Tuesday, September 23, 2014

On What I Wish I'd Known (As A First-Time Mother)

With Ellie turning five this past week, I've been reflecting a lot on what it was like to be her mother in the very beginning. Sometimes I feel so badly for her, being the guinea pig kid. I had have no idea what I'm doing. Becoming a mother is a very wonderful and complex thing. There are so many moments of happiness mixed with frustration and bliss and insecurity and excitement and an absolutely inexplicable love and devotion. There's absolutely nothing anyone could ever say that could really prepare you for being a parent. But, from my experiences and talking to other mamas, I think there may be a few things every mom should hear that can make hard days easier and good days even better.
Me and Ellie back in the day. 
These are some of the things I've learned (and am still learning) along the way. Some of these things get easier with more kids. But as they grow and change, I have to learn them all over again.

1. Friends are better than the Internet. Even five years ago when I was pregnant with Ellie, the Internet was full of confusing and contradicting information. (There's some helpful stuff out there, like a quick Google search for "normal colors of baby poop" so you don't have to rush to the doctor because something weird is in your baby's diaper.) But now, even more than then, there is so much information that it is just overwhelming. There is a lot of fear-mongering regarding everything from what to feed your child, how to get them to sleep through the night, whether or not to vaccinate, etc. etc. etc ad infinitum.  I've always found it much more helpful to consult friends with older children, or even those who are right in the thick of things with you. Choose a pediatrician you feel comfortable with and they can also offer you a lot of advice. Read books and articles as much as you want, talk to your own mom and other seasoned moms you trust and admire. And trust your own instincts. But don't let some blogger who doesn't know you or your baby make you feel guilty. Don't even let the critiques of some Facebook acquaintance make you feel like you're failing. You're not. You're doing just fine.

Also, haters are gonna hate, so just ignore those who aren't supportive of the way you have chosen to raise your baby.

2. All parents are insecure. There are so many possible ways to do things. And so many people who have opinions about how one way is better than the other way or if you put your child down for one minute so you can go to the bathroom they'll be scarred for life or if they suck their thumb they'll have teeth problems or whatever. Total strangers are going to come up and tell you how to be a better parent or how you're doing X, Y, or Z wrong. They're only doing that because they feel insecure about parenting. Because it's hard. It's a lot of decisions and a lot of possible outcomes and, if you love your child like any parent I've ever met does, you worry about those things. And so sometimes you take it out on other people by telling them how you figured out this magical way to do things that is THE WAY to do things. Cut them some slack. Nod and go about your day. You may agree with them, you may not. And that's fine. You don't have to do what they say. You're not a bad parent. They're not a bad person for telling you what they think. Everything is going to be okay.

3. This too shall pass. I remember feeling so impatient for Ellie to be born. It was all I could think about for long before she arrived. I wish I would have savored the last few months of being child-less. Of course, babies are amazing and wonderful and they change everything forever, but they change everything forever. It won't be so easy anymore to see a movie at midnight  or try out a new restaurant. (Not that those things are impossible, they just take more planning, coordination and money with a baby involved.) It seemed like every day I waited for her was the longest day ever, and I wish I'd enjoyed that leisure a little more. (Also, having been through three births I can tell you that electively induced labors are horrible compared to natural ones.You know, just in case you were wondering.)

Maybe it's just me, but after three kids I've learned that the clouds part and the sun shines a little brighter as soon as your baby turns one. I don't know if it's because you and your baby both have a year of experience under your belt or because they're finally getting past all the trials of being new in the world, but it really makes a huge difference. Everyone's mood picks up and 1-2 years is probably my favorite baby age. It is so fun to see them learn and grow and walk and talk, and you have the added benefit of having made it through some of the real trials like night sleeping, teething, learning how to eat, etc. But even after a year old there are plenty of challenging stages. And when your child is throwing a tantrum or can't be taken outside without running directly into the street, take a deep breath and remind yourself that it won't always be this hard.

And with that remember to seize the really good moments. Your baby's feet won't always be so tiny and kissable. She won't always cuddle up with a book and lay her curly head on your chest. He won't always fit just the right way on your hip. His laugh is going to change into a kid's laugh someday, and that baby belly giggle will fade away. So many times when I've been upset to be up in the middle of the night rocking a baby who just won't sleep I remind myself that in a blink they'll be too big to sleep on me and I'll miss it. Hold those moments close. Commit them to memory and take pictures of them and remember them during the times you wish would pass more quickly. (And if you're yet to become a parent, I can tell you that the moments you want to hold onto forever will far outweigh the ones you would be quick to kiss goodbye.)

4. When you know, you know. There are a lot of things that bring up a lot of questions. Are these contractions real labor yet? Is my baby sick or just fussy? And the answer is, when you know, you know. There will be no mistaking real labor. Don't worry. You will definitely know when it has come. And if your baby is doing something that is slightly abnormal, at least according to the information available on babycenter.com, just remember, if your baby is really sick or something is really wrong, you will definitely know. As Steve once wisely told me when I was afraid I had accidentally sprayed stain remover in Ellie's eyes because the cap malfunctioned (p.s. keep that stuff away from babies as a good precaution), "I don't think she's going to just be laying there calmly while being blinded by poisonous liquids." So yeah, if something is wrong you'll definitely know. And until then, see item number 1.

