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fall photos

November 15, 2013

Can you believe Thanksgiving is around the corner?  As we near the end of the year and start thinking about the holidays, I’m struck again with how fast life is moving.  So many changes occur when your kids are so little.  Plus, of course, the days are a blur because you are so busy with all the many little things – putting socks on feet, tackling piles of laundry, diapers and more diapers, meal after meal in the kitchen…. There is always something to do.

I try to make it a real priority to get some quality family photos done every year or so.  It takes time and money, but it seems to be one of the very few material things that will actually be around and still cherished decades later.   My walls are covered with photographs of family and travels and special moments.  It’s a necessity for me.

The last photo session we had was last June with Norah was just a couple weeks old.  Jude was wearing pull-ups and looking [and acting] very toddler-ish.  Fast forward 15 months later to a toddler and a relatively grown-up preschooler, and our family looks and feels so different.  It’s crazy the change that occurs in just a few months with kids this age.  It’s bittersweet.

We worked with Andrew Thomas Lee again.  (I’ve said it before, but he is amazing and so easy to work with.  I don’t trust our photos with anyone else!)  Meeting at Sawnee Mountain on a Saturday morning a few weeks ago, the kids were so outrageously uncooperative.  I can’t even explain how feisty they were being about not wanting to be photographed.  I left knowing if Andrew could manage to capture anything at all, he was incredible.  Of course, that’s exactly what happened, and I love the results.

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It’s easy to not see the magic when you are in the day-to-day madness of little ones. But looking at photos forces you to step out of that craziness for a minute. I love that.

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It’s been a good year, and I’m excited for the weeks we have left of it.

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October Recap

November 4, 2013

I can’t believe we’ve turned the page to November.  Work has been incredibly busy for me since midterm, and our semester ends with final exams the first week of December.  I’m looking forward to a full month (!!) off for Christmas, and I am ready to finish the planning and grading I have ahead of me for the next three weeks.  All in all, the first semester here is going really well.

October is always a busy month for us, and it’s all fun stuff that we genuinely want to do, not just obligations on the calendar.  Jude’s party was followed by his day at the fair with my mom and a whole slew of family, including cousins he adores and admires. (And my brother’s girlfriend went along with her camera and photography skills, so I got to see it, too!)  He was beyond excited to eat tons of fun food and ride everything he was tall enough for, even the scary stuff.  This kid is fearless.

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Jude fair 1

A week later, we ventured to a small pumpkin patch near home to pick out a few pumpkins. The weather was a tiny bit chilly and perfectly fall.

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Then Halloween came and went with a ridiculous amount of excitement at our house. We had Buzz Lightyear and a ballerina this year. The Child Development Center here led a parade of trick or treaters around campus, and I was able to join them which was so fun. At one point, Jude shouted “This is the best day ever!”

Halloween 2013

Halloween 2013

Halloween 2013

We also had a ton of people over on Halloween night because our new neighborhood is perfect for trick or treating. Sidewalks and tiny kids everywhere! It was a great chance to meet more neighbors, and it felt like everyone had kids no older than ten. It makes me look forward to my kids growing up here – so many little friends their age!

October is such fun as it begins what I think is the best part of the year. But November seems almost better. Looking ahead at Thanksgiving in a few weeks and seeing the leaves turn red and gold in Georgia, I think we all slow down a bit and become more verbal about our gratitude in a way we forget to during the rest of the year. Bowls of soup for dinner, bread baking in the kitchen, movie nights and chilly mornings, sweater wearing (finally), and holiday plans looming soon. Gratitude is felt so much more fully this time of year. And I’m so grateful for my little family, now more than ever.

Our Pirate Party

October 21, 2013

Jude has been nothing short of obsessed with “Jake and the Neverland Pirates” for the better part of the past year or so.  Truth be told, I don’t mind it that much.  It’s Disney and it’s cute and there could be much worse things to watch.  So when he wanted a pirate party this year, I jumped on board.

We invited only family and a couple of close friends this time.  I know everyone has her own ideas of how to do birthdays, and that’s fine.  Whatever works for your family.  But for us, it feels like the first couple of years are all about the parents in a way.  I mean it’s obviously about the baby or toddler, but at the end of the day, parents and loved ones are the ones celebrating the milestone.  The one or two-year-old has no clue what’s going on.  But as kids grow older, it seems best to ask what they want and how they want to celebrate.  Jude wanted a pirate party with a few friends, so that’s what we did.  It was fairly low key and laid back, and with my being back at full-time work, that was a good thing anyway.

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We had party sandwiches (these simple ones) with pirate flags I found on Amazon. I added fruit and cheese, chicken tortilla soup from the slow cooker, cupcakes, and the apple cake I’ve blogged before, plus I threw some chocolate coins on the table as well. And of course, I copied Pinterest with some pirate bananas.

