Saturday, August 22, 2015

Back to school everyone!

 Before school started we had a couple of last hurrahs with the Lim family. After the preview the classroom day for Kindergarten we headed over to Buffalo Wild Wings with the kids and husbands (and Carrie's parents) for some dinner. Then, the day before school started we went to Scrambles for a special breakfast to celebrate their big milestones...it's a tradition. We did it last year too and we fully plan to do it again next year and the next year, etc. It's a nice send off.
  This year Oliven is starting Kindergarten! It's a biggy...my baby is going to school full time. Vander is off to second grade this year. I brought them to their first day of school on Thursday and it was bitter-sweet. The boys were both really excited. Oliven is thrilled to start school. In fact, his biggest disappointment from the first day is that he didn't get any homework. He was really looking forward to starting homework. Ollie and Jeremiah stuck together. They are good buddies. After Oliven went into his classroom I started crying- I was not alone. Who knew it would be sooooo emotional. I was trying not to cry so hard that I brought attention to myself, but gosh darn it I am going to miss my little buddy being around all the time. He is such a little sweetheart.
When the boys got home we made them a special dinner. At Vander's request we had crab cakes with pineapple cous cous and grilled green onions. Gotta love that pallet. Then, afterward we met up with Grammy and Pops for frozen yogurt.
  I also started school this week. I am teaching 3rd grade on a 40% contract (Thursday and Friday) at Anderson Elementary school. I am very excited to be back to work, though it is a big adjustment for our family since I fully plan on substitute teaching at the Charter School on Mondays and Tuesdays and I have Moms Next on Wednesdays. We will see how it goes. I am very excited and I have a great group of students.

Summer Reading Fun

  The summer break is over and the kids did an incredible amount of reading this summer. Each day they read a minimum of 20 minutes to keep their minds engaged. At the beginning of the summer they read out loud and they each read their first chapter book. By the end of the summer they were reading silently to their selves and happily reading chapter books. For each 10 minutes they read they got one box checked off and each time they got 10 boxes they got to choose a special treat. After they read two chapter books we got them each a kindle of their own. They also made money for our trip from their reading- $1 per 10 boxes until we left on our trip. By the end of the summer Oliven had 230 boxes (38.33 hours of reading!). Oliven read 18 chapter books (probably more, but that is how many we remembered to write down). Vander got 242 boxes (40.33 hours of reading!). He read 9 chapter books- longer than the ones Ollie read. They both did a fantastic job reading. Not to mention that they also did activity pages all summer long. Lots of good effort by both boys!!! And, lots of extra reading above and beyond what I asked them to do. I am very proud of both of my little readers!

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Colby and Alex, then Angels Camp - Glamping?


  Colby came to visit us straight from Columbia and we spent a few days with him, playing games, hanging out and going to the beach. Alex joined us at our house for a day of games and Twister. We had to head out, but they stayed a few more days to pack up some of Colby's stuff from the garage.
  We love camping with the Rogerson family, but this year Nicole was having a baby so she decided a little glamping might be a better way to go. This is the term for "glamorous camping". Grayson is only in month 2 of life, so we agreed that was a good way to go. Nicole's parents have a WorldMark time share so we stayed at a very very nice timeshare in Angels Camp, CA. It was a lovely 3 day weekend. We headed up Thursday afternoon and got stuck in plenty of traffic, but once we got there we spent time hanging out with some of our good friends.
  The next morning we headed out to do some rock wall climbing. We considered zip lining, but it was quite expensive...$40/person for 30 seconds- that's more than $1 a second. Anyway, we decided that we would all go down the underground cave and check it out, but Oliven started freaking out on the way down, so I took him back up to the surface and we hung out while the rest of the group had a 45 minute underground tour. They said that it was really cool - tons of stairs (Justin was sore for several days afterwards). They turned off all the lights once while they were down in the cave and everyone seemed to think that was the coolest part since it was so dramatically dark. We headed back to the time share to rest and then took the kids swimming. We got back together for a burrito dinner at our place. We spent time chatting and played a game.
  Saturday morning Justin decided to just stay and relax while the rest of us headed to an old gold mining town. All the people were dressed up in their old time garb and selling old timey stuff. Vander had a glass of Sarsaparilla and all the kids drank their mug at the bar. They then spent the next  hour and a half panning for gold. All the kids enjoyed themselves and found gems and a hunk of pyrite to take as a souvenir. The boys also got a smashed penny to take home. The kids did some climbing on rocks, which they enjoyed. At that point we were all hungry so we headed back for lunch and quiet time. After that we got back together and took the kids to play tennis while Nicole and I prepped spring rolls and spaghetti for dinner. We had an eclectic dinner together and played a game before heading back for bed.
  We took our time getting ready Sunday morning. The Rogerson's left early because Tyler had to work. We left when we were ready and had a much shorter drive home. It was a nice weekend. Too bad Justin and I both left our shoes there - oops! It was too nice to be considered glamping.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Northern Midwest trip: Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, and Wisconsin