5. Sometimes babies just cry.  Just because your baby is crying, that doesn't make you a bad parent. They can't talk yet, so crying is kind of all they have to communicate a myriad of emotions. Ellie had colic and just cried and cried and cried for hours even though she was fed and warm and held and all that. If you need a break from the crying, it's okay to leave your baby in a safe place and take five minutes to collect your thoughts (and your courage to face everything again). Be willing to ask for help from your partner, friends, and family when you need it. It's okay. Even when your child is older and they're screaming in the grocery store and you feel like everyone is silently judging you, you are not a bad parent. Sometimes people just have bad days. I bet you'd throw a fit in the grocery store every once in a while, too, if you didn't have any self control (especially when considering the prices in there!).

6. Cut yourself some slack. Be reasonable with your expectations. That first year is hard. It takes all of your time to take care of that baby. It's okay if you don't get any books read or projects done or don't do much besides eating and cuddling with your baby. You may see other moms who seem like they can do it all and don't need to sleep or something. Maybe you read this blog and think that I do lots of things while also having kids. All that gets put on hold for a while when the babies are tiny. Do what you feel you're up to, and let go of expectations. Do as much as you can and want to, but don't waste this time measuring yourself against supposed "super moms." They're cutting corners somewhere.

7. When you are ready, being productive can make you feel like a human again. I remember meeting someone in the craft store or somewhere who said it's nice to have something you can accomplish every day when you're raising kids because the whole child-rearing thing is such a long-term game. I have found that it does feel really good when I get out into the real world or snag a few minutes during naptime to do something that I want to do. So when you're ready, it's okay to do something for yourself. Take your baby to visit your friends. Make something cool from Pinterest while the baby sleeps. Let daddy watch the baby so you can get a latte or go to girl's night or take a yoga class.

8. Reflect. At the end of the day, it's good to step away and reflect on how things are going. If you didn't handle a situation as well as you wish you had, make a plan for handling it better in the future. Go on vacation with your hubby, or at least out to dinner, and talk through issues and make a team decision on the best way to move forward.
And also reflect on your own life. My mentor, Tammy, once told me that you can do things differently than your parents did them, but it takes a conscious decision every day because you're going against your natural instincts, the ones that have been bred in you from watching them happen over and over again. You have to choose to do and be better. And I've found that to be very true. Things only change if I make a forthright effort to change them.

9. You are more than just a mother. You're a person in your own right. And being a mother, although completely and wonderfully life-changing, doesn't have to be your whole identity. You can have your own friends. You can talk about things besides your baby. You can go on dates with your hubby and pretend you don't have a baby at all. You can read books that have nothing to do with parenting. You're allowed to be a woman, a friend, a person and everything else you are besides mother. "Mother" might be the name you get called the most now-a-days, but it's not the only name you have. It's okay to want to wear clothes that don't have spit up on them. It's okay to want to go for a walk all by yourself. It's okay to want to go and be and do away from your children sometimes.

10. You don't have to be "the perfect mom." This is actually something I think I'm learning more now than ever. Because I don't always feel like, "I've got this!" it's easy to want to at least appear to have it all together. To have little girls who always have hair bows. And boys and floors that are never dirty. But then it occurred to me that I have never, ever disowned a friend because her floors weren't clean enough. I've never ever walked away from a playdate upset that there were toys on the floor before we arrived. In fact, when I do go to someone's house and they don't have it all together, I breathe a sigh of relief because, "I'm not the only one who can't keep up with the laundry!" (Besides, who could even determine what the "perfect mom" even looks like? Opinions are drastically varied.)

I was talking with my friend, Kirsten, the other day and she said, "Why can't I be the one who has toys everywhere and makes the other moms who come to visit feel better about themselves. Why would I want to be the one with everything so seemingly perfect that they leave feeling distressed and unhappy?" I am really working on taking that to heart. On the one hand, if I didn't clean my house for when guests come over it would never be clean. But on the other hand, who cares? Seriously. And I really don't want to be the one setting impossible standards that make other moms feel bad. That would just be sad. (If you only know me via this blog and not in person, please see more on this subject here.)

Basically, if you love your child and are conscientiously making decisions for your family, and if you have their best interest in mind, you are a great parent. Surround yourself with parents who are doing the same thing as you, get and give encouragement. Share the joys and the frustrations and you'll find that you are not alone. Being a parent is the most wondrous, fulfilling and difficult thing you will ever do. Relax, honey. You're doing just marvelously.

I'll leave you with the words of Jill Churchill:
Seriously. She is a very wise woman. We could all benefit from letting that sink in.

P.S. If you haven't seen this Coke commercial from Argentina, I think it is possibly the best 60-second description of parenthood I've ever seen. I love it so much.

P.P.S. If I could do it all over again, I wish someone would have told me not to buy baby stuff. Well, there are some things you need. Like a place for the baby to sleep and clothes and a carseat. But beyond that, there's so much that the Target baby registry wants to convince you you'll definitely need. And most of that stuff is taking up space in our basement. You use most baby things for such little time that it's a great idea to try borrowing from friends or family instead of investing your money in something that will be in use for a few short months. And wait to see what you actually do want. I can't tell you how many things we bought or were given that we didn't even use. I could have bought so many cute dresses for myself had I saved that money until I knew what I really needed for the babies.

P.P.P.S. Washi tape images in Jill Churchill quote from here.

