Thursday, December 19, 2013

The One With the Hints We May Be Doing Christmas Wrong

(This whole "The One With" doesn't lend itself well to otherwise lenghthy titles. But I have a hard time letting go of things I've committed to doing, like beginning each title of each post with "The One With..." and using the same filter on Instagram every time. I may have a problem. But more on that later.)

We're those people who are on the fence about Santa Claus. On the one hand, it's fun to believe in holiday magic. On the other, I don't like outright lying to my kids, or going to great lengths to make them believe in something. So the girls watch Santa Claus movies and sing all the songs, but we've never sent any lists to the North Pole. 

But, whatever we're doing, we might be failing at it.

Ellie said the other day, "Santa Claus won't bring me any presents if I'm noodley." She also asked if we could make Christmas treats. "Like Santa Claus cookies and Germanbread." "Germanbread?" "Like on your towel!!" (Gingerbread.) So at least we were able to do that:

And when we were watching White Christmas, which we thought she'd love because of all the singing and dancing, she became fixated on the battle scene at the beginning. "What happened to the mad airplane? Why did it knock over the building?" She really couldn't let that go. And while Olivia was dancing and jumping and saying, "I'm Judy. I have a yellow dress. I'm dancing." Ellie kept up about that mad airplane. "Where is it now?"

And then she started sniffling. "Why are you crying?" I asked. "Because Santa Claus isn't going to bring me any presents?" "Why do you think that?" "Because tomorrow's not Christmas!"

When Santa visited them at school, Ellie's teacher reported that she did something crazy to get his attention, then when he talked to her she just lifted her foot and pointed to her boot. When I asked her about it, she said she didn't know what to say to him. 

So we might have gotten Santa Claus wrong. And I'm not sure we're doing much better with Jesus. Last week she came home from school. "What did you do at school today?" "I made a baby Jesus foot. It's for Henry to wear." What??? That sounds terrifying. (Upon further investigation, they had threaded string through paper stockings.)

Then she said in a high-pitched, sing-songy voice, "Oh Henry. Soon baby Jesus will be born. Yes he will. Then you can play together!"
Also, they are into impersonating the nativity characters. Yesterday Ellie was crawling around and talking like a baby. Olivia was Mary. "She's baby Jesus. It's ok, baby Jesus. I'm your mama."  Henry is usually Joseph. Or daddy gets to be Joseph. If I'm lucky I sometimes get to be a shepherd.

They also like to sing a song, "Baby Jesus, baby Jesus. Don't you cry. Don't you cry. Don't you know we love you. Don't you know we love you. Very much." 

That part's pretty cute. 

Friday, December 13, 2013

The One With the Almond Roca Cookie Bars From Scratch

So last year I made these Almond Roca Cookie Bars using a Betty Crocker Sugar Cookie Mix. And they're super. But this year I decided to make them au-natural. (Or something like it.) This way you can still make them if you don't have the mix on hand. Or don't like using mixes. Or whatever. 

Also, this is a doubled recipe, because it only uses one egg but produces two 9x13 inch pans of cookie bars. So if you really don't want that much, halve the recipe and only use half of the egg liquid. 

Almond Roca Cookie Bars

2 3/4 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup butter, at room temperature
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

20 Tablespoons butter
2/3 cup brown sugar
2 cups almond roca bits
Mini chocolate chips, for sprinkling, optional

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking soda and baking powder. Sift with a fork. Stir in sugar. Use a pastry cutter to cut in softened butter, until butter is fully incorporated. In a separate bowl, stir together egg and vanilla extract. Drizzle egg and vanilla mixture over dough and then mix it all together using the pastry cutter. Your mixture will be dry, but all the dry ingredients should be moist. 

Divide mixture between two 9x13 inch pans and press dough firmly into the bottom of each pan (no need to grease the pans first), using your fingers to make sure it is even and firm. Set aside.

In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, melt half of the butter and all the brown sugar, stirring constantly to make sure the butter and sugar are fully incorporated. Once this is achieved, add the remaining butter and continue to stir as the mixture comes to a rolling boil. Allow the mixture to boil for about a minute and then divide and pour over the sugar cookie mixtures, spreading evenly with a spatula. Place in oven and cook for 16-18 minutes, until caramel is bubbly.

Remove from oven and let stand to cool at room temperature for 1 minute, then sprinkle with almond roca bits and mini chocolate chips. Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours. Let the bars come to room temperature again before cutting into squares. 

