Monday, March 31, 2014


Earlier this month, we commonly saw a (yellow-shafted) Northern flicker on the suet feeder.  These woodpeckers are extremely shy, and the only way I can take a picture of one is when I am already at the window with my camera.  The slightest movement scares them off - but I got lucky a week and a half ago when this guy showed up at our feeder.  Northern flickers must be finding more food in the wild now, though, because we haven't seen any since this picture was taken.
This afternoon, while Julia and I were eating lunch, we saw three different kinds of woodpeckers within a five-minute time span.  First, we spotted a hairy woodpecker on our suet feeder.  Hairy woodpeckers look just like downy woodpeckers, except they are significantly larger.
After the hairy woodpecker left, a red-bellied woodpecker showed up at the feeder.  Clearly he didn't mind the snow and sleet falling from the sky.
After the red-bellied woodpecker left, a cute little downy woodpecker showed up for his lunch.  We couldn't believe we saw so many different kinds of woodpeckers in such a short period of time!

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Water Birds

Since the ice has been thawing on the creek in our backyard, we have seen quite a bit of water birds lately.  Here are some of my favorite pictures from the past couple of weeks . . .

It's tricky to get a picture of hooded mergansers because they swim so quickly.  The mergansers also commonly dive underwater, coming up several feet away from where they started, which also makes it difficult to capture them on film.  In the picture below, the male wasn't moving as fast as the female, so he's more in focus.  The female is a mama on the move - she's always high-tailing it through the water. 
 My favorite is the male wood duck, with all of its colorful designs and patterns.
 This mama mallard was walking on the ice, looking for something to eat.  Julia really got a kick out of watching the ducks climbing onto the ice and then sliding back into the water.
 This daddy mallard found a shallow spot to hang out.
 And now for the grand finale. . . a great blue heron.  Evelyn spotted this guy flying over the cul de sac in front of our house.  She thought he was headed toward our creek, and she was right!  This heron hung out on a fallen branch in the creek for nearly 15 minutes before taking off.  Julia can't believe that great blue herons are a couple inches taller than she is - it really puts into perspective how big those birds are.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Dinner Guest

Sous chef Julia was in the kitchen, helping make pizza for tonight's dinner guest...all the way from Texas...Ross!
 After dinner, Julia and Ross dueled each other in a rough-and-tumble sword fight.  But they were friends in the end.  :)
 Julia then asked Ross to read her a book.  Ah, but Ross wouldn't be fooled.  He asked her to read him a book...which she gladly did.
Before going to bed, Evelyn had a little bit of time to play Legos with Ross.  She pointed out the finer things in her dolphin cruiser, like the iPod speakers and the bathroom (ahem).  We are so glad Ross was able to chisel out a couple of hours to visit us this evening!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

SDI Audition

In looking ahead to Evelyn's options for summer ballet, she had two options:  a six-week class at her current ballet studio (one and a half hour class, three days a week), or a two-week summer dance intensive at Festival Ballet in Providence, Rhode Island (eight hours a day, five days a week).  After some encouragement, Evelyn decided to audition for the summer dance intensive.  Evelyn's audition portfolio consisted of a registration form, photo waiver, resume and photos.
Evelyn's audition was this past Sunday.  The audition was for ballet students ages 9-12.  I reminded Evelyn that she would be one of the youngest dancers at the audition and to try not to worry about skills she doesn't know yet.  After all, she wouldn't need to attend a summer program if she already knew everything!
The audition lasted an hour and a half.  I have never seen Evelyn so worn out from a ballet class!  (The picture below was taken before the audition...)  But guess what?  We got an email this afternoon, congratulating and welcoming Evelyn to the summer dance intensive!  We are so proud of our little ballerina Peanut, and we can't wait to see how much she grows this summer.  :)

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Sleepover at Boston Museum of Science

Evelyn is my guest author for today's post...enjoy!

I am at my house, ready to go to the museum with my Girl Scout troop.  I am so excited!  I wonder if we'll get our own rooms?
Now I have driven to the Boston Museum of Science.  Our Girl Scout troop put down our luggage.  But all of this luggage is not ours; this is some other people's luggage, too.
On Friday evening, I ate a yummy dinner of chicken fingers and fries.  After supper, I explored the museum with my troop.  We saw animals (alive and not alive), built a domino tower and did a workshop with a museum worker called "Making Models."  Then we went to the Children's Science Playground.  I went on two different swings - one swing with long ropes and one swing with short ropes.  I also did a running track.  The way the running track worked was, you punched in how fast you wanted to go; and along the side of the running track there was a yellow strip of metal with green light-up dots that showed how fast you went (you raced the green dots).

