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.

Friday, November 29, 2013

The One on Gratitude

Well, it's that time of year. Everyone makes lists of all the things they're thankful for. My list could be long. I have so many things for which I am deeply grateful. But instead of making a list I thought perhaps I'd just ramble a bit.

G.K. Chesterton once wrote, "Gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder." Happiness doubled by wonder. I love that sentiment. Not just being happy. Not just choosing to be happy. But wondering at how beautiful life is. And being thankful for it.

This has been a hard year in many ways. It hasn't been all the fun and games that other years have been. It has been tedious. It has been gut-wrenchingly painful. It has been frustrating beyond what I thought I was able to bear.

I have mourned the untimely death of my young sister and worried endlessly about how my family would fare in the aftermath. Many of my friends have moved away (although some came back, yay!) and left little emptinesses for a while. I have shed hot tears of grief and struggled against the confines of my life. My heart has wrestled with unanswerable questions over and over again.

And yet, as I sit here, I cannot help but wonder in gratefulness. Even for all these sad things. Because these sad things have made the good things even better. My sister's death has brought me even closer to my family. It has welded us together and forged a bond only fire can. It has made me thankful in a new way for who she was, for every gift of life and love she gave me. And the memories I hold close continue to inspire me. Her passing has taught me the value of every day I have with my children. Even the hard days; I am learning to let those roll off my shoulders a little quicker. The void she left has taught me to soak up their sweetness while I can. To laugh and relish in their innocence. To listen to their stories about princess and cars and dolphins and ice skating. It has made each time I hold them seem more wondrous. Because I know it could be gone in an instant. But I will not succumb to fear. Instead, I will thank God for every kiss, every tiny hand clenched within mine, I will soak up every kind word they exchange, every funny anecdote. I cannot control how long I will have them. I cannot know what the future will bring. But I can take hold of the present. So that I can always look back and say, "I loved every minute."

This isn't to say it is always easy. Sometimes I have felt trapped. I have kicked against my responsibilities. Lamented the pressures of motherhood. And then I come back. And I see that motherhood is a gift. It's not just a gift to me, although it certainly is that. It is my gift to give, as well. At first we think we want to have kids because it will make our lives better - and it does. But ultimately, it's not about me. It's about giving my children the best gift I can, the gift of my life, my time, everything. Because I love them I will provide the safest, happiest, most peaceful home I can for them to grow up in. Knowing that I am giving this gift to the ones I love gives me a new meaning, and a new reason to be grateful. I am thankful I have this gift to give.

Missing friends who have moved away has shown me how much love I have received. It has made me grateful for the many teachers and companions I have shared this road of life with. I am thankful for what they have taught me, for the new ways they have helped me look at the world. They have presented questions that change my perspective. And sometimes answers that bring such relief, a little peace to my warring mind. I cannot even fathom how much I have been shaped by the wonderful friendships I have been privileged to have. From the Fabulous Filler Five and all the love and imagination that we have always shared to my mother who fought hard for us and the new family we are becoming. From the families who gave me a second home when I was in grade school, to the girlfriends that broadened my horizons in high school, to friends that turned into family in college, to the fellow mothers who give me such hope, such encouragement, such a lovely role model to follow. My husband whose love gives me the confidence to become who I was created to be, whose love is both a safety net and a springboard. Just when I think I couldn't ask for more, he gives my soul something I didn't even know I needed, heals pieces of me I didn't know were broken. My children who have brought me such joy, who have challenged and emboldened me. I will never stop being thankful for all of these. My heart is overwhelmed with the wonder of it all. To each of you, if you know who you are, and even if you don't, thank you.

I never want to say that I have gotten what I deserve. I don't deserve any of this. And that makes me even more grateful for every little thing. Every relationship. Every opportunity. Every good book. Every view of an incredible sunset over the Willamette River. Every golden leaf littering the ground. Every courtesy given in thoughtfulness. Every grand gesture of generosity. Every kind word. Every warm hug. Every sincere smile. Every everything.