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The weather was perfect for soup, and it really feels like fall finally arrived here in Georgia. Actual sock weather and a real need for a jacket!  Jude had a blast and was really excited about every little thing with the party. He really understands birthdays in a way he didn’t get last year, I think.

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The cupcakes (with toppers I found on Etsy) were the same chocolate cake with buttercream that I do for every single birthday party since the dawn of time, but he loved them… and had way too many of them.

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On the whole, it was a great time, and a perfect party for our little pirate.

Year Four: A Letter

October 15, 2013

Jude,

We begin your fourth year today, and I have spent the past few months watching all the baby melt away and the kid emerge.  It seems to be the magic age when so many baby struggles – sleep, potty learning, communication difficulties – have sailed away.  The label of “toddler” isn’t even one I can really use anymore.  You are a preschooler, a kid, a boy.

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You grew up this year in a big way.  And even though I thought I’d be weepy about that, it’s such a privilege to watch.  Your imagination and your way of playing is something I know only lasts for a little while.  I’m wanting to hit the pause button a lot these days, to freeze this moment in your life.   But I’ve said that before, and look what I would have missed if I’d been able to pause on those baby years?  So time marches on, and I know that somehow your future self will become something even more dear to me.  These last few months have turned a new page it seems.  We have real conversations.  You understand things around us; you walk tall beside me, and you have opinions.  Lots of them.   They don’t always match my own, and you know what?  This is just the beginning of that.  We’ve got a lot to learn from each other.

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In trying to explain to you what you were like at four, I can’t fail to mention your openness and honesty.  You tell me if you don’t like what I made for dinner.  You tell your sister if her diaper stinks or she is bothering you.  You emerge from the bathroom to loudly exclaim, “I wiped my butt, mama!”  It makes me squeeze your hand a little tighter and hold my breath a bit in public, hoping you don’t volunteer an assessment of a stranger.  But with this openness comes a lot of joy and amazement in your world, too.  Your joy is wide open for everyone to see.  It reminds me every day to find happiness in the smallest things and to share that delight with others.  I love you for that lesson and for a million more reasons.

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You’ve had so many changes imposed on you in the past twelve months.  We moved from the only home you’ve ever known.  I went back to work in the college classroom.  And your school routine demands a lot more of you than it did before.  To say you’ve embraced these changes doesn’t give you enough credit.  You’ve confronted these challenges with an acceptance and maturity that surprised all of us, and nothing makes me feel more at peace than to see you thrive so clearly in your current life.  Countless leaps have happened in the past few months with your speech, your ability to focus, and your capabilities in a number of areas.  You see tasks as your responsibility, your work.  And you attack activities with such enthusiastic focus that it leaves me excited for your future.  A sense of thoughtfulness and introspection is emerging in you, and it makes me proud to watch that happen.

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To say I love you seems somehow inadequate this year on your birthday. I’ve always loved you, of course. But now, as we test out new waters and new ways of relating to one another, I can say I respect you.  I see you, I hear you, and I value what you have to give to the world and what you are teaching me.  I’m seeing the whole person emerge as we turn the page to your fourth year.  Your curiosity, your kindness, your joy, your understanding – so many traits I’m grateful to watch emerging in you.  I can’t wait to see what this year brings for you.

Love,

Mama

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I write birthday letters to my kids on each of their birthdays.  You can see the others here.

our trip to the apple orchard

October 6, 2013

The calendar says fall, and while it doesn’t always feel like that here, we are trying to  take advantage of all there is to do this time of year.  Yesterday we drove about an hour northwest of home and spent the morning at an apple orchard.  The kids got to pick their own apples which they both loved.

We came home with a full peck of apples, and we enjoyed this delicious dinner last night – a lot of nutrition in one skillet. Apple muffins, my favorite apple cake, and some homemade applesauce are on the line-up later this week.

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Jude’s class learned about apples a few weeks ago, the process of seed to tree to flower to fruit. He’s been talking about it a lot and looking forward to “the apple farm” as he calls it. At almost four years old, he’s in such a perfect age for understanding the world around him but still being fascinated by it. It’s so fun to hear his commentary on everything we see and do.

The scenery was gorgeous, and it made me grateful for the region we live in. There really is a lot of beauty in North Georgia, especially this time of year.

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It got hot as the day went on, so I stripped Norah down to her underclothes. Half-naked toddler didn’t care. She has such a curious side these days and loves to mimic every single thing her brother does.

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Today we are slow roasting a chicken and spending the afternoon inside the house. This should be the last few days that the temperatures reach 80, and I’m actually looking forward to a little rain and maybe some light sweater weather soon. So many fun things await in the next few weeks.

our favorite baked oatmeal

September 27, 2013

We eat a lot of oatmeal around here, but never the soupy kind in a bowl.  I know there is a bit of convenience with the store-bought instant kind, but when I look at the ingredients, I see maltodextrin, hydrogenated oils, artificial flavors, and some other weird things.  (The peaches and cream variety contains no peaches??)

