Stuff to Do in These Isolating Times

I’m going to keep updating the blog itself, but I thought I’d keep this post on top because I’ll keep updating this particular one, too. Just scroll down to skip it if it’s of no use; if for no one else, at least these links will be easily accessible for me:

How to Help

Podcasts

  • You Must Remember This: “dedicated to exploring the secret and/or forgotten histories of Hollywood’s first century.”
  • Revisionist History: From Malcolm Gladwell, it “go[es] back and reinterpret[s] something from the past: an event, a person, an idea. Something overlooked. Something misunderstood.”
  • America Dissected: The overall podcast is about the United States healthcare system (anti-vaxxers, Big Pharma, etc.), but the second season is specifically about the Coronavirus. The host is a doctor, epidemiologist, and former health commissioner of Detroit.
  • Poetry Unbound: Each episode is generally less than 10 minutes, and concentrates on a single poem.
  • The Longest Shortest Time: A parenting show that’s over, but still fascinating and relevant.
  • Pop Culture Happy Hour: “a fun and freewheeling chat about the latest movies, television, books, and music.”
  • Forgotten Women of Genre: “Whether it’s the famous chords of a theme song or the ominous sound of Vader’s breath, the geekverse as we know it wouldn’t exist without the work or ingenuity of many women who sadly didn’t become household names.”
  • Levar Burton Reads: “In every episode, host LeVar Burton (Roots, Reading Rainbow, Star Trek) invites you to take a break from your daily life, and dive into a great story.”
  • The Good Place Podcast

Kids

  • Highlights Kids: Free online activities for kids
  • Audible Stories: There are also classic books available that could be of interest to adults.
  • Scholastic Learn at Home
  • PBSKids: Both videos and games
  • Virtual Field Trips: This is from the Nature Conservancy and it seems pretty cool! You can watch just the videos (so adults can do these, too!), but there are also teacher guides to download to interact with the kiddos. It says it’s for grades 5 through 8, but they can be adapted for all ages, and I would imagine that would be pretty easy to do
  • Earth School: This is from TED Ed in cooperation with a slew of other entities. There are 30 days of lessons and each week covers a different theme. Each day has a main video and secondary videos that I think you can watch without creating an account. To do the rest of it, which is really a multi-choice quiz (which I like because it holds Evie accountable for watching the main video) and a couple other options (like further discussion), you have to make a (free) account. But that also helps to track which ones you’ve done, so that’s one less mental burden.
  • This link has a slew of options, though the first section (Earth), is all from Virtual Field Trips, but the rest (29 other links) are from unique sites (though a couple are already on this list)

Electronic Resources: Entertainment

Electronic Resources: Recipes

  • King Arthur Flour
  • Joe Yonan: We got his cookbook, Cool Beans, and this is his website, which has a number of links to articles he’s written for the Washington Post on a variety of legume-based recipes.

Electronic Resources: Exercise

Electronic Resources: Consumerism

Look, why buy from Amazon when there are a slew of business out there who actually need the business (and who actually give back to the economy)? Amazon et al. will be fine. Buying from more independent sellers will also probably mean you’ll get your stuff WAY sooner and your orders won’t prevent people from getting goods they SUPER need (to include healthcare workers and various charities who use Amazon to hold their wishlists). Create an account at paypal.com if you don’t want to spread your payment information around the internet. Most vendors have a paypal option.

Books, eBooks, Audiobooks

  • Better World Books
  • Your local independent bookseller: Go to this link to perform a search in your area. Many if not most shops have begun or ramped up their online orders.
  • Or go to Bookshop.org, which sells books online but splits the profits among independent booksellers, no matter if they’re members. You can specify a specific local bookstore or the profits from your purchase will go into a pool of money that will be divided among all bookstores every 6 months. Here’s a Wired article from a couple of months ago to get a better idea of what they’re about.
  • Use libro.fm for your audiobook purchases, if that’s what you do; your purchases support your local bookseller.

