Puppy Dog Birthday Cake (for kids!) (from scratch!)

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Well, you guys, Elsa is one. And I’m kind of an emotional wreck about it. We had a little birthday party for her over the weekend, and I made this puppy cake for her because this girl loves her some canines. The recipe is at the bottom of the post, but if you’re up for a good ugly-cry with me, you can watch this little video that Eric put together of Elsa’s first year of life…

And then you can read this letter I wrote to her. I don’t have baby books for either of my kids because how does anyone ever have time to actually do that? But I have written them these monthly letters to keep track of what’s going on in their lives. Here is Elsa’s one-year letter…

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Baby Girl, you are one! One! You have been with us an entire year, which just can’t be true. This year has gone far too quickly, and it feels like I blinked, and tiny, squishy, scrunch-faced newborn you turned into this baby with all the giggles and rolls, and then I blinked again, and this almost-toddler with enough hair to make a mullet was standing steadily at the ottoman, thinking seriously about walking across the room to get in on some Cheerios action in the kitchen.

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Burnished Chicken Thighs with Roasted Root Vegetables

Burnished Chicken

Aaaaand, meet the newest member of our family.

Seriously, this meal has become a Regular with a capital R around here lately. I first tried it this fall, when we were swimming in parsnips from our CSA. There is an amazing collection of recipes divided by vegetable on the Uproot Farm site, and I was trying to figure out what to do with all the parsnips when I saw it.

Marinate chicken with five ingredients.
Place said chicken on a pan with some chopped up root vegetables.
Roast.
Eat.

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When Enough is (not) Enough

when enough is not enough I’ll start by saying that this is a seasonal blog and should therefore have been filled with at least three pounds of butter and six cups of green sprinkles atop the most delicious holiday cookies you’ve ever seen the past few weeks, but we are just now emerging from a deep, dark hole called My Children Are Taking Turns Throwing Up On The Couch. I know many of you have been in that hole too, and I am with you in having a house that will probably smell like vomit until we can open up the windows again in April.

So instead, this post. Let’s call it a pre-resolution post. Because before we can start fresh and clean with a new year, we need to do some reflecting and think about the things from 2014…or you know, from our lives…that are old and stale and need replacing.

For me, it is this. It is always this:

I am a doer.

I remember back to early elementary school, let’s say I was nine. I would faithfully write my New Year’s Resolutions on crisp white paper, using my best cursive penmanship, listing meaningful goals like, “Make bed…EVERY DAY!” and “Do homework RIGHT AWAY after school!”

Now as an adult, most weeks, my calendar looks like this:

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Those closest to me know that every few weeks, I get completely overwhelmed by anxiety over all of the undone things, and I spend a couple of days, trying not to cry, trying to put things in perspective.

That’s the problem, you know. One that Eric kindly helped me identify by name a couple years ago: I am terrible at prioritizing. Each and every item on my to-do list weighs in with equal importance. 

Let me explain it this way….
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Homemade Easy Mac

Homemade EasyMac

So far, we’ve been pretty lucky in the toddler eating department. Owen will eat just about anything we put in front of him; in fact, from his first mashed bananas to the chicken tikka masala we had earlier this week, he eats most things with gusto. On the daily, he declares what he’s eating to be his best favorite! It has been so, so fun to make food for him.

This is not to say he does not prefer certain foods – especially perennial toddler favorites like graham crackers, grilled cheese, pizza, and french fries. And while I do my best to pack snacks like fruits and veggies as much as possible, there is nothing like a snack-cup of goldfish to get us through a particularly long grocery store line.

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Overheard, Vol. 6

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After a morning of listening to this rendtion of Jessie’s Girl on repeat:
Owen: Who’s Jessie?
Me: Well, Jessie’s a boy, and they’re talking about his friend, a girl.
Owen: Is he lost? Who can find him?

