on the first day (Monsters, Inc. again, and their first viewing of Toy Story) and Legos on the second day. And then school, glorious school, resumed, and we're getting back into our normal routine. Phew! Happy 2016!

<![CDATA[Recent Knitting]]> Sat, 09 Jan 2016 00:56:40 PSTWith the onset of cold weather, I've been knitting a lot, as I do every year. In the summer, I can't muster any enthusiasm for knitting, but things look up come October. So far this season, it has been all about hats for me (plus one pair of mittens for 3-year-old Felix, who got supremely frustrated trying to put on the gloves I bought for him).

Felixs Scrappy Mittens

Two kid-sized hats to donate to charity via Felix's preschool: Accidental Cupcake and a super-squishy Syncopation Adoration:

Accidental Cupcake Hat
Preschooler Brioche Hat

(I had to bribe Felix with half a candy cane to get that second picture. He does not like wearing hats or standing still)

Three Caitlin-sized hats, all so pretty, but some of them may be given away, since I don't really need three new hats for myself (or do I?): Bray, Directrix, and Loch.

Cherry Bray
Directrix Hat
Peachy Pink Loch Hat

And finally, two hats made with the same yarn--Blue Moon Fiber Arts De-Vine in the River Rocked colorway: Close Cables and Barry. Arlo has claimed the Barry for himself. The colors of this yarn are so pretty close up, but I don't think they look very appealing in pictures. I thought it was interesting that the close cables hat had lots of pooling, while the Barry hat (a fun and creative design by my friend, Lee) avoided pooling because of the variable stitch counts. I'll have to keep Barry in mind next time I'm using variegated yarn!

Close Cables Hat
Barry Hat

<![CDATA[Instant-Pot-Heavy Recipe Roundup]]> Sat, 09 Jan 2016 00:18:16 PSTRecipe roundup! I've been using the Instant Pot nearly every night since purchasing it, in part because it's an exciting new appliance, but also because it tends to produce good food with less effort than would normally be required. I'm not so sure if it's really saving me much time most nights (it usually takes longer than I expected to get up to pressure), but I'm still very happy with my purchase.

Instant Pot/pressure cooker recipes that I've tried and liked in the past few months:

  • Butternut squash puree: I placed the steamer rack and 1c water in the IP, then put the squash in whole. I cooked on Steam for 20 minutes, then quick released, and it wasn't quite done, so I scooped it out of its shell and steamed the innards for a bit longer. This certainly wasn't much of a time or effort saver, but I think once I figure out the right cooking time, it could be good.
  • Clam chowder: I followed the Cook's Illustrated quick pantry clam chowder recipe, but after adding potatoes, I cooked it on High for 5 min, followed by quick release. I served this in homemade bread bowls (using the Smitten Kitchen light wheat bread recipe baked for 30 min), alongside steamed kale (also made in the Instant Pot: Left the stems on, chopped the kale roughly, added 1c water and cooked on High for 4 min followed by quick release). The bread recipe made three 3" boules (for kids) and three 4" boules for adults; next time I would increase the recipe to give 4" boules for kids and 6" for adults. Or just buy bread bowls, because that's a lot of work.
  • Red beans and rice: I cooked the beans in the Instant Pot as directed, then I transferred them to a pot on the stove to simmer so I could also cook the rice in the Instant Pot. This turned out well, but I need to find a less spicy andouille sausage substitute so the boys will eat it too.
  • Senate Navy Bean Soup: I used a big leftover ham bone plus half a pound of diced ham from Christmas Eve dinner (I added the diced ham at the end of cooking so it wouldn't dry out). After 20 min on Soup, the beans weren't done, so I cooked them for an additional 5 min. Some of the beans were still a little underdone at this point, but apart from that, the soup was very good. This texture issue could have been caused by the large ham bone I used--it lifted some of the beans out of the broth during cooking. The flavor was nice, so I'd like to try again with ham hocks.
  • Instant Pot applesauce: 8 apples (cored and quartered) + 3/4c water, cooked on low pressure for 10 min, then quick release. I ran the resulting sauce through the coarse plate on our food mill then added 4T lemon juice and 4T sugar. Very good!
  • Tapioca: I followed the linked recipe, but I had to add extra time because I was using small pearls instead of seed tapioca. Next time I would cook for 12min on high, and I would cut the amount of sugar added. It really firmed up after the overnight chill, and it was certainly easier than the tapioca recipe on the back of the Bob's Red Mill package (separating eggs? No thanks).
  • Pumpkin cheesecake: I used the linked recipe divided between one 6" and two 4" shallow cheesecake pans (had to cook in two batches). I covered the pans with buttered foil, cooked the 6" for 20 min and the 4" stacked with a steamer between for 15 min. The tops cracked, but the taste and texture were excellent! With the Instant Pot, making cheesecake is easy. A little too easy--I keep craving cheesecake now that I know that it's no harder than making cookies.
  • For Christmas Eve dessert, I made an Oreo cheesecake in the Instant Pot. It was based on this recipe (no topping), but I used 10 crushed Oreos for the crust (this gave about 1c crumbs, but I still mixed them with the specified 2T of butter), and I stirred 6 chopped Oreos into the filling before cooking. I cooked this in a 7-inch x 3-inch removable bottom cheesecake pan, which I ordered after I had such good results with the pumpkin cheesecake. Chilled overnight and garnished with Oreo halves right before serving. So good!

