Happy 18th birthday, Ani!
I’ve been videoing bits of school and have edited our 17th week of school down to just under 13 minutes. So now you can see a little bit how school goes for us.
We had an excellent Christmas. Everyone was very happy with their gifts and the little guys are old enough now to pick out presents to give other people so they were pretty excited about that. As an added bonus, my parents finally arrived a few days before Christmas and are working on getting all their stuff unpacked making us a multi-generational household once again.
We put up our tree the day after Thanksgiving. Jamie and I also did pretty much all our Christmas shopping that day. Adrian was a little puzzled by all the wrapped packages under the tree. This is the first year we’ve done that (since all the kids have figured out Santa isn’t real and everyone is old enough not to open anything before Christmas).
I got 24 little Christmas books and wrapped them all up with a piece of an Advent Nativity my mom made me years ago. Each evening from December 1st to 24th, the boys unwrapped a book for me to read to them and put the Nativity piece up to finish the picture. The boys also insisted that I make a countdown chain for them to rip off one piece each day. They love countdown chains.
The kids left their shoes out and got candy and little presents for St. Nicholas Day.
We got a huge surprise when it actually snowed. Considering we live in south Texas, this was definitely something unusual.
We went to Main Street Bethlehem in Burnet and the Walkway of Lights in Marble Falls. Both were very amazing displays.
We did our annual Random Acts of Christmas Kindness December 1st through 24th.
My parents couldn’t find their stockings before Christmas (we found them a couple days later), so we got ones from Target for them on Christmas Eve (not much of a selection, but 70% off).
Christmas morning our stockings were full and there were presents for the animals, too. Lola’s pile was a bit bigger than all the others.
Everyone was quite happy with what they were given.
But then there was the totally awesome present. Cameron decided to get a Nintendo Switch for him and his siblings to share. Ani got a couple games to play on it. The little guys were so surprised and so excited.
It really made a wonderful Christmas absolutely unforgettable. Even though Christmas is all put away now (did that on Saturday), wonderful memories were made. Merry Christmas a little late (or really, really early – your choice).
In less than a week I will have had this blog for 12 years. That’s kind of nuts. I can’t believe it’s 2018.
In just 6 weeks, I will have successfully grown a whole human when Ani turns 18. She sent in her voter registration last week. She’ll be able to vote in the primary in March.
This year Cameron will turn 17 and start 11th grade, Fritz will turn 12 and start 7th grade (and get the Priesthood at church), and Adrian will turn 10 and start 5th grade. Jamie and I will celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary.
We’re about halfway done with year 2 of Layers of Learning. In the fall we’ll move on to year 3, the age of exploration to the American Revolution. We’re really liking Layers of Learning.
So, welcome 2018. It should be awesome!
We’re doing #24RACKs (Random Acts of Christmas Kindness) again this year. We love doing this, making the last few weeks before Christmas extra special. It’s mostly me and Fritz doing it, but sometimes other people get involved.
On Friday the 1st, we dropped heads up pennies on the sidewalk. Fritz made a smiley face out of some of them in front of our neighborhood mailboxes. A few days later he discovered that someone had reformed the pennies into a stick figure so that was fun.
On Saturday the 2nd, we made cards for people in Sutherland Springs Texas (the mass shooting a few weeks ago at the church).
On Sunday the 3rd, we did secret acts of kindness for other people. One of the things Fritz did was make hot chocolate for Ani.
On Monday the 4th, we did chores for people in our family. Fritz cleaned Ani’s birds’ cage for her.
On Tuesday the 5th, we left happy notes in random library books.
On Wednesday the 6th, we left bubbles at our neighbor’s front door.
On Thursday the 7th, we wrote notes to other people in our family. We had to switch this one with another planned day because of the weather. We got snow in south Texas!
On Friday the 8th, we gave an Amazon gift card to our mail carrier. This one also had to be switched with another day because of weather.
Weeks 11 and 12 of school we learned about stars using Layers of Learning, year 2 unit 7.
We learned about how stars are classified (our sun is a G).
The boys researched famous physicists and gave oral reports on them. Adrian chose Neil deGrasse Tyson, Fritz pick Stephen Hawking, and Cameron chose Richard Feynman.
We learned about the life cycle of stars.
We learned about the zodiac, identified which one we each are, and all agreed that the strengths/weaknessses descriptions of people with each sign were silly. (Cameron’s Libra, Fritz is Cancer, Adrian is Gemini, Ani is Aquarius, my mom is Virgo, my dad is Capricorn, I’m Aries, and Jamie and Ani’s boyfriend are Scorpio.)
We watched a video about how we are all connected and how amazing that is.
For several nights we checked outside trying to see the stars, but apparently forgot we live in south Texas where, this time of year, there is always some cloud cover.
For the second meal kit service, we tried Hello Fresh. We got three two-serving meals and like when we tried Blue Apron, we made them for lunch so there was plenty for those of us at home during the day.
1.) Each meal was packaged in a bag (plus meat separately) making it easy to pull everything out at once for cooking.