Once you've eaten one you'll be glad the recipe comes pre-doubled for you. :-)

The One With the Chocolate and Candy Cane Creme Brownie Cookies

Steve is always sad when I don't make him peppermint bark at Christmastime. I guess I don't really know why I never do. I think almond roca just has a firm hold in my heart as the candy I make during this season. Anyway, this year I thought I'd try to make it up to him with some peppermint-themed cookies. My aunt has been making these delightful things for years, so I borrowed her recipe. And I'm glad that I did.

These are pretty simple, although take a little time because the dough needs to chill for an hour. But honestly, these days, things I can make in multiple small steps seem more likely to happen amidst all the baby wrangling.

Chocolate and Candy Cane Creme Brownie Cookies
Makes 4 dozen cookies

12 ounces (1 1/2 sticks) butter
2 1/3 cups brown sugar
2 Tablespoons water
1/2 Tablespoon vanilla extract
12 ounces (2 cups) semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 eggs
Hershey's Candy Cane Kisses, unwrapped*

*One bag of Hershey's Candy Cane Kisses should suffice, unless you're having your children help you unrwap them. In that case, get at least two bags. Because half of them will mysteriously disappear. 

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter, brown sugar, water and vanilla. Add the chocolate chips and stir until melted. Transfer to a large mixing bowl and set aside to cool for ten minutes.

In the meantime, sift together flour and baking soda in a separate bowl.

Add eggs to cooled chocolate mixture. Pour the flour mixture into the chocolate and stir to combine. Be sure to scrape the bottoms and sides of the bowl to get all the flour mixed in. Cover dough and place in fridge to cool for an hour. 

Roll cooled dough into 1-inch balls and place on a prepared cookie sheet, 2 inches apart. Bake at 350 degrees for 8 minutes. Remove from oven and place one Candy Cane Kiss on each cookie, then return to oven for an additional 2 minutes. When you take the cookies out again, use a butter knife to spread the Candy Cane Kiss into a small circle in the center of the cookie. Cool on the pan for ten minutes and then place on a wire rack to finish cooling. 

This is a big batch, but these cookies will go fast. Especially if you take them to a cookie exchange or give them away to all your loved ones. I think they will like them. (Also, cookie exchanges are my new favorite thing. Please have one and I will come to it.)

The One Where Henry is Almost 9 Months Old

So yeah... I missed the 8th month update. It seems we have been very busy lately. Although I'm not entirely sure with what. Life, I guess. So instead of missing month 9 as well, since it will be right before Christmas and a wedding, I figured I'd just do a combo 8 and 9 month update now, at 8.75 months. Aren't you so pleased? I knew you would be.

These last several weeks have been pretty major for Henry. Just before Halloween he burned his hand on an oven at my grandmother's house. I had no idea the oven would be so hot from the outside, so I didn't think anything of it that he was crawling around in the kitchen. He reached up and touched it and then I heard the most terrible cry. It was heart-wrenching. By the next morning it had blistered up and we had to keep it wrapped in gauze and antibiotics so try and prevent infection if the blisters burst. Fortunately, it healed up nice and quickly. But not before causing him a lot of pain and making me so very sad. It's terrible to see your baby in pain.

But after a rough few weeks with the burn and a nasty cold, my happy boy was back. And what a little snuggle bug he has been. He crawls so fast now! And he loves to play with the girls in their playroom, always fiddling with their toys and pulling himself up on anything sturdy (or not so sturdy) he can find. He even took a few steps along the couch the other day. (WHAT? Why is he trying to walk already? He's supposed to be little still! Wasn't he like just born??)

Instead of being little he is growing and changing so much! If he's upset and I'm not holding him, he will cry at me with a sound very much like "MOM" until I pick him up. It's weird that he's already trying to talk a little bit. He's got his "bababa" down solid. And I'm hoping that soon it will turn into a rendition of "Ba-ba-ba-ba-Barbara Ann". It's so fun listening to his little voice talk.

If I sit on the floor for even a few seconds he will coming crawling as quickly as he can from wherever he is, making a playful screaming sound all the way, and crawl into my lap. I think he is trying to be a Henry Monster, as the girls often pretend to be monsters attacking. I love it! There's nothing better than your baby crawling right into your lap.

And he is all boy, all the time! It's fun to see the differences in his personality even now. He's very different from his sisters! For one, he is much more mobile than his sisters were at his age. And he loves to make noise. So much noise! The other day he was banging something on the floor, so I took it away (sometimes I just can't handle incessant noise). He picked up something else and scraped it along the carpet. When I took that away he looked me straight in the eyes and started kicking his foot on the floor to keep making noise with something I couldn't take away. Of course I laughed at that. Clever boy. And he never sits still for one minute. Even cuddling him is a trial in baby acrobatics.