At 11:15 p.m., we saw an amazing lightning show.  It included a man standing inside of a metal cage, while generators shot lightning bolts down at the cage.  Fortunately, the man was not hurt; the metal soaked up all the energy from the lightning.  There were also other machines below the lightning generators.  The man turned on all the machines at one time - it was literally a lightning storm inside the museum.
We got ready for bed around 11:50 p.m., and it was lights-out at midnight.  Guess what I got to sleep next to?  Three types of lungs.  If I woke up in the night and rolled over the wrong way, I would face the three lungs, grimace and roll back around the other way.
 We all woke up at 6:30 a.m.  Since I had an air mattress, I actually had a good sleep.  After getting dressed and brushing my teeth, my troop did a little exploring.  Then, at 8:00 a.m., we ate breakfast; I had an orange, a cereal bar, some Cheerios, a go-gurt and some orange juice.
 Then, after breakfast, we went to a planetarium show.  We learned about the major constellations in the universe.  In the dome-shaped room, the projector cast a black hole swiftly coming toward us.  It seemed like the black hole came down upon us.
We also saw an IMAX movie - Journey Into Amazing Caves.  It was so cool.  We learned about different people who explored ice caves, dry caves and underwater caves.  Underwater caves are dangerous because, on an adventure, the explorers kicked up a cloud of silt and couldn't find their diving line.  After the cloud of silt cleared, they groped around for the diving line; eventually they found it and were able to get back to the surface.  But the coolest part was the ice caves.  The explorers had special spiked shoes to climb up the walls of the ice caves.
 Now I am at the top of the musical steps.
 My Girl Scout troop made a bunch of noise by stepping on high-pitched and low-pitched stairs.  I loved making music with my feet!
We left the museum at 11:00 a.m.  I have to say, this was the best sleepover I've had in my lifetime.  :)

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Happy Birthday, Pilot!

It was a balmy 50 degrees this afternoon.  In honor of the Pilot's fourth birthday, Julia and I gave it a bath.  After four years and 53,000 miles, we still love this car.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Swimming Lessons . . . Passed!

A year ago, Julia wouldn't put her face in the water.  Today, she passed Level 2 of swimming lessons.  Talk about improving by leaps and bounds!  This girl loves the water and is well on her way to fine-tuning her front and back crawl strokes.  Way to go, Julia!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Girl Scouts International Day

Both Julia's and Evelyn's Girl Scout troops participated in the Norfolk International Day this afternoon.  Can you tell which country each girl represented?
 Julia's troop presented information about Ireland (perfect timing, with today being the day before St. Patrick's Day).  Julia's Daisy troop put together the poster on their own, cutting and gluing the pictures and captions.  They wore tie-dyed t-shirts with the color of Ireland's flag and had shamrock headbands.  Julia's troop led everyone in the pledge of allegiance at the opening ceremonies - the little Kindergartners looked so cute!
 After visiting the other 13 countries at the festival, Julia wanted to work.  And what did she mean by "work?"  Manning the cash box.  The trinkets Julia's troop were selling cost a quarter, which was really easy for Julia to handle.  But what happened after her troop ran out of bracelets and tattoos?  Julia the entrepreneur started selling the extra stickers they had - two for a quarter.  Very resourceful, that one!
 Evelyn's troop presented France.  At the opening ceremony, Evelyn's troop said the Girl Scout promise in French, and they also played "Frere Jacque" on their various band instruments.  I might be a little biased, but I thought they did a fabulous job.  Just like Julia's troop, the girls in Evelyn's troop made their display board on their own.  The troop sold trios of red, white and blue candy-dipped pretzels to about 150 customers.  Evelyn also visited the displays of all of the countries, filling up her passport with stamps and stickers.
International Day was a ton of fun - I know the girls are looking forward to doing it again next year!

St. Patrick's Day Sweets (Thin Mint Brownie Trifle, Anyone?)

Once upon a time, Julia helped me sort out Christmas-colored M&M's that I had bought on clearance at Target.  We've been holding onto the green ones, just waiting for St. Patrick's Day to come.  This weekend we put those green M&M's to good use.....
 .....cookies!  We used my chocolate chip cookie recipe, adding in mostly M&M's and a few semi-sweet chocolate chips.  Totally delicious.  And totally festive.
 Our second St. Patrick's Day sweet treat?  A Thin Mint Brownie Trifle.
 Loosely following all trifle recipes I have made thus far (layer brownies/cake, pudding and candy or something crunchy), I created the following minty/chocolate trifle recipe.
Brownie Layer:
one 9x13-size box dark chocolate brownie mix, prepared as directed
10 ounces mint chocolate chips, stirred into brownie batter
* Bake as directed for 9x13 brownies.  Cool completely, then cut into one-inch cubes.

