Saturday, May 20, 2017

Strings, parks and drones: Tanya's February Visit

Just like last year, Tanya gave me a wonderful birthday present by bringing herself - plus Nara, Harry, and Otto - down to visit us. I think our trip can be divided into about four themes:

1. Food

Mmm... best breadsticks ever! Thank you, Tanya!

Green beans, mashed potatoes, and farmer's market chicken.

2. Squeaking on stringed instruments in pajamas

This is the one group shot of the kids that we managed. Harry was playing hard to get. ;)

Harry, though he had previously been asking for a violin, fell completely in love with the massive cello we've been renting and had to play it just about every time he entered the living room. He loved to tell us his great discovery that "I'm really good at cello!" It was adorable.

Misha showing Harry the violin.

The bed-headed blonds.

So elegant!

3. Parks

Misha is now such a pro at the ripboard that he can even carry Harry.

Everyone on boards!

We often combined themes 2 and 3 by taking a mandolin or uke to the park - and sometimes, at Nara's pleading, a small violin as well.

Look at that grin.

Look at that concentration!

My tree-climber.

4. Drones

Though Josh had ordered his two mini drones without the intent of sharing with any children, he ended up generously allowing everyone to attempt to fly them. They're crazy little things that are far too easy to send crashing against the ceiling before bashing to the floor. Fun though!

Harry was screeching in absolute delight. Before this point, he hadn't mentioned ever returning to visit us. But once the drones were out, he was babbling away: "Maybe if we come back to Texas to visit, we can fly the drones again!"

Getting the tiny propellers stuck in hair is a hazard to watch out for ... For some reason, the little drones loved to crash into Nara and tangle up her poor whisps.

Otto, the cutie crawler.

Friday, May 19, 2017

The Great Fudge Project

We traditionally make fudge every Christmas - enough to overindulge ourselves as well as to share with friends and family. This past Christmas, we decided to try a family fudge experiment by selling it door to door.

Shameless use of adorable children to make sales?

You could look at it that way. OR ... you could look at is as an insightful educational project designed to teach the boys entrepreneurship - specifically confidence, people skills, and tracking costs vs. profits on excel.

Ok, maybe it was a little bit of both. Plus, it was equally insightful for us parents to see how to take a little and turn it into a lot.

First, we sat down at the computer and priced out the cost of ingredients per double batch to get our baseline costs for plain, walnut, almond and peanut butter. Misha helped create an excel document to chart all our information. Then we bought little cardboard fold-up boxes on Amazon. Once we made our first batch of fudge, we were able to calculate how large to cut the pieces and how many to pack into a box lined with wax paper. We had a little assembly line going. Misha also helped us make a logo and a label. We called our venture Super-Kula-Fudge-Alistic.

My first day out on the street with the kids was a little nerve-racking, for all of us. We had gone over what the kids should say. "Hello, we're selling fudge! Would you like a free sample?" This cheery statement was to be followed by a brief mention of the price before launching into detailed flavor options.

As we approached our first house, I'm pretty sure the kids felt like I did: Why in the world did we make so much fudge? No one will buy it. We knocked on the door, the kids gave a very muddled and choppy intro, and ... the guy said, "Ok, let me get my wallet."

After that, the kids were racing from house to house, fighting over who would get to talk, amazed at how easy it was to sell our little boxes in exchange for real dollar bills. Not that people didn't say no; they often did. A huge barrier to selling fudge is the fact that so many people are diabetic. I have to admit I felt a little guilty to be pushing a product filled with so much processed sugar. Beyond the diabetes problem, there were those who had too many goodies already, didn't like sweets, didn't like chocolate, or had allergies - but our biggest issue was simply that most people were not home. 

We walked all over our neighborhood and when we ran out of streets, we would drive to a new area. From the week before Christmas up to New Year's Day, we spent most evenings walking and selling fudge. Everyone loved the kids. We got numerous compliments along the lines of, "Well, good for you! I'm so proud that you're out there doing your own project! And you have a good mama too!" We also were privy to stories from old men who had sold things in their youth - "I did the same thing when I was a boy, and I tell ya - it's the best education in understanding people you'll ever get!"

