Sunday, July 16, 2017

Mid-Summer Update

Happy Summer! I made a summer calendar again this year, with planned outings/activities on most days. I know it sounds like overkill, but it helps motivate me to get out and do stuff while the weather is nice. I'm not very good at being spontaneous--I need a plan. We've skipped a few planned outings (sorry, berry picking, maybe next summer), but things have been going pretty well. We've gone on a few picnics, and we went to the Belmont fire museum recently.

Two new-to-us destinations that the boys have enjoyed are Wunderland Arcade (we went to the location in Milwaukie so we could ride the MAX there) and Oaks Park (two-for-one ride bracelets on Tuesdays!). I wasn't sure if the boys would be old enough to enjoy most of the rides at Oaks Park, but they were tall enough for most of them, and they found a couple that they loved and went on over and over again (the boats were the big favorite this year). Felix agreed to ride the small roller coaster with me, and now we know that he, like Arlo, doesn't like roller coasters. I'm lukewarm about them, so it's no big loss. The boys were well behaved and didn't fight with each other at all for the whole five hours that we were there, which has to be a record for them. Thanks for the afternoon of sibling harmony, Oaks Park!

First Visit to Oaks Park

First Visit to Oaks Park

First Visit to Oaks Park

At the end of June, Felix had a two-week break from preschool, so I took the boys to California on the train to visit two sets of grandparents. Because we only had one adult and two kids, I was stuck with the family bedroom on the way there (I was hoping to squeeze us all into a roomette, but the Amtrak customer service agent wasn't having it). I was able to get a slightly cheaper (though still awfully expensive) upstairs bedroom for the way back--Felix and I shared the bottom bunk in that one. It's too bad that it costs more to take the train (with sleeper car) than to fly, but it's a fun adventure, and it's better for the Earth, so I splurged. Maybe in a few years we'll try an overnight trip in coach (I think Arlo could handle it now, but Felix needs to be a little older).

Sleeping on the Train

The last time I took them on a train to California on my own was when they were 1 and 3 years old, and Arlo ate a whole pat of butter in the dining car while I was distracted with baby Felix. This time was considerably easier, and the only butter consumed was on bread, as it should be. Felix had a little dining car meltdown during our last meal on the way back to Portland, but otherwise the trip went pretty well. They spent most of the ride staring at screens (the free Lego MyCity2 app was a big hit) and eating candy (Note to self: Next time, don't let the five-year-old eat taffy on the train--so sticky!).

We visited Nana and Papa Baer first. The boys got to visit Papa Baer's chickens, and we walked to their library (and spotted a mom hauling two kids to story time on a bike--how exciting that Atascadero has family biking too!). We bought a variety pack of little Kellogg's sweet cereals for a special Nana's house breakfast treat, but it didn't include two of each cereal, so there was the inevitable argument over who got the Froot Loops and who got the Corn Pops.

Felix loved his sleeping nest at Nana's house, which was a folded up picnic blanket (I think) from my childhood. Arlo's nest was the same one that I used when I visited my grandma at his age--a soft blue blanket on one side and a blue floral sheet on the other. I love that the next generation can use it now.

Felixs Nest at Nana's House

I brought our mifold booster seats (nice and small for traveling), so we were able drive out to Morro Bay and visit their natural history museum and the beach--both fun. The next day, we visited the Paso Robles Children's Museum, which was a big hit.

Morro Bay

Morro Bay with Nana

Next up was a visit to Grandpa Rick and Sunnie's house in the Bay Area. The community that Rick lives in has a shared swimming pool, which was a big hit with the boys. Neither boy can swim, so they both held onto the concrete edge the whole time they were in the pool, and they had gnarly scrapes on their palms at the end of the day :( They loved it anyway. Next time, I'll bring water wings so they can venture away from the edge.

At the Pool with Grandpa Rick

On one of the days, Arlo went to the Exploratorium with Rick and Sunnie, while Felix and I stayed home and hung out on the couch and walked to California Avenue for sushi (I was sad to hear that Akasaka, our favorite sushi restaurant when we lived in Menlo Park, just closed. Noooo!). Our train back to Portland was a few hours late, so we had a late bedtime, but luckily the boys are able to sleep just fine on the train.

Waiting for the Train

Train Ride Home

Going back to May, here's this year's Mother's Day photo (postponed a few weeks until the peonies were in bloom). Felix wasn't smiling, exactly, but at least this year nobody was deliberately making a weird face or hiding or anything.

Me and the Boys

May was also a big birthday month. We've got five- and seven-year-olds now! Felix got a sweet birthday crown from his preschool teacher--sad that this is the last year for birthday crowns unless I learn how to make them myself. These days, Felix is still sweet and goofy, but also increasingly interested in violence and catastrophic events. He recently learned about Pompeii, and he talks a lot about what he'd do if a volcano erupted here (shoot it with fifty bullets?). He likes pretending to be a super villain, running around and pretending to attack us (and sometimes actually punching me while pretending, which I'm hoping will stop soon). Last week when I picked him up from preschool, he told me that he was an evil robot astronaut with googolplex chainsaws. Yikes!

Felix in Birthday Crown

Five Years Old

He's getting good at writing (thanks to preschool). I like this recent piece about how excited he is to be visiting Nana and Papa Baer:

Felix Made a Sign

Arlo likes to read my blog (hi, Arlo!)--some nights after Felix goes to bed, he'll sit in the orange chair and read his favorite passages out loud to me, giggling. He especially likes the stories about himself and Felix when they were younger.