  We left for our great Northern Midwest trip July 21st and returned August 1st. We went for 12 days of fun and exploring. We spent time with friends, saw lots of art, explored some nature, played at some parks, went to two baseball games, enjoyed the city, went on a boat ride. We visited 7 states and drove 1,728 miles, and have some fantastic memories for the rest of our lives.

DAY 1, Tues. July 21st: We all woke up at 3am and Pops drove us to the San Francisco airport. We spent the majority of the day in airplanes, with a stopover in Phoenix. This park of the trip was pretty seamless. The boys did a great job carrying their backpacks and booster seats. All of our flights were mostly on time. We headed out to get our rental car and head over to the Larson house. They ended up trying to give us a car that smelled very strongly of cigarette smoke, so we got to switch it for a Ford, Echo- much more spacious. A bit more expensive on the gas front, but well worth it. We got to Lindsay's house just as she had to leave to pick up Austin and Rylee from camp. The kids all enjoyed some water play in the back yard while we got re-acquainted with Linds. It really is great visiting friends you haven't seen in a while and picking right back up where you left off. We really enjoyed living by Linds and Eric in grad school and in San Jose, but their lives in Minnesota are pretty great. After dinner we headed over to Grandpa Rupe's house to sleep. (Lindsay's dad, her mom was out of town).

DAY 2: We had a leisurely morning with the Larsons. Linds made crossiants and parfaits and then we headed out to a super awesome park in Bloomington that Lindsay calls the Chutes and Ladders park- and it really was as cool as advertised- it was like chutes and ladders 3-D. The kids loved it and we sat and chatted in the shade and watched. Austin and Rylee still had camp so we headed back and had some quiet time while they were away. In the afternoon we headed over to Lake Harriet by the Ban Shell park. We met up with Drummond (my friend from Summer Bridge San Diego in 2002ish), his wife Kelli and their 3 year-old son Leo at the Rose Garden. The heat and mosquitoes were not a good combo for kid entertainment. My kiddos were still jet lagged for sure. We went to a park on the other side of the lake and the kids played at the park. We ordered some pizza for dinner and ate at the park. It was really nice to catch up with Drummond. The last time I saw him was in New York City for my 30th birthday. Back to Rupe's for bed.

DAY 3: We were going to have breakfast with the Larson's, but Beckham woke up with a bit of a fever, so we headed over to have bagel sandwiches on our way to North Dakota. An hour into the trip Oliven says he has to go potty. We said we would pull off at the next exit- terrible timing since we had just passed a town and it would be a while to the next. A minute later he is saying he really has to go and 30 seconds later he is sitting in a puddle of his own pee. We had to pull over on the side of the freeway and change his clothes and do the best we could with his booster seat. Let's just say we decided a bathroom break ever hour to hour and a half was no longer optional.
  A while later we stopped at Hjelkomst Center in Moorhead, Minnesota to check out a Viking ship replica. A man named Robert Asp build it in 1972 and his family sailed it from Minnesota to Norway. He made it an exact replica of a Viking ship because that was something he was passionate about. Next we headed over to Bonanzaville. We had to call twice for directions because the construction made it very difficult to find. It was worth it! The historical society did an amazing job of basically making an entire old fashioned village from the late 1800s. The telephone museum had working old time phones that called each other. There were old time planes, trains, cars, medical offices, law offices, fire station, jail house, movie theater, town hall, etc. It was very comprehensive. The boys really liked the house- "it looks like it's made of Lincoln logs!" We spent several hours enjoying ourselves. We also really liked the creamery...very interesting!
  After we were exhausted from the heat was went to Scheels. Kelli had recommended it and it was super cool. It's a very large sporting goods and outdoor gear store, but here's the fun part...there is a ferris wheel in the middle, so we took a ride. The kids also really enjoyed the kid play area while Justin and I picked out some snacks to grab at their cafe. Nachos, nuts and fudge for later. Goodbye Fargo.
  Three and a half hours later we grabbed some Bob-be-que at Bob's Tavern. Seriously small place- a couple of seats at the bar, but really and truly a take-out place. We headed down with our scrumptious meal to downtown Sioux Falls. Talk about windy! It was super hard to keep our food from blowing away, but it really was super delicious, if we could just hold on to it...when we were done we walked around and did the sculpture walk in Sioux Falls. They commisioned local artists to just be creative and do something they are passionate about. It was very neat. All the art was so original and personal to the artists. We really enjoyed it.

