That’s Just a Part of It

el I find myself saying these words all throughout my days to an emotional little boy and a toddler girl who is growing in her flair for the dramatic every day. As Owen runs to me, yelling in panic about the wet grass clinging to his feet, I say, “You’ve got to calm down. That’s just a part of it.” Or as Elsa yells and writhes away from a diaper change session, I look down and say, “Baby Girl, be still. That’s just a part of it.”

It’s not overly sympathetic. But it’s truth. There are things we can’t change and can either chafe against or lean into with, at least, a desire for joy.

Lately, we have fallen into such a regular rhythm and routine. There is no newborn-induced unpredictability in our lives right now. We sleep through the night. People eat when you’d expect them too. The number of poop explosions hovers near zero most months. And there is such beauty to parts of the routine. We spend our mornings outside getting wet and muddy and sunburned. My afternoons are filled with quiet as the kids nap. Dinner this time of year includes countless tomatoes, and I am eating all of the fruit.

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But this rhythm includes the tedious, the necessary. Every single day, there is laundry that needs my attention. The dishes are endless. It seems that no amount of vacuuming can rid our house of sand that has clung to us all the way from the beach. And we are working so hard on obedience, trying all sorts of different strategies to help Owen learn that there is indeed joy in obeying right away. We are working on keeping Elsa out of the ER, as she has made it clear that the spaces she enjoys most in our house are the highest and most precarious. Each day, there is work.

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And the thing of it is, this IS my work. For as thankful as I am to be home with my kids, I regularly forget that. I sigh and re-write lists of things that feel more like work to me.
Get that bracket to hang those blinds upstairs.
Plant veggie seeds for fall harvest.
Purge more toys.
File that mail.
Invite that new family over for dinner.
Schedule the dentist appointments.

These things feel productive to me. Important. Like work.

So, I find myself saying as I fold tiny superhero-themed underwear: That’s just a part of it.
As I do dishes for the third time in a day: That’s just a part of it.
As I leave the park mere minutes after arriving (and doing all the sunblocking) because Owen has said no to me and run away (despite a prior warning): That’s just a part of it.
As I inch my way through an excellent book, though I’d love to drop everything and inhale it: That’s just a part of it.

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Margie in her latest book talks about this with grace, and wit, and charm. She tells her stories, and in them, we find holiness at the kitchen sink, the magnificent in the mundane. I long to grow into this. I long for God to someday say of me, “Well done. You were faithful to what you were called.” I long for my children to remember me as someone who was joyful. I long to be a wife that cultivates peace and acceptance and joy in my marriage and home.

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So I think about what I am called to, this season, this year, this month, this day. I ask for grace to lean into what each moment calls for, with acceptance and with joy. I repeat this mantra of That’s just a part of it to remind myself that each act of our lives is important and should have our attention.

I often fail.
I try again.
And I grow.

 

Dear Owen: a letter at three years

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The other day, I was sorting clothes for the season when I came across these tiny elephant footie jammies, stuffed into a random bin. And there, surrounded by piles and piles of clothes, I stopped and looked. You had worn these jammies often as a newborn – from shoulders to feet, they were barely as long as my torso. It is crazy to me how much life and energy and personality has sprung out of that tiny body, now three.

Lately, we’ve been saying that you are such a little boy now. We see your feet, all stretched out, your long skinny limbs, your head full of bushy blonde hair, and we laugh as you say, “When I’m a daddy, I’ll have hair on my arms,” and then we show you the soft blonde hair of your own arms, and you smile broadly. Your body is growing into all the little boy things – your run from room to room in our house, and find creative ways to spider climb from one piece of furniture to the next. You are crushing wiffle balls “over the fence!” into the parking lot next door, and crouching in the dirt like all little boys have for all time over a worm or ant you’ve discovered.

