Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The One Where Henry is One Year Old

Can you believe this little cutie is one year old now? 

I can't believe we made it! Just kidding. Kind of. There were some rough moments in there. But Henry is a little wonder and I'm so happy he's in our lives.

He's such a sweet little boy. He has three words: "mama," "dada" and "hi", which he especially likes to use when talking on the phone (anything small enough to be held up to his ear). And he gives me this look sometimes when his sisters are being crazy. It's like a wide-eyed, "can-you-believe-they're-doing-this" look that is pretty hilarious. I like to catch his gaze whenever they're around to see if he has anything to say about what they're doing. 

And he could walk if he would just let go. He pushes chairs or doll strollers or pretend shopping carts all over the house. And he'll just stand there on his own with no support. But he absolutely refuses to take his first steps on his own. He's a lot like his big sister, Ellie, in that way. He's been content to just crawl for six months now. But he's getting so heavy. I, for one, would really love it if he started to walk. Especially so we can enjoy the quickly-approaching summer. 

In general, he just loves life these days. He loves his batmobile. He loves being squeezed as tightly as possible. He loves grapes and bananas and anything edible, really. He loves when I sing Wheels on the Bus and he laughs so hard when I do the noises dramatically. He loves to go to the park and swing. And swing. And swing. He loves when I am holding him on our way to the park and I start to skip. He loves doing anything silly he can think of to try to get us to laugh. He loves to throw his head back and fake laugh. He loves to snuggle hard (so hard that my nose has been pretty assaulted by his intense snuggling). He loves to climb on anything and everything that he can reach. He loves wearing his grandpa's hat and being sung to by his Papa Dennis.

We took him to the beach for the first time this last month. At first he just sat on the sand and played with a stick. Then he discovered he could crawl on it and he was off like a shot. He loved the beach and hanging out every day with his sisters, grandma and grandpa.

He really loves the elements. He giggles with delight when it's raining and he gets wet. Or when the wind blows on his face. He gets really excited about every little thing.

And he would love to spend all day, every day playing in the bathroom! I'm always reminding his sisters to keep the door closed, because he can sense that it is open from 100 yards away and he'll come rushing toward that toilet in a full sprint. Why do babies love bathrooms so much?

We had a little birthday party for him a few days after his actual birthday and it was such fun. My family came from Idaho, so Henry got pretty spoiled with affection from almost all of his (many) grandparents, aunts and uncles. It was great to have so many family and friends come. (That, and when you invite my family to come, they not only make the 6 hour drive and stay the night, they also mow the lawn before the party and clean the house afterward. They're pretty awesome like that... love you guys!)

If only we had a bigger house I would have invited everyone we know. Because I love throwing parties. And because I love Henry. And so throwing parties for Henry is double the fun. 

My favorite part was watching him open presents. I don't know if it's just because he's seen his sisters do it so many times, but he seemed to really understand the whole process, and got very excited about his new toys. And now he likes to find them around the house and hug them with the biggest grin on his face. It's always fun to make your baby so happy. 

Well. We made it. One year of Henry's life. There were some long days. And some short days. And so many very good days. And I love him so much and am looking forward to this next year so much. The funny thing is that I'll write less on here about him this next year, but I actually look forward to it more.  I can't wait to hear what he has to say. I can't wait to take him on all our adventures this year. I can't wait to hear his laugh as often as possible and tackle him and tickle him and enjoy everything about my baby boy.

Friday, March 7, 2014

The One With the Perfect Birthday Party Cake (With Whipped Chocolate Buttercream Frosting)

Last weekend for Olivia's third birthday party I made this Perfect Birthday Party Cake. I've made a lot of delicious desserts in my day, but this one takes the cake. (Get it? Haha.)

Anyway, I found this recipe and tried it with my sister a few weeks ago for my birthday. And it was awesome. So I made a few improvements, and served it at Liv's birthday party. It was such a fun time! Steve's family got snowed in and couldn't make it, so we called up our friends at the last minute to come eat food and cake with us and I think it was the best birthday party yet! (Which either means we're really lame or our friends are really cool. I'm going to go ahead and hope it's the latter.) We even lost power due to the storm, but Liv and all her little friends just kept playing. And reading books by candlelight. And examining the globe collection. It was lovely.

Because Olivia loves Lightning McQueen so much, I wanted to give her a Lightning themed cake. So I found some race car cake toppers online and they were the perfect thing. Although she was a little sad when she saw the cake but couldn't eat it until her party. I told her she had to wait for her friends to come. So when her first guests arrived, she opened the door for them and then ran over to her cake and said, "My friends are here! Let's eat my cake!" When she finally got some, I don't think she was disappointed.