P.P.P.P.S. This is getting ridiculous.

Friday, September 19, 2014

The One With the Perfect Fruit Salad

My mother introduced me to this fruit salad last summer and I've made it countless times since. It is so delicious and wonderful, but is also completely natural, raw, paleo, gluten-free, etc. So basically, it's the perfect thing to serve at a party because unless someone is on a diet where they don't eat fruit and mint, they can eat this.
Perfect Fruit Salad
Serves 15-20 as a side

4 peaches, peeled
4 nectarines
4 red or black plums
2 pounds red grapes, cut in half
2 large navel oranges
1/3 ounce mint leaves, chopped or torn very small

You can use any fruits that you wish. I like to make this using whatever fruits are currently in season. Like raspberries or blackberries at the beginning of summer. Peaches now that it is late summer. The only crucial part is the orange and the mint, and beyond that you could choose your fruits based on color or taste preference. I don't think melons would work well, though. They're too watery on their own and would counteract the orange. 

Peel the peaches and wash the nectarines, plums and grapes. Pit and dice everything into bite size pieces. Add to a large serving bowl. Squeeze the juice from the two oranges over the fruit. Add the mint and toss together. Set out at room temperature to meld together for at least thirty minutes before servingRefrigerate if you aren't going to serve until the next day. This tastes better and better the longer it has for the flavors to come together.

Perfect for any time of day and any occasion!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The One With the "How To Train Your Dragon" Cake

Do you ever have days when you just feel like you'r super failing at being a mom. Maybe the kids are all upset or you're upset and you just can't set things right. Days when everyone is falling apart. On days like those I like to remind myself that there are a few things I do know how to do. One of them is baking cakes. And so I present to you Ellie's fifth birthday cake.

The title of this cake is: Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III and his dragon, Toothless, flying through the isles of Berk at sunset. Featuring cotton candy clouds and rock formations made of Hershey's chocolate and Skor bars.

Ellie decided a month or so ago that she wanted a "How To Train Your Dragons" birthday party theme. Well, I'm not one for buying all those expensive and ultimately useless decorations for parties, but I do like to make cakes according to the chosen theme. When she said she wanted a cake with Hiccup and Toothless I immediately thought of the scene where they are flying through the isle rock formations at sunset. I think Astrid is with them and she reaches up and touches a pink cloud. It's such a beautiful scene and I thought that if I was going to have to do something with dragons, it might as well still be pretty. So eventually the idea evolved to making a cake that looked like the sunset. I think it turned out pretty well. 

I followed this recipe by Bakerella for the cake. I was initially disheartened when Ellie said she wanted a white cake with chocolate chips in it, because I am a chocolate cake girl all the way. And also because I usually find white cakes to be really dry and just, umm, gross. I was pleasantly surprised at how well this one turned out. I used the sugar water spray method that she recommends, and it worked splendidly.  If you must eat a white cake, I suggest this one. (Or maybe this one, although it is very rich and therefore I didn't want three layers of it for a kid's birthday party.) For the frosting, I came up with my own whipped buttercream frosting recipe, similar to the one I used for Olivia's Perfect Birthday Party Cake, but without cocoa.

Whipped Buttercream Frosting
Makes enough for one 9-inch, 3-layer cake

1 cup (2 sticks) butter, at room temperature
2 pounds powdered sugar
1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
1/4-1/3 cups whipping cream

With an electric mixer on low, cream the butter. Slowly incorporate the powdered sugar, in four or five increments, beating on low the entire time. Add the vanilla and 1/4 cup whipping cream and beat to incorporate. Once mixture is smooth, turn your beater's speed up slowly until you are beating on high. Beat until frosting fluffs up and resembles whipped cream, 3-5 minutes. You can add more whipping cream if you want it to be lighter or if you need more frosting (the whipped cream adds volume). For this particular project, you want your frosting to have enough substance to hold onto the chocolate candy pieces. For other projects, you may prefer a lighter, fluffier frosting.
After baking and cooling the cake layers, I cut off the rounded tops and assembled them with the whipped buttercream frosting. I separated out about a quarter of the remaining frosting and set it aside in a small bowl. With the other three-quarters, I used food coloring to dye it pink. I frosted the top and down the side one layer with the pink frosting, making whispy sideways strokes with a decorating knife. I added blue dye to the pink frosting to make the purple for the middle layer of cake. I wanted to create an ombre effect like sunsets usually are - they start out light and pink and darken until they are blue at the ocean. After the middle layer was done, I used the remaining uncolored quarter of frosting and dyed it blue for the waves. When mixing the blue dye in, it's okay to leave some white streaks in the frosting to resemble frothy waves. I whipped this frosting upwards to look like ocean waves.
I put the cake in the refrigerator overnight, but if you don't have time for that, let the frosting dry out a little bit, about an hour or two, before breaking up pieces of Hershey's chocolate bars and Skor or Heath bars and pressing them into the frosting in the pattern of cliff and rock formations. I started at the bottom of the cake and worked upwards so that the top pieces would have something to support them. I saved the biggest pieces for the tops of the rocks so they could stick up above the cake top a bit. Just before the party started, I added cotton candy clouds by sticking various size pieces into the pink frosting. It looked all beautiful and wispy for a little bit before the cotton candy absorbed some moisture from the frosting and crystalized. That made it darken and flatten out, but it was still really pretty and sunsety. (You can see it in some of the pictures.)
Finally I topped the cake with a toy Toothless and Hiccup, which Ellie can play with now that this cake has been eaten.
I felt very proud of how this turned out. Mostly because it was actually pretty simple to do, once I wrapped my head around the idea. I am all about cakes that look super impressive, but are actually relatively easy to accomplish. Those kinds of cakes make me happy. And I think it made this little five-year-old pretty happy, too. 