    Oreo Cheesecake

And a few non-Instant Pot recipes:

  • Teriyaki tofu: Based on this recipe, but I substituted 1/2-inch-thick slices of firm tofu (1lb total) for the chicken. I used the same cooking directions, but I added a few tablespoons of canola oil to the sauce, to make up for the lack of chicken fat. I served this with white rice (cooked in the Instant Pot, of course: 1c rice to 1.5c water, Rice button, natural release) and cumin-ginger carrot coins. Our children ate more food than they usually do at dinner (sometimes Arlo just leaves the table without eating anything--luckily he fills up at breakfast and snacktime), so that definitely earns this recipe make-again status.
  • Bean and mushroom enchiladas - Good, omitted pepper; made with small flour tortillas to avoid cracked tortilla frustration. Might add corn to the filling next time.
  • Uncle Austin's granola: A half recipe made three quarts of granola. This recipe uses milk powder, which is great because we have two packages of expired milk powder in our freezer, which came from our emergency food boxes. I used maple syrup in place of some of the honey and increased the total amount of sweetener to 3/4c (for the half recipe). This didn't turn out very clustery (cluster size and count are important granola attributes for the boys), but it's still really good. Arlo in particular asks frequently to make this again so he can have homemade granola. Also, this is a good recipe for children to help with--lots of measuring and dumping.

<![CDATA[Waterproof Cargo Bike Blankets]]> Fri, 08 Jan 2016 16:07:48 PSTHere's a post for my fellow crafty cargo bikers out there in Internet-land! The usual disclaimer applies: I'm not a sewing expert, so this is just what worked for me. You may know an even better way to do this!

Since we're now car-free, I'm committed to doing school pickups by bike, even on cold, rainy days. The Mini Magic Carpet pads on our Xtracycle Edgerunner are kind of waterproof, but they soak up water in a downpour and then stay soggy for a long time, so I decided to sew some blankets for the cargo bike--waterproof on one side, cozy fleece on the other. I was hoping this would help me avoid the soggy seating issues and would maybe even let me skip putting rain pants on Felix (so many layers to put on every time we leave the house in the winter!).

I sewed two of these--one for each child. They attach with velcro to the end tubes of the Hooptie, but they can also attach around the child's waist (as I note at the end of this post, I'd recommend lengthening the ribbon strips by a bit if you want to use this approach). I added reflective ribbon accents for safety. When not in use, they can be folded in thirds, rolled up, and stored on the bike.

Cargo Bike Blankets in Use
Cargo Bike Blankets in Use

Here's what I did:

Materials (for one blanket):

  • One 31" by 20" rectangle of blanket fleece
  • One 31" by 20" rectangle of polyurethane laminate (PUL)
  • One 60" length of 5/8"-wide reflective ribbon, cut into two 20" pieces (for the sides of the blanket) and two 10" pieces (for attaching to the bike)
  • One 5" length of 5/8"-wide sew-on velcro
  • Two 9.5" lengths of 5/8"-wide fold-over elastic, to make the loops that secure the blanket when it's rolled up

Step 1: Using a universal needle, sew a 20" length of reflective ribbon onto the shiny side of the PUL, approx. three inches from each short edge.

Waterproof Cargo Bike Blanket

Step 2: Sew the soft side of the velcro to the end of one of the 10-inch reflective ribbons (reflective side up), and sew the rough side of the velcro to the end of the other 10-inch ribbon (reflective side down).

Waterproof Cargo Bike Blanket

Step 3: Align velcro ribbons and loops of fold-over elastic along long edge of the fleece, right side up (if you can tell the difference), spaced as shown. Place PUL on top, shiny side down. Sew around (with ball point needle) with 1/2-inch seam allowance, leaving an opening a few inches wide on one edge.

Waterproof Cargo Bike Blanket
Waterproof Cargo Bike Blanket
Waterproof Cargo Bike Blanket

Step 4: Turn blanket right side out, and top stitch around (with ball point needle, PUL side down), stitching opening closed in the process.

Waterproof Cargo Bike Blanket

Here are pictures of the blanket deployed on the bike and rolled up for storage. The velcro straps ended up being a little long, so I normally wrap them around the Hooptie tubes a few times to make them hold more snugly. They're also just barely long enough to velcro around a kid's waist instead of the Hooptie. If I were going to do that regularly, I'd make them longer, as it's a tight fit, especially over the kids' cold weather gear.

Waterproof Cargo Bike Blanket
Waterproof Cargo Bike Blanket
Waterproof Cargo Bike Blanket

I've used the blankets a handful of times so far, and they get the job done, though they do tend to get wet at the bottom in a downpour, probably because stitching the ribbon to the PUL made holes in it. The blankets have kept everything sufficiently dry though; no complaints from the boys. And I can toss them in the dryer when we get home, so that they'll be dry and ready to use the next time we go out!

Cargo Bike Blankets in Use

<![CDATA[Tour de Ladd and Tenth Anniversary Trip (Car-Free to Victoria BC)]]> Sun, 18 Oct 2015 02:40:06 PSTBack in May, I attended my first PTA meeting for Arlo's school, and I volunteered to help with the Tour de Ladd, one of their annual fundraisers. Kids get sponsored by friends and family, then ride as many laps around a course as they can in a set time, to raise money for the school. I signed up to learn the Corral Coordinator position from an outgoing 5th-grade mom, so that I can do it on my own in subsequent years (peoples' eyes lit up when they heard that I've got a kindergartener, and another coming to school in two years--that's a lot of potential PTA volunteering right there!).

Fun with Art Supplies
Tour de Ladd Welcome Banner

My job at the Tour de Ladd was to make pretty signs (yes, please!), help coordinate volunteers to check in the 400+ bikes in the morning, get each class to their bikes and onto the course, and get the bikes returned to the right place when the class was done riding. I also spent a few hours after the ride watching the bikes until they could be picked up after school. I got to take a break to watch Arlo (in the yellow raincoat and orange helmet) and his fellow kindergarteners ride, which was lots of fun.