So there you have it. Some mushy ramblings I have about how wonderful I think life is. And so I'll leave you now with the lyrics of a song from the Muppet Christmas Carol (which is the best Christmas movie of all time, in case you're wondering):

Stop and look around you / The glory that you see / Is born again each day / Don't let it slip away / How precious life can be // With a thankful heart that is wide awake / I do make this promise / Every breath I take / Will be used now to sing your praise / And beg you to share my days / With a loving guarantee / That even if we part / I will hold you close in a thankful heart.

Let your heart be wide awake with thankfulness. You'll see your blessings are unending.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The One Where Henry is 7 Months Old

Month seven was a big one for Henry. We worked through and resolved some sleep troubles (see below). He got his first real cold, and that was sad. He started eating solid food and loves beans and rice and scrambled eggs and well, anything you put in front of him. He decided he likes to pretend to be a dog and carry things around in his mouth while scooting after the cat as quickly as possible. He listened intently as Ellie taught him about princesses at her "Princess School." He took his first big trip: a flight to the Bay Area, three days with friends and then a 10 hour road trip home with me and Mallory. We packed him around San Francisco and the Redwood Forest and at his first pumpkin patch and in an apple orchard. It was very fun. 

Photo by Mallory Phelan
He has been such a good sport on all the adventures this past month. He is very sweet and playful and likes to snuggle with anyone who will have him. He's pretty great that way. Of course, he only snuggles for a little bit before he wants to be hanging upside down or crawling off to find something to put in his mouth. He's been dubbed "the dust mop" this month because he is always filthy from scooting around on his belly everywhere. I try to keep our house clean, but apparently I just can't keep it clean to his standards. Also, I won't be too sad when he starts to walk.

In the meantime, however, I'm content to soak up his baby-ness. He may be wiggly and even a bit whiny these days, but I know that before long he'll be so big and talkative and on-the-go. And while I look forward to that day, I'm relishing in these ones while they're here.

One of my very favorite things about a baby is starting the day by cuddling in bed with him. He wants to wake up earlier than I want to, and as we lay chest to chest I squeeze my eyes shut, hoping for a few more winks. But I can feel him looking at me, so I open my eyes and see that thousand-watt smile, that drunken ear-to-ear grin that says, "I just can't get enough of you." And then he laughs at me. A deep, gutteral laugh that only comes from complete contentment and ultimate satisfaction. Is there anything so wonderful as the blissful adoration of your baby? He doesn't know yet that sometimes I lose my temper or that I won't always be able to keep him safe. He doesn't know yet that sometimes we'll have disagreements and frustrations with each other. All he knows is that he loves me. That I am there with him in that moment. And that is enough.

Henry at the airport about to take his first flight. Apparently I thought we
should  be wearing coordinating striped outfits for this momentous occasion. 
Henry with Cara, Kaycie and Mallory in the Redwood Forest.

P.S. The sleep issues that we were having last month have been mostly resolved. Yay! We are still working on naps, which are a little difficult because we can't always be home for nap time, and that makes working into a good routine difficult. He is, however, getting to be very good at sleeping whenever I put him down in his bed, the only trick still to master is linking some short sleep cycles into longer ones. That will come around more as he gets older.

I found it helpful to know what other moms had tried when they needed to sleep train their baby, so for anyone curious, I thought I'd share my two cents on the topic just for fun. First of all, I really like the book Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child by Dr. Weissbluth. Some of his ideas may seem a little old school, but there are a lot of things he says that just make a lot of sense. Ellie was a horribly unhappy baby for her first few months and reading and applying the principles in that book worked miracles for our little sleep-deprived family. Since then, we've been able to establish the good foundations from his principles, such as consistent sleep routines and paying attention to your baby's sleep cycles to know when they need to sleep. Very helpful stuff! I would recommend starting there if you are having trouble. And if you are pregnant and haven't given birth yet, do yourself a huge favor and read it now. That way you can start off with good sleep habits and maybe not have any problems whatsoever! (If only...)