Monday, September 15, 2014

The One With the Things I Love About Ellie (5 Years Old)

Can you believe this little beauty is 5 years old today?

Can you believe I've been a parent for 5 years? Seriously. I think that makes me a real adult. They'll let pretty much anyone take a baby home from the hospital, but if you've kept someone alive for 5 whole years, that's a Big Deal.

Anyway, this little five year old is really lovely and wonderful and I'm happy I get to be her mom. Here are some of my favorite things about her lately.
1. She's always pretending. I can't even count how many times someone has asked them what they're up to and she and Olivia always have some little story, usually based on their currently favorite movie. Like, "I'm Hiccup and this is my Astrid." or "We're Anna and Elsa." And then I'll be making lunch and one of them will run through the house shouting, "Why do you shut me out? What are you so afraid of?" And then they sing all the Frozen songs in tandem. Or sometimes I'll be getting ready and one of them will run in and say, "Come quick! My sister is hurt!" and I freak out for a moment and say, "What happened?" and then they'll reply, "I accidentally hit her head with a blast of my icy magic! You have to take her to the trolls!" And then, relieved that it's not a real problem, I carry whichever one is pretending to be Anna over the "the trolls," (usually Henry).
And they're always assigning everyone else roles to play in their little games. They like to pretend I am other kids' moms. And they pretend to be those kids. I guess it always seems like more fun at someone else's house. Henry usually gets the non-speaking roles, like the baby or the dragon or Sven the reindeer. I think we may have some future actresses or casting directors on our hands.

2. She loves reading. All the time. We've been reading How To Train Your Dragon and Little Women at bedtime, interspersed between picture books so Olivia doesn't get too lost with the all the chapter books. It's so fun that she is really growing so much into a little girl that is eager to learn about the world. She also loves books about the human body and always want to know how things work.

3. She is always coming up to me with great ideas. Like, "Hey mom! I have a great idea! Let's have a MOVIE NIGHT!!" all excited like it's the best idea ever. Once a week we have a tradition of having a pizza movie night as a family and it's a pretty fun tradition, especially getting to share all our old favorite movies with the kids.

4. Sometimes she can be very helpful. And then she pairs it with her attempts at using new language she's heard from other people. I'll ask her to put something away and she says, "Of course, my pleasure, mom." Or "Yes, I'm welcome to." And once she told me that when Olivia and I left her in the pew at church to go to the bathroom that we were gone so long that she start to get "really worried and troubled" about us. Ha!

5. She's just funny. The other day she was at church with Grandma, writing away in her little notebook. She was scribbling on the lines like she was writing words and then suddenly just burst out laughing. When Grandma asked her why she was laughing she said, "I just realized I was writing upside down!"

6. She loves to sing and listen to music. She is very musical like her dad, which is very fun. Steve is always introducing them to new bands and currently she is pretty sad that she can't go to the Magic Man concert in November. She is always singing the lyrics to songs I didn't know she knew. And they're always so adult seeming. I can't help but laugh when I hear her belting out, "I am a rambling man. I ain't ever gonna change. I've gotta gypsy soul to blame and I was born for leaving." And when she and Olivia sing to Magic Man their little lips make perfect Os as they sing all the "whoa oh ohs".

7. She super loves her sister. When I asked her what her favorite part of being four was she said, "Playing with my sister." Which pretty much sums up the whole of her year. They just played together. And it was very wonderful. I hope they look back and think they got the most out of their childhood because they just got to play together all the time.

8. She has "Peter Pan syndrome." She doesn't want to grow up. I can never tell her to eat her veggies so she'll get big and strong because she'll freak out and say she doesn't want to grow up! So perhaps I've told her that the only things that make her grow up are candy and cake. For some reason she still eats them, though. Anyway. I kind of love that she doesn't want to grow up. I mean, it must mean that she thinks childhood is pretty great if she's not in a huge rush to get big. And I'll take that as a compliment.

9. I love how she still slips her hand into mine when we are walking, and still likes to snuggle close when we are talking. When I lay in her bed with her she'll reach up and stroke my cheek and sometimes play with my hair like I play with hers.  Having two younger siblings competing for attention means she doesn't get as much as she would like. But when she has mine she really glows and comes alive. And sometimes she'll say some pretty crazy things just to get us to listen to her above all the chatter around this house. It's funny to see what she comes up with. And then she'll get on the most random spirals of weirdness trying to keep the spotlight.