Owen, this year, you have shown us the true meaning of having a toddler. At times, you are amazingly fun to be with. You tell jokes, “Hey! I’ve got a good one: The duck went swimming!” or “City Kitty Mitty Litty!” You appreciate puns. You get excited about art projects and games and forts and books and basketball and movies.

goliath And then, without notice, you are scrunching up your eyebrows and nose, lips pursed in what we call your “crabby face,” and you are saying NO! in a Goliath voice and kicking while we try to pull shorts on you and crying uncontrollably because it is time to come inside the house for lunch or, worse yet, put on your shoes. We ask you to say hello to someone, and you are stomping your foot and making weird mouth noises. You HATE being put on the spot to say anything. You have learned the true toddler art of working bathroom runs and extra drinks and snuggles and stories to extend your bedtime. You are at your worst when you’ve just woken up or are hungry or needing to poop, naturally.

When asked to do something, almost 100% of the time, NO or the mysterious “Nosta!” is your intial response. Or better yet, I’ll say something like “Time to go potty,” and you’ll crabby-face up and yell, “No YOU go to the potty!” or you’ll come back with an angry, “Don’t be the Doc!” which is some mixed-up line we think has its origins in Winnie the Pooh. My favorite though, is when told no or turned down in someway, you go to another room of the house and console yourself by singing about the injustice, musical style (ala Frozen), usually to the tune (and including the lyrics of) “Why Can’t Little Guys Do Big Things Too?”

Most of the time, I turn away and hide my laughter. Sometimes I cry. Or hide in the kitchen and eat a cookie.

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Dear Elsa: a letter at fifteen months

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 You are fifteen months old and acting more the toddler every day. You are full of sweetness and happiness, and we can no longer imagine our days not filled with your actual laughs and your excessive fake laughs and big wide-open mouth smiles. elsa swing

The biggest change in you since you turned one is that you are now walking. You took your first journey of eleven steps at your Grandpa Joe and Grandma Pam’s house on February, in front of everyone, stopping to applaud yourself every couple of steps. But then, you stopped. We brought you home and would coax you to walk, even holding out your brother’s sippy cup as incentive, but you would stand for a second, consider it, and then drop down to your belly and kick your legs and laugh. But about three weeks later, you just kind of started walking. Everywhere. It’s still something we celebrate as you walk into a room, arms straight up, smiling wide, as if to see “TaDa! I’m here! Hooray!”  And now there are moments that you seem to be almost running, going from room to room in our house, or across baseball fields with your hands in fists up by your shoulders for balance.

Learning to walk has allowed you to participate in life more, and you love it. You do your best to join in with your dad and Owen’s running game, as your dad swoops you around corners, and you whisper “schhhh schhhh” while Owen looks for you. You squeal with delight when you see his face poke around corners, and any activity resembling peek-a-boo is basically your favorite thing in life. You play it back now too, covering most of your mouth and one eye with your fingers and laughing each time you lift them off. Walking has also increased your destroying capabilities, and you take great joy in removing things. All of the contents of the diaper bag. All of the clothes in a basket of laundry. All of the books on the shelf.

You’re just trying so hard to be part of things. You use all your might to pick up the fat bat, and swing it at the tee or the ball in your dad’s hand. When you make contact, you drop it, run a few steps “around the bases,” and then drop to your belly and kick your legs to “slide.” You look at us as if to say, “Did you see  that? I’m amazing.” You are always stopping to clap – for snacks, when you see someone you love, at animal books and talk of video and at your own efforts to climb and roll and walk and run. You try to build blocks but are mostly interested in knocking even the smallest towers down, much to Owen’s frustration, though he does build them on the floor, right in our walking paths.

When you were just over a year, you picked up Owen’s Goliath shield and hit it a couple times with his “spear,” and when he pretended to throw a stone at you, you fell down on the carpet, all the way down. You were delighted with yourself as we were delighted with you.  You go down slides and giggle. You swing and giggle. You hear the opening plastic of a snack and giggle and sometimes even throw in an “ooh!” For some reason, you think it’s so funny to lay down on the floor in front of us and roll around, kicking your legs up in the air – we’re not sure if you’re sliding or playing Goliath dead or what, but you think it’s hilarious, and so do we.

You’re also trying to talk. You’ve got “hiiiiii” down, and you say “mama!” all the time, but you call all of three of us “mama,” though you do throw out an occasional “da!” (May 14 you finally got the hang of that one, much to your own delight.) We’ll hear you talking softly to yourself upstairs after you nap, and when we go to pick you nap, you’re often sitting upright, playing with your bunny, and we always wonder how long you’ve been awake. You greet us with happy squeals and smiles, and as we head downstairs, you’re always peering out the back window and down the stairs towards where you can find Owen, questioning, “Mama?” On the rare occasions that you wake up before Owen, I have to do everything in my power to keep you from sprinting over to his room, pushing open his door, and waking him up. (When you finally do hear him wake up, you squeal with laughter and clap your hands. It’s adorable.)