Basics

  • Go straight to the source! Many companies have an online shop, and most offer free shipping once you reach (usually) somewhere between $25 and $49
  • Hand Sanitizers: There are a ton of distilleries filling the gap and many sell directly to the public
  • How about a zero waste shop (some of which are called zero waste)? The products are meant to last longer (less shopping/going out/spending money -menstrual cups, for instance, for those of us who bleed monthly), help items last longer (the same), or just generally be more convenient for you -so why not?

And while you’re shopping, some business out there are also donating a percentage of their profits to worthy causes.

Crafts

  • JoAnn Fabric: Supplies and craft ideas, but they’re also offering Creativebug free for 2 months (this is, apparently, a place to “[g]et art & craft classes on-the-go”)
  • Etsy! There are a large variety of vendors who sell kits for a variety of crafts, to include tole painting type things and needlepoint; I also just ordered fabric from a couple vendors so while there are a number of vendors online for fabric, Etsy vendors are also a possibility.
  • Lion Brand: Buy yarn and other such equipment and or get some free patterns
  • Yarnspirations: Same; it’s the parent company of a variety of yarn companies
  • The Spruce Crafts (there are also other sites, such as recipes)

KSTEM TEA, part 2

Ben was sick, so James took Evie to her TEA for her bridge unit. It sounded like they had a lot of fun! Here’s their mission:

Here’s their design and their materials:

Here’s their finished bridge:

And here’s the test:

James Passed His PMP!

One of the goals for the year was for James to earn his Project Management Professional (PMP), which is an industry and internationally recognized certification. He took a week-long class, took the test, and passed with flying colors -Above Target on each section!

Nothing much more to say, just sharing the news that he’s amazing.

Random February Pictures

Here are some pictures from school; the first is Ben on the toddler and younger playground. The second is during a section on Egypt -the thing she’s holding is her clay tablet with Egyptian hieroglyphs. The left bottom picture is just quintessentially Evie -the outfit, the pose. And the last one is the end of the wall unit; they’re testing their wall against Mount Vesuvius. Unfortunately, Pompeii was still destroyed.

These are from Valentine’s Day, when Evie was home sick. But clearly she was well enough to both kill a box and draw the sword from the stone. As Aurora. With… a wimple? And a cape.

Ben has been getting braver at the playground, going down the slide, climbing up the structures, and enjoying the swings.

When the kids play nicely together, we have to take pictures to commemorate. And by play nicely, I mean play at all together. Sometimes there’s arguing, but mostly there’s just playing in the general vicinity. I anticipate that the number of nice playing incidents will remain the same as the cases of arguing increases as time goes on, but we’re enjoying the relative quiet right now.

Vegetarianism-ness

Going vegan, or at the very least vegetarian, is the best diet for the planet but I cannot do that. I don’t think many of us could in the strictest sense, but I definitely can’t. BUT, this year I’m trying to have more vegetarian meals each week. The reason is multi-fold, which I think will help us keep on it:

  1. The climate crisis. Check this out, and this, and this, and this, and this, and if you need/want more, just ask the Internet. But, you know, don’t be dumb about your search results. You have to go to legitimate sites that have some sort of accountability.
  2. James has high cholesterol. I’d been saying for a while that we need to get our cholesterol tested, if for no other reason than we hadn’t done that in years, and James finally did it (I still have yet to) and found out he has high cholesterol. It’s not Very High, but it’s High. And we found out on NYE, so it was a perfect time to add that to the reasons to change our diets. The exercise thing is a little more difficult, but we’re also trying to get that together (more biking to work, coordinating swim lessons for Evie w/ a swim workout for James), but that’s a little more out of our hands. I’m hoping to change my diet and do the same amount of exercise a week since I hate working out except yoga -but I don’t take the time to do yoga unless in a class and I don’t want to pay for classes- or walking, and I’ve been walking with Ben when water molecules don’t fall from the sky (made easier because I’d rather be outside when it’s cold rather than blazing hot, so we’ll see how this goes as it gets warmer).
  3. Diet. This is tied to above, but still relevant. We’re just trying to be healthier overall. And again, I’m hoping a food diet change means I don’t have to make an effort in other areas because I’m that type of lazy.
  4. The Kids. They’re young enough that we can teach them to enjoy and be satisfied by a large variety of foods. I am… getting there, but I doubt I’ll ever make enough progress to become a vegetarian. Evie already enjoys fish more than she does any type of meat, and sometimes refuses meat in general when presented with it. That’s not to toot our own horn because many a time the side is something like fries or cheesy potatoes or rice.