Some of her funniest quotes from this year:

E: You're in my heart, mama.
M: And you're in my heart.
E: Hearts are like Os. Like Cheerios. I ate them at school with milk.
O: Where's my Cinderella?
E: You have to open your eyeballs in my backpack.
*Olivia finds Cinderella eventually.*
E: See. I told you you just had to open your eyeballs.
E: Can we snuggle and talk? I want to talk about Jesus. God gave us everything. He gave us our house and our garden. And God gave you [mom] children. And God gave Auntie Mal to her mom.
M: What did God give you?
E: God gave me my sparkly dress and my light-up glass slippers. I love Him that He gave me those things. He is so sweet.
M: Why don't you go in your room and go to the ball?
E: No! First I need to walk and fall in love. Then I can go to the ball and dance.
M: You can have a cookie after your sandwich/
E: I want two cookies.
M: Just one.
E: But I want to be like daddy!
M: I think it's going to rain today.
E: No it's not. It only rains at night when the laughter comes.
M: You make my life good.
E: I make everybody's life good. Except some people don't have lifes. Like bad guys don't have lifes.
E: Daddy, did you take a shower?
D: No, but I brushed my teeth.
E: Well, because you look kind of dirty and gross.
E: Are there any dandelions in the backyard? I need to make a wish.
E: (to mom) Your eyes are brown like goats. But not little goats. Dead goats.
M: Henry! Don't knock over my laundry.
H: *speaks gibberish like he is explaining something*
E: He says a bug came in the house and knocked over the laundry.
E: My leg hurts. It needs more reading to feel better.
D: It probably needs to rest and get some sleep in your bed.
E: No, it's not that kind of owie. It's the kind that needs more reading to feel better.
My Dearest Ellie,

Today you are five and I can't believe it. Although you did tell me you wanted to stay four. I guess four must have been pretty good for you.

I love you so much. I remember the day you came into the world so clearly. Everything was so new and intense for me as a mother. I hardly knew what I was doing, but you've always been such a sweet girl to hang in there with me. I think I am learning just as much from you as you are learning from me, and I am always grateful for your patience, your calm in this storm.

I love the way you care for and love your brother and sister. Thinking about it now makes me want to cry happy tears. All I ever wanted was children who love each other. I know they get on your nerves sometimes, but you are so quick to forgive them. You are so kind and considerate of their needs and you help me to know when they want something. And the way you and Liv stay up all night talking. I know sometimes I get mad because you should really get some sleep, but secretly I love it that you just can't get enough of each other, even after a full day of playing together. I know how wonderful it is to stay up all night talking to your best friend. And I'm glad you know, too.

You never cease to amaze me with all the things you know. Your big words and ideas are always a little surprising. I think sometimes I assume you're still my little baby, but then you show me how you are growing into such a wonderful person. And I enjoy getting to know you as you change and bloom.

There are days that are really hard, because, frankly, I still don't know what I'm doing. I hope you always know that, no matter what, I cherish you and want the best for you, even if I don't know what that is or how to give it to you. I think that's the hardest thing for every parent - and every child, too. I'm so glad you're my teammate in this whole thing. You're a very gracious first kid to go through all the trial and error and help us perfect our routine for your sister and brother.

I love you more than words can tell. I am so thankful for all the ways you have made my life brighter and better these past five years. And I am looking forward to so many more.

You're in my heart forever.

Love, Mama

P.S. Here's a photo of them from the other day when they were pretending to be Anna and Elsa. This is coronation day and you can see they are fully outfitted for the occasion, "glumps" and all. Olivia is taking her new role as Queen of Arendelle very seriously. See how regal they look? They crack me up. 

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The One With All the House Love

This post, it's mostly for my future curiosities. 

It's not about trying to have a "Pinteresting" house or anything like that. I just happen to really like the little home we have set up. It's not too fancy, but it's just perfect for us. And I have really enjoyed making it feel like home.

There are a bunch of little things that aren't perfect and that I could see and complain about, DIY projects that need to be completed, professional projects that should be hired out, etc. But I don't focus on those. I want to focus on all the little touches of our personalities we've put into this space. And someday, maybe my kids might want to be able to look back and see pictures of the place they grew up. And maybe someday I'll want to look back at these pictures and giggle about things I chose and say things like, "That was soooo 2010s to do that!" But even if it is, who cares? I'm grateful to get to live here, in a city I love, in a neighborhood we enjoy. We have everything we need and I am very content.

I used to think this would be our "starter home," that someday we'll move on to something bigger and better (isn't that the American dream?). But recently I've just let go of that. Maybe we will move. Maybe we won't. I don't know. The point is, it's not important. It's not so important that I should waste my time pinning things to my "Someday Home" board or pining for a bigger kitchen or subway tile or French doors. Right now I have a beautiful home. It's warm, has running water, a roof with no leaks, toilets that take anything nasty far away and dispose of it for me. But not just that, I actually get to paint it whatever color I want. I get to occasionally pick out new things to decorate it with. I am very lucky, and that's not lost on me for one moment. And I don't want it to be. The minute I start dreaming about something better, I check myself. And I choose to be grateful for all these little, wonderful things that make this place feel like home.

Full disclosure: I definitely cleaned my house before taking these pictures. It doesn't look like this all the time. The pillows are rarely on the couch. There is definitely not a little breakable vase of fresh flowers down where the babies can hurt it. That's just for the fun of dreaming, and not for the sake of reality. If you'd like to see a tiny glimpse of what my house normally looks like (dirty floors and all), see here.

