Catching Up, Nov. 2017-Oct. 2018
Okay, a quick catch-up on the past year, for posterity:
We had a small Thanksgiving at home with Patrick's sister, Kate. The menu, since I like to look back at these in the future: Roast chicken, stuffing, mashed potatoes with chives, storebought gravy, kale salad, Little T soft rolls, cranberry sauce, black olives, Damn Fine apple pie (from In the Sweet Kitchen), Libby's pumpkin pie with whipped cream, and sparkling cider. I made the stuffing in two batches in the Instant Pot in our cheesecake pan, then baked it at 425F for 15 minutes in a 9x13 pan. Turns out a half batch would have been sufficient for our group of 4-5 people. It was okay, but I probably wouldn't make this recipe again. The Libby's pumpkin pie recipe is so much easier than the Cook's Illustrated recipe that I'd used for the past few years!
Christmas and New Years
We did the advent calendar again this year, much the same as years past. Here's the list:
- Marimbas and tree in Pioneer Square, hot cocoa from Moonstruck
- Kids bake cookies: Felix - He chose honey balls, a new recipe from our Christmas cookie cookbook, which did not turn out very well
- Put up Christmas lights and hang stockings
- Drink hot cocoa with candy canes
- Read a holiday book
- Donate toys at fire station
- Zoo Lights - Patrick took the boys this year, since I just wasn't feeling up to the cold weather
- Read a holiday book
- Get holiday ice cream at Salt and Straw
- Watch a holiday movie - I can't remember which movies we actually ended up watching this time, but my list of possible candidates was Elf, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Rudolph, Muppets' Christmas Carol, and White Christmas. We definitely watched Elf, because it's my favorite
- Make treats for birds/teachers - see my 2015 post linked above for details
- Kids bake cookies: Arlo - He chose easy Christmas wreaths, which were a mix of rice krispies, melted white chocolate, and green food coloring. Not the pinnacle of cookie-dom, but at least they were easy!
- Play a new game (Qwirkle)
- Donate books to school library (we bought them from Books with Pictures, our friend's awesome comic book shop)
- Drink hot cider, eat Danish butter cookies, decorate Christmas tree
- Buy gingerbread house decorating supplies (candy) at Rocket Fizz
- Give money to charity - We've been doing allowance divided in thirds (save/donate/spend), so the boys got to decide what to do with their donate money
- Make gingerbread house - We used a Trader Joe's kit this year. Much easier than trying to build houses with graham crackers, but Arlo says he preferred the taste of the graham cracker houses
- Make and send Christmas cards with photos
- Make family ornaments - I think we made Shrinky Dink ornaments this year? I totally can't remember, and I have no photo evidence. I'll have to wait and see what's new in our ornament box when we decorate the tree this year! I wasn't feeling motivated to make involved crafty ornaments, because I was in the middle of all of the class auction projects I wrote about in my last post
- Watch a holiday movie
- Paint our toenails fun colors
- Make paper snowflakes
- Make sugar cookies
This was a very snowy Christmas; so much so that Patrick's family members, who were staying on the west side of the river, couldn't make it over to our house on Christmas Day (they were able to make it over a few days later, so we still got to celebrate with them). We ended up having Christmas Eve dinner with just the four of us, so there were lots of leftovers. Patrick made the dinner this year. We had: honey-glazed ham in the Instant Pot, scalloped potatoes, green beans amandine, cranberry sauce, storebought Hawaiian rolls, black olives, sparkling cider, and Oreo cheesecake (!) - The ham turned out great in the instant pot and was very easy to make and went well with the cranberry sauce and Hawaiian rolls. I'd repeat this part of the dinner again. The potatoes were good. The green beans were unexciting, possibly because we used frozen instead of fresh beans.
For Christmas Day brunch, we had our standard coffee cake, eggs, bacon, and grapefruit. Yum!
This year, we gave the boys the illustrated version of the first Harry Potter book. Arlo (age 8), who hates peril in books, did not listen to much of it, but Felix (age 6) was really into it. Not all of the Harry Potter books have illustrated versions yet, but I figure if we buy one per year, it'll work out.
Fluffy disappeared a few days after Christmas, and I figured a neighborhood coyote had probably gotten him (he started out indoor-only, but through sheer force of cat will, he has made himself indoor/outdoor during the day, and he likes to go out when Patrick leaves for the gym early in the morning. He's too much of a lump to hunt anything, so the birds are safe). But then he showed up at our kitchen door two days later, so maybe he was just trapped in a garage for a few days. I was glad to have him back, and he seemed very happy to see us.
We stayed in for New Year's Eve and had a snacky dinner: BBQ chicken wings in the Instant Pot; bagel chips with smoked salmon and cream cheese; bread and honey butter; salami; olives; stuffed mushrooms; carrots and celery with ranch dressing; Shirley Temples; and truffles. It was fine. The mushrooms were too juicy (I'm still looking for a really good stuffed mushroom recipe), and the wings were just okay. The boys tried to stay up until midnight, but they didn't quite make it this year.