Anyway. I’ve been doing some research on various recipes and honing in on what I can do to feel like I’ve eaten an actual meal rather than a large side, and I’m hoping once that’s more of a habit, I’ll be able to branch out. But I feel pretty confident that this is going to stick if for no other reason than the first two stated above.

Not that this is a food blog, but I do love cooking and feeding people so I thought I’d share a couple recipes. Especially for those who, like me, feel like meals are incomplete without a serving of land animal.

Roasted Chickpeas, aka the Best Snack

This one’s a bit of a cheat since it’s not a meal, but, honestly, it’s our absolutely most favorite thing right now. All of us. We got a bag of roasted chickpea snacks on a whim for our trip to the Outer Banks and they were highly okay, but had a weird texture to them. But I also remembered reading about roasting chickpeas ages ago (like, college years) and I thought I’d give it a try since we all generally liked them. So I did. And they were GOOD. SO GOOD. I mean, the recipe needed tweaks and it ended up being a multi-week process, but, oh man. If you like crunchy snacks but don’t enjoy the guilt of eating tasty snacks, this is totally for you. And you can use any spice combination you want. Just, you know, try to stick with things that aren’t horrible for you (like pre-mixed spices, since they usually have A LOT of sodium). Something I’ve been doing a lot, and doing a lot more lately, is using less salt, or if I do use salt, using, say, onion or garlic or even celery salt (the latter of which, btw, is SO GOOD) because then it offers something else and maybe I can use less. I’m not a nutritionist, so I really don’t know if this is any better, but, I mean, why not get more bang for you buck/effort? My favorite spice combo for the kids is celery salt, paprika, and tumeric. My favorite spice combo for James and me is celery salt, cayenne, tumeric, and chili powder. (We use a lot of tumeric in our house).

A Few Notes: I think the best texture comes from canned chickpeas, but the most economical (and green) option is to get dried chickpeas in bulk. Some recipes I’ve read have just said, “oh, just soak the dried chickpeas and roast!” Which is bullshirt unless you like chalky-crunch. And maybe you do! James didn’t have a big problem with them, that’s just my bias. Regardless, if you just want to kind of test the waters, get a can of chickpeas, drain, and then follow the recipe from there. If you want to jump right in, this is a process “recipe” since it’s a snack and you can have a lot of wiggle room with how much you make and the amount of effort you want to put into it.

Ingredients

  • Dried Chickpeas, picked through (yadda yadda)
  • Water
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil (or any other type of high smoke/healthy oil you have; I’m sure Safflower or Grape Seed will be fine)
  • Spices