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Easter Lice and Other Timely Messes

IMG_0689 When I was eight years old, I was rocking some seriously curled bangs. Every morning, my mom would faithfully take a tight curling iron to my bangs, puff them out, and hairspray them, per my request. I thought they were beautiful, that I looked just like my high-school-aged sister, which at the time, was my chief goal in life.

Easter morning circa 1991 was no different. A pretty dress, some ruffled socks,  I walked into my parents’ bathroom to have my mom curl my bangs. And that’s when she saw it. A tiny louse, crawling near my scalp. I didn’t see her initial facial reaction, but I can still remember the whole-body shudder I had when she told me what she’d seen and what it meant. She is not a dramatic person; I’m sure her voice stayed calm, but what I heard was there are bugs crawling all over your head and our entire house is probably infested with them.

 

We took off my Easter dress, put on jammies, and saw the rest of my family off to church. I remember her calling the local drug stores, trying to find one that was open for Easter in an attempt to track down lice shampoo. Eventually she found some, and we sat in front of the TV; she listened to a balding preacher deliver an Easter sermon while, for hours, she combed through my hair with one of those special fine-toothed, lice-finding combs.

I remember thinking are there no cartoons on Easter morning? 

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For the last several nights, we haven’t really slept. Elsa is waking up coughing every twenty-five minutes and seems to be most comfortable when sleeping on my face. She is sicker than sick with a cough that sounds like it is coming from the very depths of her soul. Her nose is running, her eyes are watery, and all she wants is to nuzzle her drooly face into my chest all hours of the day and night.

She coughs, then whimpers. It’s basically the saddest thing you’ve ever seen.

Last night, in hope, I laid out her Easter dress. It is white with a pale flower print. A tiny white cardigan, some tights, and the girliest pink shoes to go with it. Everything ironed and adorable.

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This morning, we thought briefly about dressing her up and taking her to church. We so rarely are at our own church for Easter; we were really looking forward to that…and that dress. It was meant for Easter. We thought maybe we could just hold her and she would sleep in the Ergo and no one would notice her barking cough because she’d be napping two-thirds of the time.

But after we’d wiped her nose for the thirty-seventh time and looked at her drooping eyes, we thought better: no amount of ribbons and ruffle socks could make this girl fit to be in public. So Elsa and I saw Eric and Owen off, dressed in their Easter Sunday best, while we stayed behind to snuggle with jammies and kleenex.

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I think so much of life is like this: we are dolled up in our best dresses and curled bangs and Easter shoes, but we are crawling with lice. We have ruffle socks and flower dresses, but our lungs are filled with mucous. It’s not that we’re trying to hide the messiness; we just don’t see it for what it really is. Our imperfection is so often veiled by attempts at beauty that mimic – but by no means match – the goodness of the One who created us to be like Him.

I remember learning the verse “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags” when I was young. It seemed unfair to me at the time, like how could God look at my best attempts at goodness that way. But as I get older, I see the beauty in it. I know myself so much better now; I know that even at my best, I still fall short. My love for Owen is punctuated by impatience; I sigh loudly when I get up with Elsa for the third time in a night. More than that, I know God so much better now. I have witnessed His unchanged faithfulness, received His unending forgiveness, been comforted time and time again by His words of promise. Comparatively, my Easter best is lousy.

But thanks be to God that His perfection fills in the gaps of my own imperfection. He is a God who washes the dirtiest of feet, who hears our barking coughs and sees our filthy heads and beckons us: Come! Be Clean!  He does not shy away from that which is unclean, broken, or faulty but runs to it and longs to make it new, complete, and perfect.

He calls to us and tells us that He can make our scarlet sins white, that He can exchange our mourning for gladness, our filthy rags for a place in His family. This completely imbalanced exchange is offered to us in the death and rising of Jesus:

Jesus paid it all, 
All to Him I owe, 
Sin had left a crimson stain, 
He washed me white as snow. 

And that is our Easter best.

Happy Easter. May your season be filled with messes made right.

 

 

When You’re About to Wean Your Baby…

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I sense that the end of our breastfeeding relationship is near, my sweet Elsa.

You wake up in the morning and nurse for maybe two minutes before you are off and attempting to climb up the couch, up the wall, and to your college dorm room. Often before bed, you’ll nurse just long enough to pass some gas. I am a means to a stinky end.

It’s not like I am that shocked. You are over a year old. We made it to the year I have committed to nursing each of my babies, so I’m not surprised. When Owen stopped breastfeeding, I was pregnant with you, and nursing hurt like hell. I don’t remember the last time, just those last few nights, in the rocking chair, when he would whip back and forth from left to right and back again, looking for milk that just wasn’t there any more.

I think it is because I can’t remember his last time that I am so in tune to this moment with you. Each time we sit down to nurse, I look you in the eye, your foot often resting on my chin, thinking, will this be it?

I blame Jillian Michaels, really. I am on week three of her six-week path to a six-pack, tired of looking five months pregnant at thirteen months postpartum. I’ve cut out refined sugar. It is the excercise, the decreased calories. I just don’t have that much more milk to give you, and you know it.

I think about the days when you will be completely done. It will make going out with your dad in the evening SO much easier. I can pack up that dreadful pump in its box until the next go-round. Perhaps you, like your brother before you, will stop getting up in the middle of the night when you know that the comfort of my milk isn’t there anymore. Perhaps you will no longer stretch out all of the collars of my shirts, pulling them down at your whimsy, or leave mouthed drool rings in only the most inappropriate places on my shirt while we’re out in public.

But I will miss your sweet, soft body curled around mine. I think back to just a year ago, you and your tininess keeping me warm on those January nights, sitting in the dark, as if it was only you and I in all the world awake to hear the scraping of the snow plows as they rushed by.

I will miss the way that you stop nursing to look up at me, shyly sticking your tongue out and then cracking up when I do the same. Or how you, like a baby velociraptor, turn back towards my chest and pounce, mouth first.

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It is these moments that I grab onto, as you climb out of my lap and walk stiltingly towards the kitchen to throw all of my tupperware lids under the oven. Though they are fleeting, there are always new moments to try to keep from slipping through the cracks – like the first pony-tail I wrestled into your hair or the way you hold onto that stuffed dog your grandparents got you, hugging it and petting its head and saying “ug ug” over and over again, making us wonder if you’re saying dog or hug.

There’s no denying it. You’re growing, and I don’t really want to be weaning you when you are old enough to ask what’s weaning? So, this week, we cut out one feeding. And over the next few months, the others will go too, and soon you will be drinking only whole milk, and soon after that, you’ll be drinking a cup of coffee with me in the mornings on your weekends home from college. And those too will be moments to grab on to.

A New Season for Carpé Season: a (partial) farewell to blogging

liz-leaves Reheat your mug of coffee from this morning, maybe grab a cookie, get settled in somewhere comfortable, and brace yourself for the obscene lengthiness of this post.

The title of this blog is Carpé Season. Recognize the seasons. Embrace them for what they are. Make the most of each season. Carpé Season.

This means finding one more sweet potato recipe to get you through March after months of increasingly dreary root vegetables. It has meant joyfully eating your body weight in asparagus once it finally comes calling in spring. But it is also a principle that extends into the rest of life.

I started this blog three-and-a half years ago because I love to cook, and after reading this book, I was totally hooked on eating seasonally. I started this blog because I love to write, and I love to take pictures, and because my husband is a web designer and developer, and we thought it would be fun to do this little hobby together. None of that has changed.

But in that time, our life seasons have changed pretty dramatically. I started this blog when I had zero children and was teaching full time and had more free time than even seems imagineable at this point. I now have two kids under three and don’t really remember what it’s like to sleep through the night.

