Thursday, June 26, 2008

My 3rd annual 28th birthday...

Well, another year bites the dust. Someone told me earlier this week that 60 is the new 50. So does that mean that 31 is the new 21?? I suppose a night of drunken debautchery would be fun, but not when I have a 3 year old and an almost 1 year old to look after in the morning!

Instead, I chose to celebrate my birthday by doing the normal things I do every day...dealt with some MOMS Club business (I'm now officially the chapter president...woohoo!), ran some errands, went to our last Gymboree class, baked, and cleaned up while the girls were napping (someone asked me how many times a day I sweep...the answer is 3. I miss having a dog!). I did break from the norm and allow my girlfriend to buy me a birthday gelato after our kids had Gymboree together.

Ava eating my ice cream:

I ended up making a strawberry rhubarb crisp instead of a pie, and if I do say so myself, it turned out pretty well. The highlight of my day was Ava jumping up on her stage (the fireplace) to sing me a rousing rendition of "Happy Birthday" in several musical styles. My ears are still ringing, but it was the best birthday song I've ever had.

Joel took the girls, my mom, and I out to sushi (Ava's request), and we came back to devour the crisp. Thanks to my mom for the new ice cream maker (be prepared for LOTS of ice cream recipe reviews on this blog!), and thanks to my wonderful husband for a much needed day at the spa. And thanks to all of my friends and family for the sweet birthday calls, emails, and wishes throughout the day. I am so lucky to have you all in my life!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Strawberry picking

Yesterday, the girls and I headed to a local farm to pick strawberries with our MOMS Club. Ava had a blast - she has always loved picking blackberries whenever she sees them, so when I told her what we were doing, she ran, got a bucket, and sprinted out the door.

For $1.00 per pound, fresh strawberries picked in the morning just doesn't get any better than that! Ava and I picked over 4 pounds in under an hour (excluding the many berries that ended up in her mouth...).

I bought some rhubarb earlier this week, so tomorrow I am going to bake myself a strawberry rhubarb pie for my birthday treat. Since we'll have a lot of leftover berries, I might also make a regular strawberry pie. Here are a few recipes that I like to use:

Pate Brisee (Pie Dough)
Courtesy of Martha Stewart

Makes 1 double-crust or 2 single-crust 9- to 10-inch pies.
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small pieces
1/4 to 1/2 cup ice water
In the bowl of a food processor, combine flour, salt, and sugar. Add butter, and process until the mixture resembles coarse meal, 8 to 10 seconds.
With machine running, add ice water in a slow, steady stream through feed tube. Pulse until dough holds together without being wet or sticky; be careful not to process more than 30 seconds. To test, squeeze a small amount together: If it is crumbly, add more ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time.
Divide dough into two equal balls. Flatten each ball into a disc and wrap in plastic. Transfer to the refrigerator and chill at least 1 hour. Dough may be stored, frozen, up to 1 month.

Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie
my own, inspired by this recipe on

4 cups sliced rhubarb
4 cups strawberries, halved
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 tbs cornstarch
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 tsp cinnamon
Pate Brisee for double crust pie

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Combine all ingredients in large bowl.

Roll out one pie crust round and place in pie plate. Pour fruit mixture in. Roll out second pie crust round, cut into stips, layer over pie, alternating to make a lattice. Trim ends, press to seal. Mix an egg yolk with a few drops of milk or water, brush over crust, sprinkle with sugar. Bake on a cookie sheet 15 minutes on center rack, reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees. Bake until golden, about 1 1/2 hours. Let cool, devour.

Strawberry Cream Cheese Pie

1 (9 inch) pie crust, baked
1 (8 ounce) package cream
cheese, softened
1 (14 ounce) can sweetened
condensed milk
1/2 cup lemon juice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups fresh strawberries,
1. In a medium mixing bowl, whip cream cheese until fluffy. Add condensed milk and whip until smooth. Add lemon juice and vanilla extract. Mix until all ingredients are thoroughly combined.
2. Pour cream cheese mixture into baked pastry shell. Top with strawberries. Chill at least 2 hours before serving.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Monterey, Anderson, and home

It had been a while since Joel and I had been to the Monterey Aquarium (the last time we were there, we were together), and they've updated things since then. Of course, I don't remember any of the kid areas being there...they probably were, but since we didn't have kids at the time, they must have been invisible then!