On New Year's Day, we had our traditional Dutch baby breakfast, and a dinner of Instant pot black-eyed peas with ham, roasted cabbage, and cornbread. The black-eyed peas were easy to make and tastier than most recipes I've tried. I'd make them again.
In early January, Felix got ear tubes put in. We had been considering this for a few years, because he tended to get really congested during every cold and had trouble hearing. It was a little stressful for us grown-ups (it's a minor surgery, and he had to go to the hospital to get it done), but Felix declared it his best day ever because he got a popsicle AND Jello! What a sweet boy :)
Self esteem improvement efforts
This year I have been working on my self esteem and taking better care of myself (instead of always putting myself last--a common mom problem, I think). I went to a salon and got pink hair in February (it was cute while it lasted, but it washed out pretty quickly). I've been experimenting with makeup a few days a week and putting more thought into what I wear.
And I've started seeing a therapist, which has been great for me! At her encouragement, I've started going on self-dates once a week, where Patrick feeds the boys dinner and puts them to bed, and I go out and do whatever I want (so far it's mostly going out for dinner with a book to read; a few times going to see movies). It has been really nice. I especially liked my outing to Palomar, a new restaurant in our neighborhood. Fun drinks (that's a virgin strawberry daiquiri) and beautiful decor.
Patrick and I have also started up bimonthly date nights after a long stretch without a babysitter. Back in March, we went on a kid-free vacation up to Vashon Island. It was a car-free trip (train to Seattle, ferry to Vashon, bus to the little downtown area), and we stayed at the Lodges on Vashon, which were beautifully appointed and conveniently located for walking everywhere.
For Spring Break, the boys and I took the train up to the Tacoma car museum (for the third year in a row) and then to Seattle. We stayed in Belltown, ate at Ivar's (where I cruelly denied Felix the acre of clams entree--maybe I'll say yes next year), visited the aquarium, ate sushi and saw people dressed as anime characters going to Sakura-Con, took the monorail to the Pacific Science Center (super cool, and free admission with our OMSI membership), went to the Museum of Flight with my sister, and then headed back to Portland on the Bolt bus. (That was over the course of three days; not all in one day--that would be exhausting!) I'm glad that the boys are getting old enough to be fun and self-sufficient travel companions, though there were still some tough moments. It gets better each year though.
In April/May, I came down with a cold/cough that turned into pneumonia. I never had a fever; I just had a cough that got progressively worse. I had a chest x-ray that confirmed that it was pneumonia, and then I took two different kinds of antibiotics, and it finally (slowly) got better. Since then, I've had a lingering cough following colds two more times, so that's a bummer. The boys have been sick with coughs too, so I don't think it's something wrong with my lungs in particular, but it has been frustrating to be not-quite-healthy for a significant portion of this spring/summer. Luckily, it hasn't stopped me from riding my bike, except at the peak of the pneumonia.
This summer, I again made an activity calendar for me and the boys so we wouldn't stay at home and snipe at each other all the time. I also signed them up for a good number of summer camps, but I realized after the fact that I should have signed them up for the *same* camps each week. Instead, there was a lot of coordination with Patrick to get different kids dropped off/picked up at different places each week. Maybe next summer I'll have it all figured out...
Some summer highlights:
A day at the mall (I know it doesn't sound like much, but quarter rides and Cinnabon are pretty exciting for kids who hardly ever see the mall).
A long weekend in Southern Oregon. Patrick planned this trip. The boys loved the river.
Arlo got to be a stagehand at a summer theater camp run by his music teacher (you can see him peeking between the curtains on the left). He dressed all in black and was very stealthy.
A zoo visit with Aunt Kate.
Getting filthy at ninja camp.
A day at Oaks Park.
Seeing the Decemberists in Bend (ten years after Patrick and I saw them in Bend and decided to move to Portland), with a quick visit to Timberline Lodge on the drive home. Felix and Arlo really enjoyed this concert, so hopefully we'll be able to catch the Decemberists in concert again next summer!
We had our big California train trip at the end of the summer, returning home the day before school started. The boys and I took the train south from Portland all the way to Legoland. We broke up the trip into segments: First, we spent a day in Oakland, with a ferry trip to San Francisco, where we visited the Exploratorium. Next, we visited my mom and Alan in central California for a few days--the boys got to feed the chickens, visit step-cousins, and see a classic car show. Then we had an overnight in Carpinteria, which turned out to be a surprise hit (much better than our stop in Ventura the previous summer). We spent a warm afternoon at Carpinteria Beach with our feet in the ocean and the waves chasing us, and both boys loved it. They want to learn how to boogie board now, but I think I'd need Patrick there to feel comfortable with that, since I'm not much of a swimmer.
Then we took the train down the Los Angeles, where we spent the night in a sketchy hotel near Olvera Street (we liked Olvera Street, just not the surrounding neighborhood, but it was very convenient to the train station). Patrick flew down and met us there, and the next day we continued on to Oceanside, where we took a bus + Lyft to Legoland (still hoping that someday there will be an easy way to take public transit all the way to Legoland!). We stayed at the Legoland Hotel one night, then at West Inn and Suites the following night, as we've done in the past. It was fun, but I think some of the shine has worn off for the boys after visiting for three years in a row. They enjoyed the rides for a few hours, but then they just wanted to go buy Legos at the Big Store, which we can just as easily do at home. So this may be the last year for Legoland. Arlo has expressed interest in Disneyland for next summer. We'll see...that feels like it requires more mental preparation than Legoland, but it could be fun.