This is the living room. It's one of my favorite places to be. It's so cozy and I've spent so many late nights talking to friends and eating good food and drinking good wine while my children sleep soundly a few yards away. I've filled it with little treasures from our adventures together, seashells from the lakehouse and posters from New York and a tiny trolley from San Francisco. I picked the globes up one by one while antique shopping with my mom or my girlfriends. That skyline below the globes? My brother did that by hand for us one Christmas and I love it. And then there are the gifts from wonderful friends and see that box on the shelf below the cake plates? That's where I keep all the love letters Steve wrote me when we were dating but were separated for the summer. All my favorite books lines the shelves and the couches, while not my favorite aesthetically, are super comfortable. And I love that many people have contentedly crashed on them.
Steve's parents gave us the rug we have in there and it has been the site of so many tickle fights and horsey rides and when I look at it I almost feel like I can hear baby Henry's giggle, which is, by far, one of my most favorite sounds in the whole world. Those board games have been put to good use in that living room and we've made some hilarious memories with them. And don't worry about those shelves. They are zip-tied to the walls, earthquake-proof style so no kiddos can pull them over on top of themselves. Which is nice for my peace of mind.
This beautiful console that the TV sits on? It was left by the previous owners. It's so beautiful and I wouldn't be able to afford an antique like that, but I got it for free, yo! (Except for the whole house payment thing... so I guess you could see that as either free or outrageously expensive. I'm going to go ahead and choose the former.)
Those "HAPPY" signs greet you as you walk in the door. They're very fun because they make it seem like it's a party all the time. Which it pretty much is.

Our dining room furniture was also left by the previous owners, and we are so grateful for it. Someday I'd like to paint the table white. I try to keep this place as clutter free as possible because this is kind of where we live. There is always something going on in here, like eating or art projects or the kids bringing all their toys out of their room and stacking them out here in their forts. It's kinda mayhem-y.

Mallory gave me that mirror which says, "Let us celebrate the occasion with wine and sweet words. -Plautus" It was a limited edition line by one of my favorite artists Dana Tamanachi at Target. Isn't it so pretty?
Here's the hallway. It's pretty great because of the Instagram wall. It was a project completed mostly with tape (and pictures, obviously). I like Target the best for printing, so whenever they're having a sale on their prints, I have a couple new ones made up to keep this gallery updated. Of course, now it's so full of some of my very favorite photos that I might have to start on the wall on the other side of the hallway because I don't know if I can bear to replace any of these ones. I guess that's a problem you deal with when you have over 2,250 Instagrams. Also, that little poster at the end on Henry's door is a school project Ellie brought home after Earth Day. Isn't it so cute? It says, "Christ has no hands on Earth but ours." It's one of those quotes I like to remind myself of as much as possible.
Here's our bedroom. It's nice and snuggly. It took my almost six years for me to admit that having a headboard would be nice. Before that I liked feeling like a vagabond who just sleeps on a mattress. But this tufted headboard sure is comfy, especially for reading in bed. I also have to admit that sometimes I pick books solely on how pretty they will look on my nightstand. And I'm particularly fond of that sketch of the ballerina next to the pretty books. My friend Cara sketched it and gave it to me as a Christmas gift. I'm lucky to have so many artistic friends.
The bathroom is tiny, which forces us to be creative with our storage, and also to keep our bathroom amenities paired down. I like that it has a little counter space. That's always nice. And I never bother to hang the picture in there because I swap it out pretty frequently. I'm a big fan of just setting framed things on tables and counters and such. Much less commitment than actually affixing them to walls. And commitment, at least when it comes to house projects, kind of scares me (obviously more than getting married and having kids and all that jazz).
And then there's Henry's room. Besides the living room, it is probably my favorite room in the house. Possibly because of the travel theme. Maybe because of the color we painted it. Maybe because it's so much more fun to have a boy than I ever thought it could be (and not just because of the decorating).
I love the map wall that slowly gets maps added to it. They're all just "wrapping paper" maps that I get for $5-$6, mostly at Paper Source. And I'm nothing if not easily excitable by something that is awesome and simultaneously only $5. I keep his toys in little antique suitcases from garage sales and Mallory brought him that hat that's hanging on his dresser from Peru. He loves that little rocking horse, which is similar to one I had while growing up. And that green minky dot blanket in his bed has kept all my babies warm at some point. That couch is a hide-a-bed so we can turn Henry's room into the guest bedroom for when people visit us. When he went through his whole "never sleeping ever" stage, I spent a lot of time in that room rocking and rocking and rocking and it certainly helped that it was so nice to look at.
And this kitchen. It's tiny, but it's actually really practical. I've had a slew of kitchens in my renting days and this one is really easy to navigate. There's not a ton of counter space, but that's probably good because it forces me to keep things a little more clean. Maybe. I'm still not great at that. And I really love the gallery wall above the stove. I spent a long time not knowing what to put there. And then I saw that my friend Melissa used washi tape to hang up little prints in her home and I really liked that idea. So much easier than finding or making frames for everything, and then there's all that nail hammering you have to do to hang frames. I like tape much better. And now I can change things whenever I want. The little beach scene is a painted tray I got at a flea market in Illinois and the fruit prints are postcards from New Orleans. Everything else is from my stash of notecards or paper products I find to be worth saving and hiding away until a perfect gallery wall opportunity presents itself.
We have a double oven in there and it is so handy. We had to buy a stove/oven when we moved in and the double oven was basically the same price as a single! It is not only great for cooking a turkey and everything else all at the same time for Friendsgiving, but the upper oven is small so it heats up really quickly if I'm making nachos or cookies for the family. And now I can bake all my cake layers at one time! Woohoo! And then there's that pistachio Kitchen Aid Steve gave me at the end of busy season a few years ago. I know it's silly. But I like the color so much. And I also like all the delicious things I make with it. It's very useful and also very pretty. Win-win.
And finally we have the girls' room , which was a big project. It used to be our attached garage, although because our house was built around 1950, it really wasn't big enough to hold a modern size car. So we converted it to be our daughters' bedroom. We insulated and sheet-rocked the walls, took out the door to the backyard and put in a window. We put in two little chandeliers and armoires from IKEA to make it functional as a bedroom. And I really like how it turned out. It's a big space for them to play and they can run around like crazy in there. It's nice to have some room to move around, especially in the winter when we can be trapped inside for long months.
Maya Angelou said (and Mallory repeated to me), "If you get, give. If you learn, teach." Sometimes I feel like I don't have a lot to give in this stage of my life. Except then I remember that I'm raising my children to be givers and teachers, those who want to make the world a better place in whatever way they can, and don't just mindlessly consume it. That can come from the way we live in our house, when we choose simplicity and to pair down and give whatever we have left over to those who need it. I can teach them to be content with fewer toys and gadgets by being content myself. I can be conscientious about my consumption and cut down on our waste in as many ways as possible at the time. I can't be perfect, and I haven't yet decided to give up everything and live in a mud hut. But I can commit to buying in bulk whenever possible and taking my reusable bags to the grocery store. I can make do with the things I already have instead of getting new ones. When I have extra, I can give it to those in need and I can reuse and repurpose as much as possible. I can make good food for people and talk about important things and how we can make the world better with our little actions, however small they may seem. I can make my children feel safe and loved here, so they always know that this is place is a refuge from whatever storms may come. I can be a content wife who welcomes my husband home with a happy heart that is thankful for everything he does for us, instead of stressing him out with my financial demands for "more" or "better." I can enjoy that we're not perfect, we don't keep everything clean all the time, but that's okay. We're happy to be together. We're grateful.