Tour de Ladd Bikes
Tour de Ladd Kindergarteners

It rained that morning, for the first time in months, but that didn't stop the kids from having fun. I'm glad I got to help make it happen.

The day after the Tour de Ladd, Patrick and I left for a week-long no-kids (and no-cars, incidentally) vacation, to celebrate our tenth wedding anniversary. My mom and stepdad very generously offered to watch the boys while we got some alone time. This was the first time we were both away from Felix overnight (the only time we've been away from Arlo overnight was when Felix was born). Luckily, the boys were very excited to have Nana and Papa Baer take care of them (I think their secret is videos and cake). Felix cried more when the grandparents left at the end of our trip than when we left! It sounds like he missed us a few times, but we'd left a family photograph on the fridge that he could go look at when he was missing us. And I texted pictures of cool vehicles to the boys every day, to let them know that we were thinking of them.

Here's what we did with our seven days of freedom:

Day 1: We took the Amtrak Cascades train from Portland to Seattle (an almost-four-hour train ride, but there were no kids to wrangle, so no problem). We walked from King Street Station to the Ace Hotel and had a nice dinner at Tavolata. We had been there once before, but it was with one-year-old Arlo, so the meal was a little less relaxed. We considered going to see an actual movie in a theater, but we ended up watching crappy TV in our hotel room instead.

Getting on the train to Seattle

Day 2: We woke up early to catch the ferry from Seattle to Victoria, BC (the Victoria Clipper). We grabbed breakfast at the Clipper Cafe before boarding. The water was choppy while we were waiting to depart, and I was worried that it would be a very unpleasant three hours (I'm a little prone to motion sickness), but things calmed down when we were on the open water. Upon arriving in Victoria, we dropped our luggage off at our B&B, Humboldt House (we packed everything in panniers, because there was a bike ride coming up on Day 3). Our hosts there were very nice, and they were even able to get us into our room early. First cool Canadian vehicle spotted and sent to Arlo:

Double Decker Bus, Victoria BC

We had lunch (afternoon tea) at the Fairmont Empress, as tourists do. It was pricey, but it was a very nice experience, and the food was good. The waiter knew what he was doing--he offered to take all of his customers' pictures right after he served them. Yes, please! (P.S. If you'd like a cheaper tea service, I hear the White Heather Tearoom is a good alternative)

Afternoon Tea at The Empress

There was some work being done on the Empress while we visited, including some wood chipping right outside the tea room window. Some people might not enjoy this, but it reminded me of Arlo, and I was a little sad the boys weren't there to enjoy it (but more glad that they weren't there, because trying to get them both to behave at fancy afternoon tea would be a task).

Wood Chipper at the Empress

Tea was very filling, so we walked around the inner harbor a little and then returned to Humboldt House for naps and quiet book reading. It's a well-maintained older house, neighboring the grounds of St. Ann's Academy--a very nice setting, and convenient to downtown. Later, we explored Government Street a little, stopped for drinks at a pub, and then crossed the blue bridge to check out a rocky outcropping along Songhees Walkway, which offered nice views of the inner harbor and the water taxis.

Patrick Contemplates Victoria
Water Taxi, Victoria BC

We had dinner at Lure Restaurant nearby. It had great views over the water, and we got to see the legislative building all lit up. The atmosphere was a little hip for me (there was an actual DJ spinning records at the entrance), but the food was good, and the view made it totally worthwhile.

Day 3: We started our morning with a lovely crepe breakfast at Humboldt House. The fun thing about their rooms is that breakfast is delivered via a box built into the wall. There is no need for human contact (or changing out of jammies) in order to get breakfast. Humboldt House has definitely got the romantic bed and breakfast thing figured out, if that's what you're looking for.

Humboldt House Breakfast

At lunchtime, we walked down Government Street to Cascadia Bakery, where we had soup and sandwiches and bought muffins to have for snack later. I seriously considered getting a Pumpkin Fog (a pumpkin-spice flavored version of the London Fog, a tea latte drink common in Canadian coffeehouses [based on my limited experience], which I learned about on our trip to Vancouver in 2009), but it was warm and sunny, and a hot drink didn't sound good. The weather soon turned rainy, and I spent the remainder of our visit to Vancouver Island (especially the hours spent slogging soggily along the Galloping Goose Trail on my bike) thinking about that drink. I subsequently asked baristas at two different coffeehouses if they could make a pumpkin-spice London Fog, and they both did, but neither tasted like I imagined the Pumpkin Fog would taste. Too chai-like, not pumpkiny enough.

Anyway, we had reserved hybrid bikes at The Pedaler, and they got us set up with racks, helmets, a map, and a lock. In retrospect, I should have asked about fenders and lights, but it was sunny and clear when we picked up the bikes, so those seemed unnecessary. Patrick popped the panniers onto our racks, and we set off toward the Galloping Goose Trail, a rails-to-trails path that covers much of the east side of Vancouver Island. We had to bike for a few blocks in city traffic, but there were bike lanes, and once we got across the blue bridge, things were calm. I'm glad the woman at the Pedaler had told us how to get onto the trail, because as far as I could see, the trail entrance was not marked (although the big digital bike counter indicated that it was a bike path of some sort).