Most of our pictures of the fish didn't turn out, but I did get some great outdoor shots, as well as some cute ones of the girls playing in the kids area. We were all tired, especially Ava, so we had a short visit before heading on to Anderson, where we stayed at the most interesting hotel I've ever stayed in.

Ava and Emily touching the aminals in the touch pool:

Ava and a gigantic tuna:

The seals sunning themselves on the rocks:

Our little pearls:

Emily playing in the water:

The Gaia Anderson is an eco-friendly hotel in Anderson, which is just south of Redding. This was their opening weekend, and I'm pretty sure we were the first people to stay in our room (the best part - brand new mattress and sheets! Woohoo!). Everything was organic and green - right down to the shampoo and toilet (half flush or full flush to save water). Our room was lovely and comfortable, and the grounds were really pretty. They have a nice little pond with swans simming around (that I forgot to take a picture of), and of course, Ava was in love with the "ballet swans." The best part of our stay was the awesome complimentary continental breakfast the next morning - it was like going to Starbucks for free. Great coffee and tea, yummy pastries, full sized yogurts...YUM. While we were in Anderson, we went to Sonic Burger for dinner and now I'm addicted to their Cherry Limeaids. We don't have one close to us, but if you have one by you, you know what I am talking about - YUM. Their coney dogs aren't too shabby either! I loved that you could drive up and then they bring it out to you on a window tray.

After our breakfast, we packed everything up and headed home...the girls slept most of the way. I'm still putting away laundry, so technically the vacation isn't over...right?

Passed out on the ride home:

Overall, we had a great time. We packed just enough in, made sure to get the girls (and ourselves) some down time every day, didn't spend more than we budgeted, and just enjoyed the places we'd already been through new, young eyes. I can't wait to take the kids to Disney again (although next time, we are definitely flying - it only took one tank of gas at $5/gallon for me to do that!). We'll probably also spend the extra money to stay at one of the Disney resort hotels - you can't beat the location, and no matter how old you are, you just need some downtime every day (plus, their pools rock!).

On a final note, here's a get well soon wish for Cynde - her appendix is being removed as I type. At least she gets to enjoy the good drugs tomorrow!

Disney, Day 4

We decided to pay $30 and get another day added on to our park tickets, because we didn’t get to do everything we wanted to do (naps…but they were SO worth it!). So, we headed to DCA on Friday morning and immediately tried to ride the new Toy Story ride…however, even at 8 am, the line was 2 hours long. In my opinion, no ride is that good! Disney has FastPasses for rides that typically have long waits – you get a pass for a certain timeframe, then you come back and have little to no wait. Unfortunately, this ride didn’t have a FastPass, so we decided to skip it. Oh well…there’s always next time!
Ava and I in front of one of an A at DCA:

Joel took Ava on the Ferris Wheel (those things and I do not agree…), while Emily and I shopped for some souvenirs and tried to stay cool (it got above 100 degrees that day!). After that, we had lunch, and then went back to the Bug’s Land to run around in the water park while Joel rode California Screamin (which he’d wanted to do the day before, but didn’t get a chance to). After that, we were all hot, tired, and cranky…we decided to pack it in. On the way out, we bought a Mickey Ice Cream (yum!) that we all shared. We met Minnie (finally!) as well.
After hitting up the huge Disney store on the way out, we got the girls into the car and drove to Monterey.

Ava and the Mickey ice cream:

Meeting Minnie Mouse:

Disney, Day 3 (AKA happy Birthday, Daddy!)

This morning, we used the Early Enterance that came with our Disney package - this got us into Fantasyland an hour before the park opened. This came in handy, because both Disneyland and DCA closed early due to Grad Night. Our first stop was to get Joel his official Disney Birthday pin. I'm not sure what this got him, other than everyone and their uncle telling him happy birthday, but he did get to ride at the front of all of the rides so...maybe it was worth it?

We headed to Fantasyland where Ava wanted to ride the carousel and teacups AGAIN, and then we rode Alice in Wonderland. Then, Joel went to ride Space Mountain (Emily was asleep, so I took one for the team, er, birthday boy). Then he rode Star Tours. Both rides had no wait, so he took advantage. After that, since Em was still passed out, Joel took Ava on Astro Orbiters, which is basically just like the Dumbo ride, only it goes higher. She really loved it. Joel also talked Ava into riding the Matterhorn Bobsleds (Emily took an almost two hour nap!). She said she loved it, but didn't want to ride it again.

