Julia, Grace and I want to offer an appreciative thank you to everyone who participated in our cookie decorating event in December. We had the best time decorating cookies with you – and we are in awe at all you did to benefit the foster kids served by Treehouse. 10 lbs. of powdered sugar later – used on dozens and dozens of amazing cookie creations – we raised just over $1600 and delivered a car full of awesome toys, games and clothing. We also made the holidays brighter for local senior citizens by sharing with them the fruits of our decorating labor!
We would like to give special thanks to the Geisner family who graciously donated the use of the MICC facility. We had so much room to create and socialize! And three cheers for Mikayla Geisner, Brooke Comstock and Cassie Montgomery, and all the Moms, for your fantastic help managing the sugary chaos!!
Hosting this event for Treehouse is one of the best parts of the Christmas holiday for our family. We look forward to planning this time with you, to make the holidays brighter for local foster kids. We’ll see you again in December of 2016.
Spring cleaning – a centuries’ long tradition welcoming warmer weather and longer spans of daylight – has morphed into slang for a major cleaning or organizing project applicable at any time of year. So whether you are tackling a deep clean in the living room, or organizing the heck out of your child’s Lego collection, it can be said you are spring cleaning!
As we’re approaching the holidays, a time when we create wonderful memories with our own family, we have discussed with Grace and Julia the reality that not every family has the means to give gifts during this season. So my girls decided that we should inject some spring time into the upcoming holiday season and clean their rooms and donate toys and clothes with lots of life left in them to those who need them
When it came to their hefty stuffed animal collection, however, there was a bit of resistance. Grace and Julia have collected mountains of stuffed animals over the years. Each of these gently loved toys held special meaning for them. While the girls struggled at letting them go, the thought of a helping a child in need made the cleaning project go smoother.
I came across an organization that repurposes those stuffed animals to help those who are facing a traumatic experience. The Stuffed Animals for Emergencies (S.A.F.E) organization, a nonprofit which has a local chapter here in on the Eastside, collects and redistributes gently used stuffed animals for children in emergency situations. The cleaned toys are given to local police and fire departments, homeless shelters, church organizations and nonprofits benefitting children, who then give the toys to kids in need of some comfort during stressful situations.
Once we read about how our wonderful stuffed animal friends could really help kids in need, Grace and Julia became excited about sharing their stuffed toy collections. It was so important to my girls that the animals not be sold (even if the proceeds went to something charitable). The thought that their stuffed animals could make an impact on a child during a scary emergency situation made all the difference. As we packed up our bags we reminisced, laughing and talking about where each came from. We took pictures of the super special animals to cherish our memories of them. I have to tell you, it was a joyful, freeing experience for both Grace and Julia.
When we finished our cleaning tasks, we contacted our local chapter volunteer, "Beverly C" in Redmond, and she responded immediately with her address and instructions. When we dropped our bags off, the girls and I promptly received a wonderful email from Beverly thanking us for our donation. The whole experience was easy to implement and gave my girls the meaning they needed to let go of those special items to make space in their bedrooms. Both my girls and I recommended S.A.F.E to a number of our friends, who have since decided to make their own donations.
If you are facing a similar situation with your kids, because they do not want to let their stuffed animals go, sit down at the computer together and read about S.A.F.E. They have even put together a video to watch that explains how volunteers sort, clean and distribute the stuffed animals. The minute your children can picture being in a situation where it would be comforting to have a soft furry friend to hug, this cleaning chore becomes a win as opposed to a loss.
Another opportunity to do some major pre-holiday cleaning is right around the corner, and it will greatly benefit those in the Seattle area who cannot afford a bicycle. My office, Windermere Mercer Island, will be hosting a bike drive in our parking lot on Sunday, December 12th. We’re partnering with Bike Works, a local nonprofit that keeps bikes, bike parts and bike accessories out of the landfills while teaching youth and adults how to repair and maintain bicycles. With Bike Works kids can learn how to refurbish bikes and in the process earn their own bicycles through community service. Part of that community service involves repairing bikes to their prime working conditions for other children, who otherwise would not be able to afford a bike.
If you have bikes and bike parts, please bring them to my office located at 2737 77th Ave SE on Mercer Island during our bike drive on December 6th. Volunteers from Bike Works will be on hand from 12-3pm to collect the bikes and parts, to take back to their facility in Columbia City. The bikes that have seen better days will have all the usable parts removed from them and the rest of the bike responsibly recycled. Bikes in good condition will be given tune ups and refurbished to prime condition. They will be either given to low income youth through the UGottaGetABike and Kid Bike-O-Rama programs, to low income adults in need of a commuting bike through the Bikes-For-All, or sold at an affordable price at the BikeWorks bike shop. All proceeds from sales at the bike shop are used to support all the programs offered by Bike Works including sliding scale summer camps, Earn-A-Bike after school classes, adult repair classes and twice-a-month open shop time.