The trail started out paved, and at its beginning, it reminded me of Portland's Springwater Corridor, but with fewer sketchy homeless guys (there were a few probably-homeless guys along the trail in Victoria, but none of them made me nervous, like the people on the Springwater do). The weather was sunny and warm, and we were in good spirits. Here's a picture we took along the trail shortly before it started raining:

Galloping Goose Trail, Victoria BC

This was about five miles in, and at first the rain was nice. But then there was a torrential downpour, and we tried to shelter under a tree and eat soggy muffins, and I stepped in a big puddle in my mesh tennis shoes and (I later realized) cotton socks, and things were cold and soggy from there on out (luckily, Patrick had an extra pair of Smartwool socks for the rainy return trip, and I didn't step in any puddles, which made things so much better). When we were both cold and sopping, Patrick selflessly let me wear his wool gloves. We rode a total of 40km (25 miles) on the trail, much of it gravel covered in beautiful fallen leaves. In dry weather, it would have been wonderful. With soggy feet and numb hands, it was less enjoyable. Patrick didn't seem too bothered by it, but all I wanted to do was get off the bike, curl up in a warm blanket, and drink some cocoa.

When we passed the Cycle Inn and Arbutus Cove B&B (both located right on the trail), I wished furiously that I'd chosen to stay there instead of at Sooke Harbour House, but the extra riding turned out to be worth it.

The signage was pretty good along the trail, though there were a few confusing/stressful parts where we had to leave the trail for a bit in order to safely cross busy streets. At Old Island Highway, we were confused because instead of having us continue on the nice, quiet trail, there were signs indicating that we should get into the bike lane of a busy road, passing the driveway of a big gas station (in the rain, with cars turning and whizzing by), then cross another busy road. It all worked out, and the signs eventually got us back on the trail, but it was not fun.

Around the 19km mark, the trail turned to gravel (glad to have our hybrids--they didn't slip once on all the wet leaves), and the surroundings turned from urban to rural, and then wilderness (though we still encountered dog walkers every so often, indicating that the areas surrounding the trail were populated). The trail itself is lovely, and I'm glad I was able to enjoy it on the way back to Victoria a few days later.

Around the 40km marker (after a few confused stops, as our phones had no service, and our map was soaked and not very detailed), we left the trail at Kirby Rd and headed toward downtown Sooke. Luckily, there was a handpainted sign nailed to a tree that said "Sooke 3km," so we knew we were on the right path. From Kirby, we turned left on Sooke River Road, which was pretty quiet, and then we turned right onto Sooke Road (Hwy 14), which was not quiet and made for a very stressful end to a long, rainy bike ride.

I knew what to expect because I'd read this cyclist's account of his visit to Sooke, but I'd also read that construction was in progress (target completion Fall 2015) to give cyclists a separate river crossing and to connect them to quieter streets so they wouldn't have to use Sooke Road. Unfortunately, everything was still under construction (making the street conditions even worse). I decided to walk my bike on the shoulder of the road (no bike lanes, and only a few stretches of sidewalk), because the road was busy, and the cars and trucks on it were going pretty fast. I had hoped since it was the weekend, it would be calm, and I guess it was, relatively, since we didn't see any logging trucks.

Patrick, in a true display of love, walked his bike with me for those 2.5 miles on Sooke Road, even though it was rainy and cold, and walking made it take much longer to get to our destination. He's a good guy. Once we turned onto Whiffen (Whiffin? The Internet is not certain) Spit Road, things were pretty quiet again, and we were able to ride the rest of the way to our destination: Sooke Harbour House.

We arrived soaking wet, with mud all over our backs (fenders!), and I could barely move my fingers to get out my credit card, but the woman at the front desk was very nice. She said that she bikes to work, and she showed us where we could park our bikes out of the rain (we had the option to lock them in a little shed for more security, but things seemed pretty mellow there, so we just locked them together under a little overhang in the greenhouse area). I had planned to have dinner at Wild Mountain that night, but there was no way I was getting back on that bike until it was time to leave Sooke in two days, so instead we grabbed some free cookies (fresh baked daily!), checked into our room (Edible Blossom), took the best hot showers ever, and then had dinner at the Sooke Harbour House restaurant.

This is a fancy restaurant--one of the first to focus on local foods, founded in 1979. I had read about it in Sunset, and it seemed like the perfect destination for a mini bike-tour on Vancouver Island. Now that we've been there, it's definitely a worthwhile destination, but I don't know if I'd recommend biking there (at least not until those bike-friendly improvements have been made in Sooke). If you're not afraid of biking on busy roads, go for it!

We went with the four-course prix fixe meal, this being our anniversary and all. The food was very good (especially the squash soup that Patrick got), and the view was lovely. We had a very long wait between the first and second courses, but otherwise, the service was good. The decor (in both restaurant and our room) and music all felt very early-1990s to me, but I guess if it's working for them, that's cool. The waterfront setting made me think of Sierra Mar in Big Sur, which is my all-time favorite expensive, local prix fixe restaurant over the water. Given a choice between the two, I prefer Sierra Mar, but dinner at Sooke Harbour House was great too.

(Before children, I would have shared pictures and a detailed description of every course we had, but on this trip, my phone was filled with vehicle pictures for my children, and I wasn't particularly interested in documenting our meal. My, how times change)

After dinner, we headed back to our room. Patrick tried out the infrared sauna upstairs, and I read my book some more (so much free time!). We slept well and surprisingly did not wake up too sore the next morning.

Day 4: Our lodging at the Harbour House included free breakfast, delivered to our room. The first morning, the main dish was eggs benedict; French toast the second (all breakfasts and dinners used produce grown on-site and were garnished with flower petals from the gardens surrounding the house--very nice!). So nice to eat a delicious breakfast and look out the window at the water. A deer even visited the backyard one morning!