While Emily was doing this:
Daddy and Ava were doing this:

After a snack (which was interrupted by helping Peter Pan find Tinkerbelle), we headed to what I thought was the best part of our trip - the Princess Fantasy Faire. They took an old stage in Fantasyland and set up a huge area with a ton of things going on. You could coloring pages, decorate cookies, meet the Princesses, hear a Princess read a story, attend a coronation, and of course, shop in a special Princess store complete with beauty parlor (which was INSANELY expensive!). The best part was that there were continuous activities, and also things that happened at scheduled times throughout the day - always something to do. We heard Mulan read a story (Ava sat in the lap of one of the Princess helpers for this - sooo cute!), then we colored, then we shopped (and Mama decided that $70 was just a wee bit too much for the Belle dress...and of course, I now regret being such a cheapskate!), then we were coronated as Princesses! Since we'd met the Princesses the day before, I didn't want to wait in line to meet them again - plus they all came out for the coronation! First, we learned to dance like a Princess. Then we learned the Royal Wave. Then we did a really cute May Pole dance. It was so fun! If we hadn't had reservations at the Blue Bayou for Joel's birthday lunch, I'm pretty sure we would have stayed there all day.

Helping Peter Pan find Tinkerbelle:

Ava fell in love with Princess Ella:

Ava at the Princess coronation:

My little pirate baby:

Lunch was yummy - we got a ton of food, and you can't beat the atmosphere (right in the Pirates of the Carribean ride). After lunch, we went back to the hotel for a long nap, and then came

back to the park to ride the Haunted Mansion (my all time favorite ride), and then we got the girls' sillouettes done at the little shop on Main Street. This is one of the best kept secrets at Disneyland, in my opinion. For $7, you get two silouettes done (by a seriously talented woman), and for $9, you get a nice frame to go with. We got both girls done and they are just priceless. Emily's chubby cheeks and crazy curls are perfect, and Ava's l-o-n-g eyelashes and hair are right on. We didn't buy a whole lot of souvenirs, but I'm so glad that we took the time to do this.

After the silouettes, it was time for fireworks, so we stayed untilt they were over, and then we headed to bed.

Disney, day 2

We woke up bright and early (again!), and headed over to Disneyland and to Toontown so Ava could do the early enterance for Mickey's Toontown Morning Maddness. They do a parade, make all of the kids honorary Toontown citizens, and all of the major characters wander around in front of their houses. While Emily and I stood in line to meet the main Mouse, Joel took Ava to meet Donald and then took her on a tour of Minnie's house. Then we switched and I took her to Goofy's house, where we met Goofy. This area is totally geared towards the toddler and preschool set - all of the houses and structures are soft and round and perfect for climbing on. After Toontown, we headed to Tomorrowland to ride Buzz Lightyear's Astroblasters (so fun - it was like being in a vieo game!), and the new Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage. Basically, they redid the 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea ride and made it all Nemo-related. I thought it was a cool ride, but since Ava decided as soon as we boarded the sub that she REALLY had to go potty, it wasn't that enjoyable.
Meeting Goofy:
Meeting Mickey:
Meeting Donald:

Around noon, we went to Disney's California Adventure, which is a newer park located across from Disneyland. My only problem with DCA is that there is NO shade and it got into the upper nineties that day. We walked around for a bit, and then went to Ariel's Grotto Restaurant for the main event of the trip - the Princess Lunch. Ava was completely star struck. We met Ariel (in human form) in the lobby for a photo op, then at our table we met the big 4 - Snow White, Cinderella (Ava's personal favorite), Sleeping Beauty, and Belle. Ava gave every princess a curtsey and asked them to sign her autograph book. Lunch was pretty tasty, and they were very accomodating about Ava's allergies. I made a reservation a few weeks in advance and let them know about the allergies, and they made sure to specially prepare a dessert just for Ava, which was so nice.

After lunch, we went back to the hotel for a much needed nap, and then we returned for a few more rides at DCA. First we watched the Pixar Character Parade, which was very cool, and then we rode the Monsters Inc. ride. This was so-so in my opinion, but Ava and Emily both really liked it. After that, Joel rode Tower of Terror ( I stayed with the girls), and then we headed over to a little kids area based on A Bug's Life. This was so fun - preschool rides, a great water feature to run around in, and lots of shade! We left early and went back to the hotel around 7.

Meeting Cinderella:

Meeting Snow White:

Princess Emily:

Emily on one the the preschooler rides:

The girls and Princess Ariel:

Belle adjusting Ava's crown:

Meeting Sleeping Beauty (who told me that she also goes by Aurora):

Stay tuned for Days 3 and 4...