Each night after selling, the boys would help us count up the totals and record how many boxes we had sold so we could see our progress. When we ran out of a flavor, Josh would help us whip up another batch. We added the option of spicy cayenne fudge as well, which is extremely tasty but has a narrower audience.

The whole experiment went so well (80 boxes sold), that we decided to repeat it for the month of February with its Valentines Day and Superbowl festivities. This time, we ramped it up a bit. We decided our old containers had to go - the fudge would leave smudges on the cardboard and it dried out after a week. We replaced them with airtight plastic tubs with snap-on lids. This time we raised our prices and sold two sizes - a larger "combination" box featuring all five flavors, in addition to smaller tubs of a single flavor.

For 18 of February's days, we went door to door in the evenings to spread the joys of sugar and chocolate. To our satisfaction, this round far exceeded our initial attempt. At home, we were busy making batch after batch - we had to buy extra pans so Josh could make all the flavors simultaneously. Making the combo boxes was time-consuming, but Misha and Sebastian were great helpers throughout the many stages: making the fudge, cutting it once cooled, wrapping it in parchment paper, and nestling all the flavors in the box. Not to mention printing, cutting and attaching labels. Naturally, they got burned out after a while (who wouldn't?) but they were good sports about the constant walking and door-to-door pitches, especially Misha. (When Sebby couldn't take it anymore, he would ride his ripboard ahead and lay down in someone's boulevard.) We let them choose new toys at the store as a thank you, although they were easy to bribe simply with fudge.

As you might expect, having so much fudge around the house all the time is both a perk and a curse - it tends to "taste-tested" at an alarming rate. So we're taking a break for now ... but count us in for next Christmas.

Super-Kula-FUDGE-alistic has five great flavors:

Classic fudge with chunks of walnut.
Fudge with a layer of crunchy almonds on top.
All-natural, fresh peanut butter stirred right in. Better than Reeces!
Cocoa and cayenne pepper combine to make great fudge with a kick.
Fudge with extra cocoa for chocolate-lovers.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Hurry Down the Chimney Tonight

Christmas Eve...
With Sebby's Grinch overlooking our ornamented homemade card-stock-paper tree, lights twinkling above, and the elaborate famous-people-in-history themed Risk board (made by Josh and me) perching on the couch, our living room looked just right for the next morning. I love these quiet Christmas Eve shots just brimming with anticipation.

My favorite part of Christmas morning was when the kids dumped out their stockings and Sebby immediately asked, "Can I eat this now?" I thought he was referring to the Reeses Pieces, but in fact he meant the kipper snacks! That's how Misha and Sebby came to be eating oysters and kippers at 7:30 a.m. Christmas morning.

Mmm, there's nothing like canned seafood for breakfast.

Our Risk board was intended to feed Sebby's appetite to play a game that the rest of us have grown weary of. Josh and I made each island a different theme - such as Soviet leaders, human rights activists, composers, Supreme Court justices, or world dictators.

Misha's present to Sebby - a marble path toy. Sebby is obsessed with marble runs.

A gorgeous cutting board from Grandma Kate.

The rest of the Tarzan series from Grandpa!

Sebby loved this animal sticker book, which he read to us for three days straight. He'd follow us around the house and say, "Did you know that whales' songs can last 20 minutes?"

Sebby and I created this parakeet for Misha. Sebby had the vision; I had the needle and thread.

Puzzles from Grandma and Grandpa!

Out rustling up some treasure with the metal detector from Grandpa!

More Christmas

In January, we had another Christmas celebration when Grandma Kate visited Texas and we got to meet her new husband, Dan. We spent a few evenings opening gifts, playing games, and spent a day at the Houston Zoo with them and Bud, Ashley, Penny, and Theo.

Dan and Kate gave the boys a beautiful little mandolin, which we all adore. The great thing about the mandolin is that it is strung exactly like a violin, so any songs that we know on violin, we are able to pluck on the mandolin. Chords are also possible, but of course they're different than guitar or ukulele chords. Such fun! And such a pretty little instrument! 

Misha taught Grandma Kate how to get started on violin.

The Zoo!

Seb and Penny fast asleep in the car.

Merry Christmas!