DAY 4: My boys absolutely love hotel breakfasts. This trip they were obsessed with the "piggy" (the sausage). After breakfast we were on our way to the Henry Doorley Zoo in Omaha, Nebraska. It is the #1 zoo in the United States and it really does earn that title. It is very extensive, well done, and has tons of animals. The only down side was that it was so hot at the zoo that it felt like stepping into a fire every time we walked outside. We enjoyed the bears, birds, monkeys, and penguins the most. Although I was not a fan of the penguin pooping in my face. We found a gorilla that was Justin's ear twin. The aquarium was very cool. It was like the Monterey Bay Aquarium inside the zoo! We spent most of our day at the zoo, then got back in the car to head to Iowa. We stopped at Culvers for a late lunch. The boys were thrilled because their meal came with chocolate milk and custard. Then on to Des Moines. We made it to the capitol building right after it closed. We tried to find the sculpture park, but it took us to the wrong side of the town and since it was grossly hot we decided to go to the hotel and try again the next morning. The boys were hungry to I walked over to a local eatery, which was really a glorified bar, and grabbed them some tacos while they showered.

DAY 5:  In the morning we headed over to the Papppajohn Sculpture park for a half hour after stocking up on carrots, peaches and caramelized nuts at the farmers market between the hotel and our car. They had some really awesome larger than life statues in a great big green grassy area. We all liked the giant letter guy the best. We then headed over to the capitol building again to check it out. (We would have skipped this, but Oliven was devastated that it was closed the previous day and made us promise to go back in the morning). The boys absolutely loved how well it echoed, echoed, echoed. Not gonna lie it drove Justin and I a little bit crazy, but the docents said they could do it.
  About 5 hours later we found ourselves in downtown Chicago. After the stress of finding the hotel and it's parking structure (which was full, so we had to do valet- nothing like paying $54 a night to park!) we headed out to get some deep dish Chicago-style pizza. We thought about going to Uno's, but the wait was 1 1/2 hours, so we headed a block down to Pizzaria Due and sat right down. It takes about 45 minutes to cook a deep dish pizza, so it was quite a wait, but it was worth it. Oliven said it was his favorite kind of pizza. Vander and I are still partial to the thin crust Italian pizza, but it is definitely an experience. On our way back we discovered Eataly, which is super cool.
It's Mario Batali's authentic Italian everything store- groceries, cheeses, meats, cookware, sandwiches, nutella, crepes, gelato, beverages, fine dining. You name it. The boys wanted a canolli- ever since having them in Little Italy in San Francisco they have been telling me that canollis are their favorite dessert. We went back to our "cozy" hotel room. I shared a bed with Ollie and Justin shared a bed with Vander. We discovered that Elmo was missing. It was a very sad realization, but Vander took it really well considering that he has slept with Elmo every night almost his whole life.

DAY 6: After having a hotel breakfast we ventured out to walk the Miracle Mile. The boys really liked the painted horse statues all around and wanted a picture with every one of them. They also liked when we found a pedestal they could sit on and pretend to be a statue themselves. That was super cute. We found a two story candy store that they decided was pretty much the coolest place ever. We spent some time there, trying fudge, picking out pez, looking around, taking pictures. Afterwards, we headed to the Chicago Cubs game via the "L" public transportation. It was exciting stuff. The boys got a plastic helmet as a free gift on the way in, which they wore for the whole game. Vander put a 12 on his for Kyle Schwarber, and Ollie put a 17 on his for Kris Bryant. Van decided to root for the Philly's since he was reading a book called the "Philly Phanatic". The rest of us chose to root for the Cubs. The final score was 11-5 Philly's (Vander was proud of the Philly's). Our seats were pretty perfect- way up in the nosebleeds by 3rd base, but the best last row seats you could have up against the chain link fence with an awesome breeze and shaded. What a fun game.
After the game we thought the Siena Tavern by Fabio Viviani would be a good choice for a lovely upscale Italian dinner after we showered we headed over. We were definitely under dressed (I don't think Justin noticed, though he did choose not to wear a super hero shirt, but it had a picture of a pig on it, so it wasn't much better), but the restaurant didn't seem to mind. Thank goodness. We ordered 2 appetizers, a bowl of gnocci (the little "pillows of heaven" Fabio is known for), grilled brussel sprouts, and everyone's favorite dessert- the cookie jar. It was caramel cookies with a jar of nutella mouse and whipped cream to slather on top of the cookies. It was worth writing home about. It was an excellent and elegant meal. The boys and I walked out while Justin paid, and the waitress told Justin that it was delightful to have our well behaved children at her table.  What a great day over all.