Perfect Birthday Party Cake
Makes one double-layer 9 inch cake
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 Tablespoon baking soda
  • 1/2 Tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 Tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 3/4 cup minus 2 Tablespoons milk
  • 2 eggs, at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup vanilla Greek yogurt
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup hot, strong coffee
  • 1/2 cup mini semisweet chocolate chips

In a medium-size bowl, combine flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Sift together with a fork and set aside.

In a liquid measuring cup, pour in 2 Tablespoons apple cider vinegar. Add milk until you have reached the 3/4 cup mark. Set aside.

With a mixer, beat eggs. Add vinegar and milk, yogurt, vegetable oil and vanilla extract. Beat until well combined. Add the dry ingredients in four increments, stirring well between each addition. Add the hot coffee and stir to combine. Add the mini chocolate chips and stir to distribute evenly throughout the batter. 

Wrap the sides of each cake pan in a strip of wet cloth (like a torn dishtowel or an old t-shirt.) (This added moisture will help keep your cake from rising so much in the center, so you won't have to worry about cutting off the rounded cake top.)  

Divide your batter between the two prepared cake pans and bake for 20-25 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center of each cake layer comes out clean. Let the layers cool completely in their pans before assembling your cake. 

Whipped Chocolate Buttercream Frosting
  • 2 cups (4 cubes) butter, at room temperature
  • 4 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup whipping cream (plus a little more, if necessary) 
In the bowl of a stand mixer (or by hand with an electric mixer), soften the butter on low speed. (Do not turn your mixer on too high or air will get into your frosting and create bubbles.) Once your butter is very maleable, add the powdered sugar and cocoa powder, one cup at a time, stirring slowly and thoroughly between each new addition. Add the vanilla and stir. Add the whipping cream and stir on medium for about ten minutes, until frosting is light and fluffy. The longer you go, the more whipped the cream will get, making the frosting that much more delicious.

If it seems that your frosting is too thick and won't be easily frosted with, add more whipping cream, a Tablespoon at a time, until you reach your desired consistency.

Assemble your cake with a layer of frosting in the middle, and chocolate sprinkles to top it off!

At the end of her party, I asked Olivia what her favorite part was and she said, "Eating cake." I think she and I are going to get along just fine.

Monday, March 3, 2014

The One With the Things I Love About Olivia (3 Years)

On the day before her third birthday, Grandpa said to Olivia, "Tomorrow is your birthday. You're going to be such a big girl." And she replied, "But I am always going to be my mama's baby."

Oh yes, baby girl, you always will. Even when you are big enough to have your own baby, you'll be my baby. That day will seem very weird because you will be all grown up. And even now three seems too big. I wish I could hold on to you in this stage for just a little longer. But I can't. So, instead, I'll try to remember everything about you that I love so much.

This past year with Olivia has been truly wonderful. There are so many things to love about her. These are just a few of them:

1. The way her eyes squint until they're almost closed when she is really, truly smiling.

2. She loves dresses so much that she has to wear multiple dresses at a time. One is never enough.

3. She is always singing. Always. And the lyrics are hilarious. Sometimes she actually knows all the words to a song surprisingly well. But then she'll start singing "For the first time in forever" (from Frozen) and instead of singing "For the first time in forever there's nothing in my way," she sings "there's noooottthhiiinnnngggg in my hhhhhhhhhheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrttttttttttttttttttt!" And today she was singing a song about Lightning McQueen getting his wheels checked. I asked her what her song was about and she said, "It's called, 'The Pit.'"

4. She loves Lightning McQueen more than anyone has ever loved anything. Okay, probably not really. But she does love him. She has to carry a little Lightning McQueen wherever she goes. And her Auntie Mal even made her a Lightning McQueen princess dress for her birthday - so she can combine her two favorites: princesses and cars. Not many little girls are so lucky!

5. She loves her sister. Their conversations and the way they play together brings me endless joy. They so often play so nicely together. They make believe all the live-long day. They sing songs together. They dance together. They read books together. They play dolls together. They run around in circles and drive me crazy together. When I set their plates on the table they switch them so each can have their preferred color. They bring each other blankets. They always refer to each other as "sweetie."

6. She refers to everyone and everything she loves as "my ______". "My Henry is hungry. Can you get him a snack?" // "Am I going to the beach with my Papa?" // "When is my Mal coming home?"