On Age:
Me: Owen, it’s dad’s birthday today. How old do you think he is?
Owen: He’s two! Like me!
Me: Well, he’s actually a bit older than that. He’s 33.
Owen: Oh.
Me: How old do you think I am?
Owen: 49.

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Roasted Turnips with Thyme & Feta

Roasted Turnips with Thyme and Feta I ♥ Roasted Vegetables.
The End.

You guys, I can’t stop roasting vegetables. I’m relatively new to the roasting game. In years past, it just seemed intimidating…like the bottom sides of those veggies could be burning to a crisp and you wouldn’t even know it until you pulled them out of the oven after forty minutes and forced yourself to eat charred sweet potatoes for dinner on principle. So I steamed. I stir-fried. I sautéed.

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Warm Cabbage Salad with Bacon, Bleu Cheese, & Apple

Cabbage-Salad Can I just give a little shoutout to what I like to call “the vegetables of winter”: sweet potatoes, carrots, parsnips, turnips, cabbage, and all their hearty buddies. Sure, there’s nothing like a summer-fresh tomato. Or a perfectly ripe bell pepper. But you bring those summer beauties home, and three days later they are over-ripe, mushy, and most likely surrounded by a storm cloud of fruit flies.

But winter vegetables? They last. Forever. I have had heads of cabbage sitting in my fridge since September, sweet potatoes in my basement that will be there throughout the entire holiday season, and once I peel them or take off an outer layer or two, they’re still amazing.

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Happy Thanksgiving

thankful-tree We did a thankful tree again this year. And Owen sort of got it. Every night, after dinner, he’d proudly proclaim that he was thankful “for the trapeze swing at Gleason’s Gym.” He would talk non-stop about this apparatus between visits to the preschool open gym, but then, once there, he’d tell me over and over “nonononono, Mom, I’m scared” until the very last minute of the open gym, in which he’d start sobbing because he hadn’t gotten to do the trapeze swing yet. It has been a vicious, endless cycle of thanks.

Towards the end of the month though, he started to catch on. He had leaves up there for me and his dad, for his friends, for cookies. He also helped us guess what Elsa is thankful for…most of her leaves centered on gnawing: cold cucumbers, pretzel rods, and the like. Though we’ve recently discovered her fascination with the animal kingdom, so dogs and cats made it up there too.

On Eric’s list were a job he enjoys, great freelance opportunities, a church community that loves Jesus in their everyday, that shares meals, and forges headlong into vulnerable conversation at any opportunity. He is thankful for me, for our kids, for The Hamembert.

Topping my list were two relatively healthy kids, a kind husband, honeycrisp apples, the fact that my kids nap at the same time in the afternoon. One of my thankful leaves includes a theme I cling to every day – that I follow a God who gently leads those who are with young. I am thankful for friends who are in this same stage of life with me, who know me, who know what it is like to continuously have toys all over your living room floor. I am thankful, of course, for every day I get with my little family…as well as for our greater families who love me, and more importantly, love my kids.

When Owen was tiny and new and never sleeping at the right times, I would groggily greet his falcon cries in the morning and change his heavy morning diapers. I would never be ready for the day. I was post-partum hormonal and kept having mastitis and as much as I loved this new little person, the hours of each day were long.  But each morning, I would lift him out of his crib. Together we would go and open the curtains to let the sun into his room, and I would lay him on the changing table and sing, with my scratchy morning voice:

This is the day, this is the day,
that the Lord has made, that the Lord has made.
We will rejoice, we will rejoice,
and be glad in it, and be glad in it!

This disposition of thanks is solid ground. It is everything.

So while this is not quite the season for resolutions, let this coming year be marked by thanks. Thanks for a God who is crafting our moments and hours to precision. For our good. For His glory.

Let each day be the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.

Happy Thanksgiving.