Our big job for the day was to do our laundry so that we'd have clean, dry clothes for our bike ride back to Victoria the next day. I had planned everything out in advance, but apparently many businesses in Sooke change their hours on October 1, because when we got into town (after the 2-mile walk along the busy, no-sidewalk highway), the one laundromat in town was closed, as was the cute little bakery where I'd planned to get lunch. I was extra bummed because the laundromat looked pretty cool. With a little moral support from Patrick, we rallied at Serious Coffee (Pumpkin Fog attempt #1) and replanned our day.

First, we picked up sandwiches for lunch at the neighboring grocery store (Village Food Market, which felt like a Safeway, but with a little more soul). We walked back along the highway to Ed McGregor Park, walked down the winding boardwalk to Sooke Harbour (I love boardwalks!), and ate our sandwiches while looking at boats. What a nice way to pass the time!

Ed McGregor Park, Sooke, BC

Then we headed back to Sooke Harbour House, where housekeeping gladly agreed to do our laundry for us (phew!). Lesson learned: Next time, just have the hotel do the laundry.

Driftwood Arch, Sooke Harbour House

Next, we walked around the gardens (so much cool driftwood art!) and walked along Whiffen Spit, where there were lots of cute dogs, also on walks. We sat on a bench and ate some chips, and watched some seals and motorboats. It was nice. And check it out--they have bike racks at Whiffen Spit now! (In the previously linked article, the lack of bike racks at Whiffen Spit was the frustrating end to the author's unpleasant bike visit to Sooke). Progress!

Bike Rack, Whiffen Spit, Sooke BC

Since a walk or bike ride back into town did not sound appealing, we ended up having dinner at Sooke Harbour House again; this time a la carte to save some money. The service was faster on this visit, we had pumpkin pie (an unorthodox but delicious rendering) for dessert, and we sat by the fireplace in the main dining room before returning to our room. Very nice! This time, Patrick tried out the outdoor bathtub while I read my book some more.

Day 5: This turned out to be Canadian Thanksgiving, so I hoped traffic would be light on Sooke Road, and it was. Also, it wasn't raining too hard when we set out, so we were able to bike along the highway (on sidewalks, where available--there were very few pedestrians) to downtown Sooke. I stood by the bikes while Patrick bought us more lunch sandwiches at Village Food Market (and I saw the Sooke fire chief in the grocery store parking lot for the second day in a row--seems like a nice guy), and then we walked our bikes through the construction and across the bridge and then got back onto the Galloping Goose Trail.

The ride back was also rainy, but not quite as defeating as Saturday's ride, perhaps because I was wearing Smartwool socks and I had my hood up and gloves on from the start. I was able to enjoy the fall leaves and the fern-covered boulders along the trail. We tried to stop and take a picture, but Patrick's phone was dead (too much moisture exposure during our previous bike ride, I guess), so you'll just have to imagine it. We stopped and ate our sandwiches with a view of a pond and rolling grassy hill populated with fluffy sheep.

When we got closer to Victoria, we stopped at The Nest Cafe, which is located right off the trail (there's a secret shortcut for bikes) and has a little bike fixing station, bike racks, clean bathrooms, and a warm place to hang out. I tried Pumpkin Fog #2, we split a cinnamon roll, and then we headed back onto the trail. Thank you for existing, Nest Cafe!

We arrived in Victoria, returned our (very dirty) bikes, tried to make ourselves presentable, and then walked to our second B&B, Fairholme Manor. This turned out to be a longer walk than I expected, aggravated by the fact that we were a little lost, lugging our panniers, and going uphill. The walk downhill the next day seemed much shorter.

We checked into our room, cleaned up, and then deliberated about where we should go for dinner. The walk downtown seemed too far, and I wanted fried food, so we ended up going to a strip mall pub nearby for a somewhat depressing dinner of potato skins, fish and chips, and subpar pumpkin pie. I'm glad I get another chance at pumpkin pie on American Thanksgiving.

Day 6: Breakfast at Fairholme Manor was traditional B&B style, with all the guests congregating in the dining room. The food was very good (as expected, since the owner, Sylvia, has published cookbooks, and the B&B has been recommended by Sunset). We started with a buffet of pumpkin bread, sprouted multigrain bread, lemon scones with creme fraiche, homemade granola and yogurt with berries, and orange juice. The main dish was baked eggs in phyllo with Canadian bacon and asparagus. Yummy!

The couple we were seated next to were nice and fun to talk to, so that worked out well (being an introvert, I get a little anxious about sharing a table with people I don't know, but it usually works out just fine). The owners, Ross and Sylvia, were friendly and gave us good recommendations about where to buy gifts for people (Roger's Chocolates on Government Street - a winner!) and where to have breakfast in downtown Seattle (Le Pichet - another winner!).

We left our bags in the main house and wandered the neighboring Government House grounds for a while (very nice; worth a visit if you're in the neighborhood). We had considered taking the bus up to Butchart Gardens for the day, but it seemed like an expensive and potentially stressful undertaking (getting back in time for our ferry), so it was nice to visit the lower key (and free) gardens around the Government House. Plus we got to pet the Lieutenant Governor's pet sheep!

Next, we checked our bags at the clipper terminal (so we wouldn't have to carry them around all day) and headed to Willie's Cafe for another soup and sandwich lunch. We bought some thank-you chocolate at Roger's Chocolates and explored the shops in the neighborhood and then camped out at Hey Happy for a bit. It reminded me of Portland's more hipstery coffee shops--my hot chocolate came in a tumbler on a board with a bamboo spoon in a separate glass, and Patrick's (delicious) honey iced tea was in a Mason jar. I didn't need quite so much fanciness with my cocoa, but it sure was yummy (I bet their coffee is too; they were spending a lot of time on each cup). It was a nice place to pass the time.

