Oh Yes, I’ve Leveled Up

Last Sunday, I said farewell to my thirties and it seems forty doubles under eye-bag size over night.

Dragon cooked bacon and English muffins for our breakfast, served next to a giant bouquet of dahlias and sunflowers. Little Fox braved a crowded library to decorate a balloon for me the day prior, so it remains as decor in our home until it deflates.

We went into Seattle, celebrated our friend’s sixth birthday, which included a balloon pit and a pinata filled with Legos. We ate at La Cocina Cantina, which holds decades of memories for my partner and I. From Nuflours Bakery, we picked up my enormous birthday cake and eight (gluten free!) eclairs. The sun broke free of the clouds for a few hours, though we ran through a brief torrent on the way to the car.

Upon returning home, I didn’t have to do anything but read and play Hollow Knight, but come evening, none of us were terribly hungry. I ran out for a sushi snack (plus yellow curry noodles) to share around the family, with the agreement we’d go out for a proper dinner later this week.

Friends posted reviews of my most recent book, other friends accepted digital copies to review later. One group of friends stopped by while we were out to leave a gift on my front door. Another sent me a gift to try out a local float tub! My partner purchased Cirque de Soleil tickets to see in the near future, and since we can’t afford a proper vacation right now (my requested gift), we agreed to at least drive up to Leavenworth in December for a day trip to take the kids to see the “Christmas Town.” I haven’t been since I was 15. The kids snuggled with me to end the day on a special note. I felt truly blessed, despite allergies and inflammation the whole week prior.

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Catching Up on Summer: Part I

When last I posted, I mentioned the Dragon’s impending adulthood. Yet our summer was filled with far more activity after–we had plans every weekend–that went beyond our usual summer experiences, I never stopped to write about them.

So the double birthday. Every year, my partner and daughter share their birthday, and some years one of them is emphasized more than the other. In this case, Dragon turning 18 took center stage over my partner turning 48 (but look out 2020, because I have plans for 50).

We’d had a conversation while walking through a lovely part of Kirkland, and passed by an exquisite wedding dress in a shop window. We both agreed it would be wonderful to wear it, though it looked too small for me and too large for them. I mentioned that though I never wish to marry, I always thought it would be fun to throw an elaborate party and wear a dress that nice to celebrate life.

Despite insisting they didn’t want a party before, Dragon decided that’s exactly the kind of party they needed. Of course, we didn’t have the budget for a full-scale wedding, but the fancy dress? That was key. Not only were we all going to wear wedding or formal dresses, we were going to do it in … AN ARCADE.

Unfortunately, there isn’t the same level of arcade saturation these days as there had been in my teens, and many that exist in our area are either 21+ or filled with dark rooms, couches, and wall monitors, which we could easily achieve at our own house. We wanted pinball. We wanted PacMan and Mario. Dragon wanted Dance Dance Revolution, and by the gods, and some good references by friends, we found one: Another Castle – Arcade Edition in Edmonds, WA.

They still have machines that take quarters, let us bring in our own food (not drinks, and didn’t mind us bringing a couple dozen people in.

People were a bit skeptical at first, but once the Dragon and I had our dresses and veils, my partner was ready to buy a dress–a merlot red–and upon seeing his dad in a gorgeous dress, Little Fox wanted a new dress for himself. We thought he had a decent one that reminded me of a summer flower girl, but he wanted something over the top. He chose a golden dress with delicate flowers, and insisted on gold shoes and a gold crown. He loved the whole outfit, but couldn’t wear the dress in the car seat because of the wire hoop at the bottom of the dress (he put it on at the arcade).

Our friends came in twos and threes, most of them dressed in their finest. My boyfriend came in the suit he

wore at his wedding a couple decades before. One of my students wore her prom dress, and looked stunning. We ordered sodas and water, grabbed a bucket of quarters ($60 worth), and set about playing every interesting game available. The teens primarily stuck to DDR, which proved far more challenging in a wedding dress than casual clothes.

It was a load of fun, and we all agreed the arcade was exactly what we needed (we want to go back again just for a bit of craic). When the adults around us started buying lots of beer and other alcohol, we started packing up. We drove back home thrilled.

Wedding-Themed Birthday at an Arcade?

I give it five stars.

I’m Five!

IMG_6724Little Fox enjoyed his birthday where a dozen kids and their parents met with us under a shelter in our favorite park despite the wet weather. There were games on corner tables and potluck food and boffers that confused the smallest children, but excited the older ones. Star Wars napkins and lightsaber cupcake toppers and a single, round balloon were my limit for purchasing themed decor. Everything else was low budget and divine.