20-minute Peanut Butter Chocolate Oatmeal Crumble Bars

Peanut Butter Chocolate Oatmeal Crumble Bars

I see you out there, with visions of gravy-drenched-turkey and pumpkin pie dancing in your eyes. And that’s why I hesitated to post this recipe just two days before Thanksgiving. I was scared you’d miss it, that you’d read the title in your blog feed, and say, “Aack! Where’s the midnight-hour recipe for gluten-free stuffing I need now that Aunt Shirley is coming to Thanksgiving?!”

But you guys, don’t miss this one. This has become my go-to dessert. It is so, so easy, with under twenty minutes of hands-on time (18 for me, and that included several trips into the living room to steal back the mixing spoons Owen was using for drumsticks). Plus, it just takes nine ingredients that you probably already have in your pantry. The best part about this dessert is that is BETTER cooled – so no working this into your dinner party schedule, timing it perfectly so that it’s still slightly warm upon serving. Make it early in the day and forget about it.

Peanut Butter Chocolate Oatmeal Crumble Bars

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When You Get Ripped Off

When You Get Ripped Off When you get ticked off because you have just locked yourself out of your minivan, and perhaps more importantly locked all of the snacks and diapers inside of the minivan, you keep your composure, but you are sweating through the nursing tanktop that you are wearing. You are incredibly thankful that you already know the friend you are meeting at the coffee shop and that you are not meeting her for the first time, because she is already sharing her toddler’s snacks with your toddler, and she is holding your separation-anxiety-ten-month-old as well as her own newborn, while you stand outside on the five-degree windchill sidewalk, trying to communicate the location of your locked vehicle, again, to the locksmith dispatch center.

You are thankful for the steaming cup of coffee that she hands you as you walk back in and for the cookie she bought for your toddler who had an epic meltdown while you were on hold. You sip it while you wait for the eighteen-year-old who finally shows up to do three minutes of work only to tell you that you will not be paying the $50 you expected to pay based on their website’s rates page, but rather $120. You look at him with teacher eyes, but you are helpless, with your two babies not dressed quite warm enough for winter, with your spare key also locked in the car, and somehow, he knows it.

When you get ripped off, you call in to management. And you are put on hold. Transferred. Put on hold again. And when you finally do talk to someone in charge, you make the case that you’ve been practicing in your head all day. You make your argument with reason, a calm voice; but your hands are slightly shaking, and your stomach feels tight because you are from the midwest, and we don’t yell at people on the phone, though inside you are seething and wanting to cry, and all of the words you’ve been taught not to say are cycling through your head as fast as you can say But, Sir. You conclude the conversation by questioning the life choices of both the representative and the technician who you saw yesterday, but still, you do not receive a refund.

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Steadfast Love

steadfastThe weight of my daughter’s body is heavy on my chest. We are lying together, on my bed, in the dark. Her breathing is slowing; I can feel the rattle in her lungs of a cough that will not go away.

For weeks now, she’s been coughing. We’ve already used boxes of kleenex on her endlessly runny nose. And she has struggled to sleep more than two hours at a time, usually vomiting at least once a day after a particularly hard coughing fit.

The days are filled with sickness, crabbiness, and forever trying to wipe her nose as she thrashes her head back and forth in protest. Our nights, that hour or so in which it is just my husband and I, wearily trying to connect for the day, have also been interrupted.

Tonight, I put the kids to bed myself so that Eric could have a few hours to work on a looming freelance deadline. I wrestled the nebulizer on Elsa’s face. Owen watched The Muppets on his own while I nursed her, though I also longed to snuggle his little body in this cold house. I put her down. I put him down. Cleaned up the toys. Did the dishes. Swept the dining room floor of the remnants of our dinner.  I had just made some popcorn for myself, about to finally sit down, when I heard her cry. This has become routine now. She has been waking up about an hour after bed and staying awake for the next hour or so, not wanting to nurse, but just wanting to be held. Breathing is hard when you are congested and lying down and still new enough to the world that you sometimes forget to breathe through your mouth.

I head into the room. And she has vomited all herself, all over the sheets. For the second night in a row. And now, I am crying.

