a visit with Santa

We went to see Santa on Monday.  Jude was super bashful, but I think he soon realized that he needed to chat with the big man and impress him if he wanted those presents.

Some of these pictures really make me laugh.




And then poor little Norah. This Santa thing is pretty weird and scary when you really stop to think about it. She cried for a minute and then warmed up. We got some classic photos.




We even got a couple of cheesy ones with the whole family.


Jude is asking for a violin and “pirate stuff.” Occasionally he will add “Darth Vader underwear” to that list, but the violin seems to be the top priority for him. I’m counting down to Christmas morning to see the look on his face for sure. Three is the perfect age for Christmas magic. He loves it all.

Tonight is the Christmas pageant at his little preschool. I can’t imagine my boy being still for more than twenty seconds, so we’ll see how it goes.  Either way, it will be entertaining for sure.  I hope your Christmas season is in full swing and you’re enjoying these last few weeks of the year!


It’s hard to believe it’s Advent already. Last page of the calendar, countdown to Christmas. I scored a wooden Advent calendar on Zulily a few weeks ago, so we are making our way through the month with a few fun activities. Most are pretty simple, but it doesn’t take much to impress a three-year-old boy. Everything is so exciting for him this time of year.

Advent Calendar Day 1

The first day’s activity was to make a Christmas decoration, so of course, Jude settled on Mickey with some festive puffballs glued in no particular fashion. It’s that special combination of heinously ugly and beautifully endearing that only a toddler can accomplish.  He keeps pointing to it on the tree, bringing me in the room by the hand and gasping, “Look mama!” like it’s a big surprise for me.

Last night’s Advent activity was “breakfast for dinner” which meant omelets, pancakes, and bacon. It’s such a simple change, but somehow it really does feel fun.  He thought eating pancakes when it was dark outside felt special, and celebrating the whole month of December with little daily gifts like this feels special to me as well.

Happy Holidays, friends.  There’s a lot of fun left to be had this year.


I think I’m still stuffed from Thanksgiving meals.  Both Scott and I have family close to us, so we have two rounds of food on Thanksgiving every year.  Turkey, stuffing (or “dressing” here in the south), mashed potatoes, corn, squash, green bean casserole, brussel sprouts, cabbage, homemade mac and cheese, collard greens, sweet potato soufflé, deviled eggs, rolls, and too many desserts to count.  I’m not kidding, people.  All of that food in my body this week.

I didn’t take one single posed and planned photo with a real camera.  But life is full these days – in every sense of that word.  Spare hands are rare and spare moments even more so.

I did manage to catch Jude cooking in his underwear on Thanksgiving morning, mimicing me as I baked an apple cake.


And I snapped a quick photo of Norah and I together before we headed out for family meal number one. I was trying to make her smile on cue, and you can see a glimmer of a grin.  Our hair is the exact same shade right now, and I love it.


And Black Friday? You shoppers are nuts. I spent half the day in pajamas and had an extra cup of coffee and snuggled with family.


I have so much to be thankful for this year. My health and that of my family members first and foremost. I feel like 2012 has been a rough year for so many people I know with health-related difficulties for themselves or loved ones.  To be here and healthy and able to live each day unencumbered with worry for my own body or those of my husband and children is a gift I don’t recognize enough.

So I am saying it now. For my health, the food on my table, my home, my friends old and new, and my tight family.  I am thankful this week and always.

I’m also thankful for this apple cake recipe which tastes even better for breakfast the next day.  (Cake for breakfast.  That’s okay at Thanksgiving, right!?)


Apple Cake with Caramel Glaze  (from The Gift of Southern Cooking, by Scott Peacock)

For the cake:
1 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
3 eggs
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 ½ teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
7 apples, preferably organic peeled and diced into 1-inch pieces
1 1/4 cups coarsely chopped pecans
2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla

For the glaze:
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup light brown sugar
Pinch salt
1/2 cup heavy cream

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Butter and flour an 9-by-13-inch baking pan.

In a mixing bowl, beat sugars, oil and vanilla until well-blended. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Sift together flour, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt and gradually add to the sugar and eggs, mixing just until well-blended.

