Last days of Christmas

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The day after Christmas, we went to pick up the boys while Nerissa and Erik picked up breakfast duties. Nerissa made biscuits and my brother made some bacon and eggs. The dogs seemed like they had a good time at their boarding place and by report they were on good behavior. (Wally even got to play with the whole group of daycare dogs, which was a big success for him.) Best of all, they returned to my mom’s house completely exhausted and the nice calm demeanor that accompanies that.

Unfortunately, my flu was worse today and after throwing up the biscuit I’d eaten, I begged off on the trip to SE Portland that was on the agenda. I urged T to go without me, as I knew he’d appreciate some time in our old neighborhood and I took a nice long nap. I’d definitely been running a fever when I went to sleep, but it was gone when I woke up and stayed gone for the rest of the evening, which was a good sign. I stuck to a nice bland dinner of white rice and milk, accompanied by some ginger ale and jello that T brought back for me. T made some pizza for the family, which they appreciated. (I was glad that I had ample opportunities for T to make me pizza so I could resist… )

The next morning, it was time to hit the road home. Before we could leave, we had a few errands to run. First, a quick trip down to Salem to talk to Joe about my Christmas present – a new tri-bike. Joe runs a bike shop and is very generously giving me a great deal. (Pics and details to be posted when said bike actually comes in. Suffice it to say, I am very excited and now I have to start bike training so I can do the new ride proud.) On the way back from Salem, we stopped to get T his present – an upgrade to his computer. He’s needed a better computer to run the software like AutoCAD that he needs for school for a while now, so we decided to take advantage of the holiday sales/no sales tax in Oregon.

Then it was time for the long drive back to Seattle. T did most of the driving since I was still not feeling great. (Let me tell you, long road trips when you are nauseous totally suck.) But we made it home safe and sound and with plenty of time for the boy to grab some phรณ for us for dinner and then retreat to the office to play with his new computer.

Merry Christmas!

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I woke up feeling a little better, but also a little leary of eating anything, so I held off for a little while. Luckily, sitting on the couch and opening presents isn’t too taking. ๐Ÿ™‚ Nerissa was this year’s “Santa” and was in charge of passing out the presents. This honor is usually bestowed out of our laziness, rather than the honor you might think:

She also did a great job of taking pictures of people opening things, so most of the following pictures are hers. (She was also kind enough to refrain from taking pics of me, because I wasn’t looking too good. So, thanks Nerissa!) Here, my mother and youngest brother Justin wait for the festivities to begin:

T is buried in loot:

My mother likes using cereal boxes for gift boxes and here she outdid herself by nesting them. Part of the fun is making the standard “Oh, Grapenuts! My favorite!” jokes…

Watching my dad open a present…

Possibly this one โ€“ “Nuts for Jesus” from my grandmother. (If you knew my dad, you’d know exactly how hilarious a gift this is for him. He’s a bit of a heathen… )

And even Sullivan got some special Christmas snuggling. (I’m not sure he’s happy with this gift, but what are you going to do?)

Every one got lots of great loot. The boy made out with a pizza stone and the Bread Baker’s Apprentice cookbook that he’d been wanting, not to mention another new jacket, some sadistic wooden puzzles and this nifty remote control helicopter. (Ironically, I remember T talking about a remote control helicopter back in 1997 as one of those crazy expensive toys he’d buy if we won the lottery or something, isn’t funny how life works?)

Nerissa scored some rainbow colored storage boxes, (she and T totally geek out at the idea of boxes to put stuff in, especially if those boxes can be nested inside of each other.)

I got some new swim fins that I’d been wanting, an awesome new gym bag, some money to put toward a new heart rate monitor (score!) and some awesome new microfiber sheets from the boy. This year we exchanged simple/inexpensive gifts on actual Christmas with the knowledge that we’d be making some more substantial purchases soon. (More on this later… )

T made his inaugural batch of cinnamon rolls, which I had to taste, flu or no flu. (They were worth the risk and I managed to keep them down – woo hoo!) I spent most of the day napping, catching up on the Survivor finale and for the most part feeling like I was generally on the mend. We also went out in the late afternoon to see a movie – T & I went to “Up in the Air” which we both enjoyed and Erik, Nerissa and my mom went to “Nine” which had mixed reviews from the group.

Erik & Nerissa had prepped a crock pot cranberry pork dish that was done by the time we came home and turned out quite well. I again risked trying some and was able to keep it down. (No barfing at all today, it was a Christmas miracle!) All in all, a very lovely Christmas โ€“ even with the flu.

Christmas eve in the kitchen

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Between my brother & Nerissa’s taking charge of the dinner menus and T wanting to show off his new-found baking prowess, there was a lot of cooking on the agenda. First up, T made bagels for breakfast. They turned out thinner than usual, so were a little hard to cut โ€“ but were still delicious.