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Disney, Day 1

We arrived in Anaheim on Monday afternoon and promptly headed to the pool with Joel's brother and his wife. After that, we all headed to Downtown Disney, and had dinner at the Rainforest Cafe. The food was alright, but the surroundings are's like dining in the forest, complete with a thunderstorm every 20 minutes.

Outside of the Rainforest Cafe in Downtown Disney:

We started our day bright and early with a character breakfast at Goofy's Kitchen at the Disneyland Hotel. This was SO MUCH FUN! We met Goofy, Pluto, Balu from The Jungle Book, Chip and Dale, Alice, and Aladdin. Every few minutes, one of the characters would lead the kids in a song and dance. The food was actually pretty good as well!

Emily chowing down on a Mickey waffle:

All of us with Pluto:

Ava and Alice:

After breakfast, we headed over to Disneyland to ride the Fantasyland rides. We started with the carousel and then did Peter Pan and Dumbo. Ava adored the carousel - she rode it 5 or 6 times our whole stay. She also loved Dumbo, and liked Peter Pan, but not the "scary part in the dark." Yep, our kid is afraid of the dark. Joel and Ava also rode the teacups (another favorite of hers)...I watched because the very idea of spinning around that fast is enough to make me nauseous. After Fantasyland, we watched the birds in the Enchanted Tiki Room (one of my all tiem faves) and then we rode the Jungle Cruise. After that, we headed back to our hotel for some much needed naps, and then we retured to have some dinner and ride the Winnie the Pooh ride in Critter Country and Pirates of the Carribean in New Orleans Square. On our way back into the park, we happened on the end of a parade, and Ava got her first glimpse of PRINCESSES! The look on her face was priceless. We ended the day with a fabulous fireworks display, in which Tinkerbelle flew from the Matterhorn Mountain over the castle to bring out the sparkles. Truly amazing.

"Pwincesses, Mama!"

Cinderella, on the float:

Ava and I on the Winnie the Pooh ride:

Ava, Emily, and I in front of Sleeping Beauty's Castle:

Ava's first ride at Disneyland:

The happiest baby on earth at the happiest place on earth:

Emily enjoyed the day the most...she thought every ride was amazing and clapped the entire time. She waved at Goofy, and was generally the happiest baby on earth (fittingly at the Happiest Place on Earth!). Ava was pretty overwhelmed by Disney, as we expected. She's not a fan of crowds, and although she loves rides, she is always hesitant to get on them. Once they are in motion, she's fine. I was also suprised to see just how much scary stuff (at least if you think in 3 year old terms) there is at Disney. The Jungle Cruise is a ride that I always thought was boring and tame, but it actually has a lot of scary components. Needless to say, Ava didn't really enjoy it. Oh well...we let her ride the teacups a few times and got her a lollipop to go with!

And finally, a super cute video of Emily and Joel making kissy noises at each other. This is Em's newest coo, she coos back. You make a kiss noise, she makes one back. We get to have long conversations this way, and let me say how completely adorable it is when it's Ava and Emily making kissy noises at each other in the backseat...

(my apologies about Joel's finger in the shot...silly Daddy!)

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Father's Day at Fisherman's Wharf

This morning we woke up earlier than everyone else (ah, the joys of being the only ones on the vacation with children...), so we headed out to Starbucks to have some Father's Day coffee and scones. After that, we headed to breakfast with the rest of the Barsotti family at the diner in our hotel.

Some of us decided to head down the curvy part of Lombard Street and down to Fisherman's Wharf, so we hopped into the van and headed out. Ava thought going down Lombard was "just like a roller coaster." Then we went to the Wharf, which is pretty touristy, but is fun to poke around. We went to Ghiradelli Square and found a cute little peanut and tree nut free cupcake shop, where we bought Ava a cupcake and some milk. Unfortunately, Ghiradelli products are on the long list of no-nos for Ava due to her allergies, but she didn't even know what she was missing, thanks to the cupcakes.

We attempted to take a cable car ride, but the prices went up to $10 roundtrip per person, and $40 for 40 minutes of fun didn't seem worth it to us. Still, we got a couple of great shots by the bay:

The view from the bottom of Lombard:

Alcatraz Island:

Father's Day on the wharf:

Ava wearing her chocolate cupcake:

Saturday, June 14, 2008

If you're going to San Francisco...