Henry was a wonderful little sleeper for the first few months of his life because of the aforementioned sleep foundation. And then around five months old, something changed. He started waking up all the time. And I did what I had done before - go into his room, keep everything dark, nurse him, put him back to bed. But when he started waking up every hour for multiple nights in a row, I knew this wasn't just a growth spurt. He had lost the ability to connect his sleep cycles and wanted to be nursed back to sleep every time his body came out of deep sleep. Our pediatrician recommended the No-Cry Sleep Solution and we thought we'd give it a whirl. In case you're wondering, the No-Cry Sleep Solution is basically this: Do everything your baby wants until he/she stops wanting it. Ha! I think this method could also be called "Try not to become insane due to lack of sleep while waiting years for your baby to magically outgrow sleep problems." This may work for some people. And if you have the good nature and patience to follow the guidelines therein, I bow to you. You have much more sacrificial love and resilience than I have.

When we tried this, picking Henry up and rocking him, nursing him, anything to soothe him, he cried. And cried and cried and cried. It was horrible. And then he would fall asleep in my arms and I would try to lay him down and he would wake back up and cry. And cry. And cry. You get the picture. Basically, so much crying. And this coincided with Steve beginning his 6+ months of traveling during the week. I can't be the only parent to three kids and take being screamed at for multiple hours a night. So on a weekend he was home we tried having Steve go in to his room and try to soothe him back to sleep. Enter: more crying. And then Steve left again and I had to fend for myself. So I decided it was time. Time to do the dreaded "Cry It Out." That thing that makes all mothers hide in shame to say they have resorted to doing so they could be sane, fully functioning humans once again. I didn't want to be the cry-it-out mother. I wanted to be the no-cry mother. But that wasn't working. Because apparently no-cry is actually still a lot of crying.

The important thing to remember with Cry-It-Out, I realized, is that it is incorrectly named. It should actually be called "Progressive Waiting." You don't just let your child scream endlessly into the night. Dr. Ferber, who invented this, has a very specific regimen for helping your baby learn to put himself back to sleep and link those sleep cycles on his own. This blog post by the Noob Mommy helped me understand the technique. She makes it sound a little dramatic, and it does seem daunting. But when I put him to bed that first night I told him, "I love you and I want you to get all the sleep you need. So if you wake up again before midnight, I am not going to feed you. I am going to help you fall back to sleep on your own." (Maybe it doesn't help your baby to actually hear this, but I think it helped me to know exactly what my plan of attack was, what my rationale for doing it was and what my expectations were.) After our bedtime routine (changing into pajamas, reading a story, nursing while singing a lullaby), I laid him down in his crib while he was still awake. He cried for a few minutes. I went back in after 3 and then again after 5 more minutes. After that he fell asleep on his own. He woke up and started crying about an hour later and I waited 3 minutes before going in and re-wrapping him in his blankets, stroking his cheek and then leaving. He cried. I waited 5 minutes and went in again, letting him know I was there and that I loved him, but not picking him up. And then he fell asleep. Yay! Henry took to this method of sleep-training like Ron Burgandy to a Dodge Durango's glovebox. (In case you don't watch TV or Hulu, I'll just say this: he got right on board.) He cried so much less with Progressive Waiting than with No-Cry. And within three nights (yes, three!) he was sleeping through the night again, waking up only once or twice to nurse and then going right back to sleep. And he doesn't try to wake up for the day at 5 am anymore. And that is a very, very good thing.

Now sometimes he still wakes up at night. Maybe we are on the road and he is sleeping in an unfamiliar place. Maybe there is a loud noise that wakes him. Whatever. He wakes up and whines a little bit in his bed. And I wait. Usually I set a timer on my phone for ten minutes. And almost always, he has already gone back to sleep and I've forgotten the whole thing by the time those ten minutes are up. Sometimes he is still whining or crying and I go in to soothe him and then he stops and is okay and goes to sleep. We are working on doing this during the day right now and he is getting better and better, although not totally there.

And guess what? He still loves me. Even after I didn't give in to what he thought he wanted (i.e. so much food all night long). Even after I let him cry a little. He still loves me. In fact, I daresay he loves me more. Because he is well-rested, secure, and he knows he is always safe and I will always, always come back to him. And I'm well-rested and much more patient and agreeable during the day. It's pretty great for everyone involved. Even Steve noticed an immediate difference the moment he returned home from his business trip. Week One: "No-Cry" = no dinner, house a huge mess, mom irritable, older children frazzled and desperate for attention. Week Two: "Progressive Waiting" = dinner ready, clean house, happy mom, happy older children, peaceful home (and also a much happier daddy).

So if you are having sleep troubles with your baby and have been afraid of trying any method of sleep-training, remember that the ability to get good sleep is one of the most precious gifts you can give your child. It will make their whole life (and yours) much, much better if they learn to sleep well early on. And if you are having sleep troubles with your baby and nothing seems to help, call me and I will bring you some dinner. Because that is no fun. Also, my friends Melissa and Meeka dealt with sleepless children and their stories may inspire you to survive. (Also, I know them and their children now, and all of them are very nice people... so there is still hope that you will make it through this sleepless time and return to normalcy once again.)

P.P.S. A special thanks to Jo, Cara, Mallory, Kaycie and Erich for helping me pack Henry around on all our adventures. I am immensely grateful that you make it possible for me to bring my kids and still have fun with you guys! Love you all!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The One With the Salted Almond and Chocolate Cookies

So, let's just put it out there. I make too many cookies. It's a problem. I admit it. I also eat a lot of fruits and vegetables to make up for it. And I try to travel a lot. Because apparently, when I am home too much, all I can think to do is bake.

Alright, now that that's out of the way, we can move on to the deliciousness.

I found this recipe for Flourless Peanut Butter Cookies and they were really good. I changed things a little so I could use all-natural peanut butter. Because fake peanut butter is weird.  And then I thought that using all-natural almond butter would be awesome. And it was.

Salted Almond and Chocolate Cookies
(No butter, no flour, gluten-free)

1 cup all-natural almond butter (mixed well*)
2/3 cup light brown sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 eggs
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 cup quick oats (gluten free if desired)
2/3 cup semisweet chocolate chips
Sea salt for garnishing

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

*Natural nut butters separate because they don't have artificial stabilizers. In order for this recipe to work, make sure that your almond butter is well mixed, being sure even to scrape the thickest part from the bottom of the container.

Cover a cookie sheet with wax paper and set aside.

Use an electric mixer to combine the almond butter and sugar in a medium-sized bowl. Add the eggs, vanilla, and baking soda. Stir in the quick oats and then the semisweet chocolate chips. Roll about a tablespoon of dough into a ball and then depress slightly so the cookies will flatten out to the perfect cookie shape. Bake for 10-11 minutes, until the edges just start to brown.

Upon removal from the oven, sprinkle the cookies immediately with sea salt and then let cool for 10 minutes. Transfer to wire rack to continue cooling.

These are so tasty and so super easy to make. I whipped these babies up in about twenty minutes last Saturday because Steve announced we were having company. I think they were a hit. Ellie kept trying to steal the cookies from our guests. But I can't really blame her. I wanted to do that, too.

Monday, September 30, 2013

The One With the Pumpkin Spice Chocolate Chip Cookies

I'm just going to come out and say it. I don't usually like pumpkin things. I know, I know. All you fall lovers are gasping in horror. I feel that my general disdain for the festive gourd can be traced back to an incident in which pumpkin got between me and some chocolate at a Thanksgiving at my grandfather's house. My six-year-old self chose some pumpkin pie from the dessert table in an attempt to be traditional, but when I didn't like it, my dad told me I couldn't have anything else (namely, a magnificent chocolate pie) because I had already taken the pumpkin one. Ever since then I had sworn it off, so as to never again be in a situation where I am deprived of chocolate on its behalf.

I had sworn it off, that is, until a few months ago when my friend Betsy brought me some pumpkin cookies. I'm not going to lie. I ate the whole container before Steve got home from work that day. They were amazing. And they opened my heart to a whole realm of pumpkin deliciousness. (Since then I have also discovered the wonder that is Pumpkin Waffles thanks to Melissa.)

Anyway, I guess that I have some sort of deficiency from years of pumpkin neglect, because I can't stop eating these bad boys. As a result, I've done lots of experimenting to perfect this recipe. Seriously, so, so good. And, because they have chocolate with them, there's no chance of the whole pumpkin v. chocolate debacle. And, since they're made without butter, you can obviously eat a lot of them.

Pumpkin Spice Chocolate Chip Cookies

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
  • 1 15 oz. can (or a little less than 2 cups) pumpkin 
  • 3/4 cup cane sugar
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 egg (or 2 teaspoons baking powder and 1 Tablespoon olive oil for dairy-free)
  • 1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 12 (2 cups) ounces milk chocolate chips (or semi-sweet for dairy free)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and pumpkin spice in small bowl. Set aside. In a medium bowl combine sugars and pumpkin. Add oil, egg, and vanilla. Stir in dry ingredients. Add chocolate chips. The mixture will be pretty gooey, as these cookies are very cake-like. Spoon by teaspoonful onto prepared baking sheet. (They should hold their form once on the cookie sheet. If they seem too runny, add more flour, 1/4 cup at a time until you reach a thick cake-batter consistency.)  Bake for 12-14 minutes, until a fork inserted into the middle of one comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack and store in the refrigerator for optimum deliciousness.

It's really easy to make these dairy-free if necessary. But the milk chocolate chips are awesome with the pumpkin, so use them if you can. These freeze really well in a ziplock bag. Just set them out at room temperature a few hours before serving.

Friday, September 27, 2013

The One With The Things I Love About Ellie (4 Years)

My dear, sweet Ellie. It's hard to believe she is four years old now. Words cannot describe how much I love the girl she is. We have our rough moments, maybe even our rough days. But more often than not, my heart swells with pride to be her mama. I have such admiration for the girl she is becoming.

Here are a few of my favorite things about her this past year:
1. She loves her sister. Like really, really loves her. Do they fight? Yes. Do they steal each other's toys and make each other mad? Oh, for sure. But they're still actual best friends. We moved the carseats around so that Ellie and Olivia sit together in the back row of the van. And on long road trips they spend hours talking to each other and coloring and telling jokes and singing songs. And trying to calm Henry down when he is upset (which is less helpful than one might think). They wake up in the morning and have the cutest conversations over breakfast. E: "I'm going to preschool today." O: "Oh, that's so fun, Ellie." // O: "Is it a scary monster?" E: "No, it's a tickle monster."

2. She is confident. She spent the first few years of her life being fairly timid and shy. She still likes to warm up to situations gradually, but when she does, she knows who she is and what she likes and she isn't afraid to tell anyone. Just ask any number of the unsuspecting solicitors who have nervously knocked on our door trying to sell magazines and got stuck with an earful of detailed information about princess. Or ponies. Or rainboots.  A while back she paused beside a mirror and said, "Hang on. I need to see how beautiful I am." And at bath time, "I can get in the bath by myself because I have big legs."

3. She is learning to piece things together and make sense of the world. It is fun hearing her try to figure out how to use big words that she hears. "Eventually I am going to eat dinner now."

4. She loves to adventure with us. We have all sorts of conversations that start with, "Let's go home and get my blankie and my backpack and then get in the car and go to an adventure. I can take a nap in the car." And this summer when I told them we were going to grandma's house, but I made the mistake of telling them too early and she spent an entire week standing by the door with her backpack, all packed full of all the toys she needed for her trip. And when I say, "We're going tomorrow." and she always replies, "Is tomorrow today?"

5. She loves purses like other people like to breathe. I can't think of a time in the last year we have left the house without a purse or container of some sort full of her little things. Often they are things that you wouldn't really think to take out of the house. Like a few wooden cookies. Or the doll clothes, but not the doll. She takes a backpack full of toys with her to preschool. She never opens the backpack and takes them out, she just wants to have them there. Her teacher has had to send her paperwork folder home separately because it doesn't fit in her backpack. Her teacher probably thinks we are really weird.

6. She likes to make dramatic statements about the world. She has become quite the little aphorist lately. I feel I should enlighten you with some of her pearls of wisdom. "Fishes don't go in compost or toilets. They go in water and they go in tanks." // "Octopuses don't hold children. Only mamas hold children." // "Daddy, you are so big. You are so high up in the sky. You can sit down if you want." // "When I was a baby I walked like a cat. But now I am big and I walk like a human."

7. She reminds me of my sister. Sometimes she actually looks a lot like Candace did when she was little. And sometimes she just brings her up in every day conversation. A few weeks ago she told me, "For my birthday I want angel wings so I can fly up to heaven and see Candace!" Olivia responded with, "I want purple Lightning McQueen wings!"

8. She thinks her various body parts are responsible for themselves. "I can't blow this {pinwheel} because my mouth doesn't know how to blow it." // "My legs are hungry." // "I can't hold Olivia's hand. My hands are busy."

9. She loves princesses and dress up like no other. It's fun to see her so entranced by the wonder of childhood imagination. She will have to be big and responsible for so much of her life; I love letting her get to be the girliest of little girls right now.

10. She is so happy to see me at the end of preschool. Like runs excitedly and hugs me every day. It is just the best feeling. She is always happy to go and always happy to come home. I hope that part never changes.

11. She teaches me important things about life. A few weeks ago her grandma mentioned that it would be fun to take all the girl cousins to the princess dress-up parlor at Disneyland. The next day she asked, "Can we go see grandma and go to the princess dress-up store?" I replied, "Yeah, we can go there someday." She answered back, "No. Today! Today is someday." Today is someday. I want to engrave that on my heart.

12. She loves to help in the kitchen. I have a hard time relinquishing control in the kitchen, but I've been trying to let her participate. Even if it does mean that sometimes things get spilled. But she's getting better and better about stirring things slowly and carefully so they don't end up flying all over the place. And, of course, her most important culinary duty is taste testing. "Hey, mom. Guess what?" "What?" "I need something to lick."

13. One of the things I truly enjoy most is that I can actually have conversations with her. Real conversations. Like about how it is good to be little and enjoy being little. And about helping the family and be a hard worker. It's fun to have a kid at the stage where I can actually see myself teaching her things and see her brain trying to figure things out.

14. She is my little mirror. Sometimes this a good thing. Sometimes it is not so pleasant to see my reflection in the way she talks. Last night she asked me to go get her blankie. When I came back sans the blanket on account of forgetfulness, she said in a very sing-songy voice, while stroking my cheek, "What did I told you to get me?" Or quite frequently she reminds me to be careful, or, "Don't get too much, mom." I hear the things I say to her come out of her mouth quite often. And it reminds me to say good things to her.

15. She was a real little person at her birthday party. Whenever the doorbell rang she ran to answer it and see who had come to see her. And when it was time for cake and blowing out the candles, she wasn't surprised to be the center of attention. She stood and basked in her moment of being adored so much by everyone there. It was almost strange how much of big kid she was there.

16. The other night she asked me to snuggle with her after we had read all the stories. She wrapped her skinny little arms so tightly around my neck and held me so close. I told her much I love her while running my fingers through her hair. She rearranged herself so she could run her fingers through my hair. She laid her head on my chest. "Can you hear my heart?" I asked her. "Yeah. I'm in your heart, mama." I think that moment made up for all the tantrums she's ever thrown. But she could say it again just to be sure.

Dear Ellie,

It has been a wonderful four years with you. It has certainly changed almost everything in my life to be your mom... it has changed my perspective, my expectations, my goals and my time management. It has been challenging and rewarding and terribly worrisome and absolutely wonderful. I very much enjoy this life that I have because of you.

My birthday wish for you this year is that you are
engulfed by all the beauty all around you.
Be filled with wonder.
Stand tall and see that the world is big
and you are small, but not unimportant.
There are endless possibilities.
A million million things you will never know.
Each new day holds something truly wonderful,
something big or small to be noticed and marveled at.
Something to be observed and admired and soaked in.
Take a step back and see the big picture you never noticed.
Creep in close and watch a detail you've never seen.
Ask, ponder, look, imagine.
Pretend, sing, dance.
Be silly. Be smart. Be whatever you want to be.
You only get to be four years old once.

I'm so excited to spend this next year learning alongside you, Ellie. You teach me so many important things.

I love you forever and a day.


Thursday, September 26, 2013

The One Where Henry is 6 Months Old

In my experience, babies are highly susceptible to being jinxed. Like last week when Steve and I stayed up for hours talking about how sweet and cute Ellie and Olivia were and the next day they just totally lost their cool and were screaming at each other all. day. long. 

Or when, a few months ago, I put it out on the ol' blogosphere that Henry was sleeping so wonderfully. There he was sleeping like a little angel and then I said it to all of your fine folks and just like magic, now he's a terrible sleeper. (By the way, I'm totally hoping this comment will reverse jinx him into being a great sleeper. Don't worry, whoever is in charge of jinxing can't read anything written inside parentheses.) Anyway, I'm soliciting helpful sleeping tips, so if you have some, I would love to hear them. 

What is a really good thing, probably a built-in survival technique equipping all non-sleepers, is that when he is awake and supposed to be awake, he is the sweetest thing. He is full of laughter. And he really likes books. And exploring. And being held by any unsuspecting sucker who will pick him up when he squeals. 

He's got a variety of movement patterns making their way towards full-blown crawling. He's got something that resembles a butterfly stroke, but on land. I call it the "Beached Butterfly." And then there's also the "Slip-n-Slide" where he creates a pool of his own drool on the wood floor and then slides around in it for a while. He usually gets kind of frustrated with this one pretty quickly. (Can you blame him? Am I a horrible mom for letting him do this at all?). But he can be pretty fast with his Butterfly when he wants to be. He likes to explore, but he doesn't seem super motivated to be going and doing yet. Which is fine with me. I know I'm going to spend a lot of time chasing after him, but that doesn't have to start for a few days. 
And good Lord, he is so precious. And just ridiculously adorable. He's got some gorgeous eyelashes. I know because I get to stare at them a lot while trying to get him to go to sleep. And his cheeks. I could stroke them all day long. They're so soft and smooth and nearly edible. Perfection.

And when I'm nursing him he always wiggles his hand free of the blankets and searches discontentedly until he finds my hand and is wrapped around my thumb and I am squeezing his chubby little hand as tightly as possible. It's the best. 

He's started to talk a little bit. Not real words obviously, but cooing in conversation. Trying to talk to us and say a few things. Especially in the morning. He is mostly trying to say things like, "I'm so cute, you couldn't possibly wish I was still asleep." And "I'm too lovable to be in my own bed." But when he looks up at me with those eyes full of mischevious adoration and makes little lovey squeals, even though my day is starting off much earlier than I'd like, at least it's starting off very well. 

Dear Henry, 

My boy. My son. Sometimes those phrases seem so new and almost strange. I just love getting to experience your boyness. Seeing your love of things that move and spherical objects. You love playing with balls like nothing else. Earlier this month we took you to OMSI and I put you in the ball pit for the first time. You were so excited you tried to cuddle with all the balls at once and when they kept slipping away from you, you laid down in the ball pit and just squealed with delight. 

And you are quite the little love bug. More and more you are only content in someone's arms. But you are simultaneously very wiggly, so it is hard to keep you there, where you want to be. It's a strange problem to have. 

And oh my, you love to be upside down. I don't know why. But you are always the very happiest when someone is holding you with your head lower than the rest of your body. But then said head starts to fill with too much blood and we must upright you so you don't pass out. I'm very sorry about this, but it's something that must be done. 

You are very funny. A little ball of wonder and excitement, newness and familiarity all rolled into one. And I just love you. 

I do wish you'd sleep more, so I can get a few more things accomplished during the evening and be more free during the day to just love on you and your sisters. That would be nice of you. 

I love you forever. 


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