Pudding Layer:
two 3.3-ounce boxes white chocolate pudding mix
3 cups milk
1/4 teaspoon green food coloring
1/8 teaspoon mint extract
* After beating the above ingredients for two minutes, fold in half an 8-ounce container Cool Whip (save other half for top layer of trifle).

Crunchy Layer:
one box of Girl Scouts Thin Mint cookies
* Crunch/crumble all but six cookies (save six cookies for garnish).

Assembling/Layering the Trifle:
1 - Half the brownies
2 - Half the pudding mixture
3 - Half the crumbled Thin Mint cookies
4 - Repeat above three layers
5 - Remaining Cool Whip and (whole) Thin Mint cookies


Saturday, March 15, 2014

For the Birds

This morning, Julia went to Stony Brooks Nature Center for their Turtle Trekkers program.  The theme today was birds - right up Julia's alley.  She knew all of the birds that the teacher was talking about.  Julia was also fascinated to hold a bird's bone and see what the inside of the bone looked like.  After going on a short hike where we saw signs of spring - chipmunks and red-winged blackbirds - we went back inside the visitor's center to make today's craft.  Using a pipe cleaner as a needle, Julia threaded Cheerios and Froot Loops on some yarn.  When she had put as much cereal as she wanted on the yarn, I tied the ends together; she wanted to hang the cereal necklace on a bush at home to feed the birds.
This afternoon the girls gave the nuthatches their special treat - stuffing bark butter bits into the crevices of a pine tree.  They also filled the other feeders, making sure the birds have enough to eat as they get ready to make their spring nests.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Baking Mess-Ups...That Turned Out Better

Earlier this week, when I made pizza dough in the breadmaker, I didn't have enough bread flour.  The recipe called for 2 1/4 cups bread flour, and I only had 1 cup.  So I substituted 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour instead.  The result?  The family (including myself) actually like the pizza dough better!  It wasn't as thick, which was fine with us, and it was softer.  Everyone agreed that I should continue to "mess up" the pizza dough recipe from now on.

The other baking mess-up I made was last night.  I have made S'mores Cookie Bars several times before, which our family devours in less than two days.  Yesterday when I made them, I didn't have enough butter.  The recipe called for 8 tablespoons, but I only had 6 tablespoons.  I substituted 2 tablespoons of shortening (fat is fat, and I wasn't altering the recipe that much).  Guess what?  The cookie bars were totally delish.  When I have made them correctly, the bars are a little tough.  Substituting a little bit of shortening for the butter made the bars softer.....which make them a little easier to eat - the marshmallow fluff doesn't squish out all over the place. 
Two baking mess-ups that actually turned out better.  That's a switch for me!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Evelyn's School's Art Show

Evelyn's school hosted an art show this afternoon and evening.  All students in the school (grades 3-6) had one piece of work displayed; the students chose their favorite piece from everything they have made so far this year.  Evelyn chose "Night Time Birch Trees," which she is pointing out in the picture below.  Both girls really enjoyed walking through the hundreds of art pieces, looking at the various projects.  Congrats on this year's art show, Little Peanut!

Monday, March 10, 2014

Kindergarten Pet

Julia's Kindergarten class has a stuffed pet dog, Bruin, who goes home with a different student each weekend.  Julia was over-the-moon excited that this was her weekend to host the class pet!  Bruin the dog went to soccer on Friday afternoon . . . 
 . . . tried to snitch cheese while Troy made dinner Friday evening . . .
 . . . and she even went to Julia's Girl Scout meeting Friday evening.
 On Saturday, Bruin ate breakfast with all the other animals in the house . . .
 . . . and helped Julia lead the family on a walk on the trail behind our house . . .
 . . . that leads to Mirror Lake.
 Julia let Bruin sleep in her bed all three nights.
 On Sunday, Bruin hung out with Evelyn and Julia, helping play with the Legos and American Girl dolls.  For dinner, we went out out eat at Chili's, and Bruin tagged along.
 Sunday evening, Julia chose her favorite pictures (which we printed at home), and then Julia dictated to me what she wanted me to write in the class journal.

 Julia was sad that this morning was the last morning with Bruin, but she hopes the little dog has fun next weekend with another friend.