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Which leads me to the only sentence you actually need to read in this entire, book-length post:

We’re taking a pretty signifcant step back from blogging in order to put more of our energy into our budding photography business…and you know, to create space for things like resting, playing with Owen and Elsa, making homemade bread, cleaning out the basement

This decision has been long in coming, and you can read more about my whole second-guessing process in the extended DVD version of the story below, but basically over dinner a few months ago, Eric and I looked at each other and came to this: we feel that we have been pounding on the doors of the blog-o-sphere, asking it to let us in and using up large percentages of our limited free time to maintain a space that hasn’t really “grown” in years. Yet, it seems that a door has been swung wide open for us to start to pursue a little side business in photography.

In the last year, we have received several unsolicited requests to do paid photography work: a couple weddings, a birth, a few family sessions. And we have found that we love this work for many reasons: it is a creative process we can fully engage in together. Photography allows us to take the same ethos behind this blog – recognizing and embracing the seasons of life – and translate it into images that capture the seasonal joys behind getting married, having a baby, growing a family. Photography fills so many creative needs we have but allows us to do it at a slower, more self-determined pace than blogging does.

We’ve just launched our site – Carpé Season Photography - and would be pleased as punch if you headed over for a more in-depth look.

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This decision has been weighty for me. I love this space and the community that has surrounded it, so please, reheat that coffee (again), and read through the long version of the story below, because, at the end, there’s a message especially for you.

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This decision process really started a little over a year ago. About two weeks after we came home with Elsa, I looked at Eric and said I don’t know if I can keep up with the blog anymore. Having a second baby completely upended us, and I spent the next four months feeling like I was never going to get the hang of this whole multiple-kid thing. But eventually, she started sleeping at somewhat predictable times, and I again found my pace, albeit a slower one.

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But a few months ago, when I was feeling completely unable to keep up, I felt like every few days I would tell Eric, I don’t know if I WANT to keep up with the blog anymore.

So, last December, I started hemming and hawing and hemming and hawing.

On the one hand, the tasks associated with food-blogging feed the creative part of my mind that is threatened daily by the endless cycle of dishes, diapers, and Daniel Tiger songs about going potty. I love to think creatively about recipes that use seasonal ingredients (much in the same way I love Chopped). I love to take pictures and to tell stories. I love the other bloggers I’ve met through this venture. I’ve loved this little Carpé community – those of you who read and comment and send the loveliest notes and tell me you’re cooking these things and adding them to your family’s regular rotation or that you’re so glad to know that you’re not alone in feeling like you have no idea how to be a parent. This is what I’ve loved most. camping sunset-sunrise

But on the other hand, there is the fact that there are actually only twenty-four hours in a day. And of that day, in our current season of life, I get two, maybe three hours tops to focus on non-kid stuff while the babies are napping. I have been finding that three or four of my weekday naptimes were filled with blog-related efforts, and, perhaps more significantly, NOT filled with exercise, laundry, sitting down for ten minutes with coffee, reading my Bible, taking care of the thousands of tiny details that come with running a home and being a wife and mother and sister and daughter and friend. I was finding that at the end of everyday, I would carefully transfer the twenty-three tasks on my calendar that I didn’t get to onto the next day.

Meanwhile, I found myself surprisingly jealous after reading this post – a farewell to blogging and somewhat to screens in general. And challenged by this podcast and its alluring talk about slow blogging. I was inspired by this blogger who just straight up took a six-month break, throwing concern about reader numbers to the wind, so that she could enjoy the summer with her kids home from school.

I started having thoughts about the fact that I chose to quit my job as a teacher to be a stay-at-home MOM, not a stay-at-home food blogger. I was feeling less and less like popping in a video if Owen woke up from his nap before I was done photographing a post. And more than anything, talks wtih a few close friends were pulling me deeper and deeper into the feeling that I want to grow in being present in the moment. To live more and more in kairos time where moments stand still and are recognized as beautiful and valuable and reasons for thankfulness. For me, in this season, blogging has definitely been a deterrent to that desire.

What really brought this decision to a head was this story, which has become sort of a metaphor for this entire decision:

In the weeks before Elsa’s birthday party, I was thinking through our brunch-party menu and had concluded that rather than spend the whole party flipping pancakes, I’d make pancake muffins, something a little sweet and kid-friendly to go alongside our yogurt and granola, the egg bakes, and fruit. I got my google on and tried one recipe that actually ended up with the consistency of rubber. I tried a Joy the Baker one – normally so reliable, right? – that was slightly better, but was so dry that it felt like sand in your mouth. After more research on baking time and temperature, I thought I’d test them one more time before going another direction entirely, and I thought, Well, since I’ve made these three times, I might as well photograph them for the blog.