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A beautiful mistake of a cupcake.

Lots went wrong, and everyone still managed to enjoy themselves. Though we had quite the adventure leaving, as a moat formed around the shelter during our party.

Sunday was a cleaning day. Monday was a grieving day. Tuesday was birthday proper. We went to gymnastics and the park. We had waffles for breakfast, pizza for lunch, and sushi for dinner. His new disco lights illuminated the living room while he opened presents with disco music accompanying him.

IMG_6755Wednesday was a moms’ day out, and four teenagers played video games and held boffer battles with one demanding five year old. We left our house at 11am, and didn’t return until 6pm, and somewhere in the middle, after returning from lunch, we two moms were sucked into the games with the kids.

Despite all the joy and celebration, I didn’t feel like we’d quite capped the birthday until today, when we walked into the library and requested his first library card.

IMG_6744Little Fox has been picking up letters and playing with phonemes. He’s been reading random words and recognizing some of the ones we spell to each other to keep a surprise from him. He’s been working with numbers and fractions and adding and multiplying without a thought. So it seemed time to take him to a repository of knowledge where he could claim it all for himself.

It took less than a minute to type out the form. It took several for him to decide which card he wanted.

Then came time to pick his first books. I told him he could pick any three to take home. He pulled several from shelves asking me about the titles and what section they were in. Picking books suddenly mattered more than usual. He counted them as he chose. “Two books; only one left.” He struggled to pick the third.

He stopped at the edge of the children’s section and stared at the rows of books before him, three books already in my hands.

“I want all of the books,” he whispered to me.

IMG_6805“I know,” I said, “and now you can have all of them, but it’s best to only take a few at a time. We can come back again in a day or two when you’ve finished these and get more.”

He remained standing, still staring at them all. I caught sight of an exposed book with crows on the cover. “This one is called Six Crows. You love crows, right? How about we get four.”

“Four more?”

“No. Four books. That’s enough to carry today.”

He accepted this compromise, and scanned his card, while I typed in his PIN. Then he scanned each book in turn. He let me take his picture before we left.

Now he’s truly five, and I’m so excited for the adventures awaiting him.

 

His first four books checked out on his own card are:

Toshi’s Little Treasures by Nadine Robert

Oh no, Astro! by Matt Roeser

Birds by Jump!

Six Crows by Leo Lionni

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Dragons Love Tacos Party

On Sunday, we hosted the Little Fox’s taco party based on the book, Dragons Love Tacos.  Though my son’s birthday was two weeks prior, we’d all come down with acute bronchitis just days beforehand and had to postpone.  This meant having to freeze what taco ingredients we could after a large shopping trip, and making use of the rest throughout the following week (I came up with a lot of meals to incorporate avocados, limes, bell peppers, and jalapeños, because they weren’t going to freeze well).

wb-tacoparty.pngHaving thrown a lot of parties and finding myself worn out every time no matter how big or small, I’ve learned to keep it simple. By focusing on a single theme or idea, and only choosing to expend energy and resources toward a few parts to the idea, we were able to make a decent, enjoyable party without killing ourselves in the process.

Keeping it simple is especially important when you’re on a budget, or cleaning your house is going to be a big part of the preparations, which is generally true for us, when not hosting the party at another venue.

a1wribhkzqlAs I’ve posted beforeDragons Love Tacos is one of my son’s favorite books.  He still asks us to read it to him a couple of times a week.  When we discussed his birthday, he said he wanted two things: tacos and lots of cupcakes.  That’s exactly what he got.

Our priority was the food. We knew in our house, entertainment would be low-key.  My son has tons of toys all over the house, we pulled out the bottles of bubbles and put them near the back door, and we left out dress up clothes, too.  The game room/office is already set up for teens and adults to play games, and that’s where they headed.  Decorations we let be as simple as possible: balloons at the mailbox to show where we lived, a matched set of balloons inside, some colorful napkins, and a few dragons around the place with the book standing upright and slightly open.  I read the story to the toddlers before we ate.

 

We had a few snags along the way: I’d forgotten chafing dishes require a water pan and had only purchased half pans, but I’d run across the street to the grocery store and bought roasting pans the same size. They worked just as well, since they’re all essentially the same thing (aluminum, recyclable). Something worse happened outside our control, though: half an hour into the party, the power went out around our block.