7. "Glumps." Ever since watching Frozen, Liv has had an affinity for gloves. Or mittens, since they don't really make gloves in her size. She'll wear them anywhere. And even if she only has one, she is happy. And she always calls them "glumps." Which is way too hilarious to correct. Although one day she was having a meltdown because she couldn't find her glumps. Every time she asked me if she could have them I would giggle at her calling them "glumps." And that just made the meltdown that much worse.

8. She is a whirlwind. She is always dancing and spinning and twirling. I think I'll look back on this time and remember her as a blur. A blur of light and laughter and delight so pure and untainted that it glows with possibility. I can tend to get weighed down by existential angst. There are so many terrible things in this world. So many worries I have to deal with as a mother, as an adult, as a conscientious human being. The weight of it can threaten to strangle me. And then she rushes by. A stream of glowing, glittering purple dresses and crazy hair. Grey-green eyes that are always filled with delight. Lips that are always smiling, a belly that is always laughing. Hands that are always loving. If everyone could be like her, this world would be a much better place. She makes me want to be better. To love more and care less about things that don't matter.

9. She loves her daddy. They've always had a special bond. Steve has been traveling a lot for work lately. After a few days of him being out of town I'll here her sigh and say, "I miss my daddy." It breaks my heart and makes me smile at the same time. I'm glad she loves him so much. And when he finally comes home, she curls up in his lap and doesn't get down for anything for a very long time. Ellie and Henry get distracted long before she does.

10. She is always pretending. Many of our conversations go something like this: "Olivia, sit at the table to eat lunch." / "I'm Merida ack-shlee (actually)." / "Okay. Merida, sit at the table." // Olivia: "Okay." // or "Good morning, kiddo." / "Can you call me 'sweetie?'" / "Good morning, sweetie." / "Good morning, mama. I love you." // "Hey mama! I'm Elsa. Can you be my fairy godmother? Can you make me a sparkling dress?"

11. She has a quiet confidence about her. She is not loud, but she is strong. She is smart. She is not afraid. She is comfortable with who and where she is, almost all of the time.

12. She is content. When her great-grandma asked her what she wanted for her birthday, she said, "Nothing." Later she said she wanted some dresses. Because she loves dresses. Of course, when the presents did come she loved them, too. And carries as many as possible with her wherever she goes. But she didn't demand them. She doesn't need them to be happy. We did something right with that kid. (Or maybe we had nothing to do with it. I don't really know how these things work.)

13. She loves cake. Her main concern regarding her birthday was when she was going to get her cake. I made it extra special by making her cake Cars themed. I stayed up late Saturday night to make it for her party. It reminded me of three years ago when I stayed up half the night giving birth to her. (She was born just before 2 am on March 1st.) This end result wasn't nearly as cute, of course, but she loved her cake so very much. I would stay up a lot of nights to making something that made her light up like she did to see her Lightning McQueen cake. (Plus, I like making cakes anyway, so it's a win-win for everyone.)

14. She is thankful. She thanks me for every single thing I ever bring her. Like lunch. Or a blanket. Or if I find a misplaced toy. And when we had a special pizza and movie night for her birthday (Cars 2, of course), she said "Thank you, daddy, for my special movie night," over and over again.

15. She is very helpful when it comes to choosing the correct words for things: "Look, dad, these are my princess dresses." / (Dad:) "Oh, that's cute." / "No, it's not cute. It's beautiful." // or, last week at the beach: "Look, mama, a duck!" / (Mom:) "That's actually a seagull." / "No, I'm right. It's a bird."

16. She likes to pretend to be a baby. Sometimes I find this quite aggravating, because her baby voice is hard to understand. But it always reminds me how quickly this time is passing. How soon she won't ever talk in a pretend baby voice and this stage will be gone, just like that. It reminds me to snuggle her while she's still little, kiss her while she'll still let me. If I could keep her from getting any bigger, I would. But that would mean that I would miss everything wonderful about who she is growing up to be. And I suppose I wouldn't want that at all.

She is an exemplary human being. Steve told me a while back that he hoped to be more like her. She isn't moved by trivial things. She is content and confident, gracious and kind. I'd like to be more like her, too.

Happy Birthday, my Livvy Bug! Let your light shine brightly. Let your feet hardly touch the ground. Wear as many dresses as possible and laugh until you can't anymore. We love you so impossibly much and look forward to each and every day with you. 
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