Happy Birthday

Seven Years Old

He and Felix are still really into Hamilton and Legos, and of course vehicles! We are lucky to have a neighbor who works for Daimler. He took Arlo to an open house at Daimler a few years ago, and when he brought home a rainbow truck for the Pride parade this year, he let Arlo and Felix check it out. Awesome!

Pride Truck!

Arlo still very much prefers realistic, non-fiction entertainment; nothing too scary. He and Patrick have been watching This Old House online lately. He likes to read dessert cookbooks, and he and Felix can spend hours looking at the Lego catalog and talking about what they're going to buy next, and who gets which minifigs and vehicles.

I'm not sure if I've mentioned it here, but Arlo had the same teacher for kindergarten and first grade, and he loves her. When school ended in June, he was sad because it meant he wouldn't get to see Mrs. Siri every day. Luckily, we'll still get to visit her next year, and Felix may even have her as his teacher when he's in first grade (fingers crossed).

Arlos Card for Mrs. Siri

I've been riding my cargo bike a lot lately. I love it! When school was in session, I was riding it every weekday for school pickup. I'm still getting out three days a week (at least) for my volunteer work with Urban Gleaners. I started picking up donated soup and pastries for them back in November. During the summer, the boys and I have also been picking up leftover lunches for Urban Gleaners from the Portland Parks Free for All program. I love being able to reduce waste, help feed kids in need, AND ride my bike. Awesome!

Volunteering by Bike

Hauling Lunches for Urban Gleaners

(Sometimes Arlo and Felix aren't as enthusiastic about performing philanthropic acts and would rather stay home in their jammies and play Legos. It helps that the lunch pickup is at a park)

I've also been carrying plants and cats (the cats didn't seem to mind the bike ride, but they definitely didn't like the vet!).

Garden Bike

Cats on a Bike

Plants by Bike

Although most Portland drivers are careful and courteous (especially when my kids are on the bike), there have been a few scary moments. I thought this fictional cyclist obituary was interesting. Every so often when I'm on my bike, I think I should write a post like that. If I die on my bike, I want to make sure people know that I don't regret choosing to get around by bike instead of by car. It has enriched my life so much. (But also, I hope my time on the bike is uneventful and that I get to live a nice long life and die quietly in my sleep when I'm an old lady)

In garden news, we hosted mason bees this spring. The boys enjoyed taking care of them (making sure spiders didn't get them, filling up a little water dish, and digging a mud hole for them), and we ended up with a great pie cherry crop this year, which I give the mason bees credit for. I think we'll invite them back next spring!

Spring Guests

Also, here are some gratuitous peony photos from a few months ago. This is peony "Athena," an early bloomer. So pretty!



We harvested about a pound of currants this year, for the first time (normally we just eat them straight off the bush, but there are always lots left over), and I tried to make red currant jelly per this recipe (I was happy to learn that you don't have to remove the currants from the stems before cooking them if you're going to strain them later). I didn't boil it long enough, so it didn't firm up. Instead, I added water and ice cubes to the syrup to make currant-ade. It's not amazing, but it was a fun experiment. I think it could also be good over pancakes.

Picking Currants

Red Currant-ade

After our long winter, I was eager to add some more life to our house, so I bought lots of houseplants and distributed them around the house. And then a few weeks later (almost exactly three years after Patches disappeared), we adopted our two kitties, and Max made himself sick on spider plants the first night he was with us, so I had to move most of the plants up on top of the kitchen cabinets. Oh well, they look good up there too (I'll try to remember to take a picture). They make the kitchen feel like a jungle!

Houseplant Haul

The cats have settled in well. We adopted them from a woman who had recently moved in with her fiance and his dogs, and the cats weren't adjusting well. There have been times that I've regretted adopting them, but they can be pretty adorable too. They are more work than Patches was, and they're not lap cats, which is too bad (maybe when it gets colder, they'll change their minds). When Felix is feeling naughty, he picks on the cats, especially sweet little Max, which is so frustrating. I guess it makes sense that since he's finally not the smallest creature in the house, it feels good to him to have some power over the cats. The cats are not afraid to defend themselves by biting and scratching him, so hopefully he'll learn to show them more respect soon. (It's not all bad--there are also times when he's super sweet with them and tells them that they're cutie-pies and pets them so gently)

Snuggle Cats

I haven't been knitting or sewing lately (when the weather's nice, the garden takes priority), but when it was still rainy, I made bike saddle rain covers for me and the boys. I used laminated cotton and followed these directions, more or less.

Bike Saddle Rain Cover

Let's close this out with some recipes that have worked for me recently:

  • T-bone steaks, potato salad, and buttery steamed green beans - This was the last of our 1/8 of a cow from Kookoolan Farms. I'm doing my best to reduce the amount of meat we eat and avoid beef and pork when cooking at home, for climate change reasons. However, both kids liked the steak, and it can be hard to find protein that Arlo will eat, so we may revisit this recipe occasionally.
  • Sardine cakes, served with roasted sweet potato and broccoli - The sardine cakes are sustainable, healthy, and relatively tasty (not as good as crab cakes though). Next time, I'd add 1 tsp salt to the cake mixture (I used 1/3 tsp the first time, and it was undersalted). I didn't have an egg, and these still held together pretty well.
  • Quinoa, kale, and chickpea salad (used dried apricots instead of raisins) - Good! Served with cornmeal waffles.
  • Smoky tempeh, mashed potatoes, and roasted asparagus - To improve its texture, I first steamed the whole slab of tempeh in the Instant Pot for zero minutes (really!), then quick released the pressure, then went on to marinating and pan frying - Kids didn't like it, but I did!
  • Big crumb rhubarb coffee cake - Made this for Easter brunch using rhubarb from our garden - I was meh on the rhubarb part (a little too moist), but the crumbles on top were yummy.