Next, we flew north to the Bay Area, where we met up with Patrick's family in Point Reyes to celebrate his dad's 70th birthday (thanks to Meg for organizing!). I got to sit on a couch at the Airbnb and read a book for almost an entire day with only taxidermy to keep me company (everybody else was at the beach), and it was a nice break after a tiring (but enjoyable) week of travel.
We went out for a celebratory birthday dinner (with lots of sea creatures on the menu, to Felix's delight). It was nice to have everybody together. (This isn't the official group photo with everybody in it, but I like it because Felix is hugging me)
Then we flew back to Portland and it was time for school to begin!
The boys are in first and third grade this year. Felix has Arlo's wonderful teacher from kindergarten and first grade, much to everyone's delight. She's the best! And Arlo has the third grade teacher he'd been hoping for. She has two class rats, Mars and Jupiter. They're very cute, but it seems like they're not the kind of class pets that come home for the weekend (probably for the best, since our cats would be too interested in them).
I'd say Arlo's description of himself below is very accurate. He is most definitely a helpful kid, and he has a fun sense of humor. Still mainly interested in vehicles, though he also likes reading about service dogs and other helpful animals. He and Felix have plans to live together when they're grown up and adopt lots of dogs (I think two per brother?). Sounds nice!
Felix continues to be sweet and loving most of the time, with occasional outbursts of little brother peskiness (Arlo could tell you all about that). He likes ninjas and Legos, and he no longer likes vehicles. Instead, he's very interested in animals, especially sea creatures (eating them AND learning about them). He says he wants to study ocean creatures when he grows up. Cool!
Arlo and Felix grudgingly agreed to dress up for Patrick's cousin Max's wedding in North Carolina a few weeks ago. I won't say anything further, as I am not supposed to make a big deal over the cuteness of my children when they're dressed up. Neither child wants any attention paid to him based on his appearance, and these outfits were a compromise intended to minimize fawning by adults--not too fancy, not too sloppy.
I missed the wedding, because I had an all-day Project Management class in Portland that weekend. I've recently decided to try to find a local job in Portland. I love my consulting work (and hope to continue it), but it feels like it's time to get a job where I leave the house and interact with other grown-ups on a regular basis. There aren't a lot of pharmaceutical/medical device companies close-in in Portland, so I'm looking at project management jobs instead. To that end, I'm taking a series of classes at PSU this winter and spring to get a Project Management certificate. So far, so good.
And finally, some favorite recipes from the past little while:
- Sushi: I made (1) canned crab mixed with mayo, avocado, and cuke and (2) sweet potato with scallion - I made the rice in the Instant Pot using sushi rice with standard white rice proportions and the Rice button, then mixed in the sugar, etc. Two cups of dry sushi rice was enough for 5 sheets of nori, which fed our family of four. Pretty easy to make, we all liked it. The boys have been asking me to make it again
- Scalloped potatoes in the Instant Pot served with baked beans and steamed green beans - Tasty and quick!
- Easy baked tofu served with roasted vegetables and sweet potato biscuits (all baked at the same temperature) - Not spectacular, but perfectly nice and definitely easy
- Maple lemon tofu, white rice, roasted cabbage with bacon (halved the amount of bacon) - Yummy
- Zuppa Toscana knockoff in the Instant Pot, easy breadsticks - I'm still looking for the perfect Zuppa Toscana recipe, but the breadsticks were fast to make and tasty
- Brown sugar seared salmon (from the Cast Iron Skillet Cookbook), baked sweet potatoes with sour cream and brown sugar, kale in the Instant Pot with lemon
- Tofu and mushroom stir fry over ramen noodles - Easy and tasty!
- This rice pilaf recipe is very nice
- Salt and pepper roasted chicken (from Melissa Clark's Dinner cookbook), gravy (based on this recipe), mashed potatoes, and roasted veggies (carrots, fennel, and mushrooms) - This required work over a long period of time, but it wasn't that hard, and the chicken turned out well. Plus it's pretty special for us to have gravy with our mashed potatoes
- Instant Pot creamy lemon chicken breasts - We don't eat a lot of chicken breasts, but these were easy and good. Served with roasted potatoes and asparagus, but there was a lot of sauce, so next time I'd serve over rice or egg noodles
- Baked tofu with coconut kale sheet pan dinner with coconut rice - Easy and good (though I'd stick with normal rice next time; the coconut rice was too rich for me)
- Tacos made with Instant pot taco meat - Turned out well with ground turkey. Maybe next time try half soy curls/half meat?
- Tapioca pudding in the Instant Pot, round 2: Cut the sugar by half, used a drop of lemon oil instead of zest, and cooked on high for 12 min (using Bob's small pearl tapioca) - Nice; set up firmly after chilling
Well, based on my recent posting frequency, I'll be back to post again in about a year ;)