T and I wanted to get a run in, so we headed over to the Springwater Corridor. My mom decided to bring Jasmine along for a walk, which was a nice surprise. My stomach wasn’t feeling great, (which I attributed to not being home and eating my usual food on my usual schedule) and my legs were a little heavy and slow. We got the run done, but it wasn’t as enjoyable as I was hoping for. The highlight of the trip was listening to little Jasmine give passing cyclists whatfor with her high-pitched bark. She really doesn’t think they should be using “her” path and is not afraid to let them know it.

We got T an eggnog latte for the trip home and joined my brother and Nerissa for a few pre-dinner games of Bananagrams and general hanging out. The nice thing about my family is that it’s pretty casual, for the most part. Even the cats have the art of lounging down to an art form:

Before long, it was time to start prepping dinner: butternut squash enchiladas with peanut sauce. So it was back to the kitchen for T:

Jasmine kept a close eye on the proceedings:

I wasn’t pleased that my stomach was still unhappy and concerned with the spicy enchiladas effect on it, but the food smelled delicious. Nerissa took a picture of us all sitting down to dinner:

(what a motley crew, right?) ๐Ÿ˜‰ It was a lovely dinner until my stomach suddenly took a big right-turn to flu town and I had to run to the bathroom to throw up. I felt awful to ruin such a nice dinner/evening and from the fever chills that popped up, I realized I had the flu, which was a huge bummer, needless to say. I took a bath and some Tylenol. While I took my bath, it was back to the kitchen for T to prep cinnamon rolls for the next morning’s breakfast:

I went to bed early, hoping that some Christmas magic would make my flu go away and have me waking up feeling better.

On the fourth day of Christmas…

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…we headed up to Portland. (wait, that’s not how the song goes!) Anyway, after a few days of trying to get Susan’s wireless connection to cooperate with my need to get some work done and hanging out with the Salem folks, we hit the road up to see my family. I unfortunately had not slept well in Salem and had been up since 5 am, so I was tired and grumpy. We dropped the dogs off at a local boarding place to give my mother some peace and quiet from their antics and headed to Oregon City in time to see my brother and Nerissa putting in what looked like a graveyard:

But it turned out to be a dog run for Jasmine, my mother’s pug. (She’s not a fan.)

As would be easily predicted by anyone who has spent any amount of time observing my mom and her dog, Jasmine spent exactly five minutes in the dog run before she was deemed too cold and “sad” and then taken out by my mom on the leash for another fifteen minutes. (Apparently the leash has warming properties.) It was hilarious watching my brother wrap his head around this logic and mutter sarcastic remarks under his breath or ask “helpful” questions. Good times!

We spent the rest of the afternoon hanging around the house. I took a short nap and we went to Sweet Tomatoes for dinner. (Score!) First day of vacation was definitely off to a good start.

Let the games begin!

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Yesterday, T & I arrived in Oregon for a week’s worth of family fun time. We started in Salem to spend time with his mom and her husbands with the plan of going up to Portland on Wednesday to finish up the week with my family. In between all of this, I’d also have a couple of days of trying to work remotely. Good stuff. I haven’t really been in a Christmassy place this year, not for any particular reason, just not really feeling the magic. I also must confess the very thought of spending a ten days running the gauntlet of family dynamics was daunting, to say the least.

Today, the agenda included brunch at a local winery that Susan had made reservations for. Included in our party were two of the three ex-husbands and her crazy friend Marge. Good times! But, before we headed to brunch, we had a little Christmas present exchange:

We all got some great loot – T got a new jacket and I got a blender that I’d asked for, but Wally really cleaned up with some fancy decorations:

Here are two of my boys in their holiday finery. (Smokey Joe saw the writing on the wall and wisely made himself scarce… )

Even Annie was in the holiday spirit:

Brunch turned out to be a strange buffet-style affair. The food was decent but a bit over-priced. Apparently, it had been much better the last time Susan had been there but it was still nice of her to take us out. Then it was off to family gathering number two – my dad’s side of the family has a big gathering every year and this one was only ten minutes away in a small town called Independence. So, more food and more crazy relatives to look forward to.

We walked in after everyone had already sat down to lunch, which given that we had just eaten brunch was very unfortunate timing. We picked at some of the food and chatted with folks. Talk of my Ironman was very popular and I had a long conversation about it with an uncle I don’t think I’ve ever exchanged more than cursory greetings with beforehand, it was pretty surreal.