Yep.  On a sunny Beltane morning, with no major wind activity, the power just went away.  It shut down the oven, shut off the music, and left the whole main floor in shadows.  The good news: almost all the food was done cooking.  The bad news: not all the tortillas were done warming in the oven, so the hard shells were brittle, and the soft shells split down the middle.

Despite this big set back, we managed to have a lot of fun.  There was talking, laughing, bubbles, kicking balls, playing card games, dancing, hugging, and lots and lots of eating.

Our menu consisted of almost entirely homemade foods: carnitas (from the crockpot), seasoned ground turkey, roasted sweet potatoes, sauteed bell peppers, black beans, brown rice, two and a half batches of guacamole, chopped cabbage, roasted jalapeños, chopped cilantro, street taco style corn tortillas, blue corn crunchy tortilla shells, yellow tomatillo salsa (from Trader Joe’s), hatch green chili salsa (from Trader Joe’s), two kinds of corn chips, vegan and gluten-free cupcakes* (using a recipe from the Flying Apron Cookbook), and cream puffs (from the freezer section at Costco).  We also had a pitcher of water, a pitcher of watermelon and mint water, and when the power came back on two hours later, we had virgin piña coladas.  Note, I was running behind and opted not to make a crema, nor did we include cheese, for the sake of both budget and consideration for the blends of flavors.

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Though we had a few setbacks, everyone seemed to have a good time, there was much laughter and a chance for people to catch up, and the mix of people turned out to be perfect. Three toddlers was just the right level of chaos we adults and teens could manage it well enough.

But by gods, I went through TEN AVOCADOS.  Since the guacamole stole the show, here’s the recipe:

MAMA RAVEN’S GUACAMOLE

4 ripe avocados
2 limes
1/3 c. small tomatoes (e.g. grape, cherry, et al), quartered
1/8 c. chopped cilantro
sea salt (approx. 1 teaspoon)
garlic granules (approx 1/2 teaspoon)

Cut and peel the avocados, and place the fruit in a large bowl. Mash lightly with a fork, and squeeze the juice of two limes over the avocados.  Mix in quartered cherry or grape tomatoes, chopped cilantro, a dash of sea salt and garlic granules to taste until the the ingredients are thoroughly incorporated, but the avocados retain their chunkiness.

 

PIÑA COLADA SMOOTHIES

3 c. unsweetened pineapple juice
1/2 lb. frozen pineapple spears
1 can coconut cream
1 c. coconut water
1 lime
pinch of sea salt

Add all ingredients from liquid to solid into a blender and blend until smooth.  Serve immediately in cute glasses.

 

*Flying Apron’s recipe for chocolate cake is intended to make one cake or twenty-five regular sized cupcakes. My daughter used mini cupcake pans, and made SIXTY-FIVE.  She didn’t get to frost them, though, because the power went out.

Birthday Interview: 20 Questions

Squirrelflight turned 13 on the 19th, and while we had to put off the promised visit to Olympus Spa until her brother’s ready to handle four hours without my presence, I did start a new tradition with her.

Thanks to Pinterest, I discovered a lot of parents were already doing this: interviewing their kids on or just after each birthday and saving their answers for the future. While I loved the idea and wish I had started years ago, I didn’t like a lot of the questions other parents were asking — they just weren’t “us” at Willow and Birch — so I copied the ones I liked best and came up with some of our own.

Here’s our new tradition (answers are private):

20 Birthday Questions

1. How old are you?
2. Who is your best friend?
3. What is your favorite color?
4. What is your favorite food?
5. What do you like to do most with your family?
6. What do you like to do most alone?
7. What do you want to do as an adult?
8. What makes you happy?
9. What makes you sad?
10. What is your favorite show or movie?
11. What is your favorite book or series?
12. What do you most love to learn about?
13. What was the best part of your birthday?
14. What was your favorite memory from the last year?
15. If you could have dinner with someone famous, who would you choose?
16. What do you think about before you fall asleep?
17. If you could change one thing about this world, what would it be?
18. Where would you most like to travel?
19. What is your greatest passion?
20. If you were president, what would you do?

Maybe these will work for you, or maybe you’ll come up with ones right for your family. My goal was to get progressively deeper with the questions. Although 17 and 20 may seem the same in many ways, the former deals with having omnipotence over one aspect of the world, while the other is a position of power with great authority and many choices, but also a host of challenges and restrictions. The older a child gets, the greater this distinction becomes apparent, as my daughter proved on the 20th during her interview.