Monday, March 21, 2016

Daily Wisdom

"Pop rocks make your mind a little bit confused."  - Eli, age 6

Winter Photo Shoot

While the Andrus/Wilhoit/Wheeler families were all gathered at Christmas time, we invited one of my Mom's IB students to join us for half an hour at Elmwood Park to shoot some family pictures. All in all, I thought they turned out pretty nicely. I think it's hilarious how my big kids have these perfect smiles plastered on their faces all the way through. You can tell they'd been heavily bribed with promises of hot chocolate and pie in return for their modeling.

Kids all look pretty good, but NomiAnn's eyes are closed and both Papa Kay and Jason appear to be talking.

Look up, Jason, look up!

Annika and Eila don't appear to be all that amused, but otherwise this one seems like a winner.

Papa Kay is practicing his reflective gaze into the distance.

Uh oh, now it's my turn to look away, plus Adam's wide-mouthed.

Papa Kay, what's up with all the gabbing?  (Anybody notice how the bottom three are all still smiling perfectly.)

A new angle--success!  Just for the record, from top to bottom we have the anonymous Kay LeGrand Andrus, Eila Kay Wilhoit, Adam Fenn Wilhoit, Jason Wayne Wheeler, Annika Mae Wheeler, Cathy Ann Andrus, Callie Helene Wilhoit, Kara McCall Wheeler, Brooklyn McCall Wheeler, Talia Lily Wheeler, and Eli Jameson Wheeler.  Whew!  What a crew.

Taking a moment to repose.  (Aren't I punny?)

Candid shots are so much more interesting anyway.

There's kind of an Anonymous grimace going on, but then again Annie Mae doesn't seem that happy either. Lovin' the monkey hat, Eila.

Crowd shuffle.

Fun times in motion.

Eila is definitely done!  Given all the conjunctivitis, she was a great sport.

NomiAnn's turn for goofball shot.  Brooklyn, Talia, and Eli still look good though.  Man, they must have wanted that hot chocolate!

And a few shots of our immediate family.  Too bad Annika was totally done by this point as well.

Smiles all around.

So grateful for family.

Love you all!

Wednesday, March 02, 2016

Valentine 2016

Valentine pictures definitely feel out of place in March, but I guess they won't get more timely until next February, and I don't want to wait that long.

The kids all dressed in red for the Valentine parties at school.

The big girls requested these fun hearts.

Annika had some hearts too, although hers didn't stay particularly well.

Three minutes into the hairdo, and it's already lopsided.

We helped out in fifth grade with Mr. Wiles's class as they filled and decorated hygiene kits for a local homeless shelter.  It was so fun having a conversation with this gal because I clearly remember her first day at Crestridge a year ago when she didn't speak a word of English.

Hard at work peeling stickers.

Annika helped too.  Those pink cheeks aren't just in honor of heart day--little did I realize our poor gal had a fever.

Brooklyn with a couple classmates.

And Talia at the class party in her third grade portable.

Here's Annika the next day, hanging out with Mailey at Alley Poyner.  I love their matching red and matching curly blonde hair!

Valentine's Day fell on a Sunday this year, so we celebrated with NomiAnn and Papa Kay at their house.  Look at the gorgeous cake Papa Kay got for his sweetheart!

We commandeered the cake to use for our annual Cupid's Crazy Cafe.  We served lasagna, soup, salad, rolls, punch, and cake, but in no particular order since the menus (made by Brooklyn) only listed Huggin', Squeezin', Lovin', Smoochin, Kissin' and Snugglin'.

Papa Kay wore his lips tie for the special occasion.

All in all, Cupid's Cafe is a great tradition to share the love with those we care about.  Better yet, I think next year the kids will be old enough to serve up all the mismatched courses while Jason and I sit and dine.

Oh, just so you know that Jason and I didn't neglect our own Peanut Butter and Jelly romance, on Saturday night we went to a piano concert at the Joslyn to hear our neighbor perform and out to eat at Lo Sole Mio.  Thanks so much for the gift card, Grandma Susie and Grandpa Charles!  It was such a special evening.