Fold in the apples and pecans. Pour into the pan.

Bake for 1 to 1 1/4 hours (begin to check after 50 minutes), until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Remove from oven and allow to cool in the pan while preparing the glaze.  (I poke holes in the cake with a toothpick or butter knife so the glaze and run throughout.)

To make the glaze,in a medium pan, melt the butter. Add sugar, salt. and cream. Stir until blended and cook over medium-low heat for 2 minutes. Increase heat and boil for about 2 minutes.  Remove from heat and cool slightly until glaze begins to thicken. Spoon over cake.

Halloween and the Aftermath

We are candied-out over here, and the second head cold to hit the house this fall made it’s way to baby Norah and then to me and then to Jude.  So I have a sick little one on my hands and soup on the menu this week.  Plus a traveling husband and a toddler who is … well… three?  I guess that’s the best way you can describe him lately.

Ack!  I am feeling a little overwhelmed just reading that.

But Halloween was fun. We had a robot (Plex, for those of you who know him that way) and a tiny fairy. And Jude really loved trick-or-treating this year in a way he hasn’t before. It was so fun to watch.




I feel like it’s the official beginning of the holiday season in a way. When I flip the calendar to November, I see Thanksgiving and know Christmas is around the corner.  So much fun to be had!

Easter Fun

I have approximately ten things I should be doing since I have a quiet house and free hands at nap time.  But I hit the park this morning with some friends and their kids, and I am sadly realizing that 35 weeks pregnant means if I start my days at the park for a few sunny hours, I can’t promise much in the way of energy and productivity later.  So screw the to-do list today, I suppose.

We did have such a great weekend, despite my waning energy level.  I made a great new cake recipe from one of my newer cookbooks.  For once, it looked every bit as yummy as it tasted.


And we packed in two egg hunts and some fun time with Jude’s cousins.

egg hunting

egg hunting

Spiderman Egg!

It was a busy weekend but such a great day, and it feels like springtime is moving fast onto summer.  I’ve sort of told myself that I don’t really have to worry much about our new arrival until the weather gets warm, and I’ve even explained it that way to Jude a few times.  Now April is quickly making way for May, and I still feel like I have so much left  to accomplish before she gets here.  My list is growing longer, not shorter, as I think of more things I’d like to do.  Our calendar has been super busy lately as well which isn’t helping matters, but it is making things move along quickly, I guess.  I have a great weekend in store:  dinner with good friends on Friday evening and a college reunion of sorts on Saturday.  Then social commitments halt until my due date about a month later.  All in all, I am feeling excited and not quite ready which sure beats drained and bored and totally ready and just waiting on labor. I’m sure that will happen soon enough as well though.  Ha!

Happy Monday, friends.  Hope your week is a good one and your springtime is happy.

Christmas Recap and Post-Holiday Let Down

It’s been such a great Christmas, and we’re still recovering over here.  I found myself taking so many mental photographs, wanting to freeze things just for a second.  I know these are the days, and I have a boy who gets more fun as the months pass.  Christmas really just puts into clearer focus what we know all year.  That little joys matter most.  That childhood should be savored, and family is where life really happens.

I watched cousins play on Christmas Eve in the same home I’ve spent every one of my Christmas Eves for the past thirty-one Christmases I have existed.

cousins in a box

And I learned that Santa really isn’t any less magical when you know the whole story and are running the show for your own little family.

Santa came!

Santa came!

Christmas Morning

Christmas Morning

new kitchen!

Christmas breakfast feels like perfection with any size crowd, big or small.

Christmas Breakfast

Christmas Breakfast

And both the best and worst part of all of it is that you wait another year for it all to happen again.  And for me, at this season of my life especially, I always wonder what exactly that will look like – next Christmas.  With growing children, aging relatives, and what feels like a persistently changing view, I really don’t know what Christmas of 2012 will feel like.  And that’s both thrilling and scary, like the unknown always is.