My solution is baked oatmeal.  I prep it the night before, and I make a large batch that lasts all week.  I wish I had a real photo I took with a real camera and edited, but I leave my house at 7:30 with two kids in tow.  So that would never happen at the breakfast table. I don’t even have a cell phone picture, so you will just have to make it yourself to see what it looks like.  You won’t regret it!

The recipe is so simple, and I wanted to share it.  I’ve tried a variety of baked oatmeal variations, and I eventually blended a few different recipes to create this one.  It is flexible and can be changed to suit whatever you have on hand.  Right now, it is my absolute favorite breakfast, and my four-year-old will ask for seconds and thirds!  I’ve started buying the huge box of oatmeal at Costco to keep up with our habit around here.  It does contain eggs, so I’m not technically in line with my VB6 attempt when I eat this, but I usually make it with almond milk so that it is dairy-free.

Basic Baked Oatmeal

3 cups rolled oats

3/4 cup sucanat (or brown sugar)

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon cinnamon

2 eggs

1 cup milk (or almond milk if making dairy free)

1/2 cup melted coconut oil (or butter if you’d like)

at least 1 cup fruit of choice (I use whatever is on-hand – bananas, blueberries, peaches, apples.  Fresh or frozen.  I occasionally add shredded coconut or a few pecans if the baby isn’t going to eat it.)

**optional: 1/2 cup Chia seeds (great tasteless source of Omega-3)

The night before:

Combine oats, sucanat, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon in a large bowl.  In another bowl, whisk eggs, milk, and coconut oil.  Combine wet and dry ingredients and then stir in fruit and chia seeds.  Spoon into a baking dish.  (I use my long pyrex pan most of the time, but square would work, too.)  Place dish in the refrigerator.

The following morning:

Preheat oven to 350, and remove dish from refrigerator.  Bake for about 40 minutes, and it’s perfect.  You can eat this plain or with milk on top (how Jude likes it).  Enjoy!

VB6 Challenge

September 14, 2013

I always thought veganism was pretty strange.  I mean who doesn’t eat eggs or cheese!?  I understand vegetarianism in many ways, but vegan diets just felt like a step too far and extreme.  Then I saw Forks over Knives and Food Matters – both on Netflix now, by the way.  Both documentary films really made me rethink my prior assumptions.  There is a lot of research to suggest that eating a plant-based diet is the way to go.  But full-time veganism?  Ha.  Not going to happen here.

Then I found a more moderate philosophy.  Have you heard of Mark Bittman’s VB6 habit?  The basic premise is that you eat according to vegan rules until 6:00 in the evening, and then you eat whatever you want in moderation.  I completed my dietary cleanse last spring, which really was just my way of trying to be more watchful of the food I eat.  It was amazing the difference it made on how I felt and how I viewed food.  As usual life gets in the way, and I’ve not been so careful on my fruit and veggie consumption lately.  I need a reboot.  I have no interest in doing that particular cleanse again right now, but I’m thinking VB6 is something I could get behind.  I can still enjoy the same dinner dishes with my family and not impose my own habits on them.  I’m going to give it a try this week.  I have not done a meal plan post in ages (or any post really!) so here’s my plan this week.

Breakfasts: green smoothies, pumpkin baked oatmeal (My kids LOVE baked oatmeal, especially Jude.)

Lunch: chickpea wraps, lemon pepper broccoli pasta, detox salad  I’ve also got hummus and crackers and various fruit to throw in.

Sunday Dinner: fish tacos with shredded cabbage and creamy sauce

Monday Dinner: sun-dried tomato chicken, mashed potatoes, and more of that detox salad 

Tuesday Dinner: Martha Stewart’s Tofu and Broccoli (Jude and I love this, and Scott is away that night. He is not a tofu fan.)

Wednesday Dinner: stir-fry cabbage cups

Thursday Dinner: grilled fish, potatoes, Pioneer Woman’s Grilled Zucchini 

Friday Dinner: something ready-made from my freezer stash with a side salad (Jude’s speech therapy has us home later on Fridays, so my freezer is usually the solution.)

Saturday Dinner: I’m having friends over, and one of them is eating dairy-free right now with a nursing baby, so I think I’ll give this pasta dish a try.

We have a ridiculously busy weekend ahead with three different social functions today including a get-together with the new neighbors which I’m sure will be fun but is always a bit awkward at first.  I did my grocery shopping last night after the kids were in bed to get it out of the way before the busy weekend.  I’m looking forward to diving back into healthful eating.  I’ve been bringing my lunch at work, but I’m realizing half the time I have NO fruits or veggies other than an occasional banana or something.  None.  So embarrassing, but true!  So wraps with deli meat, baby bell cheese, chicken salad on a bagel, etc. are not cutting it anymore.  We’ll see how this goes.  I’m posting it here in writing , so I have to do it, right?

Happy weekend, friends!

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