Be sure to wear some flowers in your hair...

Coming "home" makes me a wee bit nostalgic. OK, a lot nostalgic. Joel and I haven't been back to the Bay Area since I was pregnant with Ava, and the trips were short and really not too fun.

We survived our car ride down (actually, it went WAY better than we expected...thank the gods for DVD players and Pirate Booty!!), stayed in a rather questionable hotel room last night, and this morning got up bright and early to drive the last 45 minutes into the city. The fog was dense, and the toll to cross the Bay Bridge is now $4!

We made a beeline to Golden Gate Park, and to one of my favorite places ever, the Japanese Tea Garden. We walked around the garden for about an hour and had a "tea party" in the tea house. Ava thought the garden was very interesting, and was amazingly well behaved (no running, jumping, trying to dive into the ponds...). Emily rode in the Ergo on Joel's back and was happy as a clam.

This bronze Buddha statue was cast in 1790 and weighs over 9000!

Since the California Academy of Sciences is still closed for rennovations and the De Young is a little bit over Ava's head, we decided to head over to the Exploratorium. The Exploratorium is a hands on science museum, and Ava and Joel had a great time with all of the exhibits. Emily and I hung out in the baby area for most of our time there, where she got to practice herearly walking skills by pushing around the small play tables. The best part about going to the Exploratorium? It was FREE because it's part of the same network of museums as OMSI is, where we are already members.

After our fun filled day, we headed to our hotel on Lombard Street to take naps (although Joel and I watched a donwload of the season finale of Battlestar Galactica). After that we headed to dinner with Joel's family to celebrate his youngest sister's graduation from dental school. Whew! What a day!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Happy trails to you...

Well, it's either that song or Movin' Right Along from the Muppet Movie.

As I get together the last of the ginormous pile of stuff that a family of four needs to take on a 9 day road trip, I'm struck with several thoughts:

1) Bringing most of our own food means that there will be little time for me to live the dream of sampling the finest DDDs (that's Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives) on the 5. How does the child of a chef even think such thoughts? No idea, but I'll have a LOT of time to contemplate over the next few days...At least we'll have lots of In N Outs!

2) Kids need a LOT of stuff. Seriously, the girls have a suitcase and a duffle. Not to mention the strollers, booster seats, food, cups, toys, books, blah blah blah...The minivan is looking pretty mini right about now.

3) Wouldn't you know that right as we are about to leave the fair state of Oregon, the sun starts shining? It better still be here when we get back!

4) I'm embarassed to admit how excited I am about the prospect of buying REAL Sudafed and also jumbo bottles of booze at Costco. When a stroll down the aisles of the Liquor Barn in Redding gets you excited, perhaps it's time to reflect...

Here's a look at what I've got packed so far (notice, no pack & play, strollers, high chairs, cooler, etc):

The last night of our trip will be spend at a brand new hotel in Anderson, Ca. The hotel is billing itself as an eco-friendly spa retreat at the foot of the mountains. Even for a weekend stay, a room there was less than a room at a typical roadside motel, so I decided to take the chance. They offer a fly-fishing package, so if we like it, I might need to book myself a much needed mommy getaway for some fishing and R&R. Any hotel that offers free yoga sounds like the type of place I'd like to spend time. A little zen also sounds like the perfect way to end our trek through California.

Hopefully I'll be updating while away, but if not, I assure you that I will have a monster entry when I return and get through Mt Washmore.

And on a completely unrelated topic, congratulations to Nick and Sarah Barsotti - looks like it's a boy!

Monday, June 9, 2008

A brief bit of sun...

We had a little bit of sun this weekend, so we decided to head to Oaks Park, which is a small amusement park in southeast Portland. Ava and I went every week last summer, and she has been asking to go back quite a bit. This weekend they had their 103rd anniversary and a local TV station sponsored $0.32 ride tickets. We bought $6 worth and had a great time! Emily enjoyed the carousel and the Lewis and Clark ride...her little eyes were wide open the whole time. Ava is a bit less of a daredevil than she was a year ago...she only wanted to ride the kiddie roller coaster once and held onto Daddy's for dear life on the tumbling tug boat.
She loved the carousel and the motorcycles though, and of course enjoyed the pink cotton candy that we brought home as a post dinner treat.

Joel and Ava preparing to go down the big slide:

At the bottom:

Emily and I on the carousel:

Ava riding on the carousel:

Ava on the motorcycle ride:

Emily being cute:

Ava riding the rocket ships: