Thursday, November 29, 2012

The End of November?!

Sorry it has been a while since my last post... Time gets away from me.

Things got a little crazy the last couple weeks. I accepted a new job. It wasn't particularly planned, I was contacted by a recruiter and the job sounded really exciting. I had thought I would start looking next Spring, so I just sped up my plans. But that means I'm leaving a company I've been with for 13 YEARS. I basically grew up there, career-wise. I started as an entry-level coordinator (who probably wasn't even qualified for that job) and am leaving as a Director with responsibility for 6 major lines of business. So even though it is time for me to do something new, and I'm excited about the move, I'm leaving lots of people and projects I have strong ties to. I'm grateful for the opportunities I had and the people I met, and I'm ready for the next challenge.

I gave more than 2 weeks notice, because I wanted to see my old company through Black Friday and Cyber Monday. And what fun that was!! As is the case every year, Marketing did everything they could to take the site down with huge email sends and crazy, convoluted promotions. Infrastructure blamed applications for the poor performance (unoptimized queries) and applications blamed infrastructure for the poor performance (inadequate server sizing). Whatever, I'm pretty sure they were both at fault. And I don't really care who is to blame, I just want it fixed. So tweak the stored procedures and add another blade to the database box, and let's get going!

We also got to go to J's parent-teacher conference this week. It's so interesting to hear how someone else sees your kid. And, I suppose, to get a view to how he acts when he's not with you. Nothing terribly surprising - he's super smart, he doesn't test all that well because he rushes, he makes friends easily, he's funny. His teacher seems to really enjoy having him in her class, which is nice to hear. He loves school, so I certainly can't ask for anything more.

We had our last week of soccer. Both of them had a great time, both of them are among the better players on their teams. It remains to o be seen if G plays next year. After all the drama of this season, she sometimes says she loves soccer and other times says that she would rather not play any more. I guess we'll see what her mood is next year - no need to worry too much about it now!

Next up, I need to do some posts on food. Thanksgiving gave me lots of material!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

The Best Carrot Cake EVER

Right up front, I'm going to say this: This cake is not good for you. You will feel your arteries twitch as you read it. But it is absolutely, positively, freaking fantastic.

Cake

3 sticks, plus 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 cups granulated sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 cups grated carrots
1 cup chopped toasted pecans (optional)

Frosting

8 ounces cream cheese
1 stick unsalted butter
1 (1-pound) box confectioners' sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup chopped toasted pecans (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Butter three 9 inch round cake pans with 1 tablespoon of the butter and set aside. (I use parchment paper usually - they seem to stick a bit more than other cakes.) 

With your mixer, cream the butter. Add the sugar, and beat. 

In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt, and mix well.

 Add the dry ingredients to the butter and sugar, alternating with the eggs, beating well after the addition of each. Then add the vanilla extract and mix. Finally, add the carrots and beat on medium speed until well incorporated. If you are using pecans, fold them in now, manually. 

Divide the batter (it's really thick, that's fine, don't panic!) between the 3 cake pans and bake until set and a cake tester inserted into the middle comes out clean (usually about  25 to 30 minutes). 

Remove from the oven and let rest in the pans for 10 minutes. Invert onto wire racks, remove from the pans, and let cool.

While the cakes are cooling, make the frosting. 

First, in a large bowl, cream together the cream cheese and butter until light and fluffy. Add the sugar gradually, beating constantly. Then add the vanilla. If you're using pecans, you can fold them in now... Or you can use the nuts to decorate the frosted cake.

When the cake is cool, stack and frost. Then let the frosting harden slightly before serving (I put mine in the refrigerator). 

Kids love it. Adults love it. Dogs love it. Your cardiologist probably loves it, but won't say that on the record. 

(Don't be thrown by the picture - I doubled the recipe and made a two layer 9x13 for a very large group.)


Thursday, November 8, 2012

Scavenger Hunt!

Last weekend, I took the kids to the zoo. G had earned the trip awhile ago, and we had been trying to find a good day. Finally, I just decided that we had to go for it.

We have a membership, so we have been fairly often and the kids know the general layout. It also means that we pretty much end up going to the same sections every time, as they have their favorite things to see and do and that place is just too big to cover the whole thing in one day with small people.

I came up with a plan - scavenger hunt! I made a list of 20 things to find and wrote the list out twice. I wanted them to be able to easily check things off, but clipboards would be too big and awkward for them, I thought (plus, I'd be lucky to find one of those in this house, never mind two). So I glue sticked (that's a verb, right?!) the papers to cardboard and attached pens.

I built the list to have a variety of animals (I looked at the zoo map online and listed ones that we don't always get to see, but could be found along a route rather than sprinkled all over the place), words for them to find that I knew would be on signs, and sights we were sure to see ("crying baby").

 The kids were very excited about the plan. They got dressed, I packed lunch and snacks, and we were ready to hit the road. We left the husband watching football, and headed out.

It was SO much fun. And showed me just how observant and creative J & G can be. They saw stuffed animals in the gift shop window and thought they should be able to use that for "koala bear". Sure! (And good thing - the koalas are off exhibit right now.) They convinced me that the sky tram could be a "swing". (I had been thinking of the monkey enclosure, but the tram works, too.) J spotted a display at a food stand and told me that they were obviously trying to make the plastic look like ice around the beverage display, so that should count. (Saved us walking all the way up to the polar bear exhibit - sold!)

They worked as a team, pointing things out to each other. We saw sections of the zoo we haven't seen in many trips. They were completely engaged. I got no complaints about being tired and needing to be carried. They carried their own boards the entire time, even figuring out that they could hang them around their necks and clip the pen to the string to carry them. All in all, a huge success and a great way to see things in a new way.

Looking forward, I think it would be fun with two adults to split up and see how many things each twosome could find in a set amount of time, too. We'll have to try that some day.

J already wants to do a scavenger hunt the next time we go to the Midway. That will definitely require some time on their web site, figuring out what planes to list!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Romance -- Done Our Way

We don't have a babysitter or family around to take our kids off our hands occasionally. So everything we do, the kids do with us. If we want to do something that doesn't allow for a 4 and 5 year old to tag along (concerts, watching a football game at a bar, etc), we have to agree which of us would enjoy the experience more, and the other parent stays home with the kids (usually me, since the husband is with them a minimum of 50 hrs a week (and usually more) while I'm working). This means we really never have 'alone' time with one another.

Recently we discovered that on one Saturday each month, our YMCA does a 'Parent's Night Out'. For two kids, it's a little expensive ($50), but if you think about getting a babysitter for two kids for 5 hours, it's probably comparable. Not a lot of detail, but they promised activities and dinner and the kids liked the sound of it, so we decided to give it a try.

Last night was our first night out. We dropped the kids off at the Y at 430ish (we were running a little late because G had the usual wardrobe issues of trying to find an ensemble she considered appropriate for the event), and we were off for a night of adult fun.


Yeah, right. This is us, remember?!

First stop: Costco - admittedly the long wait in the gas line was more enjoyable without moaning from the back seat, and we got through the place in record time without having to stop at each and every sample station. We did walk down the wine aisle, if that counts as romantic at all? (Though the husband noted that the aisle with beer on one side and auto supplies stuff on the other side was really more romantic. He sure knows how to make my heart flutter.)

Back home to drop stuff off and get the cold things into the freezer/refrigerator, then back out. Next stop: Big Lots. Yep. Big Lots. I needed a set of plastic drawers to store all the random kid's stuff you want to save (art projects, favorite toys they've outgrown, etc). I already have a couple large flat bins int he garage, but need something more convenient in the house - otherwise, the papers just pile up on my desk until I'm tempted to throw them all straight in the trash.

And when we left Big Lots, I saw that they put a Carter's outlet in that strip mall since the last time we were there. So, a quick stop to pick up a few pairs of tights for G, since he favorite fall/winter outfit is a denim skirt, tee, sweater, and patterned tights.

Finally, we got serious about doing something we wouldn't do with the kids, and went to a nice steakhouse for dinner. And felt guilty the whole time, because the kids would have loved it - the ambiance, the filets, the fancy potato options... All right up their alley.

And I don't know about you all, but we talked about the kids the whole time, and I was just fine with that. I don't really understand those people who say you shouldn't talk about the kids while on a 'date night'. The kids are a huge part of what is US. And a chance to have honest conversation about where they're excelling and where they're driving us nuts - without them listening in and getting a big head or hurt feelings - is priceless!

After dinner, we went to the Y to get the kids, even though we had an hour left on the allowed time. But the kids were in the middle of a movie, and basically (politely, I'll give it to them) told us to go away. Ha. So we went to a restaurant/bar nearby until the time was up.

The kids had a good time and said they'd like to do it again. We are already planning to use the next one to do Christmas shopping (more heart-stopping romance, for sure!). All in all, a successful night for everyone - if not exactly the date you might dream of!

Friday, November 2, 2012

Halloween - The Aftermath

J and G had a blast on Halloween. This was the first year they were both old enough to really 'get' it and enjoy the whole experience. They had awesome costumes made by Nama (as usual): J was Spiderman, and G was a water fairy. Neither of them were scared by people in masks (previously a major source of terror for J, especially) or by lawn decorations. They blended right into the gang of kids in the new 'hood, and went hard all night long.

I was not once asked to carry a bag of candy (and they were huge and heavy by the end!) or a child. Thank goodness... They're getting so big, I really think they should be carrying me.

 We tried hard not to get too far off schedule, seeing it was a school night. We had the kids in bed less than an hour past their normal bedtime. Then let them sleep about 15 minutes later than usual in the morning. But, still.

The aftermath.

How long does it take post-holiday to get your children back?? For us, it's usually about a week before they're normal...

Last night they were both almost falling asleep in their plates at dinner. (A new meal, and one with which I was exceptionally happy, but the way. I'll post the recipe sometime soon.)


They're cranky and surly and crazy.

And now we're in that time of year where you barely recover from one holiday, and another one is staring you down.

I cleaned up most of the Halloween decor while they were still sleeping this morning, since it was easier than dealing with the drama of them arguing to keep it up. Of course, as soon as they woke up, they wanted to know when we were going to put up the Thanksgiving  stuff. Good lord...

Which reminds me. I need to start planning the menu. Yay! Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday!!!!