I am crying because I am so, so tired.
I am crying because I would do anything to help this little girl be healthy again.
I am crying because my popcorn was just ready.
I am crying because there have been no breaks.

I pick her up and clean her off and get her new jammies. She is calm in my arms. I sway and sing to her, and then we lay down in the bed together. I try lying next to her, but she is straining every muscle in her body to be on me, and I think, I will hold her for now, while she is still little and reaching out to me, her body so tired.

I slowly rub her back and sing over and over again:

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases.
His mercies never come to an end.
They are new every morning,
new every morning,
Great is thy faifhfulness, Oh God,
Great is thy faithfulness. 

A lullaby for her. A mantra for me.

I am still crying. I am crying because I can’t believe I rolled my eyes as I first heard her cry tonight, that I sighed at the thought of room-temperature popcorn.

I am crying as I think of God, my Father, coming to lift me out of my own vomit, with neither eye roll or sigh. I have chosen, again and again, to do what annoys him, wearies him, wounds him. But He comes, at the first hint of my cry, to hold me, to comfort me. He whispers I love you, even as his popcorn gets cold. And oh, how He wishes to restore me to fullness of health. To abundance. Hours and days and years of the same sins, the same patterns, and still, He comes when I call, and sometimes even when I don’t.

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases.

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(Note: I wrote this a few weeks ago when we were in the thickest thicket of sick kids and sleepless nights. Elsa is better now, and we’re sleeping slightly more, but the truth is unchanged. Happy Friday.) 

Easy Buttermilk Rusks (Biscotti)

Easy Buttermilk Rusks Grab yourself a cup of coffee or tea, a handful of these rusks, and gather ’round for Liz’s Origin Story time.

I grew up in a forest between two small towns, which basically meant that I saw more deer than neighbors and that the closest anything was at least a fifteen minute drive away. I went to a teeny tiny school, and I’m pretty sure that I was old enough to remember the first time I saw a person of color, so needless to say, words like ESL and refugee assistance and ethnic grocery were not a part of our everyday conversation.

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Baby-Dumb to Baby-Wise and Back Again

BabyDumb to BabyWise and Back Again I didn’t know it would be like this – that so many of my parenting decisions would boil down to working theory, to an intentional and loving crapshoot. I thought I would be so much more in the know, having read all of the books before Owen was born. I read about everything – from sleep to eating to vaccines to absolutely riveting car seat reviews.

I read like I had never before seen nor held a baby.

After all my reading, I thought I knew what kind of parent I’d be. I mean, I’d been running a classroom of upwards of twenty kindergarteners for the previous five years. In my mind, kids needed stability, structure, routine, which roughly translated into ideas that my babies would be on a schedule and put themselves to sleep and defintiely learn to stay asleep through the night at a young age. When they got older and were testing boundaries in a social setting, it would take nothing more than a well-timed look to make them rethink their course of action…or at worst, a fiercely whispered word. 

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And then I actually had a baby. And then a toddler. And then another baby. And so much of what I thought would be quickly flew out of my oft-crayola-ed windows.

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Pasta with Roasted Squash and Kale

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It’s Friday! And yesterday, I spent eight hours alone with my kids driving home from a visit with my parents in Wisconsin, so it’s safe to say that I’m definitely still recovering from that.
(It actually went really well thanks to a little help from Goldfish Crackers, Elmo’s World, The Moth Podcast, and Starbucks drive-thrus.)

So I figured today I’d keep it brief, tell you about an epic parenting fail I had earlier this week, and then dive, mouth-first, into this pasta.

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Overnight Apple Cinnamon Monkey Bread

Apple Cinnamon Monkey Bread  Here is what I know about my husband Eric’s eating habits.

When he was little, he had a phase of six years in which he was not enthused about meat. Over the course of his four high school years, he ate his body weight in Totino’s pizza rolls. Now, he is just about the easiest person to cook for, having only turned his nose up at one meal in seven years together – my first attempt at roasting a chicken. I didn’t eat it either.