It feels so good to enter the holiday season with a clean, clutter free home – especially when you know the items you no longer need can be of great help to someone else. I’d love to hear from you about other local organizations that could benefit from our holiday inspired “spring” cleaning. Please share in the comment section!
With 4th of July quickly approaching, my brother and I recently chatted about what we’ll be barbecuing for the holiday. My brother is Mike Keller, the mastermind behind California Rancher which creates and sells an incredible line of all-natural, California-made gourmet seasonings and sauces for barbecue enthusiasts. The best barbecue dishes are simple, grilled dishes featuring excellent cuts of meat or farm-fresh veg, well-seasoned with herbs and spices, and elevated to perfection due to closely monitored time on the grill. In our discussion of holiday plans, the theme, “elevate and simplify,” started to develop.
I thought you might enjoy reading what we pinpointed as the essentials needed to up your bbq game. Here are the simple rules we think are indispensable when grilling:
- Pick the right cut of meat for your preferred dish. During college, both Mike and I worked at Chart House, a premier steak and seafood restaurant. Our server training was rigorous, and we memorized all the different cuts of meat and their characteristics. Filet Mignon is the most tender cut; top sirloin has the most flavor. New York Strip steak is the best of both worlds! Today, we’re fortunate to have access to a better selection of excellent meat choices, so we can find the right cut for what we want to serve our 4th of July crowd. Santa Maria bbq is a traditional California style of grilling. It involves slow cooking tri tip sirloin steak over red oak wood, which flavors the meat with its sweet smoke. You can achieve a similar effect at home, on your own grill, with a nice tri tip sirloin and your favorite Santa Maria Seasoning.
- #1 essential bbq tool is a digital thermometer. Mike’s mantra is that cooking to temperature produces perfectly grilled meat every time. The thermapen is Mike’s preferred digital thermometer. In Mike’s Santa Maria-Style Tri Tip recipe, he shares what temperature to cook to for rare steak (120F in the middle) or well done (up to 160F). It will take some practice to find the doneness temps for your grilled-to-perfection steak due to personal preference – for example, Mike’s personal preference is 115F in the middle for the ultimate rare steak experience. But with other types of meat, like poultry and pork, you need to reach a specific internal temperature to eliminate exposure to food borne illness. Click here for a helpful temperature chart courtesy of Food Network.
- Placement of the food on the grill to take advantage of heat levels. Depending on what type of grill you use, if you want to get a rich, smoky flavor you may have to move food off to the sides to cook it slower via indirect heat. If you use a smoker type barbecue, like the Big Green Egg (one of Mike’s favs!) or Traeger, you’ll need to plan time to smoke the food at a low temperature first before turning up the heat and cooking to the finish temperature. Slow and steady wins the race in the bbg game!
- Simple seasoning and sauces up the elegance of your grilled fare. My absolute FAVORITE dish Mike grills is beef tenderloin dusted with Santa Maria seasoning and slow cooked over red oak wood. That’s all there is to it. In fact, he made this for my last client appreciation event. He had chunks of red oak, a wood native to California, mailed to my house for this event. We enjoyed a lovely dinner at the Mercer Island Beach Club with Lake Washington as our backdrop, and Mike built up quite a fan club here on the island due to that evening! The beef tenderloin definitely stole the show, and it’s dead simple!
- When slicing meat, it’s important to cut against – or perpendicular to – the grain for maximum tenderness. A great piece of tri-tip or beef tenderloin can be reduced to shoe-leather tough if it’s sliced alongside the grain versus against it. And here’s a little know fact regarding the grain of a cut of meat: it often changes along as you slice through the piece, so you may need to adjust the angle of your slicing as you slice. For example, a tri-tip grain usually shifts 45+ degrees so the way you start slicing one end should typically be at a different angle than where you finish at the other end.
- The grill isn’t just for meat. Vegetables and fruits gain this amazing layer of epicurean goodness from time spent on the grill. My family goes nuts for kale chips cooked on the grill. I wash the kale, then massage it with olive oil and veggie rub. We especially like the charred edges of the large kale leaves that get smoky and crunchy. Other veggies that love a turn on the grill: asparagus, mushrooms, Brussel sprouts, beets, red potatoes. You can even lightly grill romaine lettuce for your next Caesar salad.
So there you have it! 6 easy rules to up your bbq game. These tips will be a great guide, and help you pull off your best 4th of July party to date. If you are in search of a new bbq recipe to try check here on California Rancher, or here for recipes courtesy of Big Green Egg.