My father’s family gatherings have a very definite agenda. First we eat, then we do a gift exchange where people have either made a present or spent five dollars or less. This gift exchange takes forever, as there are complicated rules of stealing presents back and forth and no cap on how many times an item can be stolen. It is amusing to watch the dynamics of my aunts & uncles at play as certain presents become “favorites” and get stolen back and forth a mind-boggling amount of times. T usually wades right into the fray and targets one of the favorites or stirs the pot in some way, which is also hilarious.We start off with the recitation of the rules:

The lady in pink below is my grandmother. Next to her, my aunt Janet is weighing her options before making a trade and the little girl on the floor is my cousin’s daughter Delaney (I guess that makes her my 2nd cousin?)

The penguin bag at the bottom left of this picture was quite a hot commodity, with T wading right into the competition to procure it. My mother has “the ugly present” that my Aunt Janet made fun of, which gave it an immediate boost in status as well…

My dad is always fun to watch at these things, as he usually just makes people bring their presents to him.

My brother and I also really enjoy murmuring sarcastic remarks back and forth, when he’s fortunate enough to be in town for these gatherings.

Finally, many hours later, the gift exchange ended. When the dust settled, T did manage to secure the coveted penguin bag which turned out to contain this necktie pillow made by my grandmother:

(The necktie on the far left, belonged to my grandfather.) So, so many kinds of awesome… I got a pretty red scarf that my cousin’s wife made for me. (Sorry, I neglected to take pictures.) Then we moved on to the next agenda item – the reading of the children’s book. My Uncle Joseph and Aunt Susan started this tradition 12 years ago, and while I’m not a fan, they seem to enjoy it. It’s funny to see how having children in the room changes it, they aren’t as inclined to be polite as the rest of us and there’s a lot more heckling:

After the story, (or stories, as is usually the case) we pass the book around to sign it and then take a big family picture. (Should this year’s make it to Facebook, I’ll add it to this post.) What’s also quite amusing is that right after the photo is taken (and I mean within five minutes) there’s a huge exodus of people leaving, as if they’ve just been waiting for all of the requisite agenda items to be completed before they can go. We took advantage of this departing wave and headed out as well.

All in all, I had more fun than I expected to (I always dread going to big social gatherings, even though I usually enjoy them.) and was glad we went.

Running challenge redux

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Hard to believe another year has flown by and it’s time for the Slowtwitch 100 runs in 100 days challenge. Last year, I signed up and finished 80 runs in 100 days, despite losing a number of days at the beginning due to an epic snow storm. My goals were fairly modest last year, as I’d never run that many times a week and wasn’t sure if I’d be able to do it. I soon learned that frequency was a great way to up my mileage and was very pleased with how much my running fitness improved. This year, I’m not sure which level of the challenge I’m going to pursue – go for the 80 again or try to shoot for 90 or even god forbid the full 100.

I’m in desperate need of motivation, so I’m just going to focus on getting out there and running as many days as I can. The biggest difference this year is mixing up the distances/pace a little more. Last year, I did pretty much nothing but runs of 30-40 minutes, which made the first few runs over 4 miles not so enjoyable. ๐Ÿ™‚ This year also will have hot yoga and pilates interjected into the mix as well as some strength training. Bring it on, 2010!

Big cooking weekend

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After a traumatizing look at our grocery expenditures at mint.com, I’ve been on a mission to overhaul our grocery spending. Part of this mission involved using up some of the stuff we have in our kitchen. Since the container that contained the pumpkin I roasted and pureed for Thanksgiving was in a faulty container and in danger of freezer burn it was the first ingredient to find a use for. I came across this recipe on Cooking Light’s website for pumpkin gnocchi which sounded delicious, and for which we already had all of the other ingredients.

Sadly, we devoured it before I thought to take a picture, but it was delicious. I served it with some blanched broccolini from our veggie box, which complimented it nicely. It turns out that gnocchi is super easy to make, provided that you know that you will probably have to add more flour than the recipe calls for in order to get dough that you can roll into the correct shape. (You basically roll the dough into a long thin rope and then cut it into pieces – easy peasy!) Luckily, we had Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything and our friend J’s experiences with gnocchi to draw on, so we figured it out pretty quickly.

Sunday, T made homemade scones with some of the unused heavy whipping cream from Thanksgiving. These I did manage to get a picture of:

And trust me, they tasted as good as they look! Then for dinner, I made a white bean and ham soup with dried white beans and ham hocks from the freezer. This was my first time soaking beans and then cooking them and I don’t know why it took me so long to try this. It’s ridiculously easy! I used Bittman’s quick soak method, where you bring the beans to a boil and then soak them for two hours before you cook them. I ended up soaking them for a little longer, as we went and ran some errands while they were soaking, but it didn’t seem to matter to the beans.

I didn’t think to take a picture of the soup either, but it was a very delicious dinner – perfect for the chilly winter evening. I did have to pick up a few ingredients for the soup, but for the most part the weekend’s entire menu came out of our freezer/cupboard/refrigerator, which totally rocks.