I was set to make them next morning and wanted us to eat them for breakfast, so the night before, I got out all of the props and background and light reflectors, so I could bake them and photograph them as quickly as possible for my hungry family. That particular night, the kids took turns crying from the hours of 1 a.m. to 4 a.m., which led to us all sleeping in a little later than normal. By the time I got the pancake muffins in the oven, Eric was leaving for work, which left me with two hungry kids that both needed diaper changes (normally, Eric is captain of getting at least Owen breakfast and changed, but again, we’d slept in).

While the pancake muffins baked, I got my picture background all set up, carefully pouring our farm-fresh, kinda-pricey but wonderfully delicious maple syrup in a bowl for the background of the image when the kids fell apart. One of them had clearly pooped. Owen was whining and whining for more juice. Elsa was crying, and as I raced back and forth between checking on the muffins in the kitchen and trying to do crowd control in the living room, my child-bearing hips bumped into the edge of the table holding my photography props, knocked my light-reflecting background down, which in turn, spilled the cup of my syrup gold.

The syrup spilled in between the cracks of my photography background. It dripped onto the dining room table and then onto the floor. It hit the corner of one of our cloth-covered chairs on the way down. Owen stepped in it. It was everywhere, and it was sticky.

I took a long look at my whining, hungry, mushy-diapered children. I listened to the beeping sound of my oven telling me that the third round of these pancake muffins needed to come out of the oven. I watched the syrup do its syrupy thing. And I thought: This. this! is why I do not think I should be keeping up the blog right now. This. this! is insanity. 

And then I cried (which at that point, amounted to three total people crying in our house. At 8 a.m.).

And scene.

So Eric and I started talking about pulling the plug on Carpé Season altogether. We talked about posting only when inspired, though I knew that a further dip in the frequency of my post would essentially kill the blog anyway (because who read blogs that don’t post at least once a week? Nobody.) And that feeling of failure, of giving up before this blog became financially profitable, of not “making it,” is a hard pill for this Type-A overachiever to swallow.

But essentially, that is where we’ve landed. Here, on Carpé Season, we’ll be here, just less frequently. I’ll post – recipes and reflections – only when I’m really inspired to do so. We’ll probably share sneak peaks of some of the photography sessions we are doing. And I’m hoping some of you keep us included in your blog reader and stop in when we have something significant to share. This might be once a week or once a month.

So, this isn’t really a farewell post. More of an “I’ll see you when I see you” kind of post, which is something you really only say as you’re trying to part ways with that friend of a friend of a friend who you met at that one party and now find yourself awkwardly small-talking with in aisle seven of your grocery store.

More than anything, I want this to be a Thank You post. For the three-and-a-half years of my over-sharing that you’ve read, for helping me put an end to this feeling that we’re alone in our messiness, for loving cheese as much as I do, for making these recipes, for your kind words and comments. I hope you stick around. And I hope that if you’re ever in Minneapolis, that you’ll get in touch with me so we can bond over a plate of spring rolls and talk about our favorite puns and find out how similar people really are.

Thank You.

That Mom

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Two kids and almost three years into motherhood, I’ve broken a lot of my own rules. You know, those things that pre-children I was sure I would never do once I had kids of my own. My babies have slept in our bed. I have cut the crusts off of sandwiches. And my toddler daughter has an almost perpetually crusty face, with that classic toddler mullet to boot. Check. Check. And Check.

But today, I became that mom.

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All-Natural Texas Queso Tortilla Cups (+ an Academy Awards Party Menu!)

queso-bites I think I should start this post by telling you that I could probably count on one hand the number of times I went to a movie theater before I was twenty. And that my family didn’t get a VCR until I was twelve. So, you can probably guess that movies just weren’t a big part of my life for a really long time. Other than a brief but intense obsession with The Little Mermaid, I could pretty much take or leave the entire film industry.