Hey Happy, Victoria BC

We picked up sandwiches for our ferry dinner at Picnic and then got bored and ate them next to the Empress Hotel before heading over to the Clipper terminal and sailing back to Seattle for the night.

Sunset from Victoria Clipper

Day 7: We had a short stay at the Ace Hotel, with an early wakeup at 5:30am thanks to the previous room's occupant setting the alarm and failing to unset it when they left. Argh. When we woke up for good at 7:30, I looked up the clock manual online and turned off the alarm so the next visitors would not be so rudely awakened.

We had a nice, if unorthodox breakfast at Le Pichet with our friend Katie (they had a couple standard breakfast items on the menu, but I opted for a big slice of pâté with a croissant on the side. Vacation!). We walked back to the train station, stopping at Zeitgeist Coffee for sandwiches and pastries to take on the train for lunch. Then it was back home to Portland on the train and city bus, where we were greeted by two excited children (and my sister, Lianna, who had rearranged her busy Seattle schedule so she could visit while everybody was in one place). I was missing the boys by Day 5, so I was happy to see them. Felix came running to give us big hugs, yelling "Mama! Dada!" That's the best :)

P.S. Many many thank you's to my mom and stepdad for taking such good care of the boys while we were gone. Best anniversary gift ever!

<![CDATA[September Recap]]> Sat, 17 Oct 2015 23:01:05 PST
Penultimate Day of Preschool

Arlo finished preschool in mid-August, much to his chagrin. Right up until the week before kindergarten started, he was adamantly against starting at a new school. Luckily, he got to meet his new teacher and visit his classroom the week before school started, which helped change his mind about kindergarten. We also had one of his future classmates (and family) over for dinner before school started, so that Arlo would have a friend in his class.

First Day of Kindergarten

When Arlo went to preschool, he would complain almost every morning about having to go to school. This stopped (temporarily) once Felix started going too, then they both started complaining about going to preschool (totally unfounded--Felix tells me every time I pick him up that he loves preschool!). But Arlo has done very little complaining about going to kindergarten so far, which is a good sign. He has definitely bonded with his teacher, and he gives her hugs every day at pickup. It sounds like he spends much of recess following her around and trying to engage her and another kindergarten teacher in conversation, but he's happy and learning new things, so I'm very pleased with how things are going.

They make a lot of art in kindergarten, and it's fun to see what Arlo is capable of making. We don't do a lot of kid arts and crafts at home, and at preschool he only did a little half-hearted marker scribbling every so often, so I've loved seeing what he's making in kindergarten. Here are two early self portraits, on display at the open house in September. That second one is creepy, but I love it!

Arlo self-portrait #1
Arlo self-portrait #2

Arlo's switch to a new school has necessitated new drop-off and pick-up routines. Typically, I take Felix to preschool (three mornings a week), and Patrick takes Arlo to kindergarten (both by bike), then I'll walk to pick up Felix at lunchtime. Then Felix and I take the cargo bike to pick up Arlo in the afternoon. It took a few weeks and some conferring with other bike parents to find a good route from home to elementary school, but we have things sorted out now.

School Pickup on Edgerunner

Felix had been in the Yepp Maxi seat on the back of my Edgerunner until the end of the summer, but since I didn't feel very confident with both boys on the bike in that configuration, I decided it was time for Felix to graduate to sitting on the bike deck, to make school pickup easier (he's almost 3.5 years old). He is doing great on the deck, and the bike feels much more stable now that he's not in the seat. Hooray!

Big Kid

In mid-September, Portland's new pedestrian, bike, and transit bridge, Tilikum Crossing, opened, as did the new MAX Orange Line. Patrick took both boys to opening day, and Arlo rode across the bridge himself. Arlo also rides his bike on the street alongside Patrick from time to time. It makes me a little nervous to have him in the street, even though it's only on quieter streets, but so far he's been fine. Some of his kindergarten classmates also bike to school with their parents, which makes me feel better.

New Bridge Day

I'm loving the new MAX line being close to our house. I've taken both boys on public transit adventures across the new bridge on the MAX and streetcar. What a fun way to get downtown!

At the end of September, I went on a new-clothes-buying jag, spurred in part by the change in seasons, but also (I think) by my jump up to a new age bracket--35 to 44. I don't know why, but now that I'm 35, I'm feeling like it's time to cut back on the whimsical, cute clothes, and switch to more basic, conservative items. Sounds boring, but I'm liking it so far. It could also have to do with the fact that it had been five years since my last big wardrobe switch-up, and many of my dresses were getting threadbare and stretched out. Time for something new!

My new approach to fashion is based on what the Internet is telling me is fashionable these days--a capsule wardrobe. I've been focusing on lots of neutrals and stripes. I bought some items at our local consignment shop, Crossroads, and I've ordered some things from J. Crew. I also tried buying a couple pieces on eBay, but I've had bad luck with getting things to fit right when I order from eBay, and there are no returns. The price may be right, but it's not worth it if it doesn't fit!

New Wardrobe: Plaid Shirt and Skinny Jeans
Stripes Crew

For the past five years, I've tried to wear dresses when possible, which was nice, but I'm happy to be wearing jeans more often. I bought a pair of J. Crew Lookout jeans, which are high-waisted skinny jeans. I'd been avoiding skinny jeans because of the name, but it turns out they're flattering and comfortable, even on my not-particularly-skinny self. What a nice surprise!

I also bought this new necklace from Layered and Long on Etsy. I spent a lot of time deliberating over which length to buy--this is the 17 inch length, which falls right along the collarbone. I wear it most days--I like having a little smile around my neck :)

Smiley Necklace

<![CDATA[Family Trip to Glacier, 2015]]> Sat, 17 Oct 2015 22:06:54 PSTOur big family summer vacation happened in mid-August. We went to Glacier National Park for the third time; our second time in this beautiful cabin on Lake McDonald. The train worked so well two years ago that we took it again this year.