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

Annika Mae--A Three Year-old Snapshot

Our family prints blog books since I don't print and label photo albums anymore.  Out of the wide variety of posts found there, the literary snapshots of my children as they grow up are some of my favorites.  The tiny, insignificant details that seem so ordinary and commonplace become rich with the passage of time, transporting you back to moments long forgotten.

In celebration of our three year-old Annika, here's a snapshot of her life right now.

Our Annie's a petite beauty, with a sweet face that lost its infantile look long ago.  Even so, she is definitely still the baby of our family.  With no upcoming sibling to boot her out, she still sleeps in a crib and loves it there, probably because she fills it with toys, stuffed animals, and books.  She sleeps quite well at night, and wakes up every morning with a big smile and says, "I sleep good!"  We often cuddle for a moment in my bed before she decides that it's time for breakfast.

As for naps, she sometimes takes a long nap during the day, although I think she's starting to outgrow them.  (Sigh of regret at the loss of Mommy time.)  She's started to protest with a loud: "I not sleeping!" (I'm not sleepy.)  Occasionally she will be quiet for a couple minutes and then proclaim "I sleep good!" even if she hasn't shut her eyes.

Forever known by her long hair, I still haven't given Annika a trim.  Someone recently asked how I get my kids' hair to grow so long, to which I replied, how do you get your kids to grow so tall?  Annie is certainly a pipsqueak, in the fifth percentile for height (34 inches) and fourth for weight (25 1/2 pounds).  Back to her hair, it's beautiful when done, but gets unruly super fast.  Fortunately, she's pretty good about letting me brush it.  I think she knows that it's worse having all that hair hang in her face.

Annika is obsessed by my phone, particularly the camera.  She is constantly stealing it from me and begging, "Take a picture!  Take a picture!"  (As you can see from the selfie, she often takes her own.)  I've noticed that she is much more demanding of technology than her siblings, and worry about the future if she grows up with a phone in her hand.  While in general I have enjoyed owning a smart phone, if I were to make a list of reasons to give it up, Annika's obsession would be at the top.

Here's Annika's other technology obsession: (with a very distinctive and stretched out "org" pronunciation--oh-werg.)  It wouldn't be too bad if she watched a variety of shows, but she always insists on Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood.  I've heard the music so many times that I've developed a sense of relative pitch based on the first note.  I just verified again, and my guess was spot on.  Now if only I knew what that darn pitch actually is...  (Piano solved my query--it's a G.  Ugga Mugga.)

At the moment Annika is also very into pretend play with her Little People, regularly building little enclosures for them out of Magna-tiles.  She is not particularly into sharing.  "My share" generally means, I want that and think you should give it to me now.  Even though she may not like to share, I think the following conversation she had with herself this morning shows that she knows she should.

Annika playing with her Little People, acting out both voices.
Person A:  Don't take it.  That's mine!
Person B:  Be nice.
Person A:  Okay, okay,
Person B:  Yeah, yeah, share.
As for the one person dialogue, we're either looking at schizophrenia or a future career in dramatic interpretation.

With the beginning of the new year, Annika began both swim lessons and a weekly preschool class.  As far as swimming goes, she apparently likes to wear her swim suit on dry land much more than she does in the water.  While we are only a couple of classes in, so far there has been much weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth about anything that even resembles swimming.  Most of last week was spent sitting on the edge without even her toes in the water.  Bah.  Let's hope tomorrow is better.

As for "preschool", Annika really wants to ride a school bus somewhere.  This morning she put on her shoes and backpack and told me that she had her "green book" (the parent communication notebook used by our school district.)  Since a school bus isn't feasible right now, she attends a weekly class for an hour at the YMCA while I work in the childcare room.  So far, it's worked out quite well.  I work the morning shift once a week and bring Annika with me to play.  While the pay is only minimum wage, I don't have to pay for childcare, plus I get my gym membership free and half off all the kid programs.  Annika loves it and usually doesn't want to leave, even after our 3 1/2 hours are done.

