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Thursday, February 20, 2014

Seattle Weekend

After our Elegant Valentine's Day Dinner, James and I put the babies to bed and proceeded to stay up till the wee hours of the night packing like the procrastinators that we are. Then we slept for what felt like about 5 minutes and stumbled out the door with our babies and luggage and headed to the airport just 10 minutes after we had planned to leave. (Unlike the last time, when we left about 90 minutes late!)

We were still the last to board, thanks to long lines at check-in, but after a quick flight we were soon on the Light Link Rail in Seattle on our way to meet our friend Dave. Dave is a good friend from Atlanta who just relocated to Seattle and we jumped at the chance to spend some time with him and to take a quick family vacay.

Our first (rainy) afternoon there we headed to the Seattle Aquarium. Calvin had so much fun! He especially loved the tropical fish - so colorful! - and the underwater dome.

Cool green anemones

Mooooooooooooon Jellies!


Felt board fun

Fish gazing

Crazy beautiful. The tropical fish are just amazing.

Calvin was making friends with the fishies.

Nemo? Is that you? Also, photo cred to James for a great shot :)

Octopus dance party! Oh my little toddling octopus, you are so cute!

Dave and Calvin check out the seal. 

Back at Dave's place, Calvin made friends with Izzy. Calvin loves dogs. He was thrilled to play with her. And Izzy, to her credit, was very friendly and patient with Calvin :) Here's Calvin getting a kick out of feeding Izzy: 

The next day we went to Seattle Center to check out the Space Needle and the EMP museum. As we stood in the long line waiting to get on the elevator at the Needle, Calvin kept asking (signing) "more fish?" Guess the aquarium was memorable for him :)

Another gorgeous photo from James! Looks like a postcard.

It was sunny when we arrived but by the time we made it to the top the clouds had rolled in and it started to drizzle. Before too long, the sun peeked back out on one side and soon there was a rainbow stretching out over the city!
View from the top... a rainbow over the rainy city!

A rare chance for a pic of all 4 of us! Thanks Dave!

Henry snuggles with Dave

Off to the EMP museum...

Doing a little construction of his own

The music exhibit had instruments to jam on

The next day was Monday and Dave had to work. James and I took the babies over to Pike's Place Market. We started out with coffee from the original Starbucks (I mean, we were tourists, it's like the law for tourists to get coffee there) and uh. ma. zing. pastries from Piroshky Piroshky next door. Dave had told us about Piroshky Piroshky and how you can smell the yummyness from the street outside and how there's often a line wrapped around the corner.

After we ate, we started making our way through the crowds of the market.
Gorgeous wall of fruits and veggies!

Calvin was scared of the monkfish. Can you blame him???

Play time at Dragon's Toy Box, a shop near the market

After spending all morning at Pike's Place, we trekked across town headed back toward Seattle Center. The plan was to stop for food then go on to the Children's Museum for the afternoon. We ended up grabbing a bite at Bambino's.

Calvin is eating a leftover piroshki.

There was something special about this particular moment for me. James and I were drinking our microbrews and enjoying our bread and cheese plate while Henry had his bottle and Calvin polished off his piroshki. The sun was getting low and the room was all glowy. The babies were being adorable as usual. And I just had this thought that this is just what I wanted for our family. This is it. This is the dream. To enjoy meals together. To be able to go out to restaurants like we did before the babies, only now with the babies, and still enjoy it. To travel as a family. Be touristy, be outdoorsy, do hobbies, eat yummy food... together. Whatever challenges we've got behind us or ahead of us, we've got this. We'll still be able to do this. Or at least something resembling this. Somehow we'll figure the rest of it out if we can just hang on to moments like that one.

Shortly after this magical moment, Henry massively spit up all over himself and me. And a little on the floor. 

But it didn't ruin it :) We just changed our plans a bit. James and Calvin went on to the Children's Museum and I took Henry to Dave's apartment to get cleaned up. 

Judging by how wet his sweater was when they got home, Calvin loved this water table!


On a mission.

He's so cautious and deliberate and it takes him so many tiny movements to get turned around at the top of the slide!

That evening we braved dinner out. Dinner out with the babies is a little scary because it's pushing bedtime and therefore pushing the probability of baby cranky-ness. Everything went fine. Maybe it helps that our kids are so darn cute. I like to think it makes it slightly less annoying when Calvin is throwing crayons on the floor.

I was sad to say goodbye to Dave and to Seattle the next day, but it was time to head home. Despite another rushed entrance onto the plane and some minor drama when the airline people couldn't figure out how to fold up our stroller, the flight went great. Both boys slept almost the entire time. Nothing like the Crying Episode of 2013. 

It was so great to spend some time with a friend we rarely get to see and also great to explore a new city. I hope we have many more family trips like that one ahead of us. Someday I'd really like to do a long road trip up the coast from here to Seattle and maybe even on to Vancouver. When the kids are older, maybe. In the meantime, Dave, please come visit us down here in Cali! 