And if you are wondering what Mike will be serving on the 4th, he’s planning on smoking a pork shoulder roast overnight in his Green Egg – it’ll be seasoned with Oaky & Smoky BBQ Rub mixed with a little brown sugar. With the help of the tool BBQ Guru, he will be able to maintain a steady temperature of 175 degrees overnight. He’s going to pull it apart and serve with a variety of sauces for dipping, including Hog Wild Habanero BBQ Sauce. And here at the Wilson house, we’ll be going “Hog Wild” this 4th of July. I’ll be serving barbecue chicken reminiscent to a recipe Mike developed. First I’ll season the chicken with Hog Wild Cajun-Style Rub. Then I’ll pop the seasoned chicken onto the grill for a quick turn on a higher heat to add grill marks. Next, I’ll drop the temperature down to a lower heat and slow cook the meat for about 45 minutes, until the internal temperature reaches 165F. The chicken will be paired with Hog Wild Habanero BBQ Sauce for dipping. Yum!
Grilling for friends is always a good time. It’s extra special on the 4th of July because you typically get time away from the office to spend the day outdoors with good friends and family. Everyone contributes to the meal, adding their own special touches to the event. The celebration lasts well into the evening and culminates with a spectacular fireworks show or time around the fire pit. When you “elevate and simplify” your grilling technique, you will serve the best meal each time and increase the enjoyment your event because the stress level will be at a minimum. The memories made will be a treasure for years to come!
*BBQ photos courtesy of Mike Keller. Hog Wild gift pack photo courtesy of Julie Wilson.
One of my favorite books of late is Marie Kondo's The Life-Changing Magic Of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art Of Decluttering and Organizing. It's given me a whole new perspective on my home, what I choose to keep and why (does it "spark joy" – if not, it needs to go!). If you have read Ms. Kondo's book and have been decluttering too, you may be wondering what you should do with those items that do not bring you joy.
Well… my office is hosting a free recycle and document shredding event on this Saturday, June 6th. It will be held right in the office parking lot. In addition to the appliance, metal and electronic recycling, this year there will be an organization on hand to recycle clothing and other cloth products! Plus, you can bring boxes of papers that you need shredded and watch them be shredded right there.
All the recycle event details are below. Click here for directions to Windermere Mercer Island. Give yourself a spark of joy by removing those unwanted items from your home once and for all, for free.
One of the programs offered by Mercer Island Beach Club (MIBC), which is so special for my own family, is Swim Team. It’s a long-standing tradition that spans over 6 decades and is still going strong. Swim Team features program options for all swimming abilities, from 6 and 7 year olds joining Little Waves all the way through to advanced high school swimmers. Not only do participants hone their swimming skills and make lasting friendships, they learn self-discipline, how to set goals and work as a team as they practice and compete.
MIBC families – even though spring just arrived, it’s time to start planning for the 2015 Swim Team season! Registration is currently in session and runs until May 15th. You can register online here. Plus here are some dates to add to your family calendar:
- April 21 — Registration Night 6:00-8:00 pm at MIBC: Sylvia Swimwear staff will be on hand to help your swimmer find the right size suit. Logowear samples will be on hand for your swimmers to try on before you order. MIBC Logowear includes the following items: sweatshirt hoodies, zip up hoodies, warm up jackets with pants, sweat pants, pajama bottoms, pajama shorts, warm deck coats, embroidered towels & blankets, multiple colors of tote bags and custom swim caps.
- May 8 — Registration Deadline for Logowear and Apparel: Make sure your swimmer takes advantage of trying on the Logowear during Registration Night because once you place your order, the items cannot be exchanged or returned.
- May 15 — Registration Deadline for Swim Team: Online registration closes for all Swim Team levels.
- May 18 — Swim Team Opening Night: All swim team members’ first night of spring training. Parents will have a meeting at 6pm and the social committee will serve hot chocolate and cookies.
- May 18 to June 17 — Little Waves Introduction Session: The Little Waves will conduct their spring practice in two groups while they learn swim strokes and develop comfort in the pool.
- May 30th — Deadline for joining Team Unify calendar: Team Unify is used to schedule what meets swimmers will participate in, based on their availability. It’s also used to schedule parent volunteers for each meet. One parent for each swimmer competing in a meet must volunteer for 2 hours during the event to ensure the competitions run smoothly.
If you’d like to look at Swim Team swimwear prior to Registration Night, Sylvia Swimwear has two retail locations (Bellevue: 14100 NE 20th; Northgate: 9596 1st Ave NE, Seattle). You can go to either locations to try on suits. Once you determine the correct size your swimmer requires, you’ll need to order the suit from goswim.com. Click here for details on how to place your order online, but please note that the dates on the instructions were for the 2014 season.
My family is so excited for this year’s swim competition season! If you have any questions about the sign up timeline, or the upcoming spring practice that runs May 18th through June 19th, please ask in the comment section. See you at MIBC!