Process

  • Soak chickpeas (I put them in a mason jar full of water for anywhere between 18 and 24 hours, but, you know, however long you have. The soaking is really just to cut down on the cooking time, so you could actually just eliminate it all together if you want. Regardless, if soaking and it’ll be a while, maybe put it in the fridge just to be safe. Don’t fill the jar too much with chickpeas -no more than, say, 5/12 of the way, because they’ll expand. You’ll also want to shake it every now and again, particularly over that first hour, otherwise, they’ll expand such that they’ll be too tight to move.)
  • Once they’ve soaked, drain and then cook (my understanding is that they cook faster in a pressure cooker, and you can also use a slow cooker. I put them in a pot, cover them with water, and cook them on the stove. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer for about an hour, stirring occasionally so everything cooks as evenly as possible) until they’re tender. I found that the tenderer they are, the better the crisp. Which is to say, if you want an airier crisp (like a potato chip), tenderer/creamier is better; if you want a denser crisp (like a slightly popped popcorn kernel), just cooked through is fine.
  • Drain again, then put on a towel and dry them off/let them air dry for however long you have/want to give it. (I’ve read dozens of recipes and they all say to dry the chickpeas super well; I’ve not found that this is not something to go crazy about. I mean, they don’t have to be bone dry, just… dry. Not dewy. I’ve also read that you should remove the skins. Yeah, that’s not necessary, either. If they come off, definitely get rid of them because they’ll burn, but don’t go nuts unless you are super sensitive to texture/are totally obsessive about things.)
  • Preheat the oven to 325F (again, I’ve read a dozen recipes and they all have different temperatures and have different explanations for why that temperature is best, and I’ve tried them, but I like them nice and crispy, so low and slow gets them there without burning them)
  • Put the chickpeas on a sheet pan or two, enough such that they’re spread out and you can easily shake them and they can move. I use two sheet pans regardless because I make two different spice combinations for the kids and us.
  • Put them in the oven for about 20 to 30 minutes, then shake them to make sure they’re not sticking to the bottom. Do this again -again, to make sure they don’t stick to the bottom, but also to make sure they cook evenly (rotate the pans if you like). Then you can let them cook for about 45 minutes to an hour more.
  • Meanwhile, get your spices together. You’ll want a ratio of about 1:1:1 -1 cup of chickpeas, 1T of oil, 1 tsp of spices. So however much chickpeas you have, go from there. I would round up for the spices because I’ve found that less spice means you can barely taste it (unless that’s what you want) and round down for the oil (because more makes it a little shiny/oily). And it’s 1 tsp total of spices, so if you have 3 different spices, 1/3 tsp of each, etc. Mix them together so everything can get evenly coated. (Since it’s a ratio, you could also wait until they’re out of the oven and measure how many chickpeas you’ve ended up with/are allowing for the inferior spice mix.)
  • Back to the chickpeas: Just sort of press a few to test for doneness. They should be hard/unyielding. If they give a little, they need more time, so just gauge how much time you think they need -intervals of 15 to 20 minutes are pretty safe. Also, rotate your pans if you need to/haven’t done so already.
  • Once they’re done, remove from the oven and toss in your spice/oil, then put back on the pan, and back into the oven.
  • Let it roast for another 15 minutes and, this is the most important part, when the time is done, just turn off your oven and let it sit in there while the oven cools. I’ve forgotten to do this step and they wind up cruncy-soft, which is not great. If you do forget, I’ve found that I can often (though not always) get the same/or good enough results by putting the pan back in the oven, reheating it to 325F, and then turning the oven off once it reaches temperature, leaving the pans in there. Take it out after an hour or two, or leave it overnight (I sometimes make this from start to finish as I’m making dinner, so the chickpeas are in that final sit-in-the-oven-as-it-cools step as I’m going to bed, so I just leave it in there overnight and put it away in the morning)
  • Once the chickpeas have cooled, put in some mason jars to store, and enjoy!

Notes:

  • I wait until the end to put the spices on because otherwise, it burns. Or it starts to smell like it’s burning and it makes you want to take the chickpeas out of the oven before their crisp enough. But you also do want the spices to toast/for the spices to better adhere/cook into the chickpeas themselves, so they do need to go into the oven a bit.

Tofu Dish

I am predisposed to enjoy tofu because I grew up eating it. At least, that’s my argument for James’ faces when I say I can enjoy tofu plain (though I’d rather douse it with soy sauce) and snack on it. Most people do not have this inclination. And I forgive you! And maybe this type of dish will turn out to be so unsatisfying -it teeters on the edge for me- but I think it’s tasty. I made a couple of tofu-based dishes and sort of threw this one together. You can serve it with rice (as in, this would be the protein) -we had it with vegetable fried rice- or some sort of Asian noodle dish (where, again, this would be the protein), whether it’s a lo or chow mein or an udon or ramen or pad thai. You could also serve it as blocks or as cubes that have been fried.