DAY 7: We decided it was time to take the Chicago architectural tour. It was a good walk down to the pier and then we booked our boat tour. It was a 90 minute boat ride (mostly in the sun) where they told us about all the boats in Chicago. Justin and I liked it, Oliven listened and remembered most of what was said as evidenced by all his comments about the buildings the rest of our time in Chicago. Vander kept trying to take a nap on the benches and in our laps. Both boys said they did not enjoy that, except the free cookie. After the tour we took public transit to the Bongo Room. It's the one place we have gone to every time we have been to Chicago. It's amazing. Vander got a pineapple upside down flapjack plate, Oliven got a red velvet pancake plate, I had vanilla bean french toast and Justin had lemon blueberry pancakes. Yummo!
They were so whiny that morning overall, so we decided to head back to the hotel room for a nap. Ollie went right to sleep, Van basically messed around and flailed about trying not to sleep. Afterwards in the afternoon we headed down to Millenium park. I wanted the kids to see "The Bean". They mentioned it on our tour and it sounded intriguing...it was a giant bean made of mirror. It was very interesting and unlike anything I had ever seen before.
They also had a huge water structure that spits out water which was pretty cool. It was pretty hot, but Millenium park was full of art and a great big stadium. We enjoyed ourselves and then headed to the Slurping Turtle. This is the restaurant by chef Takashi, who we always enjoy watching on Top Chef. It is a homemade ramen restaurant. It was a bit too spicy and hot for me, but Justin really enjoyed it. We stopped by Eataly for a Baci candy bar for dessert.