So the rest of this week will have me taking down the decorations, finding places for newly acquired gifts, and looking back on the year behind me.  I have so much to be grateful for.  And lots more good stuff around the corner, I know.  I feel full in the best way, but also in transition.  The end of the year always leaves me a little restless and achy like this.  Am I the only one?  There is so much to think about when you consider where you’ve come from and wonder what’s ahead.  I hope I’m ready.

life lately, according to my phone camera

I need to get back in the habit of using the camera in some everyday moments, but lately it’s just my phone.  I can’t believe we are right in the middle of Advent and so close to the end of the year.  Life is busy in the best way.

Most of my gifts are wrapped, and I’ve only got two presents left to buy. I’m hoping to finish a couple of things up in the next few days to end up lazing around and watching holiday movies in the days before Christmas.

food and gratitude

We had such a great Thanksgiving here, and I’m sad to see the weekend end.  Scott tends to go on a cleaning and organizing rampage if he’s off for more than three days in a row, and it happened again this weekend.  It’s his way of fighting cabin-fever, I think.  Or maybe it’s just that the mess drives him crazy while I grow used to it.  Whatever the reason, it was much needed, and I feel like I am out of pregnancy icky feelings and moving on from fatigue to productiveness just as the holidays begin.  It’s great timing, and I am grateful to be past a slump and looking on to bright things.

We baked cookies with cousins.

more baking


We played with a parachute on a warm Thanksgiving Day.

under the parachute

And we did a million other things I didn’t take photos of.  I ate so much good food that I’m pretty certain it’s not all baby in that belly.  We drove a couple hours south to visit family and also got in a quick visit with good friends and their snuggly newborn girl.  We played a lot, wrapped gifts, decked the halls, and generally enjoyed each other without much worry or rush which doesn’t happen nearly often enough.

The whole purpose of Thanksgiving is to be grateful for what you have and take time to really think of all those things, and as kids we roll our eyes when we have to list them: my parents, a roof over my head, my friends, food to eat.  All the things we are supposed to say.  But I think as I’ve grown older, and especially as I’ve been writing here, I’ve really started to see the ways that gratitude affects my everyday life.  Saying thanks makes me see more things to say thanks for, and it’s a good feeling.

This year, I am most thankful for this season of my life and all that comes with it.  Sure I’m persistently tired, all the nice ornaments are crowded on the top of my tree where little hands can’t reach them, my house is cluttered more than it’s tidy, and the time I get for myself is such a rationed commodity.

But I get to see a little person learn and grow and change everyday, and I love that.  I get to grow a whole new person in my own body, and I love that.  I get to see my husband become a father, and I love that.  Best of all, I get to see my own little family beginning and growing, and I get to dream and think about what all is next for us. It’s such a good time: to be at the beginning of so many things and looking ahead to all the possibilities.  Funny that as a twenty-something, we tend to think thirties are gross and old and what’s left then?  As it turns out, the best is left, and I am so excited to see what it feels like.

Christmas cards are ordered, stockings are hung, tress are up, and my house feels clean and cozy and festive.  The holidays are here, friends!
Jude and tree

It’s rainy out and cold this week, so we’re looking forward to soup nights and more lounging by the tree.  I’ll check in soon with a couple of recipes that graced our table this weekend.

Choo Choo, Jude is two! (our train birthday party)

Last year we threw a huge carnival birthday bash for the big number one, but we decided to do something a little smaller this year since our fall has been pretty busy around here, and I wasn’t sure I could tackle another big party lately.  So we had family and a couple of close friends over on Saturday to celebrate Jude’s second birthday boxcar style, and it was so fun!

It all started with Jude’s obsession over Virginia Lee Burton’s Choo Choo children’s book, and it kind of grew from there.  I wanted to go more classic train / hobo boxcar riding sort of feel rather than Thomas the Train which meant that I couldn’t depend on any pre-made party stuff because Thomas is EVERYWHERE.  (Not that I have a problem with Thomas.  Jude has a couple of little Thomas the Train books and toys people have given him, and he loves them.  I’m just not a fan of branding in the sense of wearing shirts to advertise or throwing parties devoted to one certain character.  Plus he never watches the show, and the idea was to do something the birthday boy would love!)  