2.) The instructions included pictures to make it easy to see what we were doing in that step.
3.) Very convenient.
4.) The taste was good.
5.) Generous portions.
6.) Meals were marked to say whether they were gluten free.
1.) The meals are expensive compared to getting the ingredients on your own.
2.) Some of the vegetables were looking kind of sad.
3.) The instructions put too many directions for different parts of the meal in each step.
4.) For several weeks of menus I looked at, only two regular meals were gluten free. The third was always a “premium” meal meaning it costs an extra $10 ($5 per serving) to select that one.
The box showed up at about 11 on the date I had requested. They said it would arrive between 8am and 8pm.
Inside the top of the box was the recipe cards and some advertising flyers. The next layer down was three bags containing the vegetables and other things needed to make each meal. The bottom layer was the meat in vacuum packed packages sandwiched between ice packs.
The meal kits looked pretty cool packaged the way they were.
We made the first meal, butter-basted rib-eye steak with thyme-infused mashed potatoes and asparagus the day it arrived. The asparagus was in perfect condition. The potatoes were a little weird, though, because one was big and the rest were small. In addition to the Yukon gold potatoes and asparagus, they sent thyme, chives, a lemon, milk, garlic herb butter, and rib-eye steak.
Fritz helped me with this meal. We told Alexa to play upbeat music on the Echo and got to work. Fritz spent quite a while pulling a teaspoon of the leaves off the thyme.
After I got the potatoes on to boil, I prepped the vegetables. I cut the woody ends off the asparagus, chopped up the chives, and cut the lemon into wedges. I started the rib-eye cooking in a pan on the stove. I spread the asparagus on a cookie sheet, drizzled them with olive oil and seasoned them with salt and pepper, and put them in the oven to roast for a few minutes.
The mashed potatoes were amazing. We simmered the leftover sprigs of thyme in milk for several minutes and then added that thyme-infused milk to the potatoes to mash them. The thyme leaves Fritz pulled off were added to the mashed potatoes. That may have been the best part of the meal and we will definitely be making thyme-infused mashed potatoes again.
This meal was delicious. It was a premium meal, though, so we paid an extra $10 for it. I’m not so sure it was quite that delicious.
We made the second meal, Beef Rice Noodle Bowls with carrots, cucumber, and peanut sauce, two days after the box arrived. They sent a Persian cucumber (it was not in the best condition), two peeled cloves of garlic, a lime, shredded carrots, cilantro, green onions, thai seasoning, peanut butter, siracha, white wine vinegar, soy sauce, rice noodles, and stir-fry beef. The soy sauce made me a bit nervous since the meal was labeled gluten free, but most soy sauce is not. We took the risk that their labeling was correct and, thankfully, none of us got sick so it was, in fact, gluten free soy sauce.
Adrian was my helper for this meal. We put songs by Sabrina Carpenter on the Echo and got to work. I prepped the vegetables and meat while he pulled the leaves off the cilantro and did some dancing. I sliced the cucumber and put it in the vinegar with some salt and sugar (the kit did not include the sugar needed to complete the meal). I minced the garlic, chopped the green onions and separated the whites from the greens, and cut up the lime. I added the thai seasoning, some of the garlic, and some sugar to the beef to prep it for cooking.
I boiled the noodles for about 16 minutes (they were different from the ones in the picture and from the directions given on the card – they included a note with how to adjust the instructions) while prepping the vegetables and cooking the meat. Then I made the peanut sauce and saved half and tossed the noodles with the other half. Then the food was all ready to eat.
While the Beef Rice Noodle Bowls were good, they just weren’t that good. The peanut sauce was kind of blah and the thai seasoning on the beef didn’t add much flavor. The carrots were served with it just raw which was odd. We squeezed the lime wedges on them so they weren’t too bad.
We made the third meal, Figgy Balsamic Pork with roasted green beans and rosemary potatoes, on Thursday. The kit included a shallot, Yukon gold potatoes, green beans, chicken stock concentrate, rosemary, pork tenderloin, fig jam, and balsamic vinegar. The green beans were looking kind of iffy by the time we made this meal.
Ani and Adrian did most of the work for this one. Adrian chose to play Sabrina Carpenter’s music on the Echo while they cooked. They finely chopped the rosemary and shallot and cubed the potatoes.
Ani seared the pork tenderloin on the stove before finishing it in the oven along with the green beans and potatoes.
The figgy sauce was surprisingly easy to make and the pork was cooked very nicely. Even though some of the green beans were on the edge of still being good, once they were roasted they were fine for eating.
I’m not a huge fan of pork, but this turned out quite nice. I was pleasantly surprised by the taste of the fig sauce. I’ll likely make the pork and sauce again, but I might use apricot preserves instead of fig next time.
While we enjoyed trying out Hello Fresh, I doubt we would use them again. The main reason is the cost, but also because I preferred Blue Apron. While, Hello Fresh was good, Blue Apron’s instructions, ingredients, and taste were all just better when comparing the two.