So I'll leave you with a view of our front door. My bike is parked right there and I get to ride it every morning while Steve makes breakfast for the kids and gets them ready for school. And then we tag out and I make him coffee and lunch while he takes the kids to school and I stay with the ones who don't go yet. And then he comes home, drops off the van and walks 10 minutes to his job down the street. It's a nice change to have him around so much after years of traveling and working long hours. And so the little sign I have out there remains true. I made it for Thanksgiving last year but left out the whole year because it's always appropriate:
"I am grateful for what I am and have. My thanksgiving is perpetual."
 -Henry David Thoreau

Friday, September 5, 2014

The One With Olivia

You guys. How am I supposed to get anything done with this kind of cuteness just around me all the time. For realz.

This was just after nap time today and I thought she looked so beautiful I had to whip out a camera.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

The One With the Dutch Baby Pancakes with Lemon Curd and Triple Berry Syrup

Dutch Baby Pancakes are probably my very favorite breakfast basic ever. They're super easy to make, but they puff up in the oven, so they're fun and seem kind of fancy. Kids love them. Adults love them. Everyone is happy.

But mostly I love them because they are so simple that they make a great canvas for all your delicious toppings. I feel like every couple of months I get hooked on a different favorite topping selection. Currently Whipped Cream Lemon Curd and Triple Berry Syrup are my go-tos.

I found the lemon curd recipe originally on Kitchen Confidante. I don't use the zest of two lemons like she does because you have to strain it out at the end and that's hard to do if you're cool like me and don't have a strainer. It seems to work just fine without it. The lemon curd recipe is fun because you can make it once and then keep it in the fridge for up to a couple of weeks, adding it to anything you can think of. It does take a little set up time, so be sure you make the lemon curd the night before, or at least first when starting to make breakfast. You could probably put it in the freezer to speed up the cooling process.

Dutch Baby Pancake
This is the most basic recipe, which serves 2 or 3 people. I almost always make 1.5 times this amount for our family, or I double or triple the whole thing depending on how many people I am feeding and what else I am serving. You can make these in glass pie plates or quiche dishes or Pyrex casserole dishes, or dutch ovens, which I'm pretty sure is where they got their name.
  • 1/4 - 1/3 cup butter
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup milk*
  • 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1 Tablespoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Place butter in a 9 inch cake plate and place in oven to melt.
Meanwhile, whirl the eggs on high for at least a minute, until light yellow and bubbly. Add milk, flour and vanilla and whirl until fully incorporated.
When the butter has melted, remove pan from oven and pour batter over the melted butter. Return to oven and bake for 18-20 minutes, until sides are puffy and dark golden brown, and a fork inserted into the middle of the pancake comes out clean. Serve as soon as possible.

*If you use dairy milk, this pancake puffs up so beautifully and the edges are really light and crispy and wonderful. If you use a non-dairy alternative like almond milk, the pancake still tastes delicious, but it won't puff up. It will be a little more dense and rich.

Whipped Cream Lemon Curd
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1 whole egg
  • 3/4 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup lemon juice
  • 4 Tablespoons butter, cut into small cubes
  • 2/3 cup whipped cream

In a small saucepan, whisk together egg and yolks until combined. Stir in sugar and lemon juice, whisking well until full incorporated. Place over medium heat and continue to whisk until custard thickens and coats the back of a spoon, about 8-10 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in butter pieces until melted and full incorporated. Allow to cool to room temperature and then place lemon curd in refrigerator for 1 hour to set up. Remove from fridge and stir in whipped cream before serving.