It came together really well, and it was so simple and easy to do.  Most of these ideas are borrowed from Pinterest or internet stumbles, so borrow away if you have a train-obsessed little like I do and you want to use this theme.   (By the way, I never watermark my photos even though I know I should, but my previous birthday party posts are by far the most read entries on this blog, so I marked these pictures for people who stumble on it.)


For decorations, I ordered some cheap red and blue bandanas from Oriental Trading Company, and I used those everywhere.  It was affordable and cute, and now I have a million bandanas in my party bin, so maybe one day I’ll know someone having a western party or something, and they’ll get some more use.  I saw this great collage on Pinterest, and I decided to do one for our party as well.  It was easy to put together, and guests really liked seeing the progression of the past year, I think.  Kids change so much between one and two; it’s crazy to look back!


I used the bandanas on the drinks table by typing them on some twine and then combining them with a simple railroad sign from yellow posterboard.  This photo was taken after the party when guests had already consumed most of it, but you get the idea.  I layered brown craft paper with newspaper, and we served drinks in classic mason jars to keep things looking homemade and old.  Jude was really pumped to have juice boxes in the house because he normally gets water with a splash of juice.  I guess it’s the little things.

I also set up a table outside and used the bandanas there, too.  I layered them over the brown paper and then used some simple mums for fall decor.


The food spread was simple, and I assembled most of it the day before so that I only had to throw things in the oven the morning of the party.  Jude loves breakfast food, so we had a brunch at 10:30am with some of his favorite eats.  The breakfast casserole I used is the one we eat every Christmas morning.  You assemble it the night before, store it in the fridge, and then just place it in the oven.  It’s a passed-down recipe and really delicious!  I’ll share the recipe sometime when it won’t get lost in a long party post.
food table

In my internet perusing of train parties, I saw the terms “chugga chugga” and “chew chew,” and I thought they were so clever that I had to steal them.

With a birthday in October, it’s hard to say no to some kind of fall treat.  Last year it was Martha’s Pumpkin Whoopie Pies, and this year is was Pumpkin Spice Latte in the crockpot.  Perfect for a fall brunch!

For packaging favors, I really wanted to do hobo sticks for the kids like this Pinterest find. But then I remembered that there would be toddler boys present, and long sticks were maybe a bad idea, so I ended up bundling the favors in a bandana and just placing them on the gifts table.  It is sort of like a hobo bindle without a stick, I guess.

Inside each bundle was a train conductor hat for each kid, and I loved that they were inexpensive, fun, and not candy.  One party-goer wore it especially well.
Jack the Train Conductor

And each family also got a CD of train songs hand-picked by my husband.  That was totally his project, and he did it well.  I forgot to get a photo of the CDs all together, but we had an awesome list of songs.  There’s a lot of good train music out there!

Birthday Party-p0017

Lastly, I didn’t make my own cake or cupcakes this year, so we used a local bakery whom we love and who did our wedding cakes years ago.  I wanted them to go opposite of cartoon colors and trains, so they made a simple and classic looking cake that was pretty delicious, too.

cake time

All in all, it was such a fun party, and I loved putting it together.  Jude really sort of “got it” more this year than before, and it makes me excited for the holidays around the corner as well!  There are a million other great train party ideas that I’d love to tackle, but one can only do so much, I guess.  Check out my Pinterest board for lots of other cute ideas I ran across.

Easter Recap

I hope you had a lovely Easter weekend.  We’re pretty tired from the egg hunting around here, but it’s been so much fun.  I can’t believe last year, I had one of these.

Easter2010 007

And this year, everything was so different.  I love that spring is about new life and growth, and I crave those things always but especially this time of year.  What’s even better is that I get to watch one sweet little life discovering so many new things.

examining the goods

Easter 2011

Easter 2011

Easter 2011

found one!

trying to open it


Shakespeare says, “April hath put a spirit of youth in everything.”  But I’d argue that motherhood does that even better.  And April + motherhood?  It’s almost too much.  Happy spring, reader.