Some of my favorite times with him are still in the morning. I just love how that beautiful morning light caresses his sweet cheeks. It would be lovely if we could stay there forever, without anything else to do. I mean, look how wonderful:

Have you ever seen anything cuter in your whole life? No, probably not.
(Unless you have your own baby, and then you're allowed to think yours is cuter, I guess.)

P.S. If you want to get Henry a Christmas present, this list is a pretty good description of the things he would be quite pleased to receive. 

Thursday, December 12, 2013

The One Where We Did a Lot of Christmassy Things and Took a Lot of Pictures

Last Saturday we rode the Polar Express in Hood River with the Waters family. I think Grandma was the most excited, but all the cousins loved it, too. 

The ride is based on the book. They serve hot chocolate and cookies and chefs read the story. The Polar Express even has to stop and then change course because of caribou blocking the tracks. Once the train reaches the "North Pole", Santa Claus boards the train and talks to the kids for a while.

It was fun, but I think the most enjoyable part for the kiddos was the gift bags Grandma brought full of books and snacks and snowmen cups for their hot cocoa.
^^ Garrett and Annette about to board the train. ^^

^^ Cousins riding the train and enjoying some hot cocoa. ^^

^^ Livvy getting her ticket punched. ^^

^^ These Waters were very on top of things and wore pajamas on the train. I felt 
it was much too cold for this. I'm such a pansy about the cold now. ^^

^^ Santa Claus makes an appearance. ^^

And after we rode the Polar Express we came home and decorated the Christmas tree and ate Christmas cookies. Ellie was very excited about it this year.

 ^^ Liv is wearing a scarf around her head because she is pretending to be 
Rapunzel and that is her "long, tangly hair." ^^

^^ Isn't she so beautiful? ^^

While decorating the tree, Ellie was hanging up her first year ornaments, the ones people gave her for her first Christmas. She kept saying things like, "I got these when I was born. But now I am a grown-up." "Well, you're not a grown-up yet," we said. And she replied, "But I am really big."

And then when I made some cookies, Steve said he was going to eat them all. "No! Don't eat them all! If you eat them all there will be none for the mama and the children!" 

Don't worry, no such tragedy ensued.

Friday, December 6, 2013

The One With Ellie's First Ice Skate

A couple of weeks ago we went to visit my family in Idaho. We don't get a lot of access to free baby-sitting, so I wanted to seize the opportunity to get some one-on-one time with Ellie. I get a little bit with Liv while Ellie is at preschool and Henry is napping, but I don't get much with Ellie. I thought she would love to go ice skating, since she was disappointed last month when I told her we were going to see the Disney Princesses on Ice and she took that to mean we were going to dress up as princesses and ice skate. It's a good thing the show was sufficiently spectacular to take her mind off how sad she was she didn't get to skate herself.

Well there's a rink close to my mom's house in Moscow so I bundled her up and whisked her away to try some skating.
Apparently I'm not very good at helping people anticipate what is to come, because when we got to the rink, which is just your average, run-of-the-mill, small-town ice rink used mostly for hockey and the like, she was again disappointed that a) there were no curtains and b) there were no princess dresses for us to wear. But I convinced her it would be fun anyway. We rented our skates and they gave us this plastic thing that's like a walker, but slides around on the ice for newbies to lean on and learn how to move their feet.

She LOVED it. Even though it was public skate, it was a school day and so there were only two other people on the ice, so she never had to feel rushed or crowded. Sometimes she held my hand, but mostly she really wanted to do it by herself with the skate-helper-thing. She's a very independent little thing. But when she was trying it by herself I skated around her a bit and she said I could be Tinkerbell. She was, of course, Cinderella. That's her go-to princess.

As we were skating she said, "I wish Daddy was here with us. Next time we can bring him." Steve has been traveling a lot for work. It's been harder this year than usual. The kids really miss him. It makes me both infinitely happy and infinitely sad to hear how much they love him in these little sentiments.

She was even sweeter when I tried to peel her off the ice with some bribery of hot chocolate (it was really cold and I'm a wimp). I said, "Let's get off the ice and get some hot cocoa." "Okay," she said, "and let's get some to take to Olivia, too." Melted me right on the spot.

She's such a sweetie.

The other day as I was tucking her into bed, we had the following conversation:

Ellie: "Can you snuggle me?"
Olivia: "I want you to snuggle Ellie-Belle."
Ellie: (while we're snuggling) "When you want to leave just say you want to go and I will say, 'No, don't go yet!'"

I hope she always says that.

I'm really looking forward to this holiday season with her this year. She is so imaginative. Her whole world is bright and full of magic. It's a pretty fun thing to be a part of.
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