As the youngest child, it's interesting to see how our older children have influenced Annika.  She loves to sing, but unlike Brooklyn who only knew songs like "The Itsy Bitsy Spider" at Annie's age, Annika regularly breaks into song about "Snape, Snape, Severus Snape" or even "Watch me Nae Nae." The last couple of days she's been all about calling me "Zoo-Wee Mama" from Diary of a Wimpy Kid.  At least she likes to sing "I am a Child of God" and say the dinner prayer as well.

As for quirks, Annie drinks straight out of the faucet, periodically sits on the toilet seat backwards, and has some major fetishes about how her food is served.  She hates it when her sandwich or taco falls apart.  Heaven forbid you should cut her food without permission or flatten her cereal pile.   If that seems illogical, how about the day she insisted that I give her a red banana.  If you are ever in the mood for losing your mind, try reasoning with a three year-old.

On the positive side, Annika loves to read, particularly her favorites like Goodnight Gorilla and the Lazy Lion, after which we regularly do "research" at the zoo.  The winter months are especially fun since we have the whole place to ourselves.  Here's Annika watching the sharks swim around.


I'm generally not a fan of eels, but these itty bitty garden eels are pretty cute.

Had to take a picture of the octopus because s/he was actually moving all around instead of just hanging out in the usual corner.

The lion cubs that were born last November sure have grown!

Still playful with a scruff of mane, this lion played chase with me for the longest time, racing me back and forth along the fence nearly a dozen times until we were both quite worn out.

These orangutans, on the other hand, were much more still.

All except for the baby Surianna, who even at fifteen months, is just as tiny and adorable as ever.

 Oh wait, speaking of babies, this post is supposed to be about mine.  Well, here she is watching the animals in the Lied Jungle...

 And here she is pretending to be an assortment of animals at Fontenelle forest.  Mira el ratoncito...

La mariposa...

La rana...

...and my favorite, la zarig├╝eya (opossum).

Other than that, the only thing left to talk about is the only thing that we ever talk about these days: potty training.  If you'd asked me how it was going a week and a half ago, I would have been like, Awesome!  Today, not so much.  What's up with going into the bathroom, taking off your clothes, and intentionally peeing next to the toilet?  I can't complain though.  Papa Kay has the worst survival story.  He was kindly watching Annie for me over lunch one day when she said she needed to use the potty at Chick-Fil-A.  Well, apparently she goes into the stall, locks it, and then can't get it undone.  After nearly fifteen minutes of unsuccessfully trying to jiggle it loose, poor Papa K finally came to the rescue by squiggling underneath the stall door to let her out.  Now that is love.

Now, now, before you all chuckle too loudly, may I just say that if you actually read this blog, you are likely more involved than you realize.  Just so you know, Annika names her poops after you.  She makes Mommy poops, Daddy poops, Brookyn poops, Grandma Susie poops--you get the idea.  So we're all in this together.  And it's a good thing too, because it really does take a village to raise a child, and with our darling Annika Mae, we're gonna need all the help we can get.  She is oh-so-very-sweet but occasionally oh-so-very-naughty as well.  Just in the moment when you want to give her away, she comes to you with arms outstretched asking for a "hu-ug" and your heart melts.

We sure do love you, Annie Mae.  Keep smiling!

RSBC Week 4: Kefir--Free to a Good Home

Run Swim Bike Cook 2016: let it be known to all the world (or at least to Anonymous and the handful of other people who look at this thing) that I finished!  Friday I biked 20 by sticking in the saddle after spin class, Saturday morning was beautiful, so I knocked off my run with 7.2 miles around Zorinsky, then biked another 4 with my family.  Sunday was the 28th, so had it been a normal year, I would have missed the deadline.  Thanks to lucky leap year, I headed to the gym on Monday morning for the last of my swim (.2 miles) and the rest of my bike (14) before sending Jason a text: "Hallelujah!"

Today I'm resting.