Triple Berry Sauce
  • 1 cup raspberries
  • 1 cup marionberries
  • 1 cup boysenberries
  • 1/4-1/2cup maple syrup
In a medium pan over medium heat, reduce the berries by letting them come to a boil and stirring occasionally. Over twenty minutes or so, the berries will break down and condense into a sauce. The longer you cook them, the more smooth and syrup they will become. (I prefer the syrup to be a bit chunky and thick, so mine is done in 20-25 minutes.) Add the maple syrup towards the end of your cooking. You can decide how much to put in based on how sweet you want the syrup (keep in mind the sweetness or tartness of your berries). Strain out the seeds if desired. Best served warm.

This syrup is another thing that can be made ahead of time and used for several weeks as long as it's kept refrigerated. 

Let everyone assemble their own dutch baby slices as desired. 

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The One With the First Day of Preschool

When Steve and I went ziplining a few weeks ago, our tour guide asked me what I do and I said I was a mom and a portrait photographer. He said something along the lines of, "Wow. You must have a ton of pictures of your kids." And I realized that even though I take plenty of iphone pictures of them, I rarely whip out the big camera for them. I think it's because I already feel like I have enough going on keeping track of three kids and so I leave the camera at home where it is nice and safe and I don't have to worry about it, too. Maybe that's lame. Maybe if I just pulled out my old, but still shmancy camera and used that I could have the best of both worlds (nice pictures + less worrying). 

Anyway. I say all this to say that, even though I love taking pictures and I love my kids, I don't put the two together as often as you would think. And the end result is that my kids kind of lose it in front of cameras. I don't know why. Does it seem like too much pressure to perform? I don't know. They just kind of freak out and most of the pictures I end up with have ridiculous faces or are of them almost strangling each other, albeit "affectionately." Most of the time, it's fine. This is a reality I have come to accept. But in this particular case, it means fewer back-to-school photos for you to enjoy. And for them to find later and giggle about. (And also, I'm very grateful the iPhone has such a decent camera. I mean... seriously. That thing is sharp. Does it compare to a Canon 5D Mark II? No, of course not. Nothing does. But for something that fits in your back pocket and also provides you with maps, internet, texting and calling capabilities, it's nothing to sneer at.)

Behold, the four First Day of Preschool pictures:

Steve took Olivia and Ellie to preschool this morning, and he said Olivia is just a natural. Just waltzed right into her classroom like she was right at home. Of course, it is Ellie's old classroom and she did spend 3 days a week last year pining to be there. And talking to the teacher and wishing she could play with the toys. So I guess it's not surprising that she was happy as a little clam the day preschool was finally available to her, too. 

When Steve took her to her introductory preschool popsicle night last week she helped another little preschool girl pick up some toys from the floor while talking about Frozen (what else?). When they were done Olivia said to her, "We're best friends now!" Bonding over being helpful. Love it.

And Ellie is in pre-kindergarten this year. She goes five days a week in the mornings. And that kind of seems like a lot to me since we haven't had a five-day-a-week commitment in about 4 years. So, we'll see how that goes. It helps that she loves it and really blossoms getting to be around other kids her age. And she loves the teachers and her teachers are awesome. 

Ellie's pre-kindergarten program just a few doors down the hall from Olivia's preschool. So today I picked her up first and then we went to get Olivia and she went and took her hand and they walked around together, backpacks on, exploring their little world together and introducing themselves to other kids who were still hanging around. It made my heart happy. 

(Meanwhile Henry had found the pile of trains and matchbox cars and was quickly undoing the cleanup the little preschoolers had done such a good job on just twenty minutes before.)

Crazy camera antics and all, these kids are pretty cute.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The One With the Raspberry and Chocolate Chip Scones

I don't know why scones seem kind of daunting sometimes. I especially don't know why after I make them and remember that they're actually super easy and quick to make. (Also, have you ever looked at the word "scone" for a long time? It starts to look really weird.)

Raspberry and Chocolate Chip Scones
Makes 12 scones
  • 2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup butter, cold
  • 1/2 cup vanilla Greek yogurt
  • 1 egg
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup raspberries*
  • 1/4 cup chocolate chips
*Raspberries that are frozen will be the easiest to work with. They will keep their shape during the mixing process and will not bleed into the dough. You can use room temperature raspberries, but it will be messier.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position. 

Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large bowl. Sift thoroughly. 
Use a cheese grater to grate the cold butter into the flour mixture, tossing every so often with a fork. Use a fork or a pastry cutter to combine the butter and flour mixture until it is crumbly. 
In a separate bowl, combine the Greek yogurt, egg and vanilla extract and mix together. Stir this mixture into the butter and flour mixture, until all the liquid is incorporated. Do not overmix. Add the raspberries and chocolate chips and stir to combine. Dough will be thick and to incorporate the raspberries and chocolate chips, you may need to use your hands.

Turn dough out onto a flour surface and knead lightly into a ball shape. Coat a rolling pin with flour and use it to make a circle, about 1/2 inch thick. Cut circle into 12 triangles. Place on baking sheet and bake for 15-17 minutes, until golden brown.

Scones are excellent to make ahead or to send to school as a snack. 
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