Drummin’ and Pianoin’

Jeffrey had his very first band concert this week. I’m so proud of him! My eardrums have taken a lot of abuse with our early-morning practice sessions, but it’s been worth it.

The band’s big number was “Let’s Go Band,” a song which the music teacher described as “something they will play every year in band for the next eight years.” True that — even I recognized the melody to this song from high school pep rallies. Apparently, Jeff was the only 5th grader this year who wanted to play percussion, so the music teacher joined him to help out with the bass drum and cymbal.  I love how Jeff danced along with the song. Points for originality, Jeffrey-do!

Meanwhile, Eleanor once again prepared two songs for the Washington state piano adjudications program. It’s been difficult to motivate Eleanor to practice well, so her performance was kind of shaky. In the video below, she’s doing a practice performance at her piano teacher’s house, and the performance is very shaky. She did much better at home, trust me.

Her first piece is “Allegretto,” which was very difficult to learn, since it requires more independent hand movement than anything she’s played before. The second piece is “The Fly’s Adventure,” which she loves playing, fast. It look a lot to rein her in.

I wasn’t able to attend the piano adjudications in person, but Brian told me she did very well. So well, that she got an honorable mention for the Honors performance. Yay!

Cookie Time

Hey, look at my garage . . . it looks like Willy Wonka paid a visit, doesn’t it?

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For the second year in a row, I am serving as the Cookie Parent for Eleanor’s Girl Scout troop. Once again, it’s been a wild ride. Brian and Eleanor trolled the neighborhood, selling boxes here and there.

I collected all the girls’ orders and sent them into the council. Then the fateful day arrived when I had 40 cases of cookies in my garage and patiently waited for families to come and pick them up.

Meanwhile, Brian and Eleanor tramped around the neighborhood again, making deliveries (Brian is my hero) while I organized the booth sales for the troop.  This is where we schedule girls and adults to sell cookies at a table in front of a grocery store. I had to wake up at the crack of dawn to put in our grocery store location request before they were all gone, then organize parents and kids to staff the tables.  This was tricker than it seems, since families kept changing their minds, and we had specific “safety-wise” parent/kid ratios to keep.

But it all went well, and we sold all our cookies! Eleanor even got to wear the Thin Mint cookie costume, which I thought was adorable.

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That said, I am sad to say that we are going to be dropping out of the troop next year. It’s especially difficult for me, since I had agreed to be the troop leader. But when I accepted the job, I didn’t know that all the other leaders would be dropping out . . . and I didn’t know that Brian would be called to be YM president at church. Since I’ve been unable to get any other parents to step forward to co-lead the troop with me, it’s seems like a doomed enterprise. Besides, Eleanor’s extracurricular schedule is starting to wear me down.  Right now, she’s doing creative dance, Seattle Children’s Chorus, swimming lessons, Girl Scouts, Activity Days, sewing lessons, and piano lessons. That’s a lot of carpooling.

Sad, but it’s time to cut back.  She can still be an independent scout and we can go to mother/daughter camp together and work on badges. It’s probably the only one of her activities we can go solo with, to tell the truth. It was a wonderful thing to have the troop experience, but it’s time for a change.

Midwinter Break

We didn’t go anywhere for midwinter break this year, so I spent time collecting images of silly children.

Such as: Katie’s amazing snow-day ensemble. Minnie Mouse dress, puff coat, mismatched flip-flops. Classic toddler attire.

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Or the amazing kid stack!

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Jeff and Wim have recently re-ignited their interest in Pokemon and love to collect the cards. I don’t think they really know the real rules to the game. They just make up their own and spend hours discussing the game, carefully spreading cards all over the dining room table.

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Double Chocolate Valentine

We all know the most important part of Valentine’s Day, right?

And if your answer is “Competitive Box Decorating,” you’d be in total agreement with my boys.

The entire 5th and 6th grades at school were in on the competition to create the best Valentine’s box. Jeff and Brian worked together to create this lil’ number:

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“I painted all the blood,” said Jeffrey. It paid off, because he won 2nd place, and received a gift certificate to Menchie’s Frozen Yogurt as a prize, which he promptly traded for Pokemon cards. (“They were really good Pokemon cards,” he explained.)

William’s class didn’t have a competition, but he insisted on making this Pikmin box. The pikmin “has his head down inside of the hole,” according to Wim, and there are lots of little footprints painted all over the top.

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Mr. Wim was especially into Valentine’s Day this year. He went to each member of the family, asked them what their favorite color was, and then closed himself in the craft room for a while. That evening, we all found construction paper hearts in the color of our choice, nestled on our pillows.

At the end of the project, William made one more heart, featuring everyone’s favorite colors. It’s been hanging on the kitchen window ever since.

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Yes, I’ll admit that this show of holiday enthusiasm was contagious. I decided to have a repeat of the “fancy meal” we celebrated last year, courtesy once more of the delightful frozen food aisle at Trader Joe’s. (Between extracurricular activities and Jeff’s need for hands-on homework coaching, almost every dinner is brought to us by the frozen food aisle these days.  Sigh.) The kids loved having permission to use the good plates, stemmed glasses, and lit candles. Mmmm, bubbly apple cider, the best!