Marinade/Sauce

  • 1T Miso paste (I use red just because that’s usually what we have, but you can use whatever you like)
  • 1/2c Mirin
  • 1/2c Soy Sauce (I always use light/less sodium/the green one)
  • 2T grated Ginger (or thereabouts)*
  • 2 14-oz blocks of Extra Firm Tofu
  • Oil (some sort of cooking oil with a high smoking point)
  • 1/4c of cornstarch (optional)

Process

  • Drain your tofu. To help it soak in flavor, it’s best to get as much water out as possible, so I wrap them in a couple of towels, put something on it (usually the pan I’ll be using later to cook it -even though that seems somehow wrong… like I’m making it dig its own grave, or something), and let it sit for an hour or so, then throw the towels in the hamper.
  • Meanwhile, mix your marinade/sauce together and get out a casserole dish.
  • Once your tofu has drained, slice along the middle, like you’re slicing a role in half -the tofu should remain the same length and width but be half as tall. Put the pieces in your casserole dish, then pour half of the marinade on top. Let sit for around thirty minutes, or however long it takes you to get back to it after making whatever else you’re having with it.
  • When you’re ready to get back to it, preheat a pan, add the oil, and here’s where you can do one of two things:
  • Put the tofu rectangles into the oil and sear each side. Like other proteins, they’ll release (easier) when they’re done. You’ll probably have to cook them in two batches. Once they’re done, add the marinade and let it cook down and coat the tofu. Finis!
  • OR you can slice the tofu blocks into cubes, gently toss them in the corn starch, and sear them so they’re even crispier. (They won’t be crunchy or anything.) You’ll probably have to do this in two batches, too. Once they’re done, put them back in the pan, add the marinade, and let it cook down and coat the tofu. Finis, part deux!

* I never measure ginger. I think it’s impossible to get the amount a recipe calls for, in part because I buy a huge ginger root, slice it into pieces that I think will yield somewhere around 1T of microplane-grated ginger, and then go from there. Plus, I like the flavor and I think that if a recipe calls for 1tsp, it’ll taste just as delicious if there’s 1 to 2T instead. I also peel ginger with a spoon. James does not think this is a good hack, but I think it’s wonderful and easy. And since I’m prone to kitchen injuries (it’s pretty rare I make it out without a cut or a burn, or both), I doubly appreciate this technique. I also freeze my ginger so we always have some on hand, but I also think it’s easier to both peel (with a spoon) and grate (since it’s so fibrous) when it’s frozen (or rather, has been frozen and sitting out for 5 or so minutes). And, maybe this is why 3 to 6 times the amount of ginger in a recipe is fine for me -because frozen ginger probably looses some of it’s potency. But I don’t care.

Random January Pictures

Some pictures from school:

We had our first snow of the year/season a week into the new year and Evie had a blast. James came home early because work closed and kicked everyone out, and he picked up the kids early so they could enjoy it. Ben was… hesitant. Not unlike with sand and pool water. Eventually, James took him on a sled and he enjoyed that, but he knew when he was done, so he came in not long after. Evie’s at an age where she’ll push past discomfort if she’s enjoying herself.

Evie was home sick over a few days, one of which Ben was also home, and they were each having a snack when Ben started getting irritated and pointing over to the dining table. It turns out he wanted to eat his snack at at the table with Evie.

We all pitched in to make carrot-craisin breakfast muffins, to include going out to our garden to pick some home-grown carrots.

Daddy-horse and Evie’s Bridge:

Evie’s Birthday Party

We had another birthday party for Evie this year. I’m not sure I want to keep this up, so I need to find a way to break the news to her. Or figure out an alternative. Or decide whether this is feasible long term. Or just keep doing it until we, for whatever reason, can’t. That last one is giving in to inertia, so… I’ll probably do that.

She chose a wild animal theme, for which I was not going to go too crazy. I went over to Etsy for some invites, and the invite suite also had downloads for various other paper goods (decorations, food labels, a banner, etc.), and I mostly just took a few of the pieces, altered them through handy dandy Paint, and made some of my own stuff to better fit my needs. I had planned to use some of the food labels, but then decided people have eyes and can figure out, say, the difference between fruit and vegetables, or what pineapples are. Or cheese.

We had a handful of kids and one of the activities was to decorate a fake cake, a project Evie found in one of her Highlight magazines. Fortuitously, we just had a holiday and had tons of boxes, so I wrapped those in white paper, taped them together, made some animal footprint stamps, got some washable paint, set out the glue, pom poms, jewels, and aprons from last birthday, and the kids went to town on and off throughout the party.