Anyway, onto the cooking challenge: kefir.  Okay, so I confess that the only reason I chose kefir was because I couldn't think of anything else to ferment, with the possible exception of making cheese, and that just seemed too complicated.  I'd seen kefir in the stores, and even though I'd never actually tasted any, I was curious.

Overachiever that I am (snort, snort), I looked online and discovered that I could actually make my own kefir from these mysterious kefir grains.  Just a teaspoon of grains could magically transform your cup of milk into "yogurt on steroids"--chock full of probiotics just waiting to delight your gut.  Not only that, the grains would grow and you could have even more to share with your friends.

And so, even though I'm rarely an impulse shopper, the online mania got the better of me, and I paid $18 for a whole tablespoon of these bad boys.  (Of course, that did include the online cookbook of amazing kefir recipes.)  I even paid an extra $1.50 for the expedited shipping to make sure that these live cultures didn't suffer too much during their lengthy journey.  The kefir grains arrived looking healthy and plump, so I was optimistic about our future relationship.

This is what the grains looked like after rinsing.  You're only supposed to do this once.  After that, you set them in a cup of milk in a warm spot (like on top of the refrigerator) for 24 hours, then strain the mixture before scooping the grains (now coated in kefir-goo) into a new jar for the next day.

Before I knew it, my fridge was positively sprouting with kefir in all various stages of fermentation.  I tried to use mine within a week or two, although some sources I read said that it can last much longer because there isn't really anything in it to go bad.  (Spoiler alert: my opinion is that if that's true, it's because kefir is bad already.)

Whatever was happening inside my jars, the bacteria were certainly busy.  After I popped open one of them (half full), it fizzed up like a root beer float with a giant head of foam.

Here's what it looked like after it settled down.

Okay, so here's the dealio.  I think my kefir is very healthy.  I've managed to make lots of thick, tangy, sour milk stuff with grains that reproduce quickly.  The only problem is, I don't like it.  My kids don't like it.  My husband doesn't like it.  Even my Dad (the buttermilk lover) doesn't really like it.  Despite the bravest face and best of attitudes, I just can't get it down.  One day I went to the store to buy all the stuff to make a kefir smoothie, hoping that I could disguise the flavor.  While there, I noticed this product and brought it home, just so I could know what I was shooting for.

And guess what?  I don't like it either.  Even in its smoothest, most consumer-friendly form, kefir is just not for me.  I looked at all that fresh fruit for my smoothie and said, heck no!  I'm not ruining that with kefir.

On the other hand, kefir is great for baking, particularly as a substitute for buttermilk.    These waffles were certainly a hit.

Can I just say that we love our waffle maker?

Almost as much as we love our new whipped cream dispenser.

Our honey-buttermilk bread recipe turned out quite well, too.  I thought it was hilarious to hear my kids begging for more kefir bread. 

Perhaps the best part of kefir is that it makes for an amazing science experiment.  While making bread, we measured out two cups of kefir and then added a little bit of baking soda.  It started to foam impressively until we added the salt, which must have acted as a catalyst because it suddenly went into overdrive, putting every baking soda and vinegar volcano out there to shame.  What a mess!  (But admittedly awesome.)  This is what it looked like once we transferred the explosion into the mixing bowl, along with some yeast and honey.

Okay, so now I'm left with this dilemma.  What do I do with my kefir grains?  I am definitely tired of having to take care of them every day, especially since I don't really like the stuff, except for baking.  It's hard to justify the time and expense and calories (my kefir prefers whole milk) of keeping it up when all of the healthy bacteria area getting cooked away.  Plus let's face it: I just don't bake that much.

But all the same, I can't seem to force myself to chuck it out.  After all, I spent good money on those grains, not to mention the gallons of milk and new strainer.  (I know, I know, sunk costs.)  I might not really like them now, but what if I change my mind and decide I want them later?  Even more, these grains are alive.  I've fed them, cared for them, nurtured them. Pitching them feels a little bit like, well, kefir murder.

And so, torn between my innate desire for simplicity in life and my inner cheapskate, my kefir grains are quite literally chilling in the fridge until I decide their fate.

In search of a good home: Kefir Grains--free for the taking.