We took the train to Whitefish, MT, arriving on a Thursday morning. We had a family sleeper car, and the boys slept for much of the trip from Portland to Montana, making it the perfect-length train trip. Long enough to be fun; not long enough for kids to get bored and misbehave (Portland to San Jose, CA, on the other hand, is a few hours too long).

We visited a lot of the same places as we did two years ago--Montana Coffee Traders for morning snack, the public library near the train station (nice clean bathrooms, comfy chairs, kids' books), and then picked up yummy sandwiches at Pig and Olive, which we ate at Whitefish Lake. We spent a few hours at the lake, then bought groceries at Safeway and headed to the cabin, which is in Glacier National Park.

There was a meteor shower that night, and we stayed out on the back deck for a while hoping to see it, but it was too smoky (fires in East Glacier). Still a nice way to spend the evening.

On Friday, we made huckleberry pancakes for breakfast and saw river otters in the lake outside the cabin. Then we took a shuttle bus to the Trail of the Cedars and hiked the little boardwalk path, with the boys pretending to be shuttle buses and stopping a lot.

Pretending to be Shuttle Buses on Trail of the Cedars

Then we caught another shuttle to Lake McDonald Lodge, where we walked around and admired jammers (the special red shuttle buses that exist only in Glacier). Arlo got two job offers from shuttle/jammer drivers. They said when he's in college, he should come back and drive people around Glacier. Sounds like a sweet summer job for a talkative vehicle enthusiast!

Jammer Enthusiasts
Bruce the Favorite Shuttle Driver
Arlo, Felix, and a Jammer Sign

Taking shuttle buses everywhere was much better than all the rental car driving we did two years ago. The boys love riding buses, so their attention was occupied longer, and it was easy to break out the iPad when their patience ran out at the end of the morning.

Post-Hike Downtime

Then it was back to the cabin for naps and lots of rock throwing (a favorite family activity).

Throwing Rocks into Lake McDonald
Family Rock Chucking Time
Double Rocks
Lake Time

On Saturday, Patrick gave me a quiet day by taking the boys hiking to Rocky Point, and then while Felix napped, Patrick and Arlo rented a canoe and took a little paddle around the lake. Arlo wasn't very excited about canoeing beforehand, but he ended up enjoying it.

Canoeing on Lake McDonald

On Sunday morning, we took a shuttle up to Logan Pass (the parking lot was full and the children crabby when we tried to drive there two years ago; taking the shuttle is so much nicer). The boys hiked all the way to Hidden Lake--quite a feat for Felix, who usually sits down on the sidewalk crying that his legs hurt after walking two blocks in Portland. When we hiked it four years ago, we only made it halfway up due to snow and imminent nightfall, but it was warmer this time, and we made it all the way to the end. It was cold and foggy at the bottom of the hill, but it was sunny and beautiful at the top.

Hiking Machine
Hidden Lake Overlook Trail
Taking Five
Family Walk in the Clouds

Felix rode in the kid carrier on the way down, and then we caught a shuttle bus into Apgar Village, where we had ice cream at Eddie's.


Monday was our last day in Glacier. We spent some time hanging out at Lake McDonald, then spent the afternoon in Whitefish with ornery kids (and, as a result, ornery parents). There were a few nice hours at Whitefish City Beach, then ice cream at Sweet Peaks, a toy store visit (Imagination Station) cut short by Felix pooping in his undies (sigh), an attempt at quiet time at the library, then dinner at a pub. Then we attempted to have the boys sleep at the park right next to the train station until the train arrived (it was an hour late this time; not as bad a delay as two years ago).

Good Old Bruck
Whitefish Station

So far, our visits to Glacier itself have been really nice, but killing time in Whitefish waiting for cabin checkin/train departure isn't always fun, thanks to antsy kids. Hopefully that'll get better as they get older. Whitefish City Beach was a good new discovery this time around. It was a nice way to pass the time on a sunny day. And if you need clean, spacious bathrooms in Whitefish during the day, check out the public library and Stumptown Marketplace.

<![CDATA[Bike Adventures, June through August]]> Sat, 17 Oct 2015 20:31:01 PSTWow, I've got a whole summer to tell you about! I'll break it up into a few posts.

At the end of June, we went to a rally for safer streets at Portland City Hall. We get around mostly on foot and by bike, so safer, calm streets are very important to me. I made little signs for the boys, and they behaved for the first half of the rally, and then it was time to clear out and take the bus back home (I was too nervous about biking downtown to take the boys on the bike).

Safer Streets Rally at City Hall

Patrick and Arlo did a few bike camping trips this summer. Felix and I stayed home because he was only halfway done with potty training, and the thought of dealing with dirty pull-ups at night away from home was daunting. We had hoped that the carrot of going camping once he'd finished potty training would be enough to motivate Felix, but it hasn't worked yet.

The first camping trip was in late June, to Bainbridge Island as part of the Seattle Swift Campout (more on that here). Some bikey friends from Portland came along, and our Seattle friends Jon and Greta came too. Sounds like a good time!

Ready to Ride
Rock Stacking

Next, in mid-July, they went bike camping with Kidical Mass PDX. Patrick organized it this year, and it was at Dodge Park again. Our whole family went on the last Kidical Mass trip to Dodge Park, in 2013, and it was fun, but the parts on Palmquist and Orient Dr. in Gresham stuck with me as being stressful and scary, so I chose not to go this year (plus there was still the whole potty training issue with Felix).

