Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Happy Halloween!

Wishing you lots of treats and no tricks!
With love from a monster-toothed panda and Spidergirl.

Monday, October 22, 2012


The past few weeks have been crazy. Nothing particular to speak of... just the regular day-in, day-out stuff that keeps everyone so busy. So when last week rolled around, I couldn't have been happier. You see, it was MEA week!

MEA is the teachers' union here in Minnesota. (Actually, they renamed themselves Education Minnesota a number of years ago, but everyone still calls it "MEA.") Every year in mid-October, Minnesota public schools close down for a few days. The first conferences are held, and then the teachers' union has its annual convention.

This year, I took those days off work, and made us a reservation at Edgewater, a hotel/waterpark in Duluth. (It's about a 2.5 hour drive from Minneapolis.) On Wednesday morning we met with Maisie's teacher, and then hit the road!

We got to Duluth around lunch time. We went to the Lake Avenue Restaurant, where Aaron & I had delicious whitefish and the girls split a pizza. (The first of many pizzas on this trip, as it turns out! The hotel rooms came with a 16" cheese pizza each night, so that's what we had, both days.) The cafe is located in this cute little mall. The girls and I walked around a bit while waiting for our food to arrive.

We found this cute carousel-looking horse and went for a ride.

After that, we went to the Great Lakes Aquarium, which I really enjoyed. The girls were less impressed.

This is what happens when I say "Say cheese!"

Navigating the locks and dams in the Great Lakes.
Finally, FINALLY! It was time to go swimming. The water park is not huge, but it was plenty of fun for all of us. There were slides big and small, a hot tub, activity pools, and a whirlpool that was Ella's favorite - she wore a life jacket and bobbed around like a little cork, swirling around and around.

The water park was open from 8:00 - noon, and then again from 4:00 - 9:00 on the days we were there. We'd get there early and play, and then had a nice break in the middle of the day. On Thursday during the break, we went back down to Canal Park to see the lift bridge go up and a big ship come in.

One-handed attempt at a family picture (with penguin)
After that, it was time to eat. Since we were right there, I took them to Grandma's.

Ella has monster teeth!

Maisie hard at work...

Ella can't find whole words yet in the word find, but she likes to find letters.

I was so happy to be inside! It was cold and rainy out there.
After lunch it was back to the hotel for more swimming. Then an early bedtime, followed by an early morning and even MORE SWIMMING. By the time we got home, Aaron & I were both totally waterlogged and didn't think we'd dry out for a week! The girls, on the other hand, want to go back there this weekend. Ha ha!

Even though it was a lot of fun, everyone was glad to get home on Friday.
Maisie was SO annoyed that Ella kept walking through her leaf piles!
It was a very fun vacation and one we'll definitely repeat.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Pack a lunch!

For the past three years, we packed Maisie's lunch every school day. This year, with starting kindergarten at a public school, she has the option of hot lunch! So exciting! But she had hot lunch exactly once. And aside from that one day, it's been back to packing her lunch.

For some reason, this packing of lunch chore seems a lot more onerous than it did in years past. I'm not sure why - there's actually fewer restrictions on the food she can bring than before. (Her school is peanut-free, whereas last year they had to keep the classroom free of peanuts, tree nuts, and eggs.) Maybe it's because her school day starts so much earlier? (6:55 a.m. bus pickup, as opposed to Aaron driving her to school for an 8:45 start time.) Maybe she's gotten pickier? Maybe because I know I wouldn't have to do it if she'd just eat hot lunch?!? Whatever the reason, packing her lunch is not fun and exciting, and often led to me and/or Aaron staring at the fridge and cupboards, wondering what on earth we'd send in her lunch. We tried to get her to pack it, but that didn't work either - she'd choose grapes, applesauce, and crackers, and not have a balance. So in an effort to simplify things and pack lunches she'd actually eat, I came up with a chart.

ARGH! I just spent a bunch of time trying to figure out how to upload it here, and I can't. GRR! So I will tell you about it. It has six columns and four rows. The left-most column has the following pictures, all of which I found online by googling for free clip art of food.



Grains (that's pasta and cereal above the bread)

So in the evening, Maisie and I will pack her lunch together. She chooses one item from each category, and checks it off as it's completed. I like to think it's helping her learn about a balanced diet, which it may be. I know, though, it's made packing a lunch a LOT easier!

So, what does she eat? The most common lunch combination is grapes, sugar snap peas, cheese and turkey slices, and Ritz crackers. It's not the most exciting lunch in the world, but she likes it and eats everything. Single-category foods are easiest for her to choose: protein is often an egg, string cheese, or turkey slices. The vegetable is either snap peas or baby carrots. (Although she asked for tomato soup once!) Fruit is usually applesauce or grapes. Grain is usually Ritz crackers. Maisie and Ella are both absolutely NUTS about Ritz crackers! Goldfish are good, too, or a little container of cereal - strawberry Life is a favorite.

We do get some combos that allow her to check off more than one category: black bean quesadillas, cut into wedges (grain and protein); spaghetti with marinara (grain and veg); mac & cheese (protein, grain); chicken fried rice (grain and protein); sun butter and jam sandwiches (protein, fruit, grain); cheese pizza (protein, veg, grain); broccoli quiche (protein and veg). As you can probably tell, except for the quesadillas and sandwiches, these are usually leftovers of whatever was for dinner the night before. We will put the portion in her thermos at night, in the fridge, then heat it up in the morning so it's still warm at lunchtime. If we aren't sending something hot then the whole business gets packed the night before, so it's ready to grab & go in the morning.

Anyway, so there you go! It's no super genius idea that'll revolutionize packing a lunch, but it's how we do it. We definitely don't have the beautiful Bento lunch art, but who has time for that anyway? Not this family! So this is our method, and it's made the whole lunch business a lot easier for us. Hopefully others will find it useful too!

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Midtown Global Market

Midtown Global Market is an amazing place. Built in an old Sears that stood abandoned for years and years, it has multiple restaurants and shops, all locally owned. It's really cool and one of our favorite places in Minneapolis.

Juusto - Finnish Cheese - at Cafe Finspang
We especially like going there on Fridays, when they have Family night. I meet Aaron & the girls there after work. We don't have to cook, the girls get to run around and dance - everybody enjoys it.

The girls like to get cream cheese wontons and chicken fried rice from Pham's, a Vietnamese deli. They also have excellent spring rolls, but Maisie and Ella are really cream cheese wonton lovers.

My favorite place to eat these days is the Left Handed Cook, which serves a sort of fusion of Asian food and comfort food. I really like their bop bowls, which are rice, greens, and meat served in a takeout container with a soft fried egg. SO GOOD.

 This picture is upside down for some reason! It looks like a cinnamon roll but was actually the Left Handed Cook's special on Friday, porchetta. It came with a fried green tomato, and a side of heirloom tomato-arugula salad. SO GOOD!! The girls also really like Left Handed Cook's edamame so I usually get them a side of edamame to share.

Cupcakes at Salty Tart

Aaron got his dinner from Andy's Garage, a 50's-style diner. He had a wild rice-turkey burger, awesome fries, and then a chocolate shake (which he split with the girls, naturally - even though they'd had cupcakes from Salty Tart!).

 After the girls eat, they dance and dance (which usually involves running in circles) to whatever band is playing that night. 

I think that the Global Market is a really special place. If you haven't been there, go! There's noplace like it in Minneapolis.

Yes, that says "local artisan prosciutto" and "local artisan pancetta" - from Grass Roots Gourmet