And while he’ll eat just about anything happily, it’s not often that he craves things. Especially dessert. Whereas,  I have literally woken him up to tell him how desperately I needed one of those ham & gruyere croissants from the cupcake shop up the block. (Let’s blame those 3 a.m. feedings, mmmkay?)

And so when he came home from a Saturday morning of errands with Owen asking if I’d ever though of making an apple cinnamon pull-apart bread because the one he’d grabbed from a coffee shop display window blew his mid-morning-coffee mind, I went to work.

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Overheard, Vol. 5

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Telling it like it is: 
Owen: Mom, you’re smelly today
Me: Oh…well, what do I smell like?
Owen: Like dirt or somefing.
(moments later)
Owen: (farts) Oh, I just farted.

After we watched Tiny: A Story about Living Small:
Eric: Owen, did you have any dreams last night?
Owen: 
Me: I think I dreamed about Tiny Houses. I was trying to cook in one and really stressed out.
Eric: Yeah, the first time you try to cook anything in a Tiny House, you’ll realize you made a huge mistake…because your counter-space is your table, is your bed, is your bathroom shelf.

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Thai Green Curry Chicken Soup

Thai Green Curry Chicken Soup I didn’t talk much about it at the time because everyone knows the fastest way to make your baby a terrible sleeper is to get all braggy about it on social media. But you guys, from about five weeks on, Elsa more or less slept through the night, and it was amazing.

You have to remember that Owen woke up two to three times a night throughout his first year of life, despite numerous and varied attempts at sleep training. So for her to just sleep through the night like that? We knew it was nothing WE were doing right. Mostly, it was a miracle. So I stayed pretty quiet about it.

But you’ll notice that the operative word in that first paragraph is was. It was amazing. And now, it is over.

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Sweet Potato Salad

Sweet Potato Salad Well, apparently this is the year for making giant salads that I eat all week for lunch. And this sweet potato salad falls right in line. I love recipes like these – that you can make on a Monday, that can hold up perfectly well until Friday when you are scooping the very last bits straight out of the tupperware container it’s been housed in all week.

Lunchtime is often kind of a crazy time of day for us. I’m usually rushing home, having stayed too long at a park because the knowledge that winter - the season of futility and death - is ever before me. (Did you click that link? No? You should. Camp Patton is one of my favorite mama blogs these days).

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taken from the carpeseason Instagram account

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When We Took Two Babies Camping

camping-8 The plan began late Thursday night after we’d looked at the weather for the weekend – 80* and sunny, 0% chance of rain. Actually, the plan began earlier this summer after our completely wonderful anniversary camping trip sans kids. Well, actually, the plan started about ten years ago when we were dating and obnoxiously in love. Eric and I camped all the time then and when we were newly married…sometimes out of the back of our tiny car, sometimes hiking for days and setting up camp in a remote spot at night. In fact, our very first kiss was shared on the shore just a few feet away from our campsite. Camping is kind of in our family’s blood.

We’ve been talking about taking Owen camping since he was born, but then I got pregnant with Elsa when he was still pretty young. And really, who wants to sleep on the ground when pregnant? Or get up four times in the middle of the night to pee…in an outhouse? Not me. So we waited.

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Barley Pilaf with Fall Vegetables & Chicken

Barley-Pilaf-with-Fall-Vegetables-&-Chicken Well, you guys, we did it.
We took our babies camping.

And while I’m busy preparing an entire post, complete with pictures and snake stories (intrigue!), about our experience, I thought I’d share one snippet of our adventure with you today. It involves our neighbors at the next campsite over – three young men from India. They were probably around twenty, and the first time we noticed them was as we were cooking our dinner.

They turned their car battery on and started playing music…not concert-speaker loud, but definitely loud enough to hear. And the thing is, had it been a little bluegrass, or something soft and woodsy, I probably wouldn’t have minded. But no. It was a steady stream of Bollywood beats, Enrique Iglesias, and Nickelback. Nickel. Back.

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