Bike Camping Life

In late August, Patrick and Arlo again went bike camping, this time to Milo McIver State Park, just the two of them. One of Arlo's favorite parts of bike camping is finding used car magazines at gas stations along the way. He reads those things until they fall apart.

Unwinding with some Used Car Magazines
Field Work
Dam, Son

<![CDATA[Instant Pot Recipe Roundup]]> Wed, 23 Sep 2015 17:16:04 PSTI intend to write a blog post with more substance soon, but in the meantime, here are some more Instant Pot recipes that I've tried (we're still in the Instant Pot honeymoon phase over here):

1. Recipes from The Great Big Pressure Cooker Book (Weinstein) (I'm planning on checking this one out from the library again once we get more into autumn--lots of good-looking squash and sweet potato recipes):

  • Smoked trout salad with farro and fennel (halved the mustard, used pearled farro cooked 6 min in instant pot) - Thanks to this recipe, I now know that my children adore smoked trout plain (and so do I). It's good in this salad too, but it's pretty cloyingly rich, so better as a side dish or appetizer (on Ryvita crackers) than a main dish. The Instant Pot wasn't a time-saver here; could be made about as quickly on the stovetop
  • Black bean and corn salad - healthy and pretty good, especially with fresh corn
  • Franks and beans - I used the IP for cooking pinto beans in the morning and then used it to make this dish for dinner - All ingredients were things the kids normally like, but they weren't interested in the finished product. Us grownups liked it just fine, and the beans got better with age (the franks, less so)
  • Ricotta-stuffed zucchini with tomato sauce - served over bowtie pasta, added some grated Parmesan to the filling. Good, but not worth the effort

2. Recipe from Pressure Cooker Perfection (America's Test Kitchen):

  • Tomato, vodka, and cream sauce - Good when you have an abundance of tomatoes from the garden. The sauce was pretty soupy the first night, but it was the perfect consistency the next day. Here's the recipe, paraphrased: Sauté 3 minced garlic cloves, 1T tomato paste, and a pinch red pepper flakes in 3T olive oil over medium until fragrant. Stir in 1/2c red wine, 1/2c water, and 1t salt. Arrange 3lb ripe fresh tomatoes (cored) in pot, cored side down (1/3 of my tomatoes were cherry tomatoes, uncored). Cook on high pressure for 30 min, then quick release. Using tongs, remove and discard tomato skins (ignore cherry tomatoes), mash tomatoes with potato masher, bring sauce to simmer over medium-high and simmer 10-20 min. Add 1/4c vodka and simmer 10 min longer. Then add 1/3c heavy cream and simmer 2 min more. Stir in 2T chopped fresh basil. Serve over 1 lb pasta.

3. Online recipes:

  • Tofu coconut curry with brown rice (added quartered mushrooms before cooking; tofu and scallions at the end) - super easy, turned out well (and both kids actually ate some vegetables) but more soupy than stewy. I think with a little tweaking, you could make a nice batch of Tom Kha Gai soup with this recipe.
  • Pickled beets and eggs (simmered small sliced onion in brine instead of dried onion) - IP cooked beets perfectly (15 min steam, natural release). Four medium beets + 6 hardboiled eggs + brine as directed in recipe fit perfectly into 7c Pyrex round dish. Refrigerated for three days before eating. This was my first time eating pickled eggs, and I like them, as did Felix. Pickling made the eggs firmer, but the flavor was nice. I served them with Smitten Kitchen's easiest fridge dill pickles (very nice and easy- definitely a recipe to revisit), storebought walnut bread, and shrimp salad (I substitute 1lb bay shrimp for the chicken in a standard chicken salad recipe).
    Beet-Pickled Egg Dinner

  • Mom's split pea soup - I put all ingredients into the Instant Pot (I soaked the split peas for about 8 hours beforehand, only used 2c broth instead of 3c), cooked on the Soup setting for 15 min, natural release. Was almost full to the max line, but nothing bad happened. Tasted even better the next day.

And one non-Instant Pot recipe from back in July (I brought these to our neighborhood Fourth of July party): Mini chocolate pudding pies. I made graham cracker crusts in mini muffin tins (compressed the filling with a pestle, baked at 350F for 5 min) with pudding filling and whipped cream - only used about 1c of the pudding for the pies, had lots leftover as regular pudding (not a problem!). Pies were structurally unsound but tasty (about 1 out of 5 fell apart when removing from pan).

Mini Chocolate Pudding Pies

<![CDATA[Backyard, Summer 2015]]> Fri, 17 Jul 2015 13:57:27 PSTHere are some pictures of our backyard progress, taken in late June. I expect to do more work on it in the fall and next spring, but this is a good stopping point. Our only remaining goal for the summer is to buy/make a new picnic table for the patio.

The view from our porch, coming out of the kitchen, bean teepee in the center of the circular path:

Backyard, Summer 2015

To the left is a little patch of new grass (Pro Time Herb de Lawn mix), and if you go between the two sour cherry trees, you get to a little shady area behind the garage (home to our stick pile, until recently).

Backyard, Summer 2015

Here's the view back toward the house, from behind the garage. You can see our new brick patio, which Patrick built.

Backyard, Summer 2015

To the right of the porch is our new little raised bed and a path that goes along the south side of the house, lined with roses.

Backyard, Summer 2015
Backyard, Summer 2015

And here's the view from the sidewalk (our backyard isn't fenced in, so people walking by can peek in, though the view is mostly obstructed by grapevines and currant bushes at the moment):

Backyard, Summer 2015

And just for fun, here's a picture of what it looked like a little over a year ago, before the kitchen remodel and porch relocation:

Backyard Panorama, March 2014