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

I Heart Valentine's Day

I heart Valentine's Day. I pink-puffy-heart Valentine's Day. It's my favorite holiday :)

(Note: Christmas doesn't count as a normal holiday. Christmas is a whole other level of holiday.)

I'm a sucker for all the cheesy romantic cliches and all the pink and red decorations, but mostly I love the idea of a holiday that's all about celebrating love! And not just the romantic kind. Having a life filled with love, being loved, feeling loved and feeling love for others is worth celebrating! I know, I'm a total mush. You can barf if you want.

I guess it was ok for our usual (and totally awesome) babysitter, Hartley, to spend Valentine's day with his girlfriend. This, however, meant that James and I had to spend Valentine's day with our children. Which I guess was also ok.

Actually it was great. I got inspired to set up a special Elegant Valentine's Day Dinner (which is exactly how my very fancy invitations put it) for James and myself and the boys. I figured we could mark my favorite holiday by making family dinner extra-special.

A few days before the 14th, I presented James and the boys with special early Valentine gifts along with fancy invitations to the Elegant Dinner.

The gifts were red clothing items for them to wear to the dinner. (Yes, I micro-managed their wardrobes. I mean, I'm the one who picks out all their clothes anyway! Even James'!)

On Valentine's morning I got up early with Calvin and baked some Sweetheart Cinnamon Rolls (thank you Pillsbury!). Calvin was devastated when I pulled them out of the oven and didn't let him eat them right away.
How can you do this to me, Mama????
I added red sprinkles on top of the icing. You can see my little mini bunting strung between the candlesticks in the background. I made the little flags out of washi tape!
And here he is tearing into that delicious, tiny cinnamon roll that he waited so long for! 
Henry joined us for breakfast even though he is too nittle for cinnamon rolls <3

James went off to work, but the Valentine festivities continued for the Henry and Calvin and me. I made Calvin a hearty lunch...

And then we did some Valentine artwork and made a gift for James from the boys. The writing around the edge says "The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart."  - which is a quote attributed to Helen Keller. I wanted to make James something he could use to brighten up his cubicle.

When James got home from work we all got dressed up in our fancy reds and took some family photos.
<3   <3   <3   <3
Look at these adorable knuckleheads.

For our Elegant Dinner, I served a salad with heart-shaped beets and a bowtie pasta dish (kind of a copycat of Macaroni Grill's Pasta Milano). And for dessert, mini fruit pizzas!

Sugar cookies as the "crust", then yogurt or chocolate pudding topped with fruit

Ok, they didn't really turn out like pizzas because the cookies were so small... but they were adorable and delicious - whatever you want to call them!

I like the idea of doing a fancy family Valentine dinner every year. Valentine's doesn't have to be just for couples! I say spread the mushy gushy sugary sweet Valentine's day love all around! Clearly I can't get enough of it :)

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Pinching, Picking, Poking... And Other Fine Motor Skills

Fine motor control is what kiddos need for skills like self-feeding, dressing, and writing. Calvin was able to figure out the "pincer grasp" needed to pick up small bites of food and feed himself pretty easily. As for dressing, he doesn't do much yet, but he can Velcro and un-Velcro his shoes. And as for writing/scribbling, I let him try it pretty regularly, but he's not into it. He can't really press hard enough to make much of a mark with crayons so I think it's unsatisfying for him. I should let him try markers, but I haven't done that yet. To help him work on fine motor control so that eventually he will be able to press hard enough with crayons, button his shirts, and zip his pants, I like to I like to give him fun things to do that get him using those little fingers of his. Tasks like picking up small things, pinching or grasping... Wait, now that I think about it, Calvin gets lots of fine motor practice: Pinching my nose... picking his own nose... pulling my tiny earrings out... poking his brother in the eye... Hahaha.

Well, in case that's not enough, here are some other fine motor building activities that he likes!

Poking sticks into a shaker
These are lollipop sticks (baking section of the grocery or craft store) and a Parmesan cheese shaker. The next level of this activity would be putting toothpicks into a salt shaker.

Threading beads onto a stick
Of course the day I try to get pics of him in action he's not into this activity. Luckily, Piggie was there to help!

Then I got out his favorite animal beads to try to entice him to do it himself.
The next level of this would be something like putting beads onto a pipe cleaner, and then eventually threading beads onto a string.

Pushing things into a bottle
Calvin LOVES doing this. He fills up the bottle, then shakes everything back out and does it again. And again. And again. He just needs help getting the puff balls back out (I use tweezers). This bottle is one of those travel shampoo bottles from Target and the items I give him include small puff balls, different kinds of beads, plastic jewels, and sequins or confetti. Those sequins are tough to pick up! But they are so shiny and irresistible that he does the work and gets them eventually :)

I got the idea for this at James' office Christmas party where one of the kid crafts was filling a clear plastic ornament ball with the same kinds of small, colorful items.