Another activity we did was for the kids to make their own mini pizzas. We’ve baked a lot of pizzas, so we had all the equipment and I could easily test out various ideas (how to keep track of each kid’s pizza -pen on the underside of parchment paper cut to size; how to make sure the dough worked ok -pre-bake the pizza crusts; how many can fit on our pizza steels at a time -3 comfortably) and it worked out pretty well.

The kids also raided Evie’s dress up area.

I put together an owl vegetable platter and a peacock fruit plate, via pictures on the Internet, and those, plus the various printables from the above-mentioned invitation suite was as far as I went with the wild animal theme:

I also made some pizzas for the adults, and the pre-baking definitely helped such that I could build them before the party and then throw them in the oven once everyone got there.

James and I made another batch of limoncello earlier in the week so I made some lemonade for the kids and set out wine for the adults. Plus, I baked some bread and put out some herb/olive oil and some craisin/honey goat cheese logs.

Finally, Evie requested a strawberry cake with vanilla frosting, and I tested a modified recipe over her birthday, made some tweaks, and it turned out pretty tasty, if I do say so myself. I also made some stencils of various animals and used sprinkles to create their silhouettes.

My pat-myself-on-the-back less wasteful things were: the tablecloth (I did some Googling and ended up getting some PUL fabric, which is a waterproof, washable/wipeable fabric used for cloth diaper covers. The pattern selection was limited, but I don’t care. I’m going to use this for the rest of my life. Plates! A few years ago, I took advantage of the back to school sales and got myself a huge stack of reusable plates and I haven’t bought disposables since. Granted, the end of life thing will be a problem, but again, I’m going to use these until I die. (I’m saying that dryly, like, bone dry. Though I will.) The favor bags! I’m generally ambivalent about favors. I don’t care for almost anything in them -sweets, cheap toys -and I endeavor against hypocrisy, but I also feel weird about saying thanks for coming, off with you! Last year, I sent everyone home with goodies they made at the party. This year, I made some hot cocoa mix that I put in some pretty blue Ball jars, and I got a stack of butterfly flower seeds that I put in kraft paper envelopes, all of which went into paper bags -all recyclable or consumable. And the cups! I gathered all the Mason jars around our house (which are our drinking glasses, anyway) and set them out for the lemonade and the wine. Because nothing says classy like wine in a Mason jar. Don’t get me wrong, there was some waste (you see that paper napkin? Plus, the parchment paper for the pizzas, plus all the decor I printed), but I’m slowly cutting it down. We’ve been whittling through the paper napkins and plastic ware for a while, and eventually, I’ll probably give everyone our every day napkins or something.

Just for S&G’s and because I love food and sharing it with people, my favorite recipes (especially when people come over) are low effort, high impact, so here’s a fun one if ever you have a gathering of small or large proportions:

Goat Cheese Logs

Craisin + Honey

  • 1 goat cheese log (size just depends on the gathering)
  • A few handfulls of craisins, roughly chopped
  • Honey
  • Crackers, bread, or both

Roll the log in the craisins, endeavoring to cover the whole thing, but not a big deal if you don’t. Wrap in plastic wrap until you need it and to help press the craisins into the cheese. Drizzle honey over the whole thing when you serve it with crackers or bread.

Herbs + Extra Virgin Olive Oil

  • 1 goat cheese log (size just depends on the gathering)
  • A Variety of Herbs (I used about 1T each of chives and parsley; you could throw some thyme in there; maybe some Herbs de Provence? whatever combination you like), chopped
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Sea salt (optional)

Same as above, roll the log in the herbs and wrap in plastic wrap until you need it, pressing the herbs into the log a bit. Drizzle with Extra Virgin Olive Oil and sprinkle with sea salt when you serve it with crackers or bread.

Random December Pictures

Random pictures from daycare (there’s a lot more, but I do try only to put pictures on our site that don’t have anyone else’s children. Also, apparently they’ve changed their default picture type, which isn’t compatible with WordPress -or, perhaps, anyone, because I’ve never seen it before -and I’ve only just realized it and haven’t had the time or inclination to go back and convert all the pictures. Perhaps that’ll be on my list for next time):

Evie and Ben making kolachis with Daddy.