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But despite my enthusiasm for frozen chow, I did want to make a really good homemade cake for dessert. It was so refreshing to put a pause on everything else in my life and devote some time to baking, especially when it’s from my favorite baking book, Rose’s Heavenly Cakes. The “Double Chocolate Valentine” is a heart-shaped velvety chocolate cake that you poke holes in after baking and soak in chocolate ganache. When it’s time to eat it, you carefully place a layer of raspberries on top and spread on some melted seedless jelly for a glaze. It’s really way easier than it looks, so long as you have a heart-shaped pan.

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Mmmmm, makes me want to devote more holidays to cake baking, definitely.

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Pittsburgh Part Two

Since baby Emily and Zak were both sick, I decided to get the more lively nephlings out of the house and have some fun. Also, it gave me an excuse to go see some of the things I’ve missed about Pittsburgh.

Like the chocolate-chip banana pancakes at Pamela’s. No other swedish pancakes can compare.

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Especially delicious when I have these two cuties at the table with me, right?

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After breakfast, we walked up to the Squirrel Hill library and played a game of chess. I was impressed at how quickly Sarah caught on to the game. She easily remembered the movements for each piece on the board. As a going away present, I gave her an inexpensive chess set I picked up from Target, and she was thrilled.

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After the chess interlude, we headed off to the Phipps Conservatory, where I proceeded to drive my nieces nuts by taking way too many pictures of them. And now I will drive you nuts by showing them all off. Flowers! Cute girls! What’s not to love?

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And then it was time to say goodbye. Baby Emily recovered and came home from the hospital . . . we picked up a Prantl’s burnt almond torte and consumed it greedily . . . I got yelled at by a neighbor for parking in front of the neighbor’s house, and I remembered why I wasn’t too sad about moving away from Pittsburgh in the first place . . . and I got to hug baby Emily goodbye.  See you later, sweet thing!

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Trip to Pittsburgh

My little sister has caught up with me, kid-wise. Baby Emily, kid #4, arrived in town in January, but I didn’t get to see her until the beginning of February.  She’s so snuggly — like her big brother Zak, she weighed some ten pounds at birth.

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It was wonderful to see the little one, and my other cute nieces and nephew. But sad, too: Liz & Ryan are finishing up with medical school this spring, and we are going to try and sell the little brown house. It was difficult not to get choked up about it during the visit.  Three of my children were born while I was living there, and I was surprised at how much my subconscious remembered the house: my arms automatically reaching for light switches, doorknobs, and bannisters, the familiar stumble to the bathroom in the morning, the soft hum of the freeway at the bottom of the big hill. It’s probably the last nights I’ll ever spend in the “chocolate house,” and likely the last time I will ever visit Pittsburgh.

Which is why I’m glad I got to do so many wonderful things while I was there, like:

Finally visit the legendary “corner store” in Greenfield. This is a teeny little grocery shop run out of a converted living room by two elderly ladies. They had shelves loosely stocked with cans of soup, rolls of toilet paper priced for individual sale, and an ancient Pepsi-Cola refrigerated case with quarter-gallon jugs of milk and iced tea. Best of all was  a counter filled with penny candy. Two cents per tootsie roll. Sarah’s classmates at school call this place the “candy store,” for that reason. Both Sarah and Abby walked home with a fat baggie of treats for $1 total. I had heard about this place when I moved into the neighborhood, but never got around to finding out where it was.

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I also got to visit the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, and two of my favorite co-workers happened to be there. It was great to reconnect and find out about the projects they are working on — the “historic children’s literature” collection is finally funded and being re-catalogued and preserved. This is an undertaking that was first being proposed when I left the library in 2008, so it’s wonderful to see it come to fruition.

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And of course, Baby Emily! The sad thing about my trip is that she caught RSV and had to be hospitalized during most of my visit. The good thing about my trip is that I was around to help care for the other kiddos while baby sister was sick. No fun for anyone, but at least I had an excuse to order take-out from my favorite Squirrel Hill restaurants (Mmmm, Aladdin’s!).

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More to come in Part Two . . .

Seattle Sadbirds vs. Denver Ghost Horses

My kids are usually oblivious to sporting events. But when the Seattle Seahawks went to the Super Bowl, the levels of fandom reached such a fever pitch that even my kids seemed aware of what was going on. Impressive!

I mean, how can they ignore the sports life when we pass things like this on the freeway?

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And how can I not coo with admiration when William brings home these kind of drawings from school?

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We had a Super Bowl party that involved finally roasting the discount spare turkey that had been lurking in our freezer since November, and turning it into awesome sandwiches with homemade pesto and really good baguettes. Our friends came over, and we ate and ate and talked and talked . . . and some time after homecoming, we got around to turning on the game.

Only to find . . . that with the Seahawks up 20-0, the game was pretty much over. Poor Ghost Horses!

It was still fun to jump up and down in our blue & green duds. And when it was all over, we had a sing-along to as many Frozen music videos we could find on the internet.

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Somewhere in the middle of all this, we even had a discussion of how the lyrics to “Let it Go” could ostensibly be sung about toddler toilet training. And that’s how the sports is done at Casa Camisas.