Picking things up with tongs

Calvin is working so hard on figuring this one out! He hasn't yet been able to actually use the tongs to pick up the pieces, but he squeezes the tongs to make the hands clap (aren't those tongs adorable??) and as you can see him doing in the pictures, he puts the puff balls in between the tongs with his other hand and tries to hold them. It works with the bigger puff balls. One day he will figure out how to use those tongs!

Putting stickers on paper
Stickers drive Calvin CRAZY. He can only stand to do this for a little while. It's so hard for him to figure out how to get the sticky side onto the paper and off of his fingers! Problem solving and fine motor control all in one very frustrating task! But he does like those colorful stickers, and I am so proud of him when he does finally get one to stick to the paper :)

Pushing items through a slot
I found this little Valentine's mailbox in the dollar section at Target, and we used the same little foam heart stickers (also from the dollar section at Target) to put into the slot. These stickers each have a backing so they weren't sticky when Calvin was doing this activity. A piggy bank would be perfect for this and you could use coins, buttons, or even tiny things like sequins to make it really challenging.

I love this kind of stuff. And Calvin likes it too... except for those darn stickers! What other activities should we try?

Thursday, February 6, 2014

White Bean and Kale Soup

James has a cold! Yikes. We are all hoping the babies and I don't get sick. We'll see how that goes...!

Soup ingredients were on my grocery list this week anyway, so I went ahead and made soup for dinner tonight. I don't really love cooking, but I do love good food and it makes me happy when I find ways to make a yummy meal with very little effort. I am intimidated by recipes with long ingredient lists and very detailed instructions. I like to cook things that are hard to screw up. Like soup.

Last year, a friend gave me this awesome cook book called Feeding the Whole Family by Cynthia Lair. She's all about eating whole foods and cooking from scratch. The book goes into detail about nutiriton and even explains how to cook different kinds of grains and beans. The really neat thing about this book is that it includes suggestions for adapting the recipes for babies and toddlers. I was immediately intimidated by it. But I was also compelled and since this was back when I had only one kid to take care of, I put on my big girl apron and tried out some of the recipes. They are delicious and not nearly as hard as I'd been afraid of! I love the quinoa chili recipe because I almost always have all the ingredients on hand in my usual pantry stock. And this white bean and kale soup is my favorite.

Cynthia Lair's recipe for this soup involves starting with dry beans, soaking them, doing the whole nine from scratch. I realize that soaking dry beans is not that hard, yet I never pull it together to do it. They just sit in my pantry until I give them to Calvin for some sensory play (read: he pours them all over himself and the floor). So here is how I actually make this soup... not quite from scratch, but still yummy! Full recipe is at the bottom.

Two cans of white beans - this time I used great northern beans but I usually use cannellini, chicken broth or stock - this one was very flavorful, kale, garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. It would be better with a fresh lemon, but I forgot to buy one!

You start by mincing the garlic and sauteing it in a little olive oil. Then you basically add all the other ingredients, except the lemon juice, and bring it to a boil. Lower the heat and continue simmering it until the kale leaves are softened. It doesn't take very long.

My chicken broth from TJ's looks very yellow! 
When the kale is wilted and the broth and beans are heated through, I take it off the stove and then whiz it with the hand blender a few times.  I don't completely puree it. My goal is to break up the kale into tiny pieces without completely pureeing the beans. Please be careful when blending hot soup! It is probably more responsible to let it cool down, then blend it, then reheat it. I'm not that patient :) If you don't have a hand blender, you can blend it in batches in a regular blender or just chop the kale really fine to begin with and leave it un-pureed.

Add the lemon juice last. Its nice to serve it with some grated Parmesan or similar cheese. We like the Parmesan, Romano, Asiago blend from TJ's.

This soup is so yummy! James said it made him feel better, so, mission accomplished. I was skeptical about whether Calvin would eat any of it. I'd never offered it to him before. He wasn't a fan of the kale (he usually has a hard time swallowing foods with that type of texture), but he did eat the beans. And it's ok, he had kale in a smoothie at lunch anyway.

White Bean and Kale Soup

1 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
4ish large kale leaves, chopped; or about 1/2 bag
2 cans cannellini beans, or other white beans
salt and pepper to taste
2 Tbs lemon juice, or to taste
(optional) grated Parmesan cheese for topping

Heat olive oil on medium heat in a large pot, then saute garlic until fragrant (1-2 minutes).

Add beans, broth, kale, salt, and pepper. Raise heat to high and bring to a boil. Lower heat to medium and simmer until kale is wilted. (It may already be wilted from boiling.)

Remove from heat and pulse with hand blender until partly pureed. If you do not have a hand blender, separate the soup into two batches and pulse each in a regular blender.

Add lemon juice and serve with grated cheese, if desired.