Evie and the cookies we made for Santa (chocolate and vanilla pinwheel cookies this year).

Ben and I have been going on walks. Not all the time because sometimes laziness sets in, or it’s really nasty weather, but for the most part, we’ve been doing pretty well, even when it’s pretty cold. He always seems to be fine since he’s so bundled up and I get warm pretty quickly, plus I bring layers of various sorts just in case.

And sometimes Ben will go for a walk, usually around the corner to the mailbox, sometimes around the block, making a full square.

We went wine tasting with Mom at the one winery we ended up joining here in Virginia.

Apparently, Ben is waiting for a ride somewhere. Maybe he’s going on vacation?

Lastly, my favorite picture right now:

Evie’s Birthday

For Evie’s 6th birthday, we went to the National Aquarium in Baltimore. It’s a 1.5hr drive, so we headed out early and had breakfast sandwiches in the car. The aquarium is pretty okay, but holy smokes, it’s expensive. Definitely not a very accessible aquarium. I don’t know why they aren’t getting supplemented by the government (whether state or federal) or if they are, why the prices are still so steep (it cost us a hundred dollars just for entrance for two adults and one child, and that was with a free baby and a military discount). They also didn’t have very much on the enclosures, where they got the animals, why they’re there and for how long, etc., various things that such a place should have if they’re committed to education and conservation. I’m not saying they didn’t have anything, but they didn’t have as much as it seems like they should have. The National Zoo had a lot of really good signage about such things, but maybe it’s just a matter of space and placement.

Regardless, Evie enjoyed it, which was good. They had multiple levels of tanks of various fish and sharks, a dolphin area, and some local exhibits with amphibians and reptiles. Evie was most excited to see the dolphins.

They also had a megaladon jaw, which was pretty cool.

As requested, I made a strawberry cake with vanilla icing. I adapted a different cake recipe and I like this one better than the one I’d been using, but I still have some improvements to make.

Christmas

Christmas was quiet and relatively warm (gah!). We started off with stockings; Mom made both of their stockings and Evie was able to use hers last year and Ben used his for the first time this year. So cute!

Our next adventure came later when Ben started crying; we thought it was because he was mad about something and had slammed his head against the floor (because he does that), but he was inconsolable, and eventually I thought maybe he had an earache and gave him some Motrin. Still super upset. Later, after he had calmed down and we had gone about our day, we saw a dark spot on his forehead and realized he had burned himself on the fireplace (that glass gets really hot). Much later, I saw his left hand and it had blisters all over it. Earlier he had avoided pushing over his kitchen stool and wanted one of us to do it, which is atypical, but made sense once we understood it was because his hand hurt. Our poor baby! Outside of avoiding using that hand, he didn’t seem to notice, and eventually we had to pop the blisters, a couple times, after which he also seemed to be all right. By now they’re mostly healed, just peeling, and his forehead is completely fine. Phew! But seriously. It was pretty sad.

We opened presents in phases; phase 1 was Ben’s before his nap. Phase 2 was Evie’s, and then I had to do stuff with dinner. Phase 3 was the adults’ presents when things were in the oven/simmering/waiting to do either of those things. And then phase 4 was after Ben woke up and we opened all the whole-family presents.

Ben got more gifts, but the present and card were from Evie and she bought the gift herself with her own money.

This was our first Christmas using our fabric wrapping paper and it was great! So much less in the trash and recycling bins -which also meant less cleanup! Also, wrapping turned out to be a much shorter affair, which was a bonus I didn’t think about.

The kids each “bought” me a book: Ben got me a book about Thurgood Marshall (prior to his Supreme Court appointment), which I’m excited about. And Evie got me A Midwife’s Tale, which I’m SO excited about. I got the audiobook a couple years ago and realized there was a lot to keep track of and that I’d rather have the physical book so I could flip back and forth, but hadn’t had the chance to go and get it, let alone read it, since then.

Dinner was a prime rib roast, with celery root soup, super buttery Parker House rolls, cranberry sauce, scalloped potatoes, green beans, and chocolate rice pudding. We discovered Ben loved cranberry sauce over Thanksgiving, so I had to make some for Christmas. You can also see his little forehead (!).