But then I married Eric, who really, truly enjoys movies in a way that I’m still trying to fully understand. In the course of our nearly ten years together, he’s rubbed off on me, and while it pains the productive crazy in me to just sit for two hours, I too have learned to really enjoy movies – especially when sitting shoulder-to-shoulder with Eric, my hand wrist deep in buttery popcorn.

So I was really excited when Haley of Cheap Recipe Blog contacted me and asked me if I wanted to be a part of an Academy Awards Blogger link-party. Myself and seven other bloggers were assigned by Haley to watch one of the Best Picture Nominees and come up with a party-friendly recipe that matched the theme or setting of their assigned movie.

So creative, right?

Oscars 2015 Best Picture Inspired Recipes
(P.S. All of the other recipes are linked to at the bottom of the post!)

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My Top-10, Kid-Friendly, Winter Indoor Outings in the Twin Cities

First of all, my apologies for that long, terrible title. There was just no getting around it.

Second, my apologies to those of you who do not live near the Twin Cities, or to those of you who do and do not have small children.

But after a friend asked me for some of my go-to toddler spots in the dead of winter, I realized I’ve built up quite a list of options and felt compelled to share. Because it’s definitely that special time of year when we with young don’t leave the house for days on end, and toddlers everywhere start literally climbing up the walls. I don’t know about you, but several rounds of stomach flu at our house have kept us away from any and all playdates within a fifty-mile radius. And we are definitely starting to feel it. You can only do the same freaking puzzles so many times before you need to get out. So, spend the next thirty-five minutes covering your children in winter gear, grab your diaper bag, and head to one of my favorite top-ten toddler friendly places in the Twin Cities.

Here they are, in no particular order…..

1. Como Conservatory (& Zoo) (St. Paul)

Screen Shot 2015-02-03 at 9.00.08 AM At Como in the winter, you can walk through interconnected heated greenhouses of beautiful plants for free. Kids like it because there are animals to see (large aquariums, koi fish, carpentar ants, a sloth that moves three times a year) and because they can run along greenhouse paths wearing t-shirts. If you’re feeling reckless, you can dash to the nearby primate building in your t-shirts, and that blast of cold should guarantee you a 2+-hour nap when you get home.

Cost: Free!
Pros: Walking through those humid conservatory greenhouses is the closest you will get to a sauna/spa day all year. Plus, Caribou coffee on site.
Cons: Field trips. Elementary schools are on to this place too, and it is no joke trying to push your stroller past a group of hyped-up third graders.

2. Wild Rumpus Book Store (Minneapolis)

wild-rumpus-1 This is a bookstore built for kids, down to the mini door at the front of the store (built within the adult-sized door) that kids can open and walk through themselves. There are animals like cats, chickens, birds (some in cages, some not), a ton of great books to look at, and an overall fun atmosphere. There’s also a weekly birth-to-preschool storytime.

Cost: Free! 
Pros: 
Storytime. Great books. Animals. Sometimes free coffee. Plus, a Creative Kidstuff toystore just around the corner with plenty of toys to try out on the floor.
Cons: It is nearly impossible to leave this store without spending at least $50 in beautiful children’s books.

3. Gleason’s Gym (Eagan)

Screen Shot 2015-02-03 at 8.58.12 AM Specifically, the preschool open gym on Wednesday and Friday mornings. I hesitate to even include this on the list because I really don’t want any more people to know about it. We LOVE Gleason’s. The preschool open gym is a two-hour period in which your toddler can run around like a crazy person and not get hurt. There are trampolines and mats to climb on, a giant foam pit, a trapeze swing, plus much more. It is fabulous. There’s about a 20-minute circle time of stretching, crazy-dancing, and “exercise” led by Mr. Sasha – former Russian circus member. So yeah. We love Gleason’s.

Cost: $8 per kid, but they won’t charge you more than $10 per family per visit if you have multiple kids. Kids under one and adults are free. (A pre-pay pass is also available, which basically amounts to buy four visits, get the fifth one free).
Pros: Your children will take epic naps after a morning here. 
Cons: It’s impossible to talk with the mom friend you came with because your kids will immediately head to opposite corners of this giant space and will not play on the same apparatus no matter what you do.

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

elsa-bday-cake

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…

dear-elsa

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:

IMG_0069

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

Screen Shot 2014-12-12 at 2.12.35 PM

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.)