DAY 8: On day 8 it was time to check out and head to Wisconsin. We started our journey with an hour and a half drive to Kenosha, WI, home of the Mars Cheese Castle. It was a great little stop. It was decorated like a castle, had cheese head hats, tons of souvenirs and a great little area to stop and have a snack. We shared a grilled cheese with Wisconsin cheddar and each had a chunk of Havarti fudge...was it cheese, was it chocolate??? I tasted like both and neither at the same time. As we got back in the car and set the GPS on the phone for Madison, it said that we were going to drive through Milwaukee as the shortest route- serendipity and so I quickly got on the web and tried to find us some fun stuff to do. We decided a chocolate shop would be a good first stopover. It was a bit fancier than we had anticipated so we bought two chocolates and shared them. Vanilla malt and caramel gray salt- really good, but $4.50 good? However, on our way out the door Vander spotted an ice cream shop called Purple Door Ice cream. We decided that it was vacation, so why not? We headed in and they had a really unique place. All the ice creams were made in house with local ingredients. They were really really good. Oliven had chocolate cinnamon, Van had peanut butter parfait, but mine was fantastic and so unique- I had a split scoop of whiskey and mascarpone. They were both phenomenal. That shop was a find. It was apparently too unique for Justin because he decided he was going to skip on the ice cream which is just unheard of. I wanted us to do more than just eat in Milwaukee though, so I found a cheap museum. There were plenty of expensive ones, but I thought if it was cheap and we hated it then no harm in leaving.
We stopped in to the Grohmann museum. It is a display of the history of workers and it was really good. The top of the building was a statue garden overlooking the city, on the other 3 floors it was filled with art of different types of workers of all occupations by a variety of artists. They also were featuring and artist by the name of Carl Spitzweg, who they told us was like Germany's version of Norman Rockwell and his paintings were really intriguing. They had a special collection of coins on loan and my personal favorite was an informational video on each floor. We got to learn all about glass blowing, which the kids loved (Justin and I had seen it previously in person in Europe, seperately), and a video about paving a road- who knew there were so many steps. It was fascinating. The ceiling was a really cool painting with Gods and workers tied together by mans greatest discover, the wheel. On the floor was a mosiac of workers. They boys enjoyed the museum as much as we did and Oliven says it was one of his favorite places from our trip.
  It was time to move on so we stopped at the Madison Capitol and we showed up 20 minutes after their last tour of the day. We promised Ollie we would return in the morning and take the tour. We walked around the square and stopped at a toy store for the boys, then a really cool cheese shop called Fromagination. They had all kids of cheeses and meats. Our favorite were the "orphan" cheeses- they were little chunks of cheese of all kinds. We looked through them and picked four out, bought some crackers and a little chunk of salami and sat outside having a picnic. The boys didn't love the cheeses, but Justin and I enjoyed it. Some of the cheeses were like $30 a pound and the salami was $40 a pound, so it was good stuff and nothing we have ever had before. We walked by a place called, "The Old Fashioned" and it had Wisconsin Fare as the type of cheese so we decided to go in and have dinner. To be sure we were not hungry enough for what we ordered. The kids got macaroni and cheese and a grilled cheese, I got a cup of chili and Justin got a burger with Wisconsin cheese curds- which were delicious. Then we headed back to the hotel for bed. The kids could not believe how big the room was (we decided compared to the hotel room in Chicago it was like a mansion).
DAY 9: For breakfast we went to a place called the Rolling Pin. It was primarily a bakery, but also offered pancakes, waffles, french toast and eggs. Justin was less than impressed. We should have ordered the baked goods. That was my bad. They didn't ask us to pay, there was really no service and the pancakes Vander got were completely flavorless. Okay, not everything can be great- back to the Capitol building. We took the tour of the beautiful capitol building. It wasn't geared for kids like some of the capitol buildings we have seen like in Phoenix, but it was really gorgeous and it had a great viewing area at the bottom of the dome with 360 degree views of the city. We all enjoyed that aspect. I really liked the beautiful marble and other stones they made the building out of from cities and countries all around.
 After leaving Madison we headed to St. Paul to see that Capitol building. Well, Lindsay warned us that it wasn't much to see, but we didn't know exactly what we were in for until we got there...it was all roped off and covered in tarps for remodel to be reopened in the Spring of 2017. We got out and walked around a bit, took Vander to a bathroom in a locked building that a lady was nice enough to let us into and headed back to the Larson house.
DAY 10: After a leisurely morning we headed over to the Mall of America. We all really enjoyed the enormity of the mall and exploring it. We spent quite a bit of time at the enormous Lego store. We also enjoyed the Disney store, two candy stores, and Old Navy. Justin was disappointed by how many repeat shops there were- 3 Lids stores, really? To end our fun we decided to go on the Log Ride in the amusement park part of the mall. Somebody gave me a bracelet with points on it so we essentially go on free, and it still had points when we were done so we passed it on to another family. The log ride had about a 25 minute wait and then we got on. Oliven did not mind the idea of the first drop, but he was not happy about it happening again. At the top he said he was scared- of course it was too late by then. When the ride ended he said he didn't like it cause it was too scary, but once we were off he said it was so much fun. Justin was pretty wet, Vander was completely soaked and Ollie and I were mostly dry (we were in the back) and the water cascaded over Vander on the second drop. We left the mall and went to have some quiet time at the Larson house. In the afternoon the kids played in the water and had water balloon fun in the backyard.
  After dinner it was time to head out to the Twins stadium for the baseball game at Target field. Lindsays dad, Randy Rupert Istre, had gotten us some awesome seats in the second section up almost right behind home plate. We were close enough that the players looked like real people. It was really great seats and man oh man, what an exciting game! 5 to 2 in the first inning!!! What fun. :) We got the boys ice cream helmets and watching the exciting game play out. 9 to 5 Twins ended up being the final score. We had parked in a $10 lot nearby and even though we left after the last inning we didn't hit any traffic, which was amazing. A seriously great game- perhaps the best I have been to yet.
DAY 11: Linds made us all  some yummy banana pancakes for breakfast and when we were all ready after a morning of playing and singing and piano playing (if it can be called that) we waited for Eric to come home from his 1/2 day of work on Fridays and headed over to Lake Minnehaha- what a super fun name- to eat lunch at a seafood restaurant called Sea Salt for lunch. The wait was VERY VERY long. An hour later our food came and it was good. I had a walnut burger because Linds was planning to make salmon for dinner. We rented a bike that seated 8 people (4 adults pedaling, 2 kids in the middle of the adults and 2 in the front basket; Beckham stayed with his grandparents to nap) and went riding around the lake. We stopped and let the kids play at the park.
Beckham was getting dropped off so Linds and I went to meet up with her parents for the drop off while the boys went for a hike down to the waterfall. Afterwards we headed back and spent some time hanging out and having a yummy Greek salmon dinner with homemade ice cream and a lemon pie. The kids really did enjoy every minute of each others company as they danced around and played legos and wrestled. The Larson's are such a great family. We have always really liked Lindsay and Eric, but we really enjoyed getting to spend time with their kids as well. They are all little sweethearts. I look forward to seeing them again.
DAY 12: We had to leave pretty much right after breakfast for the airport. Everything pretty much went off without a hitch and was pretty seamless. It was a nice day home and we talked about our favorite things and the boys finished writing their journal entries.